Android 2.0 healthy competition for Apple

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Google Inc.’s Android operating system, already out in its second version, is likely to take market share from its competitors, but not likely to impact Apple Inc.’s proprietary OS, upon which the popular iPhone runs.

Verizon Wireless and Google formally announced the Droid smartphone from Motorola Inc. yesterday, and all three companies are betting heavily on the new device. Verizon Wireless and Google in October said they had a joint effort to exploit the power of the Android platform on Verizon Wirelesds’ 3G network, and would put significant marketing and technical muscle behind the initiative. The early fruits of that effort can be seen already as the Droid smartphone is receiving praise from a lot of analysts, and a massive marketing campaign is on display as the companies prepare to launch the device Nov. 6.

Windows and Symbian in trouble

So what does the Android OS mean for competing OSes? Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile and Nokia Corp.’s Symbian OSes are likely big losers in the space, although they brought on the trouble themselves, said Derek Kerton, principal analyst at the Kerton Group. The new Windows Mobile 6.5 OS is still largely based on a Pocket PC device introduced in 1997. While Windows Mobile may hang on a bit longer because IT departments are comfortable using it, that’s its only selling point, Kerton said. HTC Corp. has been a strong and early supporter of Windows Mobile, but it is leaving Windows Mobile in favor of Android. “This year HTC introduced 31 devices and three of them run Android and 28 Windows Mobile. Next year it will be 50/50. Talk about slamming the door as you leave.” Windows Mobile plans to introduce its updated Windows Mobile 7 sometime next year.

Nokia is moving its Symbian OS to an open source system, but while Symbian is the worldwide OS leader, it is mostly installed on feature phones, not smartphones, Kerton said. Nokia is hedging its bets with a Linux-based OS called Maemo, but Kerton is skeptical to see how it fares.

Palm and BlackBerry have challenges

Palm Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry OS likely will lose market share to Android and Apple, Kerton said. Palm has a satisfactory OS but lacks enough distribution channels, and while BlackBerry also has a good OS, it still hasn’t crossed completely into the consumer space. “Palm could have been a rock star but the market got too crowded.”

Good news for Linux

As far as Linux, upon which the OS Android is based? “This is the best outcome for Linux, but if you signed onto one of the other Linux camps, you might not feel that way.” The expected success of Android platform, however, brings all the advantages of an open Linux standard and should leave the other flavors quickly behind, thus not fragmenting the market further.

No bruises at Apple

Apple will likely carry on as before, Kerton noted. The iPhone OS, based on the Mac OS X, still commands a small market share, but that leaves the company a lot of room to grow. Kerton said it will be interesting to see how Apple responds to the competition. Having more applications than its competitors is not necessarily a differentiator, Kerton said, as long as each OS has a significant number of apps. “I’m a firm believer in the long tail, but it’s less relevant with the mass-market audience.” In other words, there is little difference in have three “lighter at a concert” applications vs. five.

The navigation component

Google’s turn-by-turn navigation software, which is preinstalled on the Droid, is also likely to harm competitors, especially Garmin’s newly released Nuvifone. TomTom and Garmin saw their stock fall 20% and 16%, respectively yesterday. “ESPN Mobile taught me that people won’t buy a phone around one app,” Kerton commented.

Garmin offers good navigation, but Google’s free navigation still is easier to use and has better information than its competitors, Kerton said. The Droid comes with a docking feature for in-car navigation. Google’s service is better and can correct typing errors, like figuring out that when the user is in San Francisco and types in Onion St., he may mean Union St. “Google is a powerful company but they do this stuff with relatively low lock-in.” If you don’t like using Google search on Android, Bing is one click away.

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About Author

Tracy Ford

Former Associate Publisher and Executive Editor, RCR Wireless News
Currently HetNet Forum Director
703-535-7459 [email protected]
Ford has spent more than two decades covering the rapidly changing wireless industry, tracking its changes as it grew from a voice-centric marketplace to the dynamic data-intensive industry it is today. She started her technology journalism career at RCR Wireless News, and has held a number of titles there, including associate publisher and executive editor. She is a winner of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Silver Award, for both trade show and government coverage. A graduate of the Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Ford holds a B.S. degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis on public relations.

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