Google vs Apple: the gadget showdown

Google's Nexus One smartphone is its first foray into hardware. Can the internet search giant challenge Apple's iPhone or the BlackBerry? Nick Clark reports

For the world's gadget lovers, it looks like being a very happy new year, with the two most innovative technology companies of the past decade set to launch eagerly awaited devices within weeks of each other.

Today marks the unveiling of the first of the pair, with Google due to reveal its first high-end mobile phone, dubbed the Nexus One, at its Mountain View headquarters in California. This launch is set to completely overshadow the Consumer Electronics Show, due to kick off in Las Vegas later this week.

Then, in two weeks' time, Apple is expected to reveal its tablet computer. First, though, Apple will face questions over whether Nexus One threatens its iPhone, which has so far set the standard in the smartphone industry. The battle between the pair is well-timed for a UK audience, with Vodafone this month due to become the third operator to get the rights to sell the iPhone. One industry insider described Google's device as "a welcome rival to the iPhone [that] will keep Apple on its toes".

Speculation that Google was developing its own mobile phone re-emerged in December, when the company handed devices to its employees to test. Rumours have reached fever pitch, with talk yesterday that it has signed a deal to include the music streaming service Spotify on the device, while others expect a more radical announcement. One blogger even suggested Google could launch a tablet computer to rival Apple. One upgrade that is almost certain is another upgrade of its operating system Android. So far, the development of the Android software has been the extent of Google's public ambitions in mobile.

The launch of a branded Google device marks a huge turnaround. At Android's unveiling in 2007, the chairman and chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said the company was "more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about ... Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different mobile phones". The idea was to get Android into as many different devices as possible. But, as Julien Theys, analyst at Screen Digest, said: "The main reason for the launch of Nexus One is probably that Google doesn't feel that the mobile market is developing fast enough."

Android was originally a California technology start-up that made software for mobiles. Google bought the company in 2005 and used it as the base for its push into the sector.

The software was built to rival Nokia's Symbian and Windows Mobile's operating systems, and it joined with companies from hardware developers to network operators to create the Open Handset Alliance. Mr Schmidt said two years ago: "This partnership will help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world."

It was built as an open platform, for any operator to use and to allow developers to create applications that could call on any part of a phone's functions from calling and texting to photographing. Beyond the basic needs of a mobile phone, Android is designed to run the internet and other applications more quickly. If the expected system upgrade is announced it will be the fourth in a year, as it sought to make the host devices more powerful and iron out early glitches.

Geoff Blaber, director of platforms and devices at CCS Insight, said: "On the whole, consumers don't buy a phone for its software, but they do buy it for what it does, whether that's email or social networking. It's no longer just about the hardware – whether it has a camera or not – we have moved on, and the operating system is an enabler."

The first device built on Android was T-Mobile's G1, which was released in 2008. Since then, numerous handsets have emerged, including Orange's HTC Hero and Motorola's Droid, which came out at the end of last year. "Android is getting some very significant traction, with increasing support from manufacturers and operators. The idea behind Android was to get Google's services into a huge number of products at multiple prices," Mr Blaber said. "This Nexus One shows they are frustrated with mobile and are looking to accelerate their expansion in the area, and could look to disrupt the established model of mobile distribution." One operator said: "Their move into hardware is hugely sensitive, but it won't affect our agreement." Analysts don't believe that operators will be overly upset with Google launching its own phone. It is expected to be essentially just another Android-based device, if slightly more advanced.

Indeed, many believe the move is little more than a marketing tool. Gartner published research in October suggesting that while Android was on less than 2 per cent of all smartphones, the figure would rise to 14 per cent in two years. It said the system would overtake Apple, ranking second in 2012 behind Symbian.

Google is expected to sell the Nexus One online, and leaked prices suggest the unsubsidised handset will cost $530 – described as "pretty much cost price" by one analyst – in the US. Other leaked documents showed that T-Mobile may have landed a deal to subsidise the sale of the phones.

"This is likely to be how it envisioned a phone," one mobile industry expert said. "Rather than hand the software over to an operator and a handset marker, Google will take more control."

Industry experts believe the release could be yet another boon to high-end phones. "The smartphone market keeps reinventing itself," one said. "The Google phone accelerates that, and it shows the company wants to get in on the action."

Nick Jones, an analyst at Gartner, said: "Apple has been top of the pile for a long time, and while I don't expect a catastrophic fall, I do expect the gap between Apple and its competitors to shrink a lot by the end of the year." He added that while launching a handset to match the iPhone was achievable, a competing applications store and iTunes music system would be tough. Google's application store, Marketplace, has also grown to almost 20,000 applications, but that still comes nowhere near to matching Apple.

Mr Theys of Screen Digest said: "I don't believe the iPhone will be the main victim, as it is really in a class of its own. The biggest victim especially in North America will be BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile."

"Windows has a dreadful year ahead. Its 6.5 operating system just doesn't match up. BlackBerry has been relatively immune and while it has a faithful following, the operating system is beginning to show its age," he added.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Moodle Developer (PHP ,Linux, Apache, MySQL, Moodle)

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Moodle Developer (PHP ,Linux, Apache...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior .NET Web Developer - Winform / MVC

    £21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Award-winning pharma softw...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Java Developer

    £30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Java Developer is requ...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all