Open-source efforts bring with them numerous advantages, and Android, the Open Handset Alliance’s open and free mobile platform that’s backed by Google and 30 other technology and mobile companies, will be a major player in the mobile world for some time to come. But as guest blogger Thomas Howe explains, not everyone will appreciate Android.

Written by Thomas Howe, co-founder and CEO of The Thomas Howe Company, winners of the 2007 O’Reilly Emerging Communications Mashup Competition. His blog is about voice mashups and communication-enhanced business processes.

Far from being science experiments, open-source projects are powerful forces in both technology and business, especially when they are commercially supported and community-backed. Android is the Open
Handset Alliance’s
open and free mobile platform, backed by Google and 30 other technology and mobile companies, and for good reason will be a major player in the mobile world for some time to come.

Open-source efforts have many fundamental advantages. Over time, they produce higher-quality code than proprietary efforts, and they reduce the costs of development. They also speed up schedules, lower the barriers to entry for many service providers and vendors, and level the playing field for all. The mobile world needs an open-source platform in which it can invest, and not only is it here, but it’s backed by the best.

So given all this, what’s not to like?

As Dr. Phil would say, even the thinnest pancake still has two sides. Even though Android will be important for technical reasons — and these may have secondary effects in the marketplace — whether or not Android will really solve the problems that currently beset mobile carriers is up for debate. Will Android provide mobile application developers with a revenue-sharing model that carriers will support? Unlikely. Will Android’s open software usher in a world in which carriers tear down their walled gardens? No, probably not.

Even though many developers and enterprise IT shops will profit from Android, many others won’t have such a positive experience. From where I sit, here’s my list of unfortunates who find themselves on the frying-pan side of the Android pancake:

1. The 110 million U.S. mobile subscribers that currently have contracts with AT&T and Verizon. AT&T and Verizon are not currently members of the Open Handset Alliance, nor are numerous other large wireless
carriers worldwide.

2. Nokia, Microsoft, Palm, RIMM and Qualcomm, who now have to fight against yet another smart phone OS, further fracturing the market. It’s difficult to see the benefit of OS proliferation to anyone, especially to consumers and carriers. It’s possible that Android becomes the platform of choice, but I seem to remember hearing the same story about Linux.

3. Android developers, who don’t have a single handset on which to deploy their applications, and will have to debug the application on each new handset as it comes out. Fellow blogger Alec Saunders tells me that his recent engineering study identified over 30 realistic combinations of handset, OS and carrier for the North American market alone. Perhaps a side benefit of Android to the larger economy is a future increase in the homologation workforce, and probably just in time to catch all those ISDN dialect jocks. (This might be a good time to remind ourselves that the customer experience successes of Apple can be directly tied to the fact that they don’t have to contend with
variations in hardware or platform.)

4. The support departments of Sprint and T-Mobile, who will get calls from customers when some unauthorized program doesn’t work. See previous point. I wonder if the practical nature of Android development might in some way parallel PBX development, where even though the basic problem is quite simple, the practical realities of 400 features, or in this case 30 handsets from numerous carriers, bars very small companies from success.

5. Everybody else in the world, because the problem in mobile application innovation is not a dearth of compelling mobile applications. The problem is that people don’t know these great applications exist, and it’s hard to see how an open mobile framework solves this problem. Even if it did, most mobile applications face another barrier: they force the user to change their habits. Unfortunately, the proliferation of user interfaces and frameworks exacerbates this problem, and yet another framework like Android is not the solution.

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  1. It’s important to remember that the “problems that currently beset mobile carriers” are all of the carriers’ own choosing/making. Why would you expect Android or any other initiative coming from outside the carriers to change this? Also, specific to your Point 4: the whole point is that carriers will not offer any technical support to users with these handsets — they will direct them to the application providers. Will this cause some bad will at first? Of course it will, but it’s not like T-Mobile and Sprint are currently known for sterling customer service. Indeed it’s just the opposite. This support model has already proven itself in the realm of the PC, so I see no rational reason it can’t succeed in mobile internet appliances (because you must understand Android is not primarily about telephony). Also, just like with the PC today, the real best source for support will be typing your problem in Google and seeing what comes up.

  2. count me as one current smartphone user excited to get on the new platform. I currently use a treo 700p. It’s been an overall good experience; however there have been major problems that took over a year to fix, some are still problems.

    If Android is well built, the compatibility issue will not be as severe as described. Most software for windows works fine, whether on a dell, hp, gateway, or homebuilt. All cameras, microphones, and other hardware pieces that could vary would need good support from the OS, then any program can interact with the hardware. It will be the hardware manufacturers that will need to make sure their hardware talks well with the OS.

    I can’t wait to have better integration with google calendar, contacts, and a smoother experience. I’m sure it’ll take some time to smooth out; google seems to get most things right fairly quickly.


  3. Passing Byagain Saturday, January 12, 2008

    When some of those industrious hackers (in the TRUE -original- sense of that word) get their hot little hands on Android and start porting it NOT just to cellphones but to UMPCs, PMPs, and even the desktop and THEN get ALL those devices talking to each other, automatically syncing up data, updating software, whatEVER THEN you will see Android shine brighter than all the rest.

    It’s time for phones to do what phones do best, PDAs do what they do best, cameras do what THEY do best, UMPCs do what they do best, and ALL of them to work together to make a better whole.

  4. I agree with Jesse.

    Using Linux on my Thinkpad I always refer to Google, Wikies, forums and to the developer’s website whenever I have a software problem, and I never to IBM who built the device.

    But normally there is no problem.

    With an Android handset I would do the same. What is so great about Linux software is that it works on so many platforms because it gets compiled out of the sources personally for your device when you install it. The installation needs just some clicks and is based on standard libraries.

    Why would it be different on an Android device?

  5. open source is good however i m still waiting Linix to outdone M’soft and same may apply to android..?

  6. One more group:

    People who just need the cell phone to do two things:

    1. Hold a list of phone numbers.
    2. Make phone calls.

    People like me, who see the cell phone in simple terms: the home phone with the cord cut.

  7. Mobile operators have controlled data services and charged based on usage, until now.
    SMS is a data service operators have successfully monetized. Ringtones and games downloads as well.

    With Android and other smartphones, operators will not be in a position to control all applications that can run on a handset.

    Android and other smartphones are down-scale PCs. All of them have web browsers, and SW applications can be installed, independently of the mobile service provider.
    An example today is Gmail Mobile client or Googel Maps or even Skype. You can install this apps in your phone and it is transparent to the operator, that only provides IP connectivityto these apps.

    On other words, with more intelligent handsets, mobile operators are likely to become pipes, unless they invest in technologies as IMS that enable them to control Services.

    Like in broadband today, wireless operators will only provide connectivy and will not own terminals or applications support. There is no reason why terminals and applications can not be free and independent of the operator.

    The article below on iPhone applies as well to Android

  8. Nice post, very informative!


  9. Android will provide hardware device providers opportunities to route around the wireless carriers’ data networks. Monetizing downloadable content will be a driving force. Android will go where the content wants to go. Java applets will make a comeback as Android plug-ins for web browsers.

    The Open Mobile Alliance is closed on many levels. There are monetary incentives that will propel the Open Handset Alliance to be truly open.

  10. Boy, did you swing and miss at the fat part of the potential Android adoption curve: Dedicated data devices for verticals and business applications.

    While there are a number of mobile data platforms for business, this might be the first open source environment that is widely adopted. I believe that all of the other mobile linux environments are a bit here, a bit there.

    Currently, the most important mobile platform for the small business trades is still Nextel’s J2ME handsets – the tools there are pretty much free and get better all the time.


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