The iPhone might be the hottest tech toy out there right now, but it pales in comparison to the amount of change that Android can -- and possibly will -- bring to the mobile world. With the first open network for users and open platform for developers, everything will change.
Google and T-Mobile recently announced one of the biggest developments in the mobile industry, and things are bound to get very interesting, as the competition heats up between mobile telecommunication companies. Prices will lower, service will expand and functionality will increase. BlackBerry and iPhone, you better watch out.
The Old, Closed Method of Mobile Service
For years, people have wondered why they can't do what they want to do on their mobile devices. But why should a mobile device be any different from a Windows, Mac or Linux system? After all, aren't these devices created to make our lives easier? It seems fitting that mobile devices would become more open by now.
Unfortunately, telecommunication companies have made it a habit to cripple mobile devices -- taking away any potential advancements from phone manufactures (like Nokia) and practically rendering those devices useless. Devices with amazing potential were rendered as simple, dumbed-down cell phones, and, a few years ago, a cell phone was exactly that.
Today, cell phones need to do more than what they were traditionally allowed to do. Businesses and consumers want this.
When looking at recent times, the past two years have lead to exceptional developments with devices like the iPhone -- users can download and install applications that they want to. However, even that was not enough, as major problems still exist with that system:
* The iPhone is the only device that can take advantage of applications on the iTunes store
* AT&T is the only carrier that officially supports the iPhone
* Developers have to jump through hoops to get listed on the iTunes store
* Users have been left disappointed with the lack of openness
* Users are complaining about the poor service of the 3G network
* The iPhone is incapable of allowing more than one application to run at a time
* Oh, and the iPhone's power adapter isn't particularly safe
Admittedly, the iPhone is a great device, not to mention the fact that it is a ton of fun to play with. But Apple's controlling attitude coupled with AT&T's remnants of old mobile industry thinking have ultimately lead to the potential for things to get even better, and they will.
Now, how ironic is it that Google might be seen as the company that helped to open up everything in the mobile industry? Seriously, what doesn't Google do these days?
The New, Open Android Way
The mobile industry is a fascinating place to be in right now. Changes that have been only a dream a few years ago are happening before our eyes. The opening of mobile networks that Android has demanded might simply overshadow any future development on a mobile device or service for years down the road. If it succeeds, it will make history.
Recently, most of the aforementioned issues with the iPhone were addressed with T-Mobile's official announcement of the G1 device. With the G1, users will be able to install any application they so desire, have an open system that anyone can develop for, interact with what looks to be a faster performance from the 3G network and enjoy multiple applications running at the same time. The G1, the first Android device
The G1, with a few exceptions, will have nearly all the capabilities of a typical iPhone or BlackBerry device:
* touch screen
* physical QWERTY keypad
* full web browsing support
* email support (not for MS Exchange, though) and more
This is obviously taking aim to be direct competition to the iPhone. At a price point of US$ 179 with a two-year contract, it appears to be an attempt to undercut the iPhone's pricing as well.
Lookin' Good, But Hardly Perfect
For all the great that comes from Android and G1, there are still issues, which really shouldn't be issues, and most are not a result of Android.
Changes for the Better
T-Mobile's G1 and Google's Android have finally had the details spilled out to the press, and here is what's good about the combination:
* A truly open platform with an open phone
* Plenty of fun and useful apps to interact with
* A 3.1 megapixel camera (supposedly, without flash)
* The G1 can be unlocked for users "in good standing" after three months with T-Mobile
* The Android Store will provide users with an organized, centralized place to grab applications from
* Developers can sell their applications on the Android Store
* T-Mobile has its reservations about tethering the G1
* T-Mobile is rumored to be covering the bill for all paid applications for up to three months after the launch
Realistically though, the first point is all that really matters. It is the fact that things are officially going to be open. People, for the most part, will be able to do what they please with their phones.
Regrettably, T-Mobile and the maker of "innovative" smartphones HTC didn't see eye-to-eye with Android.
Some Things Never Change
With innovation, comes restriction:
* No video camera
* No sound output
* 1 GB of memory by default (can be expanded through SD memory cards)
* Limited 3G coverage
* No A2DP Bluetooth support
* Google account is possibly required to sync (not clear, but looks that way from demo videos)
* IMs sent through GTalk and Yahoo are free, but AIM and MSN IMs will possibly go against a user's text message limit (not confirmed)
* No Microsoft Exchange support built-in (but can be added through a third-party application)
* 1 GB data transfer cap (speed can be reduced to 50 kbps after reaching the cap)
But the one huge downer is the fact that the unlimited plan is not really unlimited as stated on T-Mobile's official site: "If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less."
And while people should be sure that AT&T's 3G access to the iPhone is not really unlimited (they will disable this service, if it is "abused"), it seems like 1 GB is far too restrictive. It's nice they are up-front about it, but it is still not enough.
Either way, T-Mobile and HTC have made a few bad decisions that could potentially hurt G1's chances of ultimate success. For example, users are not particularly fond of the design of the phone.
If this device fails, HTC and T-Mobile have no one to blame but themselves. Android is looking fantastic. So, perhaps the next release of hardware and contracts will be more "open," than what T-Mobile has offered.
Overall, disappointment with the service and hardware -- not the Android platform -- is what is making the news as of late.
It's the Idea That Counts
The device and the operating system should really stand aside in the way of the idea of openness on a mobile device -- the power and ability to do whatever someone wants on their phone is mind-blowing. Google really has a winner there with its Android, and it is up to companies like T-Mobile to adapt to those changes.
However, what really should be on people's minds is the fact that the Android has placed the mobile networks in a position where they realize that they need to open themselves up. This is obviously the future that people envision, but only the mobile service providers have seen it differently.
It is interesting to note that Gartner, an independent research firm, predicted that Android would reach 10% market share by 2011. One can only hope this becomes a reality for the sake of opening up these mobile networks. It will all begin on October 22, the day that will forever change the mobile industry. Android will go open source and the G1 will go to market. For the rest, we will have to wait and see.
For more information about Android, check out some of the videos, or read CNET's great coverage.