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Amazon or Facebook phone? 'Major' non-Google Android device coming this year, says Skyhook CEO

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Skyhook Wireless CEO Ted Morgan says that his company will be providing location services for a "major" Android phone launch this year that isn't backed by Google.

Kindle Fire
Kindle Fire

Will Amazon or Facebook launch their own phone this year? There's compelling circumstantial evidence for both: for Amazon, Jeff Bezos's team has already built a robust Android-based platform completely outside of Google's purview for the Kindle Fire, and they've got access to one of the most far-reaching retail distribution networks in the world. Facebook, meanwhile, has been flirting with smartphone rumors for years; the lackluster HTC ChaCha and Status never really explained those rumors away, and its R&D budget is showing explosive growth without any substantial product to show for it.

Fanning the flames, Skyhook Wireless CEO Ted Morgan says that his company is lined up to be a part of a "major" phone launch this year that'll be based on Android but won't be a so-called "Google experience" device — in other words, it won't be approved by Google to use Google Play. Skyhook is best known for having provided Wi-Fi-based positioning services to both Android and iOS devices in the past, though Apple has since replaced Skyhook's capabilities with its own. Google did the same, though with uglier results: a very public spat between the companies in 2010 led to a lawsuit when Mountain View began forcing approved devices to drop Skyhook in favor of its own location service.

Given Skyhook's experiences over the past couple years, it's not a surprise that Morgan's comment is part of a larger Technology Review piece where he claims that Android OEMs are "mutinying" over Google's draconian control on what features can and cannot go into their devices, limiting differentiation. "Everyone's emboldened by the success of Amazon," he says.

Today, smartphones would be lost — quite literally — without Wi-Fi-based positioning, which checks nearby wireless networks against a database of their positions to help quickly determine where you are without the aid of GPS or cellular triangulation. It's a must-have feature, and for companies like Amazon that have eschewed Google's favor, Skyhook fills the gap (indeed, Amazon already uses Skyhook services on the Kindle Fire). Will the Fire be joined by a voice-compatible sibling in time for the holiday shopping rush?