After the Google Nexus One, HTC Desire and HTC Legend, the focus for Android has largely been on its high-end incarnations, the handsets primed for battle with the iPhone 4G and Nokia N8.
But it’s at the lower end of the market where Android is really looking to capitalise on its position as (relative) new kid on the block, squeezing the likes of Nokia in its super-successful budget phone space, while also going for Apple and HTC in the smartphone sector.
The T-Mobile Pulse Mini and HTC Tattoo both point towards this trend, the latter becoming a big success last year and the former now rolling off shelves. But it’s the arrival of the Vodafone 845 that really shines a light on just how Google plans to pursue the lower end of the market.
This is a phone which costs just £25 a month on a 24 month deal, but still manages to squeeze in the top-end Android 2.1, as well as GPS, HSDPA and the Vodafone 360 social networking skin, aggregating contacts from Facebook, Twitter and IM in one place.
It seems that rather than offer older versions of Android and pared-down specs, Google is going to battle it out at the bottom with its very best software. Of course, the hardware can’t match up to the likes of the HTC Legend.
There’s no swanky unibody design and the touchscreen on the Vodafone 845 is resistive rather than capacitive. But it’s evident that Google’s plan is to push Android across the entire mobile market, rather than limit it to just the very best phones available. Why should only people who can afford the top-notch efforts experience Android when it can be pushed into cool, cheap devices as well?
Google isn’t resting on its laurels. Expect to see plenty of new budget Android phones as the year goes on. The headline handsets are already out and it’ll be a while before we see HTC or Sony Ericsson produce another high-end Android mobile when they’ve only recently started selling the Legend and Xperia X10.
And this shift towards the lower end of the market is going to have plenty of different players rattled. Samsung bada is supposed to be competing in this space, but has not found its way onto any budget phones as yet (officially at least).
Nokia’s software focus appears to be very much on Symbian 3 and developing Ovi (both of which should give it more than a fighting chance in the smartphone arena) and while Espoo is still king of the budget phones, Android’s skills base, especially its access to Android Market and Google Maps Navigation, show that it’s going to give traditional manufacturers plenty to ponder.
Android is growing ever-more popular. And if Google can keep its prices low and its options spread with a variety of phones, then it won’t just be the top end of the market where it starts cleaning up.