Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The androids are coming...

The androids are coming ... ok so I have blogged about robots before ... this time I am talking about the Google mobile device operating system! The mobile industry has always been sceptical of success for new entrants ... this was true but wrong in the case of Apple with their iPhone. Will it also be the case for Google with Android?

Well first you need a brand. With its integrated hardware and software approach, Apple specifies and and very carefully controls the brand. Whatever carriers partner with Apple and whichever geography they operate in, the iPhone brand and marketing is very strong and totally controlled. Google has one of the most recognised brands on the planet; so much so in fact that it has become the verb for web searching in our dictionaries. With Android however, Google's brand is practically invisible. Outside of the mobile industry, for the ordinary man or woman in the street, they have a much bigger chance of saying they have heard of iPhone than Android. Android phones have virtually no obvious Google branding. Further, because it is an open free-for-all approach, every Android phone's user interface can look very different, and so far this is the case. As more and more manufacturers bring out Android phones, more and more unfamiliar variations appear. This makes things unrecognisable for users and more complex for third party application developers.

Secondly for success penetrating the mobile market, you need a successful business model. There are three typical approaches. The integrated model which has been a success for RIM with the BlackBerry and Apple for the iPhone (and iPod), the Open model such as Linux and Android, and in between the licensing model used by Windows, and until recently Symbian. The latter has now been taken over by Nokia and is being made open-source. While the Open and Licensing models have worked very well in the computer server and desktop market, they have struggled in the mobile market, where the performance/power balance, interaction through the user interface and integration between hardware and software are all more critical. In fact due to the flexibility of open Android, it is more likely to take share from Windows Mobile than from RIM and Apple.

Google's Android will certainly appear on more phones by the middle of next year. Whether their approaches with brand and business model will mean that Android phones appear in many people's pockets remains to be seen. Android might just become the Linux PC equivalent on mobile devices; an open, flexible, system which appeals to hobbyists and hackers. It could make the mainstream too ... but it will have to change or buck the trend to do so.

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