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Innovation

Destroy All Androids!

At least, that seems to be the reaction of those in the mobile phone industry, few of whom have nice things to say about the Google-powered initiative to get a common Linux platform into the pockets of the populace.And the criticisms are reasonable.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

At least, that seems to be the reaction of those in the mobile phone industry, few of whom have nice things to say about the Google-powered initiative to get a common Linux platform into the pockets of the populace.

And the criticisms are reasonable. There have been lots of Linux initiatives in the past; none has prevailed. If the upper layers of Android aren't properly open - you can keep your secrets while using other people's code - then who'll play? What about support? Why launch without so much as a demo? Those who are closest to existing mobile Linux projects are among the most disparaging, while Symbian is putting on a fine show of not being impressed.

Microsoft hasn't said much about Android, apart from dismissing it as paperware. When it does, I'd be surprised if I, you and the little shiny fishes couldn't accurately predict the response down to the last bullet point: this is a company whose CEO says that Google's only ahead of Microsoft on search, which is a bit like saying that the American technology was only ahead of the Soviet's in the 1960s because Neil Armstrong got dust on his boots. Reality has yet to impinge.

The important thing for Google isn't that Android wins, or has x million handsets by 2009, or even that it spawns zillions of applications. Back on the desktop - and let's say for fun that Ballmer is right and that Google is just a big fat search engine - it hasn't been important to the company that it 'owns' the operating system. Google has done what it's done on the back of total market dominance by its biggest competitor on the systems that deliver the punters' eyeballs.

The danger of mobile tech is that it is genetically much more closed than the PC. PCs grew up first, and then got connected - so they connected on their own terms, to an inherently open system. Smartphones evolved in an environment where the network is the major controlling influence, and the operators are inherently closed. That's a place where Googles don't thrive. Keeping the punters happy comes a long way down the list, well below shafting any potential competition.

So what Google needs - in this case, what we all need - is an open environment. If that's brought about by Android being a stonking success then fine, but if it happens because there's open competition between players of all flavours, none of whom approaches overall control, that works almost as well.

Android is Google keeping that door open. Lots of people have reason to predict its doom: some of them have good points to make. But there are enough reasonably powerful players signed up to give it a good chance of becoming significant (and just as importantly, not too many. When I first saw the list of consortium members, i thought that a few more top names on the list would have been better: on reflection, I was wrong. You don't want too many elephants in the same room, not at first, or they'll spend all their time trumpeting at each other until the oxygen runs out).

Significance is what matters, not dominance. Can Google and friends make Android significant?

I'll bet on yes.

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