Google watchers prepare for Android invasion

Google has joined forces with wireless developers, manufacturers and operators to unveil the first open source development platform for mobile applications, but analysts don’t anticipate the Google-enhanced phones will be very popular in the enterprise space anytime soon.

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The Android platform will include an integrated “software stack,” in the same vein as the Apple’s iPhone, consisting of an operating system, middleware, interface and applications. The free software, based on the Linux operating system, will be customizable for handset manufacturers and wireless operators.

The search engine giant is working with 34 companies as part of the Open Handset Alliance, including mobile manufacturers such as LG, HTC, Motorola and Samsung. The group also includes mobile phone chip makers like Broadcom, Intel, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. The involvement of phone manufacturers, as well as the lead-up to the announcement itself, had fueled speculation of a future Google-branded handset, but Google has laid those rumours to rest for the near future.

“Today’s announcement is more ambitious than any single ‘Google Phone’ that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks,” Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO at Google, said in a release. “Our vision is that the powerful platform we’re unveiling will power thousands of different phone models.”

With the much-hyped Google brand phone put on the backburner, many analysts are looking at the driving factor behind Google’s coalition and what it means for the mobility space. Eddie Chan, research analyst for mobile and personal computing technology at Toronto-based IDC Canada, said the lack of a “Google Phone” announcement was unsurprising to him because, “Google knows its place in the alliance is to drive Android,” and not to be a hardware company.

For other analysts, the ability to increase its product’s market penetration, as well as new advertising opportunities, have led Google to create the open source project.

“They’re being locked out of some Microsoft phones and that’s their biggest competitor,” said Alan Nogee, wireless technology analyst at Tempe, Ariz.-based In-Stat. “This is certainly a way to lead people to Google products and there’s probably going to be a lot more Google products than we know of now, in the near future. So, this could be an attempt to advertise those properties.”

According to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the San Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group, Google’s strategy is to move into the mobile OS space and directly challenge the likes of Microsoft, Symbian and Apple.

“This is a game changer and represents as much of a threat to RIM and Apple as it does to Microsoft because it challenges the current conventions and could dramatically change the power structure that currently exists which places the carriers at the top of the stack,” Enderle said. “If Google is successful, they will, in effect, be a superpower in this space and eclipse the power of the carriers and cell phone providers.”

To be a true game changer in the smartphone space, however, Google will have to break into the enterprise. Enderle said that because this is an OS play, the Android-based phones can appeal to either consumer or business users, depending on the market targeted. But many analysts see the Google phones as a tougher sell for the corporate user.

“Corporations have a concern with the way Google traces words we use in our e-mails and archived searches and then caters its advertising messages to reach our interests,” said Michelle Warren, senior analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech. “If users have to watch advertisements every few minutes while using there phone, corporate users will definitely not like that.”

Chan agreed with Warren, saying that enterprises have already selected their platforms for business use.

“This is targeted at the consumer and mass market as opposed to larger entities,” Chan said. In-Stat’s Nogee also weighed in on the issue and said that while the enterprise won’t ignore Google’s coalition, the company has a long way to go in breaking into large organizations.

According to Google, the first phones using the Google-based platform will not be available until the second half of next year. T-Mobile and Sprint are onboard as U.S. carriers, but there was no word on which Canadian carriers would provide the Google-platform devices. International carriers in China, Japan, Germany, Italy and Spain were also announced.

“In Canada, we don’t have many carriers and the big ones are pretty well partnered up with Microsoft or RIM,” Warren said. “Rogers would be the natural place, but I think we need to adopt a wait and see attitude. This is in the very early stages in terms of actually seeing a product on the market.”

A Rogers Wireless spokesperson said no one with the carrier would comment “this week.”

Chan said that the Canadian announcement will eventually come, however, in the grand scheme of things Canada is still a small market in terms of smartphone adoption.

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