Android opens doors for Google's next-gen search, ads and tools

There's no question that there's been some pretty astounding growth around Android, Google's open-source mobile phone operating system. A year ago, there was only one Android device out there - the T-Mobile G-1.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

There's no question that there's been some pretty astounding growth around Android, Google's open-source mobile phone operating system. A year ago, there was only one Android device out there - the T-Mobile G-1. Today, Android is powering 12 devices in 26 countries with 32 carriers - and there's more on the way.

During the company's quarterly earnings call with analysts yesterday, CEO Eric Schmidt said it plain and clear: "Android adoption is literally about to explode." And he may be right. Earlier this month, Gartner predicted that Android - which currently runs on less than 2 percent of all smartphones - will power 14 percent of the global smartphone market in 2012.

That would make Android second only to Symbian. Yes, that means it would surpass the iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and others.

The key, in part is the applications. Apple has already proven that the app experience is a winner in mobile devices. So far, there are about 10,000 applications for Android and its touch-screen interaction is probably the best I've experienced aside from the iPhone. (FTC disclosure: Google gave attendees at its last developer's conference a free Android phone. I picked one up and activated my own pre-paid account to take it for a test drive.)

Also see: Android bolsters its app market as device lineup swells

Android has good engaged base for future app growth

For other consumers to experience Android, it's important to get the devices into as many hands as possible. Unlike Apple, which has one device on one carrier in the U.S. (but other carriers worldwide), Google is offering multiple devices across multiple carriers, including a major launch with Verizon earlier this month.  Once the devices - which have deep ties to Google's other services, such as Mail, Maps and Search - go mainstream. Google will be positioned to capture a lead in the mobile search advertising business.

Execs yesterday boasted that mobile searches grew 30 percent quarter over quarter. It was interesting to hear them acknowledge that it's not always obvious how the company's big investments tie together. But there are connections. On the call, CFO Patrick Pichette said:

The combination of the Android platform with all the smart phones and the momentum in there, as well as the iPhone and the rest of them, I mean, they're just basically transforming how people live on a mobile basis... If we move forward the adoption of these smart phones by having a lower cost infrastructure because it's open-source and you bring that, instead of taking seven years—I'm just kind of giving an illustration—all this happens in four years. Think of all the searches that will happen so much faster. So the ecosystem is incredibly vibrant right now and truly what's interesting about these phones is there are a lot of new types of searches because you are location-specific, you are activity-specific, you are local-specific. Just a new set of areas that are to create a new set of monetization opportunities.

So, to be clear, we've got location-specific, activity-specific and local-specific searches being conducted on mobile devices. You also have the Internet's No. 1 search engine integrating its own services - such as search - directly into the phone's operating system. At the same time, the mapping application - where many of those location-based queries occur - is also deeply integrated.

And finally, don't forget that Google is working hard on new advertising products that allow businesses to reach out to and find customers wherever they may be (even if it's at a red-light down the street) and provide them with turn-by-turn directions on how to reach that business and a link to launch a Google Voice call to that business.

Put it all together - search, maps, voice and a mobile operating system that probably has the best chance of truly challenging the mighty iPhone - and I'd be bullish, too.

It's no wonder that Schmidt thinks Android is about to explode.

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