Mobile World Congress (MWC), the de-facto global stage for new mobile devices, is winding down, and in just three years’ time, Google’s Android (s goog) platform has gone from an idea to star of the show. The center stage for Android at such a global event solidifies the platform as a force to be reckoned with around the world, not just in the U.S. where smartphone adoption rates are higher than in most other countries. The only minor glitch for Android on the world’s stage was news that Apple’s iPhone 4 won for “best mobile device of the year” at MWC, even though Apple (s aapl) itself had no presence at the show. That reinforces that it’s a two-horse race for first in mobile ecosystems, while other platforms fight it out for third place.
Android Goes Global
Even with Apple’s award win, however, Android still owned the mind share at MWC, with dozens of devices using Google’s platform. Device manufacturers from all parts of the globe, both big and small, have adopted Google’s free mobile operating system to create cheap handsets, high-end smartphones, and of course, tablets big and small. That isn’t to say other platforms weren’t represented; also in attendance were devices that run HP’s (s hpq) webOS, Microsoft’s (s msft) Windows Phone 7, and Research In Motion’s (s rimm) QNX operating system, used for its upcoming PlayBook tablet. But these were already shown off at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show or at U.S. press events earlier this month, indicating a bigger U.S. push for such devices. In contrast, Android is clearly a platform for the world.
It’s Samsung’s Galaxy and We Just Live In It
Take Samsung as just one example: The No. 2. handset maker in the world introduced five new smartphones, a larger tablet to complement the current 7-inch unit it has been selling for several months, and two would-be iPod competitors. What’s the common denominator? They’re all built to run Google Android. Indeed, Samsung has embraced Android in an Apple-like approach: Use one platform to create a very compelling line of devices. The company did just that with its popular Galaxy S handset last year by designing a single phone with just minor carrier tweaks. It enjoyed more than 10 million Galaxy S sales in the second half of 2010. Now, the Galaxy Ace, Fit, Geo and mini join the Galaxy line, as does the Galaxy S II, which is packed with advanced hardware and software features. And the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with Android 3.0 is set to compete against Apple’s iPad in the near future.
Here Comes ZTE
Another example is ZTE, a Chinese handset maker that has gone from little brand recognition outside Asia to the no. 4 seller of handsets on the planet in 2010, surpassing Apple in handset sales. How did ZTE accomplish such a feat? The company has specialized in low-cost devices until now and is pairing that inexpensive hardware expertise with the freely available Android platform. ZTE is moving outside the borders of its traditional geography and into places such as Africa and South America, which have been feature-phone strongholds due to limited mobile broadband infrastructure. But these areas are undergoing a 3G transformation, positioning low-priced Android handsets from ZTE and others squarely in the right place at the right time.
Android’s Army on Display
Indeed, no matter where attendees looked at MWC, Google’s little green Android was seemingly everywhere. LG’s Android efforts showed in the LG Pad tablet, Optimus 3D and Revolution smartphones. Motorola (s mmi) again showed off the Xoom tablet and finally confirmed pricing of $799 for the 3G/4G model and $600 for Wi-Fi only. Sony Ericsson (s sne) (s eric) is merging PSP games and controls with Android in the Xperia Play. And HTC introduced five new handsets and the Flyer tablet, all of which are Google powered; even the ChaCha and Salsa phones, which have a dedicated Facebook sharing hardware button.
Press releases, keynotes and device announcements aside, perhaps the most telling sign of global enlistment in the Android army is this Engadget video of the “Android assembly line” of Google devices on display at the show!
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