2009 Year in Review: Android gains mainstream acceptance

The news: At the beginning of 2009, there was one Android handset on the market, the T-Mobile G1. By the end of the year, Google's mobile platform could stake a claim to being the most talked-about, buzz-worthy smartphone platform--and the one poised to grow the fastest in 2010. How did it get to that point?

The build was slow during February's Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain. Though there were a few Android announcements, the platform was largely absent from the event. Nonetheless, the hype begin catching speed.

Informa Telecoms & Media said Android phone sales would surpass Apple's smartphone sales by 2012. Samsung hinted it would be making Android phones for Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, and T-Mobile announced in April it had sold 1 million G1s. With a burst of confidence, Google declared in May that by the end of 2009 there would be at least 18 phones on the market running Android.

In was an apt prediction. In August, T-Mobile launched its second Android phone, the myTouch 3G. Sprint announced it would launch the Android-powered HTC Hero in October, and both carriers followed up with more Android announcements shortly thereafter: T-Mobile launched Motorola's first Android phone, the Cliq, in September, and followed it with the Samsung Behold II, while Sprint took the wraps off its second Android phone, the Moment, in October.

Perhaps the biggest Android bombshell of the year came on the eve of the CTIA Wireless IT & entertainment conference, when Verizon Wireless locked arms with Google. That partnership has produced two phones so far: the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris. The year ended with fresh speculation that Google would be launching its "own" Android phone, free from carrier constraints, though it is unclear whether this will be a major disruption or just another new Android phone.

Why it was significant: It's important to put all of the buzz around Android in perspective. It is not entirely surprising that Strategy Analytics predicted a 900 percent growth rate for the operating system in 2009, given that there were so few Android phones on the market at the beginning of this year. Nonetheless, the evolution of Android has been remarkable. By courting numerous carrier and handset OEM partners, Google has broadened the reach of its open-source Android effort and positioned itself for growth at a time when more consumers are shifting from feature phones to smartphones with data plans. It remains to be seen though how Google's rumored Nexus One phone fits into the company's overall wireless effort. The device could represent a major strategy shift for the Internet search giant, or just the latest flagship Android phone. Whatever happens with the "Google phone," it's clear that Google's phone ambitions took off this year.