Android smartphone makers seek unique positions

In a sea of Android-based smartphones, making a product stand out is getting more important

Samsung is flexing its engineering muscles with the Samsung Galaxy S II, while HTC and Sony Ericsson are betting on deep Facebook integration and mobile gaming as the war for smartphone supremacy continues at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

Unsurprisingly, this year's show has been all about Android, according to Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. With many vendors using the mobile OS from Google, they must work to differentiate their products with other features.

Samsung kicked off Mobile World Congress with a bang: The Samsung Galaxy S II is thinner than the Galaxy S, and comes with a dual-core processor, a bigger, better screen and a faster Internet connection using HSPA+ (High-Speed Packet Access) at up to 21M bps (bits per second).

HTC has taken a different route with the Salsa and the ChaCha. The two smartphones come with deep Facebook integration, including a Facebook button that will light up whenever there is an opportunity for users to share content or updates.

"[They are] different, and the fact is what we are seeing on Android is very homogenous. The same goes for Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play; it is something different in a sea of Android products that all look the same," said Geoff Blaber, analyst at CCS Insight.

The Xperia Play has a chance to sell well if it is priced right, according to Blaber.

However, today, both Sony Ericsson and HTC lack a high-end smartphone with a dual-core processor.

"They are both closely aligned to Qualcomm, and Qualcomm has been, until this show, a little behind Nvidia ... but the reality is that we'll see those products coming later in the year from Sony Ericsson and HTC," said Blaber.

The number of consumers who really care whether their smartphone has a dual-core processor may be in the minority, though.

"I think from a mass market perspective, consumers are still happy with single-core devices," said Milanesi.

LG Electronics is also trying to differentiate with the addition of a 3D screen on the Optimus 3D smartphone. It is one of the most revolutionary products in the mix, but the screen still feels a bit like a prototype, Milanesi said.

However, the smartphone race at Mobile World Congress isn't just about the high end. The race to lower the cost of smartphones based on Google's operating system also continued, according to Milanesi.

The most notable launch has been Alcatel's, according to Blaber.

The company announced five Android-based phones, all of which will push Android into the prepaid market. One phone in particular, the One Touch 890, which only comes with 2G, looks set to take Android below the €60 (US$80) level at retail, with a small amount of subsidies, Blaber said.

ZTE and Huawei also launched low-end Android phones intended to mine similar territory.

Android is now scaling from the very, very low end to high-end smartphones with dual-core processors, hardware acceleration and lots of memory. The big question is how long the platform can continue to scale like that; there is a risk that you start constraining developers in high-end, because they have to accommodate simpler hardware, Blaber said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Mikael Ricknäs

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