This is a question that was frequently asked during our sales meeting this month. I’d like to try and answer it here.
In the last couple of years, we’ve had tremendous success with Windows Mobile – we’ve done a bunch of successful projects and had a few product launches. A lot of vendors who develop handsets needed our 3G-324M stack or some other product of ours to be integrated into their device, so life was good.
Something got broken the moment the iPhone came out. Windows Mobile wasn’t attractive any longer, and vendors where shopping around, looking for visualization and user interface technologies before thinking about signaling and communications.
Enter Android. The only true solution out there that is good enough for a handset vendor.
Why? Why Android and not some other Linux solution? Or Windows Mobile for that matter?
Android is free. It’s open source, with a relatively permissive license (the Apache license).
This means that vendors who decide to select it don’t need to pay for it. It also means they won’t have any support agreement attached, so they are practically left on their own to deal with the development issues.
And while this is true for other Linux flavors for embedded and mobile devices, there are other benefits that come from the adoption of Android.
It’s a Communications Framework
Android is not just an operating system – it’s a full framework suitable for mobile handsets and other communication devices. For instance, in most other operating systems and Linux flavors you won’t get the following:
- Contacts application
- Built-in web browser
The fact that these, as well as other ready-made, built-in applications, exist there, out of the box (in the same manner they exist in Windows Mobile), makes it easier to integrate them into handsets without the need to shop around for additional components.
One disadvantage here, which exists in all other mobile operating systems, is that while it does provide a great communications framework, there are things that don’t come out of the box with it, which you will still have to license from third parties (and that’s what we’re here for).
The Application Store
Android is not merely an operating system – it’s a platform.
With its application store, borrowed straight from Apple’s headquarters, handset vendors can rely on third party developers to add additional applications to the phone and increase the value of their handset to the end customers.
Yes, it devalues the brand of the handset vendor. But it allows him to try and compete over market share in front of iPhone, and it gives the handset vendor the necessary infrastructure instead of the need to build it up from scratch, and that should not be taken lightly.
There’s already a large number of developers working on Android – pushing it into additional chips, developing applications on top of it, coming up with products that don’t even look like handsets but use Android, etc.
Where there’s a large, living and breathing ecosystem, there are less risks. Would you go today to invest in a LiMo based handset or would you select Android instead?
What Can Hinder Android?
There are two things:
Google came out with their own Android-based handset – the Nexus One Phone. While Google might have in their best intentions the proliferation of this operating system to other vendors as well, the fact that they are now competing with these vendors might cause vendors who are using and adopting Android to look at other alternatives.
And while such alternatives don’t exist today, the void will be filled by others. Maybe even Windows Mobile with their upcoming version 7.
Fragmentation seems to be the main issue. Google took the open approach for Android. As Chris Haseman points out (read the whole piece – it’s too good to pass):
“It’s not just a buzzword, it’s a real problem. Quite possibly it’s the problem that could sink the Android platform as a whole. While Android’s design might be geared towards the hobbyist developer, having to buy 50 handsets and validate your mobile app on all of them is real ordeal for the pros. As more devices with more screen sizes arrive on the market, maintaining an application is going to be a more and more exhausting process. This process won’t be made any easier as Google’s already loose grasp on the platform as a whole continues to loosen.”