Google and T-Mobile’s Android
Today in New York, Google and T-Mobile will unveil the first handset to run Google’s Android operating system. How significant is the launch of Google’s new mobile phone? And does it have enough to take on the iPhone? (Pics)
The phone, dubbed the G1, might be the first Android-based device on the market, but it won’t be the last.
By this time next year, there will be dozens of phones available that run Google’s new mobile operating system. Android is designed to bring the desktop computing experience to mobile devices, by allowing people to surf the internet and carry out everyday tasks on the go.
The search giant is desperate to cut itself a substantial slice of the mobile advertising pie. Google already dominates desktop search and online advertising, and it sees mobile phones as the new battleground.
“We can make more money on mobile than we do on the desktop, eventually,” said Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt.
No wonder – it is estimated the mobile advertising market could be worth more than £5.5bn by 2011, as phones become more sophisticated, the web browsing experience becomes better, and high-speed mobile data networks become more commonplace.
So developing an operating system that has Google as its beating heart was an obvious goal for the innovative search company.
Although the G1 is made by HTC, and will be available in the UK on the T-Mobile network, cut it and it bleeds the colours of Google.
Mobile phones are the new battlefront. They are one of the world’s most ubiquitous gadgets, owned by even some of the poorest people. In developing nations, mobile phone ownership vastly outweighs computer ownership.
An entire industry has sprung up around the mobile phone in these countries, with remote villages conducting business by text, and mobile banking providing one of the most secure and trustworthy ways of carrying out transactions in nations where the financial infrastructure is unstable, or open to corruption.
Dozens of companies are locked in battle to become to mobile phones what Microsoft was to personal computers a decade ago.
Developing an operating system that allows people to harness the computing power of their handsets to do more – such as editing documents on the go, checking emails, instantly accessing location-sensitive and location-specific news and information – is seen as an urgent priority by technology companies.
Find a way to provide the perfect mobile experience, and you will have a captive global audience of millions. No wonder Google is keen to get in on the action.
The search company sees the mobile web as the perfect opportunity to cement its online dominance on a new platform. And if it can also provide the sorts of programs and services that will work on any phone, of almost any age, into the bargain, then it’s not only good for Google, but good for consumers too, who will be able to do more with their handsets than ever before.
A new world order is emerging where technology is concerned – it is the software makers rather than the manufacturers who are setting the agenda for change, and controlling the pace of development.
If ever you needed proof that we’re moving towards a knowledge economy, then the triumph of ‘new’ thinkers, such as Google, over ‘old’ thinkers, such as Microsoft, is surely a case in point.
The Android project, though, is not without its pitfalls. While Google has chosen to launch the operating system on a limited number of handsets, presumably in order to keep hardware and software compatibility problems to a minimum, it will not always be thus.
The whole point of Android is to create a fluid, flexible, dynamic operating system that can work just as well on handsets of any shape, size, age and functionality, bringing the sort of mobile experience that is usually the preserve of smartphone owners to the telephonic masses.
In this way, Google guarantees the greatest possible penetration of its mobile services; but it also risks stretching itself too thin.
Google has said that it will launch Android Market place, its equivalent of Apple’s massively popular App Store, which will allow people to download software onto their handset.
More than 100 million applications were downloaded from Apple’s App Store in its first 60 days of launch – can Google hope to replicate such a tally?
Whereas Apple’s approach to the iPhone is one of a fussing mother, loathe to let its offspring wander too far from safety, Google takes a rather more laissez-faire approach.
Although iPhone developers can create applications and tools for the iPhone, they are not made available to owners until they have passed under Apple’s watchful eye.
The reasoning behind this is that a pre-approval process is designed to ensure that only good quality applications make it into the App Store. It has the added bonus of guaranteeing the best possible compatibility between software and hardware, an area of which Apple is famously protective.
Google, on the other hand, has chosen to make Android entirely open-source, which means that anyone is able to build programs and applications for Android devices, for free, without the need for pre-approval.
“We’re really hoping the mobile community comes around [Android] and continues to bring it forward,” said Mike Jennings, one of Google’s mobile development team.
“We think it’s cool. You’ll be able to write apps and distribute them to friends very easily.”
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Although this gives carte blanche to developers, and could result in some very interesting software being written for the Android platform, it also means that Google surrenders control of its product.
If developers fail to produce software that works seamlessly and brilliantly across all Android platforms, then Android risks losing out to Apple, which will quickly become viewed as the more reliable device.
Google has set much store by the quality of its operating system, and the possibilities that Android Market will bring.
“Once customers leave the shop with the device, the thing that keeps them happy will be the software,” said Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms. The problem is, how do you communicate that message to consumers?
Although the G1 is being touted as the “Google Phone”, there’s likely to be no Google branding on the device. It’s made by HTC, a relatively unknown if prodigious Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturer, and it’s going to be sold by T-Mobile.
“Customers don’t buy operating systems; they buy products,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis. And the truth is that, as a product, early indications suggest the G1 is solid if unspectacular. While it’s certainly bound to be feature-packed, and the combination of slide-out Qwerty keyboard and touchscreen interface works surprisingly well, it’s going to look like a brick compared to the latest handsets from Apple and BlackBerry.
“It ain’t no iPhone,” said Yankee Group analyst John Jackson, perhaps rather ruefully. And yet the device is likely to be priced to compete directly with Apple’s ‘Jesus phone’, despite falling short in the looks department.
That’s a pricing decision that the companies launching the G1 might come to regret – whereas the iPhone had a ready-made and evangelical audience who would have camped out in snow to get their hands on the device, it seems likely that only uber-geeks and technology bloggers will be taking to their sleeping bags for the launch of the G1.
There’s also the problem of differentiation. Google has been exceptionally quick to recognise the opportunities offered by the mobile platform. In recent years, it has struck deals with key handset manufacturers and network carriers to integrate key services, such as Google Mail, Google Maps and Google internet search bars, into a wide variety of devices.
It could be argued that the G1 will offer more of the same, albeit with extra bells and whistles. Will it really have the features to persuade consumers to abandon their current handsets and opt for an Android phone when their contract next comes to an end?
If Apple’s iPhone is aimed at the young, hip and tech-savvy, then Android is, in the kindest sense, its polar opposite.
It’s designed for people who don’t want to spend extortionate amounts on the latest whizzy handset. Android is designed for the everyman; bringing the desktop computing experience to the masses. While this potentially places Google in an incredible position, with its software, services and advertising platform at the heart of millions of handsets, it could also be shackles that limit its success.
Buying an iPhone or BlackBerry is seen as a conscious purchasing decision; opting for Android could simply end up as a default more than a choice.
Via The Telegraph