10 Challenges that Google's Android Platform Faces In the Next 12 Months

HTC/T-Mobile/Google's G1 smartphone is finally out and reviews are rapidly cropping around but already, there are a number of flaws, some small, others worryingly massive, in Google's strategy that have been made even more prominent after yesterday's successful launch.

We've rounded up 10 potential challenges and there are certainly way more that will be unearthed either by our fellow readers or other journos over the next few weeks.

1. Where are the other Androids?

That's probably the most glaring omission in Google's strategy. Granted the first iteration of Android is a little bit more complicated than, say releasing Windows Vista, but we were expecting more than one smartphone to be pushed out of the door. Motorola, LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics are all three Handset manufacturers and part of the OHA and yet they have been astonishingly coy about Android. Why HTC, a Windows-mobile stalwart, has been given the lead role in the Android movie is something that is quite puzzling. LG new android phone is rumoured to be coming soon but the OHA needs to be way more aggressive it wants to convince tens of millions of prospective customers to adopt Android.

2. Where are the other network partners?

Granted T-Mobile has nearly 120 million network partners worldwide, but yesterday's release was rather low key when compared to Apple's multi timezone release of the iPhone. The Open Handset Alliance includes Telefonica, China Mobile and NTT Docomo and like Motorola and the other handset manufacturers, they have been astoundingly silent with regards to Android roll out on their networks in the next few months ahead. Google has apparently played it safe by going with T-Mobile, a mobile operator with whom it launched Web'n'walk a few years ago, which in turn meant that HTC, T-Mobile preferred smartphone manufacturer, was almost certainly selected by default.

3. The V Word... To VoIP or Not Too?

The first G1 was expected to come with Voice over IP capabilities and it was quite surprising to see that T-Mobile lobbied for this to be canned altogether. This is quite surprising given that Ebay, the owner of Skype, is also a member of the Open Handset Alliance. There's already one mainstream mobile network - Hutchinson Whampoa's Three network - which offers free Skype to all its users, something that other service providers will almost certainly oppose. T-Mobile, O2 and others expressly exclude Voice over IP usage from their "unlimited" internet access package.

4. Hidden Agendas of other OHA Partners and Back office politics

The VoIP issue hides an even broader issue which threatens the very existence of the Open Handset Alliance. Google is the driving force behind the Open Handset Alliance and while having an alliance or a consortium can help achieve grand projects faster, the fact that it counts some of the world's biggest technology companies at its core could make things much, much more difficult than if Google went alone. Sure, they bring in technological expertise and loads, loads of top notch engineers. But could it be a matter of too many captains on the OHA boat, some of which are bigger than Google...

5. Developer backlash : Compatibility and Open Source

Google Android is said to be opened (as in open source) but not as opened as some would like. For example, its implementation of Java is not standard as it uses the Apache Harmony Java implementation rather than Sun Microsystems Java SE and ME. The fact that Google doesn't embrace Open Source fully could mean that some developers could see Google's Mobile venture with suspicion, especially as the search giant promised that Android would be fully open sourced. The challenge will be to get the Android marketplace up, running and thriving in record time. Google has offered USD 10 million as prizes and while Android SDK v1.0 has just been released, it is highly unlikely that it becomes as popular as Apple's Apps Store. Open source proponents could also soon add Google to their list of untrusted parties as Chrome and Android take on Firefox and Linux respectively and threatens to divert precious resources from elsewhere.

6. The Competition is looming

Forget Apple and the iPhone for once, the real competitors are RIM, Microsoft and Nokia. The latter dominates the smartphone market with Symbian S60 and could decide to invest massively in research and development to get that decisive "paradigm shift" which would bring Nokia smartphones to the next level. Apple has invested USD 150 million in the development of the iPhone and Nokia could easily match that sum should it want to do so. Microsoft can't afford to lose the battle for the mobile market. After all, there are 3 billion mobile phones out there waiting to be converted to smartphones and if Google manages to grab even a single digit market adoption, that could translate into billions of advertising and affiliate revenue dollars. As for RIM, expect it to be even more fearsome as it tackles four concurrent potential threats to its core business.

7. Google's Distractions

Chances are that other projects could prove a distraction for Google, especially if Android and the OHA prove to be more than a handful for the search engine giant as it tries to manage its 34 partners. Having fingers in too many pies can stretch companies as big as Google rather thinly. With a resurgent Microsoft and a looming recession which could have calamitous consequences for its share prices and ad revenues, Google will have to stay focus on achieving the single most important goal for Android. Putting search (and advertising) literally in the hands of users.

8. Platform Fragmentation
The laissez-faire approach of Google constrasts sharply with the pinpoint accuracy of Steve Jobs strategy with the iPhone. If controlled, platform fragmentation is a good thing as it creates variety and could turn Android into a proper Windows competitor in the long term. For example, netbooks by Intel could use Android, while web-awware embedded devices powered by Qualcomm or Marvell could prove to be a boon for Android. Windriver could put Android into other consumer devices including Aerial combat systems or automobiles. But left unchecked it could prove to be disastrous as every partner tries to pull the rug in their direction. Having a template like the early 1990s MPC recommended configuration could be useful to provide guidance and direction.

9. Symbianisation : Becomes a commodity, an after thought
People buy mobile phones (and computers) mainly because of hardware specifications with the software side often coming as an after thought. This is what happened with Nokia's Symbian, something that ultimately caused the whole mobile industry to go into "rigor mortis" as far as UI and OS were concerned until the iPhone appeared in the picture. Google cannot afford to let Android become another Symbian and let hardware manufacturers and network operators push the software platform in the small print section.

10. Security and privacy issues

Android market is going to be a favourite amongst potential hackers and cyber criminals as its community based approval system is not as stringent as Apple's App Store controversial filter policy. And this could have knock-on effects, especially as Android is expected to run on a bewildering array of devices whereas, in comparison, the iPhone OS runs only on ... the iPhone. And add in the fact that Google's intimate platform/advert interface - just like Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows - could potentially land it in hot waters if privacy advocates get their way. And an Android phone without adverts would be almost worthless for Google.

In conclusion, the G1, as celebrated as it is, is only the start and the next few months will be decisive for Android's future. Another project which launched in November 2007 is Opensocial and it will be interesting to see whether it and Android "click" together in a foreseeable future...

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