Smart move in PHONE WAR

For­get in­ter­net searches. Google is poised to rule the Aussie phone mar­ket this year, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-Ni­chol­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Gadgets -

ALOT can hap­pen in three years, but few ex­pected Google would need only that long to join and dom­i­nate the mo­bile phone in­dus­try.

The in­ter­net gi­ant is now the world’s smart­phone soft­ware leader, fig­ures re­vealed last week, over­tak­ing tra­di­tional ti­tle-holder Nokia and ce­ment­ing its fresh lead over Ap­ple and its iPhone.

Re­search firm Canalys re­ported more than 32.9 mil­lion Google An­droid phones were shipped around the world in 2010, beat­ing Nokia’s ef­forts by 1.9 mil­lion.

Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­perts pre­dict the same will hap­pen in Aus­tralia this year as the An­droid army wins new fans, fu­elled by com­ing soft­ware re­leases, fresh phone forms and plum­met­ing prices.

The dif­fer­ent el­e­ments will com­bine to triple the num­ber of Google phones sold in Aus­tralia, they say, and see many more phone mak­ers add Google apps to their hand­sets.

Though Google phones could be on the brink of Aus­tralian phone lead­er­ship now, the com­pany did not en­ter the lo­cal phone mar­ket un­til Fe­bru­ary 2009, four months af­ter its US launch.

A Google Aus­tralia spokes­woman says An­droid soft­ware is now avail­able in 145 de­vices.

‘‘ In fact, there are now 300,000 An­droid ac­ti­va­tions per day,’’ she says.

The soft­ware has also come a long way tech­no­log­i­cally. While at first in­ca­pable of cut­ting and past­ing text, An­droid now fea­tures app mul­ti­task­ing, voice dic­ta­tion, sim­ple no­ti­fi­ca­tions and an app store, An- droid Mar­ket, with more than 100,000 apps.

Those fea­tures will get an up­grade this year in two up­com­ing soft­ware re­leases dubbed Ginger­bread and Hon­ey­comb.

Ginger­bread (v2.3) of­fers ma­jor speed ben­e­fits over older An­droid ver­sions and will de­but in Google’s own Nexus S phone ( see re­view, right). Hon­ey­comb (v3.0) will be the com­pany’s first soft­ware de­signed for tablets and is al­ready slated to ap­pear in Mo­torola’s Xoom and of­fer­ings from Dell and Acer.

While the jury is still out on An­droid tablets, IDC telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions mar­ket an­a­lyst Mark Novosel says Google’s me­te­oric rise in the smart­phone mar­ket has not been seen since Ap­ple launched its iPhone. more con­ser­va­tive in his es­ti­mates, he pre­dicts Google’s mo­bile phone in­stall base ‘‘ will triple this year’’ for many rea­sons, in­clud­ing price.

‘‘ A lot of peo­ple are switch­ing over to smart­phones and they are con­sid­er­ing An­droid de­vices be­cause of the in­creas­ing fea­tures and func­tions but also be­cause of the eco­nom­ics,’’ he says. ‘‘ The de­vices are ac­tu­ally cheaper whereas Ap­ple has a one-size-fits-all pol­icy.’’

Fadaghi says Google’s open-source ap­proach, which al­lows phone mak­ers to use the soft­ware free of charge, means it has been added to many more phones, in­clud­ing low-cost mod­els from com­pa­nies in­clud­ing ZTE and Huawei, and midrange hand­sets sell­ing for less than $500.

WHILE this could be seen as a risky ap­proach for the Google brand, it gives price­sen­si­tive, pre­paid users a chance to in­vest in a smart­phone for the first time, Fadaghi says, and could help boost Aus­tralian smart­phone num­bers to half of all phones by the end of 2012.

In spite of the good news for Google, the com­pany will still face steep com­pe­ti­tion from Ap­ple. In De­cem­ber, IDC re­vealed the Ap­ple iPhone had be­come the most pop­u­lar smart­phone in Aus­tralia, ac­count­ing for 36.5 per cent of the smart­phone mar­ket, and Novosel pre­dicts Ap­ple will re­lease a new model in the com­ing months.

Gart­ner an­a­lyst Roberta Cozza also warns that Google’s lack of mar­ket­ing for An­droid phones, its lack of paid apps and poor app store de­sign could hold it back, though de­vice mak­ers, bud­ding app de­vel­op­ers and in­tense user in­ter­est could bal­ance out these flaws.

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