Android – Dream or Nightmare?

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!

The Good

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

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.

My Conclusion

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.

10 thoughts on “Android – Dream or Nightmare?

  1. Andrew

    I always welcome competition, but for now i think the Android will mimic Linux in the early days:

    We will see many, many, open source apps that do the same thing. If apple has 20 tip calculators in the iTunes store, Android will have 100 – none of them great until some consolidation occurs

    We will see the Linux version of DLL hell – shared libraries but different versions used to develop different apps and there will be conflicts on which one should be on the system

    Data security – I don’t know about anyone else, but i want control of my data. I don’t like the idea of my contacts, calendar, email, etc. all living in the cloud, out of my control. I would rather sync with a PC.

    Platform variety – this can be a bad thing. There is a reason MS dictated what defined WM Pro and Standard for years. If Android can run on anything, users will have inconsistent experiences and maybe poor experiences.

    Eventually it will be a great device, but it will take time and some false starts along the way. My 2 cents. If nothing else, this will help Apple and MS become a little more open in what users can do.. I hope.

  2. James

    Hopefully the store is more of a mobihand type thing – many carriers can brand it, but it’s still effectively the same store beneath.

  3. Melonie

    What’s the latest on Listpro for iPhone? – getting desperate to use my files and starting to look at other possible options on app store.

  4. John

    Well was too getting mixed reaction about the Android G1 and this posts really tells what are the good and bad things about this smart phone.

    I really like the design and functionality of what I heard so far. Haven’t gotten the time to analyze it down to the wire. However, it won’t be as popular as the i-phone because the promotion wasn’t carried the same way and the hype wasn’t all the same and I guess it didn’t have “Jobs” backing it up.

    Now one of the thing that yo mentioned here that different carriers can set different prices. I feel it could be a good thing cause that will create a competition amongst the carriers and then the price will come down eventually benefiting the end user. but this just could be a wishful thinking too.

    John

  5. René

    @Melonie

    I allready did buy something else.

    I got no answer to the same question you have. Only that it is in development. Still there are no pictures and no due date. Alas, because eWallet is eye-candy and I espect the same with Listpro.

  6. Nibb@

    I totally agree, people are just to impressed with Google and have turned their lives to things like Gmail and other online services. Dont get me wrong. Webservices are great, but just like the other gusy said, i dont want all my personal and even business information living up in the Internet on a datacenter owned by Google. I want to have my data with me, always, control it, modify and sync it with my PC on my hard disk not on the Google ones. It seems Google wants to adopt the idea that PCs and now phones should just be terminals to connects to all their services. I dont want them controlling my data, and im sure companies will also see this is a worry more then a solution. People dont even have a clue that when they use gmail or the new chrome navigator on the TOS it says they own every bit data of you pass trough their services. Dont be evil? Wasnt that the slogan for Google? One of the reasons i own and love eWallet is because i control all my confidential data with it on my PC and when im on the move its goes with me. Its even on our companies webservers to sync on the move. I dont think there will be a future for this kind of softwares if Google just starts launching similar services. And again. Noooo. I want to control my data. Its my at the first place. If i cannot store it where i want i feel im renting it or im asking permission to use it. People want control not to lose it.

  7. Marc Post author

    @Melonie and Rene: Unfortunately I don’t have a better answer yet. ListPro is a very complex program and we’ve been working with some folks to help us get it put together. I do have a shorter term solution that I’m looking at but again, I just don’t have dates and ListPro is (as mentioned) so complex that I don’t want to make promises about it. Sorry!

  8. Trevor

    I was far more excited about android when the iPhone was still a completely closed platform. If I were still carrying a pda and a phone, I would probably be crying out for a version without the phone so that I could have a device with endless tweaking possibilities.

    From a consumer standpoint, the G1 would have to be amazing enough to make me ditch the year that is left on my AT&T contract, and right now it is just not that thrilling.

  9. Costa

    Hi

    I have to say as far as G1 is concerned it is a case of wait and see. In a few months time we will all have a better picture of the impact it is likely to have in the market place.

    All the best

    Costa

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