Verizon, Google Forge Powerful Android Alliance

A strategic partnership between Google and Verizon Wireless will yield two new Android phones in the coming weeks, the companies’ chiefs jointly announced Tuesday.

Speaking in a conference call, Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said that their first two Android devices will be available 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.

Both companies have committed to devote “substantial resources” over the next several years to bring industry-leading applications to customers on third-generation and fourth-generation broadband networks, McAdam said.

They will jointly create, market and distribute products and services, with Verizon Wireless also contributing the breadth of its nationwide distribution channels.

Family of Devices

“Together we will codevelop a family of Android-based devices,” McAdam said. “The devices will come loaded with innovative applications from both our companies as well as from third-party leading-edge developers around the world.”

Android Market will be installed on the new devices from the start, giving users access to the 10 thousand or so applications available there.

Google Voice will also be supported.

“You either have an open device or not, and this will be open,” McAdam said. “We expect to bring that application to market when we bring the first device out.”

The devices themselves will come from “leading handset manufacturers,” the companies said. Consumers will be able to buy them in Verizon Wireless retail and online stores.

‘A Big Deal’ for Google

The partnership is “a big deal” for Google, Schmidt said. “It’s a major, major milestone in the Android platform.”

Linux-based Android has gone from having one device on one carrier in one country to powering nine devices in 26 countries with 32 carriers in 19 languages, he noted.

Verizon, with its roughly 87 million customers, is the third U.S. carrier to commit to Android this year, Schmidt added.

‘But Not Too Open’

“This is interesting news,” In-Stat principal analyst Allen Nogee told LinuxInsider.

The partnership was likely driven by two forces, he added. First is the fact that Vodafone supports Android; second is that “they are preparing for their LTE launch, where they will need a platform in place.”

Android offers “a good mix — ‘open’ but not really too open,” Nogee asserted.

“The Android application store is still a controlled store and not a fully open store,” he explained. “In other words, don’t expect to see VoIP and Slingbox apps that function over the cellular network.”

‘Very Brand-Conscious’

Like many other carriers, Verizon has historically been relatively closed, Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless with the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

For example, the company has “a history of looking within for its own products,” and has been “very brand-conscious and very good at branding itself even when it’s essentially offering a product that’s virtually identical to that of any other carrier,” Hazelton explained.

Recently, however, the company has launched a new openness initiative and is seeking partners that can not only help further that goal but also “push against the known challenge, which is the iPhone,” he noted.

Verizon currently has 19 smartphones — 11 of them running Windows Mobile, while the other eight are Blackberry devices, Hazelton pointed out — “but they really don’t have that one ‘hero’ phone” in a lead position.

The partnership with Google, then, provides “an opportunity to not only have a Google phone, but, because Android is open and will be available in different flavors, Verizon can have its cake and eat it too,” he said.

That is, it can be “open” but also brand its offerings.

What’s Really ‘Open’?

Of course, what constitutes an “open” operating system isn’t entirely clear, In-Stat’s Nogee pointed out.

“Verizon seems to being implying that ‘open operating system’ means an open network, and it doesn’t,” he said. “They also are implying that any application can run on Android, the open operating system,” when that’s also not true, he said.

“Try to get an app that uses VoIP or streams Slingbox over the cellular network — it ain’t going to happen,” Nogee asserted.

Net Neutrality

Then, too, there’s the question of network neutrality, or the notion that service providers shouldn’t restrict certain types of traffic on their networks.

“Does Android change this?” he asked. “Nope. Verizon will continue to filter VoIP in violation of FCC network neutrality and they still won’t allow VoIP over cellular apps even with an open operating system.”

Of course, “network neutrality isn’t a law, so operators can still get away with this,” he pointed out. “They also don’t want it to ever be a law.”

‘No Wiggle Room Here’

In any case, Verizon Wireless handsets “have not been exciting over the last several years — not much sizzle,” telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told LinuxInsider. “Yet the company is still strong and growing.”

Done well, the new partnership “could be a huge success for both Verizon Wireless and for Google,” he said.

“I think expectations are very high all around,” Kagan observed. “That means the device better be a big seller. There is no wiggle room here.”

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