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T-Mobile Looks To Android In Battle With iPhone

The carrier has an early lead with its G1 and forthcoming myTouch 3G Android handsets and will take a stronger role in developing and preloading applications on its mobile devices.

T-Mobile's myTouch 3G
(click image for larger view)
T-Mobile's myTouch 3G

T-Mobile will look to the Google-backed Android platform to help it draw new subscribers and deflect attention away from devices like the iPhone, according to the company's CTO.

During a press event in San Francisco Friday, CTO Cole Brodman said the company will go "deeper, further, and faster" with the mobile operating system in order to stand out from the competition. In particular, Brodman sees the development environment and the Android Market as compelling factors that can help the fourth-largest U.S. carrier draw in new customers.

While T-Mobile has run a mobile content store for about eight years, Brodman said the carrier is taking a massively different approach to mobile apps. He concedes the cellular operator may have been an impediment to development in the past due to certification requirements and revenue-sharing agreements, but the company is working on being more open and leveraging partnerships with developers and companies such as Google.

"As a carrier, it's tough to be a differentiator in the mobile world," said Brodman. "Our biggest challenge is looking at the app world differently and seeing how it can scale."

While it has an early lead with the G1 and the upcoming myTouch 3G, T-Mobile won't be the only carrier with Android-powered devices.

Sprint Nextel is a member of the Open Handset Alliance and is waiting for the platform to become "good enough" before it releases a device. Verizon Wireless has said publicly it will have a smartphone with the Linux-based OS, and AT&T is also expected to eventually market an Android device.

Brodman said the carrier will play a stronger role in developing and preloading applications for its devices in order to differentiate itself. The myTouch 3G is an example of this strategy, as the touch-screen smartphone will come with the Sherpa app, which uses location information to provide subscribers with nearby banks, restaurants, movie theaters, and other venues with a few clicks.

The carrier has also seen success with its My Account Android app that helps customers pay their bills and manage minutes, and Brodman sees vast potential for future apps that provide stronger social-networking integration with the company's myFaves feature.

Much of the attention in the smartphone and mobile application world is focused on Apple's iPhone and the App Store. The touch-screen smartphone continues to sell millions of units, and the App Store is an attractive place for developers because they can potentially reach 40 million users who have downloaded over one billion programs in its first year.

"In the end, it’s a numbers game, and history has shown that a single product has limitations on how much it can scale," said Andy Rubin, Google's director of mobile platforms, about the iPhone.

Android is still young, and it will continue to improve with its biannual software updates, Rubin said. While rival Research In Motion's BlackBerry is known for mobile e-mail, and the iPhone is widely seen as the best mobile entertainment device, Rubin is not concerned that Android has yet to carve out a "killer app."

"I believe the killer app is important for market entry, but I look back at the Internet and think: What is the killer app on the Internet?" said Rubin. "The idea [of Android] is to enable thousands of killer apps."

The search giant is also working on broadening the ways customers can purchase apps from the Android Market, Rubin said. Users currently have to use Google Checkout to buy apps, but Rubin said the company is working on ways for carriers to use different payment systems with its over-the-air app store, and this is expected to include PayPal, credit cards, and carrier billing.

InformationWeek has published a 360-degree analysis of the first Android-based smartphone. Download the report here (registration required).

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