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9/22/2008
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Google's Android Era Set To Begin

T-Mobile's imminent launch of its Android-powered mobile phone has the potential to disrupt, although questions about the Linux-based open source platform remain.

When Google unveiled its Android mobile software platform last November, it was clear that the search giant had broader ambitions than just a Gphone.

The Linux-based open source platform and the Google-backed Open Handset Alliance are seeking to merge the openness of the Internet with the mobile space. These lofty goals potentially make Android a major disruption in the mobile communications industry. However, multiple questions remain.




Android Market's open content distribution system will help users find, purchase, download, and install content onto their Android-powered devices.
(click for image gallery)

One thing for certain, T-Mobile will officially announce the first Android-powered handset on Sept. 23. While details aren't official, FCC filings suggest the Dream (or G1) will sport a large touch screen that flips out to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard.

The smartphone is expected to have built-in Wi-Fi, GPS, and will be capable of using T-Mobile's expanding 3G network. It's expected to be on sale in mid-October, and the handset will undoubtedly have an entire industry watching it.

Google's Dream

For Google, Android is all about getting mobile users onto the Internet, where the search company can use its expertise to provide a better user experience. The operating system is royalty-free, so hardware manufacturers can potentially spend their money on better hardware or on research and development.

Additionally, Google wants to make it easier for mobile users to download and add applications to their mobile devices like they can on a PC. The open source nature will potentially allow others to improve the software, like with desktop Linux.

Consulting company Strategy Analytics predicts the Android smartphone will capture 4% of the U.S. smartphone market in the fourth quarter. This represents about 400,000 units sold, and it is a healthy figure considering the handset's not expected to go on sale until the middle of the quarter.

According to Chris Ambrosio, executive director of Strategy Analytics, the Dream's price point will be an important factor of adoption. The Wall Street Journal recently reported the first Android handset will debut for $199.

Ambrosio said there appears to be a large level of interest within the industry, but the mass-market appeal is currently lacking. That should change after T-Mobile's official announcement, as the carrier will probably put great effort into marketing the first Android-powered handset.

Jason Spero, VP of marketing for AdMob, said there hasn't been a clear marketing push for Android. Despite recent crossover, Spero said the BlackBerry is primarily marketed as the best device for the mobile workforce, and the iPhone is marketed as a consumer device.

"It's important for the group of people delivering Android devices to articulate a value proposition for a core audience," Spero said.

Despite this, analyst firm Gartner recently estimated Android will account for 10% of the smartphone market by 2011. But analysts said the first generation of devices may not capture the public's interest like an iPhone.

"The G1 is the first device coming to market supporting Google's operating system, Android," said Roberta Cozza, Gartner's principal analyst, in a statement. "Although this will give us a taste of what the platform will be able to do, we are expecting some limitations given this is the first device."

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