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.
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?