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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Google Inc plans to include support for business users in its Android operating system as soon as this year, pitting it against BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, a senior executive said.

Andy Rubin, Google’s top Android executive, said on Friday that as well as expanding consumer features like social networking and gaming, future Android versions would support businesses who give phones to employees working on the road.

"Today, we don’t support many enterprise applications but in the future, I think enterprise will be a good focus for us," Rubin, vice president of engineering at Google, told Reuters. He added that he expected to this to happen this year.

By year-end, phone makers will have launched 15 to 20 Android phone models, Rubin said. But he declined to say when manufacturers would release models with the new business software.

Any technology company could have a tough job entering the mobile enterprise market as Rim’s BlackBerry is the favorite for many information technology managers, who have to support applications such as mobile email.

But Rubin said Google can compete by incorporating Android with existing Google apps like email, documents and calendars.

For example, corporations could cut costs on hardware for data storage if they give workers Android phones that support business applications connected to Google’s data centers.

"You can, from an enterprise perspective, dramatically control your costs," Rubin said. "You don’t have to build out infrastructure any more. Google’s already doing it,"

Part of the strategy would be giving IT managers control over the phones their employees use.

"It’s how do you put the control in the hands of the IT manager and give him the tools to deploy all his enterprise applications on the phone, and how does he manage the phone for security?" Rubin said.

Consumer Features

Earlier this month Google announced the development of its Chrome operating system, which overlaps with Android in netbook computers, raising questions about the future of Android. But Rubin is already developing three new versions of Android.

Google will release two versions of Android this year: Android 1.6 code-named Donut and Android 2.0 code-named Eclair. The third version is code-named Flan.

Rubin said there will be a fourth version.

He declined to discuss specific functions in Donut or Eclair except to say that they would take advantage of the most powerful processors on the market for features like 3D gaming.

Citing the Snapdragon chip from Qualcomm Inc as an example, Rubin said it would give Android phones the same processing speed as the desktop computers of four years ago.

"They’re really closing the gap and you’re really starting to carry around a small computer in your pocket," he said. "You can start really thinking about serious gaming like you would on a Nintendo DS or a PSP handheld."

Rubin also said social networking services would be a key consumer focus for Android. Most advanced phones already support for social networks like Facebook and microblogging service Twitter, but Rubin said he is aiming for integrating social services deep into the operating system.

Some of the innovations rival Palm Inc’s high-profile Pre phone includes the way it keeps texts and instant messages with a given contact in one place as well as its integration of Facebook contacts in the address book.

Rubin described this as "a step in the right direction." In comparison, Android options will include having Facebook contacts’ photos and status updates appear on your phone when they call, potentially changing how a conversation starts.

Phone communications should pivot around the people you know, Rubin said, instead of separate folders and files with different things such as addresses and photos of those people.

"I want it just to be part of the system. I want it to be a stream of data that any (app) can tap into if it makes sense," he said. "I want to make that data available to anything, including third party developers."

This would only happen with the user’s consent, Google spokeswoman Katie Watson, said, adding that Rubin was referring to future developments.

"This is stuff that’s never been done before," he said.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by Carol Bishopric, Leslie Gevirtz)