Google is pulling ahead as the war to entice smartphone recruits rages, writes Jennifer Dudley- Nicholson
Google Android wins hearts and minds.
THE brutal smartphone war is poised to become even more mercenary.
After a fierce four-year battle for consumers’ hearts, wallets and pockets, Google and its Android army have overtaken the mighty Apple iPhone.
More than 135 million Android handsets have now been sold – 6 million more than the global iPhone stash.
Plus, more Google-run phones are being turned on at the rate of 550,000 a day, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt says, or more than 381 a minute.
But the smartphone race is far from won. New Google research shows smartphone adoption is rapidly increasing – particularly in Australia – fuelled by cheaper prices, more useful apps and inexpensive data plans.
While the internet giant plans to lure those new buyers with fresh software and features in the coming months, Apple is also poised to launch a new, faster iPhone model and could have a legal ace up its sleeve.
E Guide attended Google’s recent Mobile Revolution conference in Tokyo to survey the smartphone field.
THE RISE AND RISE OF SMARTPHONES
Few gadgets are more popular than smartphones. The Consumer Electronics Association last week predicted smartphone sales would jump 45 per cent this year to reach $ 23 billion, leading the electronics industry.
But the rise of smartphones in Australia could be even sharper. At the company’s Tokyo conference, Google revealed results from a 30-country survey on smartphone adoption and use.
The survey of 2000 Australians found the country has the second-highest smartphone penetration in the AsiaPacific region, with almost 37 per cent of the population using an advanced mobile phone – more than the US, the UK and Japan. Google mobile research product marketing manager Ryan Hayward says more interesting is the country’s rapid rate of adoption.
‘‘ Something like 80 per cent of people who had a smartphone in Australia said they had got it in the past few months,’’ he says.
Smartphone adoption in Australia could be even higher, however.
Telstra’s recent survey of 2827 Aussies found 46 per cent of mobile phone owners use a smartphone – a figure consumer executive director Rebekah O’Flaherty says will grow ‘‘ to more than 60 per cent over the next 12 months’’.
Almost a quarter of those were of the Google Android variety, Telstra’s survey found, up from 5 per cent last year.
But the Apple iPhone is still the top handset in the country by a large margin, according to International Data Corporation figures.
ICE CREAM SANDWICH
The rapid rise of Google Android phones is likely to jump higher later this year when the company releases new software, nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich. Unlike other Android releases, this update will work on smartphones and tablets, providing a common experience and, Google global partnerships director John Langerling says, a more refined one.
While many early Android smartphone adopters may have been highly tech-savvy and willing to dig deeply into phone menus, Langerling says the latest version is designed for a wider audience.
‘‘ It used to be the case Android users were a bit more pioneering,’’ he says.
‘‘ Since that’s not the case any more, I think there’s more pressure for us to do something that’s more easily digestible. It has to cater for the wider market and more general mass users.’’
Langerling says the new software, due later this year, will feature new widgets, better multi-tasking and more control over app notifications. Ice Cream Sandwich will also debut new camera tricks that track facial features. One demonstrated at the Mobile Revolution conference tracked the location of the user’s eyes and moved an image on screen to mimic a 3D view. Move your head down the screen and it can show you what lies under a virtual table, for example.
Another feature, called Virtual Camera Man, identifies and zooms in on people speaking to a phone’s camera, ignoring silent bystanders, while a third recognises facial features and lets users tweak them, virtually creating a smaller nose or bigger teeth, for example.
Langerling says the ‘‘ more polished software’’ will also find new ways to group messaging together, from SMS to instant messages. But he admits no software upgrade guarantees have been formalised with phone makers yet, as announced earlier this year, and as a platform Android is far from its final form.
‘‘ We’re still at an innovation curve that is perhaps steeper than it has been,’’ he says. ‘‘ It would be comfortable if we could feel OK, we’re almost done, but we’re not there. We’re still in the early days.’’
Despite a brisk trade in Google Android phones from Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and others, the smartphone war is still raging.
Apple sold more than 20.3 million phones in the last quarter and is strongly rumoured to be planning a new iPhone for release in September. Possible features include a speedy dual-core processor, 8-megapixel camera, wireless charging and a slimmer form.
Apple is also battling Google in the legal arena, after filing a lawsuit against Android phone maker HTC. The US International Trade Commission released an initial ruling this month finding that HTC had violated two of Apple’s patents.