Google Inc. hopes the launch of its hardware-unlocked Android phone will buoy the mobile development community’s interest in the mobile operating system. But according to industry observers, the platform has a long way to go before getting any serious play from consumers – and an even tougher road to compete in the enterprise.
The search giant turned mobile OS developer last week announced the availability of the Android Dev Phone 1, a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)-unlocked device for application developers who refuse or are unable to buy the Android-based T-Mobile G1.
The G1 only works on T-Mobile’s U.S. and the U.K networks, forcing mobile developers to subscribe to the service in order to test out their mobile apps. Google said Android programmers can now use any SIM card in the phone and are unrestricted by specific countries or network providers.
The unit costs US$400, with an additional US$25 Android developer fee to get started. It will be available in over a dozen countries, including Canada.
“This is the Google phone that was talked about before the G1 was announced by T-Mobile,” Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, said. “This significantly broadens the potential Android developer base and will hopefully lead to more Android apps being developed.”
For consumers and developers that wanted to get the G1 up and running outside of the T-Mobile network, Tauschek said spending $25 or $50 for a global unlock code and cracking the device was a popular option – albeit an unsanctioned one.
But the major obstacles to success for the new unlocked device will be the same challenges that the T-Mobile phone has faced since its release – nobody seems to want it yet.
“The uptake has been a little slow initially,” Ryan Reith, senior research analyst at IDC Corp., said. “It could be the effect of the overall market, but I also think that [Google and T-Mobile] haven’t done enough advertising around the device.”
The goal of Google’s open platform might also be a flaw in generating consumer sales and interest during its launch, Reith added.
“There’s no roadmap in terms of applications, so that’s the beauty of this and it could also be the crutch of the whole thing,” he said. “You create this open environment and you basically allow the developers to do what they please.”
Whatever the reason may be, Reith said, a stronger development community and the release of more apps and Google-branded phones will be the key to increased demand from consumers.
For the enterprise community, however, Android faces a very steep slope.
“[The G1] is currently lacking some pretty significant enterprise features that will keep it out of the business world for the time being,” Tauschek said. Once somebody comes up with an app that allows the phone to sync with enterprise mail platforms – although that would eventually require somebody to licence ActiveSync – things could change, he added.
“Enterprises are going to look at security and central management,” Tauschek said. The same things that Apple did with iPhone v2, he said, will be needed to get any interest among businesses.
For Reith, Google’s SIM-unlocked G1 announcement will immediately help developers create consumer-focused devices, but because of obvious IT security issues, Google phones will struggle to gain traction in the enterprise.
“There’s really no limitations to what we can see with this OS, so even if you develop a great system that can tie into Exchange, you ultimately have to convince an IT manager to allow you to connect to that system,” he said. “And you can see why that makes sense. If you’re an IT manager, you don’t want people to choose their own devices when you know there’s handhelds out there that are pre-certified and have extensive security in place, out-of-the-box.”
For the consumer space, however, Reith believes Google’s latest announcement represents the beginning of a very exciting time for smart phone consumers.
“Google and T-Mobile were aware that this wasn’t like the iPhone that came pre-packaged with all these fancy applications,” he said. “They realized what you bought was a great device with a few applications. The real gold in Android is yet to come.”
Reith said that opening up the platform to global developers will give the Android a whole slew of new apps geared specifically toward different global markets.
“Cameras, Wi-Fi, GPS, touch screen, we’ve seen all this in other phones,” Reith said. “But developers were limited to what they can do with handhelds like the iPhone. Google wants to take all of this technology and see what the developers can do.”
“There is going to be success moving forward,” he added.