Google Android

Out of all the companies Google has acquired, the purchase that led to what we are going to talk about today was of a small little company called Android Inc. This company wasn’t even around two years before Google swept them up. Of course, this only added fuel to the fire that Google was going to get into the cell phone market. This is what I am here today to talk about — Google’s Android.

Everyone has heard of Google and knows what they do. It seems like you can’t read the Wall Street Journal or any tech news without seeing Google in there at least twice a week. Ever since they went public, they seem to have a little extra cash laying around for various projects they wish to pursue. Their biggest buy would have to be Youtube.com. Their own online video site didn’t catch on the way Google wanted, so they bought the leader. 

If you happen to see the term Google Android, you might be a little confused, and maybe even a little scared. Google is a very powerful company; their android sounds like something from the future, perhaps a type of Google robot. Luckily for us, there won’t be Google robots running around any time soon. [At least, not the hardware kind anyway. -- Ed.] The Google Android is a new OS for cell phones and PDAs, so we might see Google Androids running around on people’s cell phones, but that is about it.

Google started by introducing Google Maps for the iPhone when it was released. It wasn’t that huge of an accomplishment, but it got the ball rolling. Google Maps is a great application and if this is any indication of what the OS will be like, look for Google to become a major player in the cell phone industry in 2009, if not 2008.

Google’s big push is for Internet connectivity. Currently the networks are strong enough to support acceptable speeds, but browsing the Internet on a cell phone is awful. Google wants to change this. They know a thing or two about the Internet and web design, so look for some really good web browsing with these devices. The demonstrations look really good, even with sites designed for a computer.

From the previews I saw, so far it looks like a regular cell phone OS. The features aren’t there yet for a smart phone or PDA. I also have to remark that this is very new software and hasn’t had time to mature. I feel that a full-fledged PDA version could be made easily. The ability to create your own applications will allow for full customization, so everyone could have the applications they need, and nothing else.

We heard rumors of a phone made by Google, commonly referred to as the “gPhone.” As of now, there is no such thing as a “gPhone.” Google at this point is simply providing an OS for phones and hasn’t announced anything along the lines of a cell phone. Think of Google as Microsoft right now; they make the Windows OS, but don’t build computers. Google is in the same boat right now. They rely on cell phone manufacturers to create cell phones that will run Android.

Google has been working on Android for about a year now, so why is it being brought up now? Well, it was being developed, and there probably wasn’t a whole lot to look at and talk about. A limited number of people had access to Android, but recently the world got a sneak preview of what is to come. In Barcelona Spain, at the Mobile World Conference, Google’s Android had a coming-out party. We got to see multiple devices that were running Android and got some more information on this interesting OS.

Android runs off of Linux and is open source, so any person or company will be able to develop applications that will run on Android, unlike the iPhone, which can only run web applications. There’s no need to have high end hardware in the cell phone either. When demonstrated, Android was able to run on anything from 200 MHz all the way to 1 GHz. Granted, the faster ones seem to run more advanced applications than the slower ones. This is an interesting aspect; they are looking at the whole market of cell phones, from the PDAs all the way down to the basic ones typically available for free with a cell phone contract.

What does it mean?

This will have a great impact on the whole cell phone industry, from the cell phones service providers to the manufacturers and the consumers. Cell phone providers have some great incentives to adopt the Google Android OS. They could implement it throughout their entire product. The basic cell phones could have the basic features, while the higher end models could have the video players and wireless networking. This would drastically cut down on support help for the providers. They would no longer need to have employees trained in how to troubleshoot 15 different cell phone operating systems. Testing new cell phones on their networks would become effortless and efficient. At a time when companies are trying to cut costs, this is a great way to do just that.

The cell phone manufacturers will love the cost savings that come with Android. Android will cost the manufacturers less than a pretty penny to use. Google is giving it away for free. While it might not seem like a lot of savings, they will either eliminate their programmers, who probably make quite a few pennies, or will no longer have to rely on other third parties, such as Palm or Microsoft, to license their operating systems. Even if they save $5 per cell phone, over the production of a few million devices, the savings pile up.

Consumers will gain a lot more usability than with most other cell phone operating systems. Some cell phone providers will hack and chop a phone’s OS to pieces, sometimes removing features and creating a mess. Android will make it easier for users to get back any features that have been removed. And it will have the ability to add applications at will. Currently, cell phone users are held hostage by their providers for applications, paying upwards of $10 an application. Apple’s iPhone has closed down any direct applications on the device.

While it will provide many benefits to all aspects of the cell phone industry, it will also put a lot of pressure on the competition. Apple has a great device in the iPhone, and it’s doing really well. The two major down sides are that it isn’t open to third party applications, as I mentioned earlier, and that it can’t be used on any other network then AT&T.

Developers might be able to adapt Android to the iPhone and really open it up. While people like the simplicity of the iPhone, many would be willing to adopt Android if it means they can add their own custom features to the device.

Microsoft has been doing really well in the mobile device market. In fact, it’s been picking up steam. Android could really set them back after some impressive gains, and give Ballmer yet another reason to hate Google.

I see RIM losing the most here. They are the guys behind the Blackberry. After some outages that left many business people ready to chuck the device out the window, they might be looking to upgrade and Google’s Android platform might be one of the candidates. Software can be made to suit any type of application. With Google backing the devices and Google’s infrastructure to boot, reliability will not be a question mark.

Can’t wait to get your hands on Android? Well, you’re going to have to hold out a little bit longer. Android devices should hit the shelves in the second half of 2008, so you won’t have to wait too much longer. The prototypes shown this month were very promising and looked ready for production. They were running on hardware already out, so the first generation might not have been developed for Android, but it looks like it will play really nicely with it.

We finally got a sneak peak at what has been going on at Google over the past year with Android. It’s not quite ready yet, but it will be here soon. And after seeing the demos, many people can hardly wait. 

This could be either revolutionary, or a dud. It is tricky to predict the market. One of the biggest positives of Android over traditional cell phone operating systems is the cost savings at both the manufacturer’s and provider’s ends.

At a time when companies are trying to slash costs, this would offer a great alternative and provide a means to cut costs. This looks like it could become very popular, but the first thing Google will need to have is adoption by the masses. Apple got it with the iPod and iPhone, and Google needs to do this too.

If Google can get interested users on board, programmers will start developing applications. Microsoft gets this kind of activity for its Windows operating system. Once Google gets to a certain level of adoption, the success will keep building and the operating system will spread like a wild fire — leading more programmers to write for it, and so on. But if they can’t get programs out there, this will flop.

Google has spent a lot of time developing Android. The manufacturers seem to have embraced it and are developing devices that will hit the stores later this year. I can’t wait to see how well this does in the market.

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