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Friday, February 11, 2011

Androids attack: Google Nexus S to hit Australia

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.

Anger with Apple pushes firms to Android

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.

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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."
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