Google today made another mobile announcement, but it’s related to Apple’s iPhone, rather than the much-hyped Open Handset Alliance (OHA) it sponsors.
The company introduced improvements to the suite of Web applications it offers for the device — Search, Gmail, Calendar and Reader. Google began offering the suite only last month.
As indicated by its latest iPhone efforts, Google still has ambitions to support mobile platforms beyond those it’s leading.
With the OHA, Google aims to create an open development platform for mobile devices, so applications can run without the complicated pre-qualification process developers have to go through today with most carriers.
The first handsets by OHA partners and powered by Google’s Android software aren’t expected till later this year.
Until then, the company seems content to support other vendors’ mobile platforms, such as the Apple iPhone, of which it was an early supporter.
In the improvements to its iPhone suite, Google said it has streamlined the user interface and sped up the applications, making them easier to activate using the iPhone’s touch-screen interface.
One example is Gmail. New e-mails now automatically show up in the inbox, just like the standard Web-based version of Gmail. Until now, iPhone users had to manually refresh to see new e-mails.
Google also added auto-complete, making it easier to enter a recipient’s name when composing an e-mail.
Default tabs can now be customized, so Google users can place their favorite applications front-and-center on the Google.com menu bar.
Also new is the ability for users to access their iGoogle gadgets on the iPhone. Consequently, the same gadgets users have selected to appear on their Web-based iGoogle page — such as weather, stocks and news feeds — can now appear on their iPhones.
In addition to marking a move by Google to further its support for another mobile platform, the attention given to the iPhone by the online giant comes on the heels of surprising trends in user adoption.
On Christmas, traffic to Google from iPhones surged, surpassing incoming visits from any other type of mobile device, according to internal Google data reported by The New York Times.
Although the iPhone traffic — ostensibly from holiday gifts — trailed off a few days later to levels below devices powered by the Nokia-backed Symbian operating system, the iPhone remains in the No. 2 spot, above other types of mobile devices.
The traffic surge is especially impressive given the iPhone’s tiny market share. According to IDC, the iPhone only has about 2 percent of the smartphone market worldwide, while Symbian-powered phones account for 63 of the market.
Windows Mobile-based devices have 11 percent, followed by Research in Motion’s Blackberry, with 10 percent.
Analysts quoted by the Times credited the traffic boom to iPhone’s browser, which they said is among the easiest for surfing the Web on a mobile device.
Longer-term, Google said it plans to extend its newest software improvements to international versions of the iPhone and to other platforms that offer similar usability and browser capabilities.
Presumably, that could include phones based on Android.
In a statement, Google said one of its goals is to “support platforms that are fulfilling the promise of the mobile Web — like the iPhone — and to ultimately deliver unique and compelling mobile experiences that improve people’s daily lives.”
Google’s iPhone announcement coincides with start of the Macworld Expo this week in San Francisco, at which the search giant will be exhibiting. The iPhone, which Apple recently said would be opened to developers, has attracted a growing set of programmers interested in tapping its potential for serious business applications.
More broadly, Google joins Microsoft, Yahoo and others looking to cash in on the burgeoning mobile marketplace. Just last week, Yahoo announced a major mobile initiative.
One key way that online search and portal players expect to make money from mobile is through advertising-based services. According to a report released today by ABI Research, revenue for mobile marketing is set to jump from $1.8 billion in 2007 to a whopping $24 billion by 2013.
The research firm attributed its bullish revenue forecast to wider consumer adoption of mobile messaging and the rise of new platforms for advertising-supported mobile search, video and gaming content services.