Google’s momentum is growing in the mobile handset market

Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman and CEO, has revealed that the company’s “partners are shipping about 65,000 Android handsets per day”. Assuming Google’s hard working partners keep going at weekends, and if that rate were to be extended over the next year, there would be nearly 24 million new Android-based handsets shipped.

That’s an impressive number for an OS platform that only launched its first handset 19 months ago, in late October 2008.After its first 18 months (six quarters), Apple had shipped just over 13 million iPhones, with more than half that number coming in 3Q08 at the launch of the iPhone 3G.

In the following four quarters from 4Q08 to 3Q09, Apple shipped 20.75 million iPhones, with the addition of new markets and the introduction of the iPhone 3GS helping to boost sales momentum. Importantly that momentum has continued into 2010 with a strong 1Q10, where Apple shipped over 8.7 million iPhones, then there is the small matter of the impending iPhone 4G launch, likely to take place at WWDC10, from June 7th.Google and Apple have two fundamentally different approaches to the mobile handset market.

Google’s approach in the mobile handset market is focused on software innovation and enabling its partners to build a wide variety of devices. Android’s broad vendor ecosystem has already seen it present in 34 devices, with 60 carriers in 49 countries, 19 languages and at a range of different price points.

Apple looks to deliver a compelling end-to-end experience, leveraging a wide variety of content with device software and hardware. Subscribers can already buy an Apple iPhone in any one of 93 countries. However with a restricted range of devices, currently only the iPhone 3G and 3GS, and a price positioning that is clearly focused on more affluent customers, Apple is not looking to address the whole market.

Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but, thanks to its broader vendor ecosystem and greater flexibility, Informa Telecoms & Media maintains that Apple’s position as the third largest mobile handset OS platform by volume (after Symbian and BlackBerry OS) is under threat from Android.Projecting sales of more than 30 million Android phones in 2010 is entirely reasonable. Already HTC’s 1H10 forecast and Motorola’s conservative full year expectations would almost get to 20 million. Added to this is the growing focus on the OS platform from other large handset vendors like Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson, as well as those that are newer to the smartphone market like Huawei, ZTE, Acer and Dell, underlines how popular Android-based devices have become to device vendors, mobile operators and consumers.Apple’s recent comments about the findings of an online survey about smartphone sales imply that it is feeling some pressure from Android.

However, it also underlines how mobile phone software platforms, and hence the ecosystems, now stretch across different device types; iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. Although later to market, Android is already being used in some dual book notebooks and e-readers like the Nook.

Google has not got everything right however. The company’s foray into selling the Nexus One direct to consumers has not succeeded commercially for a number of reasons. But what is important for Google is that it keeps innovating.

The company’s annual Google I/O event, taking place from 19th May in San Francisco, will see the company discussing a number of interesting areas including Wave. From a mobile perspective it’s widely expected that Google will demo, and perhaps announce, Android 2.2 (aka Froyo).

For those not fully up to speed on the wide range of dessert types available that begin with the letter F, this latest moniker refers to frozen yoghurt.Given what may emerge as longer term business model conflicts, it will be interesting to see how long it will be until Android’s sweet desserts start to taste a little sour to mobile operators.


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