Fancy handsets have had jaws wagging about the mobile marketing possibilities for the past year. Apple’s iPhone, which first debuted at Macworld last January, has been the flashiest of the contenders by using the company’s unrivaled marketing muscle combined with a rabid fan base. Meanwhile LG’s Voyager handset, unveiled last month, offers similar multi-media and Internet features as the iPhone – but is more accessible to the masses. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in mobile communications, however, came last week with Google’s public debut of Android, an open platform that encourages outside developers to create rich features for smart phones. If Android succeeds, it will offer handsets with incredibly rich media capabilities – with which marketers could reach consumers more effectively than ever.
Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google, promised that Android would open “a whole new mobile experience for users with applications and abilities we cannot do today.” More importantly, Google also announced a coalition called the Open Handset Alliance, a much-needed effort to help standardize a phone platform that allows anyone to improve upon it. This could make the Android operating system superior to both the mobile version of Apple OS X that powers the iPhone and to Windows Mobile, both of which are closed systems.
To understand why Android could result in richer phones with better-than-ever marketing opportunities, you have to look at the background of ”open source” software – that is, software whose code is ”open” rather than kept secret. Open source proponents have long argued that this results in superior software, since programmers respond to the market’s needs – and consumer demand – rather than to just one company’s agenda, whether it be the software giant Microsoft or the somewhat elitist Apple.
Linux, the open source operating system that aims to displace Windows, has made tremendous inroads in mobile. According to ABI Research, on smart phones alone Linux is set to grow at some 75 percent a year, much faster than the Windows Mobile or Symbian operating systems. But there are innumerable ”flavors” of Linux out there, meaning neither they nor the programs created for them are compatible with all phones.
Google is trying to change all that. Its alliance includes more than 30 mobile operators and handset manufacturers including Sprint, T-Mobile, and Motorola. The search giant is hoping to add software, semiconductor, and commercialization companies to the mix as well.
While mobile marketers are not yet members, they should definitely get on board at this early stage. They’ll be able to influence the way Android delivers permission-based messages – including marketing messages delivered via SMS or an email that’s goes directly to the consumer’s phone. Marketers will also be able to see, and influence, how their marketing content can best be sent to phones via Internet and multi-media capabilities. Indeed, Android may result in the best smart phones ever – and finally provide brands with the ability to integrate online, email, and text marketing all on one portable device that goes wherever the consumer goes.