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Google, T-Mobile, and HTC launched the latest salvo in the smartphone wars as they unveiled the first handset to support Google's Android operating system.
The G1 smartphone, manufactured by HTC and marketed by T-Mobile, has a 3.2-inch touch display that flips out to reveal a full keyboard and trackball navigation. With Google closely involved, the G1 has tight integration with many of the search giant's offerings, including free push Gmail, wireless syncing with Google's calendar, and support for YouTube.
Mobile users hoping to use the G1 for business, however, may be disappointed by the absence of built-in Microsoft Exchange support, and neither T-Mobile nor Google is providing a desktop syncing client. "We expect it to be more for the consumer, not necessarily for enterprises," says Cole Brodman, chief technology and innovation officer at T-Mobile USA.
But if consumers like the G1, IT organizations should expect to see it pop up in the enterprise. As with the iPhone, there won't be any stopping enthusiasts.
The 4.6-by-2.1-by-0.6-inch handset, which will go on sale in the United States on Oct. 22, will let users view Word and Excel documents as well as PDFs. It also has IMAP and POP3 e-mail support, and Google execs say they expect the lack of Exchange support will soon be remedied by a third-party application.
The phone also has integrated Wi-Fi, and users can hop on to T-Mobile's expanding 3G network for mobile Web access. There's a GPS chip that can use cellular data for assisted GPS services, such as location-based searches, and a full HTML browser is built on the same technology as the recently released Chrome desktop browser. The handset has a multimedia player, preloaded with an Amazon.com application that lets users shop from more than 6 million DRM-free music tracks.
Even though it has features equivalent to Apple's iPhone, industry experts don't expect the G1 to have the same "wow" factor the iPhone had when it debuted in June 2007. The G1's $179 price is only $20 less than the iPhone's, and its $25- to $35-per-month data plans are similar.
G1 has iPhone-like features, but quite a different look
The Net is where Google can parlay its expertise to provide a better experience for mobile users. Google also is taking a different approach than Apple to application distribution. The Android Marketplace will have fewer restrictions than Apple's App Store. Apple preapproves all apps in its store and takes a 30% cut of any sold. Google said its Android Market will feature a YouTube-like system for publishing, distributing, and commenting on apps, and it won't take any of the revenue.
A recent study by J. Gold Associates says Research In Motion will remain the dominant player in the U.S. enterprise smartphone market, with nearly 60% in 2011. The report estimated Android will garner 4.8% of the market in three years.
Cracking the smartphone market won't be easy, as companies like RIM, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Apple aren't going to give up share without a battle. But Google isn't one to shy away from a challenge, and its resources and partners give Android a fighting chance.