Experts Question Reach of Google Android-based G1 from T-Mobile

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-09-24

Experts Question Reach of Google Android-based G1 from T-Mobile

Now that the T-Mobile G1 smart phone's red-hot hype has faded like summer, it's time to see how experts in the industry are receiving the gadget.

Some things we know for certain. The G1, the first gadget built on top of Google's Android mobile operating system, costs $179 a pop for a two-year contract from T-Mobile.

The G1 has a touch screen, full keyboard and track ball for navigation. The phone has a speedy Web browser via Webkit and easy switching between applications. An application for downloading Amazon MP3 tracks is included and there are a litany of apps in the Android Market to choose from.

However, experts and analysts in the mobile market have other questions and suggestions. 

Click Here For Pictures of the T-Mobile G1 Launch

Morgan Gillis, executive director of the LiMo Foundation, which also makes a Linux-based OS and pumped out 23 phones in the last several months, repeated the same questions he's had since Google unveiled Android last November. Gillis wants to know:

Which services will be made available to mobile consumers on Google Android handsets but not on other open mobile handsets? Will G1 users have an open and free choice about whether or not they subscribe to Google's services?

Fair questions. To use G1, you need to be a Google Web service user because the gadget is tied to Google Search, Talk, YouTube, Gmail, Maps and other usual Google suspects. This would seem to be antithetical to the objective of an operating system based on open-source software such as Linux, so I understand Gillis' concerns.

Still, Google Android creator Andy Rubin, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and others at the search engine like to tout Android's openness as a differentiator from other smart phones, coyly thumbing their noses at Apple.

But IDC analyst Shiv Bakhshi wrote in a research note that it's possible to overrate the merits of openness.

At the end of the day, technology needs standards to lower transactional costs, and for interoperability. A rather democratic approach to the operating system - which may allow device vendors to tweak it in their own image, could well raise costs for developers.

My feeling is Google ultimately won't discriminate what services run on what phones it provides because it won't want to alienate users. While the G1 supports Microsoft Word and Excel files, the G1 lacks Microsoft Exchange support, making it the least likely smart phone candidate for enterprise adoption. This will need to change.

Multiple Apps, Devices Are the Key for Android

Data synch is over the air, which as Bakhshi noted, means "if your contacts are not already in Google apps, it presents a challenge."

However, Bakhshi added that if G1 can capture the interest of consumers and mobile developers it will bode well for Google's attempt to get its search, apps and ads in front of mobile device users.

He also said more devices are expected from HTC as well as other device vendors, including Motorola, Samsung and LG. This will be key, wrote Ovum Research's Adam Leach in a research note:

If, as Ovum suspects, other Android-based devices are equally as tied to Google's services as the G1 this will ultimately impact how quickly the Android platform is embraced by other mobile operators. As we have seen with the iPhone, Apple's stance to restrict involvement from network operators has reduced its appeal for some networks.

Leach said if Android is to become a credible platform it needs to be used in multiple handsets by a variety of phone manufacturers.

Cheng Wu, founder of mobile media platform provider Azuki Systems, said that solid Web services and content tailored for users on the G1 and future phones based on Android will help steer Google through competitive waters versus Apple.

Apple offers tight integration all the way up to the application itself with iPhone. Android advocates a minimal kernel that innovates based on open participation and development by the open-source community. Time will tell which approach can move faster, but neither will get up to the level of target services and content, which are the real vehicle of advertising and monetization.  

Wu stressed that there needs to be better services to bring the information and Web experience users can access on the desktop to the mobile device. Mobile Web services need to be made "snackable," allowing users to graze on different applications in short periods of time without getting trapped in them.

Mobile content also must be more personal, or targeted for individual users. These challenges aren't limited to the G1, but the smart phone market on the whole.

Wu, who uses an iPhone, said a user must be treated to content targeted for them as opposed to apps or content that get thrust upon them.

Ovum's Leach seems to agree. Pointing to the success that Apple has had with its App Store, he wrote that Google must build momentum for third-party applications that consumers will actually want to use.

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