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The Great Android Invasion


Google is not only coming out with new mobile apps but extending the system's use to other devices

Andy Rubin, the mastermind behind Google's (GOOG) Android, has had a pretty good few weeks, with major companies throwing their weight behind his operating system. Yet Rubin, 46, says he's just getting started. In the next few months he expects to unveil major enhancements to the programs available for Android phones, including some to make them more useful for business. He's also pushing Android beyond mobile phones: A half dozen other devices will soon come out with the software, including e-book readers, netbooks, and TVs. "There are still a lot of areas where we could do a lot better," he says.

There's good reason for the grand ambitions. Rubin doesn't think Google necessarily needs to eclipse the most popular mobile phone operating systems, like those used by Nokia (NOK), Apple (AAPL), and Research In Motion. But he wants Android to be powerful enough that other phone makers and wireless companies feel pressure to come up with innovations—and to keep their devices open so users can access services like Google's search. "The worst thing would be one operating system," Rubin says.

Android is far from a major player today. Despite a splashy debut this month from Motorola's Droid phone, which uses the software, fewer than 1% of mobile phones run Android. "There's not much Android awareness," says analyst Ken Dulaney of researcher Gartner.

Still, Google is picking up allies. Mobile-phone makers and app developers have been impressed with the company's progress, particularly with the version of Android that debuted in October. "It's absolutely top-notch," says Alex Galvagni, chief technology officer at Glu Mobile, which makes games for Android and Apple's iPhone.

Rubin's focus now is coming up with new capabilities to build on the momentum. His biggest push will be into Google services that set Android devices apart. One example is the free Google Maps Navigation, which offers turn-by-turn voice guidance and 3-D views. Rubin won't specify what else Google will cook up, but two possibilities are a book reader, which would let users browse thousands of books Google has scanned, and a pared-down Google Docs, which would let people write and edit on their phones.

One effort is around business users. Android phones can now handle e-mail and scheduling data from Microsoft's Outlook, the most widely used program in the field. Developers are also coming up with a flurry of new apps, including Scan2PDF Mobile, which lets users scan documents using their phone's camera and then convert them to PDF files.

MIGRATING AND MUTATING

Android is making the leap to other devices because Rubin and his team have adapted the software for different screen sizes and functions. Barnes & Noble chose Android for its upcoming nook e-reader because of its flexibility and power management. "We thought it suited us well," says William Lynch, president of Barnesandnoble.com.

Rubin knows his team is going up against fierce rivals. But he's putting a lot of pressure on himself to compete. If the best digital products can't be made with Android, he says, "I would consider myself a failure."

With Douglas MacMillan

Kharif is a senior writer for BusinessWeek.com in Portland, Ore.

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