Android is the newest smartphone platform to revolutionise the mobile market, and it looks to put up a good show compared to BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and the iPhone.

In October 2009, Gartner predicted that the Android platform would rise through the market ranks, becoming the world’s second most popular smartphone platform by 2012, behind Symbian, but ahead of the iPhone, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.

Furthermore, the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute in Taiwan has forecasted that 31.8 million Android smartphones will have been sold by 2013.

But will Android be able to snatch the business market away from its smartphone competitors? Read more after the break.

Target market

If Gartner’s predictions are to be believed, Android will surpass popularity of the iPhone, with Apple’s device holding its third place ranking in the future.

Although the iPhone was never designed to be used as a business platform first and foremost, it’s beginning to filter through in large organisations because of its enhanced security features and ease of use.

However, when businesses began to see how seamlessly well it integrates with Exchange, how easy to set up it is across businesses, and how it can be controlled remotely (with third-party applications) it became a rival to other business platforms. This is mainly because it doesn’t require any additions, such as a BES sever with BlackBerry, and is compatible with almost all Exchange servers.

However, one reason the iPhone could be viewed as such a success is because there is only one device framework operating on the OS. This means Apple can work on improving this device and its slight variations rather than having to liaise with a range of device manufacturers to ensure they cover all bases.

Like the iPhone, Android was designed to bring smartphones to the masses, unlike BlackBerry and Windows that were specifically aimed at capturing the business market when they were first released.

Android could well go the same way, considering Google is placing the platform in the high-end consumer market category.

Although Android is most certainly a smartphone platform, it isn’t strictly business because, like the iPhone, it focuses on multimedia, good looks and social networking, rather than onbusiness services. Even the hardware is more suited to those who send texts and Tweets rather than lengthy emails, being a touch screen-based platform.

Hardware

Although massively angled towards touch screen users, there are also options for those who require a hardware keyboard too.

The first Android device to include a full hardware QWERTY keyboard was the T-Mobile G1, swiftly followed by the Motorola DEXT and Milestone.

A second QWERTY keyboard-toting Android device has just passed through the Federal Communications Commission too, dubbed the HTC Wildfire, although it’s not yet clear whether it will be heading to the UK yet.

Another major advantage Android has over its competitors is that all Android manufacturers have welcomed the 1GHz mobile processor – more so than Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and iPhone.

In the Windows Mobile environment, the Toshiba TG01 was the first to include a 1GHz processor and although it was impressive when the device was first announced, it never really caught on.

Android devices with Qualcomm’s processor include the Google Nexus One, HTC Legend and HTC Desire. This makes them super speedy and suited to running multiple, power-consuming applications.

ARM has also released a 1GHz processor, and the first device to feature ARM’s Cortex A8 processor will be the Samsung Galaxy S, coming later this year.

Although Android has been applied to devices that feature both capacitive and resistive screens, capacitive is the screen of choice for higher end devices, and those that would best suit business users.

A massive advantage that Android has over rival platforms is the number of manufacturers onboard. HTC, Huawei, Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung, Acer, Motorola and Dell are all signed up to manufacture devices and this is where Android really wins over other platforms.

Although Windows Mobile has a fleet of manufacturers producing phones running the OS, there’s not nearly as much flexibility as there is with Android.

Applications

One of the reasons rival smartphone platforms are so well suited to business, including BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and the iPhone, is that all of them offer applications that make mobile working possible and offer a near-desktop experience.

BlackBerry still does it best, with CRM and server-based applications, but the iPhone is coming up from behind quickly.

Windows Mobile also offers many applications (albeit not from the on-device apps store), and the legacy that goes with the evolved PDA platform makes it a fantastic choice for business users.

However, Android still has a way to go before it too can offer the same functionality from applications, but it is certainly catching up fast.

With more than 30,000 applications available in the Android Market, including numerous options that aid work on the move, such as document editors, PDF viewers, backup services and CRM applications, the erratic pricing and currency structure can put you off.

The store is not as well refined as the App Store – at least you know everything on there has been tested – and although the development environment is infinitely more open, that’s not always a good thing when looking for trusted applications.

Functionality

There’s no denying that the current version of Android is more aimed at business users than at launch.

Exchange support is one main focus of Android 2.1, and this demonstrates that the platform is opening up more to business users.

Android 2.1 supports multiple inboxes, and full Exchange services (including calendars, notes, contacts and email.

A new keyboard has also been introduced that makes it easier to type longer emails, although it still doesn’t beat a hardware keyboard.

Although Android is currently a highly consumer-focused platform, it is quickly catching up with more traditional platforms such as BlackBerry and Windows Mobile.

This is as much the fault of the other platforms failing to develop as quickly as much as it is the speed in which Android is growing.

If Gartner’s prediction is correct, Android could well develop into one of the top platforms for both consumer and business users alike.

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