Can Android Vanquish the iPhone (and Walk on Water)?

A theme runs through a large number of the many comments posted to my column on the iPhone and iPhone wannabes: Phones based on Google’s Android operating system will soon emerge to blow away the iPhone and everything else. Of course, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Android is running well behind schedule, in large part because of bickering between Google and carriers over just what it should be, but what’s a quarter or two of delay among friends?

The fact is the Android right now is in that happy place where it can be anything the folks speculating about it want it to be. My gut feeling is that the challenge is going to be harder than Google expects. On the plus side, the effort is being header by the extremely clever Andy Rubin, whose credits include the Danger Sidekick.

But the minuses are formidable. Google has no handset or wireless experience and the whole project is dependent on execution by a group of carriers and handset makers with wildly conflicting interests and goals. Consider how long it took Microsoft to turn Windows Mobile into something even semi-useful, and say what you will about Microsoft, the company does not lack for resources or talent. Also, Google must contend with suspicion among some of its partners that it's true goal in the Android project is to extend its growing domination of desktop search advertising to the still virgin field of mobile ads. Verizon has shown a lot of interest of late in open handsets but instead of aligning with Google and the Open Handset Alliance, it has aligned with the LiMo Foundation and its mobile Linux efforts. And Nokia's decision to promote royalty-free distribution of the Symbian operating system is one more factor for Android to contend with.

Maybe Android will revolutionize the handset business. But I'm waiting to see it running on production handsets that you can actually buy before I reach any judgment.