Does Android Dream of Domination?

Google's cell phone play gives rise to speculative science and fiction.

Will people have a phone number assigned at birth? Will customers pay only for network services and not the phones themselves?

The Android mobile phone software stack that was announced Nov. 5 by the Open Handset Alliance—an alliance of technology and wireless carriers that includes Google, T-Mobile, eBay, Qualcomm and Motorola—has given rise to speculation about the future of the mobile phone industry, some of it more outlandish than most.

At the very least, Android is sure to force entrenched phone makers and carriers to re-examine their business models.

The announcement emphasizes the development of software for end users rather than for particular device manufacturers, and that's a change for the better, said Jari Ala-Ruona, CEO of Movial, a Linux-based development company based in Helsinki, Finland.

"The mobile … user experience needs to be very Web-enabled," he said.

Matt Strain, senior search manager at search marketing automation enabler SEMDirector, said that Android will lower development costs, a benefit that will also trickle down to consumers.

Customers are also likely to benefit from sleeker, more elegant mobile devices in the future. Google executives are known to be enamored of Apple's iPhone, and given that Google executives made no reference to a so-called Gphone during the Nov. 5 conference call, some observers took that to mean that Google will throw its considerable weight behind device manufacturers that emulate Apple's design.

Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling said he expects a few Android devices to attempt to emulate the iPhone, but that few are likely to succeed in that endeavor.

"But what's important is that Google is trying to move the whole industry along and that the mobile Internet is starting to develop in earnest," he said.

Sterling's sentiments were echoed by Hyun Lee, formerly of the MIT Media Lab and currently with Boston University. She noted that the existence of Android challenges Apple, Microsoft and carriers such as AT&T and Verizon to think about how they fit in a world where computing and mobility are coming together.

The alliance also opens new doors for software developers. Strain noted that there is an opportunity for application development and monetization.

Movial's Ala-Ruona said the alliance offers an environment that's "as close to Web development as mobile development can get." He said current software development kits are lacking some features he hopes Android and the handset alliance will include. Movial is known in the space for helping Nokia create the first open mobile development platform for an Internet tablet and belongs to several mobile consortiums focused on Linux. Ala-Ruona said Movial will join the alliance, but declined to say when.


Read here about Google's mobile social networking gambit.

How about those free phones we were talking about?

Andy Rubin, Google's director of mobile platforms and the catalyst behind Android, said he doesn't expect to develop a full-blown, ad-supported phone for some time.

But most analysts expect Google to remain true to its advertising-based roots, which could lead to free services or devices for customers.

Strain speculated that Google will eventually weave its AdWords keywords system and other advertising options into the platform. "AdWords may be able to fuel this platform in time by itself, rewarding developers who make applications that can easily be monetized," Strain said.

Lee said companies will pay to include their ads with content for people who query and observe content. This might happen via subtle ad placement like what we find in Gmail such as the Web clip or relevant e-mail message ads that appear on the side.


Click here to read more about Google's Android platform.

Lee also said if devices that support the open platform were linked to T-Mobile's Sidekick, the phone would always be online, continuously connected to services.

"Imagine how ads can be pushed to the end user depending on their geographic location," Lee said. "Wouldn't you want to click on a $5 grocery coupon while you are shopping for food? This means that carriers become a provider in connection, just like ISPs, as opposed to charging by minute-based, service-based packages."

Not every analyst sees Android as a panacea for the industry, and some expressed concern that Google might fragment the mobile operating system market further with a new platform.

Strain raised a number of concerns, including the fact that some partners may not be interested in the open-source model. He also suggested that Google may seem too threatening for partners who wonder if it seeks to become all things in all markets. "Will Google attempt to move into the PV market next and compete with Microsoft?" he speculated.


Check out's Mobile & Wireless Center for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.