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Android at six months: A one-phone pony

Six months after the first Android phone was released, it remains the only phone that runs Google’s open-source operating system, although manufacturers and carriers say more Android products are coming in the weeks and months ahead.
Image: TeleNav GPS on G1 phone
TeleNav's GPS Navigator with turn-by-turn directions recently became available for Android on the T-Mobile G1 phone. The program costs $10 a month. TeleNav

Six months after the first Android phone was released, it remains the only phone that runs Google’s open-source operating system, although manufacturers and carriers say more Android products are coming in the weeks and months ahead.

There was a lot of excitement before last October’s launch of the G1, or “the Google phone," as it’s also known, which is carried exclusively by T-Mobile. Google shepherded Android, which is based on Linux, and the online Android Market, which is based on Apple’s App Store for the iPhone.

Is it Android itself or the lack of Android phones that’s resulted in a lukewarm response? “Maybe this highlights the problem of trying to hype an operating system rather than a phone,” said Allen Nogee, In-Stat’s wireless and infrastructure technology analyst.

“As far as I know, Android was the only operating system where they attempted to sell an OS and not a device. I don’t think the results have been very compelling and neither have the reviews of the G1. I think that has been bad for Android.”

A good, not great, phone
The $179 G1, made by HTC, got good, but not great, reviews. The touchscreen device, which also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, is a little clunky at 5.6 ounces with what has been (affectionately) dubbed a Jay Leno-like chin at the bottom of the device.

The phone has had tough competition from many other devices, and was sandwiched in between releases of a new iPhone last summer and new BlackBerrys last fall.

And while the G1 is a 3G phone, using T-Mobile's faster third-generation wireless network, that network is not yet as widely built-out as those of the carrier's larger competitors, Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint.

The Android Market, which started out with less than 100 programs, or apps, now has about 2,300, compared to 25,000 programs in the App Store, according to Rana Sobhany of Medialets, an advertising network and analytics provider for mobile platforms.

All the programs were free to download for the first few months. Many are still free, and prices on paid programs range from 99 cents to $35, Sobhany said.

“Android is suffering the growing pains of a new OS,” said Avi Greengart, consumer devices research director for Current Analysis.

“Right now, the promise of Android is still mostly unrealized,” because there’s only one device available for using it.

And there haven’t exactly been a lot of G1 knockoffs.

“When Apple released the iPhone, you saw many others release ‘iPhone killers,’ ” said Nogee. “But when the G1 arrived, how many ‘G1 killers’ did you see?”

In the pipeline
Android fans hoped that HTC would release a new phone, the HTC Magic, also dubbed the “G2” this week, but it appears that launch will be next month.

Other companies, including Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson, are also promising Android phones this year, but some had hoped those devices would be out by now.

“It does require a lot of evaluation, as well as a lot of testing, a lot of acceptance from a consumer viewpoint, and there is still some time to go,” Sony Ericsson chief executive Hideki Komiyama told Reuters last week.

“Looking ahead, I think that we see this as one of the important operating systems, there is no doubt.”

Samsung is expected to have up to three Android phones this year, with one possibly being released soon as June.

Android has also been mentioned as a possible operating system choice for netbooks, inexpensive and small laptops that are increasing in popularity. So far, Linux and Microsoft’s Windows XP are the dominant operating systems for netbooks. ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

The New York Times recently reported that T-Mobile plans to sell a home phone next year and a tablet computer using Android.

“More phones are planned, and every day there’s another rumor of companies adapting Android to netbooks or other consumer electronic categories,” said Greengart. “But until more products are available and someone other than HTC is building them, Android’s market impact will be limited.”

Said Nogee: “Let’s forget about Android, and just say HTC came out with a new hyped phone called the G1. If it flopped, HTC would really get a black eye, and they would have to recover from it.

“Instead, it was the ‘Android’ phone that flopped, HTC has escaped unscathed to make more phones, but Android has received the black eye,” he said. “All the other Android phones seemed to suddenly be slowed up for some ‘unknown’ reason. Hopefully long enough until the first not-so-good Android experiences are out of people’s minds.”

Turn-by-turn GPS available
Among the bright spots for Android is TeleNav’s GPS Navigator, with 3-D turn-by-turn navigation, which became available for the G1 early this year. It costs $9.99 a month and has voice-based and on-screen directions. It’s the kind of program that the iPhone does not yet have.

And, for a one-phone pony, Android has grabbed a respectable share of the mobile phone Web browsing market. Nearly two-thirds of such Web surfing is done using Apple’s iPhone, but second is Android, with 8.57 percent, according to Net Applications, which tracks operating system and Web data.

With Google Internet search, Gmail and Google Maps among the G1’s dominant applications, that percentage may not be a surprise.

But, in comparison, phones that run Windows Mobile OS have 6.37 percent of the mobile Web browsing market, and BlackBerry phones have 2.7 percent.

Software developers interested in Android also have been given more program possibilities with the recent release of Android 1.5, which will include video recording, speech recognition and letting users enter text on the phone’s screen in landscape mode.