Google's Android ambition is to reshape the mobile industry, report says

Google's Android, will it be a success or has it already failed?

Formidable rivals

But Google and its Open Handset Alliance partners aren't the only ones betting big on the mobile phone market. Rivals include, besides Microsoft and Symbian, RIM, several Linux platform providers, Apple, Palm and others. All have their own ecosystem models, all very different from the one Google is trying to create, according to the report. Microsoft and Symbian, for example, dominate today's handsets and have a combined total of 26,000 third-party applications, yet they are simply partners in the existing set of mobile industry relationships.

The main Linux rival, according to Sugai, is MonteVista's mobile platform, which appears in over 90 per cent of the Linux smartphone-class of devices shipped in 2007.

Next steps for Google and OHA

The report outlines several developments that will be needed for Android's success and the reshaping of the mobile ecosystem.

Some kind of mutually beneficial revenue-sharing model will be essential to spark developer commitment to and innovation for Android, according to Sugai.

Network operators have the "most critical role" and it's one they're not accustomed to: being an enabler for the other ecosystem partners. The Japanese carriers, notes Sugai, ensured that all data services worked as promised from the start, built easy-to-understand pricing plans, avoiding hidden costs to subscribers, and created a centralized revenue collection and distribution system that benefited content providers.

Google and OHA have the potential to make mobile networks an authentic Internet experience, with services and applications uniquely optimised for handsets, wireless nets and mobile subscribers. One example cited in the report is Amazon.com Japan's Scan Search service: it allows Japanese customers to use their mobile phone camera to "scan" the barcode of a book in a retail store, and then instantly retrieve Amazon's competitive online price offer.

Users focus on the handset and its capabilities as the primary interface to the network of services. "Google must develop compelling incentives to convince the larger Handset Manufacturers to focus upon and innovate using Android," the report says.

The real growth area for the ecosystem partners lies not in revenues from wireless minutes but in so-called "off network" offerings, such as mobile payments. According to the report, Japanese network operators were quick to realise this and exploit it: both NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, for example, are buying controlling stakes in banking and credit card service providers, to reap a portion of online payment transaction fees. Google needs to convince operators that a similar prospect awaits in a new, healthy mobile ecosystem created around Android.

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John Cox

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