One Way Android Can Become Viable

August 19, 2009

Apple guy John Gruber knocks it out of the park with this thoughtful piece on what he calls "the Android opportunity": his take on what Android can to do in order to become a viable alternative to the iPhone for technologists. Two points I couldn't agree with more: Android has to run on decent hardware (preferably a handset Google designs) and better exploit its advantages over the iPhone (like over-the-air Google apps sync, which beats MobileMe any day and is one of the main reasons I use Android). Yes, yes, and yes. Like Gruber, I really hope Google makes this play, because competition is good. Also, people will stop saying to me, "so you really like Android more than the iPhone? Really?"

Android’s got a few hurdles to overcome. First, as long as Android’s exclusive to T-Mobile, it’s hosed. T-Mobile can’t bring out a great handset to save their lives. Also, for significantly large areas of the country, Android’s just not an option. The 3G rollout by T-Mobile has been significantly lacking. I live in Albany, NY, and despite the T-Mobile retail stores claiming “it’s coming”, three years later, it’s still not here. So I would be stuck on an EDGE network with an advanced data centric handset. Even would I be willing to settle for EDGE, T-Mobile requires their $30 a month data plan with both of the Android handsets. Why should I pay for 3G, when I don’t get it? Other data plans are $10.
Personally, I am also hesitant to buy an Android handset “with Google” because nobody will fully explain the terms of service to me. I am sort of OK (well, not really, but I like gmail) with the amount of data collection Google does with my GMail, GCal, and web history, but the idea of them handing me a GPS tracking device that could be (again, the terms of service are not clear)combine my location history with my call history, my web history and my calendar??? Imagine shopping for a car, or a house, and that data was available to the sellers of those items? A real estate agent could purchase a profile of you that contains GPS based data of what houses you’ve looked at, what you’ve seen on the web. Valuable negotiating information. Does this happen now, I doubt it. But, with Google and T-Mobile being vague about what data is collected…..

The HTC Hero has the chance to be the best Android handset yet, but of course T-Mo passed in favor of the toy like and horribly named mytouch 3G. If Sprint does actually launch it in Oct, I might actually buy one, and see if Sprint’s as bead as they used to be.
The key for Android is going to be the mass market take up, which you may start seeing next year, after they launch the slew of handsets coming out.

Chad: I took a look at some of Google’s terms of use a little while ago. It was part of a comparative analysis with Facebook’s revised terms of use but it might be helpful. At the risk of taking undue advantage of Gina’s blog to promote my site, the post is at http://bit.ly/c4EY0

Gina: The MobileMe synching is pretty snappy in my limited experience and I am a little torn between an iPhone 3Gs and an Android device like the HTC Hero which we should receive towards the end of the year here in South Africa. Aside from wondering if I can keep up to date with both my Gmail and Google Apps accounts on Android devices, I do wonder how well Android devices sync with Google services so it is interesting that you have found it to work better than MobileMe.

Paul Jacobson [+3]
Aug 19 09 at 11:33 am

It’s worth pointing out that the iPhone does have over-the-air Google Apps (contacts+calendar) syncing via Google Sync (http://www.google.com/mobile/products/sync.html#p=apple), and over-the-air mail syncing via IMAP (though no push).

It’s not quite as integrated into the OS as it is in Android (it’s actually done through an Exchange server), but in my experience it works relatively flawlessly for contacts. I can’t really comment on how well calendar or mail syncing works since I prefer to use the calendar and mail webapps.

Despite this, most people are never going to set up (or even be aware of the existence of) Google Sync, so it’s still definitely an area that Google could capitalize on.

grantheaslip
Aug 19 09 at 1:01 pm

Gina,

Liked the piece, but I had a big beef with his idea that the gPhone shouldn’t have a replaceable battery. I get his argument that it makes the device “creaky,” but it also makes hard or impossible to replace an important component without getting hosed.

Honestly, some of the solutions he proposes are kind of frustrating – yes, the g1 isn’t as pretty as the iPhone, but in my experience it’s hardier. The “foot” is a great thing, and as someone who’s used it for FTP access, I like the keyboard as well.

I see the reasons for making it more attractive and (in my eyes) less functional, but I find them frustrating nonetheless.

Personally my big beefs are battery life (obviously) and the app store, which just doesn’t seem as well organized as Apple’s. I’d like to be able to sort more precisely. And if the too-small built-in memory turns out to block me from firmware updates, that’ll be a big beef.

Whet Moser
Aug 19 09 at 1:02 pm

On a technical point of view I agree on indications given, but, please, remember that is not only a problem of “techiness”.

Is mainly a problem of business approach: people in the world like the Iphone because represents something more than a phone, it’s a trend (but yes it’s good and lovely to use it).

People love IPhone at the point that they could not care less (or opt out for another phone) for a telephone without mms for more than a year. And after Iphone 3gs has been released they will continue to choose Iphone.

Seems to me that people at big G are thinking of applying the same strategy (means philosophy) that worked well for everything at Google also to mobile approach: sorry, but I think is not the way (or at least is not completely) that will drive Android to success.

Technology is an enabler, but, in this case is only a part of the game.

hotrao [+10]
Aug 20 09 at 5:11 am

“Also, people will stop saying to me, “so you really like Android more than the iPhone? Really?”

i don’t have an android phone (yet, waiting till the end of the year to see the new ones supposedly coming q4) but every time i mention that i’m going to be getting some sort of android phone eventually i get that same reaction.
enjoying the new twig show, good luck with it
greetings from old brooklyn… corey

wookietv
Aug 20 09 at 12:47 pm

I have developed for both the iPhone and the Android, and I can all of you reading this that the Android is far superior in many ways. First, you can deploy a system deamon process. Second, your app can continue to run in the background, unlike on the iPhone which forces an immediate shutdown. And third, the Android supports open and free formats: videos, music, pictures, etc. and this gives you the developer and you the user more FREEDOM! So, if you like freedom of choice, choose Android. I’ve had an HTC Dream for 3 months now, I have written 2 applications for it and I’m working on my third that will soon make it into the Android Market. I like MAC OS X and iPhone for the fast, smooth GUI too, and so I predict that iPhone and Android will be in our future. Some that will sadly become dinosaurs soon: Windows Mobile and Palm.
Android will become viable for many reasons. We have an excellent starting platform to improve upon. Please subscribe to the Android Central email newsletter and you shall see the new hardware that is coming out to support Android.

darcyallen
Aug 21 09 at 3:09 pm

Verizon — that will help Android very, very much.

Sean Carr [+1]
Aug 26 09 at 7:20 pm


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