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Google Goes Mobile – or Maybe Not?

המאמר דן במערכת ההפעלה שהוכרזה על ידי Google בשם Android למכשירי Mobile בשיטת הקוד הפתוח - Open Source.

 Google recently announced Android – an “Open Source” operating system for mobile devices. In essence, it is a user interface layered on top of a Linux kernel that, through open source licensing, allows anyone to develop apps for this environment, and in theory at least, ignore the hardware it is running on. With approximately 30 signatories to this initiative (e.g., Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Sprint, T-Mobile, DoCoMo, KDDI, Intel, TI, Qualcomm), Android is meant to democratize the mobile environment by expanding the ecosystem and providing common means to deploy across multiple device types. We applaud Google and the other members for trying to achieve openness and compatibility in a highly fragmented and closed mobile phone ecosystem that has stifled innovation and allowed the phone makers and carriers near monopoly control over what users see and do on their devices. There is no question that Google has substantial influence (and “deep pockets”), but despite the backing of the Open Handset  Alliance members, we remain skeptical as to whether Android can meet its stated goals of opening phones to a wide array of applications compatible across multiple hardware implementations. Hype aside, we do not believe Android changes the smart phone market very much, for the following reasons.

 First, we expect the majority of smart phones in the next 3 years to be powered by Symbian, primarily through Nokia (S60/S80) and Sony Ericsson (UIQ). Indeed, we expect Symbian based systems to control 50%-60% of the smart phone market in 2010/2011, Microsoft Windows Mobile 15%-20%, RIM 8%-10%, Apple 3%-5% and Linux 10%-15%. Android could accelerate the deployment of Linux-based smart phone devices, but will have no substantial effect on Symbian, Windows Mobile or BlackBerry devices (vendors of these OSes are unlikely to support Android).

 Second, how will a robust eco-system develop? Does Google plan to push its weight around to get apps marketed, deployed and supported? Who will test that the apps actually work on all phones (far harder to assure compatibility across all phones than across all PCs, which are essentially the same). This is an important issue, as hordes of badly written apps that cause end user problems is a major “Achilles Heel” of any widely deployed open source environment.

Third is the proverbial “chicken or egg” effect. Will apps drive adoption of large numbers of Android devices, or the other way around? Developers want lots of target devices before making an investment, but device manufacturers want a large app ecosystem to drive volume device sales. Neither J2ME nor BREW has been overly successful in pushing adoption of open devices, though both have similar goals as Android (play on any device with their technology). J2ME has had limited success in cross platform app compatibility, but as a secondary effect (i.e., most users don’t buy J2ME devices; they buy devices that include J2ME).

Fourth, how will Google monetize this? If they can’t ultimately monetize it (after all they are a capitalist enterprise) they will lose interest and Android will fade (it is unlikely Android can build enough critical mass to survive on its own without a strong supporter with deep pockets – there are too many competitors already established). So what is Google’s end game? Will it be add driven? Google web component powered? Will Google somehow steer it in its own direction?

 Finally, the degree of difficulty in making this work is staggering. With so many different types of smart phone devices (e.g., different screen sizes, computing and memory resources, navigation styles, connection capabilities) it is unlikely that “one size fits all” will actually work (unlike the PC environment where virtually all machines are basically the same). As many vendors have discovered, building a good quality wireless smart phone operating system is very difficult (e.g. usability, robustness, cross processor support, security, performance).

 Bottom Line: We remain highly skeptical that Android will ultimately provide the true open platform and industry that its supporters believe it will. It may apply some initial pressure on apps and some manufacturer’s devices, but unless it grows quickly with large numbers of devices and users, there is no real incentive for carrier support (even though some have joined the alliance). Further, since Google is the primary driver, it is unclear whether consumers will be as enamored with this once they discover the amount and type of information Google might ultimately acquire about them and the control it may exert. Many questions about Android still need to be answered.

Jack Gold

jack.gold@jgoldassociates.com

 

 

 

 

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