Android: Google’s Next Big Move

In an April 18, 2007 post on our virtual office, I predicted that Google would unveil an operating system (OS) accessible from anywhere. Although not exactly what I had envisioned, I was excited when, in November 2007, Google announced the Android OS.

Android is the product of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which consists of thirty-four technology companies. Android is built on Linux and is the first open-source mobile OS. It is highly customizable, allowing mobile phone companies and developers to customize the software to provide the best experience for the user. It’s like having a suit—the OS—tailored to the person—the mobile phone—rather than expecting one suit to fit the body of ever person—the traditional approach of mobile operating systems, like Windows Mobile.

The HTC Dream, the first Android-equipped phone, is set to be released through T-Mobile in October, with presales for existing customers beginning on September 17. Like every major release, Android-equipped phones were initially dubbed possible iPhone killers. But, some recent industry reports have started to look less favorably on Android’s potential.

Android is going to be anything but a surefire hit. The leaked pictures of the HTC Dream make it clear that at least the first phone is going to live or die by the functionality of the Android OS.

Android’s greatest asset is also going to be its greatest liability: companies will have to customize Android for each phone. In effect, the viability of the product is going to depend on how well the phone integrates with the OS, and vice versa. And this is ultimately out of Google’s hands in the hands of the carriers and mobile developers that are part of the OHA.

It will probably take awhile before a company releases a phone incorporating the Android software that will stack up well against the functionality of the iPhone. This says more about the mobile companies’ abilities to create an integrated user-friendly design than the viability of Android.

And, turning Android and the phone into a match made in heaven is going to be a problem amplified by many of the OHA members also being members of the Symbian Foundation—another open-source mobile platform in the works. This could lead to the same companies attempting to design phones using competing open source mobile platforms that require their operating systems to be tailored to the needs of each phone. It sounds like a huge potential headache that could compete for resources.

The best use of Android won’t be an attempt to make an iPhone killer; the best use won’t even compete for the same market—the all-in-one, portable, multimedia device. It’s best use will be to embrace the power of customization and allow mobile devices to be fully tailored to an individual’s needs. If Android is successful, this will probably result in mobile phone devices aimed at specific functional requirements, which will then be able to be customized further according to a certain business’s or individual’s needs. Phones will be able to be tailored to the individual on a mass scale at an affordable price. Perhaps Android will take on the Long Tail of the mobile industry, enabling niche phones.

Beyond the mobile-handset market, Android may, if Google has anything to say about it, play a major role in bringing mobile marketing to life. How mobile marketing will pan out is anyone’s guess, with the $1 billion question being how to not annoy the user. If open source is leading the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually see phones and possibly even monthly contracts subsidized by advertisers. And that may go a long way to lowering the annoyance factor.

The future of Android is uncertain. I don’t plan on trading my iPhone in for a GPhone anytime soon, but I can’t wait to see what Android holds for the future of the mobile market.

Where to go from here
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