Heads Up! We're About to Be Attacked by Androids! And That's a Good Thing!

I'm writing today about Google's Android mobile OS (that's operating system for you Luddites, none of whom, come to think of it, read this column) because it's the only appropriate topic to discuss right now. As many of you know, the so-called G-phone, (really a T-Mobile handset called the G1). is going on sale today, and with that, the world of social computing will never be the same, even if the term "social computing" strikes me as somewhat oxymoronic..

It's true that my circle of Twitterati has yet today to offer up a play-by-play on G-phone sales the way they did in July when Apple introduced the iPhone 3G. (Though, according to  this report, there were 150 people lined up last night outside a San Francisco mobile store, waiting to buy a G1.) But no matter. The reason Android matters is that it will provide much more scale to the market for mobile apps. And while not all apps are social, many, many of them will be.

If, like me, you're among those of us who haven't necessarily been paying close attention to Android, here's why it may end up being bigger than the iPhone: Google, rather than offering hardware (a handset) coupled with a proprietary OS, such as is the case with the iPhone, is offering up just an OS, for free, that it hopes will be picked up all over the world, by handset makers and carriers. As operating systems are usually licensed, for a hefty fee, that's huge, and should help grease the market for Android. (As if the fact that it's coming from Google, and everyone -- except for the ad industry and the government -- trusts Google, weren't enough.)

Last night, I had a chat with Steve Jang, CMO of social music service iMeem, which launched an Android mobile app yesterday. "We've wanted to build a mobile app for a very long time," he said. To iMeem, the decision to first build an Android app, which essentially ports the iMeem experience to a user's mobile device, was about the possibility. Android could transform what is still a nascent marketplace into one in which developers get to develop to the same broad user base they've long had on the Web. The mobile version of iMeem will allow its community to do lots of cool things with their music, including listening to stations that are continuously updating their music, and buy MP3s through the Amazon MP3 store. But without the potential for a big enough mobile footprint, such offerings might be back-burnered. Imagine, Jang says, if you had to build "a different Web site for every type of laptop."

Yes, iMeem is also building an app for the iPhone, but it's worth noting that it unleashed the Android app first, even though the iPhone is obviously way head of Android right now in terms of market share.

True, there will be hurdles to Android adoption. The Android Market, where G1 owners can access apps, was stripped down to a mere 13 earlier this week, supposedly because Android developers were working out the kinks in the 50 they promised to have up and running at launch. (According to  this post on Mashable, all 50 are now up.)

But read enough headlines, and you can see where this is going. MySpace launched its Android mobile app on Friday. Motorola is said to be launching its Android-powered phone next year, giving it a special slant toward social nets like MySpace and Facebook, and, not to be outdone by Apple and Google, RIM opened its own app store for the Blackberry yesterday. This market, whether most of it runs over Android or not, is about to become very, very vibrant.

How soon advertisers follow is hard to say, but, if history is any guide, being able to reach a sizeable market through a handful of operating systems will be endlessly helpful in streamlining already-overburdened production needs for varying platforms. Jang says that iMeem was contacted about mobile ad opportunities by some of its advertisers -- which include AT&T, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Toyota -- before the iMeem mobile launch.

As those advertisers probably know, social is meant to be mobile. And mobile-enabled social is about to be big.



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