The iPod Touch, Android and the Carrier-Free Cellphone

Om Malik has a great piece up today on the iPod Touch, calling it the ace up Apple’s sleeve. In his words:

“it is just like an iPhone except that it has more storage, is skinnier and has none of the hassles of dropped calls.”

In other words, the Touch is a better device than the iPhone because it doesn’t have a primary identity as a phone. You can still make voice calls with it (using a VOIP app like Skype), but you don’t have to have a service contract with AT&T (or any other carrier) to do so.

In fact, the Touch is a good proxy for the future of mobile communications: it’s a really great, really small mobile computer that covers every communications need – IM, email, voice, SMS – equally gracefully and at much lower cost than any contract-based cellphone. If you want to talk on the road you’ll still want a wireless data connection, but that’s a commodity you can obtain from lots of providers, often under pay-as-you go pricing models.

While the iPhone gets all the press, the Touch represents 40% of the installed base of iPhone OS devices and a roughly equal share of mobile data traffic, according to recent stats from mobile analytics provider Flurry.

With relatively few handsets in market, Google’s Android operating system is also climbing the charts as a source of mobile data requests, and – by watching what’s happened with the Touch – it’s not hard to imagine a near future with tens of millions of Android-powered devices playing a similar role. Some of these will be “cellphones” sold by wireless carriers, but I’m betting an even larger number will be Touch-like entertainment and communications devices that perform all the functions of a smartphone, but without a cellphone contract.

Google is rumored to be building a “Google phone” of its own, but if they do in fact have a hardware product up their sleeve, I’m guessing it’s more like a Touch than it is like a phone. And if they don’t build it, some smart handset or laptop maker like HTC, Acer or Asus will.

The future of cellphones is already here, and – in Om’s words – it’s “just like an iPhone except that it has more storage, is skinnier and has none of the hassles of dropped calls.”