Google's Android approach threatens no less than the personal computer itself

Google's Android approach threatens no less than the personal computer itself

Summary: Google is goosing the hen to lay eggs that become more chickens to help remove the chicken and egg conundrum from the mobile marketplace. I sure hope it works because the ramifications could indeed be earth shattering. In one fell swoop, Google and its partners are knocking on the carriers, the closed handsets, Microsoft, and even the PC itself.

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Google's announcement of mobile software platform Android pretty much disrupts and disintermediates a large swath of the edge of the Internet that connects via closed, non-PC devices to ... well, a fairly limited amount of content, apps, and data.

Google with Android and the Open Handset Alliance, however, may blow open a marketplace through a common open platform that can then provide a lot more content, apps, data, media, and services. And that will feed the demand by developers, users, and ultimately advertisers that open platforms be provided on mobile devices.

At the same time, the boundaries between laptop, PC, converged device, entertainment device are eroding and blurring. What will determine what the use will be for the content and apps, the services and the media? Not the location. Not the network. As the device user goes, so goes the options for its use. As long as there is broadband, a critical mass of apps and open services -- the device can be the size of an iPhone and do it all.

And that gives it serious advantages over a PC. The PC is locked down, and not nearly as versatile as a fully open, full-function mobile converged device. What's more, the services and content will begin to matter more, and drive the user behavior -- not the device itself, once it's made open (and maybe even free). The business model that favors the media over the closed platform will usually win. The business model that favors the platform over the limited and choked content will not.

Google through the Open Handset Alliance plans on Nov. 12 to unveil an operating system, middleware and mobile applications (and early look at the Android SDK). The goal is to foster ease and volume in binding together content providers and devices aka users. It's write once-run anywhere all over again. Not all the carriers are in, as TechCrunch points out, and most that are come from outside the U.S. where handset choice has been greater.

The crowd of members to the alliance is impressive. It will also be curious to see how Apple groks Android, and if its open API plans will marry or mesh with Open Handset Alliance plans. My guess is that Apple will need to adopt this, but may take its sweet time.

[UPDATE: Perhaps an enterprise-calibre Android will attract more of the OHA holdouts.]

The energy and potential here with Android and community reminds me a lot of Java in the early days, and that's not a surprise given where Google honcho Eric Schmidt spent considerable time in the 1990s: inventing and promoting Java. Eric must love the very notion of "disrupts and disintermediates." Only this time its not to ward off just Microsoft, but to ward off the possibilities of future Microsofts.

[UPDATE: David Berlind plumbs the Java connection. Sun really has no choice but to jump into the Open Handset Alliance, and not just to throw its weight around either.]

No one provider, handset maker, or carrier is a kingmaker in the mobile market, not even Microsoft. The Win-Tel monopoly never made it to the handheld. The mobile market in many regions is unformed enough that Google and its partners can have a chance at keeping it open enough so that the loosely coupled content model may ultimately outshine the current dominant PC model as defined by Microsoft for some 20-plus years.

And the Java connection is more fitting than Eric's dual roles: Android and the Open Handset Alliance may very well presage -- if successful -- the disruption and disintermediation of the PC itself. It also explains why readers think that Java SE (and not ME) on converged devices makes sense.

So over the next couple of years, Android-supported mobile devices will spawn the applications ecology that creates all the hens to lay all the eggs that will best hatch into the chickens that come home to roost. The Google Trojan Horse Android could make it a lot easier for developers to thrive in the mobile space. An open iPhone or similar type of device can grow in its category to encroach on the PC. PCs will become notebook PCs that begin to act a lot more like an Android, or ... lose developer and media outlet (and ad dollars) allegiance.

If my vision is nearly correct (timing is always a tough one to call), more of the content designed for an Android and Open Handset Alliance-type device will also be used on a PC, the UI can be really all about Web services. And Microsoft will, as with the Web, Java, and SaaS, have to capitulate and adopt or support Android.

We're already seeing encroachment of what's known as the converged mobile device -- personified best so far by the Apple iPhone -- into the domain of the PC. If you were to hook up an iPhone to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard ... well, you have a PC. As long as it connects via wireless broadband, uses a browser to reach all the rest of the Google-navigated web content, and Google apps, and Apple's content (per per click) too.

Desktop PCs will be for large enterprises and the un-imaginative. A successful Android approach means that Windows Mobile will face daunting and probably insurmountable odds. It means the Windows PC will face new competition, and not just like Mac OS X -- the Windows franchise will face competition of a categorical nature, a game changer: The open mobile device ecology. And it's because Microsoft was not able to capture enough of the mobile market and lock it into Windows and its Visual Studio developers in time.

As Linux is at the core of Android, there's already an open source approach. That should be extended up and down the Android stack, and also account for a share of the applications. Google should make sure that money can be made by content producers, and that Google's ad revenues are shared, just as with AdSense on the web. Carriers will need to move to these Android devices and find a model based on content subscription and use. In effect, the mobile platform goes to the Internet model, and not just for limited browsers use.

The Google Android platform and the Apple iPhone have a lot in common. In effect, the two global innovators of Apple and Google are placing different bets on diverging paths to a similar end point. As such, they probably are complementary in the long run. And that spells trouble for Microsoft, the mobile carriers, and the closed handset makers.

It's also possible that Apple's best interests and Google's will diverge at some later point. How open will they go? If it threatens the PC, it could also mean Apple's platform model comes under pressure.

Meanwhile, however, an Android-supporting iPhone may be about the best mobile experience on the planet for a long time in the not too distant future. Hook it up to a dock and its the best PC experience too. Write once, run anywhere, do anything, anywhere -- that's the potential we're looking at. It's hard to see how a closed Microsoft Windows Everywhere approach -- while still hugely successful on the PC for now -- can lock in at the required level on the mobile device. It's easier to see a open mobile devices usurping the PC.[poll id=25]

Topics: Hardware, Google, Mobility

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84 comments
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  • crazy talk

    This is a bunch of speculative hooey. No one wants to use applications on a tiny screen. Input is also a major problem.
    greg0930
    • Fold up keyboards will become popular. But, the screen is too small for

      anything but mobile use. Maybe with goggles though, this could have legs. Use the small screen for looking at maps, switch to the goggles to work.

      I saw some 600x800 goggles, and it was pretty impressive. We just might have a good replacement for a laptop on trips.
      DonnieBoy
      • Ever use a Mac Mini?

        Just plug in any monitor and you're off and running. Think of bicycles in
        China. Just pick one up and ride. Same with keyboards and monitors ... in
        pubic places, airplnes, car dashboards. Carry the core device, leave your data
        and apps and settings in the cloud, use input/output devices anywhere and
        everywhere. TVs. POS. Bluetooth. THis is the future.
        Dana Gardner
        • words

          I believe you meant to wrtie PUBLIC not PUBIC, I don't think anyone want to do computing there.

          Another commenter said something about dilutions of grandeur, I wonder if he meant delusions, or was he meaning dilutions of their delusions? Words that we use or our typing mistakes make a difference. I am as guilty as anyone in having typing errors in my messages
          As for th etopic at hand, there probably will always be a market for the big box, especially maong the non-tech people, and those who cannot or will not afford a high monthly price for wireless via cellphone or similar type of availability. I do not have intenet connectivity on my phone and will not until the price comes down to reasonable levels, I don't even subscribe to cable TV. DSL has finally come down to reasonable levels--righ now I am paying as much fo rit as I was for a dialup connection a few years ago. So all of you "I must have the best and latest immediately" go ahead, I will wait until the price comes down or do without.
          dhays
          • Good thing you put the spelling disclaimer in there..

            for yourself :)

            Every since the news about the OLPC project I've been thinking seriously about shrinking hardware. Like the ClassmatePC, OX, and eee; wonder what's next!
            JCitizen
        • "leave your data and apps and settings in the cloud"

          Shudder!!!!! YOU can leave YOUR data in "the cloud", but I think I'll pass, thanks.
          Userama
        • Agree

          100% agreed. Snag is that it will take time because a lot of people have no imagination ;-)
          INGOTIAN
      • Who says you have to use the small screen?!

        What if the device has mini projector also. You could display it on the nearest wall, seat back, brief case, ect.

        Small screens don't bother me either, as long as the graphics adjust to the scrunched environment, and are highly visible even in direct sunlight.
        JCitizen
    • The problem ...

      ... has been a lack of apps that allow users to make use of their mobile and
      soon converged devices. Google is taking a big step to hasten this inevitable
      future.
      Dana Gardner
    • Size matters

      I agree, if you have ever tried to watch a YouTube Video on a Smartphone you will know why the Laptop or these new UMPC will continue to rule this access space. Just imagine trying to play a MMPG (On LIne Game with multiple players)with a Cell Phone-Won't happen and Games along with Videos will dominate the Broadband services markets.
      You will find that Googles Android will work nicely in a Laptop or UMPC-It is all about Size.

      Jim
      jim.aimone@...
    • RE: Google's Android approach threatens no less than the personal computer itself

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      tank33
  • sipping the kool-ade or are you on the payroll?

    Oh come on, have you been sleeping for the past 20 years? Back in the early 90's people like you were predicting that we would all be using Java thin clients on terminals and yet we are still using our monolithic Microsoft/Apple/Linux OS boxes. Why didn?t the brave new world ever arrive? It did arrive but no one cared. Do you remember when Corel was going to re-write Word Perfect in Java? I tried the beta and it was a joke. A Google box will never be better than an Apple or a Windows PC. Google has some great spin masters on staff but their dilutions of grandeur will take the same road that Java took; playing catch up.
    balsover
    • Get Real "Android already exists...

      There already is an available platform that anyone can can write applications and content for. It's used by 90% of the people using PC's in the world. It is called Windows. It is now on it's 3rd generation on Mobile phones (PDA type ad flip phones). There are a few million in circulation and thousands of developers. It is pretty much write once, run anywhere. I've downloadded and installed Google maps, Yahoo mobile, and other thrd party apps without consulting ATT or MS. The "Android" future is already here and it is called Windows mobile V6. If the Govt prohibited selling locked phones (already done in CA or FL), all the pieces are in place. "Android" is cool because of the Google factor, but they are way too late to catch up to windows as a mobile platform.
      samwashburn@...
  • RE: Google's Android approach threatens no less than the personal computer itself

    Call me when you do your taxes on your cell phone.

    adeoghert
    AdeOghert
    • Not a cell phone

      ... A mobile device. And I would very much prefer to do my taxes online. The
      IRS should be able to authenticate me and provide an online return UI that
      uses my previous year's return data, my employers new W-4 data, other
      inputs, and I would then add in any other data and updates and press a
      button on my iPhone to file. That would make a lot more sense than Windows,
      Quickbooks and H&R Block. Only one code base for the data and returns, etc.
      It is the future...someday.
      Dana Gardner
      • What's the difference...

        I can call out on my cell phone, PC, Laptop now. "Mobile device" is going to fit a lot of categories and already does.

        PDAs already do it. Look - that is the whole point of the article is that this will all meld together soon.

        That is how I perceive it; if this runs counter to what the author meant; then I say he's off kilter.
        JCitizen
  • It sounds like someone spiked your Open Source Kook Aid with some booze!

    :-) :-) :-)
    P. Douglas
    • Sorry. I mean Kool Aid (NT)

      .
      P. Douglas
  • Oh, yeah!!!

    I sure want to run all my apps on a 3-inch screen of a battery-powered device! Woohoo!!!

    Aren't we getting a bit carried away here?
    Userama
    • Millions of employees

      working away in their cubicals on their tiny hand held phones :)
      GuidingLight