Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google
What makes him powerful: Sometime over the past decade, Google evolved from a brand into a verb, becoming synonymous with the Web search protocols it pioneered: Consumers no longer seek information online, they "Google it." Given that mobile search is itself synonymous with mobile advertising revenues, considered by many pundits to be the true pot of gold at the end of the wireless rainbow, Google's position as the Web's premier search services provider would alone be enough to vault its CEO Eric Schmidt into any discussion of the mobile industry's most powerful figures. But Schmidt has transformed Google into a mobile juggernaut whose reach and influence extends far beyond Web-based services, in the process turning upside-down a wireless industry ecosystem over which carriers long enjoyed complete control.
The cornerstone of Google's mobile ambitions is Android, its Linux-based open software platform for mobile devices first introduced in November 2007. After a relatively slow start, Android emerged as a major force in 2009--Motorola is staking the reinvention of its handset unit on the operating system, and handset makers including Samsung, LG and HTC have all introduced Android smartphones. The Wall Street Journal reports AT&T is poised to introduce an Android device manufactured by Dell, due to hit stores early next year, and Kyocera signaled its intentions to release an Android phone in 2010 as well. Even Barnes & Noble's forthcoming nook ereader device will run on Android.
"Android adoption is about to explode," Schmidt said during the company's third quarter earnings call in mid-October, contending all the "necessary conditions" are now in place to galvanize global growth of the mobile operating system. According to Schmidt, there are now 12 Android devices across 32 mobile operators in 26 countries.
Android truly achieved critical mass just hours prior to October's CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2009 conference, when news broke that Verizon Wireless will partner with Google for a series of Android handsets and applications, a game-changing collaboration that brings together two longtime rivals that frequently clashed over both business and policy. Touting the company's devotion to an open network and open applications, Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said the operator will launch two Android devices this year, inaugurating a multi-year roadmap that promises to yield myriad Android smartphones and applications. Verizon and Google said the Android phones will arrive preloaded with applications from both firms as well as third-party developers--asked if Verizon would support the controversial Google Voice VoIP application (the subject of an FCC inquiry after Apple rejected it for inclusion in its App Store), McAdam said: "Yes, we will bring that app to market when we do the first device." McAdam's declaration forced rival AT&T to update its own policy and allow VoIP apps for Apple's iPhone to run over its network. (In September, AT&T petitioned the FCC to investigate Google Voice, contending the app violates both federal call-blocking regulations and net neutrality principles by improperly blocking calls to certain rural areas.)
Nor has Google rested on its laurels as a mobile solutions provider--the company continues to release new mobile applications on an almost weekly basis, with an emphasis on navigation and location-based services. More than a million wireless subscribers signed up for Google's mobile friend finder Latitude in its first week, according to Vic Gundotra, the company's vice president of engineering, who cited the service as a prime example of the kinds of new applications enabled by the emergence of more powerful mobile Web browsers and software developed to better exploit the technological capabilities of wireless devices. Google also remains the gold standard in mobile search--according to browser development firm Opera Software, Google is consistently the most visited mobile website in the U.S.
As Google's mobile reach and influence continues to expand, it's increasingly obvious that Schmidt's assault on the wireless hierarchy is far from over. --Jason