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5 Who Won't Appreciate Google Android

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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. [digg=]

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.

31 Responses to “5 Who Won't Appreciate Google Android”

  1. Jim Green

    I am not a big fan of Android but I do see how it could be a success. It has a lot to do with what Google puts on this platform (their apps) and how agressive they get with the money angle (monetize). If they lay back on the $, but produce good apps I think it has a chance. I am a fan of platforms that have open components but a solid base, the iPhone and its forthcoming applications represent this perfect blend for me. Apple provides the solid base that every use can count on, then gives developers options in a limited way. It think this works.

  2. Jesse Kopelman


    Yes, but the point is that Android is only about smart phones. There is no raison d’etre for a new OS for voice-only phones, which are already fully commoditized. Voice only phones are going to be the typewriter of this century — once ubiquitous, then relegated to a quaint curiosity by a new paradigm. When discussing Android, we must couch things in terms of smart phones and smart phone users.

  3. Dimitrios Matsoulis

    WiMax plus open source for mobiles will be a formidable combination. One point I think is very important is that as things develop in mobile hardware, it will be soon possible to not rely on the Verizons and Vodafones of this world. The integration of WiFi is awesome and here with us already. You can text, or surf web pages without even a subscription. This I think is the largest fear of current mobile networks. We slowly move towards mobile devices that will do stuff at the same cost as current PCs, in other words free or almost free.

  4. There are several open source examples that disprove this article. My mother-in-law is a technophobe, yet she uses Firefox without a problem.

    While it is true that initial use of Android will be among early adopters, eventually those adopters will flesh out the mobile OS enough to make it reliable — like they have with Firefox. And soon those alpha geeks will be slipping Android on to their friends and families phones and become their ‘IT’.

    Guest Columnist, you write well, but, unfortunately, you are wrong and you’ll be proven wrong.

  5. Jesse Kopelman

    @Shai Berger

    I think you are way off with your “Most consumers have never installed anything on their phones.” Obviously, this is true for voice-centric handsets, but it is not true for smart phones. A very large percentage of users (maybe even the majority) of Symbian, Blackberry, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile smart phones install apps and modify the OS. Look to sites like HowardForums for an idea of what is going on here. Android is not about voice-centric handsets, it is about smart phones.

    1. Hooray!
    2. Evelove or die
    3. That will be fixed in March of this year ( HTC, OpenMoko, etc )
    4. The people who call with that issue are SOL
    5. “Everybody”? The tens of millions of people who use their phone ONLY to make and receive voice calls will not be affected by mobile web apps, they could care less. But eveyuone will benefit from the lower prices that Android forces on the market. The carrier’s will have to either pass along the savings from Android’s zero cost or think of some new lie to justify not lowering their handsets even though they aren’t paying for OS licenses.
  6. Great post Thomas. I’m not bullish on Android for all the reasons you mentioned. And in particular the lack of pairing with hardware, a la iPhone.

    Adopting new hardware or software is a major effort for a carrier. In the case of iPhone, AT&T took a gamble and saw it pay off: They tripled the amount of data transfer sold in major cities. And increased their subscriber base (40% of iPhone buyers were new to AT&T). But can Android create similar desire from consumers?

    Markus said: “Using Linux on my Thinkpad I always refer to Google, Wikies, forums … whenever I have a software problem, and I never to IBM who built the device… [like Linux] … the installation needs just some clicks and is based on standard libraries.”

    Most consumers have never installed anything on their phones, and are very unlikely to do so in the future. The kind of people interested in troubleshooting their phone’s problems via Google forums is a very tiny sliver.

    SeanC said: “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.”

    It took a long long time for software to run smoothly across all PCs. And that process took place in an environment where there was a powerful and dominant developer for the OS (Microsoft), near total domination of the platform, and a close alliance with hardware makers (who had no other alternatives). Today’s mobile environment has none of that. All the members of the OHA are hedging their bets with other OS’s.

    For Microsoft, Windows was the core focus of the company. How many billions of dollars did they spend to get Windows from v1.0 to, say, Windows 2000 (which I consider the first time it was really mature as an OS). Where does Android fit among Google’s priorities? Do they have the will to dedicate that kind of time and money over the next decade?

    OK, you say… count on the bazaar and not the cathedral… open source will duplicate all that effort without the need for massive investment from a single company. Well, look at the penetration of Linux at the desktop for a reality check.

    And another reality check… ask a Blackberry user what kind of features will make them give up their device? You will probably get a blank stare.

  7. The hyperlink to Open Handset Alliance’s in the first para has a typo and redirects to tp:// .

    The keypoint here is spreading the entire campaign of the Android Mobile platform/OS. More than being an Opensource project, it should be reliable enough, and make mobiles smarter, more enabled to be utilized/ multi-tasked and reach the end customer with the minimum glitches or bugs. How can all that be possibly done is what Google and the entire Android community needs to answer.

  8. We’re seeing a serious emergence of open platforms from major players (Amazon, Google) as opposed to closed systems (IBM, Microsoft) and I think this trend will continue. The biggest argument against open systems is quality control and reliability. As long as high-quality, robust systems are being released, there are significant business advantages to adopting open standards. Only time will tell if Android proves to be one of these high quality, robust and reliable systems.

  9. Regarding your point #2, i thought Android could run ON TOP of WM and Symbian? so if OEM won’t like it, Carriers or end users can easily install it.
    Regarding your point #3, there is android emulator that should resolve 95% of all issues.
    Regarding your point #4, i don’t see how this would be any different from customers installing some ‘unauthorized’ applications on WM or PalmOS or Symbian and then call their carrier for support?

  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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. Passing Byagain

    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.

  16. 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.


  17. Jesse Kopelman

    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.