We've already seen the iPhone become a fertile ground for social networking applications and other forms of social software, thanks to its public Software Development Kit and modern standards-based web browser, but arguably Google's Android mobile platform will have an even greater impact on the social web.
See also: Gallery: 25+ social networking apps for iPhone and iPod touchThe first so-called 'Gphone' powered by Android will be officially unveiled later today by T-Mobile, and based on leaked photos, combined with what we already know about Android, the handset (called the G1) shares a lot with Apple's iPhone but also, unsurprisingly, takes a few cues from the T-Mobile Sidekick. The Sidekick is designed by Danger Inc., a company previously co-founded by Android head Andy Rubin, and was one of the first smartphones targeted at the consumer market by pitching Instant Messaging and non-corporate email as the centerpiece of the device. (Hence the slide-out QWERTY keyboard which the Android-powered G1 shares).
Android takes this vision to the next level. Rather than being a high-end niche device, as the Sidekick was and the iPhone is, Android aims to ensure that 'smart' features (third-party applications) and mobile Internet access (the 'full' web) trickle down to 'the rest of us', speeding up the inevitable blurring of the lines between smartphones and lower end / mass market feature phones. This is the main reason why Android will be open source and therefore free to use by carriers and handset makers alike. With no license fee to pay and mobile chips becoming more powerful and lower in cost, it makes business sense to put a modern, powerful and open mobile operating system onto lower-end phones that previously ran outdated, underpowered and proprietary software.
The sooner this happens, the sooner the social web will truly go mobile: not just phone-friendly versions of major social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, but new mobile-first entrants, social location-based services and more. And of course, as social web services spur the growth and mainstreaming of the mobile web, Google is set to benefit as the mobile ad market explodes.