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Android marches on

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:14 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

Barcelona: Who's the biggest noise in the mobile phone industry right now? No, not Apple, and, despite all the excitement of that shotgun marriage on Friday, it's neither Nokia nor Microsoft. As the Mobile World Congress gets underway in Barcelona it's clear that Google's Android is fast becoming the industry's 800lb gorilla. If a little green robot can be a gorilla.

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I got here late on Saturday, and since then just about every conversation has come back to Android. Google, which has lurked on the sidelines in previous years has a big stand at the event this time, with a giant Android looking benignly down at the milling throng. Or so I'm told by the company, as the showground has not opened yet. The CEO Eric Schmidt will be speaking here, one of his last engagements before he moves upstairs to the chairman's office.

The early product announcements are mostly about new Android handsets, joining the 150 or so that are already out there. That should help extend the lead that Google's ecosystem - that seems to be the term of the moment - already has over its smartphone rivals.

But it's not just in mobile handsets that the green robot is on the march. When I met Google's Hugo Barra outside the Fira exhibition grounds he was wielding a Motorola Xoom, the tablet used to demonstrate the latest version of Android a couple of weeks back. At first glance it looked impressive - and there are already a bunch of other tablets lining up in Barcelona to prove that Android is now better suited than it was before Christmas to work on a larger screen.

Samsung, for instance has already updated the Galaxy Tab which came out in the autumn, giving it a bigger screen and better camera. And I've seen another very impressive tablet from a major manufacturer that will be unveiled later this week. All this before Apple has even confirmed that the iPad 2 is on its way.

Mr Barra was keen to enthuse over the flourishing Android ecosystem, and promised that there would be lots of surprising new devices on show here. He was much less forthcoming on the Nokia Microsoft deal - "it's too early, we don't know any details".

And on whether Android was generating much in the way of profits, either for Google or the manufacturers, Mr Barra was again tight-lipped, just suggesting that a better mobile internet experience was a good thing that would give Nokia more muscle in mobile advertising.

But overall it all looks good for Google. Just one small cloud though. When I wandered down the Ramblas on a pleasant Sunday morning, doing "vox pops" about what was the coolest phone, hardly anyone mentioned Android. The iPhone - with the occasional Blackberry from teenagers - still seemed to be the industry icon. Maybe that is simply because the Android brand is spread over so many different handsets - and maybe it doesn't matter to Google as long as those sales figures keep soaring - but it is that aura around the iPhone which allows Apple to reap such extraordinary profits.

By the way, one thing never changes at Barcelona. Late last night I swear I heard a howling sound echoing across the city as technology journalists struggled to send their copy and their pictures over creaking hotel wi-fi systems or 3G networks. The phones are getting smarter - but the networks still don't look that clever.


  • Comment number 1.

    I agree it seems like Google/Android/OHA is about to extend it's lead in the mobile operating system market. SE has announced many new phones including the Play (a PSP type Android phone), LG have the world's first 3D mobiles and tablets and Samsung have released many powerful Android phones, including the Galaxy S II. And HTC who were wrguably the most successful Android manufacturer of the last year haven't even announced their phones yet. It is looking like if 2010 was the year in which in which Android became mainstream 2011 is the year in which it dominates the market.

    Also, I think you mean give Google more muscle in mobile advertising!

  • Comment number 2.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 3.

    I just hope that with more Android phones and the MS/Nokia deal we will start to see some proper price competition for non-contract smart phones. At the moment it is still £450 or thereabouts for the HTC Desire HD which is not exactly providing real competition against something like the iPhone. It worries me that manufacturers are trying to do an 'apple' and stick a premium price on their phones. I think in the current financial crisis we see ourselves in, people are not going to pay these prices.

  • Comment number 4.

    I don't think the vast majority of people give a toss about what OS a phone runs as long as it's got the bling and the apps, innit? The iPhone is a definable brnad as opposed to an SGS or a Desire which are just models of phones.

    Just now the cool phone is the iPhone although that halo is starting to tarnish. Whilst it's in no danger of losing its premium tag in the short term it needs to up its game to retain the crown because the latest HTC handsets are generally getting better reviews than it is.

  • Comment number 5.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 6.

    'hardly anyone mentioned Android. The iPhone - with the occasional Blackberry from teenagers - still seemed to be the industry icon'

    Agree with 4. The iPhone and Blackberrys are actual phones - heavily branded pieces of hardware - there is no such phone as an 'Android' and as such this isn't really a response to 'whats the coolest phone'. I would guess most causual users don't think of their phones in terms of the OS it uses

  • Comment number 7.

    The real deal here is that the technology is maturing to the point that the handset upgrade is becoming less important that SW upgrade.

    Since moving to an iPhone4 from Nokias "mickey mouse" N79 I see no reason to upgrade. Formerly with Nokia upgrading every year was important due to the HW features now it is about SW.

    Interestingly, we are seeing 2 majors dying (Nokia and SonyEricsson) while a former leader (Motorola) drifts. It is hard to see how the Zoom will overcome the power of Samsung in the long term.

    The future smartphone market looks like Android leading, on Samsung/HTC/LG, Apple a profitable second place, with Nokia/Windows and RIM also rans.

    In the cheap pure handset market the Chinese and Indias will take the market from others notably Nokia. Leaving another problem for this former leading brand.

  • Comment number 8.

    "Bunch of"? Come on Rory - you've been spending too long with Americans...

  • Comment number 9.

    I have two Android phones (Hero and NexusOne) but it is the "Android phone" that I think of, not so much the specific model. In fact, when I got my Hero from T-Mobile (18 months ago) the word "Android" nowhere to be seen in the marketing material.

    There seems still to be some reluctance on the part of phone manufacturers to promote their products as "Android phones". It's as if they think this will scare off potential customers. Or perhaps they want to differentiate themselves and avoid the "common" Android tag.

    This is a mistake, I believe. Even the less tech-savy man or woman in the street now has at least a passing interest in mobile phones and what they offer in the way of apps, GPS, social networking, etc. For these people the Android label is a big attraction.

    Making more of the Android-ness of a phone or tablet (or other device) would go a long way in countering Apple's advantage of single product names for iPhone and iPad.

  • Comment number 10.

    As it stands right now, smartphones are virtualy identical on just about every capability. Similar screens, similar sizes, similar battery times, similar processing power, similar storage, etc etc.

    It is, therefore, the apps that the smartphone can use that are currently prompting smartphone sales. This is truly where Apple gained so much ground as from day one of the iPhone launch they have focussed more on the phone's available apps rather than the phone itself.

    This is emphasised all the more by 3rd party companies releasing and advertising their "iPhone apps" which in turn inadvertently prompts further iPhone sales.

    Nokia's smartphone market hasn't faltered because the phone's hardware, or its OS, were in anyway bad compared to the iPhone. Nokia simply do not have the app clout of Apple, and that is where it has failed.

    So why has Android OS phone sales suddenly leaped in the last year? Simply because the Android Market has litteraly taken off and is now very much competing with the Apple App Store. Just about all of the most used iPhone apps are now available on Android and within 12 months it will almost certainly be common place for Android apps to be developed and released at the same time as its corresponding iPhone app.

    So if Nokia were incapable of competing with just Apple's app store, they are certainly not capable of competing with Apple AND Android app stores - neither are Microsoft or RIM - and that is precisely why they will all continue to drop off the market.

    What makes this interesting, however, is that when Android Market is at an equivelant level to the Apple Appt Store, which is likely to be a reality within 12 months, the smartphone market will likely switch back to hardware becoming a more important point of sale again and, when this happens, Google are clearly in the driving seat since Android phones have a much wider variety of hardware.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it's more a case of the general public not understanding what their phone actually comprises of; the iPhone is very well marketed and is clearly simply made by Apple (although as a side note Apple themselves have caused confusion...I'm always amazed by how many people think that 'iPhone 4' means that it is a 4G phone), whilst HTC/Samsung/Motorola/SonyEricsson etc tend to slap their own UI on top of the standard Android one, removing all Google/Android branding and confusing customers. Most people I speak to are completely unaware that their HTC or Samsung runs Android, they just think it's a whizzy phone from Taiwan or Korea to compete with the iPhone. In fact, in a bizarre twist of fanboyism, I have come across people who 'swear by HTC phones', thinking that the hardware, software and everything else has come from the same company.

    Personally for me, I think Android is great, although it isn't without its flaws; whilst I love being able to configure almost everything on it, there is still something slightly clunky/nerdy about it and in my experience HP's (formerly Palm's) webOS is a far superior mobile OS. It's just smoother and nicer to use, and the multi-tasking is really intuitive. Having said that, I also thought Windows Phone 7 was a really nice piece of software. However, neither webOS or WP7 has the developer support right now so I suspect I will be using Android for a little while yet.

    Which brings me back to the's a nice bit of kit and the software looks really pretty but ultimately for me it's just a toy. The multi-tasking is only limited to 7 functions as allowed by Apple (and if the app doesn't use any of this it is just frozen in the background when not being used), simple things like attaching useful files other than a photo to emails require buying an extra app and everything is tied to the computer (iTunes activation, OS updates, moving media on/off). The last point is the major sticking point for me - Android is ultimately better for me than iOS because if I don't want to, I don't have to ever plug the phone into a Windows/OS X/Linux computer; everything is cloud-based. That makes it a powerful stand-alone platform that makes the devices it runs on actual mobile computers rather than fashion items for snapping hipstamatic photos and sending the odd email.

    Hopefully Android will continue to do well, and brand awareness will get better amongst the general public.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good to see some competition towards iPhone

  • Comment number 13.

    Apple gained so much ground as from day one of the iPhone launch they have focussed more on the phone's available apps rather than the phone itself.

    That's completely untrue. Apple didn't allow any app development at all for the iPhone for over a year, relying instead purely on web applications usable via the browser.

  • Comment number 14.

    I agree that it's the apps in the current market that drive sales.
    But I think it's quality not quanity that make the difference.

    I have friends with phones that run Android and their biggest complaints are:

    1) Not all apps are compatible with all versions
    2) There are not offical apps available for common sites.

    For examples, LinkedIn doesn't have an offical app, nor LoveFilm. Instead they are replaced by apps hacked together by 3rd parties - and this is the risk for the everyday shopper.

    People don't want to put their credit card / account details into an app that has been hacked togeather by an untrusted source. For many this is a key plus of the iPhone's walled garden.

  • Comment number 15.

    @14 MyVoiceinYrHead

    Don't knock 3rd party apps, they are often superior to the "official" ones. Certainly the CGeo geocahing app is far superior to the "official" Groundspeak offering and the MyPlayer and BeebPlayer iPlayer apps were far better than the current offering from the BBC.

    Generally the user ratings are a good indication of the quality of the application.

  • Comment number 16.

    Clearly able to see how Nokia have lost their way here... where are the announcements of the wonderful new phones... you have to ship new product to stay in the news, something Nokia seem to have forgotten.

  • Comment number 17.

    As a resident of Barcelona the words 'Ramblas' and 'pleasant' never come up on the same sentence :). apart from that I believe Android will continue to be very successful simply because most users are not bothered by the OS of their phone (ie they re not brand-holics). They want a phone which is easy to use, has good connections, nice GUI etc.. in the same way people are generally very happy with their M$ desk/laptop.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think the thing people have to bear in mind about Apple is that Apple isn't necessarily motivated by being the best-selling Smartphone producer - what they are interested in is making a good chunk of money per unit. Historically this has always been when they do best as a company - they have never taken more than a few per cent of PC sales for example - but their margin is enviable by the rest of the industry. They do this in part by the walled garden approach to the whole package - a restricted number of models, OS versions etc that allow them to make sure that for the vast majority, you can pick something up and "it just works" - the iPod was a classic example of this, there were other similar MP3 players around but by making iTunes part of the package and some great interface design they were able to charge a premium for the product.

    Android meanwhile is more widely available and more "open" - but you have to be prepared to find apps that just won't work with your version of the OS, a less consistent look and feel (especially when you switch between different manufacturers) and generally an ecosystem that's a bit more messy. Android will probably lead on sales figures for the foreseeable future, but Apple will seek to lead in terms of profit margin per unit and the "coolness" factor.

    Me? I'm on a Blackberry for the moment but Android is my path - cheaper than an iPhone and the better integration with cloud-based services like Google Calendar and Google Apps is what interests me. But then, I'm a bit geekier than the average and will quite happily live with the messiness if it means I can get what I want for less money!

  • Comment number 19.

    Any mention of the HP Palm Pre3 or the new Veer ?

  • Comment number 20.

    "2) There are not offical apps available for common sites."

    You don't need a separate app for each site. Most sites can be viewed just fine using the phone's browser. Some websites are designed in such a way that they don't look so good or are hard to navigate on a mobile phone. In some of these cases, there is an alternative "mobile" version of the site. For instance, for, there is . Failing that, if you search for the site on google, you'll see in the results an "options" link next to the site link. Touch it, and a menu pops up. One of the options is "mobile formatted". Select that, and Google will take you to a version of the site formatted for mobile phones. Works nicely for most such sites.

  • Comment number 21.

    I wonder how the Myriad "Alien Dalvik", allowing android apps to be run on other phones, will affect how people view android?
    Will it take android "down stream" into lower priced handset and wider markets? Or maybe make more app developers turn to android?
    Looks good anyway.

  • Comment number 22.

    Everybody here seems to be talking about phones. What about Tablets?

    For some reason Motorola and LG have decided that everyone is waiting so desperately for an Android tablet and because of that they can charge ridiculous prices.

    The Moto Xoom is listed as $1,199 as a pre-order in Best Buy and the LG Optimus will be priced at 999 Euros which is $1,350.

    What can these do that the iPad can't do - run Flash.

    I would like a 9" to 10" Android tablet but not at those prices. Ditch the cameras for example and give us 32Gb WiFi only versions for $499 and then we can talk.

    Until then my 5" Dell Streak will suffice.

  • Comment number 23.

    As someone who has just picked up a Galaxy S, can say I well impressed with its speed and ease of use. I had considered the Iphone but as its memory capacity fixed the Samsung with an expandable memory won the day. Quality is impresive and the new "Swype" feature is so quick.

  • Comment number 24.

    what's great about the debate on "who has the best OS"? or best hardware is that we now have fantastic choice in the marketplace we all can find the right phone that works for us. There is no best, just what is best for us as individuals.

    I have an Iphone 4 after a number of HTC's and it is by far the best phone I have ever had. It is certainly no "toy" as it does everything I need it to do in both a business and consumer environment. (Though I do wish Apple would release iWork for it.) It's also never crashed on me. As with all Apple stuff in the main it just works.

    I've looked at Windows 7 mobile and though it was a slick interface I really hated the tiles on the front screen. The web browser was rubbish compared to safari or skyfire and though it does include mobile office it did not feel like a business OS.

    Android looks lovely on a phone and having tried it on a tablet it again seems pretty slick and adjustable to suit your needs. Problem with this however is that though its nice to be able to change around all sorts of bits what I really want is a system that is reliable and user friendly.

    I can't comment on RIM as I've never owned a Blackberry mainly because I hate the qwerty keyboard with its stupidly small buttons and I'm not convinced about their touchscreen phones either.

    So all in all for the moment I'm an Apple man and likely to be so for the foreseeable future unless Apple make a mess of things or someone comes out with a system that completely blows me away. HP and WEBos perhaps?

  • Comment number 25.

    I still see no use in these phones or tablets. I have a normal mobile phone (prepaid) and spend very little time on it. mostly for some urgent calls. There are a couple of reasons for this. first one is that here there aren't many free/open wifi networks (even in malls) while using mobile to connect online is quite expencive (even if you take a package). Another reason is i need about 15 minutes to get to work and i drive that time, so no time to browse then. i have internet at work and at home, so why would i need a smart phone to connect to it? i am outside for a reason either enjoying nature on a walk, excercising or shopping or doing some stuff (such as paying the bills).
    again do i need to browse at that time? no i think of fit as no internet time. so i am not really sure why i would need a smart phone. maybe only GPS would be good to have occasionally. as for other so called apps, most have a much better counterpart on my desktop maschine and is actually called a programme or software. which is basically the same as app to those that forgot those words. :-)

  • Comment number 26.

    Personally I would begrudge paying more than £250 for a mobile phone whatever bells and whistles it has. As far as Apple is concerned it's the same as with their laptops and pc's which are far too expensive.

    The announcement of a possible baby iPhone is interesting and may help competition in the mid-market. For the time being I'm more than happy with my SE X10 Mini Pro.

  • Comment number 27.


    A little bit of research will reveal that there are a number of 10" Android tablets within the price range you are looking for.

    Notion Ink Adam
    Advent Vega

    to name but two.

  • Comment number 28.

    Whenever LTE hits the U.K (whenever that is) and 4G gets implemented, then we can truly say that "we have arrived"

  • Comment number 29.

    "Maybe that is simply because the Android brand is spread over so many different handsets - and maybe it doesn't matter to Google as long as those sales figures keep soaring - but it is that aura around the iPhone which allows Apple to reap such extraordinary profits."

    Of course it's worth remembering that Google gives away Android for free, and doesn't derive any revenue directly from the operating system. 99% of Google's revenue comes from advertising, and while yes, it does own a mobile ad network (AdMob) it's still not clear exactly how it's planning to generate increasing revenues from Android.

  • Comment number 30.

    I followed about 3 words of the above comments and then had a brain melt. I have no idea what is being discussed.
    Some people will now dismiss whatever I say as worthless, but I am the guy with the money to buy these products.
    I bought an iPhone, not for it's OS whatever or it's SW vs HW potential upgrade application somethings. I bought it because I liked the look of it, and, most of all, it was VERY well marketed.
    I knew what I was going to get before I unpacked the box, Apple have got the iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad connection. They have a common naming system, a catchphrase for everything and are immediately identifiable by either the name Apple, the i...whatever, or the apple logo.
    I also pay for my daughters iPhone and bought my son an iPod touch.
    Most people who get these phones don't know the techinical ins and outs, we just like the look of them and go with what seems familiar.
    The technical side is amazing, but the manufacturers need to market them to a broader audience.
    There are a lot more people like me out there, who don't understand the workings, but still want a new phone every now and then.

  • Comment number 31.


    And Archos

  • Comment number 32.

    Thought this relevant to your article - Last week I bought or signed 2 years of my life away to a mobile contract but... before buying, I did my research! - Pasted on my facebook - what to go for - iphone or HTC?? Results:- Those who had an Iphone + a high % of females said the Iphone. Whereas... My friends who were technically minded, THOSE WHO liked their gadgets all suggested the "android" HTC.

    It seems the marketing behind IPhone gives them a high market presence - yes it is a quality phone but... If you know your toys, you know about "android". HTC Desire HD - QUALITY PHONE, Android all the way, like having a pocket pc..

  • Comment number 33.

    If Jeremy Clarkson was to describe the difference between having an Iphone or having a Decent Android phone, i think it would go like this... "Imagine sitting behind the wheel of your Aston Martin DB7, enjoying the simple beauty of your car.. then in the lane neeext to yoouuu.. HE who could be YOU, if YOU had been more successful.. smugly pulls up in the modern, all round better, Aston Martin DB9. That smug feeling you had enjoyyyyed.. has GONE!"
    The advancement in mobile technology is great. If you like Apple technology, have an IPhone.I dont knowe of anyone with an IPhone who doesnt like their phone! that has to say something. - I think Iphone is a quality phone but.. there is new technology, why be tied into the Apple franchise, get an Android phone if you want more freedom with your phone, thats what is now on offer.. I personally dont want to pay money to Apple for this that and whatever, most of that is free through an Android phone. IPod, Itunes, Ipad, IPay..

  • Comment number 34.

    I have an HTC Desire and it is wonderful. I love showing my brother all things he is missing out on on his iPhone! :)

    As for Angry birds....If you want to play that and pay for it then get an iPhone...if you want to play it for free, then get an Android phone. Although, with the 1GHZ+ processor you would probably want to play the classic Playstation, GBA, Nintendo,... games on it instead which have actually been on the Android Market for a long time.

    I have used Android since version 1.0 and know how they have been ahead of the iPhone in many ways. Unfortunately I've noticed that the BBC will only tend to announce the iPhone new feature announcements despite them having often been a year behind Android. I notice that they tend to echo the marketing side of technology, and generally mention the iPhone/iPad in their posts.

    Personally I can't buy the Apple...especially when they were selling the BBC Comic Relief Charity clips and profiting from it (about 34p per clip as I remember). Which I think is appalling. Maybe the BBC should take more responsibility on this issue too?

  • Comment number 35.

    18. At 2:50pm on 14 Feb 2011, Rob wrote:
    I think the thing people have to bear in mind about Apple is that Apple isn't necessarily motivated by being the best-selling Smartphone producer - what they are interested in is making a good chunk of money per unit.


    No, I think they're more interested in making the best quality products. Unfortunately, quality doesn't come cheap. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Some people are happy spending more on a car than others spend on a house, while others are content with something that gets them from A to B in one piece. Ferrari doesn't sell more cars than Ford, but I know what I'd rather drive (if I could afford one).

  • Comment number 36.

    One thing that should be made clear is that the choice between Android and iOS is NOT a choice between open and closed systems. Far from being "perfect" at its inception, as your reporter stated, the iPhone has evolved considerably-- and it has largely been in response to the hacker community, who clearly didn't find it so "perfect". To wit: apps themselves, which existed in the wild long before the App Store, but also folders, video recording, and TRUE multitasking (which is still better in the jailbroken version that the native version). Whether or not you jailbreak your iPhone, you still enjoy the benefits of the efforts of the hacker community. One final example: a recent jailbreak exploited a code-injection security flaw in the phone's web browser, a flaw that had existed since the very first firmware. Apple has since plugged this exploit, rendering all iPhones, jailbroken or not, more secure. (Don't worry; we're still finding ways to jailbreak our phones and extend their functionality.)


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