by Caroline Gabriel, ReThink Wireless
Google said at its annual developer conference that there could be up to 20 Android phones on the market by year end, though as Sony Ericsson has made clear, we need to see Android 2.0 and some heavy duty multimedia capabilities before handsets based on the platform will get into the superphone league.
However, the conference saw Google highlighting the enhancements its plans to make Android go head to head with Symbian, and becoming more responsive to demands from the broader mobile developer community.
Android 2.0 is codenamed Donut and appears to be targeted at a wider range of devices than the current version, as it will support QVGA, HVGA and WVGA resolutions, taking it beyond the 320 x 480 HTC phones and suggesting MIDs or tablets that can display an entire web page on a mobile screen, and lending further weight to the assumption that Android will soon turn up in netbooks.
Developers were out in droves to hear about Android, and as EETimes points out, one reason for their interest, and a warning signal to Microsoft, is the price. “You get a solid operating system, browser and GSM stack for free,” said an engineer from Garmin, which plans a navigation-oriented Android phone. And though Android is very much work in progress, and contrary to many open source ideals, nearly all the work is being done by a small and tightly controlled Google team of about 65 people, it is already considered more sophisticated than other mobile Linux environments, according to many developer attendees.
Google representatives variously said there would be 16, 18 or even 20 smartphones this year, with many expected to be showcased by the ODM community at next week’s Comtex show in Taiwan. There Andy Rubin, senior director for mobile platforms at Google, said that the devices would be made by eight or nine different manufacturers.
Although the US has led the drive to Android so far, with China Mobile about to launch a version of the HTC Magic soon too, Rubin thinks Europe will be the driving force. He said fierce competition in the region would drive operators to create “highly distinctive versions” of the Android phone, emphasising the way that the software platform supports cellcos’ need to design their own-branded user experiences rather than being subservient to the vendors.
There are now about 4,900 applications available for Android, and Rubin explained there are three broad models for the app store. One, vendors can download Android for free and provide access to the apps, but not Google software such as Gmail. Two, they can sign a distribution agreement to include Google apps on the phone. And three, the ‘Google Experience’ will allow manufacturers to use the Google logo on the phone but have no say over the applications available. He said most of the phones set for launch this year would use option two.