Samsung confirms Android handsets as Google adapts to market

Samsung logoHandset maker Samsung has confirmed that it will launch three Android-based phones this year. The company cited mobile carrier concerns about Google's vision as one factor that contributed to the delays, but Google has been doing its best to court the carriers. It seems to be working: Verizon has already softened its position on Android by stating that it is no longer solely committed to the competing LiMo platform.

Mobile phone maker Samsung has confirmed that it intends to launch at least three phones this year that are built with Google's Linux-based Android operating system, including two that are destined for US mobile carriers. The move will boost the availability of Android-based handsets and give consumers some new Android options besides T-Mobile's G1, the current flagship Android handset.

Samsung first announced its Android plans last year, after it was revealed that the company had formed a sizable team of Linux and Java experts to build an Android touchscreen phone reportedly similar to the company's Omnia handset, which runs Windows Mobile. The products suffered some delays and it became unclear whether Samsung would still deliver an Android phone on Sprint's network when Sprint backed away from Android.

Major mobile operators in the United States have been cautious about Android and slow to accept the new platform. Verizon and AT&T, the two largest carriers in the US, have both declined to make a commitment to Google's OS. Sprint and T-Mobile were both on board from the start, but Sprint's early trepidation left T-Mobile standing alone as the only strong adopter.

Sprint boss Dan Hesse said in October 2008 that the platform wasn't fit to ship yet. Sprint's Android product manager provided more insight into the carrier's concerns and criticized Google's handling of the platform in an interview that was later retracted. He praised Google's confidence and vision, but suggested that the company needed to be more pragmatic and more responsive to carrier requirements.

Samsung executive Won-Pyo Hong told Forbes last week that Samsung encountered some difficulty with carrier concerns over Android, but he says that his company's Android phones are still on track for release. He also indicated that Samsung's own version of the platform will not be Google-centric.

"Some operators were concerned about the vision Google has [and] that affected [timing]," Hong told Forbes. "Our commitment is more to the Android phone than the Google Experience device."

Google has taken some steps to accommodate carrier interests while scaling back on its original vision of unprecedented freedom. For example, Google has removed a third-party tethering program from the App Store, blocked users from installing custom firmware on carrier-subsidized handsets, and imposed limitations on App Store accessibility for users of unlocked developer handsets. These moves haven't been entirely popular with some users, but have likely helped to increase the carriers' comfort level with Google's vision, thus paving the way for broader Android adoption.

The most visible sign that Google's increased willingness to compromise is getting through to carriers is Verizon's recent change in tone about Android. Verizon initially made a very strong commitment to LiMo as its platform of choice, citing LiMo's approach to governance and conformity with existing carrier business models as primary factors in the decision. The company recently indicated that Android could be back on the menu when it told reporters that it is no longer "in a position where we shun one operating system in favor over another operating system."

Android's recent technical improvements could be another factor in the recent increase in carrier support for Android. The lack of an onscreen keyboard and several of the platform's other weaknesses at launch have since been corrected. The platform has gained a strong touchscreen keyboard, complete localization support, and a number of other critical features. The localization support will likely contribute to boosting Android's presence abroad. A keyboard-less G1 refresh is coming to Vodafone in Europe while Lenovo and other vendors have Android products in the works for Asia.

Android hasn't been welcomed with the kind of enthusiasm that Google originally expected and the platform's growth has been stifled by cautious carriers who aren't ready to cede control or allow Google to disrupt the status quo. Google's recent concessions to restrictive carrier demands, which are clearly helping the platform gain ground, show that the search giant is beginning to accept the realities of the market.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Android, Google, mobile phones, Samsung

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