Key Tests Ahead for Android

Carl Weinschenk

Smartphones are among the healthier of a rather anemic crop of telecommunications products and services this year, so even more attention than usual is being trained on the category.

One of the most interesting subsidiary categories in the smartphone realm is Android. The open source operating system is being spearheaded by Google through the Open Handset Alliance. InfoWorld's Amber Bouman provides a nicely glib look at where Android is and where it likely is going in the near future. She begins by noting that there are a lot more announcements than handsets. Still, the list of companies that at least want people to think they are in the Android game-which includes Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Garmin, Lenovo, Huawei, Asus and HTC-is impressive. The hottest rumors involve the Bluetooth-enabled Fiesta from HTC, the OPhone from Lenovo and as many as four phones from Samsung.

It stands to reason that the company most closely associated with a product will be the most likely to insist that things are moving along swimmingly. That seems to be the case with Android. mocoNews reports that during last week's conference call, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that Android is going to have a "very strong year." The writer points out that the vendors that have promised Android devices for the most part have not provided road maps. Moreover, Sony and Ericsson sounded as if they are hedging a bit. Schmidt said the operating system will be used in both phones and netbooks this year, and that vendors are pursuing the netbooks without pushing by Google.

It's crunch time for smartphone operating systems. The fate of Android as a full competitor may hang in the balance as Apple prepares the iPhone 3.0 and the Palm Pre approaches its introduction. While geeks might relish Android's open source spunk, almost everyone will buy simply based on which hardware/software combination best suits their needs best. Against that backdrop, the OHA is readying Android version 1.5. The consensus in this Computerworld piece-reached by J. Gold Associates' Jack Gold, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney and Rob Enderle, who runs his own consulting firm and blogs for IT Business Edge-is that Android 1.5 will do well if it can simply keep pace with the others. An early look at the software developers' kit for the OS promises soft keyboards, live folders, speech recognition and other features. The analysts point out that these features already have been delivered by other smartphone operating systems.

Android, of course, is mainly focused on the smartphone. It also is set to be used in netbook OSes. InformationWeek reports that a third venue has emerged for Android: set-top boxes. The piece says that it soon will be used in Motorola's au Box, which is being made at the behest of Japanese Internet service provider KDDI. au Box will be able to play DVDs and CDs, transfer music and video to mobile devices and rip and store files. Perhaps even more intriguing for Android is the support by the Open Embedded Software Foundation, a Japanese electronics manufacturer's group that is pushing to include Android in a number of different types of devices.

If the next year or so is going to determine the future for the smartphone pecking order, Apple enters the fray with quite an advantage. ReadWriteWeb looks at recent consumer research from mobile analysts Flurry. The main points of the post are summed up by graphic at the top of the story. Based on the firm's findings, the iPhone and Apple are in great position. It leads in developers with 72 percent, followed by Android with 22 percent, JavaME with 5 percent and BlackBerry with 1 percent. Applications are led by the iPhone with 64 percent. It is followed by Android and JavaME with 16 percent apiece and BlackBerry with 4 percent. iPhone has a whopping 84 percent of consumers, with Android at 7 percent and JavaME at 6 percent. The fact that BlackBerry got shut out by Flurry suggests that the results should be taken more as a gauge of the pecking order than of precise market share numbers.

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