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Could Android Mop-Up the Entry Level Smartphone Market?

With news that LG's first Android smartphone is a pretty basic gizmo, and recalling the recent debut of the Motorola Cliq, an interesting thought's just occurred: Could the upstart Google OS corner the whole entry-level-smartphone market?

LG-GW620We've been banging the "smartphones are the future" drum loudly...but generally when one thinks of smartphones it's the feature-rich iPhone, and its paradigm-shifting design innovation, the iPhone-challenging Palm Pre (with its clever WebOS), the HTC G1 or Magic, or perhaps even a Sony Ericsson number. These are all potent devices that are pushing the performance envelope of handheld convergence smartphones, and they tend to cost a sizable amount of cash to buy and to run.

But then along stumbles LG, joining the Android fray with the excitingly named LG-GW620. It's a slider, with full QWERTY keypad "to meet the growing needs of consumers who rely on their mobile phones for more than just making calls," HSDPA 3G capabilities, what's expected to be a 5-megapixel cam and a stock-installed Android OS. Thus far through the description you'd easily mistake it for many other Android phones, but then check out its touchscreen—a titchy 3-inch unit. Wire into this two more phrases from the press release—"lives up to LG's consumer-friendly design philosophy by making the smartphone experience more accessible for typical users" and "The LG-GW620 will appeal to first-time smartphone customers by offering a new and different kind of user experience" and you're suddenly looking at a phone that's very definitely been earmarked as an entry-level device.

Motorola CLIQMotorola stirred up lots of interest last week with its Cliq phone, which is similar to some other Android phones specs-wise, but has a gimped enough UI that Chris Dannen wondered if it were targeted at kids. HTC's also recently outed the HTC Tattoo—based on its successful earlier Android phones, but with a tiny 2.8-inch screen and other specs that definitely place it in the mass-market device game.

Add this all up and you get: Is Android quietly assuming position to dominate the entry-level smartphone world? All of these devices are likely to sell for much less than the top-end iPhone, Pre, HTC devices, and the other LG, Samsung, and Sony-Ericsson smartphones we all know about. Some will likely get a zero-dollar price-tag when sold on contract thanks to carrier subsidies. They'll be even cheaper than Apple's attempt at entry-level smartphones, the 8GB iPhone 3G currently on sale, and they'll compete with Palm's recently-revealed Pixi.

If you think about it, it all makes sense—Android is free and works out-of-the-box, requiring no customization. It's certainly a cheaper option for manufacturers than licensing Microsoft's aging Windows Mobile platform, or developing your own OS. Including it in a smartphone—even a basic one—also earns your device all the App Store, live social-networking and YouTube-interactivity cachet of a smartphone, without needing any industry-leading design. And as Nokia knows well, capturing the entry-level market can be lucrative.

Google's strategy begins to become a little clearer now, doesn't it?