Google’s open platform operating system, Android, is attracting a lot of interest from the mobile industry.Symbian vs Android
It’s a low cost competitor to the iPhone, with limitless application possibilities, but operators and manufacturers may need to risk their own brand being overshadowed by Google if they are to take advantage.
Android allows anyone to develop applications for it; making it a means for operators to tap into revenue from mobile advertising.
Nick Sharp, vice president and general manager of EMEA and Australasia at the analyst WebTrends, says: ‘Part of Android’s cachet is its encouragement of third-party development. As a result, many businesses are already creating applications to increase brand awareness and engagement.’
Google has managed to rack up a list of potential partners including Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Toshiba and Huawei, collectively known as the Open Handset Alliance.
Director of strategy analytics Neil Mawston says: ‘Android is a relatively low cost, user friendly open operating system that has the support of Google’s deep pockets and famous brand.’
Despite excitement, Android is yet to achieve significant penetration. T-Mobile’s G1 Google phone (pictured), an HTC manufactured phone, landed in stores in October 2008 and is the only Android handset to be released so far.
Mobile World Congress 2009 brought developments, but the only confirmed release was the HTC Magic, exclusive to Vodafone.
Patchy reports of potential releases also found their way through. Chinese company Huawei demoed an Android prototype, which it’s set to launch in Q3. Samsung may also be on the verge, with one manufacturer source saying: ‘It was thought that Samsung would announce plans for an Android phone at Mobile World Congress, but they obviously weren’t ready.’
Motorola intends to use Android as part of its comeback strategy this year, and T-Mobile is reportedly in talks with HTC about a G3.
Adam Leach, principle analyst at Ovum, says: ‘There has been a lot of talk within the industry, but people were expecting more announcements at Mobile World Congress.’
Despite this, Mawston adds: ‘We expect Android to be a top-tier OS player globally within three years.’
What’s in it for operators?
The G1 is already being marked as a success for T-Mobile, which has accredited it to 20% of its sales in Q4 2008. One industry source says: ‘For the operators it’s a revenue stream generator – they all have their own applications content, so they earn money from consumers’ data usage on the handset.’
The network exclusive pattern that Android has followed so far also appeals to operators. Another industry source says: ‘The operator can use an exclusive to pull in acquisitions. Just look at the iPhone.’
However, operators may be wary of a platform that could potentially offer mobile services that directly compete with their own. Mawston says: ‘Android could end up cannibalising the services of the very same operators that support it. For example, Google Maps could compete in the navigation segment.’
The take up by operators is dependent on how open Google will be. Leach says: ‘It is a way to increase ad inventory, but the biggest challenge [for Android] will be; can they be consistent for third-party developers?’
What’s in it for manufacturers?
HTC has been the only manufacturer to dip its toes into Android so far. But with a number of major handset manufacturers already part of the Open Handset Alliance, sources are only willing to speculate about who will be out next.
Sources say it will be a chance to claw back the market share from Apple. ‘It definitely undermines the Apple model,’ adds one manufacturer.
However, the threat of brand loss is a key issue, especially for more traditional manufacturer brands. There was no HTC branding on the G1, and it is unknown whether Vodafone will market its handset as the ‘G2’ or the ‘HTC magic’.
A second manufacturer source says the lack of branding is key. He adds: ‘You’ve got to remember why Google is doing this – they want to tap into the advertising revenue and extend their brand.’
One manufacturer that almost certainly won’t be joining in with Android is Nokia. It has spent 10 years developing its operating system Symbian, which is at the heart of all of Nokia’s handsets. Leach says: ‘Symbian has been a long play for Nokia – it is certainly not going to roll over now.’
Symbian is the dominant operating system, owning at least 40% of the market. But many criticise it for being cumbersome and hard to develop. One manufacturer source says: ‘Symbian is not as flexible as Android.’