Feature – The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that backs the Android project is flexing its muscles by adding 14 new members to the list that now features nearly 50 heavyweights in the mobile arena. Will that be enough to push the still young and nascent Android platform into the mainstream? Android faces opposition from entrenched players like Nokia and Microsoft who continue pushing Symbian and Windows Mobile, in addition to Apple whose iPhone has made big market share steps. However, some analysts think that the re-shuffling of roles in the mobile space will eventually lead to death of some platforms, noting that the industry needs more convergence, not divergence.
Mobile industry group dubbed the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that pushes Android-powered devices has announced the addition of 14 new members to the already strong group of founding members: AKM Semiconductor, ARM, Asustek, Atheros Communications, Borqs, Ericsson, Sony Ericsson, Garmin, Huawei Technologies, Omron Software, Softbank Mobile Corporation, Teleca AB, Toshiba Corporation and Vodafone round up the list of companies that pledged to support the Android project, building on top of the list of existing members that includes, among others, NTT DoCoMo, China Mobile, Google, LG Electronics, T-Mobile, Sprint, Samsung, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia and Texas Instruments.
The OHA members list has now grown to an impressive 47 companies in total that support the project, which surely looks like a force to be reckoned with no matter how you look at it. Companies on the list spawn carriers, handset vendors, software makers, as well as semiconductor and commercialization companies. Simply put, OHA now practically includes nearly every player with a big name in the mobile space.
Android gains momentum
The OHA said new members will either deploy compatible Android devices, contribute significant code to the Android Open Source Project, or support the ecosystem through products and services that will accelerate the availability of Android-based devices. AKM will contribute its navigational aid technology to Android, ARM will add its OpenMax DL libraries, while Ericsson said it would bring kernel code, drivers and modem interface to Android to support select devices. Asus, Borqs, Sony Ericsson and other handset members pledged to build Android-powered handsets and MIDs in 2009 and beyond. The OHA noted that everyone in the ecosystem benefits from a free and complete mobile platform to build Android-powered devices.
The sheer size of the OHA group will certainly make everyone who has been second-guessing the mid- and long-term prospect of the Android platform take a step back and take another look. Without doubt, Android is here to stay for years to come. Google’s one-year old Android is already deployed in T-Mobile’s G1, while the second Android-powered device dubbed Agora is expected to launch unlocked on January 29 under the Australian Kogan brand. Many more Android-powered devices are slated for arrival in 2009.
Android and OHA challenge entrenched players
However, even with this kind of industry-wide support, the still young Android platform faces a gigantic task of toppling established players that command the big portions of the entire market and sales, most notable Apple, Microsoft and Nokia who are all suspiciously absent from the list of OHA members. The three companies form the opposing front that pushes the iPhone OS, Windows Mobile and Symbian, respectively. The once dominating Palm is now slowly but surely becoming a niche player as it struggles to find a direction within the industry.
Nokia recently moved to counter the OHA by acquiring the remaining shares of Symbian. The Finnish mobile phone giant open-sourced the operating system to the Symbian Foundation earlier this year. It is interesting to note that the Foundation also includes some companies that are OHA members as well. As it is the case with OHA, the Symbian Foundation members contribute their technologies, but the big difference between the two is that the Symbian Foundation has yet to define the next-gen Symbian OS within its self-imposed two-year timeframe.
The idea is that technologies contributed by the Foundation members and newly developed frameworks will form a future Symbian OS that will power devices built by the Foundation members. Nokia hopes that Symbian’s commanding lead in the smartphone OS market will last long enough to bridge the two-year gap between Android and the next-gen Symbian. Microsoft is also preparing its next-gen Windows Mobile 7 while Apple is expected to refresh the iPhone platform with the updated operating system and revamped hardware sometime next year.
Android and Symbian to make love, not war
Some analysts think that Nokia’s move with Symbian has been overdue, suggesting the industry would benefit if Symbian and Android merge into a single platform. Jack E. Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, who has been tracking computer, electronics and mobile phone spaces over 35 years, noted that “many of the same sponsors are involved in both initiatives,” adding that developers “struggle to make their applications available on so many divergent platforms.”
The iPhone currently has lots of momentum with developers, with over 10,000 applications in the App Store that have generated 300 million downloads since the application store opened for business in July. The iPhone may be a no-brainer for developers looking to make a quick buck, but the choice between other platforms that fragment the mobile phone market is much more difficult. Jack Gold warns that the industry needs convergence, not more divergence. The analyst suggested a Symbian-Android merger “would be a way to accomplish this.” Gold thinks the time is now, “rather than doing it sometime down the road when things are more fixed,” he said in an email interview with TG Daily.