At HTC’s London event on Wednesday, they company showed off two things. As expected, there were a couple of handsets: the Desire HD and Desire Z. But what HTC opened with was not handsets, but a new website—htcsense.com—and its accompanying phone front-end.
The phones were nice enough. The Desire HD is a GSM/UMTS/HSPA equivalent to the EVO 4G available in the US exclusively on Sprint; the Desire Z is slightly lower-specced than the HD, but will likely gain wide appeal as it has a hardware keyboard. The Desire Z will form the basis of the forthcoming T-Mobile G2 in the US, the spiritual successor to the G1 (which was, back in 2008, the first Android handset to ship). T-Mobile’s version will include a different radio (to support T-Mobile’s awkward 1700 MHz frequency allocation), and more excitingly, will support HSPA+, the next generation HSPA technology that ultimately provides data rates up to 56Mbps downstream, 22 Mbps upstream.
This article identifies a key problem for Google, I think. Companies will use the free parts of the Android OS but will recreate the parts that they wireless companies have to pay Google for – such as the apps.
As the article states:
The result of this could well be a marginalization of Google. Not overnight—companies like HTC still work closely with the advertising giant—but as the custom software matures, and vendors want to better distinguish their products, it seems likely. If the smartphone vendors are all writing their own software atop the free Android middleware, and eschewing Google’s paid applications, the result could be that there’s not much Google left. The Android strategy—give away the base operating system, but charge for the important user software that makes the OS useful—makes less sense if everyone writes their own user software anyway.
HTC takes pains to make sure its products are seen as HTC phones, not Google phones. If the apps come from HTC, where does Google make money? The vast majority of apps in the android Marketplace are free and, as seen with Apple, these sorts of stores seem to be break even rather than money makers.
Apple makes its money from the hardware. Google from ads driven by free software. But if the software developed by the wireless companies drives no revenue to Google, I think they may have a busted model. Will it only be by web access with Google ads that it makes any money? But with web apps becoming more and more common on these mobile handsets, the opportunities for ads may be lessened.
In contrast, MIcrosoft has made sure that in their mobile software, there is really little customization that the wireless companies can utilize. This makes sure that whatever handset maker uses the MS mobile OS, it will look like the MS mobile OS. The ability of the makers to really customize the experience may be much more limited.