Google Gets Ready For Mobile Social Gaming With Android

The NPD Group released new figures showing Android adoption rising above the iPhone, which has had fairly steady sales figures this year.

Although Apple contested the numbers, the overall trend is clear.

With Android handsets rapidly multiplying, there’s a big question for mobile game makers: can Android create a significantly different environment for games than the iPhone?

Android’s growth appears to be fueled by heavy advertising from big mobile carriers like Verizon, which is advertising its Motorola Droid, as well as a flood of new HTC handsets like the Incredible. These are all high-powered phones with touchscreens comparable to the iPhone, so in that sense it’s reasonable to expect the Android game market to end up looking similar to the iPhone’s App store.

But that likely won’t be the case. Apple itself is working to put its mobile devices (now including the iPad) in a separate development category by demanding that developers use Objective C and shunning Adobe’s Flash. The iPhone’s technical requirements have so far meant that web game developers and their mobile counterparts have stood a world apart.

Google, on the other hand, is busy cuddling up to Flash, with Engadget reporting yesterday that Android 2.2 runs Flash “like butter”. That could end up being one of the critical distinctions between Android and the iPhone, especially when it comes to games. With a smooth mobile Flash experience, casual and social game developers, from Kongregate to Zynga, will have an easy way to push their games to mobile.

And it’s increasingly apparent that Google is now taking games seriously. The company is looking for a games product manager, just hired a developer advocate, and bought the game maker LabPixies. There’s probably also a connection to gaming in its attempts to hire a head of its social product.

Of course, Google has spent years developing the OpenSocial container to help web sites build platforms for social applications. That effort has not seen a lot of momentum, although big social networks like MySpace use it — we’re interested to see how Google tries to tie everything together, now.

Having seen Facebook’s success with games, it’s not hard to believe that Google wants in. It won’t have too much difficulty, with the ability to either directly run online games (on a phone or an iPad competitor) or easily port them over.

This story will develop quickly over the coming weeks, especially if Apple is really developing a Flash competitor. Online and social gaming has developed quickly so far, but we won’t have seen anything until the boundaries with mobile games begin to blur.