Yesterday, Google made its ambitions for the cell phone market known - they will be developing, and most likely giving away, mobile phone operating system software to manufacturers. You may be wondering why the media and industry see this as a major announcement.
To get a full understanding of the potential here turn on your ordinary cell phone and notice the steps it takes to get you to a dial pad. Ordinary cell phones have software that is loaded by the carrier. The carriers rarely develop their own software and in more cases then not they license the software from others. It's been a very long time since I've owned a cell phone - I've been using a PDA/phone device since the Treo 600 came out in 2003. The most frustrating thing about cell phone software is that you can only customize it so much, and you have to live with the carrier's overtly aggressive branding. And the only thing you can do on most phones is make a call and maybe browse the for-fee multi-media services the carrier provides. The software is locked down.
Google aims to turn the tables. They're offering to give away (or charge a very low fee for) the mobile software that the service providers pay for today. In exchange, they agree to open the mobile software to developers to launch a new breed of applications and to extend the utility of today's cell phone.
It looks like T-Mobile and Sprint are on top of this wave in the US market, AT&T is missing (probably because of the iPhone), and Verizon Wireless is missing as well - because they're always missing from revolutionary advances in technology. T-Mobile has always innovated more on the data side but have found it difficult to compete using the old Voicestream network, which doesn't have nearly as good coverage as Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless.
Google also has some challenges. They're definitely not known for their user interface design. I use gmail begrudgingly and I don't love using it, but I'm used to it. Yahoo's user interfaces are a lot more user friendly, so I almost wish Yahoo was doing this instead of Google.
So what's in it for Google? Advertising share! They hope they will compensate for giving away the software by making money on mobile ads. Hopefully, they won't be too intrusive. But it remains to be seen if consumers will embrace whatever the software Google plans to launch. People who shun PDAs and use cell phones want simplicity and ease of use. We'll see if Google can deliver.