This week, Google and T-Mobile launched the G1 "Dream", the first of the Android devices to hit the market. The initial reaction by some of my colleagues and industry peers was whether or not it had enough sex appeal, excitement or the coolness factor to be able to compete with the iPhone.
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Sex? Excitement? Cool? We are talking about digital convergence devices, not a week on tour in Amsterdam with Gene Simmons and his roadie crew. That this industry is so preoccupied with how "cool" or "sexy" a piece of electronics is rather than its value-added features or its price and performance ratio when compared to other devices is insane.
I will hand it to Apple that right now, they have the best handheld device on the market. That is, of course, if you can excuse the fact that their Infineon 3G chipset has more bugs in it than a taco stand in downtown Tijuana and because of a number of problems with the firmware and the iPhone 2.0 software you'll still be defaulting to the slower EDGE network in some of most 3G dense areas in the country. But I digress -- their application store is second to none, if you can excuse Apple's capriciousness of what applications they allow to be sold in their online store and desire for total control.
Currently, the iPhone doesn't fulfill my criterion for a "dream" handheld, and neither does the T-Mobile G1. However, the Android platform potentially has the capability to do a lot of what I want, and here's why.
The iPhone will always be constrained to hardware that is completely under Apple's control. At best, there will be as many iPhone models as there are iPod models at any given time, should the company decide to expand into different form factors such as keyboard or flip-phone designs. And at least in the United States, we have a good four years left of an AT&T exclusive on the device. While the Android platform is currently limited to T-Mobile, any carrier or device manufacturer can get potentially get into the Android game and make software additions and improvements as well as competing hardware designs that use the Android OS.
Sure, as an overall competitive offering, the G1 is weak when compared with iPhone (we'll have to see how well it's 3G wireless data works and its phone call quality is before we pass total judgment, however.) It's lacking a library of apps and games, like any brand new platform would. But I wouldn't expect Google and their army of dedicated software developers in house and all over the world to sit idle for long. ISV's like QuickOffice have already committed to porting their apps to the platform and you can bet with recurring Google sponsored programs such as The Summer of Code and The Android Developer Challenge that we'll see a lot more developments in terms of sticky downloadable 'Droid porn. And remember, since Android is largely Open Source, that alone gives it a tremendous advantage over the iPhone's totally proprietary and controlled environment, particularly as more and more devices emerge.
In addition to apps, lets not play down something that Google does better than Apple -- It's Google. And it understands how to leverage its own internet assets, which are vast. If you compare what Apple's MobileMe has with Google's own portfolio of sites and services, it's a complete joke -- and if you've been watching Apple's stumbles with its service over the last few months, it hardly seems to have the infrastructure or the know-how to keep it a large volume email service running reliably. Enterprise-class mobile E-Mail? Puhleeeze. Unlike Apple, Google also has the perfect opportunity and the real capability to compete with Research In Motion and the Blackberry, since it has the datacenters to back it up -- all it needs to do is purchase a company such as Open-Xchange or leverage any number of Open Source projects that can emulate Exchange Server and integrate it with Android's GMail client as a paid hosted platform service for devices and PCs. The only missing link would be to create the software which would allow it to integrate with existing corporate email systems, a la RIM's Blackberry Enterprise Server.
Do you want Sex and Excitement on your mobile device or do you just want the damn thing to work as promised and provide you with ubiquitous access to your important mobile data and services? Talk Back and let me know.