This week the mega mobile conference 3GSM (now formally called the GSMA Mobile World Congress) is taking place in Barcelona, Spain. And true to the pre-conference hype and speculation, several mobile chip makers are showing off Android prototype phones. (Gizmodo has a “hands-on” video with a prototype from the conference.) It’s important to note that these prototypes are just demonstration phones and not impending models to be released. However, Google’s Andy Rubin had said previously that we would see consumer handsets running Android in the second half of this year.
Notwithstanding Google’s commitment to mobile and mobile search, it’s not clear that Android will be the success Google is hoping for. There are lots of competing “open” platforms (including the LiMo Foundation, another Linux-based mobile development platform). And then there’s the iPhone, which continues to loom large over the entire industry and has a big head start. Android in many ways is benefiting from the iPhone’s success and offers a potential “answer” for some carriers. But there are plenty of handset makers that are independently trying to emulate or exceed the iPhone’s de-facto standard for usability and consumer appeal.
There are two other developments that may ultimately boost Google mobile search and monetization much more than Android. They are the market shift toward smartphones (partly as a result of the iPhone) and improving mobile browsers, such as Opera Mobile and the forthcoming Skyfire browser. Mozilla is also working on a mobile browser that offers an experience more like traditional Web browsing than WAP is today.
Smartphone ownership is correlated with increased mobile Web browsing. And browsers that are more intuitive and easy to use, offering a version of the desktop experience, will help Google because of its dominant search market share. In other words, the more the mobile handset and PC desktop are integrated and like one another, the more that will tend to benefit Google.