What’s With Google Android?

Google recently announced its foray into the telecommunications space with Android, an operating system and software developer kit for mobile devices. I watched the video, which was fairly dry (and Sergey, you can afford a shirt with a collar), but I was missing the context and meaning of this announcement.

Over at Slate, Tim Wu has written a readable overview of what Android might mean to the staid telecoms industry in the US.

Nor is the problem of retailing Android phones trivial. Anyone with an Internet browser can use Google search or Gmail, but in the American mobile world the main barrier to market entry is reaching consumers. Today, more than 90 percent of Americans buy their wireless devices from their carriers. It is true, again, that Google has T-Mobile and Sprint provisionally on its side. But if only some outlets will sell a Gphone, fewer people will buy them.

Incidentally, I wasn’t super-interested in the subject matter, and abandoned it after a few episode, but I learned a lot about the early days of the telephone industry from Cory Doctorow’s reading of Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown.


  1. When I read the founding members of the group that launched Android at http://androidwiki.com/ I thought the device makers were mysteriously absent. I am convinced though that with the money flowing into Android, there are a couple of viable strategies to get the handsets to the users. This may be easier with GSM where Android handsets could be heavily subsidized, but at the end of the day users buy hardware for software (gaming PC anyone?), so as long as the applications rock, the handsets should fly of the shelves.

  2. I happened across this article as a result of a Google News Alert. I think that your opinion and feelings are very valid. We run a site dedicated to fans of Android and would love for you to browse some of the articles. It may or many not change your opinion. As more software and hardware is announced, I think the interest and practicality will compound. Thanks for the look at the ‘other side’.

  3. I think Android is a trojan horse. Or, more accurately, the last link in a new value chain. How about this scenario?

    * Google either acquires Skype or builds out GTalk with interoperability across IM clients. There are already rumours of the Skype deal in London. GTalk is already open to standards.

    * Google bids on the 700 MHz spectrum licensing in the US and grabs some wireless transmission space.

    * With that transmission space they begin a wide rollout of free wireless Internet, including the voice-enabled IM / SIP application that Skype / GTalk becomes. Now they have anywhere access for people to use the internet to make calls. Why use cell towers anymore?

    * Once voice is open on the web, Google kills the carriers. They have the built out data centres, the apps and for the last number of years they’ve been buying up dark fiber leases to light up for some future reason.

    * The handsets are the last part of the equation. They become wireless Internet / cell hybrids. Google becomes the new Microsoft, controlling the OS, and a new rivalry is born for Apple to focus on.

    Basically it all comes down to Google shifting market power away from carriers by changing how people use mobile voice, then handset makers will build according to that new market.

    How does that sound for napkin strategy?

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