Androids: Coming Soon to a Battlefield Near You

When I say the Android Army is coming, it's not just an empty metaphor. The mobile communications platform that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) built is coming soon to a battlefield near you, courtesy of defense contractor Raytheon (NYSE: RTN  ) .

Raytheon has introduced its new Raytheon Android Tactical System, or RATS for short. It's a combination of specialized servers and Android-based mobile devices, giving our soldiers a handy and secure way to share information on the battlefield. The system uses "specific information channels" to transmit video, text, images, and voice data to and from soldiers in the field, but can also fall back on standard 3G mobile networks in a pinch. "The device provides the warfighter the ability to make decisions in seconds and minutes, rather than hours," according to Raytheon's press release. Sounds valuable to me.

I'm not surprised to see the Android in a battlefield application. Google seems to have shorter lines of communication with other defense contractors, like Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) , through the Santa Fe Institute Business Network, of which Raytheon is not a member. But Google welcomes any respectable partner with open arms -- and here's why.

The RATS system illustrates why the Android Army looks poised to displace the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone in the long run. While the iPhone platform surely could be adapted to other uses than super-stylish, easy-to-use consumer handsets, Apple is choosing to go after that very specific market on its own.

By contrast, Google is building a wide-ranging network of partners in hardware, software, and services, and there will soon be Androids all around us. Big names like Samsung and Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) are in on the Android already. Apple will almost surely never make an Android phone, and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) might stick to its own guns too. These guys have their own software platforms to promote, develop, and control. But I couldn't name one software-agnostic cell phone designer that doesn't have plans to build Android phones in the near future. Just this morning, initial reports surfaced that holdout Sony Ericsson is readying an Android phone for a Nov. 3 product launch. And as you can see from the Raytheon system, the open standards of the Android open up a universe of unexpected markets.

Apple is not Google's enemy, though. The companies still share a relationship that’s surprisingly cozy for two companies whose products are increasingly coming into competition. For example, Google is the default search engine in the iPhone's Safari browser. The more people browse the Web on their iPhones, the happier and richer Google gets. Google's Android Army comes in peace; Big G just wants everyone to use the Web more, and a plethora of Androids will ensure that everyone who wants a Web-capable phone can find one. And that includes our brave soldiers in active duty, if Uncle Sam likes what Raytheon is selling.

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Some companies just never surrender. Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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