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Monday, April 12, 2010

Can Android Overtake the iPhone?

PC Magazine
By: Tim Bajarin

Five or six years ago, I had a number of meetings with some of the big PC manufacturers. I suggested they take a close like at Danger and the innovative interface used for the company's Hiptop handset. At the time, most cell phones had very simple e-mail interfaces. Very few even attempted to connect to the Internet. But Danger had a clear vision of what phone could become, creating what I would consider the granddaddy of today's smartphone interfaces.

By that point, it was becoming clear to some of us analysts that smartphones were actually small computers. If PC companies were going to stay ahead of the curve, they would have to add a handset to their line soon. At the time, I was very intrigued by Danger's interface. It was so well designed that it could be deployed on a TV, PC, smartphone, or just about any other digital device. Such a UI could help one of these companies deliver a similar experience across devices. And people would only have to learn to use the interface once.

Ironically, Microsoft ultimately purchased Danger. To date, the company has not employed this smart UI on any of its products. The genius behind Danger was a guy named Andy Rubin. He left the company before it was acquired by Microsoft, in order to begin working on a secret phone OS that would eventually get Google's attention. Google bought Rubin's small startup. The mobile OS eventually became Android, which, as you know, has since become the hottest OS in the smartphone space, having been adopted by dozens of handset vendors around the world.

I was reminded of Android's power while walking the CTIA show floor in Las Vegas. The show should have been called Android World. A good number of the handset companies I met with had some version of Android on their smartphones, and a number showed me new product behind the scenes that use the OS. I also saw at least five tablets (most behind the scenes) running Android that are set to come out in the next six months.

The most innovative products I saw at the show were based on Android. Take the Samsung Galaxy S, which runs the OS and sports a four inch AMOLED screen. It's the best screen that I have ever seen on a smartphone. Images on the phone are crisp and bright and are even clear out in the sunlight. Samsung won't say when it is coming to the US, but it could be one of the more important Android phones to launch this year.

The Motorola i1 is a new rugged and sleek push-to-talk handset that runs Android. At the press conference, Motorola let people play shuffleboard with the handset to show just how rugged it is. Kyocera also announced an Android handset—the ZIO. The phone has a beautiful 3.5 inch screen, 3.2 megapixel camera, and stereo Bluetooth. It will cost $250 unlocked.

If CTIA had a Best of Show award, it would have gone to Sprint's EVO 4G WiMax phone. The handset has a 4.3 inch screen, 1 GHz SnapDragon processor, 1GB of internal storage, WI-FI, HDMI out, and the ability to act as a WI-FI router for up to eight devices. It's a stunning phone that uses a version of Android that looks more like a Pocket PC OS than a cell phone OS.

Dell debuted the Mini-Tablet 5, the company's first Android tablet for the US. It has a five inch screen perfect for Web browsing. However, even though Dell says that the device will fit in your pocket, it's really not a smartphone. You wouldn't hold it up to year ear to talk. A Bluetooth headset makes more sense for conversations. The product is what I call a "tweener." It's not really a smartphone, and it's not really an iPad-like tablet. I'm not really sure who the audience will be on this one. On the other hand, the tablet has a really cool design and its light weight, compact design could be of interest to some users.

Android is steadily becoming the go-to OS for smartphones and tablets. It's even showing up on some set-top boxes and smart Blu-Ray players. But it's in the smartphone and tablet spaces that the mobile OS will have its greatest impact. Although Nokia and RIM were well represented and Microsoft and Palm each had booths at the show, most other major handset manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, and LG were in the Android camp. It's clear why many market research firms believe that Android will be the number one or two smartphone OS in the next two years.

It's also clear why Android is at the heart of the Apple/Google battle. Apple should be keeping at Windows Phone 7, sure, but it's Android that is likely to be the biggest threat to the iPhone OS in the near future. When Steve Jobs invited Google CEO Eric Schmidt to join Apple's board, he likely didn't expect Schmidt to go to school on Apple's strategy by launching its own iPhone challenger. No one Jobs is upset at Google.

Can Android Overtake the iPhone? [via]

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