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The Open Handset Alliance

Enter search advertising giant Google. Now a household name, Google has shown an interest in spreading its vision, its brand, its search and ad-revenue-based platform, and its suite of tools to the wireless marketplace. The company's business model has been amazingly successful on the Internet and, technically speaking, wireless isn't that different.

Google Goes Wireless

The company's initial forays into mobile were beset with all the problems you would expect. The freedoms Internet users enjoyed were not shared by mobile phone subscribers. Internet users can choose from the wide variety of computer brands, operating systems, Internet service providers, and web browser applications.

Nearly all Google services are free and ad driven. Many applications in the Google Labs suite directly compete with the applications available on mobile phones. The applications range from simple calendars and calculators to navigation with Google Maps and the latest tailored news from News Alerts—not to mention corporate acquisitions such as Blogger and YouTube.

When this approach didn't yield the intended results, Google decided to a different approach—to revamp the entire system upon which wireless application development was based, hoping to provide a more open environment for users and developers: the Internet model. The Internet model allows users to choose between freeware, shareware, and paid software. This enables free market competition among services.

Forming the Open Handset Alliance

With its user-centric, democratic design philosophies, Google has led a movement to turn the existing closely guarded wireless market into one where phone users can move between carriers easily and have unfettered access to applications and services. With its vast resources, Google has taken a broad approach, examining the wireless infrastructure from the FCC wireless spectrum policies to the handset manufacturers' requirements, application developer needs, and mobile operator desires.

Next, Google joined with other like-minded members in the wireless community and posed the following question: What would it take to build a better mobile phone?

The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) was formed in November 2007 to answer that very question. The OHA is a business alliance comprised of many of the largest and most successful mobile companies on the planet. Its members include chip makers, handset manufacturers, software developers, and service providers. The entire mobile supply chain is well represented.

Andy Rubin has been credited as the father of the Android platform. His company, Android Inc., was acquired by Google in 2005. Working together, OHA members, including Google, began developing a nonproprietary open standard platform based upon technology developed at Android Inc. that would aim to alleviate the aforementioned problems hindering the mobile community. The result is the Android project. To this day, most Android platform development is completed by Rubin's team at Google, where he acts as VP of Engineering and manages the Android platform roadmap.

Google's involvement in the Android project has been so extensive that the line between who takes responsibility for the Android platform (the OHA or Google) has blurred. Google hosts the Android open source project and provides online Android documentation, tools, forums, and the Software Development Kit (SDK) for developers. All major Android news originates at Google. The company has also hosted a number of events at conferences and the Android Developer Challenge (ADC), a contest to encourage developers to write killer Android applications—for $10 million dollars in prizes to spur development on the platform. The winners and their apps are listed on the Android website.

Manufacturers: Designing the Android Handsets

More than half the members of the OHA are handset manufacturers, such as Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and LG, and semiconductor companies, such as Intel, Texas Instruments, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm. These companies are helping design the first generation of Android handsets.

The first shipping Android handset—the T-Mobile G1—was developed by handset manufacturer HTC with service provided by T-Mobile. It was released in October 2008. Many other Android handsets were slated for 2009 and early 2010. The platform gained momentum relatively quickly. Each new Android device was more powerful and exciting than the last. Over the following 18 months, 60 different Android handsets (made by 21 different manufacturers) debuted across 59 carriers in 48 countries around the world. By June 2010, at an announcement of a new, highly anticipated Android handset, Google announced more than 160,000 Android devices were being activated each day (for a rate of nearly 60 million devices annually). The advantages of widespread manufacturer and carrier support appear to be really paying off at this point.

The Android platform is now considered a success. It has shaken the mobile marketplace, gaining ground steadily against competitive platforms such as the Apple iPhone, RIM BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile. The latest numbers (as of Summer 2010) show BlackBerry in the lead with a declining 31% of the smartphone market. Trailing close behind is Apple's iPhone at 28%. Android, however, is trailing with 19%, though it's gaining ground rapidly and, according to some sources, is the fastest-selling smartphone platform. Microsoft Windows Mobile has been declining and now trails Android by several percentage points.

Mobile Operators: Delivering the Android Experience

After you have the phones, you have to get them out to the users. Mobile operators from North, South, and Central America; Europe, Asia, India, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East have joined the OHA, ensuring a worldwide market for the Android movement. With almost half a billion subscribers alone, telephony giant China Mobile is a founding member of the alliance.

Much of Android's success is also due to the fact that many Android handsets don't come with the traditional "smartphone price tag"—quite a few are offered free with activation by carriers. Competitors such as the Apple iPhone have no such offering as of yet. For the first time, the average Jane or Joe can afford a feature-full phone. I've lost count of the number of times I've had a waitress, hotel night manager, or grocery store checkout person tell me that they just got an Android phone and it has changed their life. This phenomenon has only added to the Android's rising underdog status.

In the United States, the Android platform was given a healthy dose of help from carriers such as Verizon, who launched a $100 million dollar campaign for the first Droid handset. Many other Droid-style phones have followed from other carriers. Sprint recently launched the Evo 4G (America's first 4G phone) to much fanfare and record one-day sales (http://j.mp/cNhb4b).

Content Providers: Developing Android Applications

When users have Android handsets, they need those killer apps, right?

Google has led the pack, developing Android applications, many of which, such as the email client and web browser, are core features of the platform. OHA members are also working on Android application integration. eBay, for example, is working on integration with its online auctions.

The first ADC received 1,788 submissions, with the second ADC being voted upon by 26,000 Android users to pick a final 200 applications that would be judged professionally—all newly developed Android games, productivity helpers, and a slew of location-based services (LBS) applications. We also saw humanitarian, social networking, and mash-up apps. Many of these applications have debuted with users through the Android Market—Google's software distribution mechanism for Android. For now, these challenges are over. The results, though, are still impressive.

For those working on the Android platform from the beginning, handsets couldn't come fast enough. The T-Mobile G1 was the first commercial Android device on the market, but it had the air of a developer pre-release handset. Subsequent Android handsets have had much more impressive hardware, allowing developers to dive in and design awesome new applications.

As of October 2010, there are more than 80,000 applications available in the Android Market, which is growing rapidly. This takes into account only applications published through this one marketplace—not the many other applications sold individually or on other markets. This also does not take into account that, as of Android 2.2, Flash applications can run on Android handsets. This opens up even more application choices for Android users and more opportunities for Android developers.

There are now more than 180,000 Android developers writing interesting and exciting applications. By the time you finish reading this book, you will be adding your expertise to this number.

Taking Advantage of All Android Has to Offer

Android's open platform has been embraced by much of the mobile development community—extending far beyond the members of the OHA.

As Android phones and applications have become more readily available, many other mobile operators and handset manufacturers have jumped at the chance to sell Android phones to their subscribers, especially given the cost benefits compared to proprietary platforms. The open standard of the Android platform has resulted in reduced operator costs in licensing and royalties, and we are now seeing a migration to open handsets from proprietary platforms such as RIM, Windows Mobile, and the Apple iPhone. The market has cracked wide open; new types of users are able to consider smartphones for the first time. Android is well suited to fill this demand.

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