With the Android G1 officially announced, and a plethora of videos of it sprouting up around the web, I thought I’d take a second to throw in my two cents. I’d also like to hear what your thoughts are as well!
Now naturally, we’re watching Android very close. Any new entry into the mobile market is extremely important to us. Will Android be a major player? Or just another neat idea that never takes off? Will they change the mobile marketplace? Or simply offer more of the same with a new UI?
If you’re interested in my take on this, or would like to throw in your own opinion, read on after the jump!
Overall, I’d say the G1 is a nice device. Not earth-shattering and not awe inspiring, but not a piece of junk either. They’ve managed to live up to many of the new standards set by the iPhone while not trying to be a clone. I like that they are really embracing their web roots, focusing on web based services as their “thing”. The idea of buying a new phone, clicking a button, and having it setup just like your old one, is very compelling. I think the eWallet Web Companion (which we hope to move into Open Beta later this year – not a promise – just what we’re shooting for) will be an excellent solution for Android that really fits with their overall philosophy.
I also think that openess for developers is a nice approach. It looks like developers will have tons of freedom, particularly in regards to working with other applications on the device. They’ve also offered a number of handy tools that really unlock a lot of power for developers.
I am concerned about a couple of things I see. First, as a consumer, the side to side comparison with the iPhone shows a lot of lagchop on the device. This might simply be the result of a demo device, but the iPhone does seem to offer a smoother UI and faster response. And speaking of UI, I’m not altogether impressed with the G1’s presentation. Some of what it does is very modern (finger sliding and that sort of thing), but other things are handled in a relatively old fashioned way. Yes, the old ways work pretty well – just look at Windows Mobile – but now that I’ve used an iPhone I’ve come to believe that it can be done better. For a brand new OS to adopt those old ways up front, rather than finding better ways to do things, seems odd.
One other minor bad thing I saw is that a number of standard services aren’t standard on the phone. For instance – there is no built-in video player. If you want to play videos you have to go out and find a third party application to do the job. It strikes me that this might be a hurdle a lot of folks just won’t even bother with jumping, and they’ll never get to take advantage of the full power of their Android phone.
While I listed openness in the “the Good” section, it also gets a spot down here. Having done this for quite awhile now, I’ve seen a variety of problems come along that it looks like Google is setting themselves up for again. Because the device is 100% open, it looks like anyone can tweak anything. For instance, they said an app could change the font in the email program or add overlays to google maps. This is neat, but if another application is using google maps or the mail program, that program needs to be able to count on certain things remaining constant.
For years, a popular app type for Windows Mobile application was what we call “Interface Altering Software”. This is software that changes how applications display, changes tool/task bars, changes how programs turn on and shut down, etc.. I’ll admit, a lot of these are great, but (especially in the early days and still today) they can outright break other programs. When you make a call to the OS for information, and you get something completely different because another app has changed it, you’ve got problems. The bad part as a developer is that folks call us to find out why our app doesn’t work!
The second ugly thing is the openness for carriers and manufacturers. As I understand it, any of these folks can make any changes they like to the OS before they ship. We saw this happen late in the life of Palm OS. Every single device ran a slightly different version of the OS. The end result was that developing for Palm was like developing for ten operating systems instead of one. This is costly from a development, QA, and support point of view. Unless the platform makes a LOT of money, it quickly becomes too expensive to support.
Finally, we recently heard a rumor that every carrier will design its own revenue sharing plan for application sales. What I’m hearing is “Each carrier has its own store.” This is yet another huge problem from a developer point of view. Multiple contracts. Multiple ways of displaying the apps/screenshots/etc. Multiple reconciliation systems for tracking sales/payment. Potentially multiple places to upload software. Multiple systems of handling customer support issues. When all is said and done, it sounds (on the surface at least) like a perfect recipe for developer headaches.
I’m not writing the Android off by any stretch of the imagination. Every platform has its problems. With luck, Google will sort through its own challenges, and hopefully the openness will result in more benefits than problems. My gut feeling is that what we are seeing here is the evolution of the “dumb phone.” I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It just strikes me that what Google has done is to create the perfect next step for folks who are using a Symbian or Linux based phone. Why shouldn’t every phone have robust web access? Why shouldn’t every phone handle music better? Why shouldn’t every phone have mapping software built-in?
It also offers a neat platform for folks who like to tinker with their phone. Beneath the simple (and sometimes rough) exterior is a powerful OS with lots of tools that the tech hobbyist can take advantage of. And it is a great place for hobbyist developers to fire off their latest cool application. These are folks who don’t have to worry about supporting all the different hardware/carrier configurations. This will create a rich and vibrant developer community.
I’m not convinced (yet) that the G1/Android is a “Smartphone” like Windows Mobile, iPhone, or even BlackBerry. I might be proven wrong, but I see it aimed at a very different audience. Either way, I do believe that it will likely do well, at least in the short term, and may be a major part of the mobile landscape in the future.