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Tuesday, September 23, 2008, 12:30 pm PT (03:30 pm ET)

Piper says G1 to have 'little or no impact' on iPhone sales

While both Apple and Google appear to be emerging as pioneers in the mobile computing space, the iPhone sports a year-long head start over the Android-based G1 handset introduced Tuesday, and is unlikely to see any lost sales as a result, says investment bank Piper Jaffray.

"To use a baseball analogy, when Apple comes out with a product, they try to hit homeruns, but Google's Android strategy is swinging for base hits," analyst Gene Munster wrote in a reactionary research note. "Today's announcement in itself does not change anything, however, if over the next 2 years Google has many similar small announcements, it will become a greater threat to the iPhone."

One feature that may help differentiate the new G1 handset from the iPhone out of the gates is its physical QWERTY keyboard, according to the analyst. He noted that iPhone adoption has been "slightly hampered" by the reluctance of some consumers to adapt to a touchscreen keyboard.

Another key element that may work to Google's favor exists in its 'open' approach to the Android operating system, which which means developers can modify the
operating system and develop third-party applications on the platform for free. The open nature of the software also means that Android can be quickly modified to run on many devices from the broad majority of mobile carriers.

In contrast, Apple has chosen a closed iPhone platform where developers cannot modify or enhance the operating system, and third-party developers must pay a nominal fee to belong to a developer group and submit applications to Apple for approval on the App Store. The iPhone OS will also only run on Apple-branded devices.

"This differentiation will allow for Google to expand Android widely and quickly, but Apple can control the quality more effectively," Munster said. "In the end, wide availability and high quality are both critical. Apple has improved international availability of the iPhone dramatically over the last several months, and the quality of the hardware and the software are high."

Both the iPhone and G1 feature desktop class web browsers built around Apple's WebKit framework, making them the first two mobile handsets that offer a 'useful' mobile browsing experience, in the analyst's view. He also noted that both devices offer a mobile marketplace for music and media — the iPhone features the iTunes Wi-Fi Store, while the G1 has direct access to the Amazon MP3 store.

The key differences are that the Amazon store offers 100 percent unprotected DRM-free tracks, whereas the iTunes store only offers unprotected tracks from one of the major record labels, EMI. There's still a catch, however, in that iPhone users can easily plug a pair of headphones into there handset to listen to purchased music, whereas G1 users will be unable to do the same without a USB adapter, given the HTC-developed handset lacks a traditional headphone jack.

Yet another difference between the iPhone and G1 is their target audience. T-Mobile and Google said earlier in the day that the G1 is geared primarily towards consumers and families. Apple on the other hand has made strides in recent months to push iPhone adoption in the Enterprise. Most notably is the iPhone's new support of Microsoft Exchange — a technology unsupported on the G1.

Overall, Munster recommended that investors buy shares of Apple as a play in the growing mobile space.

"While the G1 is a legitimate competitor with the iPhone, we believe it will have little or no impact on near-term iPhone sales," he said.