We should know a lot more about Google (GOOG) Android’s long-term prospects as a mobile software platform this year. Android boss Andy Rubin told developers that Google expects 18-20 Android-powered phones on the market by the end of 2009, made by eight or nine different manufacturers.
While 2010 will be Android’s judgment year, this first wave of gadgets is important. If the phones pass the smell test by carriers and manufacturers, and consumers buy them, higher install bases mean that more software companies will write software for Android. That will make it a more attractive platform next to Apple’s iPhone, which has a huge lead sales- and development-wise, and others like Palm’s (PALM) Web OS and RIM’s (RIMM) BlackBerry.
We’ll be especially interested in seeing how manufacturers and carriers differentiate the Android phones, whether Google’s brand plays an increasing role in marketing them, and how cheap in the feature-phone market Android phones can get. (The cheaper, the better. Even Motorola still ships a lot of phones every quarter.)
The good news for Google: As we’ve noted several times, its success in the mobile business — measured by mobile ad revenue — isn’t significantly dependent on Android. Google just needs more people to use the Internet on their phones, so they can see more Google-brokered ads (and click on them). Android, which includes Google’s search engine, and Web and app ads sold by Google, is a shortcut. But ultimately, Google just needs more people adopting the mobile Web and Google’s mobile services — no matter which platform their handset runs.