Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I, for one, welcome our Android overlords

Ok, sort of. The first Android based device has been released.

What makes Android great?
  • Well Google is backing it, that will help
  • The core of the operating system is based on Linux
  • The platform itself is open source, using an Apache 2 license
  • Any application can be extended, removed, or completely re-written
  • It is open, in stark contrast to the iPhone
In theory competition is always good, but, currently there are 3 major smartphone categories:
  • Apple's iPhone
  • Microsoft's Windows Mobile offerings
  • RIM's Blackberry
We should also count Nokia's Symbian class devices as well, but they are not much of a player in North America. Nokia has also taken Symbian open source, though one could argue that is a last gasp effort to stave off death.

Android will add a fourth (or fifth) credible smartphone class to the market, ISVs who create third party applications may yet another class of devices to support. This is expensive.

Also, what is the killer Android application? Other then the fact that Android is open source, and infinitly customizable, why should my mother care? What is the benefit to normal users? Sure, us techies are excited, but are we representative users? Not really. I cannot tell you which target user the Android is targeted to. This is a common issue when engineers get to run amok.

I am also not sure I trust Googles motive's here, first looks I would say it more suited to push Google's agenda then consumers or business users. The T-Mobile G1 (the first device) doesn't support Exchange, which is a real deal breaker for the business users. The email client itself looks to be a "rich HTML" client.

Based on what I have read to date I am not convinced this new smartphone is ready for primetime. Some of the major complaints I have read include:
  • Google accounts are tightly integrated with the phone, trying to change an account necessitates a factory reset (!)
  • There is no desktop syncing application, Google contacts and calendar are considered the masters
  • No video playback or recording
  • No multi-touch on the G1 (hardware issue)
  • No headphone jack
  • You must have an SD card for any kind of music or video (when it arrives) playback
  • Downloading music tracks from Amazon's store (not sure about others) can only be accomplished with Wi-Fi. No 3G!
  • Text entry only possible via the keyboard, their doesn't seem to be a SIP
The common solution to these concerns is that the developer community will take care of these missing features and applications. Yes, because that has worked so well for Linux on the desktop :)

Google seems to be relying on the developer community to fill in the gaps, this to me seems dangerous, it also indicates that Android was rushed a bit.

All in all the Android is cool, it is innovative, but is it ready for primetime? I think Android, like Chrome is more to push the existing smartphone makers (and browser makers) into the direction that Google needs to extend their empire to ever more devices.

What do you think?

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