Mobile World Congress--Hands On With Android

Posted by: Cliff Edwards on February 12, 2008

Here I was, wandering through the halls at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona, waiting for my moment in the sun. Chip licensing company ARM Ltd, you see, was about to show me a working early prototype of “Android,” the much-discussed open handset pitched by Google as the next revolution in mobile computing (or something like that). Texas Instruments in another hall had crowds popping in to see its chip platform running on Android, but I smugly walked by confident in my ability to hold an actual working Android phone.
After finding the ARM booth, I hungrily grabbed the all-white device that looked suspiciously like the HTC S620 smartphone. To my surprise, no trumpets blared. No visions came to me. Not one lousy bit of drool escaped my lips.
The software, demonstrated on a midrange ARM processor, was fast and responsive. It showed tight integration with Google applications such as email and web search. But I couldn’t help but feel: “So what?”
My experience highlights the issues Google and its retinue in the Open Handset Alliance will have to face if Android is to succeed. The software might be nice. It might even be easy to use, but will there a killer application like Apple’s iTunes software and store that makes the device worthwhile? And the hardware implementation on this particular device certainly didn’t impress me enough to think I must immediately have it.
Then too, you’ve got to wonder if there is a killer app, whether it will ever make it into every single Android device in the utopian fashion some are proposing. Indeed, I wonder whether handset makers have a hidden motive for supporting an open device that could be a nightmare to produce and manage: smoking out the truly innovative developers and snapping them up with lucrative employment contracts.
The cellular industry is a tough, hard-scrabble business. It seems clear to me now that the Google phone will do little to make it any easier.

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Reader Comments

tech_investor69

February 12, 2008 02:35 PM

When you can watch vidoe in amazing HD levels which does not kill your battery and you can do it while streaming with on2 tech codecs then you will see t he amazingness you were missing. you see apple had to convince youtube to encode certain videos to their specs because iphone did not have adobe flash. Now watch iphone beg to be part of the on2 codec revolution in HD

Bill Gates

February 12, 2008 02:38 PM

And your point is........

Sid Reddy

February 12, 2008 02:47 PM

The whole point of Android is to help ease the integration of hardware and software. Currently, there are dozens of different software platforms, which makes it a nightmare for handset makers and software writers alike to write programs and drivers for. With just one or two such platforms, the time-to-market on new devices is greatly reduced. So while Android in itself might not have any new amazing features, it is paving the way for the cool new hardware and software to be brought to handsets quickly and efficiently.

AJ

February 12, 2008 02:47 PM

It would definitely need a lot of work. First look at anything does not always look like work of Da Vinci. On the top of it, anything that Google does is made hype of, esp. by the media. So, Android was bound to get this attention and expectations were easy enough to build. Although, I believe that Android phones will at least be good with Google apps.

Aravind B.

February 12, 2008 02:58 PM

Have patience. The hardware is sure to be the first of many iterations that will envelop Android...and while hardware (and its associated "wow" factor) will initially grab customers, the user interface, which the author seems to acknowledge was fast and responsive, will win out...

Eric

February 12, 2008 03:15 PM

The beauty of Android is not in its current incarnation, but the possibilities of the future. The SDK is open and expanding every day. There are a huge number of Android projects being developed RIGHT NOW, and it all runs on an open-source operating kernel and interface. Android also allows drop in replacements for many of the core components, such as dialing. This means that in the future, some aspiring developer could write a new dialing subsystem, drop it into android, and off we go, new features and all. Do you think the iPhone (even if they do release an SDK), will ever allow something like that? No. Absolutely Not.

Android is about innovation, community, and openness. The fact that you mention iTunes as a "killer app" shows us that you love draconian DRM, lock-in, and feature-creep. It also highlights your inability to look to the future. iTunes/iPhone is the face of evil, the bastion of hate and lock-in, and the personification of all that is wrong with our current cellular industry.

Android may not be a perfect solution right now, but it is the way forward, and a Good Thing (TM).

I'd also like to point out that if Google wins the auction and/or we get new spectrum for wireless connectivity, you can bet your ass there will be an Android phone using that network. Do you think your precious $500 dollar brick will do the same?

Eric

Timothy Tripp

February 12, 2008 03:38 PM

I've worked in the Mobile industry for 10 years, and here's my advice to the people working on Android:

1. Embrace Flash (or something just like it) as a development platform for client applications. If there's one thing the iPhone has showed us, it's that fancy UI will sell devices. Developers will provide the content, just embed Flash in the ROM and give developers excellent APIs to tie those pretty front ends into Internet based data servers. Flash is the killer app for Android because it will let developers focus on code instead of UI.

2. Multitouch UI is the future. Microsoft Surface, the iPhone, and now the Mac Air all have it, and Android needs it on all touch devices if they really want to come in strong against Windows Mobile and Symbian, neither of which has the core support for multitouch like the iPhone does. At the very least developers need to be given an always-present API for zooming and rotating UI elements like the iPhone, even if some devices don't support multitouch (or any touch for that matter).

3. Data rates of at least 2.5G and full GPS (not the triangulated crap the iPhone uses) should be part of the Android baseline hardware requirements. The GPS coordinates should be available (with the user's permission for each site) to web applications, which can then use the location for useful information.

4. With Google Checkout already in place, buying movie tickets, tables at a nearby comedy club, renting a car and more through Google Checkout should be pushed as "normal" day to day operation of an Android device. There's enough money to be made off affiliate retail transactions keyed off user locations that there is no need to overload users with pop up ads, side bar ads, etc.

5. Hosted streamed video, especially TV with rotating commercials (similar to what you see now on abc.com, nbc.com fox.com and cbs.com) presents Google and IP owners with huge revenue potential as long as the video is easy to find and good quality. Even viewing full-length movies could be paid for by these commercials if done correctly. If Android presents users with a viable free alternative to iTunes DRM-heavy purchases, users will flock to these devices and the ad revenue will nicely line the pockets of advertisers, IP holders and the infrastructure (presumably Google).

6. Reverse the Apple model of "Carrier pays Manufacturer" to "Google pays Carrier" with a portion of revenue from #4. Since carriers (at least in the U.S.) are restricted to how much they can collect as part of a user's phone bill, and they have been unable to get additional ARPU from data services other than ring tones, this could stimulate carriers to lower or even eliminate unlimitted data plan charges. Once the data plans become a revenue generator for the carriers, they will want ALL of their customers to have unlimitted data so that more revenue will flow in. Like Prodigy and AOL eventually did in the PC ISP market, carriers will eventually have to concede that unlimitted data is the only way to compete and truly move the mobile industry online.

James

February 12, 2008 04:24 PM

If it doesn't have the Apple logo, why does it even exist? Why bother when Apple is the only thing that matters anymore?

Robert MacEwan

February 12, 2008 05:14 PM

Why no mention of Microsoft acquiring Danger? Ring a bell? *coughRubincough*

Come on folks. Google rolls out Adroid while Microsoft metoo's its way into the news with the purchase of Danger. Hey everyone look at me! I'm buyin- erm, innovating still. See. I bought another company. It's all mobile and whatnot.

Oh yeah, we have this great new advertis.. *say what? they turned us down?* Darn it. Never mind about the advertising innovation.

While we're on the subject of Google. Someone needs to look into their targeting of Text-Link-Ads and Izea's Pay Per Post members. Page Ranks slashed across the board during the time they're acquiring Double Click. 8-)

cheers,
macewan

p.s. where's all the "grassroots'rs" to cheer on Microsoft offerings? isn't about time for them to come on scene?

;-)

Scott

February 13, 2008 05:39 AM

iPhone is going to crash.

With their historic mindset, expect Apple to own only a tiny fraction of the mobile market. Apple is too closed – they only put their OS on Apple hardware – but in Mobile, there’s far too many competitors. (Imagine if Mac computers competed against 4 other OS’s in the PC space –- each far more ble to innovate and learn from Apple’s success than Microsoft. What a world it would be!) But unlike the PC space, Mobile has dozens of competitors, wildely innovative, learning and copying, releasing products annually, and covering divergent prices and styles.

Read the excellent analysis at http://www.broodingsavage.com/journal/2008/2/13/apple-iphones-core-strategy-problem.html

Boy Genius

February 13, 2008 11:16 AM

@Scott
Mac competes with not only Windows, but also hundreds of incarnations of Linux, not to mention other smaller forgotten OSs. When you're talking about innovation in the mobile space, it's in the hardware. Besides the recent release of Android, there has HARDLY been any innovation since Symbian, which itself is hardly evolving. Blackberry OS isn't very impressive, Palm has been stagnant, and the other closest thing to a full OS on a mobile is the much-maligned Windows Mobile. So OSX on a cell phone is a welcome improvement in the mobile world.

@Timothy Tripp
RE: #6
Manufacturers have been paying carriers for years...Apple was the one who REVERSED the trend. Besides, what kind of ideal world do you live in that would make you think Google paying carriers will incentivize them to "lower or even eliminate" their bread and butter from the data plans? Since voice plans can't get any more expensive than they already are, data plans are their main way to boost revenues.

Joe

February 13, 2008 11:07 PM

Does anyone really think that the average mobile phone user cares one bit about what operating system is in their phone? I guess as much as what drives their set top box. It is all what you can do with it out of the box. The rest is for geeks and their numbers dont count in the totals.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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