Schmidt: Android to be Asia's mobile gateway

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt sees Android as ideal for region as competition from hardware partners, platform openness and strength of ecosystem help lower prices and make smartphones more available.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

TOKYO--Google Android will be the platform of choice for Asian consumers as prices of mobile devices powered by the mobile operating system (OS) continue to drop due to competition from phone manufacturers. This, in turn, will make it available beyond the "elites" to the wider human population.

Describing the present as exciting times for mobile technology and the industry in general, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said all the most innovative ideas and software will "go to mobile first". This is allowing more users to adopt mobile devices and get connected online, said Schmidt, who was the keynote speaker at Google's Mobile Revolution conference here Tuesday.

He cited Moore's Law and innovations on fiber networks as two main drivers for the spike in smartphone uptake. Connection speed is faster by up to 60 percent on mobile devices compared to 18 months ago, and devices will be 30 times "cheaper, better, faster" within the decade, he elaborated.

In Asia, he expects to see about 3 billion mobile devices activated this year. Though many of these will be feature phones, he said this is quickly changing with smartphones "overthrowing" PC adoption for many users in emerging markets and will overtake it in 2012.

Schmidt said: "Every month, China and India are adding 10 million mobile subscribers and we expect to see amazing growth in markets with lower penetration rates such as Indonesia and the Philippines."

Despite the improvements in functionality and price, he added that more can be done to increase adoption. And while the cost of a smartphone has dropped from US$500 to US$200, this is still considered expensive by poorer people in the region, he said.

Using Moore's Law and Android's open source technology, though, the Google executive pointed out that prices for Android-powered mobile handsets should go as low as between US$50 and US$70 in the near future.

"Smartphones used to be just for the elites in Western markets. But now that prices are coming down, we can make this technology more accessible for the 5 to 6 billion people [that could not previously afford such devices]," Schmidt said.

Success bringing "legal fun"
However, patent lawsuits brought to the table by Oracle, Microsoft and Apple could potentially halt Android's momentum, considering phonemakers might have to pay licensing fees to use the OS depending on the outcome of these cases. Quizzed on the issue, Schmidt replied that this "legal fun" stems from its successes.

"We have seen an explosion of Android devices entering the market and, because of our successes, competitors are responding with lawsuits as they cannot respond through innovations," he said. "I'm not too worried about this."

Notwithstanding Schmidt's confidence, phonemakers offering Android devices are already hedging their investments by signing licensing deals with Google's competitors. One of its biggest partners, Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, last year inked a deal with Microsoft to license patents used in Android.

General Dynamics Itronix, Velocity Micro, Wistron and Onkyo are four other manufacturers that have signed similar agreements with Redmond.

Apple, too, recently won a legal victory after the U.S. International Trade Committee (ITC) ruled that HTC had infringed on two of Cupertino's patents. A report by CNET News added that the two patents relate to a "system and method for performing an action on a structure in a computer" and a "real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data". The report also noted that the patents in dispute make up the core of Android's OS and could have repercussions on all Android handset manufacturers.

Schmidt, however, remained bullish over HTC's chances of overturning the initial ITC decision.

Asked if Google would help foot HTC's legal bills should they lose, he said: "We will make sure they don't lose, then." He added that the search giant will continue to support its Taiwanese partner in this legal skirmish but declined to go into details.

HTML5 to unite Chrome, Android
Schmidt also reiterated what he said at the Mobile World Congress earlier in February, when he identified HTML5 as the converging point for the company's Chrome and Android operating systems.

As a general rule, he explained, Chrome OS is targeted for devices such as notebooks that have a physical keyboard, while the Android OS is designed for touch-based mobile devices. This will remain Google's strategy for the coming year, he said.

That said, Schmidt noted that the best apps in the future will be built using HTML5 which will allow developers to run their apps on any device, regardless of whether the underlying OS is Chrome or Android.

He did add, though, that it is "too simplistic" to assume Web apps based on HTML5 will eventually eliminate the need for native apps.

Kevin Kwang of ZDNet Asia reported from Google's Mobile Revolution conference in Tokyo, Japan.

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