Google's announcement last year that it would give away software that could run cellphones was met by dizzy accolades from analysts who thought it would let the search-engine company conquer the world of mobile advertising.
NEW YORK — Google’s announcement last year that it would give away software that could run cellphones was met by dizzy accolades from analysts who thought it would let the search-engine company conquer the world of mobile advertising.
Today, a fruit of that announcement is set to drop: Redmond-based T-Mobile USA will reveal the first phone to use Android, Google’s software platform, at a New York news conference.
But a lot has happened in the world of cellphone software in the intervening year, and Google looks set for an uphill battle in trying to capture the desires of consumers and wireless carriers.
Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates that T-Mobile could sell 400,000 “G1” phones this year, giving Google about 4 percent of the U.S. market for “smart” phones, a category dominated by Research in Motion’s BlackBerry phones with tough competition from Apple’s iPhone, Palm’s Treos and Centros and various phones running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software.
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The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing unnamed sources, that the phone would sell for $199 and carry the Google brand.
“This is the right moment for Google to answer some of the big questions that have been outstanding since Android was announced almost a year ago,” said Morgan Gillis, executive director of the LiMo Foundation, which has created a rival cellphone software platform. “What will the consumer do on this handset that can’t be done on other handsets?”
The LiMo Foundation is behind one of the developments that has undermined the prospects for Android in the last year. In May, Verizon Wireless said LiMo, or Linux Mobile, would be the “preferred” software for its phones, starting next year, joining some European carriers.
The world’s largest supplier of software for smart phones is Symbian, used by Nokia. In June, Nokia announced it was buying Symbian with a view to donating the software to a LiMo-like foundation, which will make it available for free.
That means there will soon be not one but two suites of software with strong industry support and a price tag of zero to compete with Android when manufacturers pick operating systems.
When it comes to getting carriers interested in Android, Google has an advantage its competitors lack: a world-beating advertising system that turned it into a multibillion-dollar company in the space of a few years.
Wireless operators have been looking for more than a decade at making the cellphone a welcoming place for advertisers, said In-Stat analyst Bill Hughes. In particular, they want to make use of the ability of cellphones to locate their users and provide ads keyed to that location.
But the carriers “are not really set up, structurally or by temperament, to pursue that,” Hughes said. “So it’s basically remained: ‘This is a really good idea that we’re going to get to someday.’ “
Now, he added, Google “can come to them and say, ‘Look, we’ve proven ourselves to be very successful in this application.’ ” By building an operating system from the ground up with this idea in mind, it could succeed where others have failed, Hughes said.