If Google can secure a fraction of its success in the smartphone space as it has on the Web, watch out BlackBerry, Apple, and Windows Mobile.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant has just launched its much-hyped Android mobile phone platform, powering the HTC T-Mobile G1 handset ($179 U.S., with two-year contract). This smart-looking smartphone features a large touch screen that resembles an iPhone to some extent, but it also houses a BlackBerry-like trackball and slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
But what makes Android special might be less obvious to the casual observer. Unlike other smartphone platforms -- such as those offered by Research in Motion, Apple, and Microsoft -- Google's Android is an 'open' operating system given to developers for free to create applications.
'There was no good reason why it shouldn't do things your PC can do,' says Erick Tseng, product manager for Android at Google. 'This isn't just about Google, but rather the amazing third-party applications created by developers with unfettered access to the phone's hardware, software and network.'
Beyond the hype
If you've been caught up in any of the hype surrounding G1, you'll sense it's geared towards (and generated by) the consumer space, opposed to a corporate crowd.
Tseng, however, confirms Android is also ideal for businesses. 'First of all you've got all the Google apps you're used to such as Gmail, Calendar, Maps, and such, all offered for free and with the same login as your desktops,' says Tseng. 'Because of this synchronous online connectivity between mobile and desktops, all your data ‘automatically' updates for both devices since it's the same account.'
Second, Tseng says developers who are creating applications for the G1 and future Android phones can design and build something specifically tailored to their business. 'Because we're open, we encourage third-parties to create and upload your own apps to your own secure website and have employees download it onto the phone.'
Along with integrated GPS, the G1 includes a built-in compass, an industry first, which will allow a savvy software company to create a 'mash-up,' suggests Tseng, by fusing this technology with the integrated Google Maps program for better driving directions, satellite imagery, and navigation to local businesses.
Not everyone agrees
While the potential is there, many analysts don't believe the Android platform is right for small or mid-sized businesses.
'Android is not a business platform,' maintains Ken Delaney, vice president of mobile computing at the Gartner research and consulting group in Stamford, Conn. 'It is squarely targeted at consumers.' 'Business platforms have stability and strong interoperability or security as their hallmark; the two business platforms are RIM and Microsoft with Symbian S60 under Nokia as another alternative.'
'While the G1 might be fine for a SOHO [small office, home office] worker who can use this for both a personal and business lifestyle," says Nathan Dyer, senior analyst for enterprise mobility at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group, he doesn't believe that it's necessarily geared for small or mid-sized businesses -- or even larger enterprises.
'It's an exceptional device with loads of potential, and the openness is amazing, but the G1 is not business tool, primarily because there is no corporate e-mail, no support for Microsoft Exchange or Domino or any other server-based e-mail,' says Dyer.
Google's Tseng says Microsoft Exchange and Active Sync support 'will happen' on Android, unquestionably. 'It will happen because there is huge demand out there,' he says. 'In fact, the third-party community has started to work on this already so very soon you will see the emergence of some of these business-focused apps.'