Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Google's Open Handset Alliance Keeps Focused on WiMax as the Prize

Google may not always be great at creating products, but they sure do know how to create markets. In introducing its new Android open-source mobile phone platform via the Open Handset Alliance, Google has opened the gates for any and all software developers to develop new applications that can take advantage of Android's capabilities - already impressive in demo form.

This could catapult Andriod into a competitive position with Microsoft and Apple in relatively short time frame for mobile platforms if ambitious developers take up Google's challenge - and Google is making it easier for them to consider that challenge with USD 10 million in prize money for them to consider. The question is, though, will mobile carriers intent on maintaining proprietary control over their platforms to control services be willing to take on such an open platform?

According to Engadget the likely candidate for early adoption of Android for mobile devices in the U.S. is Sprint, which is the American telecoms carrier most aggressive in building out high-bandwidth, long-distance WiMax mobile Intenet infrastructure that could bring the mobile Web to the masses. Engadget speculates that perhaps Google would acquire Sprint to help accelerate WiMax growth, services fueled by Google mobile advertising revenues that might make mobile more affordable or, perhaps, free. Nice thinking, but with so many different communications technologies in play, including the impending action of soon-to-be-former analog television frequencies in the U.S. it's far more likely that Google will be looking towards an alliance with Sprint that would still leave the door open for Android via other carriers.

In the meantime Sprint has much to gain in working aggressively with Google. Slow to the mobile services dance as it grew incompatible network scale via its Nextel acquisition, Sprint needs an edge to catch up with rivals well entrenched with iPhones, Blackberries and other intelligent handsets. In doing so Sprint may be able to catch the next wave of mobile communications focused on both full-screen Web services and advanced messaging capabilities that can leverage WiMax efficiently while other technologies fall into place for even more mobile Web access.

The Zune-sized touch-screen demo unit with a Blackberry-like keyboard that Google's Sergey Brin used to show off Android certainly underscores that Android has the potential to develop features that can run with the current mobile big dogs very quickly - and begin to create a price war between Android-equipped units and currently pricey iPhones and Blackberries that might be just the trick to unlock the chicken-egg equation that seems to have slowed the growth of mobile Web services.

This is a long way of saying that we should expect Android to open up highly affordable Web access via mobile units far more quickly than other platforms are likely to do via telecommunication partners seeking to maintain status quo services pricing. While high-end content services will certainly find a home on Android it's the prospect of reaching people for whom a mobile phone is a necessity and high-speed Internet access via a PC a luxury that content producers and advertisers should consider most important in this rollout of content technologies.

The Web is about to get that much more powerful and affordable via Android-enabled devices and networks - and that much more important to marketers seeking audiences with limited attention spans. Pop in Google's OpenSocial initiative for social media services on top of an Android-enabled device and you have a thoroughly compelling platform for content development that other platform providers are going to be hard-pressed to match soon. Google's definitely in catch-up mode in mobile services but it looks like through Android they might be catching a big break at last.
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