Will Android Make Expense Management Easier for Smartphones?

It’s not as smooth looking as the iPhone. The interface isn’t quite as fancy. Still the first Google Android based phone is here. The T-Mobile G1Â went on sale two days ago to largely positive reviews. Priced to compete with the iPhone, the question is whether its features and flexible pricing can compete with sheer Apple buzz. Naturally, from a telecom expense management perspective we’re interested in the pricing, but let’s get into the phone first.

T-Mobile’s marketing angle is simple. It distills the familiar desktop down to your screen and promises the same web surfing experience you’d get from a PC. In addition, the G1 comes loaded with popular Google applications. Notably, Google Street View aligns with how you’re holding the phone based on its built-in compass and accelerometer. Neat, but then again, Street View is often just used as a toy. The more interesting aspect of it is Android’s open standards commitment (and eventual open source release, say Google execs). This means that if consumers bite, the Android Marketplace for apps could explode with new widgets at a rate Apple could never hope to match with its own carefully managed, closed approach – if people can get past the G1’s brick shape.

For cellular expense management, one thing leaps out: T-Mobile actually lets you choose from a bunch of plans, while an iPhone sticks you with a tightly restricted set. This flexibility will give us a lot more power to keep G1 fees down, but the real breakthrough will come when other 3G handsets offer Android with a slightly downscaled set of features to drop into the lower end of the smartphone niche. These phones could serve as an alternative choice for corporate fleets that rely on Blackberries, assuming that push email client Funambol offers comparable service. Some will insist on Exchange for interoperability with the office, but open source means the price point can drop more rapidly once Android hits budget devices. At that point, some people will take a long, hard look at how they really use mobile mail, and whether the G1’s descendants would be the smarter choice.