Answer: all of the above.
Why Google’s Android is boring: – The Open Handset Alliance is another alliance designed to bring openness to the world (like OMTP, LiMo, LiPS, GMAE, the MontaVista partner programme, Trolltech’s Greensuite alliance & integration project, and many more). – OHA is another industry alliance for building better phones, but with zero phones out in the market. If it weren’t for the G company, it would probably be discounted as slideware. – Android is another Linux stack. We ‘ve already got WindRiver, MontaVista, Purple Labs, ALP, Mizi Research, Trolltech Greensuite, Celunite, Applix, OpenMoko, A la Mobile, .. do we need one more ? – The Android OS (in connection with Google’s OpenSocial) will help Google compete against Nokia’s Ovi, the umbrella of (mostly unannouned) mobile services. Nothing new here. – It shows that Google is not going down the RIA route, but the native application route. – It’s Google’s way of bringing advertising to mobile. Duh.
Why Android is exciting: – It is the first software stack to use an open source license and one that makes sense. Android will be made available as open source via the Apache v2 license, which is a non-copyleft license. As such, OEMs, operators, distributors, etc can add proprietary functionality to their products based on Android without needing to contribute anything back to the platform. – Handset producers (new term?) can add/remove functionality easier, without being restricted by component-specific licenses, as is the case with Symbian OS and the Windows CE stack for example. It allows white label phones to be created by design, not afterthought. – As Nomura points out, it’s Google’s attempt to reach mass-market, mid-range phones where Nokia’s S40 and Sony Ericsson’s EMP control the service game. – It will allow not only developer innovation, but also user innovation. ”users will be able to fully tailor the phone to their interests. They can swap out the phone’s homescreen, the style of the dialer, or any of the applications.” (source). See what happened to Facebook which was designed to enable both developer innovation and user innovation; it scaled and scaled beyond all expectations.
Why Android is a breakthrough: – It’s the first time a mobile Linux stack gets a major long-term partner, which is what HTC’s chairman said was needed back in September. No other stack can come close to the multi-billion cash reserves that Google amasses.
– The Android OS will be offered to OEMs for free, which makes Android the first true disruption for mobile phone operating systems as it accelerates the commoditisation of mobile OSes and pushes the value line several thousand lines of code higher.
– It’s the first time that core apps will be equal citizens to downloadable apps. This is a VERY big step forward for two reasons: a) It’s extremely challenging for any OpenOS developer to design a downloadable app that can replace the dialer, idle screen, inbox, calendar, contacts. There’s very few Open OS apps that can replace the idle screen or contacts, but they need serious know-how and access to manufacturer ABIs (hidden binary interfaces), lots of trial & error and licking OEM boots. Out of 1+ billion phones a year, there’s been no innovation on core apps, other than the Vodafone Simply phones, LG Prada, Samsung D900, Windows Mobile 6 dialer and the iPhone. Android is now making this possible BY DESIGN, not afterthought, contrary to all other open OSes. b) By replacing core apps with third party apps, it will be possible (and far easier) to design visually consistent UIs, where the usage experience feels like a single personality, from the startup screen through idle screen, dialer, contacts, shut down screen, without breaking the user experience. And hopefully designing a Barbie UI will be exactly the same drag & drop process as designing a BMW UI. This is happening in Japan already.
– It is the first true service platform that allows content to be inserted at any point of the user journey, aka ‘widgets in any application’, aka Magpie (the 2002 Symbian project that was way ahead of its time). This allows core apps (dialer, inbox, contacts, calendar, etc) to come alive, allowing internet services, ads/informercials, content, alerts, etc to be inserted where relevant and in a *context-specific* way. Imagine seeing a weather icon next to a calendar travel entry, or location whereabouts info next to a contact. The Android brings you your entire connected world of services onto your mobile – in the same way that Facebook brings it onto your ‘me-portal’ on the web. Only Android does this by enriching the familiar user journey, not redefining it, acting like a ‘parasite’ or lying on its periphery.
The OS of the future might have arrived early. Fingers crossed.
[update: a few readers have written back to question my optimism for Google’s Android. I could easily have criticised Google’s announcement as many industry observers have done. I chose not to. I believe that the OHA and Android are strategic initiatives from Google, which as more credible than previous Linux forums (LiPS, LiMo and GMAE included) and that there are likely several phones coming out from leading OEMs in 2H08. The New York times seems to confirm this by reporting that “mobile phones based on Google s software are not expected to be available until the second half of next year. They will be manufactured by a variety of handset companies, including HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung and be available in the United States through T-Mobile and Sprint. The phones will also be available through the world s largest mobile operator, China Mobile, with 332 million subscribers in China, and the leading carriers in Japan, NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, as well as T-Mobile in Germany, Telecom Italia in Italy and Telef nica in Spain.”]