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Is Dell Getting Its Android On?

By Erika Morphy
Oct 8, 2009 12:30 PM PT

Dell is reportedly building an Android smartphone for AT&T. If the rumor, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, should prove true, it would mean significant advances for both companies.

Is Dell Getting Its Android On?

It would be AT&T's first offering built on the open source mobile operating system developed by Google. Android made a strong start out of the gate, and it is projected to grow quickly in the coming years.

For Dell, the stakes are equally high; the company released its first smartphone earlier this year -- but to lackluster response from U.S. carriers. A successful launch with AT&T could revitalize this endeavor.

Dell is also reportedly talking to other carriers, including T-Mobile, the WSJ said.

Dell did not return LinuxInsider' call seeking comment in time for publication.

AT&T spokesperson Michael Coe told LinuxInsider in an email that the company does not comment on "rumors and speculation."

Rapid Growth

For AT&T, an Android offering has become a competitive necessity -- it is the only major carrier now without one.

The mobile OS could claim the No. 2 spot in global market share by 2012 -- overtaking both BlackBerry and iPhone -- according to Gartner.

Nokia's Symbian OS currently holds the top spot -- a perch that Gartner does not foresee it losing, even as Android surges ahead.

Androids seem to be coming out of the woodwork this fall. Verizon Wireless is collaborating with Google to deliver two new Android phones by year's end, with a variety of other Android-based products -- possibly including feature phones, PDAs, netbooks or other specialty devices -- planned for the future..

On Monday, T-Mobile unveiled a new Android phone from Samsung.

Dell's Push

The move into the smartphone industry makes sense for Dell, IDC analyst Ryan Reith told LinuxInsider.

"That has been the plan ever since Ron Garriques (president of Dell's consumer division) moved there two years ago from Motorola." he said.

Dell has already developed a smartphone on the Windows Mobile platform. This summer, China Mobile picked it up, along with several other devices, "but it was seen as something of a flop," Mike Morgan, a mobile analyst with ABI Research, told LinuxInsider. "Dell had to shop it around for a while."

That -- plus the fact that AT&T Wireless told Morgan that it didn't believe the Android platform was secure enough for its network -- has led him to conclude that the reported rumors are not true.

This is not to say that Dell's phone is expected to do poorly in China. On the contrary, Windows Mobile is more popular there than in the U.S., Allen Nogee, principal analyst with In-Stat, told LinuxInsider.

"It has a 12 percent market penetration compared to 9 percent here," he pointed out, adding that he believes the rumors that Dell is building an Android phone for AT&T are true.

"Obviously if you are a handset maker it is desirable to get either AT&T or Verizon as a partner -- or better yet, both," Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Research, told LinuxInsider.

Bringing a new device to the U.S. market would take its smartphone initiative global, he noted.

"I would put chances of the rumor being true at better than 50 percent," said Sterling.

Android's growing popularity will come at a cost to Windows Mobile -- a platform that never caught on with consumers as a brand. It is also seen as less nimble than the Android, said Nogee.

"Even Microsoft acknowledges that Windows Mobile is moving slower than it should," he said.

Robust Platform

Android, by contrast, is very robust, according to Jules White, research assistant and professor of computer science at Vanderbilt. White is an Android fan, using it in both his research and teaching.

Android is a fantastic platform for developers, he told LinuxInsider.

"Over the summer, I worked with a group of four undergraduates on a research project, called 'WreckWatch,' that used Android phones as a 'portable OnStar system' that could detect traffic accidents using accelerometer and GPS data," said White.

The system included the ability to share video and still images of accidents with first responders; place emergency calls; send text messages to emergency contacts; and plot accidents, routes, severities and other critical information on Google Maps.

"The undergraduate team had zero Android experience before starting," White noted, "and put the entire system together in roughly four weeks."


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