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Attack of the Androids

There are indicators that suggest a sea change is in the offing for the smartphone market. And this change is reportedly being spearheaded by none other than Google’s Android mobile operating system. Rewinding to just a year back, we had only one Android phone in the market; the T-mobile G1. A year later, and there are now several phones available through multiple OEMs, and counting. Current research suggests that Android is going to be the mobile OS of choice in the near future and years to come. Currently, Android has a two per cent market share when it comes to smartphones. While Symbian is the consolidated leader in all phones, a Gartner report suggests that it will be Android that will challenge Symbian’s position by 2012, and not iPhone. Why is this so? When you look at the current undisputed ruler of the smartphone market - the iPhone - you only have one form factor. Android phones on the other hand come in a variety of form factors. Whether it is hardware QWERTY, full touch, scroll wheel and other differences to fit preference.

Google’s game plan

The mobile operating system is open source but developed Google. Google has invested a lot in the platform with seemingly little apparent returns. It makes you wonder what Google’s game plan is, since it is the biggest investor in Android. Well the answer is simple. We’re going to call it the Google integration scheme. The idea is to get Android to as many users as possible, thereby creating an ecosystem where many of the company’s services, right from search to maps to mail will be seamlessly delivered to consumers. Remember, these devices have tight integration with Google’s services. From this point on the backbone and revenue generator of all Google’s activities kicks in - advertising. A strong foothold in the mobile advertising market is what Google will obviously look for, since the industry is expected to be at $10 billion by 2013, according to a study by Heavy Reading Research.

What are the challenges?

Form factors, which itself is an advantage for Android, in some ways could be it’s biggest downfall. A similar problem is faced by Windows Mobile as well. The trouble is that since there are many variations in hardware, the software needs to be developed for the lowest hardware specification unlike Blackberry or iPhone whose software is built specifically for the phone. Then there is the issue of keeping control over the developer community, and still making it worth their while. The developer community is quite averse to too much control so there needs to be a fine balance. Some reports suggest that the developer community is already irked with having to work with a software that needs to support so many diverse hardware specs. Now that Windows Mobile 6.5 has its Marketplace software delivery mechanism, in the future we may see a system of certifying applications. So will Google succeed? Whichever way the cookie crumbles, this space is going to be interesting to keep an eye on especially with players LG and Motorola coming out with their own Android phones soon.