In the market for an Android

Android promises to have something for everyone. Android looks to support a variety of hardware devices, not just high-end ones typically associated with expensive "smart-phones." Of course, Android will run better on a more powerful device, particularly considering it is sporting a comprehensive set of computing features. The real question is how well Android can scale up and down to a variety of markets and gain market and mind share. This section provides conjecture on Android from the perspective of a few existing players in the marketplace. When talking about the cellular market, the place to start is at the top, with the carriers, or as they are sometimes referred to, mobile operators. MOBILE OPERATORS

Mobile operators are in the business, first and foremost, of selling subscriptions to their services. Shareholders want a return on their investment, and it is hard to imagine an industry where there is a larger investment than in a network that spans such broad geographic territory. To the mobile operator, cell phones are—at the same time—a conduit for services, a drug to entice subscribers, and an annoyance to support and lock down.

The optimistic view of the mobile operator's response to Android is that it is embraced with open arms as a platform to drive new data services across the excess capacity operators have built into their networks. Data services represent high premium services and high-margin revenues for the operator. If Android can help drive those revenues for the mobile operator, all the better.

The pessimistic view of the mobile operator's response to Android is that the operator feels threatened by Google and the potential of "free wireless," driven by advertising revenues and an upheaval of the market. Another challenge with mobile operators is that they want the final say on what services are enabled across their network. Historically, one of the complaints of handset manufacturers is that their devices are handicapped and not exercising all of the features designed into them because of the mobile operator's lack of capability or lack of willingness to support those features. An encouraging sign is that there are mobile operators involved in the Open Handset Alliance.

Enough conjecture; let's move on to a comparison of Android and existing cell phones on the market today. ANDROID VS. THE FEATURE PHONES

The overwhelming majority of cell phones on the market are the consumer flip phones and feature phones. These are the phones consumers get when they walk into the retailer and ask what can be had for "free"; these are the "I just want a phone" customers. Their primary interest is a phone for voice communications and perhaps an address book. They might even want a camera. Many of these phones have additional capabilities such as mobile web browsing, but because of a relatively poor user experience, these features are not employed heavily. The one exception is text messaging, which is a dominant application no matter the classification of device. Another increasingly in-demand category is location-based services, or as it is typically known, GPS.

Android's challenge is to scale down to this market. Some of the bells and whistles in Android can be left out to fit into lower-end hardware. One of the big functionality gaps on these lower-end phones is the web experience. Part of this is due to screen size, but equally challenging is the browser technology itself, which often struggles to match the rich web experience of the desktop computer. Android features the market-leading WebKit browser engine, which brings desktop compatible browsing to the mobile arena. Figure 1.3 demonstrates the WebKit in action on Android. If this can be effectively scaled down to the feature phones, it would go a long way toward penetrating this end of the market.

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Figure 1.3 Android's built-in browser technology is based on Webkit's browser engine.

NOTE The WebKit (http://www.webkit.org) browser engine is an open source project that powers the browser found in Macs (Safari) and is the engine behind Mobile Safari, the browser found on the iPhone. It is not a stretch to say that the browser experience is what makes the iPhone popular, so its inclusion in Android is a strong plus for Android's architecture.

Software at this end of the market generally falls into one of two camps:

■ Qualcomm's BREW environment—BREW stands for Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless. For a high-volume example of BREW technology, consider Verizon's Get It Now-capable devices, which run on this platform. The challenge to the software developer desiring to gain access to this market is that the bar to get an application on this platform is very high because everything is managed by the mobile operator, with expensive testing and revenue-sharing fee structures. The upside to this platform is that the mobile operator collects the money and disburses it to the developer after the sale, and often these sales are recurring monthly. Just about everything else is a challenge to the software developer, however. Android's open application environment is more accessible than BREW.

■ J2ME, or Java Micro Edition,, is a very popular platform for this class of device. The barrier to entry is much lower for software developers. J2ME developers will find a "same but different" environment in Android. Android is not strictly a J2ME-compatible platform; however, the Java programming environment found in Android is a plus for J2ME developers. Also, as Android matures, it is very likely that J2ME support will be added in some fashion.

Gaming, a better browser, and anything to do with texting or social applications present fertile territory for Android at this end of the market.

While the masses carry the feature phones described in this section, Android's capabilities will put Android-capable devices into the next market segment with the higher-end devices, as discussed next. ANDROID VS. THE SMARTPHONES

The market leaders in the smartphone race are Windows Mobile/SmartPhone and BlackBerry, with Symbian (huge in non-U.S. markets), iPhone, and Palm rounding out the market. While we could focus on market share and pros versus cons of each of the smartphone platforms, one of the major concerns of this market is a platform's ability to synchronize data and access Enterprise Information Systems for corporate users. Device-management tools are also an important factor in the Enterprise market. The browser experience is better than with the lower-end phones, mainly because of larger displays and more intuitive input methods, such as a touch screen or a jog dial.

Android's opportunity in this market is that it promises to deliver more performance on the same hardware and at a lower software acquisition cost. The challenge Android faces is the same challenge faced by Palm—scaling the Enterprise walls. BlackBerry is dominant because of its intuitive email capabilities, and the Microsoft platforms are compelling because of tight integration to the desktop experience and overall familiarity for Windows users. Finally, the iPhone has enjoyed unprecedented success as an intuitive yet capable consumer device with a tremendous wealth of available software applications.

The next section poses an interesting question: can Android, the open source mobile platform, succeed as an open source project? ANDROID VS. ITSELF

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is Android's commitment to open source. Coming from the lineage of Google, Android will likely always be an open source project, but in order to succeed in the mobile market, it must sell millions of units. Android is not the first open source phone, but it is the first from a player with the market-moving weight of Google leading the charge.

Open source is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the power of many talented people and companies working around the globe and around the clock to push the ball up the hill and deliver desirable features is a force to be reckoned with, particularly in comparison with a traditional, commercial approach to software development. This is a trite topic unto itself by now, because the benefits of open source development are well documented. The other side of the open source equation is that, without a centralized code base that has some stability, Android could splinter and not gain the critical mass it needs to penetrate the mobile market. Look at the Linux platform as an alternative to the "incumbent" Windows OS. As a kernel, Linux has enjoyed tremendous success: it is found in many operating systems, appliances such as routers and switches, and a host of embedded and mobile platforms such as Android. Numerous Linux distributions are available for the desktop, and ironically, the plethora of choices has held it back as a desktop alternative to Windows. Linux is arguably the most successful open source project; as a desktop alternative to Windows, it has become splintered and that has hampered its market penetration from a product perspective. As an example of the diluted Linux market, here is an abridged list of Linux distributions:

■ Mandriva (formerly Mandrake)

The list contains a sampling of the most popular Linux desktop software distributions. How many people do you know who use Linux as their primary desktop OS, and if so, do they all use the same version? Open source alone is not enough; Android must stay focused as a product and not get diluted in order to penetrate the market in a meaningful way. This is the classic challenge of the intersection between commercialization and open source. This is Android's challenge, among others, because Android needs to demonstrate staying power and the ability scale from the mobile operator to the software vendor, and even at the grass-roots level to the retailer. Becoming diluted into many distributions is not a recipe for success for such a consumer product as a cell phone.

The licensing model of open source projects can be sticky. Some software licenses are more restrictive than others. Some of those restrictions pose a challenge to the open source label. At the same time, Android licensees need to protect their investment, so licensing is an important topic for the commercialization of Android.

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  • anke
    What is mim plus oprator code for android platfarm?
    4 years ago

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