Android, the open source Linux-based mobile platform, the development of which is under the jurisdiction of the Google-led Open Handset Alliance, will ensure its competitive advantage by employing "Internet style innovation," said Andy Rubin, senior director, mobile platforms, Google.
According to Rubin, "Internet style innovation" involves the speed at which new applications hit the market or are updated.
"One of the observations we made on the Internet is that applications can be deployed very quickly, due to the tools made available on the Web," said Rubin. "There is this loop: innovations are released, users use those innovations and then give their feedback to the developer, who in turn improves on the software. And the tighter you can make that loop of innovation, the better and more frequent updates you can make to application. Websites live or die on that. The quicker they can respond to a user's needs, the better competitive advantage they have."
Rubin added that having a single platform will also benefit handset manufacturers. "Many handset manufacturers today are concerned with the six-month product cycle, and they don't pay a lot of attention to being really good systems integrators," said Rubin. "So by providing a single platform that offers all that functionality in one place, and making it free and open--that's Android's turf."
Challenges of 'Free'
Android's availability could also spell a dip in handset prices, according to Rubin.
"We think today, software in general represents about 20 percent of the building material for phones, and that's only going to go up as consumers demand more of their phones," said Rubin. "But [the advantage of] having everybody get together to build quality software, is that you enjoy advantage of it being free. Android's availability could reduce the cost of phones."
Rubin concedes that the concept of free software also brings its own set of challenges. "With free software, developers aren't guaranteed distribution rights," said Rubin, who declined to expound further on how Google would tackle the issue, except to say that Google had learnt a lot about mass content distribution due to its acquisition of video sharing site YouTube.
Rubin also gave a glimpse into several applications that had been developed for the Android platform, during a developer challenge held earlier this year. The contest, which included US$10 million (S$13.37 million) of prize money, attracted 1,700 entries from 75 different countries, with two-thirds of the submissions coming from outside of the U.S.
Consumer Before Enterprise
The majority of the entries, according to Rubin, could be classified into three broad categories--geo location, social networks, or a combination of both. Rubin revealed that most of the entries were targeted at the consumer, with few being enterprise-specific.
"If it can satisfy the consumer's needs, it can also satisfy the business needs," said Rubin, who pointed out that Android would do best to start at a mass-market level, and from there work its way either up to the enterprise level or down to the emerging markets level.
Features of Android include an unlock pattern for security and customizable shortcuts to preferred applications. Other capabilities include zooming, a compass mode, site navigation, and access to Google Maps. Security-wise, the system is capable of notifying the user when applications are installed.
"The idea is to present the user with enough information to make their own security decisions," said Rubin. "Not have a governing body make decisions for the user."
Android is currently undergoing its final stages of testing. The first Android-enabled handsets are expected to hit the market by the end of the year. Manufacturers who have pledged to build Android-based mobile devices include HTC, Motorola, Samsung and LG.
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