Google’s Dream to take on the iPhone

Tuesday marks the long-awaited introduction of the first phone running Google’s Android software, but some experts warn phone users not to get their hopes up too high.

T-Mobile’s launch of the Dream — a phone made by HTC and the first on the market to run Google’s Android software — likely won’t be accompanied by the mad rush that surrounded Apple’s introduction of the iPhone.

“Any launch short of the iPhone launch is going to seem small, so I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize that it doesn’t get like that very often,” said Bill Hughes, an analyst at In Stat. In fact, the hysteria surrounding the iPhone launch is likely never to be replicated in the mobile-phone world, he said.

Researchers from Strategy Analytics are predicting that 0.4 million Android phones will sell in the fourth quarter this year, making up 4 per cent of the smartphone market share in the U.S.

In comparison, Apple sold 1.12 million iPhones in the first quarter the phone was on the market, although the iPhone was for sale for a full three months and the Android phone will only likely sell for two months before the end of the year. While T-Mobile is planning a launch event on Tuesday, the phone is not expected to become available until as late as the end of October.

Still, even if sales of the first Android device are lower than the iPhone, the Android phone is notable for a few reasons: it’s Google’s serious entry into the mobile-phone market, it accompanies a shift in the mobile-phone market toward openness and it adds yet another platform in an already crowded mobile operating system market.

While Google already offers applications for mobile phones, designing an operating system allows it to more leeway in the types of applications it can offer. The company has complained about the difficulties working in the wireless industry, where operators often serve as gatekeepers to which applications users can download and use.

Operators can also prevent applications that use certain phone capabilities, such as GPS (Global Positioning System) or VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol). With Android, Google can design and offer essentially any kind of application.

“We expect Android will eventually offer a compelling range of mobile applications emphasizing Google’s online assets, such as advertising, mapping and search,” Neil Mawston, director at Strategy Analytics, wrote in a report released Friday.

But because Android is one of many incompatible mobile operating systems, its emergence won’t necessarily lead to an influx of new mobile applications.

In addition to Android, developers are also interested in building applications for Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, LiMo and the iPhone. None of those operating systems is compatible, so applications don’t inherently work on phones running the different software.

Developers simply don’t have enough time to target all of the operating system. “The reality is that there are only so many applications developers at any given time with a finite set of resources,” Hughes wrote in a recent report.

“They’re looking for the platform with the largest audience,” said Eric John, director of marketing for Forum Nokia, in a recent interview. Symbian, which runs Nokia’s smart phones, has the biggest market share of any operating system around the world, although only a small share in the U.S.

Android does appear to have attracted a healthy group of developers, who will be able to distribute their applications in a store hosted by Google.

However Android has also come under fire from some developers who claim that Google has not been forthcoming enough about the progress of updates to the software development kit. Some developers were also dismayed recently to discover that Google had offered the 50 winners of a contest an updated version of the software, while other developers continued to use a buggy, older version.

While the volume and quality of applications may yet be uncertain, Android surely is notable as yet another open mobile operating system. Symbian recently announced that it will open source the operating system and the LiMo Foundation has developed an open Linux-based mobile platform.

There is an “undeniable trend toward openness,” said Andrew Shikiar, director of global marketing for the LiMo Foundation.

Perhaps, but it’s unlikely that every platform, including those from Microsoft, Research In Motion and Apple, will open up. It’s all relative anyway, said Hughes. “A cynic would say the open movement is more of a political slash marketing move than a profound shift,” he said. “Probably, knowing the wireless industry in the U.S., it will end up more open than it was, but it’s never going to live up to some people’s ideals of what openness should be.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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