Android has sights set on innovation

The robots are taking charge. A friendly looking green droid now dominates the smartphone world, says Nick Clark

The robots are taking charge. Rather than fearsome cyborgs created by Skynet, the march is by a friendly looking green droid, which emerged two years ago and now dominates the smartphone world.

This week Google revealed that 500,000 phones running its Android operating system (OS) are activated every day. Senior managers say this is only the beginning, as they look to expand the system to running homes and cars, adding that the UK will play a crucial role in its development.

Dave Burke, engineering director for Google in the UK, oversees Android development in the region and has been working on the system since its launch. He said the success of the platform so far had "exceeded our wildest dreams".

Google had already developed a "mobile excellence centre" before it bought mobile software developer Android in August 2005, which brought current Android head Andy Rubin with it. Yet despite rumours, Android did not emerge on a handset until October 2008, with the launch of T-Mobile's G1. Mr Burke said: "It was clear we were seeing a dominant source of traffic from smartphones. They were using a disproportionate amount of data. It became about usage not units."

Since then the popularity of the OS has soared and there are currently 310 Android devices available.

Mr Rubin revealed the latest Android statistics this week, which also showed the levels of activations were growing 4.4 per cent week on week. Mr Burke added: "We are only just over two years into this. This is still early for a hugely dynamic industry."

London's operations are a key part of Android development. Mr Burke's team focused on the system's mobile web browser and is responsible for the voice-recognition operations. He said there are huge developments in the space that has led to a "much faster interaction now".

Android has a 36 per cent share of the market up from 0.5 per cent in 2008, according to Gartner, overtaking Apple, which revolutionised the smartphone market with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. By May of this year, 100 million devices running Android had been activated.

Steve Brazier, chief executive of research group Canalys, said: "The success of Android on smartphones has been phenomenal thanks to their rapid innovation and the fact it is free to license." He added: "Android is popular because it is a modern operating system that isn't Apple. There were many who did not want an iPhone, for whatever reason, one of which is price."

Google has invested heavily in making the platform work. Analysts pointed to the strength in its engineering team to create a platform that consumers wanted. It has continued to develop the system, with the ninth update – codename Ice Cream Sandwich – due for release later this year. It has been designed to run smartphones and tablets. It makes its own phones, but normally as Mr Burke puts it, as "reference devices". Following from the Nexus One and the Nexus S, a phone is in development with the new platform and will launch this year.

Part of its success has been driven by the mobile operators. Francisco Jeronimo, research manager at IDC, said: "They were concerned first about the dominance of Nokia, then of Apple. They started pushing vendors to make Android devices. It snowballed." The handset makers were also keen as Google charges no licensing fee for the software.

Android is important for Google, despite not receiving fees for the software, as it has helped the group cement its position in mobile search. In the past two years the rise in mobile search traffic at the company has increased five-fold. On Android phones, it has risen 10 per cent.

The advance of innovation at the operating system has been helped by the arms race taking place in mobile phones. Smartphone makers Apple, HTC, Motorola and Samsung especially are packing ever more power into the devices.

This, along with the rise of cloud computing, has given the Android developers licence to be more creative. "You will see more and more processing power, while the cloud makes sense for some of the heavier lifting," Mr Burke said.

He is hugely excited about the prospects for Android. "Currently we are focused on tablets and phones, but we encourage innovation. People can take the system to places we hadn't even envisioned. It can be used in control systems for houses and cars, as well as to run cameras and televisions," he said.

This includes the software which is running lighting , home stereos and alarm clocks. Companies have also designed a protocol that extends to diswashers and thermostats. "People are building stuff right now. I'm pretty excited to drive in my first Android car," he said.

Google will face challenges, analysts said. Partly this is because the devices are becoming so widespread that operators will fear a lack of differentiation in the market. Another issue is the one that helped its rise. The operators are expected to back rivals, especially Microsoft, to avoid the dominance of Android and the iPhone.

"Android will get stronger, but this will become a problem for operators because it can get too powerful," Mr Jeronimo said. "No one wants a market dominated by two players."

Emerging markets have been hugely important for Android, but one critical country is limited.

Google has a chequered past with China. Currently, Android devices shipped into China do not have Google search. Others have raised privacy concerns over the devices tracking users. Mr Brazier added that for a young industry it was "perfectly possible new entrants can shake up the market. Android is only two years old and the iPhone is less than four."

He pointed to moves by HP and its WebOS and a new OS developed by Research in Motion, adding: "Both Google and Apple will need to keep moving forwards."

Geoff Blaber, an analyst at CCS Insight, said: "Android is critical for Google as mobile search is becoming increasingly important... This is a market in its infancy, but Android currently has a stranglehold".

In the space of two years, Android has taken a dominant position in its core market and, according to Mr Burke, has set no limit on its plans for innovation. "We want to speed up innovation in the industry," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'