The first Android phone will be announced by Google and T-Mobile tomorrow, September 23 at 10:30 AM Eastern time in New York City. The phone itself is the HTC Dream branded as a T-Mobile G1. Beyond that everything about the phone is conjecture. Most rumors put the device in stores Oct 13 at $199 on a two year contract. Further rumor mongering predicts UK and German releases, also on T-Mobile in October or November. There's also the potential of a wider Android roll out this year on T-Mobile which operates in 13 countries. Other than T-Mobile, no carriers have confirmed Android launches in 2008. China Mobile, KDDI, DoCoMo, Sprint, TIM and Telefónica are members of the OHA, the industry consortium backing Android, and all can be expected to launch an Android phone in 2009 with Telefónica likely to be the first.
Carrier adoption is certainly a key factor in Android's success, but I don't think it's the only or even the most important one. Google certainly wants Android to be available through carriers. Most consumers worldwide currently buy their mobile phones from their mobile network provider and Google needs to be in that channel.
However, I believe that the carrier channel is only part of Google's Android strategy. They have a much grander plan to dominate the mobile device landscape and turn the mobile industry's business model completely upside down. This strategy involves at least three channels. The first is through carriers. The second and third are direct to consumer and direct to business. I don't believe that Google itself will sell Andoid phones. Rather they have created an OS and adopted a licensing model that enables third parties to effectively build and sell Andoid phones into all three channels.
Google has spent four years and, by my estimate, at least 150 million dollars creating a complete mobile OS and application stack with very advanced capabilities, all for the purpose of giving it away. And giving it away under a permissive open source license that lets carriers, device manufacturers and system integrators use it, sell it and modify it any way. Like everything Google or any other business does, they are doing this because they expect it will make them money, lots of money.
When you look at Google's business model, its almost entirely based on advertising. Almost everything Google does is designed to place ads on as many pages and screens as possible. Google accomplishes this by offering compelling ad-supported products like gMail and Google Docs and with search. Search is designed to monetize all the world's content that Google doesn't create or own itself using AdWords and AdSense. Google is also very good at tracking user behavior, demographics and preferences, all with the goal of delivering the most targeted advertising possible.
Android extends Google advertising and tracking to mobile in a way that goes far beyond current Google mobile products like Search and Maps. It's no secret that mobile search isn't very easy to use or powerful. Android is intended to change that by combining speech recognition and synthesis (for faster, easier input and output) with personal data from the handset (location, contact names and addresses, calendar and to-do entries) and data known to Google (maps, web index, and the user's search and purchase history) to deliver a revolutionary user experience.
Here are a couple of examples of potential services that the combination of Google and user data with Android APIs makes possible:
- A location enabled mash up of search and the phone's contact book which, using voice recognition, would let you speak "Directions from here to Ian's home" (where Ian is one of your contacts), and have the phone give you visual and spoken directions via car, walking or transit.
- Automatic background monitoring of the flight status for upcoming trips based on on flight numbers in the handset's calendar entries. The phone would alert the user if one of the flights is canceled, changed or delayed.
Building these types of applications is extremely difficult using current phones due to the application signing and certification restrictions demanded by operators. Only your mobile provider can give you integration between PIM, location, speech, payments and the Web. Historically mobile operators, except in Japan, have lacked the innovative spirit to go beyond the basics in mobile services and PIM integration. Even when carriers do offer any sort of useful new application it usually ends up being a subscription service charged at $10 to $20/month.
Android uses a different security model. Instead of protecting users by limiting what they can do, Android gives the user tools to control information sharing and trusts them to know what they are willing to share and with whom. If an Android developer wants to build an app that uses location and PIM data they declare that intent in their code. When a user installs the app they are prompted to grant or deny that application access to each requested resource. No sensitive API can be used unless the application declares its intent and the user allows it.
Google will build innovative data services that are tightly integrated with handset capabilities and bundle them with the OS for free as well as enabling third parties to do the same. Applications that use Google's APIs for geolocation, mapping, search, and serving ads will feed data back to Google helping it to better sell and deliver targeted advertising.
If the above sounds a little scary, it is. No one with responsibility for enterprise security will allow open Android devices to access their internal networks until controls are in place to limit what users can do with company data. This is where Android's open source licensing will enable established manufacturers like OHA members Motorola, HTC, LG, and Samsung as well as independent VARS and system integrators to modify Android to provide the security controls that enterprise buyers require - thus enabling the direct to business channel. The ability of 3rd parties to modify Android to meet individual enterprise requirements gives Google an advantage over Apple's closed platform in the business market.
Google's direct to user strategy is to make it possible for low cost ODMs (original design manufacturers) to build advanced handsets with minimal R&D expenses. Google is hopping that the direct to consumer market will be flooded with cheap, unlocked, unbranded Android smartphones sold through online channels like Amazon Affiliates and through independent retailers around the world. This model works especially well in markets with a high percentage of prepaid users who are accustomed to buying unsubsidized or lightly subsidised phones. The combination of a free mobile OS and low cost chips combining a 3G radio, video processor and ARM CPU will drive the direct to consumer cost of an Android smartphone below $200. For a price only a little higher than that a mid-range feature phone, users will be able to purchase the most powerful, feature rich smartphone available.
For Google to make money with Android the OS has to be nearly ubiquitous. Carriers are cautions and will resist ceding real or potential revenue streams to Google. Adoption of Android by providers will be slow at first. By breaking the major manufacturer/carrier distribution model, Google hopes to create a large base of Android users who will champion the OS's superior capabilities compared with other phones on the market. To meet customer demand, providers will be forced to adopt Android.
Incidentally, I don't expect the G1 to be particularly exciting. The OS is reportedly incomplete in some respects (no Gears and missing Bluetooth APIs) and the physical design is similar to some of HTC's Windows Mobile touch screen sliders from years past. There will be plenty of negative comparisons of the G1's aesthetics, features, form factor, user experience, touch screen quality and stability with other phones particularly the iPhone. However the G1 is Release 1.0 and Google tends rollout products that are initially a little immature compared with Apple. Think of G1 as a Beta product that is being launched to shake out the OS and provide some traffic for load testing Google's Android back-end. Google is committed to fundamentally changing the way we use mobiles and they and their partners both in and outside the OHA will continually improve the Android experience.
Over the next couple of years I see Android causing a fundamental shakeup in the mobile industry. Carriers and companies like Nokia and Microsoft will be forced to either work with Google or compete and innovate like they never have before.