One year on, Android's not quite there yet

Google's phone software hasn't yet lived up to lofty expectations, but it could take off in just a few more months

2009: The Year of the Android Invasion? Not quite.

2009: The Year of the Android Invasion? Not quite.

Google has posted an Android road map online, but the page has only brief information and is updated rarely.

For its part, Google talks as though it is as committed to the phone as ever. "Android has surpassed my expectations," Erick Tseng, lead product manager for Android, said via e-mail. He said he's looking forward to the next year with the launch of new phones and some "truly mind-blowing applications."

Both T-Mobile and Google said they're happy with Android's progress so far. T-Mobile called the G1 "a resounding success."

Android has largely followed in the iPhone's footsteps, rather than setting new trends, but it has contributed at least one significant innovation.

"It's one of the few truly open platforms for developers," said Howe. "If you're someone who wants to reinvent the actual phone-calling experience, in some ways it's the only game in town."

Android may have attracted developers for precisely that reason, but developers have also expressed widespread discontent. Some have complained that aspects of the Android Market discourage application sales.

In addition, the openness of the platform could turn out to be a weakness. "The question is, if it offers this much freedom, how do you prevent it from becoming fragmented?" Gartenberg said. For example, if different vendors alter Android for their own phones, applications may not run across all the different devices.

Google will have to do more than simply deliver an open platform, he said. "At the end of the day, it's going to be what Google can do to drive innovation beyond being open," he said.

The real test for Android will arrive in the coming months. "If it weren't exactly one year, but one year and three months, the question [of whether Android has lived up to expectations] would be easier to answer," Howe said.

That's because he expects at least six, and possibly a dozen, new Android phones to hit the market by the end of the year. Samsung, HTC and LG all could have introduced new phones by then.

Motorola's Cliq should also arrive by year's end. That could provide the first example of Android's true potential, because Motorola has customized the software with a new user interface that highlights social networking.

"All of a sudden it looks like a different phone" compared to the existing Android devices, Howe said.

The new models will be offered by other operators as well, with Sprint-Nextel and possibly other operators expected to sell them.

With more phones and more operators, millions of Android devices are likely to be in the market in 2010, a big enough base to attract even more developers, and thus more and better applications, Howe said.

While Android's influence in the mobile market remains to be determined, the platform has made one thing clear: "If nothing else, it's validating the idea that touch-based smartphones are going to be a new category," Howe said.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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