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Is Sony Ericsson prepping an Android phone?

Jul 24, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

Sony Ericsson has tipped its first Android phone, according to an industry report. Meanwhile, despite apparently rosy Android sales, and HTC's prediction that next year Android will eclipse its Windows Mobile sales, some believe Android may be pushed aside by Google's Chrome OS — or even merge with it.

The smartphone shown below, at right, was posted on the Expansys retail site, along with specs indicating it was an Xperia X3 Android phone, says Trusted Reviews. The Expansys page, however, has apparently been removed, with only the Windows Mobile-based Xperia X1 displayed. Expansys has leaked phones before, including the Blackberry Storm, says Trusted Reviews, which also noted that the retailer has a "hit and miss record" with leaks in the past.

According to the news site, the listing indicated an Android version of the Xperia with a 4-inch, 800 x 400 pixel touchscreen, as well as HSDPA, WiFi, aGPS, and an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash. Other details said to have been seen on the Expansys listing include VGA video recording, mini-USB charging, a microSDHC slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Earlier this year, Sony Ericsson executives mentioned they were mulling an Android phone, and last month at our sister site, WindowsForDevices, in a story on the upcoming Xperia X2, it was noted that both Symbian and Android were considered for the X2 before the company decided to stay with Windows Mobile. Now, it seems, the X2 could be followed later this year with an Android-based X3.

HTC's Android sales to eclipse Windows Mobile?

If the Android-ready X3 is for real, struggling Sony Ericsson may have been inspired by fellow Windows Mobile handset manufacturer HTC, according to a story in ITProPortal. The site reports that Android now represents 30 percent of HTC's smartphone sales, and that the company expects the figure will surpass 50 percent sometime next year, eclipsing Windows Mobile sales. The story also reiterated with some assurance that Sony Ericsson is working on an Android-based Xperia X3.

HTC, which just reported surprisingly strong financials, is still far and away the major vendor of Android phones, although it will soon be joined by Samsung and LG, followed by Motorola and others. HTC's original G1, sold by T-Mobile, was followed by the keyboard-less Magic phone sold under that name by Vodafone in Europe, and with different software and accessories, under the MyTouch 3G name by T-Mobile in the U.S. Most recently, HTC announced its HTC Hero, offered by Orange in Europe, and boasting a new custom UI sitting atop Android developed by HTC.

HTC Hero
(Click to enlarge)

Android looks to dominate China smartphone sales

HTC is also on the move in China, where Google China is making a big push to offer mobile search, according to a story in TradingMarkets. Despite Google's having being chastised by the Chinese government for allowing porn searches, after an earlier capitulation in accepting a government-approved search filter, China's government-dominated carriers are still interested in Google Search, as well as Android, says the story. The porn-free (and presumably dissent-free) mobile search service will go hand in hand with an aggressive expansion of Android sales, according to the report.

Both Apple and Google have been lobbying hard with Chinese carriers for access to China's market for the iPhone and Android-based HTC phones, respectively. Now, despite Google's porn problem, China Telecom and China Mobile have approved HTC's Magic and Hero Android phones, enabling Android phones to beat the iPhone to the China market, says the story.

The story quotes Kai-Fu Lee, president of Google China, as saying he expects Android to take 67 percent share of the Chinese mobile OS market. Lee did not, however, give a time frame for this estimate.

According to RethinkWireless, meanwhile, HTC, which has been the only major smartphone vendor selling in China over the last year, expects to double its overall sales to China, from its 800,000 units last year. Most of those sales were of Windows Mobile phones, but Android appears ready to take a much larger percentage of the market, suggests the story. Overall, HTC expects to double its total worldwide handset shipments by a "double digit percentage" this year, says Rethink Wireless, which also noted that company executives have recently hinted they were open to acquisition.

Chrome OS coming to smartphones?

Despite all the rosy news about Android, most observers see Google's recent announcement of its upcoming Linux- and Chrome-browser based Chrome OS as limiting Android's reach into netbooks and other formats. Some have even suggested that Android was only an experiment on the road to Chrome OS, and could be pushed out of the picture entirely as Chrome OS eventually migrates down to smartphones.

The latter possibility was suggested by Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra, according to Gizmodo. At last week's Mobilebeat 2009 Conference, Gundotra was reported to have said that "web app development is the future of successful mobile platforms." Gizmodo noted that he never mentioned Chrome OS while saying this, but that it was implied, and that readers could "bet on" the fact that Chrome OS was coming to smartphones.

On the other hand, despite the possibility for some overlap with two operating systems on low-end, small-scale netbooks, there is no intrinsic reason why the two could not coexist just as, say, Windows 7 and Windows Mobile will soon coexist. Meanwhile, Android could certainly evolve to host Web-based apps itself.

In a July 13 InformationWeek story, Google's Andy Rubin, who was also the prime force behind Android, assured the Android faithful that the Linux/Java mobile OS was not going away. After announcing three more updates on the docket — Donut, Eclair, and Flan — which he said would improve Android's social networking skills among other enhancements, Rubin said there were no plans to offer telephony functions in Chrome OS. Rubin was also said to have noted that Google plans to offer multiple billing systems beyond Google Check-Out, to give Android app developers more flexibility in selling their wares.

The AndoChrome hypothesis

Some observers believe the two Google operating systems could eventually merge. The latter possibility was suggested by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, following the announcement in a Wall Street Journal interview in which he was reported to have said, "Although it appears they are two separate projects, there's a great deal of commonality. Eventually they may merge even closer."

Yet in a recent LinuxPundit blog entitled "Google Chrome and Android — Why not AndoChrome?," Bill Weinberg suggests at least one good reason why not, aside from format differences: bandwidth. Whereas fast broadband services have become almost ubiquitous on the desktop, despite the fast expansion of WiFi and 3G, mobile bandwidth is still too spotty to offer a consistent cloud experience. "I myself do not see a clear point of convergence, just convergent trends," writes Weinberg.


The Trusted Reviews story on the Xperia 3 may be found here.

The ITProPortal story on HTC's Android push may be found here.

The Trading Markets story on Google China's Android push may be found here.

The RethinkWireless story on HTC's China plans should be here.

The GizModo speculation about Chrome OS moving to smartphones may be here.

InformationWeek's coverage of Andy Rubin's Android comments should be here.

The WSJ story quoting Eric Schmidt should be here.

Bill Weinberg's "AndoChrome" analysis on LinuxPundit may be found here.

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