I'm being pulled into the Google phone debate internally at my office. Here are my initial impressions:
1. The pre-announcement hype whipped up such speculation that when the actual announcement came out on November 5, 2007, the reality was far from the expectation (a la the iPhone) of a new device called the "Gphone." I'm sure many in the industry had to make calls to their chiropractor to work out the whiplash that they now suffer.
2. The announcement actually brings to the public a project that has been in the making for sometime. Google purchased a Silicon Valley start-up, Android, in July of 2005 as a way to start addressing the mobile market and how Google could get onto more mobile handsets - a problem Google has been suffering over for sometime now. So Google took the DIY approach and decided to buy/create its own, new, open source application platform for mobile devices.
3. Google's "self-sacrificing" decision to make Android open source is a quasi-socialist way - in the form of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) - of making sure that Google interfaces (read advertising) can make to as many mobile devices as possible. Faced with all the motherhood and apple pie that open source offers, who needs to pay attention to the man behind the curtain? It's the man behind the curtain that concerns me. Like Java, which is controlled by Sun, Android is controlled by Google, a vendor that has very specific business designs in mind. I can guarantee you it's not for altruistic reasons. "Gee Eric, we've made so much money here, let's give something away for the benefit of the consumer."
4. "Co-optition" approach to the market. Google has already collected some hefty mobile players to join the OHA, including Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, LG, Samsung, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and others. Nokia, who owns 48% of the Symbian operating system, is considering joining. Notably missing are the two largest US providers AT&T and Verizon/Vodaphone. The AT&T/Apple alliance is an obvious reason to steer clear of OHA, but what might not be obvious is despite past forays into Java mobile platforms, Verizon seems to be tight with Windows Mobile at the moment. I still think this is all a bunch of kumbaya lip-service. Face it the cellphone market is controlled by the providers (especially in the US) and they aren't going to give up that control anytime soon. Joining the OHA is one thing, ceding control of the handset to Google is quite another. See my colleague, Richard Monson-Haefel's, recent post on what he thinks Android means to the cellphone provider business model.
5. Is it business grade? Business applications typically come with more requirements for security, heavy data lifting, governance, policy-based control, records management, business application integration, and other requirements. Google is a consumer vendor first and foremost. It remains to be seen if a Google driven application platform can support business-grade mobile applications. My colleague Guy Creese offers some interesting commentary in his report Google Apps in the Enterprise: a Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting move for Enterprise Architects? on Google's consumer colored glasses and its Google Apps.
Still I believe that Google's approach will have an impact on the mobile market:
- It adds yet another application platform to an already overly confusing market. Mobile operating systems aside, we now have proprietary mobile app platforms (e.g., BlackBerry, Palm, and Symbian), Java-based platforms (including Android and Eclipse.org based extensions such as IBM Lotus Expeditor), Microsoft's .NET platform on Windows Mobile, and closed interfaces such as the iPhone. So it's reasonable to expect more market confusion as things are "duked out" in this space.
- It polarizes a huge issue within mobile application space; too many operating systems with no standards or common APIs. How can enterprises expect to build mobile applications when there are so many platforms to support? Limiting the devices that users work with is getting harder to do. The iPhone in the US proved how a consumer device can turn the mobile strategies of an enterprise on its ear when users demand the freedom to pick their own mobile device.
Although the near-term confusion will make for colorful media commentary and raucous saber rattling, this is ultimately good for the customer. Maybe not immediately but in the future - when the dust settles - and we end up with open and common application platforms for mobile devices. With, or without Android.