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It's All Android, All the Time

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Mobile industry insiders are in San Diego this week attending the CTIA conference, and they have two things on their minds — that damn iPhone and how it has them flocking to what seems to be only decent alternative: Google’s Android. They desperately need something to counter the Apple onslaught and Android is their best best — they just won’t come out and say it.

Instead, there is a lot of talk about open networks, innovation and network neutrality from AT&T Wireless’ Ralph de la Vega, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and others. But all that talk doesn’t mean attendees aren’t thinking about Android. The number of Android phones is on an upswing, thanks in large part to the release of new models such as the Samsung Behold and Samsung Instinct. By some estimates, there should be about 15 Android-powered phones on the market by the end of 2009.


That is precisely why the Gartner Group is feeling bullish about Android. The research firm came out with a report today forecasting that Android will increase its share of the smartphone market to about 14 percent by 2012 from a mere 2 percent today. In doing so, it would overtake Windows Mobile and others, racing ever closer to the Nokia-backed OS, Symbian.

I’m all for competition, and I’m glad that Android is here and giving the folks at Nokia (s NOK) and Research in Motion (s RIMM) the worst kind of migraine. It’s a modern, Internet-oriented OS that serves as a nice contrast to that of Apple’s iPhone. It’s also a symbol of the creative bankruptcy of the wireless industry. As you can see by looking at a sampling of new handsets that were announced over the past six weeks, they all look pretty much the same — the only difference is their user interfaces:


I wonder if the plurality of user interfaces — notably those of the HTC Sense, MotoBlur and Samsung Touchwiz — is going to create confusion in the minds of consumers and lead even more of them into the arms of Apple and its iPhone. With the release of a $99 version of the device, Apple has a shot at rapidly increasing its user base, and can leverage its App Store to stay ahead. We saw that happen in the digital music player space, where the iPod and its iconic look helped Apple run away with the market.

23 Responses to “It's All Android, All the Time”

  1. Give the Android folks credit. The anyone but Apple coalition NEEDS a platform building alternative to iPhone, sees in Android a capable offering that is horizontally organized (multi-device, multi-carrier), and which can be taken in-house and forked to serve the needs of its maker, if they desire.

    If PC 1.0 was the analog, it would be akin to saying the Mac is a hardware, software solution, and Windows is a software solution that can support any number of Hardware OEMs, AND you can create your own, derivative, customized version of Windows if you’d like.

    That’s compelling scenario to Hardware OEMS (Motorola, Dell) and Carriers (T-Mobile, Verizon), who see themselves as having “unfair advantages” yet to bring to bear, and wanting to control their own destiny as the market evolves.


  2. I have to admit, I am an iPhone user and I love it! I can do everything I usually do on it, that I do at home. I haven’t looked much in to android but it looks nicer and maybe a tad faster than what I have now. Then I’m game. I think it’s important for many operating systems to be available because as we can see with desktop pc, you are kind of limited to mac, windows, linux…

  3. Om,
    You have a very valid point there. IMHO , APPLE , RIMM and PALM will be the real winners here.
    These three companies control software and hardware of their phone.
    They can design the product better than Google, which as you pointed leave the manufacturer to put their own skin ( UI). This will cause more confusion in customer , leading to lack of brand identity.

    Sure ,Android will take over the market in a year or two to reach may be 20%, but then the uphill battle of bringing the new features will begin. Its a race where you have to bring new features and you have to do it quickly.

    Companies who has money and a tough stomach for long term strategies will survive.
    I don’t think Google has bandwidth to fight this battle on a long term.
    WinMo was irrelevant just two years back, now , look at their new HTC Touch HD2.

    All in all it will be APPLE ( because they are smart) , PALM ( because they know a thing or two about Mobile) , RIMM (because they make no nonsense neat products) and finally Microsoft (because they are Microsoft) will get more market share in the coming five years.

    The loser here is Nokia.

    • I actually would swap out Microsoft for Nokia. I believe that they will come around to a Linux base and a WebKit presentation layer like Palm. That won’t leave Palm with a distinction however. The N900 is mighty impressive.

      The next battle in my mind is making devices function more like laptops in that we need interfaces with email, contacts and documents. Microsoft had the high ground here, and Google is soon to meet this need. If I were Microsoft, and I am sadly not, I would build a cross platform browser ala Chrome, and develop the web based tools — Office — asap. Essential functional apps could be built in a year. Invest in something like Skype and leave it a separate company turning it into Voice. And, develop collaboration tools based on these two services. That was good for two minutes!

      Nokia is not out…

      • I would agree with you but for one thing , Nokia is slow.

        Nokia had two plus years time since the original iPhone announcement to come up with a nice web capable phone. Its only recently in 2009 they came up with decent browser on their phone. They should have bought OPERA and improvised it. They didn’t.

        Either Nokia’s executives were dumb or they are slow to react. I would say the later , they are slow to react.

        APPLE’s greatest strength is speed of execution. PALM is matching it. They came up with the WebOS in two years time. RIM , OTOH is churning out same old same old handsets.

        While Microsoft is slow , they are letting the device manufacturers to pick the hardware. Look at the new 1 GHz snap dragon processors on WinMo phones ( Toshiba tG01 and HTC HD2).

        Right now Windows phone is the first phone in the world to break the 1GHz processor barrier. I haven’t seen win Mobile 7 software , so can’t comment on that. But I would assume it be better than 6.5.

        Nokia is neither improving software not strengthening their hardware.
        They need to be on top of these two areas of the phone to get ahead of the rest.

        While I respect Nokia’s phones , they offer no special features to me.

        Give me a 4 inch screen phone, a 5 MP camera , super fast processor , clean UI with no lag, Qwerty keyboard and two days of battery life , now you are talking.

  4. ArseneKarl

    In 2009 iPhone already have 13%+ SmartPhone market share, so Apple will just stop pushing for more and concentrate on the next Big Thing (presumably iTablet)?

    Gartner seems to be overhyping Android, and maybe for good reasons.

  5. Guys, let’s be real here. No “analysis” from any single person or company can predict what really is going to happen. The fact of the matter is that every company in the Mobile OS war is working on something, that’s for sure. Yes, iPhone got a head start with its fancy UI and the App Store, but innovation is not lacking anywhere.

    Yes, it’s gonna take a very powerful force to tap the market that Apple’s captured, but not impossible. Judging by what I’ve seen, Android has a VERY GOOD chance of becoming the top iPhone contender because of its nature. It’s open source. People do and make whatever they want for it, and hack and abuse it in a million ways.

    @Nicholas brought up an interesting point. People are forgetting about Flash. Flash it powerful. That’s all I have to say.

    • It’s not that it is powerful. Frankly, I can’t stand the technology, but Adobe was handed the perfect marketing opportunity. People — me — are rather annoyed at having our ideas co-opted or dismissed by others for no good reason. It appropriately brought out the FCC. As I look around at development platforms for marketing, advertising and media purposes, it is not Eclipse that attracts me. More Java. Thanks! So, Adobe comes along as the potential savior of these other platforms in terms of development doing to Java what it could only dream of doing to itself.

      It took a lot for me to want Flash on the iPhone. Thank you Apple! It won’t replace coded apps. It will replace most of the low-level work that comprises the media world. The only counter is WebKit (albums and such) packages across most of the platforms, and offline capabilities. These will be be here by the summer.

      The Cliq is quite nice, and in the presentation I finally understood MotoBlur. Interesting stuff, though it needs to be developed and communicated well. Android will surpass the iPhone by the simple fact that it will be pushed across all carriers and handset makers. Palm’s tech is nice, but I can’t imagine them gaining the marketshare that is necessary to rank. Interesting times.

  6. Android has two big problems, one is that it is late to the game and just doesn’t have the market momentum that the iPhone does. The second is that several vendors are customizing the Android UI, so the market is further fragmented. For a developer the comparison is likely to be develop once for iPhone, get 95% of your market. Develop five slightly different versions for Android, and get 1% of your market for each version….

    Its an “open” project and the cat is already out of the bag, so even if Google puts pressure on vendors to support one build of an app that runs on all the Android phones, there is still going to be a lot more hassle for developers and customers.

    However, I do agree that Android will become the dominant not-an-iphone contender, I’ve been publishing that prediction for about two years now.

    • @Adrian, the vendors customize the skin, not the underlying applications. I think this is a decent approach that allows for branding, but still allows for a application developers to build upon a common and consistent platform.

      With that said, Android is not a “gotta have it” phone. Its real value will be google giving it away to handset manufacturers, and thus leading to cost savings. If a handset manufacturer has to decide between WinMo (licensed per device) and Android (free) for a mainstream phone, which would you pick?

  7. Just thought I would offer this reprise from the conversation Om had with de la Vega in June of last year:

    OM: Ralph, as I wrote earlier today, I think the biggest concern is the ability of AT&T to handle the 3G network traffic that would emanate as people start using this new 3G iPhone. What are your thoughts?

    RDLV: We have tried to model the usage of the new phone and prepared the network accordingly. We have taken our 2G iPhone usage data and we feel extremely comfortable to be able to deal with the demand. We have a maximum throughput of 3.6 Mbps and soon it will be 20 Mbps. The core of the network is going to run faster as well.

    “extremely comfortable to be able to deal with the demand.” Can we have a vote on how well that went off?

    And what about that… “soon it will be 20 Mbps” ? Do we need to ask what “soon” means?

    Just asking…

  8. Nitin Nanivadekar

    I am using Nokia E50, the cheapest thing ($125+, no billing commitment) to do a Blackberry. I am absolutely happy with it.

    Giving to hype, I tried iPhone for enterprise use. I used Google Sync. I was shocked to find it does not receive mail when it is screen locked. Unlocking screen is a sexy, touchy gesture but why hold on to your mail because you are dead asleep? Now this sleepy iPhone is a standard feature and it tries to enter sleep mode at the earliest (power saving … huh!!!).

    iPhone is history for enterprise, no matter Exchange hosting. It is not built for enterprise, not a single Apple product cries out for enterprise productivity. I heard Android is no better.

    Windows phone is wonderful, but I don’t know why every blogger is after its early demise. Yes, MS is dead slow on innovativeness but it is a great software. I am yet to try Exchange account (or Google sync) on Windows phone because I am scared to own one, given to the negative hype.

    I am absolutely happy with Blackberry on my dated Nokia phone. But the cost v/s features let me miles away from Blackberry device.

    Overall, I am not able to find any alternative for my E50. I still use the dated phone.

    • Nitin, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

      The iPhone has native Exchange support, and it is true push. Google Sync is not required for Exchange support, and if there are issues around push, it’s related to Google Sync. The iPhone most certainly _does_ receive emails when it is locked (“asleep”)… my phone buzzes in my pocket all day as I receive push emails.

      Interesting that you’d pan a product that you have no idea how to set up and use.

  9. I agree that most of the attention is primarily a reaction to the iPhone. As a developer, I am looking for a market that will create a viable platform for new products. That is not the iPhone, because Apple will dismiss, or not approve, anything that threatens their “current” revenue.

    Personally, Flash represents a way to get past most of these issues, and to commoditize mobile even further. Most of the OS vendors will not match Apple any time soon in tool or market availability, so Adobe has an attractive opening. Android is better than most, but not as good as it should be.

    May we live in interesting times!

  10. I think your point is valid; the “plurality of user interfaces” will indeed discount the experience of Android. The initial product entries running Android aren’t that impressive – in my opinion – and users just aren’t that passionate about the “phones” as they are about the iPhone or its closest cousin the Palm Pre.

    Great OS, but poor execution on Google’s behalf.

    • Freud – you can say the same about Windows Mobile, with TouchFlo3D and TouchWiz and the like, even more so than Android, OEMs delight in bunging on a UI overlay on to of the OS. That said, I don’t think that there are too many who would accuse WinMo of being a great OS, unlike Android which, particularly in its1.6 Donut iteration, is showing a fair amount of promise.

  11. I’ve been in IT for a long time and know that Gartner is wrong far more often than they are right. They have no value and I’m amazed they are still around.