Online search giant Google will gain another important platform for its Android operating system next month with the release of the “Hero” smart phone that will operate on U.S. wireless networks owned by Sprint Nextel. Produced by HTC Corp. of Taiwan, the Hero will be the second mobile handset in the U.S. to use the open-source Android system that offers wireless users access to more than 8,000 web-based applications. (T-Mobile USA rolled out the first Android handset—the G1, also manufactured by HTC—to its customers last October.) Sprint is a charter member of the Open Handset Alliance, which promotes the development of Android applications that are customizable and that, according to Google mobile platforms vice president Andy Rubin, “[provide] to customers the same Internet services they have become accustomed to on their desktop PCs.” The launch of the Hero phone is also expected to boost Google’s presence among U.S. wireless subscribers and thereby expand Google’s market for cell-phone-based advertising. Hero phones will appear in stores starting on October 11 and will retail at $179.99 after rebates with a two-year service contract. In the near future, Motorola and Samsung are also expected to join the fray with the introduction of Android smart phones that, like the Sprint- HTC Hero, would feature built-in Wi-Fi capability. As Sprint senior vice president Kevin Packingham termed the Hero’s debut as “an important milestone for our customers and the U.S. wireless industry,” one industry analyst predicted that the Hero’s launch will “help Android become a more mainstream operating system.”