Google Amps Up Android Tally

Up to 20 Android smartphones will be on the market worldwide this year as the battle for mobile market share becomes more fierce. In addition to Google’s Android, a key software update from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) for its iPhone ships next month as well as Palm’s highly touted Pre sporting the new webOS.

Eighteen to 20 Android handsets made by eight or nine different manufacturers will be for sale this year worldwide, Andy Rubin, Google (NYSE:GOOG) senior director for mobile platforms, said at the just completed Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco.

News of the amped up Android phone roll out comes at a time when competitors are enhancing their operating systems and gearing up for signature product launches in an effort to capitalize on the lucrative smartphone market, which is posting gains amid a wider slump in handset sales.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) just finished tweaking the BlackBerry operating system to support touchscreens and speedier browsing, while Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is poised to release iPhone OS version 3.0, with a slew of enhancements and perhaps a new iPhone model. Microsoft is also prepping updates to its Windows Mobile software.

Android is widely expected to be a challenger in the increasingly crowded mobile OS space. Android’s open source model means it’s relatively inexpensive for handset makers to build into their designs and also that it has the potential to be more customizable than the BlackBerry or Apple operating systems. It also integrates features such as Gmail and Google maps into the phone and includes an app store, designed to compete with the successful Apple App Store.

Still, with only one available Android phone on sale in the US, HTC’s T-Mobile G1, which surpassed 1 million in sales after six months, industry watchers have lamented the dearth of specific launch details by manufacturers.

Clearly, that’s about to change. Android models are poised for release in coming months, notably two from Samsung and at least one from HTC this summer and two from Motorola later in the year.

Despite being heralded as a potential game-changer in the mobile OS space, critics have said delays of upgrades to Android — version 1.5 was just officially released and version 2.0 is in the works — were causing handset makers to push release dates from summer to fall.

Growing pains?

At least one developer, however, said that Android is just suffering from growing pains of a new OS as carriers and manufacturers test the market.

“Once developers hear something’s coming, they’re eager to get it, and Google, unlike some other companies, is fairly open, so it gets everyone excited and chomping at the bit, whereas other platforms, you don’t hear a thing and then it just shows up once a year. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Ted Wugofski, CTO of mobile applications developer Handmark, told

He added that the Android ramp up is likely to truly accelerate over the next two years.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Android is coming in a big way, though maybe not this year. The way it usually works is each manufacturer will start with one, maybe two, phones on a new platform.

“They’ll test it out, figure out how to sell it to the operators, before they build a bunch of models based on it. The second year, you’ll see they have three. But it’s the year after that you’ll see a dozen in the line up and it will take off.”

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