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Google's Android market needs Jobsian strongman

Tough iPhone love

Comment One of the most hyped technologies of the last year or two is Google's Android. Based on a modified Linux kernel, Android has been heralded as the future of everything from tablets to TVs – and as a release from the stranglehold that Apple's iPhone has on hearts, minds, and wallets of people everywhere.

Progress since Android was announced in November 2007 has been swift, and it seems that every day new supporters hop aboard to create yet more devices for Android to run on.

With major handset makers, telcos, and even mighty Google offering up Android phones, you'd expect to see a more polished – dare, I say, iPhone-like – approach to the user experience. Tthe Android marketplace still feels like an afterthought compared to the iPhone's App Store.

The Android Marketplace runs a distant second to Apple's App Store in terms of numbers and range of applications and sheer profile. A quick search on tech media research tool ITDatabase.com turned up some 19,545 results for Android and more than 63,000 for iPhone but these are of middling appeal and enjoy little visibility or marketing.

At this point in time, the average consumer – who has proved generally oblivious to what technology they are running or the nuances of their code underneath – is well aware of the Jesus Phone and its variants.

That awareness has come not just from major news outlets but also from Apple's advertisements and TV commercials. Android has a bit of marketing juice – the odd billboard here or there touting Motorola's Droid on Verizon, for example – but has nothing approaching Apple's branding sophistication.

For those who do recognize Android as the operating system for a smartphone, the next logical step is to customize, figuring out what applications you can put onto your new device, where they live and then downloading them. The iPhone drives you into Apple's App Store whereas Android lets you frolic across the greater web.

The web, in theory, is the right way to go, providing distribution and unrestricted access. But it presents a challenge to users who have been trained to engage with their smartphone in the Apple way.

Broadly speaking, having a vast array of distribution points is generally not bad. After all, look at the success of Linux. But mobile phones are not like servers, and the packaging of the operating system and applications is fairly well ingrained into the mobile user mindset.

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin has suggested that to see the path of Android, one only need to follow the path of Linux, which eventually coalesced into a few major distributions that allowed developers and ISVs to better target customer demand.

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