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Mobile web polarizes as duellists pick their seconds

Verizon/Google vs AppleT&T

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Android's positioning gets clearer

The bare bones statements have various wider implications too. One, Android will not just find its way into branded smartphones at Verizon, but also into the devices that the operator brands and helps to design – typically in the midrange, and increasingly as the basis of its own web services platforms and stores. This will accomplish an important goal for Android: to get into all levels of handset and web usage, and ironically, the US CDMA carriers – traditionally those with the most closed and controlled networks – are offering it the most open door (Google already has a close development partnership with Sprint Nextel).

Symbian is also chasing the mass market and strategic carrier partnerships, and in the US has hopes of AT&T; originally, Windows Mobile was the first of the full operating systems to seek market share through the carrier branded approach, but may find its importance to US cellcos like Verizon reduced by the new Android initiatives.

Second – and another irony – Google knows, for all its protestations about the mobile web just operating through generic browsers and invisible carriers like the PC internet, that Android is dependent on the operators to make an impact on the cellular world, at least in the short to medium term. So it is working hard to give Verizon a more open platform than its usual centrepieces – BlackBerry and WinMo – to support its next generation open developer initiative, and at the same time to steal thunder from the iPhone. In return it gets versions of its key applications, like Voice and Maps, optimized for the carrier networks and preloaded on their devices – a far cry from the dream of doing everything in the cloud rather than via carrier controlled downloads.

The co-developed devices, which presumably will come from a range of hardware vendors and carry dual Verizon-Google branding, will come “pre-loaded with innovative applications from both parties as well as third party developers”, said the firms. Does this really sound a world away from the AT&T iPhone? Apple could take on Google Maps with PlaceBase: Apple has acquired PlaceBase, a mapping company that could help the iPhone maker challenge Google Maps and Latitude.

Now that the old alliance between Apple and Google is clearly over, with the latter's CEO Eric Schmidt departing Apple's board, the gloves are off, and the iPhone maker looks set to challenge its former friend in as many key areas of web apps as possible. Already, the war is raging over Voice, and now Apple could move into one of the most hotly contested internet markets - especially in the mobile world, where Google Maps and Nokia Navteq are seeking to harness the revenue potential of location awareness and ubiquitous GPS.

PlaceBase produces a maps API called Pushpin and a mapping service comparable to Google's. The secretive acquisition was first unearthed by Computerworld in July, and although it is still not officially confirmed, most sources say it has happened and are talking of a 'hyperlocal iPhone'.

Coincidentally or not, shortly after the purchase reportedly occurred, Google released an iPhone version of its Latitude mobile location 'friend finder' app, which became the subject of yet another dispute with Apple. Unlike Google Voice, it was not kept out of the App Store, but Apple insisted it was classed as a web-based app, to be used only via the Safari browser, not a native phone app as on BlackBerry, Symbian, Android and WinMo. The official reason given was to avoid confusion with Google Maps.

Now it seems likely that Apple will announce a similar app of its own via PlaceBase, and then could go on to expand into the full mapping market. PlaceBase adds layers of public and private data (such as home sales or consumer purchases) to existing maps with an easy-to-use API. Its technology could allow Apple to reduce its reliance on Google Maps and replace that functionality in the iPhone and iPod Touch.

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