The long-awaited Google phone was finally unveiled in New York at the end of September and, as expected, it’s geared towards internet use on the move, with a large touch-screen, a sliding QWERTY keyboard, 3G, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Google came up with the design concept, T-Mobile added suggestions about the user experience and HTC manufactured the phone. Browsing the internet on the phone has been made easy. The phone allows users to have a number of webpages open simultaneously, the screen automatically switches to landscape mode when the keyboard is pulled out, and it has a trackball to scroll through pages.
Google’s first phone is officially called ‘the T-Mobile G1 with Google’. It is free on T-Mobile on a £40 tariff, which includes unlimited data for browsing. It will only be available on consumer tariffs, but Richard Warmsley, T-Mobile’s head of internet and entertainment, expects it to appeal to some business users too. ‘What tends to happen with these devices is that they start out as consumer and move onto business,’ he says.
T-Mobile will be launching prominent advertising campaigns for the G1 handset over the next month to demonstrate the ease of browsing on the move with the phone.
Contrary to what was expected, the G1 barely has any Google branding on it. It is the first handset available with the Android operating system and, although Google is the original founder of the platform and the main force pushing it, the company emphasises that it is an open system and doesn’t want to be the only name associated with it.
The Open Handset Alliance, which has 30 members, has been created to make the system less Google-centric. Because the Andriod OS’ selling point is that it is open, the Google brand can’t feature too prominently on the handset. Geoff Blaber, analyst at CCS Insight, says: ‘That’s the dilemma they have. The challenge is that they can’t position the product as the Google phone because Android is an open platform. If they position it as the Google phone, it then sounds like a Google product, but at the same time they have try to keep it open for third parties.’
So if it is an Android phone, why should there be any Google branding on it at all? A spokesman for Google says: ‘The reason it says ‘with Google’ on the back of the phone is not because it runs on Android, but because T-Mobile made the decision to integrate Google services, like Google Maps, Gmail and Google Talk with the phone.’
He adds that future Android phones may not come with any Google applications preloaded and may not have any Google branding on them at all.
The OS battle
Android has a number of competing open operating systems, including Symbian, Microsoft and Linux, and they are all trying to win support in the industry. Blaber says: ‘There isn’t enough space for all these operating systems and there will be more consolidation. Google is looking for support for Android.’
Android has the power of Google behind it and therefore has a good chance of success, and HTC is unlikely to be the only handset manufacturer integrating the operating system.
He adds: ‘I would expect to see a product from Samsung and LG in 2009.’
Warmsley also confirms that other manufacturers are working on new Android phones, which are likely to be out in 2009.
The Application store
The G1 phone will be the first to offer access to the Android Market, the
store where users can buy applications for Android handsets. Apple has already proved how popular applications for mobile phones can be; the company sold 60 million apps in the first month after the launch of the Apple App Store, creating US$30m of revenue.
But while Apple’s version is branded Apple and controlled by the company, the Android Market will be open, according to Warmsley. He says: ‘The Android Market is completely open and anyone can develop on it. It won’t be controlled by one brand like what you may have seen before.’
The more applications there are available for download, the more appealing it makes the handset. Apple has published the specifications necessary to allow anyone to create applications for the iPhone and Android’s open doctrine also allows anyone to develop apps for phones running on the platform.
There are also some differences in the way the two stores operate. Warmsley says: ‘[The Android Application Market] is not a managed retail environment like the [Apple] App Store. It’s more like eBay, where users can rate the applications.’
At launch there are likely to be hundreds of applications in the Android Market, Warmsley says, and the number is likely to keep increasing. Google recently ran a developer competition to encourage application manufacturers to create apps for the operating system.
It is unclear how Android Market commercials work - Apple takes a 30% cut of the applications sold in its store and a similar revenue share system is expected for Android.
According to analysts at Ovum, capturing the interest of third parties to create applications beyond those from Google is vital for the success of the Android platform, which the G1 device alone cannot do.
G1 vs iPhone
The G1 phone will face the inevitable comparison with the iPhone, but the device has already received positive reviews. The physical rather than touch-screen QWERTY keyboard is one feature that has been welcomed. Also, the G1’s 3.2-megapixel camera is superior to the iPhone’s two megapixels.
Although the G1 is not intended as a business device, one major shortcoming it has is that it cannot be synchronised with Outlook Email. Apple has recently added this capability to the 3G iPhone.
‘Synchronising Outlook will probably be one of the applications we expect to be developed for Android,’ says Warmsley.
The design compared with the iPhone has received a lower rating in most reviews, but this is the first version of the handset. If, as expected, Samsung and LG manufacture an Android device, it is likely to be one with sleeker looks.
The G1 will be released in November.
T-Mobile G1 vs Apple iPhone: the specs
3.2-megapixel camera with fixed-focus
3.2-inch touch-screen, QWERTY keyboard, trackball
1GB of memory, expandable to 8GB
8GB of memory (16GB version available)