According to a report Monday in the "Wall Street Journal," Google's Android smart phone platform has experienced its first delay, and devices based on the system won't appear now until Q4 2008 at the very earliest. Google and its hardware partners had originally expected to ship Android-based products sometime earlier in the second half of 2008.
"We remain on schedule to deliver the first Android-based handset in the second half of 2008," a Google spokesperson says in an attempt to refute claims of a delay. "We're very excited to see the momentum continuing to build behind the Android platform among carriers, handset manufacturers, developers and consumers."
The situation is likely more complicated than that. Thanks to ongoing changes to the Android system software, wireless carriers have had to continually readjust their own schedules, and 2009 is looking like the earliest possible time for most. For example, China Mobile, the world's largest wireless carrier with over 400 million customers, now expects to launch its first Android phone in very late 2008, but a 2008 launch is more likely.
Some claim that the Android developer tools, while solid, don't match the maturity of the Mac-based environment that Apple is providing for its second-generation iPhone system. And because Google is spending more time than expected helping certain partners, other potential Android licensees, like Sprint Nextel, aren't getting the attention they require and will have to delay any Android-based products. Some are waiting for future-generation "4G" wireless networks, which will offer increased performance over today's 3G networks.
"This is where the pain happens," Google director of mobile platforms Andy Rubin said, referring to problems getting the new platform off the ground. "We are very, very close."
Google first introduced its Android platform in November 2007, an announcement that triggered Apple's decision to open up its iPhone to third party developers. A more open iPhone platform will ship next month as part of iPhone Software Update 2.0, which includes a software developer kit (SDK) and an iTunes-based store for developers who wish to give away or sell their iPhone applications. It's still unclear how Android developers will be able to distribute their applications, just one of many issues that is creating a sense of uncertainty about Google's smart phone platform.
Smart phones will likely be the mainstream computing market of the future. Today, there are over 3.3 billion cell phones worldwide, about triple the number of PCs, though only 10 percent of those are smart phones. Put another way, there is one cell phone for every two people worldwide right now. The installed base of cell phones is expected to rise to 4 billion units by 2010, and the percentage of smart phones in that mix is expected to rise considerably.