Competition from Microsoft, Nokia (via Symbian), Palm and Apple aside, one of the issues I had last year with anointing Android the next big mobile operating system was the apparent lack of a major distribution partner.
Sure, plenty of vendors, such as handset maker Samsung and carrier Sprint, signed on to support the OS, but building devices and offering them to your customers like any other smart phone with search and applications isn't necessarily going to make the platform a household name.
Google's Android needs some vendor to blast its presence into the market, or the OS isn't going to happen. Today, with the announcement of the new Clearwire company, that vehicle may have arrived to drive Android into the market. Google is putting $500 million, a fraction of the $4.6 billion it put on the line for 700MHz spectrum, into Clearwire.
In addition to search, ads and apps running on Sprint and Clearwire devices, Clearwire said in a statement that it "will support Google's Android operating system software in its future voice and data devices that it provides to its retail customers."
Google puts search, ads and apps in front of a lot of people through wireless devices already. The latter part is what Google is really paying for with its investment in the Sprint-Clearwire venture.
Google will expect Clearwire to market its WiMax/Android-based devices, another way the search giant can thumb its nose at Verizon, AT&T and any of the other wireless carriers it is at odds with. With the Android gadgets on the market, Google can then extend its search, ads and apps tendrils.
Incidentally, today's Clearwire announcement shows you one of the major reasons why Google is doing all of it saber-rattling over Verizon's alleged lack of following open procedures. This deal will be largely about open access and devices, according to Google Product Manager Larry Alder.
If Clearwire is going to support Android, and Android finds its way onto devices for at least half of the 120 million to 140 million people Clearwire is targeting with the new WiMax network by 2010, then Android may get the toehold it needs to succeed.
Because, let's face it, Google may do online search and advertising to beat the band, but it doesn't have the consumer device cachet of Apple, which has sold millions of iPhones by marketing, word of mouth and, as Google will tell you, a damn fine phone from which to access Google Apps.
So, Clearwire has arrived to drive Android into the market. But will Clearwire be Android's Chevy or rocket?