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It's All Android, All the Time

Mobile industry insiders are in San Diego this week attending the CTIA conference, and they have two things on their minds—that damn iPhone and how it has them flocking to what seems to be the only decent alternative: Google's Android (GOOG). They desperately need something to counter the Apple (AAPL) onslaught, and Android is their best bet, but they just won't come out and say it.

Instead, there is a lot of talk about open networks, innovation, and network neutrality from AT&T Wireless' (T) Ralph de la Vega, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, and others. But all that talk doesn't mean attendees aren't thinking about Android. The number of Android phones is on an upswing, thanks in large part to the release of new models such as the Samsung Behold and Samsung Instinct. By some estimates, there should be about 15 Android-powered phones on the market by the end of 2009.

Challenging SymbianThat is precisely why the Gartner Group is feeling bullish about Android. The research firm came out with a report earlier this week forecasting that Android will increase its share of the smartphone market to about 14% by 2012 from a mere 2% today. In doing so, it would overtake Windows Mobile (MSFT) and others, racing ever closer to the Nokia-backed operating system, Symbian.

I'm all for competition, and I'm glad that Android is here and giving the folks at Nokia (NOK) and Research In Motion (RIM) the worst kind of migraine. It's a modern, Internet-oriented OS that serves as a nice contrast to that of Apple's iPhone. It's also a symbol of the creative bankruptcy of the wireless industry. As you can see by looking at a sampling of new handsets that were announced over the past six weeks, they all look pretty much the same. The only difference is their user interfaces.

I wonder if the plurality of user interfaces— notably those of the HTC Sense, MotoBlur, and Samsung Touchwiz—is going to create confusion in the minds of consumers and lead even more of them into the arms of Apple and its iPhone. With the release of a $99 version of the device, Apple has a shot at rapidly increasing its user base, and can leverage its App Store to stay ahead. We saw that happen in the digital music player space, where the iPod and its iconic look helped Apple run away with the market.

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Om Malik is founder and senior writer of GigaOM. Before launching his own publishing venture, he was a senior writer for Business 2.0 magazine covering telecom and broadband stories.

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