Can Google's G1 Smart Phone Be More Than an Apple Knockoff?

Search Giant Hopes to Get the Masses (and Advertisers Who Court Them) Onboard With Mobile Internet

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With a touch screen, a 3G high-speed network and an application store full of third-party-developed tools, the new "Google phone" has elicited numerous comparisons to Apple's iPhone. But for Google's Android mobile-operating system to be successful, it needs its phones to be much more than the first viable iPhone competitor.
The goal with Android is to simplify the mobile market and get wireless subscribers to buy smart phones and use the mobile internet.
The goal with Android is to simplify the mobile market and get wireless subscribers to buy smart phones and use the mobile internet.

Google, T-Mobile and Taiwan-based handset manufacturer HTC today announced the first phone created with Google's Android operating system. The HTC Dream -- which goes on sale Oct. 22 in the U.S. through T-Mobile under the name G1 -- generally got high marks from bloggers and analysts, who praised the high-resolution screen (like the iPhone, web pages can be viewed horizontally or vertically), tight integration with Google products such as Gmail and Maps, and a flip-out keyboard for those who never got used to the iPhone's virtual type pad.

Simplifying the mobile market
Google's real goal with Android is to simplify the mobile market and allow handset makers and developers to more easily create great devices with useful applications -- in turn persuading some of the 82% of mobile subscribers who don't use smart phones to buy such devices and use the internet. Google sees mobile devices as being far more ubiquitous than computers, and the more consumers it can get to go online via their phones, the better, arguably, for companies who make money via online advertising. (Google CEO Eric Schmidt is so bullish on this he called mobile "the re-creation of the internet.")

Such phones are also good for marketers, explained Dean McRobie, exec director of technology at Organic. Mobile today, he said, is "not easy to work with. We have a huge, multifaceted community of devices. ... Where Android starts to become interesting is in bringing together this community and saying it's in everyone's benefit to have open standards and capabilities for mobile device."

But the phone is still relatively expensive for the average Joe, at $179 plus a voice and data plan. That's a scant $20 cheaper than the iPhone and, by adding on iPhone-comparable memory, for instance, could actually make the G1 more expensive than the iPhone and leads to questions of just how much impact Google's move into mobile will have.
The G1 has flip-out keyboard for those who never got used to the iPhone's virtual type pad.
The G1 has flip-out keyboard for those who never got used to the iPhone's virtual type pad.

As Google Mobile Product Manager Sumit Agarwal explained Android earlier to Ad Age: "Google's interest is in getting people to use the net more. We want people to have access to our services. We want the world to have access to the world's information. There are 3 billion mobile phones out there, far more than the number of PCs. ... We view it not as a 'nice to have' but as a survival imperative to provide our services to users via whatever device they want."

What others have done
Other big web players have gone different routes: Microsoft offers a mobile version of its popular Windows operating system, while Yahoo has shunned the OS model, instead creating a development language that can modify websites and applications to fit the device on which they're being used. And AOL last year bought a third-party mobile ad network.

Research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that Google's Android smart phones would reach 400,000 units in the quarter, for a 4% market share. According to ComScore M:Metrics, 19.9 million Americans have a smart phone, up 121% since July 2007, led by Apple's iPhone. Of course, the focus for Google is not just the G1 but the many other Android phones that Google hopes will come after it.

That's also the focus for early Android developers.

"We're big fans of the open nature of Android and the ability it gives us to know our application will work anywhere," said Alexander Muse, CEO of Big in Japan, which created a comparison-shopping Android app called Shop Savvy. "This particular device from HTC is nice and we like it. But at end of day we're programming for Android, not for a particular phone or handset."
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