Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Google: Expect 18 Android Phones by Year’s End

Summer Of ‘09 Phone War update: By year’s end, there will be at least 18 phones on the market worldwide based on the Android operating system, Google disclosed for the first time Wednesday.

Andy Rubin, senior director for Mobile Platforms for Google and the spearhead of the Android operating system, said the number could be as high as 20. (That figure does not include devices made by manufacturers that use a basic Android system but have not apprised Google of its use). The 18 to 20 devices Google knows about will be made by eight or nine different manufacturers, Mr. Rubin said.

He declined to say which manufacturers will make said phones or for which wireless carriers. At present, there are at least two Android-centric phones — T-Mobile’s G1, available in the United States, and a phone called “Magic” made by HTC and available in Europe.

Mr. Rubin said that, in general, carriers will be slower to introduce Android phones in the United States than in Europe. The reason, he said, is that the domestic market is so competitive that carriers and handset makers want to create highly distinctive versions of the Android phone to give themselves an edge.

Indeed, the ramping-up of Android phones intensifies a battle among some of the world’s biggest software companies to create the operating system for the world’s phones (of which there are now 4 billion). Android goes up against a coming-soon new version of Microsoft’s mobile version of Windows; Apple’s proprietary iPhone system; the BlackBerry platform; a new Palm OS for its Pre, called WebOS; Symbian (mostly proffered by Nokia); and a host of Linux-based systems.

It is, in short, while the carriers and handset makers battle, a pitched and wide-open contest to control a new generation of higher-powered mobile devices.

For Google, what was important about Mr. Rubin’s disclosure was both what he said and where he said it. His comments came at a conference in San Francisco for developers of applications for Android phones. These are the behind-the-scenes folks who will help distinguish Android from Apple’s iPhone or the Palm Pre, the BlackBerry and Nokia app stores, etc.

On the question of apps, Mr. Rubin reinforced Google’s position that Android is an “open” platform, though, critically, that concept has some nuance to it. It goes like this: there are three flavors of Android. Each is free. But the versions place different requirements on the handset manufacturers and wireless carriers. The differing versions — and the way they’re being adopted — give an insight both into Google’s goals and to the way the market is receiving those goals.

1. The obligation-free option: device manufacturers can download a free version of Android, load it onto their devices and provide access to as many or as few apps as they want. But the manufacturers cannot preload popular Google applications, like Gmail or Google calendar.

2. The small strings option: Same as Option 1, except that manufacturers sign a distribution agreement to include Google applications on the phone. Of the 18 to 20 phones coming out this year, Mr. Rubin said, 12 to 14 subscribe to this option.

3. The bigger strings option or the no-censorship version: These phones Google calls “The Google Experience.” They are physically distinguishable by the “Google” logo on the phone. They include a range of Google applications that the carrier and handset maker agree not to remove from the phone. The carrier and handset maker also agree not to censor access to the Android market. Which means that if some developer comes up with an application that some people find distasteful, or that gets bad press, it must nevertheless remain available to consumers. Of the phones coming out this year, five or six belong to this category, Mr. Rubin said.

The third category provides risk and reward opportunities. The openness of the store could be a hit with consumers, but could also lead to poorly constructed applications or ones, like the baby-shaking app for the iPhone, that could give Google a taint (however temporary and press driven).

When it comes to apps, Mr. Rubin said: “We want to abide by the law, but not rule with an open fist.”

Source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/google-expect-18-android-phones-by-years-end/

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