Multiple stars are suddenly aligning for Google’s open-source Android operating system, and the key to how it will succeed long-term (giving Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry and Nokia’s phones serious competition) is coming into view: flexibility.
Open source platforms are, by nature, flexible. The code is released into the wild, forked, reworked, and made better, while multiple hardware partners can perfect custom implementations. In Android’s case, the malleability it enjoys as an open source operating system is also resulting in numerous efforts to take it beyond smartphones.
But it’s on the smartphone front that Android has seen the biggest benefits from its flexibility: After months of speculation, Verizon Wireless and Google have announced a far-reaching partnership that will result in everything from new Android handsets (only weeks away) to development of new Android applications. Among several types of upside that Android will benefit from through this deal, the platform gains a new, heavy-hitting wireless carrier in addition to the two it already has — and therefore gains more carrier choice — a form of flexibility that calls out one of the iPhone’s most glaring shortcomings.
The shape of things to come
The two companies have clearly stated that Verizon Wireless will offer Android handsets in a matter of only a few weeks, with two arriving this year, and more arriving in 2010. In a press conference announcing the deal between Verizon Wireless and Google, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he was “enormously surprised” at the level of openness Verizon was willing to embrace with regard to bringing Android devices to its network. The backhanded compliment may refer to Verizon’s size and power; with more than 85 million subscribers, and its success in the (relatively speaking) much more proprietary and closed BlackBerry ecosystem, the company isn’t known for nimble, open-source savvy. But it’s clear from early details on the deal that Verizon and Google intend to work in a committed fashion on advancing Android’s prospects.