RealTime IT News

Android's Secret Sauce? The Platform.

The much-ballyhooed Android phone gets its close-up today at a T-Mobile event in New York.

Will the phone live up to the hype? A lot of that depends on the platform, rather than how the smartphone might compete with the iPhone, considered by consumers and phone makers as the gold standard in smartphone design.

The handset's mid-morning launch in New York City will draw lots of media coverage and is already prompting research firms to predict the handset will about 4 percent market share by year's end -- that equates to 250,000 units sold in the next three months.

But several pundits believe the tentatively named "HTCDream/G1" device won't have the allure, prestige or promise that Apple's iPhone delivered when it debuted in 2007. And, despite Google's brand power, it will be the software -- not the hardware -- that will prove compelling to consumers.

Google's entrance into the mobile device realm will cap what has likely been one of the most competitive years for the handset industry and the wireless network market as well. Hardware, software and network players are scrambling to grab more subscribers, outsell on the device front and propel greater mobile data service use to boost already strong revenues.

At this point Android-based handsets are being viewed by experts primarily as a consumer device play, rather than an enterprise option, given heavy competition from vendors such as Research in Motion and its BlackBerry products and smartphones running on Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS. Even the ever popular iPhone is not viewed a strong enterprise device despite its brand power due to critical security issues and mobile access to business data.

The newest market study, a report today from J. Gold Associates, predicts Android will garner 4.8 percent of business market share in the next three years.

At the head of the pack, according to the research firm, is RIM's BlackBerry, which now holds 65.5 percent market share though the report states that share will dip slightly to 59.3 percent in three years.

In contrast Windows Mobile will gain share over the next three years, increasing from 22.5 percent to 28.6 percent, according to the report. Other players ahead of Google include Palm, which is expected to have 9.1 percent, Linux with 6.1 percent and Nokia hanging on tight with 6.5 percent in three years. The research firm expects Apple';s iPhone will be important to 16 percent of companies in the same timeframe.

Neither Google or T-Mobile, the initial named carrier for the device, provided any official information though the wireless carrier is streaming a live Web cast of the launch. The clampdown on details hasn't stopped the blogsphere from reporting on supposed features such as a touch screen and five-row keyboard.

Android, which was built under the auspices of the Open Handset Alliance, features an operating system, middleware, user interface and applications. The Alliance has previously stated it will be made available under one of the "most progressive, developer-friendly open source licenses" that will provide significant freedom and flexibility for product design. Google, which acquired Android in 2005, (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced its mobile phone plans in November 2007.

In terms of device sales analysts said it would take a monumental feat to beat Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone achievements given that Apple shipped a million units in just three days this past June following the release of its second handset, the iPhone 3G. Recently Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicted Apple is on track to sell about 4.5 million iPhones worldwide in the current fiscal quarter.

"The consumer mobile phone market is undergoing a major shift and Apple iPhone is the most visible part," Steve Kille, analyst, Ferris Research, told InternetNews.com. "There is a strange trade off between a phone being a device and a platform," he said about the Google handset, noting that tradeoffs on the platform side can be compelling given that so few devices offer openness.

"The winners in the software space for phones will need a strong base platform and a great family of applications. Apple has a strong position and are tying software to hardware," said Kille, adding though that "Google is very serious about the mobile space and is driving a high-quality free mobile platform. The quality of the Google platform is high and I think they have a very strong play."

But as Carmi Levy, senior VP for strategic consulting at AR Communications, notes, Google's got much work ahead if it aims to make a dent in the consumer smartphone space given all the competition, and the fact that Android has little chance of an enterprise play until security concerns are settled.

"That's [the enterprise] a difficult environment for launching a new mobile platform," Levy said.

"Google has its work cut out for it. HTC and other players need to keep the pipeline full of compelling products that continue to push the bounds of what consumers expect smartphones to be."