Who Wants to Buy an Android?

After years of development, Google’s first Android-powered phone is finally here — well, almost. T-Mobile is expected to unveil the HTC Dream at a closed media event Sept. 23, with the device rumored to hit store shelves by mid-October.

The question, then, is whether the Dream — and the Android concept on the whole — can actually deliver. It’s a daunting task to try to topple the king, particularly one as popular and heavily hyped as Apple’s iPhone. Opinions are mixed as to how much of a dent Android can make, but one thing’s for sure: The mobile industry is definitely watching.

Meet the Dream

At a glance, T-Mobile’s inaugural Android offering appears to combine features of the iPhone with concepts from other Internet-enabled devices. The model boasts a large iPhone-style touchscreen but adds a swivel-out QWERTY keypad on top of it. It has an iPhone-reminiscent accelerometer for intelligent screen alignment and a “jog ball” similar to the BlackBerry’s trackball navigation tool.

Google engineers showed off a model believed to be the Dream during a developers’ event in Europe Tuesday. All the branding on the phone was covered with masking tape, but those at the event say it looked eerily similar to the Dream models that have circulated around the Internet.

As far as pricing, T-Mobile is staying quiet so far. Web-based reports, however, suggest the phones will be made available for US$150 with a contract, or $400 without one. No indications have been released about how the service charges will compare with those of the iPhone or other smartphone devices.

Application Innovation

The area in which Android stands apart from Apple the most is application development. Compared to the iPhone’s closed and closely regulated App Store — which has drawn heavy criticism in recent days following the ban of a number of apps — the Android Market, as it’s being called, will offer an open and user-controlled environment. Anyone will be able to submit programs and have them instantly published. Users, then, will rate them and determine their placement on the site, similar to the ranking system employed on YouTube. While the two store styles won’t directly compete, the breadth and quality of their offerings could impact the products’ overall appeal.

“I wouldn’t necessarily consider the iPhone App Store as a competitor, given that they’re providing applications for different platforms,” Dan Hayes, director of PRTM Management Consultants, told LinuxInsider. “I would consider it to be a competitor from a whole product perspective, of the iPhone versus Android devices,” he said.

Cost Considerations

On the whole, cost may be Android’s biggest asset in winning over customers. If the device and its service can offer similar value to the iPhone at a cheaper price, it just may have a chance of winning over fans — and if anyone knows how to make that happen, it’s Google.

“They probably want some Internet access or browsing ability with ads in order to make it less expensive,” Gerard J. Tellis, marketing professor and director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Global Innovation, told LinuxInsider. “The whole unique feature about Google is that the service itself is free because ads come alongside. Some of that has to be available in the new phone in order for them to exploit their distinctive advantage,” he said.

Marketing Challenge

T-Mobile’s marketing tactics are still under wraps but will no doubt play a key role in the public’s perception. In general, the company will have to create a plan that will reach a diverse audience, one that could include everyone from businesspeople to high school students.

“They’re targeting someone who, besides communications, is interested in quick access to the Internet. I don’t know that’s it’s necessarily a particular age group,” Tellis commented.

Ultimately, the fact that the phone is only available on one carrier — one that falls fourth when it comes to mobile customers — may prove to be limiting. Google hasn’t yet indicated how long it’ll take for Android devices on other carriers to become realities.

“I think there’s a lot of interest and buzz around the Android platform,” Hayes said. “The big question now is what [other] devices are going to be released, which manufacturers will release them, and which carriers will put them into their catalogs,” he concluded.

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