Does Android Even Need Mobile Carriers to Succeed?

As I follow the early press on the HTC / T-Mobile G1 (a.k.a., “the Google Phone”), I’m struck by how little attention the phone features are getting, as compared to the IP-based tasks made possible by the open developer marketplace. One application that got me thinking about where this is all headed is iSkoot, a voice app enabling VOIP calling over the Skype network via WiFi connection.

How long it will be before a device manufacturer announces an Android-powered touch-screen handheld computer with WiFi VOIP calling as the default mode of voice communication (as opposed to mobile carrier integration)? I know Apple has a similar device in the iPod Touch, but the closed platform and unwillingness to cannibalize iPhone sales has (so far) blocked use of the Touch as a VOIP calling device. Android has no such restrictions, and this seems like the inevitable next step now that Google has officially open-sourced Android and the Android Market is open for business.

I don’t think the general consumer market is ready to part with their cellphone just yet, and public WiFi coverage is nowhere near as good as even the worst mobile network. But I bet there’s a big audience of early adopters who would gladly trade spotty coverage for a well-designed mobile communications device with no service contract, no data fees and free VOIP calling with any Skype user worldwide…