Just a couple of years ago, few would have believed that Google would soon become a major force in the mobile OS market. But that's exactly what has happened since the launch of the Android platform in late 2008, and there's been no sign of the mobile OS slowing down. On the contrary, IDC says Android is on track to become the No. 2 mobile OS by 2013.
"Mobile operating systems have become the key ingredient in the highly competitive mobile device market. Although the overall look and feel of the device will still play an important role in the buying process, the wrong choice of operating system coupled with an awkward user interface can mean the difference between success and failure," says Stephen D. Drake, vice president, Mobility and Telecom.
We're still waiting for that must-have Android device, but even though there doesn't yet exist an Android-powered handset we can't live without, there are several we could live with. And by 2013, there will be some 68 million Android-powered units in the wild, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 150 percent, IDC says.
Myxer, the Florida-based website which claims the Internet's largest catalogs of free ringtones, wallpapers, videos, applications, and games, has put together its inaugural report analyzing the download behavior of 30 million Android and iPhone users.
According to Myxer's data, Android users downloaded seven times as many freebie offerings as iPhone users in 2009. During that time, visits to Myxer's mobile site from users on the Android OS grew by 350 percent, compared to a 170 percent growth rate among iPhone users.
So what does it all mean? Myxer doesn't offer an explanation of why it thinks Android users downloaded so much more content than those on the iPhone, but even so, the two demographics combined don't account for the bulk of downloads. Blackberry owners dominate the free download scene, at least on Myxer's site, accounting for almost 70 percent.
Following a series of cyberattacks on Google and 33 other large-scale U.S. institutions suspected to have originated from China, Google earlier this week said it would delay the China launch of a pair of cell phones made by Samsung and Motorola. But if there was any fear that Google would attempt to stop all Android-based smartphones from launching overseas, you can put those concerns to rest. According to Lenovo, the company has every intention of releasing its Android-based LePhone in China this May, The Wall Street Journal reports.
"LePhone uses the Android operating system but we tailor our phones with our own applications. We are cooperating with other major Chinese Internet service providers including Sina, Sohu, and Tencent," said Lenovo Chief Technology Officer He Zhiquiang.
Meanwhile, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said his company remains "quite committed" to staying in China, but how that plays out is anyone's guess. Google last week also vowed to no longer censor its Chinese website, even if it led to halting operations in the country. This was reiterated on Thursday when Schmidt said his company will make changes to its now-censored search results in a "reasonably short time."
Droid's impressive showing has revived Motorola's hopes of its halcyon days coming back. To say that Android rescued Motorola from the brink would be an understatement of Android's contribution and Motorola's woes. In fact, Motorola was already past the brink and was helplessly waiting for the earth below to put it out of its misery when the Droid plucked it out of thin air.
However, the company's faith in Android may not yield as much as it expects. Google's decision to confront the Chinese government could not have come at a worse time for Motorola. The mobile phone maker hopes to make serious inroads into the lucrative Chinese smartphone market with Android-based offerings. But Google's latest decision to postpone the China launch of two Android phones, including one from Motorola, has cast a gray cloud over its plans.
Life is full of decisions, and for Asus, the big dilemma is which of Google's OSes would be the best fit for its upcoming smartbook, Android or Chrome.
"You still have some trade-off between Android and Chrome," said Jonney Shih, Asus' chairman. "With Android you might have the timing advantage, but Android is originally more for the smartphone, for the smaller screen. For Chrome, the original design objective is for a bigger screen -- it has multi-windowing, and is...maybe more suitable."
The decision has perplexed Asus so much that Shih admitted to having a prototype Android device in its lab "for quite a while," but has held off on launching it. In the meantime, the company is currently working on Chrome prototypes.
It's not just the OS that has Asus weighing the pros and cons. The company also wonders how many people would be willing to give up application compatibility in Windows in favor of a lower-cost subnotebook running Linux on an ARM chipset.
"With the current Wintel-based Eee PC, the advantage is you still enjoy the [application] compatibility," Shih said. "The smartbook is usually based on ARM -- then you will have some advantage in the cost. This will further push the original design of the netbook."
The Nexus One has been available for just over a week. Now, analytics firm Flurry has managed to estimate the number of handsets sold in week one is around 20,000. For comparison, the Droid sold about 250,000 in its first week. The iPhone sold a whopping 1.6 million. Even the T-Mobile Myouch 3G sold 60,000 units. So, what does this mean for the Superphone?
When looking at these numbers, one must consider the huge difference in the marketing and distribution. Verizon has spent millions advertising the Droid, and Apple always manages to make a spectacle of iPhone launches, and the humble MyTouch had marketing from T-Mobile to help it out. The Nexus One can only be purchased online, and there’s no real advertising. Even the launch event seemed subdued and procedural.
A spring Verizon launch may kick sales into overdrive, we’ll have to wait and see. For now, it could be Google is just fine with only selling a limited number of phones to early adopters. Considering the complaints about customer service, that might also be for the best.
With even Google leaping onto the smartphone bandwagon, those clamoring for a Zunephone now have a strong case. Perhaps Microsoft does need something more than just a software overhaul to arrest its slide in the smartphone market. OEMs remain under considerable pressure to abandon the relatively primeval Windows Mobile platform after the advent of the more voguish Android.
"Now, your other question was about I'm getting old. Zune, so Zune has been critically successful. And the way Zune is going to be successful for us in the future is you should think of that as our media service across multiple screens. We'll continue to have the Zune device screen. But, we now have Zune on Xbox. We have Zune on the PC. There are other places where Zune logically could go that we don't get to talk about yet. And I think lots of different screens with that capability can go,” said Bach. Zunephone still dwells the realms of wild speculation. Bach could very well be pointing toward something less radical.
Google’s Nexus One announcement earlier this week included confirmation that future phones sold on the Google website would all be available unlocked. So, Google intends to work with various hardware partners, and sell some of the resulting phones as Google branded. Some have said this could be a dangerous road for Google to travel, as they may risk alienating their partners. Among those critics is Microsoft.
Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices President Robbie Bach took Google to task for the move in a speech at CES. "Doing both in the way they are trying to do both is actually very, very difficult… Over time you have to decide whether your approach is with the partners or more like an Apple approach that is more about Apple. Google's is an interesting step. We'll see how people react," said Bach.
Microsoft has been struggling with Windows Mobile as of late, so you have to wonder if they should be giving Google advice in this space. It is possible that some hardware partners could be put off by Google’s move, but Android has one big advantage over Windows Mobile. Google does not charge their hardware partners a license fee to use Android. We’ll have to see if hardware companies are scared enough that Google could upstage them to pass up that deal.
Mobility is a nifty thing, and devices that can be mobile with you are a blessing. They are an even bigger blessing if they are keyed into your local surroundings, saving you from the tedious effort of narrowing down your geographic possibilities. Google has taken a step to make your mobile experience geographically relevant, adding a “Near me now” option to its search page.
Google says the “Near me now” option was designed to address two user problems: (1) making it faster and easier to find a place in the user’s immediate vicinity; and (2) making the search for popular categories really simple. Just load up Google.com on your mobile browser, allow your location to be known, and the “Near me now” option appears. Clicking it then limits your search to those places which are closest to you.
“Near me now” offers two possibilities. You can look up a specific place, such as a restaurant, or you can select an “Explore right here” option which will show you what’s local.
“Near me now” requires an iPhone (OS 3.x), or an Android device (version 2.0.1 or later). The accuracy of the service depends on how well your location can be determined through your phone provider or Internet connection.
Google made at splash at CES yesterday by officially unveiling its Nexus One smartphone "super phone," and while the device has garnered a range of responses, Google may have an even tougher time breaking into the enterprise market where security is the primary concern.
"Nexus One is running on Android 2.1, the latest update, so is equivalent to iPhone 1.0 and the first version of WebOS," said Dan Dearing, vice president of marketing at Trust Digital. "WebOS has improved its security to be on par with iPhone 2.0. [But] the iPhone 3GS provides the most comprehensive security controls with the addition of hardware-based encryption."
Dearing went on to claim that businesses are increasingly choosing the iPhone 3GS over competing devices, though that too also has security issues. But one of the roadblocks that could prevent the Nexus One from seeing a ton of enterprise use is the lack of a centralized model for distributing signed apps, says Forrester Researcher analyst Andrew Jaquith.
"In Android, you can sign your own applications, and what those applications do is left up to the developer, for good or ill," Jaquith said. "With the iPhone, Apple's stated intent with their approval process is to make sure the applications aren't doing anything naughty or using banned APIs. Unlike Android, Apple can yank a developer's certificate if it needs to."