Google Android wakes-up and smells the carrier craziness

GoogleandroidToday’s Wall Street Journal offers some not-so-good news on the hotly anticipated handsets running on the Google Android platform. Expectations of launches in the second half of this year are getting reset and it looks like there’s two main reasons: evolution of the platform itself and "carrier craziness", which is my term for the custom apps and services that create additional revenue streams for the carriers.

Android doesn’t appear to be in a state of readiness as I read it, but I could be reading into things too much. Plus, I’m not a developer, so it could be that the Android environment is only getting minor tweaks that affect applications. I think the bigger issue here can be seen from this article quote:

"One hold-up at Sprint is that the carrier would like to develop its ownbranded services based on Android, rather than just carry a phone withthe built-in features Google plans to offer."

While voice and data plans clearly generate revenue, here in the U.S. the "add-on" services further leverage the revenue stream and infrastructure investment. So much so that devices are often sold to consumers in a semi-crippled state. I lost track of how many devices with integrated GPS radios can’t be used for location based services right out of the box; you often have to pay an additional monthly fee and use the carrier-developed less-than-optimal software, even when native software to use the service is on the device. My own EV-DO card has an integrated GPS radio built-in, but it’s disabled by my carrier. That same device on another carrier? Usable as it should be.

Regardless, it’s becoming clear to me (and probably Google at this point) that the grand plan for Android can’t go as quickly as one would hope. In fact, the WSJ says that Google is putting so many resources into helping T-Mobile with an Android handset that it’s taking away from helping other carriers like Sprint. As a result, T-Mo is looking at a fourth quarter launch and Sprint is looking at next year. The timing may further impact Sprint as they look to push their WiMAX offerings: they’re considering if they even want an Android phone with 3G at all now.

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