Samsung is set to release three Android phones this year, two stateside and one abroad, as rivals gun for position in the smartphone market with rollouts planned for this year by Palm, HTC, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, and, it's rumored, Apple.
Samsung still isn't releasing many details, though. A spokesperson told InternetNews.com that the company has not announced which carriers will be aligned with the U.S. Android phones and that pricing and names have not been determined.
The news comes at a time when HTC plans to release its own trio of Android devices in 2009, which includes the already much-anticipated Magic model coming in April for European carrier Vodafone. HTC was the first handset maker to release a smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, based on Android, Google's open-source mobile platform.
For now, it seems that Samsung doesn't necessarily have to hurry to compete, Brad Akyuz, senior analyst for mobile devices at Current Analysis told InternetNews.com.
"Samsung is probably the most carrier-focused handset manufacturer in the US and although it needs a 'wow-factor' to differentiate itself, it has to make sure it does not alienate any of its carrier partners," Akyuz said.
"Samsung does not necessarily have to be the first to launch in order to enjoy high volumes. It just has to make sure that its Android phone is at least on par with the competition and that it provides adequate support to the respective carriers' marketing activities with ad dollars as well as promotional savings offers. Considering how effective Samsung has been in that regard with other devices across all carriers, it is poised to enjoy a good share of the market if and when it launches an Android phone."
In-Stat analyst David Chamberlain said Android has yet to really catch on with consumers, which suggests where Samsung needs to focus.
"I think the Android has captivated the industry -- people who write code, follow the wireless industry, or carry three phones at a time. However, I don't think it's had a huge impact on civilians yet," Chamberlain said. "What's important is usability, capability, and integration. Pushing a button and having it do something useful, something you want, something that gets you the same functions you get on your desktop."
"I don't think touchscreens, dancing menus or QWERTY keyboards are going to be required for Android to really make a difference," he added. "Give me a good phone, a competent phone, that does everything Google promises... then you've got a winner."
Right now, insiders are following Android developments carefully, waiting to see how the T-Mobile G1 will fare in the market. This buzz is being fueled by speculation that sales of smartphones using the Android platform will overtake the iPhone by 2012, as U.K.-based research firm Informa Telecoms and Media predicted in a recent report.
The reasoning goes like this: Android will be available on a wide variety of devices and mobile networks at different price points, and this widespread availability is bound to have an advantage over iPhones, which are available from one manufacturer -- Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) -- and on a limited number of networks.
Another factor that might give Android phones the edge is that it may be easier for developers, compared to other major phone platforms. Google offers developers a standardized set of tools, for instance, while Nokia's (NYSE: NOK) Symbian has been roundly criticized for being too complicated, Informa said.
Of course these forecasts can't gain traction unless there is the hardware released to go along with them. Right now, it appears smartphone companies are caught between wanting to be the first out of the gate but making sure their hardware is ready.
So what role timing will play in determining who gets the most sales? Mobile analyst Meredith Eitt, also of Current Analysis, said, "While timing is important, in is not necessarily everything. Whoever releases first will certainly have a leg up on competition, but they may not get the lion's share of the market in this situation. The iPhone did well because when it came out there was nothing like it and there was nothing like it expected to be released. In the case of Android, everyone knows that more phones like it are in the works with different manufacturers and therefore may not jump on the bandwagon as easily as with the iPhone."
In the non-Android smartphone front, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) is pushing ahead in its do-or-die plan to release its Pre smartphone by June, while Apple is thought to be readying its new iPhone. Meanwhile, Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) plans to roll out updates to the BlackBerry Storm.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.