Daniel Eran Dilger
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Google’s Android Platform Faces Five Tough Obstacles

Daniel Eran Dilger
Google new Android mobile platform has been received by some members of the tech media with such glowing adoration that one might get the impression that Android is destined to waltz into the smartphone business just as surely as Bill Gates’ robotic dance killed off the Seinfeld ads. Here’s five aspects of Android reality that they’re failing to consider.
Hopelessly Devoted.

Whenever CNET or VNUNet and their ilk fawn over a new product, it’s a bad omen. This is the crowd that applauded Vista, the Zune, PlaysForSure Windows Media DRM, and so on. In each case, rather than presenting two sides of possible outcomes, that entire segment of punditry professed to have a special insight into why the world would simply be taken by storm, and of course they were completely wrong.

Just having their breathless support is a warning sign, because they all want certain things to happen so desperately that they ignore all sorts of pesky warning and potential problems to deliver a perfectly cheery, single minded outlook.

There’s nothing wrong with stating a hopeful opinion or voicing support to see a given technology take hold. However, these sites are supposed to be reporting news, not advocating for their advertisers. Here on the eve of the Google announcement, I’ll present five things the tech media either hasn’t considered or has purposely covered up to deliver a more convenient tale.

I walk through the valley of the shadow of hype.

The first problem for Android is that it is being deployed during a rainstorm of iPhone hype. Apple introduced the iPhone nearly two years ago, and managed to maintain rapt media attention for six months until it shipped. Unlike Android, the iPhone was brutally assaulted by CNET and the other usual suspects.

Even pundits who had never written about mobiles before came out with regular attacks and potential criticisms that were often laughable. They bent over backward to assure readers that Apple could never do to smartphones what it had done in to MP3 players with the iPod, and that everything about the iPhone was wrong, from its lack of a chicklet keyboard to price tag to its missing features and its unnecessary features and its woefully inadequate security.

This was absurd. The iPhone was clearly a breakthrough product, and also had some clear limitations. There was plenty to write about on both sides. The fact that the iPhone emerged through all this hailstorm of overstated and often dishonest reporting to become the most talked about product of 2007 and the largest selling smartphone model in the US throughout its debut is pretty impressive.

Apple iPhone Rumors Off the Hook
Secret iPhone Details Lost in a Sea of Hype and Hate
More Absurd iPhone Myths: Third Party Software Panic

Apple continued to keep attention up through a series of upgrades, the release of the iPod touch, the announcement of the App Store and enterprise-friendly 2.0 features, and the delivery of the new iPhone 3G to a worldwide audience. Apple has kept iPhone media attention going for nearly two years now, and things are just getting more exciting for users and developers.

The problem for Google isn’t that the iPhone can’t be competed against; it’s that there’s not enough room in people’s minds to keep track of a second place achiever. The iPhone is the phone that phones are measured against, just as the iPod is the MP3 player others are compared with.

Not even Microsoft’s deep pockets could deliver a serious threat to the iPod after two years of trying with the Zune (and two years of trying with PlaysForSure before that). There wasn’t enough room in people’s minds to keep track of several different products. Apple got there first and set up shop and became the brand people think about.

There are other historical examples of good enough products being shut out by insufficient air for a rival. IBM’s OS/2 Warp was superior to Windows 95 in a variety of ways, but after Microsoft impregnated Windows 95 in the minds of users, there wasn’t room to think about competitors. The Sony Walkman is another example. It had competitors, but none really memorable for your mom to recall. It took an entirely different product category and technology shift for it to be unseated by the iPod.

Android will forever be lurking in the shadows as the iPhone killer, not the product others seek to kill. This is a problem for Google, because mindshare is very difficult to buy once a rival brand has established itself as the brand in a category. It’s like competing with Xerox, Kleenex, Viagra, or in the area of web search, Google. Anyone who is particularly familiar with those products can probably name competitors, but the general public doesn’t think about them very much.

It also doesn’t help that the shadow Android walks out into is now in its second generation, taking on the world stage, creating its own weather by generating tens of millions of development incentives, and has been aggressively priced. If Android phones were being floated as a cheap alternative to the iPhone last year when it was $599, things would look better. How does one compete against a $199 wildly popular icon with robust features and an established reputation and software base?

The definition of Android pretty much has to make some mention of the iPhone, just like the definition of Zune has to acknowledge the iPod. Selling Android will be like selling Royal Crown cola. It doesn’t matter how good it might taste, and therein lies challenge number one.

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Will Google’s Android Play DOS to Apple’s iPhone?

Welcome Graduates to the New Recession.

A second problem for Android is that it is being shoved into the market during an economic crisis. This nearly bit Apple too, and pundits worried aloud repeatedly if Apple’s $599 iPhone would flop miserably as consumer buying began to slow in 2007. Instead, buyers shrugged off no name basic phones and older models like Motorola’s tired RAZR and the Palm Treo and snatched up the iPhone, leaving all the predicted economic pain on everyone else.

Apple has continued to outpace the economic downturn with robust sales of iPods even as the average sale price rises and the MP3 player market contracts. It’s been selling 35 to 40% more Macs year over year as the overall PC market slows to a crawl. And despite contracting smartphone growth worldwide, Apple’s iPhone sales are off the hook. How many more companies will be able to cheat reality?

Things are bad and getting worse. Google’s debut smartphone is a gadgety toy model that will primarily appeal to people who want the frilliest device available. The economic crisis going on will hit that segment the hardest. Again, if Android had shipped a year ago things might be very different, but that’s now impossible.

Apple can offer examples of its own of floating a premium product out into a downturn. The PowerMac G4 Cube was introduced just as the dotcom bubble popped, leaving the high tech box ignored among a population of buyers whose discretionary spending had evaporated just as they were getting hammered by the AMT on investment paper wealth that didn’t exist anymore. Cube sales tanked.

One can add the first two problems together to find that not only is Google debuting Android in a tough economic crisis, but its doing so in the shadow of Apple, so that anyone in the market for a fancy new phone will likely have either already bought the iPhone 3G, or will be making plans to do so without giving Android’s first generation attempt much time to prove itself. This reality is also complicated by problem number three.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2008 01 Images-Cube2

Is the MacBook Air Another Cube?

The Hype is About to Evaporate.

The third major problem for Android is that the media has been doing nothing but singing its praises. While the iPhone was brutally attacked for six months before its debut, customers were able to see it and make their own opinion about why they might want it. After weathering all the criticism, the original iPhone was like going to a movie that had been panned by the critics as a monstrous failure; expectations were blown away by what was actually a very good product.

The iPhone’s debut was good enough to get Apple through a far more problematic 3G 2.0 release. Users had decided that they could put up with the bugs because Apple was clearly going to fix things. And sure enough, Apple delivered within a few weeks. The iPhone was never oversold to the point where anyone felt cheated. Its flaws had been painstakingly recounted to the point where nobody could possibly be surprised by any missing bits.

Not so with Android. It has received nothing but frothy setup as the messiah, something that will rival the iPhone while offering a magical aura of absolute freedom and low prices and no restrictions. Android faces the impossibly difficult task of living up to the critics’ anointing of it as rarified perfection in every way, with no design compromises anywhere.

Android is going to be unfairly compared to the iPhone. ‘Unfairly’ because it doesn’t have the advantages Apple has as a solitary integrator with more than a year of experience in shipping its phone, nearly 7 years of shipping the iPod and managing user experiences with it, and nearly a quarter century of delivering an integrated hardware platform.

Android doesn’t even support multitouch. The T-Mobile debut model isn’t slim and sexy and refined; it’s clunky and cheap and plasticky. Android isn’t trying to compete against the iPhone, but the tech media has erected a fanciful snow machine of hype to blow around Christmas in September. Android should have floated out as a nice alternative to Windows Mobile, but it has been set up for failure and consumer ridicule because pundits have positioned it as an iPhone killer, something I pointed out was in error before Android even debuted.

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The Great Google gPhone Myth

Gartner’s Kiss of Death.

If dancing out into the world stage in the shadow of the iPhone and during a recession after being setup up with hopelessly high expectations isn’t bad enough, Android has also received the kiss of death from the forked tongue of the Gartner snake. The group has come out with the prediction that Android will become the de facto distribution of mobile Linux and take over 10% of the smartphone market share by 2010.

This is the think tank that assured the world that Itanium would rapidly take over the PC server world and become a roughly $30 billion industry by 2002. By 2002 it had changed its tune, and a half decade later Itanium remains a major failure. Gartner also celebrated the release of Vista and initially predicted a rapid adoption in the enterprise until it was obvious that wasn’t happening. It predicted Macs would go away and said that businesses shouldn’t care about the iPhone because Apple didn’t care about the enterprise market, another prediction it was forced to hastily review a few months later.

Gartner is mostly always wrong in the long term because it never makes ballsy predictions based on critical thinking; it merely says what the industry seems to think is obvious at the time, and generates statistics to support the consensus opinion. The problem is that general opinion in the tech industry is usually wrong. Things happen so quickly and change can abruptly plot a new course so dramatically that the celebrants of the status quo are nearly always left looking foolish.

The people celebrating Android’s prospects in advance are similarly looking at things, not with an analytical view of what is likely to happen, but either with a naively unblinking optimism about the wonders of open software or, in the case of Gartner, a desperate attempt to reflect whatever they think the tech industry wants to be told.

Market Share and Share Alike.

Gartner’s prediction that Android will become the de facto distribution of Linux is what everyone thinks will happen, because it’s simple and easy to believe. However, everyone predicting the future of Linux has been wrong so far, whether they were advocating it and expecting the ‘year of Linux on the desktop,“ or criticizing it as tainted by SCO and unlikely to every be accepted by the enterprise. Tech predictions are almost always wrong, often in an inverse proportion to how optimistic and certain they are in making a claim.

Gartner’s random generation of a 10% market figure was no doubt custom crafted for Google’s press release. But this figure is ridiculous whether Android takes off as the mainstream distro for mobile Linux or not. For starters, the various mobile Linux platforms currently have a 7.3% share of the market for Q2 2008, down from 10% Q2 2007, according to Gartner itself.

Linux smartphone share drops

If Android absorbed all of this, it would still have to cheat the trend to get back to 10% over the next two years, and it’s only starting with one phone set with a rather limited appeal from the fourth place mobile provider in the US. More likely, Android will compete in its own space against other Linux distros already in use, such as the simple embedded Linux kernel that powers Motorola’s phones in China, where Android would offer no real advantages.

Android is unlikely to engulf the Linux world in a year or two, because it really holds promise as an alternative to Windows Mobile, not as a drop-in replacement for simpler embedded Linux phones.

Disaster Around the Corner.

If the poisonous sting of a Gartner endorsement isn’t bad enough, I’ve lobbed my own prediction of pain for Android, a topic that nobody else in the industry seems to have given any regard to at all. Unlike Gartner, whenever I make a prediction it’s so impossibly against mainstream thought that nobody takes it seriously.

I predicted crazy things like why Vista wouldn’t storm the world stage in the manner of Windows 95, and that PlaysForSure subscriptions and later the Zune wouldn’t put a dent in iPod sales. I predicted that Apple would parlay the sixth generation iPod into a smart messaging platform with both business and consumer applications. I predicted Apple would ignore the PC Gamer industry and target casual gaming. I predicted that Blu-ray would triumph over HD-DVD but that it wouldn’t matter because consumers would largely ignore DRM discs for enhanced DVD and video downloads.

I also predicted that iPod Games were a harbinger for a new deployment of mobile software for the iPhone, secured from piracy by invisible DRM and distributed through iTunes, creating a workable model for mobile software in an industry that had been as dysfunctional as the music subscription and sales arena before the iTunes Store. I didn’t sell my white papers for $300 a copy, and I supported my ideas with rational explanations rather than invented statistics.

Windows 95 and Vista: Why 2007 Won’t Be Like 1995
Myth 6: Microsoft’s iPod Killer Myth
Strike 3: Why Zune will Bomb this Winter
Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing
Generation 6 iPods
Blu-ray vs HD-DVD in Next Generation Game Consoles
Why Low Def is the New HD

I’m sure some readers can recall mistakes I’ve made in the past, too. However, just as I was sure that Apple would launch a dynamic change in the mobile software world, I’m also sure Android Market will burn things down by trying to deliver software in the security free model of YouTube. I’ve already written that up in article form, but the short version is that Google has simply (and negligently) decided to sidestep the complex issue of platform security by not having any, just like Microsoft did in the 90s. The grievous problem with this is that we now have the hindsight to outline what a costly and tragic mistake that was for Microsoft.

Google is set to burst on the scene with a new phone that purports to do everything the iPhone can and more: run all sorts of crazy apps developers can think of with no authoritarian restrictions on spyware, performance sapping background activities, or human interface guidelines like those from Apple, no burdensome infrastructure providing the $40 million monthly development incentive of the Apps Store, no pesky certificates that prevent pandemic malware distribution, and no lever to pull to stop an epidemic once it breaks out. This is insane.

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Google’s Android Market Guarantees Problems for Users

The Five Flaws in Android.

To recap: Android is launching in the shadow of the heroically large iPhone brand, on the cusp of a consumer electronics economic coma, it will be compared against a slick, mature, purpose built icon rather than its intended audience, it has the fawning praise of pundits that are nearly always wrong about their hunches, and it fails to take any precautions to do software correctly right out of the gate.

Android may well succeed, and I certainly have nothing against it. I’d rather see Google become the widest deployed operating system among mobile devices than Nokia’s creaky old Symbian mess; or Microsoft’s pitiful catastrophe named Windows Mobile; or Palm’s archaic OS fossil; or RIM’s proprietary shell of an environment; or the various squabbling bands of Linux distros that hold each other back like lobsters trying to crawl out of a fish tank.

The problem is that everyone who is hyperventilating about Android hasn’t even taken the effort to examine its outstanding problems, and that in itself will contribute to setting it up for a disappointing debut.

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  • jecrawford

    Should Google have made efforts to position their product in the market place in an effort to counteract the Gartner-type hype? Or was it never the right time too do this?


  • PerGrenerfors

    Thanks for another great article!

  • http://lantinian.blogspot.com lantinian

    A good title would be: Android – don’t hold your breath. Thanks for the insight Daniel

  • Joel

    > or the various squabbling bands of Linux distros that hold each
    > other back like
    > lobsters trying to crawl out of a fish tank.

    You seem to have a very strange idea about what Linux actually is… There is no actual “Linux”, just an infinite variety of distributions…

    Oh, and the various Linux distributions tend to support each other quite well since ideas that originate in one distribution are often used in another one… A more apt analogy would be a group of lobsters all swapping limbs and sensory organs in a mad of rush of self-selecting evolution. Sometimes the creature doesn’t work, but more often than not, five legs and two heads is useful to someone.

    Will Android replace “Linux” on all mobile and embedded devices…? For the same reasons, of course not. Different devices have their own problems and constraints, and to take advantage of these you need to flexibility…

  • Jon T

    Sounds like that rapid evolution of Linux with lobsters swapping limbs should have produced something close to perfection after all these years. Clearly, that has not happened.

    Enjoyed the article immensely, thanks Daniel.

  • Joel

    It depends what you mean by “perfection”. To some users Linux distributions work very well and occupy their niche. Windows isn’t perfection, but a lot of people use it…

  • luisd

    Wouldn’t it be more like swapping limbs penguins? I get this image in my head of the Franken-Penguin. It is not cuddly anymore ;)

  • greendave

    Oh no, the Linux geek squad are here, trying to hijack the theme of the article.

    I don’t want an Android phone, I just want it to be successful enough to motivate Apple to improve my iPhone – having to get a pen and paper to note down info from an email so I can transfer to to my calendar is archaic and embarrassing !

    Go Android (and Daniel)

  • Joel

    > Oh no, the Linux geek squad are here, trying to hijack the theme of the
    > article.

    Name calling because one tries to clear-up a misconception…?

  • Realtosh

    Great article Dan.

    One of the most important factors that determines how well Android does in the market place is how well Android is accepted by and deployed by the carriers.

    Android is the carriers answer to be able to deploy private label iPhone copycat phones. I agree with you that Android is best positioned to take over the segment of the phone market currently occupied by Mobile Windows.

    Also, Android certainly could be used wherever mobile Linux distros and Symbian are used now. The key is that Android is free. Google is likelier than Microsoft to put together an actually usable product. Plus Google has the resources to actually deliver a fairly decent platform.

    The additional cost of the hardware necessary to deliver Android-capable phones will be more of a barrier to replacing the embedded Linux that you mentioned at the most low end. But as you move up the phone food chain it makes more sense for carriers to move toward an Android-like more robust platform, whether Android or some other.

    The biggest barrier for Android is the flip side of its most praised feature.

    Google is committed to having an open platform. Like the original PC and Mac platform but on steroid since the actual platform being based on Linux makes the whole enterprise open-source.

    This creates the security issues that you seems to care so much about. Being so open means there’s much less control even of spam, spyware, malware, etc. You written extensively about that over the last few months. It may even become more of an issue than I admit. I think of the mess that has been Windows most of this past decade.

    The real barrier for Android adoption is the open-source requirements of the Linux underlayer of Android. Paradoxically, it is the contractral requirement of openness that may keep some of the largest potential supporters away.

    For example if Nokia, an handset maker, or Verizon, a carrier, develop a phone with Android, plus then build a great differentiatig software product on top of Android, they are required to share. That is, Android doesn’t allow the various parties to differentiate their offering. Any phone industry corporation that invests their money and developers in extending Android will be forced to share their investment will all of their competitors.

    A Nokia investment can be used by LG to deliver an LG Android phone to compete against Nokia with Nokia’s own investment. In the same way, a Verizon investment can be used by the smaller Sprint or T-mobile or even the bigger ATT to deliver an Android phone to compete against Verizon by legally stealing Verizon code.

    That I think is Android’s biggest drawback.

    On the other hand, Android is perfect for delivering a private label iPhone-like for every carrier across the globe. Each and every carrier can use Android off the shelf, not add anything special to it that the carrier wouldn’t want to share with its’ competitors, and have HTC or someone build a phone for lower cost than an iPhone or Windows Mobile unit. The carriers can have both an iPhone and an Android phone on the shelf. Sine the Android phone can be brought to the shelf for much less cost, the the carriers can undercut the iPhone price but a wide margin. Remember the carriers wouldn’t have to pay iPhone subsidies or Windows licenses.

    The iPhone will be technologically better and will push the technological envelope for the foreseeable future. So, the carriers will likely want to have iPhones in their store to bring in foot traffic and to sell cell service to those who insist getting an iPhone. But for the indecisive or unknowledgeable customer standing there in the store, it may be in the carriers best financial interest to push their own private label phone, likely based on Android.

    So Android likely won’t be the panacea that the tech pundits claim it will be; it does have some serious drawbacks. However, Android does have an opening to consolidate the non-iPhone smartphone market for all nonproprietary uses.

    Nokia would likely not easily give up the inferior Symbian because they can control Symbian. Whereas, by using Android, Nokia would have to share their software investment with their competitors.

    On the other hand, an undercapitalized competitor or a carrier would be able to use Android off the shelf to ship a product to just kep them in the game.

    By definition then, Android won’t be pushing the technological envelop; at least nor from investment from any of the largest participant in the phone industry apart from Google.

    It will be Google and all the little developers against all the entrenched forces in the industry.

    Can I. Should I. Alright, alright. Here goes.

    Android’s grassroots struggle would be like an Obama political campaign.

    There I said it. I can’t believe I said. I fell like such a hypocrite.

  • greendave

    Sorry, Joel. I didn’t realize the posts came from you. I should not have called one the Linux geek squad. Perhaps to maintain the aquatic theme it should be the Linux geek Squid anyway?

  • Joel

    >A Nokia investment can be used by LG to deliver an LG Android phone >to compete against Nokia with Nokia’s own investment. In the same >way, a Verizon investment can be used by the smaller Sprint or T-mobile >or even the bigger ATT to deliver an Android phone to compete against >Verizon by legally stealing Verizon code.

    Isn’t Android licensed under the Apache License to avoid this…? Can you go into this in greater detail…?

  • Realtosh

    @ Joel

    I’ll investigate that and get back in a day or two. Thanks.

  • Netudo

    In a couple of years, I see this article as a script for some History Channel special.

    Congrats Daniel! I see you have much more time lately for writing. Get well!

  • Nick Barron

    A good article, thank you Daniel.

    It will be interesting to see how Android progresses and how Google are going to re-act to some of the issues once they are upon them.

  • awilensky

    We shall see if any iteration of the Android platform will have people waiting in line for days. Although such idiots who do fritter away their lives sitting in beach chairs to buy a CE device are just that. It is a testament to Apple that they can drive that kind of loyalty and fanaticism.

  • Janus

    “The third major problem for Android is that the media has been doing nothing but singing its praises. While the iPhone was brutally attacked for six months before its debut, customers were able to see it and make their own opinion about why they might want it. ”

    “Not so with Android. It has received nothing but frothy setup as the messiah, something that will rival the iPhone while offering a magical aura of absolute freedom and low prices and no restrictions”

    Replace “iPhone” with “McCain/Palin” and “Android” with “Obama/Biden” and presto! we have just elucidated why liberal Democrats do marvelously in the media echo chamber only to stumble at the hands of the electorate.

    I seriously hate when these things turn into political rants. But this connection was just too good to pass up. I’ll be quiet now!

  • Realtosh

    Is anyone on here an Android developer? or at least have an understanding of how the Android open-source license differs from the other uses of of Linux in embedded devices? There is been more than one company that was forced to share their proprietary code for their product (e.g. routers, etc.) because they had used Linux as the foundation for their product. In the end, some of these companies had to abandon Linux because it was killing their business model.

    In one case, the company’s competitors were able to legally use their code, since the company was compelled to share their code because of the requirements of the license. In another case, the company was compelled to share their code and customers were able to juice up the company’s low end routers, with the released code to act like the company’s top of the line routers. Customers could take the company’s own code that they were charging for in the more expensive complete product and add that code legally to their less expensive routers. This company had a significant drop in sales of the more expensive routers, greatly affecting their profitability.

    As expected, they stopped using embedded Linux as soon as possible.

    I have not read the Android open-source license, and have to to rely on press accounts and information shared on the internet to learn more about the guts of Android.

    If anyone has more information, I would be grateful for their contribution.

  • Realtosh

    @ Janus

    I know what you mean. I felt guilty myself. I prefer to keep politics separate from tech, because the tech is so good. But I just couldn’t resist just this once. The parallels were just so ironic.

    It’s funny seeing Dan fighting on opposite side of the same argument in his two favorite passions. As much as possible let’s keep this article tech, out of respect for the readers who come here for tech.

    Dan writes enough political pieces where political commentary would be more appropriate. I sorry I opened a can of worms.

    It was just so tempting.

    Dan, we’ll try to be good. Again, thanks for a great article.

  • lehenbauer

    I think Android *can* become the predominant Linux handset/mobile distro and still not make a dent in iPhone sales. That being said, strong competition to the iPhone will benefit consumers, making Apple make the iPhone a better product, and help keep them “honest.”

  • JohnWatkins

    Besides security, it seems to me that the biggest long-term hurdle Android will have is the tower of Babel that will result from having no standard platform (or rather, a cacophony of standard platforms.) Android will be painful for developers and users alike.

    Developers will have to decide exactly what features and hardware their software will support. Will they develop for this platform or that? Oops, this one doesn’t have “X” on it and that one doesn’t have “Y” on it. How will my app work with a keyboard? What if its a touch screen? They will probably do one of 2 things — develop for a minimum subset of all hardware platforms, or develop for a few particular platforms that they think will work best for their app or that are most economically viable based on popularity.

    For the user, on the other hand, the problem is the same, but in reverse. They will have to make sure to purchase only software that works well on their platform. Most likely the software channel will make this easy for them by only selling software by model. Of course this will sort of defeat some of the attraction of the “free and open” nature of Android. Even if they are successful the User Interface and Experience will be “suboptimal,” to say the least. And users will undoubtedly be annoyed that some piece of software is not available for their phone.

    This problem will not raise its ugly head immediately. It will be unnoticeable with only the debut model available. But of course the problems will increase exponentially as models proliferate. No worse than the existing Windows PC software market you say? — I agree!

  • Joel

    @JohnWatkins : I completely agree with your point about form factors. Though I have to wonder whether Apple will always have the same form factor, and what it will to do avoid these problems… One point in Apple’s favour is that they may be able to sell enough of a device to make writing apps for it profitable…

  • GwMac

    Android will certainly not usurp the iPhone/OS X mobile ecosystem right away and I haven’t read any serious articles asserting that. But, over time Android also has some big advantages over the iPhone.

    First, it will not be carried by only one carrier in the U.S. like the iPhone. All the carriers will eventually sell Android handsets. Secondly, Android will be used on a wide variety of cellphones from clam shells, to touchscreens, to hybrid touch with keyboard, flip phones, etc.. OS X only comes on one model from one single carrier at the moment. Not everyone wants or likes the iPhone phone form factor, choice and variety are a good thing.

    The ability to run multiple apps simultaneously as well as a completely open application store/universe without a draconian approval system in place will also be very appealing. Letting users decide what to install on their phones instead of Apple is very appealing to both end users and spurned developers. Google and the handset manufacturers have also been listening to all the complaints about what the iPhone lacks in terms of hardware and software. You can be sure that they are already developing phones with high res cameras, front facing camera for video chat, copy/paste, uncrippled bluetooth profiles and the whole littony of complaints levied against the iPhone.

    No the HTC Dream will not overthrow the iKing anytime soon, but coming down the pipeline there are a number of devices that will have a far better chance like the Sony-Ericson Xperia, Samsung Omnia, and my personal favorite the HTC Touch HD

    The iPhone finally woke all the other handset makers up and made them start making much better phones. If these new Android and WinMo phones start seriously cutting into the iPhone marketshare, I expect it to have a similar effect on Apple and hopefully let them loosen their grip on controlling iApps and adding much requested features more quickly. The weakest link in the iPhones armor, at least here in the States, is being tied to only one carrier, especially the one with the smallest 3G network of the big three. Apple also needs to learn from their failure in Japan. Since it lacks emoji, Felicia, Digital TV, and several other features standard on even the cheapest Japanese phones it has not sold nearly as well as Apple had expected. Apple are far from infallible and the handset business is far more fast moving that the computer biz. Apple will have to keep up and address the many complaints. Motorola and the Razr also once seemed insurmountable, but look where they are now.

  • Jesse

    I wonder when Linux is going to take the place of crack cocaine in the vernacular. It can’t be long until “if you think _________ you must be on crack” gets replaced with “if you think ____________ you must believe Lunux is a viable alternative on the desktop.”

  • JohnWatkins

    I don’t think multiple form factors will be such a big problem for apple for two reasons.
    1.) They will have absolute control over what is done and will do it sensibly. The products/features will be chunked logically and judiciously. They have plenty of experience in doing this with the Mac and iPod hardware and the OS X software.
    2.) Besides clean hardware, the Apple development tools can tidy the mess for developers. X Tools has been excellent at abstracting the messy bits and allowing the developer to concentrate on basic differentiating aspects of software function. I think this is one of the key reasons Mac developers (without pre OS X legacy code) have been so amazingly nimble.

  • JohnWatkins

    The very pluses you cite (proliferation of: form factors, carriers, hardware, and features, and the free and open nature of the OS, platform, and software) are the very weaknesses of Android (and the same is true for the iPhone inversly or conversly or something =-) Basically this two edged sword. I think how you see it depends on your priorities. My point is Android will be much like Linux on the PC (but less secure) while the iPhone will be more like OS X on the Mac (but more restricted.) For my phone, I like the second although I can see some people would prefer the first.

  • GwMac

    No matter how you spin it, being exclusively tied to only AT&T for the foreseeable future is not a plus. I am as big a Mac fan as they come, but why would I go back to AT&T and pay about $80 a month and not even have 3G in my city? I currently pay $30 a month for an even better plan and get EVDO Rev1 speed. I just recently got my new HTC Diamond and I love it. Had the iPhone been available on Sprint then I would have probably opted for that simply due to my Apple bias, but no 3G in my city and a monthly bill over twice as much is a deal breaker. AT&T is the iPhone’s achiles’ heel, at least for large parts of the country where their service sucks or there is no 3G or people love their current plans with numerous perks they don’t want to lose by changing carriers. For example my free nighttime minutes start at 5:00 PM and if I switched to AT&T they would begin at 9:00PM. That is a hard thing to give up just for a phone.

  • JohnWatkins

    I agree. The ATT deal is another double edged sword, this time for Apple. I guess they are comfortable with the compromise but it is a total deal-breaker for many. (I have have actually eschewed the iPhone myself [contract too expensive] and am considering a Touch instead. But as a shareholder I’m still happy.) I think Apple will bend on many of these issues,but only in a few years.

  • gus2000

    Dan, you write excellent technical articles, but I’m going to stomp away angry if you keep injecting your personal politics into…

    Oh wait. That was us, here in the comments. Ummm, nevermind. But since I mentioned it:

    Q: What’s the difference between Android and Symbian?
    A: Lipstick!

  • JulesLt

    I think the Linux angle is being overblown – developers code apps in Java, which then run in the Dalvik VM.

    There’s no ability for end users or apps to easily get down to the O/S level. I will be intrigued to see what attempts have been made to lock the device against firmware update (no desktop sync app, all updates from a central app store – will it even support external flashing of updates?).

    The press Q&A suggests the phone/contract does not allow tethering – one of the same restrictions Apple apply through the app store. It will be interesting to see how ‘free’ in a practical sense Android phones turn out to be.

    Otherwise, as Realtosh asks, it will be no/more less exciting than having Linux embedded in any other device, if you cannot actually modify it.

    If it actually offers the carriers MORE control then it is a retrograde step over Apple’s ‘this is what this device does, and if you don’t want to carry it, someone else will’ model.

    >The ability to run multiple apps simultaneously . . . will also be very >appealing.
    On a machine without any effective windowing, I can’t really see any significant advantage vs the notification server approach Apple are considering. Most Windows users run every app at max screen anyway. I can see netbooks occupying the niche of people who need real computing on the go, rather than super-complex phones.

    I also await reports on battery longevity – I like how some people are presuming that it will beat the iPhone, which seems to ignore the reality that phone hardware (3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, battery) is largely commoditised, and that existing HTC Touch phones are not known for significantly better life.

    I don’t think Android will be a failure and I think in the long run it has potential to be far bigger than the iPhone, simply because the closed nature of the iPhone platform will work against it . . . but it is early days yet. It’s easier to open a platform than close one.

  • roz

    I wish Apple would drop this crazy App store thing about rejecting apps, that would go a long way towards making Andriod have any traction. Also, they should tell people when the exclusive deal is over and make a plan to offer CDMA version and versions for all other protocols.

    Other than that Android looks about as attractive as any other Linux – which means I don’t want it.

  • David Dennis

    I wonder about the ability to run applications concurrently – already it’s easy to overtax the iPhone’s limited CPU, and I understand Android has an even slower one, at least on its base machine.

    It may be better to not allow us to do certain things than it would be to allow certain failure if tried.

    I also wonder about the use of Java. I seem to remember Java as a sluggish, overhead-heavy language that certainly would not offer the performance advantages of Objective-C. Reports have said the Java-based development environment takes something like 30 seconds to run on the simulator and that’s certainly not going to make development particularly efficient.

    Has anyone here actually used Android’s development environment? I’d be very curious to hear comments.


  • oomu

    linux, gpl, or whatever will NOT prevent carriers to differentiate themselves .

    you can add a PROPRIETARY software upon the android stuff (even if it _GPL_ or whatever licence, they simply authorized people to build their OWN software with their own licence UPON/ON the android stack)

    you can do that with any linux distributions, no fuss, no problem, not new.

    security. certification, secured installation, controlled market software, all of that can be done with opensource. Do you think people will jump on their google phone to HACK the damn linux and authorize it to launch virus ?? of course not!

    the real problem is : google doesn’t care about secure application and that is BAD.

    again, a common linux distribution has a SECURE “shops” : for example in Ubuntu Linux : the synaptic/debian repository of software (managed by Canonical). You can HACK your own sources, but by default people are SECURED !

    the same with fedora/redhat linux, or mandriva, or suse or whatever.

    the baseline : in the so called “crazy open linux world” NOT anyone can add a new software in the official repository users have. NOT anyone. Only known people with known software. it can take sometimes years to have a new software in the official repository

    The canonical commercial repository is even more restricted.

    why google doesn’t want to do the same ?

    in the end, it’s NOT about GPL , mit, apache , whatever crazy licence you want or Linux, it’s all about Google misdirection.

    Android is NOT the linux World, it’s not about openness, no one need to prove the value of open software or free(dom) software anymore. so linux fanboys or linux haters can sleep.

    android success or failure is not about Linux kernel and whatever open philosophy.

    Android will be judge on its own merits : quality, good market, security, easiness, competitive and so on.

    and I join Daniel Eran Dilger here : Android is a competitor to Windows Mobile, NOT iphone

    iphone is a finite product to use : a phone, with hardware, software, a market, a sdk and many things in one package.

    windows mobile is an operating system to build the software for your new wonderful device

    android is an operating system to build the software for your new wonderful device. Google provides a market, but it has severe shortcomings : the fact Google refuse to assume responsability. so who will ? your providers ? HA !

    I believe nokia will do better. Nokia will do exactly like Apple with a totally open linux stack.

    (“maemo” it’s called. maemo is a lot of more than a “linux kernel”. like android, it’s a mini-linux kernel based system with all modern services of modern linux distributions. )

    you see, it will be gpl-stuff, linux-stuff, open-stuff, liberty-stuff, whatever-stuff, but still, Nokia will do its OWN linux for its OWN devices. people will be able to take maemo for other devices, but nokia will not care, will not help, and will not put money for that.

    nokia will do a shop for _its_ phones (and noone else)

    they will recreate a Mac OS X mobile with Linux for only THEIR OWN products.

    Custom software by nokia (even if they work with the linux community in the respect of the GPL , apple also has some gpl software in the os X stack) for custom hardware by nokia.

    I do not believe in Mobile DOS. I believe in commodity software, yes, like everyone (even apple) are using Apache, GCC, webkit and so on, but NOT in standardized stack by an other company for others company. Dos is dead. No one sane trying to build greats products want a new Windows.

    I hope you can see the difference in a commodity software like the “linux kernel” and a standardised software stack like “android”. and why in the end, Android is not the solution.

  • The Mad Hatter

    Android may well succeed, and I certainly have nothing against it. I’d rather see Google become the widest deployed operating system among mobile devices than Nokia’s creaky old Symbian mess; or Microsoft’s pitiful catastrophe named Windows Mobile; or Palm’s archaic OS fossil; or RIM’s proprietary shell of an environment; or the various squabbling bands of Linux distros that hold each other back like lobsters trying to crawl out of a fish tank.

    Well, I like Palm’s OS. It may be primitive compared to Windows Mobile, but it works a hell of a lot better. I don’t expect Android to do much against RIM or Apple, but it may wipe out Microsoft. And as I stated in the forums, it may push Palm back to their own OS, which while it has faults, does a decent job, compared to the piece of junk that is Windows Mobile.

  • James Katt

    I would be greatly interested to see when the first of several PORN applications will show up on Android. PORN makes money on the internet. Such as PORN app will make money on Android too.

  • Pingback: Boycott Novell » IRC: #boycottnovell @ FreeNode: September 23rd, 2008 - Part 1()

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ James Katt

    Name a “PORN application” which makes a tone of money on Windows.

    Porn lives on the internet and in the DVD drive!

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ roz

    CDMA will go away once the US networks go 4G: a standard both sides of the CDMA / GSM fence are co-operating on, thank goodness.

    Simply put: the world is GSM. It makes things much easier here in Europe.

    As for the App Store: that’s one thing where I don’t agree with Daniel. I think it’s doing harm in developer mindshare, which would otherwise be 100% excitement about the bonanza which is the sales figures we’re hearing.

    As for Android’s fate: this sounds as accurate as the Zune and Vista predictions before it. There are problems already laid out for this plucky little robot. And, once again, a company behind it all which just doesn’t care as much as Apple does about its product.

  • roz

    @ John Muir

    I don’t agree with your point. At some point 3G will be go away too. Sure it costs more to develop several versions of the device but its far better to have your bases covered. We don’t want Verizon, Sprint and TMobile to start plugging Android – which they will – simply because they have no access to the iPhone. When you are competing it means that you make some efforts that you would not normally take. Your point about the future of CDMA does not speak the the competitive environment that will exist before 4g is available, which could be a long time.

    As soon and the exclusive deal is over or can be ended Apple should offer the iPhone on every network and on every carrier and they should sell it thru the same channel as the iPod. This is what they should do, I fully recognize they are not taking this approach.

    I just think that Apple should be carrier and protocol agnostic. I like the fact that the current iPhone can work in so many countries, still I think its better to offer a device for CDMA too. That way Verizon and Sprint individual and business customers can use an iPhone without switching.

    Our current circumstance is akin to only offering phones that work with DSL and not Cable or vice versa. The point should be to match all the other device makers are doing, have a product for each network and let the customer decide.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ roz

    Well, we can all play fantasy Apple if we like, but the choice to go GSM was definitely the right one. Outside of the American market: CDMA is all but nowhere to be found. In order to support both CDMA and GSM, the iPhone would need to either come in two separate hardware versions or pack twice as many antennas inside and associated components. It’s unfortunate for American consumers that this format war rumbles on for the foreseeable future, as changing from one network to the other when only one has good coverage where you live is a completely different matter than ditching your Betamax player for VHS. Changing providers over here meanwhile is a matter of SIM card, as all networks are compatible.

    Of course: Apple also have a special deal with AT&T where they share revenue and the carrier provides custom support for visual voicemail (and other potential future features). One of the biggest upsides for customers at the iPhone’s release was the freedom from horrible chintzy ringtone stores and the like (Apple had AT&T concede that iTunes was the way to go) and of course the convenient iTunes based registration model which made the initial launch pretty damn slick. The unlockers, jailbreakers and exporters just loved that one too!

    Apple has, interestingly, tried other models besides single carrier exclusives in some foreign markets. (Not here in Britain though where we have a single carrier just like America.) It will be illuminating to see how that goes.

    One thing’s for sure though: none of them are, or will ever be, CDMA.

  • Realtosh

    @ John Muir

    Your comments are usually spot on.

    You conceptions about CDMA however are very European centric. As the European standard GSM is all you know. Up until recently, CDMA and GSM were fairly evenly divided throughout the world. Some countries had one, others had he other. Many countries have both technologies. Europe is the only major geographic location where CDMA is not available.

    In fact, GSM only made it to the US a few years ago. ATT Mobility only completed their transition to GSM this year. The old ATT Wireless actually used TDMA, a third digital standard that has been dying out. In the late 90’s a couple of regional carriers started using GSM but they were located only in the South. These joined up to form Cingular Wireless, which then acquired the old ATT Wireless in 2000. ATT Wireless which was only beginning the charge over to GSM, with most subscribers still on TDMA. T-mobile acquired VoiceStream Wireless in 2001 and switched over to GSM also.

    Before these examples, the US had no GSM service at all. The US and Japan had CDMA, Europe had GSM. The rest of the world was divided up between the two formats. Outside of Europe, you can get both formats in most countries.

    The CDMA technology has been known technically superior, at least in the States. Verizon has had a 3G CDMA EVDO broadband network for years. And I’m sure you’ve been reading about how well ATT’s 3G UMTS/HSDPA network has been working out for Apple’s iPhone.

    I’m not so sure about your discrimination as regards to CDMA. If and when the ATT contract been non-exclusive, I would bet that Apple would offer phones on the Verizon and Sprint networks. That means that Apple would make and sell CDMA phones. Apple may make dual technology phones like Samsung’s high-end WorldPhone that supported both CDMA and GSM networks. Or Apple may make CDMA-only phones for use in the United States and those countries that support CDMA outside of Europe.

    But 4G is still way off. Carriers are still deploying 3G networks all over the world n both GSM (HSPDA) and CDMA (EVDO) technologies. Apple may want to spite Verizon for passing up on the iPhone originally, but I wouldn’t count on it. I figure Apple would rather be able to sell iPhones on 2 of the 4 largest networks in the US (Verizon and Sprint), for the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 years until 4G finally happens if ever.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ Realtosh

    Well, in this case Europe better matches the rest of the world than America. (Not that this is always so!)

    I’m sure I saw a good map a while back, colour coded for each country’s network mix. (Some furtive Googling just now isn’t finding anything quite like it, though I did get a nice signal strength map of China!) It may have had to do with the ludicrous idea someone hatched in congress to covert Iraq to CDMA when its GSM network in 2003 was already better than North America! Iraq, absurd as it may sound, is actually a good example of how vital mobile phones are in the developing world. A great many people on earth have better cell coverage than they have drinkable water or surfaced roads; one of the reasons I’m so determined the iPhone will be at the heart of Apple’s future, in a market of billions.

    I’ve no preference for one technology over the other re: GSM and CDMA. GSM may well be inferior in the way VHS was definitely weaker than Betamax. But numbers won that war. In Europe people generally don’t even consider the notion that mobile phone networks are incompatible. In America meanwhile, clearly there’s pain to be had for millions of subscribers who discover AT&T’s 3G isn’t as good as the Sprint or Verizon flavour they left behind for their iPhone.

    Unlike Betamax, CDMA isn’t going anywhere. Too much infrastructure is in place especially in North America to let it go. I suspect 4G may prove a lucrative opportunity (and therefore more likely to happen in the first place) if the group of companies working on it can design it for longer range (friendlier to American, African and essentially all vast terrain) and speedy and reliable enough to make cable broadband a thing of the past. We’re all getting gipped for home internet access right now: I’d give it up in a moment if I could get the same speed on my handheld and a bundled card for my Mac.

  • roz

    @ John Muir

    We are talking about the competitive landscape for Apple iPhone. I am not saying I expect Apple to ship a CDMA version, but I think they wrong not to at this point and if it were up to me, which it clearly is not, I would have a CDMA version ready on the day the exclusivity deal is over. I do agree though that going GSM first made sense from a global market perspective. Its also clear that there is simply no reason why they would not support more than one version of the hardware with a different radio for that purpose. I know that from Europe it seems like CMDA is beta but in t he US it has a great deal of market-share and its better.

    The point is that Android, Blackberry, Palm, Nokia – these companies will not ignore 1/2 the US market because they don’t want to take the trouble to make a CDMA version. You just have a hardware B team that runs the admittedly smaller CDMA side. I would rather see Apple compete head to head with these guys instead of doing the old Apple thing give the customer some basic reason not to adopt because of some silly industry politics. CDMA v GSM is not Apple’s fight. Neither is the choice of carrier.

    When you are actually competing in the marketplace you want to take down the hurdles for people to get a product. If the iPhone is sold as a normally subsidized phone, I can’t see why they continue to need or benefit from exclusive deal. I am sure that other carriers would support visual voicemail to get the iPhone their network.

    The problem with the hackers is that the device was being sold at below market rates in the US. That was simply a mistake and hackers found a way to exploit it. I personally think the iTunes activation was brilliant, it just was not structured properly to allow for carrier subsidies. Restructured it would be a great way to activate a device.

  • roz

    I think the main flaw of Android is that it simply will not be as polished and compete as the iPhone. Geeks used to be psyched about Linux. I never hear that anymore. Instead I see a lot geeks in SF using Macsbooks. The reason is that at the end of the day if you are going to use one computer you’d rather it be comfortable and able to do a lot of different things. I think if you are going to carry a device the same rules apply. You’d rather have your nice to use iPhone than your hair shirt Android device. But Apple should not offend the geeks by being a nasty player.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    I remember back in 1999-2000 when Linux seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough. This was a few years before I switched to the Mac and I picked up a copy of SuSE and had a play around with it. Eeeeeep! Although Windows 9x was a piece of crap, Linux managed to make it really seem to shine. I wasn’t at all sure what to make of the situation. It felt like two blind boxers in a ring.

    Fortunately, OS X turned me on to the Mac and clearly that was the way to go. This time around the “Mac” of mobiles: the iPhone, had the head-start. (Kind of like the Mac in 1984 but I was a kid with a Commodore back then!) Although I dare say no one will have to suffer the YaST (yet another installer) that I and my brother did when we tried out Linux for the first time … on their little phone! Boy, was that an adventure to the 70’s.

  • The Mad Hatter

    I tried Caldera around that time, and it wasn’t as good as Windows either. Things have changed since then though, SUSE, Fedora, and Ubuntu are a lot better than either XP or Vista.

    Give one of them a try. They may not be up to OSX level yet, but they are a lot closer to it than Windows.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    I like to give Ubuntu a shot every time they hit a milestone, just to keep a look out. I recently tried Kubuntu for it’s new KDE, and a couple of years ago tested DSL and Yellow Dog.

    They all have their charms, but I find them very limiting, being the Mac user that I am. Installing Linux now (and especially just tasting it via Live CDs) is vastly improved, but I still find installing subsequent software a chore. The Mac and Windows both make it a simple user-friendly single file download, but Linux often prefers the arcane. I know why some like apt-get but I certainly don’t.

    Compared to a Mac: every Linux I’ve ever seen lacks consistency and polish. Noi to mention pro software.

    Compared to Windows: they lack drivers and games.

    If you can live in OpenOffice and Firefox, Linux is a viable choice. If I were a tech guy at a company which couldn’t afford Macs, I’d certainly prefer Linux boxen over the nightmares of Internet connected Windows. But there’s more besides, and a great deal of uphill territory Linux has yet to reach.

    One thing is for certain: I’m glad it’s there.

  • Joel

    “The Mac and Windows both make it a simple user-friendly single file download, but Linux often prefers the arcane. I know why some like apt-get but I certainly don’t.”

    To install software on Ubuntu.

    Click on the Applications Menu in the top-right corner.
    Select “Add/Remove Application”
    Enter the app your searching for in the search box.
    Scroll through results. Check the box if you see one you want.
    Press “apply changes” + confirm that you want to install the app
    Type your password, and watch the app download + install.
    When its all finished it will be placed in the Gnome menu situated in the top-right.
    Click + use your app.

    Its about as “arcane” as installing app from the iTunes App store.

  • Joel

    Perhaps I should mention I’m professional developer at a Fortune 500 company that’s slowly switching to developing on Ubuntu because we aren’t satisfied with Vista…? Or that we run Office on Ubuntu to stay integrated…? (With Crossover Office its a three click install)

    Or perhaps Daniel should write a “6 Myths of Linux”…

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir


    It could use a nice graphical menu like the App Store, with a page of information on each app, and ratings too. One thing I’ve always liked about going to websites to find software is that most developers go to some lengths to make good sites where you can get a real feel for the software before you commit to downloading. Loads of indie Mac outfits are like that. Screenshots, screencasts, forums, etc.

    The App Store reduces the experience to lean and mean, but that is appropriate on a handheld. Plus there are ratings, comments, and links to the appropriate sites for further investigation. I’ve just never found a Linux repository to have the same feel to it. Typically: they get the behind the scenes stuff right and call it a day at that.