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Google's Challenge to the iPhone: Android..

Today's mobile market (North American) is dominated by one phone, the iPhone. With it's intuitive design, trademark Apple sleekness, and App Store, it has stolen the hearts of many consumers, and turned countless Blackberry users into Apple maniacs. Case in point my father Greg. But many developers have been dissatisfied with Apple's Microsoft like monopolistic closed policies and forced use of proprietary software. Enter Google Android, an open source Java mobile solution that Google has said "will create a truly free environment for third-party developers."

With the advent of smart phones, many companies have offered a wide variety of solutions, Symbian OS, the iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry OS all have a large share in the mobile market. The difference? According to Google, "Android is the first free, open source, and fully customizable mobile platform." So how did this all come about?

A Little History
Everyone loves Google, Google has money. These are two facts key to the evolution of the Android project. In the summer of 2005 Google had more money than it knew what to do with, so it bought a plethora of startup companies. One was a little known company called Android Inc. After much brewing and conjuring over in California, Google courted LG, Samsung, T-Mobile, ebay, Sprint, Intel, and Texas Instruments (among others), who together formed the The Open Handset Alliance. Soon after, on November 5th 2007, The Open Handset Alliance announced Android, the world's first truly open and complete mobile platform. A few days later they released a sneak peak of the SDK, . Back to the spell casting over at Google HQ, and the Android Market was announced in late August. Then, on October 21st, 2008 Android was made an open source project. The next day, the T-Mobile G1 was released to consumers, the first android phone.

iPhone vs. Android: A Developers Viewpoint
As an open-source developer and broke college student, I love free stuff and hate proprietary software. Therefore the Google SDK frankly excites me. Firstly, and this one is huge, unlike Apple, Android allows Java and Flash! Steve Jobs said of Java, "It’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain." I'm sure he felt similar about Flash. Android as a development environment is comparable to XCode. Android is fully integrated into Eclipse with an interface builder and robust emulator. The documentation is surprisingly good, with nearly every feature shown through detailed code example. Since quite a bit of the Mobile market runs Java, many mobile developers will find that Android is not to big of a leap from past experience. Another integral feature is the Android Market, Google's answer to Apple's App Store. The publishing policies are much more lenient than Apple's closed approach (which may or may not be a good thing, as we shall see). People who like the words "freedom" and "open" and "keep a larger percentage of my profits instead of giving it to Apple" will love the Android.

But the Android is not without it's faults. The nature of Android allows for many different types of phones, with many different screen sizes, resolutions, buttons and on and on. How Google solves this problem could be instrumental in the ultimate failure or success of the Android platform. There are also questions about the speed of Java on the platform (as always when talking about Java) but these worries were directly addressed by the Davlik JVM.

So with it's combination of an open source, free environment, Java/Flash compatibility and more lenient publishing policies by way of the Market, Android would seem a developer's dream right? Well there's more to this story.

iPhone vs. Android: The Consumer's Viewpoint
We all know that in the end the consumer will not really care about the "open architecture" "Java support" or "multi-tasking capabilities" that us developer's get so excited about. The Google phone has a lot that will appeal to your regular people, it's Google integration (Maps, Gmail) is one of the key concepts that could give Google an edge. Their "real web browser" is quite nice. But still, I would have a lot of trouble convincing my technically unsophisticated mother that the Android is better than the iPhone. Why? Polish and shine. The iPhone is undeniably sexy, Apple is undeniably sexy, the things Steve Jobs says are undeniably sexy. The iPhone has a very intuitive interface design, anyone can use it to it's full potential. Will the Google phone be able to approach this level? Despite the iPhone's faults (no multi-tasking, physical keyboard, Java, Flash, or real web browser), it is beautiful, and that will appeal to the majority of consumers.

What does everyone else think?
What applications do you think Android needs to succeed? Google loves third-party developers, and they will make the difference. Take a look at these apps.

So will Android be a revolution in mobile technology? I can only hope.

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Comment by Mika Leuck on November 19, 2008 at 9:19pm
I'm excited to see DoCoMo and KT's Android phone.
Comment by Cameron Souza on November 19, 2008 at 10:35am
Comment by Josiah Hester on November 18, 2008 at 6:22pm
I agree sex appeal drives the entire consumer market, it's the nature of humans as well as crows to lust after shiny new things. The iPhone easily wins the sex appeal match, but I think it would be foolish to overlook the genius that does exist in Google. There release on the G1 was definitely half-baked, I almost wished they would have waited a year till next Christmas and then unleashed a really kick-butt phone. But I think right now it's a big wait and see. Google was able to make hundreds of millions of dollars marketing a FREE service, so even a free thing like open-source can rake it in. As a developer I would prefer Google, but in the end we all have to follow the money don't we?

I'm a Mac guy (usually), but If any company could take on the iPhone, it would have to be Google.
I guess the big question/gamble right now as a developer is should I trust Google to make this work.
Comment by Laurence A. Lee on November 18, 2008 at 1:54pm
IMHO, Google is spreading its resources thin by jumping into so many different, diverse markets.

Apple has something that Google can't yet touch: "sex appeal" in consumer products and services. Ever since Steve Jobs returned and introduced the first iMac (which fueled just about everyone's TechnoLust), Apple has been on a roll, introducing well thought out, brilliantly marketed products and services.

Years ago, at a time when piracy and P2P sharing was rampant, Apple revolutionized the digital music scene. iTunes was a revolutionary service, and it was brilliantly coupled with the damn sexy iPod. Apple made it ridiculously easy, and relatively cheap to get Legal Music into that iPod -- so much so that even my Mom could get maximum use out of it. A couple of bucks to buy songs legally, and have them magically appear inside that iPod? Wow, were we ever hooked!

The folks at Apple have always had a good grasp of Usability and Desirability. So much so that I still recommend Apple's Macs, iPods, and iTunes over any OpenSource DIY solution or competitor's solution. And I'm considered a hard-core, Linux-Powered, Techno-Geek.

In consumer markets, Closed-Source often WORKS where Open-Source fails, precisely because there's more money to be made.

Seriously - how many "Open Source" video games have hit the mainstream? MythTV has yet to penetrate where TiVo and AppleTV has. And despite the P2P networks, "paid music" via iTunes is still King. And how come the "Linux Desktop" hasn't taken over Windows Vista, despite Vista's many failings?

While Google's Android platform seems to be gaining momentum, I still think that because Apple got there first, Apple will reign King. Nobody's going to give up their iPhone for a half-baked product, and thus far, I'm REALLY not impressed with any device that runs Android under the hood -- yet. Google's gotta provide at least TWICE the appeal of the iPhone to make most consumers even consider abandoning the well-understood, mainstream iPhone.
Comment by Josiah Hester on November 18, 2008 at 1:07pm
It's true the market is enormous, and will continue to grow. What will be cool is seamless integration of Google Labs stuff into Android, all while Google is still supporting the iPhone implementations. Very interesting.

On Flash, Adobe has said that Flash Player 10 will be supported by Android, I don't know where but I saw some screenshots of Flash in action on a G1. This is extremely important like you said, if Jobs doesn't do something with Flash the iPhone may be in a serious predicament. Lack of Flash and the crappy web browser on the iPhone are two things I would like to see changed.

I'm betting (and hoping) that Google has thought of the Japanese and Chinese markets, although the market in North America is extremely visible, so any efforts here wont be wasted.

One of the main things I'm happy with though, is the Java environment for Android. Especially since it's integrated with Eclipse. Running through their tutorials was very straightforward, their architecture seems pretty intuitive and reminds me of web architecture practices.

If you get the chance check out some of there stuff here
Comment by Daniel Leuck on November 18, 2008 at 12:45pm
Google is in an interesting position because many of the best iPhone applications, including mobile-friendly web and native apps, are from Google or third parties building on top of Google services.

The market is enormous and can easily accommodate both platforms. It would be nice to see a convergence, but I don't think that will happen anytime soon. Google is doing all the right things including working with most of the large handset makers via the Open Handset Alliance and fostering a large grass roots open source developer base.

A few things Google could do to make Android more competitive with the iPhone:
1. Incorporate robust Flash support - Jobs continues to block Adobe’s efforts to bring Flash to the iPhone.
2. Ensure there is a Japanese Android phone that supports the features to which the Japanese market is accustom - iPhone lacks common features on Japanese handsets.
3. Concentrate on the rapidly growing Chinese market.


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