The second Google-branded smartphone is about to hit Australia as analysts predict the search giant's mobile platform will surpass iPhone sales in Australia within a few years.
The Google Nexus S, released in the US and Britain in December last year, will be sold in Australia "soon", according to Vodafone which has clinched a global distribution deal. Those interested in buying one are being asked to register their interest on Vodafone's website.
Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson confirmed it would be launching its Android-based Xperia Play - dubbed the "PlayStation Phone" - on February 13. Support for Android is exploding with new phones soon to be launched by Motorola, Samsung, HTC, LG and Acer.
The Nexus S, manufactured by Samsung, is the successor to the Nexus One, which launched around the world in early 2010 but only reached Australia in small quantities in July last year.
The Nexus S is the first Android phone with a built-in near-field communication (NFC) chip, which opens up a raft of new applications such as the ability to pay for items by swiping your phone on a shop scanner. NFC, which has only been running in limited trials in Australia, has been reported as a feature of the next iPhone model.
The device is manufactured by Samsung, whereas the Nexus One was built by HTC. It runs version 2.3 of Android (dubbed Gingerbread) and offers a 4-inch super AMOLED screen, 5-megapixel rear-facing camera for photos, front-facing VGA camera for video chat, 16GB of built-in storage and 512MB of internal memory.
Vodafone Australia did not reveal pricing or a firm sale date for the Nexus S, which is based on Samsung's Galaxy S.
Foad Fadaghi, telecommunications analyst at the Australian firm Telsyte, said he expected Google's Android platform to "match or exceed" iPhone sales in Australia by 2013.
"We expect Android will have a market share of 18 per cent by the end of this year," he said.
"Nexus S represents even further improvements of the Android platform with version 2.3. It addresses the top end aspirational market and is suitable for existing Android users wanting an upgrade."
But Fadaghi said he expected most of the growth in the Android platform would come from cheaper mid-range handsets sold on pre-paid SIMs.
Mark Novosel, telco analyst at research firm IDC, said the Nexus S, being a Google-branded phone, would receive software updates faster and offer a "pure Android experience" without other vendors' custom user interfaces.
But the Android phone Novosel is most excited about is the LG Optimus 2X.
"Being the first dual-core processor smartphone, its extremely responsive and the screen has a wide viewing angle and very vibrant colours," said Novosel.
"LG's Optimus Black will also be one to watch, its slimmer, lighter and promises outstanding outdoor visibility with an extremely bright screen."
Novosel said he expected Android to become the number one smartphone operating system in Australia by the middle of this year, but in terms of a vendor-by-vendor comparison Apple would likely remain in first place.
Google has added new features to Android in recent weeks to help it catch up with iPhone, including an Android Market web store that can be accessed from PCs and in-app purchasing, allowing app developers to sell new content and upgrades from within their apps.
But this move suffered a slight setback after security firm Sophos warned that the Android Market website could be used to install malware on users' phones.
The hardline approach taken by Apple towards media companies selling apps through its iTunes Store could push crucial content partners into the hands of competitors such as Google's Android.
Android has been rapidly gaining on iPhone and a slew of new Android phones and tablets are due out in Australia this year from vendors including Motorola, Samsung, HTC, and LG.
Advertisement: Story continues below
IDC telecommunications analyst Mark Novosel predicts Android will overtake Apple's iOS to become the number one smartphone platform in Australia by the middle of this year. From preliminary IDC findings, by the end of last year Android accounted for about a quarter of all new smart phones shipped.
Apple is now strictly enforcing rules stipulating that all newspapers and magazine subscriptions for the iPad be offered through the iTunes store, ensuring its 30 per cent cut of all subscription sales, as well as that of the app's initial purchase price.
Apple is also asking subscribers if they want their information to be shared with publishers, which could see them lose access to important data.
In Australia, publishers have had their apps rejected for exploiting loopholes that allow them to sell subscriptions and accept payments without giving a share to Apple. Sometimes apps are rejected without an explanation.
With Android, publishers have far more control over their apps and do not have to give a cut of revenue to anyone. But until Android cements its lead, publishers have no choice but to dance to Apple's tune if they want a share of the App Store's spoils - more than $1 billion was spent there in 2010, according to investment bank Gleicher & Co.
Some publishers around the world have said they feel betrayed by Apple's hardline approach as their support for the iPad helped ensure its success. The European Newspaper Publishers' Association was among the first to complain, saying it feared newspaper publishers would lose access to critical information about readers of their digital editions.
Media companies are busily developing apps for Android-powered phones and tablets to ensure their content gets out on to other devices.
But despite their desire for strong competition to Apple, local executives have stopped short of publicly criticising the company, which they rely on to approve their apps.
"Both publishers and consumers will benefit from a competitive tablet market. That will stimulate innovation and pricing competition," said Fairfax Digital CEO Jack Matthews.
"We want to make sure we are developing for multiple platforms so that we can encourage that competitive environment." News Ltd declined to comment.
Patrick Lo, global CEO of home networking giant Netgear, encapsulated the private fears of many media executives at a small lunch gathering in Sydney last month.
He said content providers were very "wary" of Apple as the closed model of iTunes meant they were forced to pay a "ransom" to the company for selling their content on the service.
"Steve Jobs wants to suffocate the distribution so even though he doesn't own the content he could basically demand a ransom," said Mr Lo.
However, Graham Clarke, CEO of the Australian app developer Glasshouse Apps, said Apple was within its rights to impose strict rules over iTunes as it built the mall, so to speak.
"I've never had a qualm with Apple's 30 per cent [share] - I think they earn it a few times over," said Clarke, pointing to the millions of potential customers Apple opens up for app makers. "The opportunity would just never have been there without the App Store ... they handle so much of the process so all that developers have to do is create a great app and put it on the App Store and Apple handles the rest."
Google’s newest iteration of its Android phone OS will include a wallet that lets you use your phone to make payments by tapping it against a cash register, CEO Eric Schmidt revealed Monday.
“This could eventually replace credit cards,” Schmidt said.
Android 2.3, codenamed Gingerbread, will be released in a “few weeks,” Schmidt said on stage at the Web 2.0 Summit conference in San Francisco. Schmidt showed off how so-called Near Field Communication would work using an unnamed smartphone he called an unannounced product. Using the software from Android and a NFC chip in the phone, Schmidt was able to “check in” to the conference, launching Google Maps, by touching the phone to a conference sign that had a built-in antenna.
(For geeks, there was little doubt Schmidt was showing off the Nexus S, a device thought to be made by Samsung as the successor to the original Nexus One. Unlike most other Android phones sold, the Nexus S will run the stock Android OS with no carrier modifications, making it the perfect phone for app developers and tinkerers.)
Near Field Communication sounds fancy, but it’s the same technology build into debit cards that can be used to make a payment by bumping against a reader at a store or gas pump. Android 2.3 devices that have the right on-board chip will be able to make payments using stored credit card numbers or other payment systems such as PayPal.
While U.S. geeks have long hungered for their phones to take the place of plastic credit cards, the NFC technology is not likely to replace credit card companies. In fact, Schmidt said those companies are excited about Near Field Communication because they think it will reduce fraud.
Despite running its own payment solution called Google Checkout, Google will be aggregating many payment systems, not trying to replace them, according to Schmidt.
“Ultimately, it is a personal, secure and aggregating technology,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt says he’s bullish on mobile and says it will be a core focus for Google.
“I don’t think people figured out how much more powerful the mobile devices would become than desktops,” he said, referring not to their processors, but to their ability to keep a user connected to the net everywhere and use location to customize the net.
The Nexus One was the very first phone to get the upgrade to Android 2.2, so it makes sense that the Nexus Two will also be a flagship phone for a new Android operating system. If new reports are to be believed, it'll be the first to have Android 2.3, AKA Gingerbread, pre-installed.
The device, which was designed and manufactured by Samsung instead of HTC in collaboration with Google (like the Nexus One), will be officially unveiled November 8 at a pumped-up media event in Times Square. I4U will be on hand at the event to provide all the full details once they become official.
But for now, we're getting word that Android fans should be happy to hear. By incorporating Android 2.3, that would mean the new OS is complete and ready for deployment. Updates to existing Android phones should hopefully not be too far behind.
Other early details about the Nexus Two suggest it will have a 4-inch AMOLED or Super AMOLED display, a 1.2 GHz processor, 5 MP external camera and 1.3 MP front-facing camera, as well as 16 GB of internal storage and 512 MB of RAM.
It'll pack a powerful punch to the Android market, as those specs are more powerful than we've seen on any existing Android phone to date.
Again, the Nexus Two will be officially christened at an exclusive, balls-out New York City spectacle, and we'll be there to get all the juicy details. Stay tuned.
HTC's challenger to the iPhone 4, the Desire HD, goes on sale in Australia early next month at Vodafone and 3 mobile stores.
Last night Vodafone revealed that the Desire HD would be available for $0 upfront on a $59 a month plan with a two-year contract. It will also be available around the same time on 3 mobile but specific plans have yet to be announced.
The Desire HD is an update to the original Google Android-based Desire launched earlier this year, which many critics said was superior to the iPhone 3GS.
Telstra, which was for a time the exclusive carrier for the original Desire, pushed the Android platform heavily and tomorrow Vodafone will throw its weight behind Android with a major marketing campaign for the Desire HD. This will include a "Vodafone Android Island Party" attended by leading Australian music acts.
Google's Android platform has a smaller market share in Australia than the iPhone but several manufacturers, including HTC and Samsung, as well as the mobile carriers, have strongly backed it. By Christmas, the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 platforms will be engaged in a cut-throat battle for smartphone supremacy.
"The over-arching message is really that Android is giving power back to the telcos," said Telsyte mobile analyst Foad Fadaghi.
"It's giving them the opportunity to operate the way that they used to operate before the iPhone came around. Telcos want to own the customer, they want to have a greater slice of the value chain, they want to have their own app stores, and they don't want to be locked into the Apple way of doing things. That's why you're seeing the massive push from all of the carriers."
The Desire HD, an Android 2.2 handset, features a huge 4.3-inch touchscreen display (compared to 3.5-inch on the iPhone 4), an 8-megapixel camera, 720p video recording, a 1GHz processor, an aluminium unibody shell and Dolby/SRS sound support.
The phone comes with a new version of HTC's user interface overlay, Sense, which includes a number of small tweaks and access to a new suite of online services dubbed HTCSense.com.
HTCSense.com, which can be accessed from a PC, has some similarities to Apple's Mobile Me, allowing users to find their phone on a map if they lose it, trigger it to ring loudly, lock the device, erase all data, forward calls to another number or leave a text message for the finder of the phone.
A complete history of calls and text messages, even those that have been deleted from the handset, can be accessed at HTCSense.com, as can a range of wallpapers and plugins.
The new HTC Sense features a new navigation tool called HTC Locations, which includes turn-by-turn navigation and a compass that helps with orientation when users are on foot.
Like Nokia's Ovi Maps, the maps can be stored on the phone so users don't have to have an active data connection to access them. Through HTCSense.com, users can mark landmarks or specific locations on the map and have this data automatically sent to the phone.
Through a partnership with Kobo, users can access a range of e-books to read while also being able to highlight passages and add notes. Another new feature, HTC Fast Boot, promises to power the handsets up within 10 seconds.
There is also an improved camera app with photo editing tools allowing users to add effects such as fish eye and sepia.
Videos, photos and music stored on the phones can be played wirelessly on TVs that support DLNA home networking technology. Those without DLNA-enabled TVs can buy a dongle adapter.
Meanwhile, Vodafone, attempting to pre-empt findings from the Australian Communications and Media Authority's customer service inquiry, announced a major overhaul of its customer service capabilities today.
This includes a call back service to avoid customers having to wait on hold, new Vodafone and 3 handset service centres around the country that can do repairs within an hour and an online self-service application that lets customers better track their spending.
What is believed to be the first video (below) showing a handset powered by Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) has surfaced on Thursday. Courtesy of Phandroid, the video may not be much more than the blurry photo spotted on Monday, but it does show a piece of the OS that's more refined. Upon powering off, the screen "zaps" out not unlike an older tube TV shutting off.
Support for paid Android application sales is now expanded to developers in 29 countries, with the addition of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan.
In addition, Android Market users from 32 countries will be able to buy apps, with the addition of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, and Taiwan.
Android 2.2 running TouchWiz 3.0
7-inch TFT LCD with 1024 x 600 resolution (WSVGA)
Weighs 380 grams
1GHz Cortex A8 processor
16GB or 32GB internal storage
microSD expansion for up to 32GB additional storage
Front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera and rear 3 megapixel camera with flash
3G data / voice (there's a speakerphone and Bluetooth for phone calls, but no earpiece)
5GHz dual-band 802.11n WiFi
Standard back color is white, carriers might offer different colors
Full HD video playback
There's a 30-pin dock connector on the bottom that allows for HDMI, USB, and docking accessories (a car dock at least is planned)
A total of 66 backers have pledged over $2,000 to help send the first Android phone to space.
The Astdroid project hails from Danny Pier, a 25 year-old self-described computer nerd who turned to Kickstarter to raise funds to get an Android smartphone into space.
Pier believes that he can outfit a weather ballon with an HTC Evo, and use its camera, transmitter, computing power and GPS technology to track the phone’s journey into space.
Funds will be allocated to finance the expenses of the weather balloons, recovery parachutes, helium and other supplies. Pier will also write an application for the device that will take photos and videos of the journey, as well as automatically transmit the device’s location for tracking purposes.
Pier’s ultimate goal is to prove that it’s not difficult to send a smartphone in to space, capture the journey and retrieve it once it returns to Earth. He will document his successes and failures along the way using social media. Pier hopes his endeavors will encourage others to follow his lead.
Score another win for innovation at the hands of Kickstarter’s alternative fundraising application.