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    Google's own little Android  
    PC World Canada  

Dilshan Kathriarachchi

    March 24, 2009  

A mobile phone provides us with a sense of security that could be hijacked by those seeking entry into our private lives. Technology companies, long limited to our virtual existence, are now seemingly pursuing a greater role in our day-to-day lives. Google has led this charge over the past few years, growing its scope of operation well beyond just the Web browser.

AndroidWith the release of the Android operating system intended for mobile devices, along with the recent Google Voice service announcement, it is clearly evident that the company is redefining itself in the telecom arena.

While recognizing the big mobile players, Google wants to diversify its own access network in bypassing wireless carriers and other terrestrial service providers, says Amit Kaminer, a research analyst with the Toronto-based SeaBoard Group who follows the Canadian wireless industry.

"Earlier you had a phone and that was that. Your only connection to it was the fact that you bought the device and there was a wireless carrier you associated it," says Kaminer. "Now you have a circle of care around the device. The better this circle is, the more valuable the device becomes."

Android PhoneWith the Android platform, this circle of care comprises mainly of Google's own services such as its email service, GMail, Google Maps, YouTube and the Paypal-like payment service Google Checkout. The simple act of starting up an Android mobile phone for the first time requires the user to either log in using a pre-existing Google account or to register for one. This tight integration that is extended even towards synchronizing your phone's address book with contacts stored on Google services like GMail, creates the intended seamless transition between a mobile and desktop environment.

So far, there has been only one Android-powered device entering the market. Presently limited to the U.S.-exclusive T-Mobile G1, at least two additional Android models - the HTC Dream in Europe via Vodafone and HTC Magic in Asia - are poised to take the platform global in the coming months. During this global expansion, Canada can also expect to have its own Android phone as early as summer 2009. Rogers or Fido are likely to carry the device since all Android-enabled phones to date have operated on the GSM network.

Michelle Warren, president of MW Research and Consultants, a firm specializing on the Android phonetechnology sector, believes Android Market - Google's answer to Apple's App Store - and its user adoption rates will be crucial towards the success of the entire platform. Android devices were initially limited to free applications, but Google recently opened up its platform for paid applications with Google Checkout to enable monetary transactions.

"Apple mastered the App Store model for distributing applications for mobile devices," says Warren. "Consumers don't mind paying a couple of dollars for a quality application."

Weeding out the clutter for mobile users would be a big challenge for Google and its openness towards third-party developers, which is in sharp contrast to the more restrictive and administered approach Apple follows with the iPhone. With thousands of applications already populating the App Store, the presently enforced moderation and quality assurance process has been known to leave some developers and their applications hanging for days, sometimes months on end awaiting acceptance. A mistake Google cannot afford to repeat considering its dependency on winning the same developers over to the Android platform.

Google's mobile aspirations are being countered by stiff competition from the established market players and their respective mobile platforms such as Apple's iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system. "We can expect the Android to first target the iPhone and most definitely Windows Mobile users secondly. The BlackBerry and its largely corporate user base may be excluded from the initial impact," says Warren highlighting the most lucrative markets for Google's operating system.

Google Android "At the end of this year, we may also start seeing the Android operating system appearing on netbooks as Microsoft is having a bit of an issue in this new space," says Warren. She adds that we can expect Google to prep its infant operating system for ultra portable devices where the strain on hardware makes even Windows XP unfavourable among manufacturers. Expanding its focus towards all things mobile would ensure the always connected state Google seeks with its millions of users.

Although its expected that the open-source Android operating system will be adopted by manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson and HTC, both Kaminer and Warren expect Google to continue to play a key role on the design and launch of devices where its platform is used. Doing so could ensure the harmony between software and hardware that they say consumers saw as the greatest distinctive advantage the iPhone had over the previous generation of mobile phones.

The key hurdle the Android would face in its entry into the Canada would be the consistent data connectivity demanded by design. While mobile operators such as Bell, Telus and Rogers have introduced increasingly competitive data plans, but Canada still has higher prices than just about every other industrialized country. The introduction of Google's Android to Canadian shelves may seem imminent, but its release will be based largely on the willingness of local operators to compromise on hefty data fees.

Says Kaminer, "Ultimately the roll out of the Android depends on demand here in Canada. While a major carrier may demand exclusivity, we can always expect Google to be far more lenient than Apple (during negotiations)."



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