October 06, 2008

Sour Grapes: Missing the Point About Google Android and the G1

Greetings. I've recently written a number of items related to Google Android and the first Android phone, the HTC G1, due to hit the streets in a couple of weeks or so. I've suggested that Android is a "game changer" in terms of mobile applications, and despite the apparent inability to be used in 3G mode in the U.S. on other than the T-Mobile network (even if unlocked), I've been impressed with what I've seen of the G1 (my current phone is an HTC WM5-based PDA, so I have some experience with HTC products).

Despite my debunking of Google Android conspiracy theories, I continue to receive e-mail from iPhone diehards who still seem to be (either purposely or innocently) missing the key points of why Android is potentially such a positive development in the mobile communications industry.

Folks have been sending me excerpts from various "G1 vs. iPhone" articles around the Web that do their best to tear down the G1 and Android. Typical talking points from such articles and messages:

- The G1 is bulkier than the iPhone
- The G1 doesn't have the same beautiful industrial design as the iPhone
- The G1 doesn't have a "multitouch" screen (you can't "pinch" images)
- Android is dangerous since there is no central control over applications

The physical aesthetic differences between this first Android phone and iPhone strike me as not a big deal. OK, the G1 is bigger and perhaps not as pretty -- but golly Mr. Wizard it has a real keyboard! The lack of such a keyboard on the iPhone always relegated it -- for my usage patterns at least -- into the "toy" category. To me, the lack of a multitouch screen on the G1 is virtually meaningless. There are an almost unlimited number of other methods that can be implemented to perform the same functions via the touchscreen. What's more, the G1 has a trackball so that it can be used one-handed, or conveniently when wearing gloves.

And unlike the iPhone, the G1 has -- like virtually every other battery-operated consumer electronics device except many from Apple -- a user-replaceable battery. The design arrogance of the Apple "don't replace the battery yourself nor carry a spare battery" philosophy always struck me as incredibly bizarre and anti-consumer.

But the "Android is dangerous" argument is the one that almost causes uncontrollable chuckling.

Apparently simply because we're talking about a phone, not a desktop PC, some observers can't seem to accept the open source concepts of user choice and associated responsibility for applications. But an iPhone or the G1 are essentially just computers -- nowadays more powerful in most respects than desktops of a relatively few years ago -- with cellular air links.

Nobody in their right mind would suggest that we should need central approval to run applications on our PCs -- despite the risks of viruses that comes along with such free choice. Nor does it make sense that the only distribution point for applications should be a single entity -- who even takes a significant percentage fee from each non-free application sold (as is the case for the Apple iPhone model). Expensive required development environments don't make sense either anymore.

The Android model simply says that you can run and develop whatever you want on your Android phones like the G1, that the development environment is free, and that there is no central control over the distribution of applications.

This reminds me of the early ARPANET and Internet environments, where we were similarly free to create and distribute software applications, in a manner that greatly sped the development of the networks through which you're reading these words right now. Even in the earliest Defense Department ARPANET days, there was no central point through which all software had to be approved and distributed.

Android detractors seem to be blinding themselves to the immense power of open source development, using freely available tools, for mobile platforms. This isn't just a matter of being able to run applications developed by other parties, it also means that you can run applications on your phone that you write yourself. Individuals, organizations, and businesses will be free to create and deploy a vast range of applications -- even if just for their own internal use -- without the need for outside approval and with full control over the security and privacy aspects embedded in those applications (a crucial point).

The ability to run your own apps is fundamental, as is the right to run applications from other parties without the approval of a software politburo. Does this mean that you're taking on additional responsibility when it comes to the potential for misbehaving software? Indeed, but just as with PCs this is a matter of individual responsibility and using good judgment in your selection of applications. Already, the Android security model provides more installation-time checks on device capabilities access than is present in the standard desktop PC environment.

Whether or not the G1 hardware, as the first phone to run Google Android, is as physically appealing to the eyes as the iPhone is arguably an interesting short-term marketing question. But in the longer run, this is largely an irrelevant issue in comparison to the vastly superior applications development and deployment environment represented by the open source, open distribution Google Android philosophy.

Watch and see.


Posted by Lauren at October 6, 2008 09:49 AM | Permalink
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