Mobility

The five factors powering the Android revolution

Google Android is looking more and more like a runaway freight train destined to lead the mobile computing space. Here are the top five factors that are propelling its progress.

Google Android has been riding a wave of staggering growth in 2010, going from barely a blip on the market share radar to the fastest growing mobile platform on the planet, challenging BlackBerry for top honors in the U.S. and setting its sights on Nokia for supremacy worldwide.

If you're interested in the rise of Android, also read The dirty little secret about Google Android

How is it that Android has pulled off such a massive coup so quickly? Here are the top five factors that are fueling the Android revolution:

5. Anti-Apple sentiment

It's easy to argue that Android is an iPhone knock-off. After all, when Google was originally working on a mobile platform, it was much more similar to BlackBerry or Windows Mobile with a smaller screen and a hardware keyboard. But then, Apple changed the smartphone game in January 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone.

We should credit Google for recognizing the fact that the iPhone was a game-changer. After all, RIM and Microsoft both missed it. They wrote off the iPhone as a toy — which it was at first — and continued with their existing strategies. That was a critical mistake that both companies are still trying to recover from.

Meanwhile, Google morphed its plans. In November 2007, it announced the Android OS and the Open Handset Alliance. By the time the first Android phone arrived in 2008, Android no longer resembled BlackBerry or Windows Mobile. Instead, it featured a full touchscreen like the iPhone, but with the option for a slide-down hardware keyboard like the one featured in the early T-Mobile G1.

Of course, Apple has continued to innovate and evolve the iPhone. And while Android may not be quite as polished and finished as iOS in some aspects, it comes much closer than any of its other smartphone competitors. So, for those who are attracted to the features of the iPhone but do not want to deal with the restrictive Apple ecosystem or the exclusive AT&T arrangement (in the U.S.) or simply do not care for the Apple brand and everything it represents, Android devices have become today's natural alternative.

4. The power of the Google brand

Remember that Android is open source and based on Linux. However, it has succeeded in the mobile market while Linux has yet to make a major impact on the personal computer market, even after a decade of predictions that it would eventually displace Windows.

That's not to disparage Linux. It may still have its day on the desktop. It has already made steady progress the server room. However, multiple efforts were made to adapt Linux for mobile and they all fell flat. It was Android that not only rose above the pack of Linux-based mobile operating systems, but also outpaced the growth of both desktop and server Linux.

Why? It's primarily due to the fact that Android has the power of the Google brand behind it. Even with its recent "big brother" concerns, consumers and business professionals use Google every day and still love it for its no-nonsense method of helping them find their way around the Internet.

When people buy a Android phone, they don't think of Linux. They think of Google.

3. Ecosystem melee

The Android ecosystem might best be described as barely-organized chaos. That's partly just the nature of a popular open source project, where the product can be morphed and forked in lots of different ways.

The difference in the Android ecosystem is that there's so many different tech heavyweights that have a stake in it. On the manufacturer side, we've got Samsung, HTC, and Motorola who are already involved in a big way. And, in the near future we've got Acer, ASUS, Lenovo, Dell, NEC, Sharp, Toshiba, and others that are planning to get a lot more serious about Android.

Still another set of a major players with a stake in Android are the telecom carriers, including Verizon, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Sprint, AT&T, China Telecom, KDDI, and Telefonica. Unfortunately, many of these carriers have learned how to manipulate Android and have loaded it up with their own apps and services — which users can't uninstall in many cases.

But, the flipside of the Android manipulation by phone makers and telecom carriers is the fact that all of them are fiercely competing with each other to put together the best Android package. As a result, they keep one upping each other month after month with new devices that stretch the limits of what Android is capable of.

2. Developer momentum

In a recent survey of developers, 72% said Android is "best positioned to power a large number and variety of connected devices in the future." Just 25% said the same thing about Apple's iOS. A lot of those developers are making a nice chunk of their current income from iPhone and iPad apps, while still betting on Android in the long term.

Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of Appcelerator, the company that did the survey, said, "You will see Android embedded on devices beyond the smartphone — tablets, connected TVs, conference systems like Cisco's TelePresence, stereos, refrigerators, automobiles. How many devices could benefit from the Android operating system? The answer is: a lot. It is the next-generation operating system."

That's why developers are flocking to Android at the expense of BlackBerry, Symbian (Nokia), Palm webOS, and Windows Mobile. That's why the number of Android apps are accelerating toward 100,000 in the Android Market.

If Google can effectively manage the Android platform and minimize fragmentation then Android has a real shot at becoming not just the world's most widespread mobile platform but its most widespread computing platform in general.

1. Relentless innovation

With so many different stakeholders — tech manufacturers, wireless carriers, software developers, and Google itself — betting on Android, 2010 has witnessed an almost-continual parade of new Android devices, Android apps, custom Android UIs, and new Android partners.

As I mentioned above, there's a lot of chaos that has resulted from all of that activity, including lagging upgrades, incompatibility across different versions, uninstallable crapware, and a few really bad devices. But, open ecosystems are messy. There's no way around that. It's a cream-rises-to-the-top approach.

In the case of Android, there's been a lot of cream floating to the surface in 2010 — from the HTC EVO 3G to the Motorola Droid X to the Samsung Vibrant. And with more manufacturers getting involved and with Android expanding into tablets and Internet TV, we should only expect the pace to accelerate in 2011.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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