The Wall Street Journal today reported that cellphone carriers and handset makers are facing a number of challenges developing phones based on Google’s Android platform. When announced, Google anticipated phones coming onto the market in the third quarter of 2008. Most phone makers now, however, do not expect to bring phones to market until the fourth quarter of this year, or more likely, sometime in 2009. The challenges are many, and range from Google’s ongoing development of the platform to translation problems to competition.
To begin, Google is still finalizing the Android software. As a result, content developers are forced to constantly update their products to reflect the changes. The Weather Channel, for example, already had to “rewrite a few things,” according to Vice President Louis Gump, and the most recent changes will “…require some significant work” to its Weather Channel Interactive application. These ongoing changes, and the uncertain nature of the platform, are keeping some potential players on the sidelines alltogether.
For some companies, the lack of finalize distribution agreements is a major problem. For others, it is the uncertain nature of marketing and revenue-sharing agreements. These two problems are preventing some developers from entering the market, while others are focusing on the iPhone until Android’s market and platform are more developed. Some find that the Google interface for developing Android applications is too cumbersome to use, prefering the familiarity of Apple and other developers’ tools. Other companies are staying away from Android because of a lack of handsets on which to test their products. Together, these many problems make Android’s future unclear.
To be sure, I doubt that the platform will fail. Google is experience the typical growing pains that any company does when expanding into an unfamiliar market, particularly one as competitive and complex as the mobile phone market. Microsoft went through some of the same problems when developing its Windows Mobile platform. Time will resolve some of these problems. Google will eventually finalize the Android software, and handsets will become available. The software is quite promising, particularly in its flexibility, and many of the features Google is working on will become mainstays of the future mobile phone market (some of these features are already available in foreign markets). Other features will be exclusive, due to the powerful platform, creating niche markets for Google and its partners to explore.
For such an ambitious project, the problems could certainly be greater in quantity and severity.
Source: “Google’s Mobile-Handset Plans Are Slowed,” The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2008