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Tickers in this Article: GOOG, AAPL, RIMM, NOK, MSFT, S, MOT, EBAY, INTC
Well, it's here; almost, anyway. Though Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) smartphone operating system - dubbed Android - has been released for several months, the hoped proliferation of the OS wasn't cued until this month.

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Given the potential impact its launch could have on the smartphone market - and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone in particular - I've been surprised by how little "compare and contrast" information has been made available to investors. The bulk of the information appears to be fragmented at best and aimed at gearheads and users.

Here's a quick rundown of what potential Google investors should know.

Android Isn't Competing With Other Phone Manufacturers
I'm sure many of you already realize that Google's Android will work with multiple, to-be-unveiled smartphones made by several manufacturers. If not, it's one of Android's more interesting talking points.

If you don't think the industry - everyone from carriers to manufacturers to software designers - is somehow taking aim at Apple's iPhone, you should know the effort has become so well organized that there's actually an "Open Handset Alliance" (with Android as the common ground, of course). The alliance includes Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S), Motorola (NYSE: MOT), eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and T-Mobile, just to name a few.

The alliance does not include Apple. Apple seeks to monetize the vehicle itself, dictate terms of service to carriers who sell the phone, and then pour salt in the wound by limiting how and which applications are available in the store. All of those burdens have been tolerated thus far, simply because the iPhone's dominance made the headache worth it.

Android, on the other hand, represents a less monopoly-like hold on the smartphone industry. That's a refreshing quality that will prompt manufacturers, carriers and Google to work together to provide more choice rather than limit it as Apple does.

Android Is Open Source
Again, many of you may already realize this piece of data. For those who don't, though, Google's Android operating system is 1) free for manufacturers to install on phones they sell, and 2) the code is openly available - for free - to developers who want to create applications (programs) that run on Android. Google's aim is to get the software into as many users' hands as possible (via the manufacturers), and create consumer demand for the operating system (by offering lots of applications for it that consumers will want to use).

The iPhone's Dominance Is A U.S. Phenomenon
I won't argue against the fact that Apple's head start in smartphone market penetration is daunting, though you need to note which "market" is being discussed.

Yes, Apple has 23% of the smartphone market share in the U.S, and it's quickly gaining on the BlackBerry from Research in Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), which currently owns 52% of the U.S. market. If you take a step back and look at the global smartphone market, though, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) smokes them both with a 45% market share.

The point is, Google doesn't even have to beat Apple in the U.S. to do well with Android. Though Nokia isn't part of the Open Handset Alliance, even modest success with the operating system installed on other smartphones could convince the company to embrace Android (something that could never possibly happen for Apple).

What's In It For Google?
With all the noise and chatter being batted around about Android's widespread launch (which is now starting to unfold), one question surprisingly hasn't been asked very often: What's in it for Google? If it's free, where's the money?

Even if you don't know for sure, you can probably guess the correct answer - advertising revenue. Google has already confirmed that running ads on Android mobile phones can generate profits. The fact that Google just plunked down $750 million to buy AdMob should verify the company's confidence in the platform's revenue-generating ability.

And The Winner Is...
The consumer base is quite polarized about which OS is better, and understandably so. In the end, though, I think the war between Android and iPhone will be won by Android (to the extent the battle can be won).

Apple, though less defensive than it was about third-party developers for Macintosh machines in the 1990s, doesn't appear to have learned the lesson it was taught then. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) opened up its PC platform to developers then, and the floodgates opened. Apple has already demonstrated its stubbornness by picking and choosing which applications are permissible, and restricting how - or if - they interact with the iPhone itself.

Though it's likely to be two to three years down the road before all the kinks are ironed out, the iPhone could go the way of the Mac - very cool, with fading total demand. (To learn more, read Dial Up Choice Telecom Stocks.)

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