Google’s Android looks promising but faces challenges

24 Sep 2008

While Google is, for now, using T-Mobile as the exclusive launch pad for the G1 Android phone, it will need to develop the operating system (OS) for other handsets with members of the Open Handset Alliance if it is to “build critical mass”, said Adam leach, principal analyst with UK tech analyst firm Ovum.

G1 is only the beginning, according to Leach: “The critical question for the industry is: will Android make it easier for Google to roll out its applications and services, or will it provide a platform for mobile operators to launch their own services?”

The whole reason for Google’s Android initiative was to combat the current situation in the handset market where each manufacturer has its own OS that discourages the sharing and interoperability of applications in the way that is common for the desktop and laptop, he reasoned.

“This can only be achieved if the platform is shipped in sufficient volumes and accounts for a significant amount of the market; it cannot be achieved by a single product, even if it does live up to the high expectations set by the iPhone,” Leach added.

If we look at the G1 from T-mobile, apart from the actual OS being Android, most of the integrated applications are Google-driven such as Gmail, Google maps and YouTube. While this is unsurprising, it does throw up some questions as to how much of this Google may want on the handset, and these applications will clash with offerings from other interested operators.

“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.

Another issue is the availability of lots of fresh, new, innovative third-party applications. Apple has this down to a tee with the App Store, but because of the iPhone’s inherent vertical integration with other Apple services and devices, this is straightforward enough to control.

Android will need to regulate this across many devices and make sure all these applications are compatible with the various hardware platforms from manufacturer to manufacturer. A challenge indeed.

“This is not a trivial exercise, as demonstrated by Sun Microsystems with its mobile Java platform, a technology that is not dissimilar to the application environment used within Android. Failure to maintain compatibility between Android-based devices will severely inhibit demand and innovation for the platform,” Leach said.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: Google faces a delicate balancing act with the rollout of its new Android operating system for mobile phones