Mobile expo celebrates arrival of little green men

Amid the constant stream of dark-suited telecommunications executives, a neon green cartoon character was the talk of this week's Mobile World Congress.

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BARCELONA // Amid the constant stream of dark-suited telecommunications executives, a neon green cartoon character was the talk of this week's Mobile World Congress.

In two years, the Android mobile operating system run by Google has become the industry's most celebrated and embraced product.

Android is the underlying software that is responsible for performing all of the different tasks a smartphone can perform.

It is the leading smartphone platform with shipments reaching 32.9 million in the fourth quarter of last year, ahead of Nokia's Symbian, which shipped 31 million units, the research company Canalys says.

Although the system competes with Apple's iPhone and iPad and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, more than 350,000 people buy Android-based phones every day, Eric Schmidt, the departing chief executive of Google, said on Tuesday. More than 100 phone and tablet models run the Android operating system, and more than 150,000 applications are available for download in the Android market.

"These new devices are great not only for consuming media but also creating [media]," Mr Schmidt said.

It was evident Google was the major force behind last week's announcement that Nokia would use Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system in its devices next year, a move that cements the search giant in top place of the mobile market.

Android also fits in with Google's advertising-based business model and will evolve the company from search to the mobile sector.

"When you take a step back, it becomes clear why Google went into the mobile space," said Tony Cripps, a senior analyst with Ovum.

"They needed to expand the horizons of its business model. Bridging the gap of internet and mobile was something that required Google to come in and integrate that properly."

Last month, Android captured 54 per cent of all smartphone ad impressions, up from 46 per cent last December, figures from Millennial Media show. Apple's iOS fell to 28 per cent last month from 32 per cent in December.

Google's foray into mobile has usurped Apple, the other major player in the space. Industry analysts have criticised Apple for implementing a "closed ecosystem" where the iPhone maker limited the type of applications it would make available, drawing the ire of many software developers.

But Google's strategyfocused more on removing restrictions developers and consumers could have when using the mobile internet.

"What is happening in the mobile market is the same thing that happened in the PC market," said Malik Kamal-Saadi, the principal analyst of handsets and devices for Informa Telecom and Media.

"Software will be commoditised on Android as the leading platform in much the same way that Windows was in the PC market. Now there's a number of industry forces trying to [stop] that happening. That was the strategic core with the deal between Nokia and Microsoft."

Google's Android booth at Fira de Barcelona displayed a rare element of fun. Visitors could sip green smoothies and go down a two-storey slide.

Ray Ratelis, the vice president of engineering for the US gaming company Guild Software, said Android was the easiest mobile operating system for which to develop applications.

"We don't have to pay to upload any applications and there's no restrictions or logistical headaches to go through," Mr Ratelis said.

Android also has the advantage of being the largest mobile operating system in the world, a fact that helps to attract developers.

"We're seeing crazy growth on the Android platform," said Jean Hsu, the head of Android for Alphonso Labs, which recently released a mobile app called Pulse News.

"Android has really exploded and for a start-up like us, being on such as developer-friendly platform is a really important."