The Apple iPhone, which has been setting the bar in touch-screen smartphones, could soon be overtaken by an army of Google-powered handsets.
Android-based phones – handsets that use the open source Google mobile operating system – are on the march as non-iPhone carriers look for a rival to Apple’s device.
Since its introduction a year ago on one device with one carrier, Android has come a long way. It is used on 12 handsets with 32 carriers in 26 countries.
They will be joined by HTC of Taiwan, Motorola and Samsung, which are rushing out models in the US before the end of the year as Sprint and Verizon Wireless join T-Mobile as Android supporters.
Verizon has launched an anti-iPhone advertising campaign, satirising the Apple handset and its exclusive carrier, AT&T, teasing viewers with the promise of its first Android phones in November.
“iDon’t have a real keyboard ... run simultaneous apps ... take 5-megapixel pictures ... allow open development ... have interchangeable batteries,” say the advertisements, ending with: “Everything iDon’t, Droid does.”
According to Eric Schmidt this month, “Android adoption is literally about to explode”.
The Google chief executive stepped down as an Apple director in August after Google’s phone and operating system ambitions became a competitive threat.
Android appeals as a viable alternative for mobile handset makers looking to break the dominance of Nokia, Research in Motion and Apple, which have two-thirds of the US market and an 80 per cent global share.
”If I’m a hardware manufacturer who needs to license a smartphone operating system, my choice is [open source] Linux, which doesn’t have much of a UI [user interface], Windows Mobile, which people don’t seem to like these days because the UI is kind of antiquated, or Android,” says Ken Dulaney, analyst with the Gartner research firm.
Gartner, the research group, sees Android eating into Nokia’s leading market share and featuring on 18 per cent of smartphones by 2012, up from 1.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. That would put it ahead of RIM on 13.9 per cent and Apple on 13.6 per cent.
Android will inevitably beat the iPhone, according to Ken Dulaney, a Gartner analyst, if only because it will feature on many more handset models. Apple has only the iPhone and does not license its operating system or technology.
Android handset makers are improving on the iPhone’s hardware, while a new version of the operating system and more than 10,000 applications developed for it are providing them with competitive software.
Smartphones account for only 14 per cent of the market today, but more than 500m are expected to be sold in 2012 when they are forecast to account for up to half the market for mobile phones.