And now, Google's phone ambitions ring true

CIOL Bureau
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SAN FRANCISCO, USA: Ever since its stunning success in revolutionising the Internet search market eight years ago, Google has been searching for a second act that would help the company diversify.


After failed attempts at entering the newspaper, television and radio ad markets, the online-search behemoth finally seems to be gaining traction in what many regard as the most critical technology of all - the intersection of telephones and mobile computing.

For several years the company has been quietly working to create a world-class system that would allow it to stretch its dominance from laptops and PCs to what is widely expected to become the world's most-used computing platform: handheld smartphones.

The first phone utilising the company's Android operating system launched in October 2008. In the last week, Google has quietly notched up several achievements that will boost the hopes of Google lovers and frighten those who believe that the technology colossus already has too much power over our daily lives.


Sportswear rep Greg Willis shares those concerns, but he finds the use of the company's Google Voice service simply too good to pass up.

"It's the first phone system for the 21st century," says the travelling salesman.

"It gives me a number that I can programme to ring on all my phones simultaneously, so wherever I am people can reach me. I love the way it transcribes my voice mails so I can read them instead of listening to them and taking notes. I love the way it integrates the information from my gmail contact list and gives me free calling and texting."


So far, Willis has been one of a small group of invited users to try the service, which debuted in March. In a sign of its ambitions, Google announced this week that it would be giving each of those users invitations to hand out to their friends.

Just as impressive is the progress made by Google's Android operating system in the year since its launch.

Though Google's stalwarts touted it from the start as a competitor to Apple's iPhone, there seemed little danger to the revolutionary smartphone as for most of the year Android was only available on one phone on the fourth-placed US carrier T-mobile.


But that is now changing fast. Android's hardware partners now include HTC, Samsung, Dell, Acer, LG and Motorola. Google has signed a co-development deal with Verizon Wireless, the largest US carrier, which aims to use the platform to challenge the status of the iPhone, which is available only from rival AT&T.

A report by research firm Gartner said that Android will be the number two operating system by 2012, behind world leader Symbian and ahead of the iPhone's operating system.

That doesn't surprise technology analyst Carmi Levy.


"All of the pieces that Google has worked hard to put in place are finally starting to come together," he said. "Google has written some very large cheques to get to this point. Microsoft may own the desktop, but Google wants something even more important. It wants to own what you hold in your hand."

The world's most powerful technology company is making these huge investments with a clear, long-term goal.

"Google is a services company, and it wants to get its services on as many platforms as possible and then connect them with advertising," says Levy. "It's a long road, but they are not taking their foot off the pedal."