The “gPhone” was announced today. I put gPhone in quotes, because there was no actual phone announcement. What was announced was the “Open Handset Alliance” and their toolkit, Android. They are
“…committed to commercially deploy handsets and services using the Android Platform in the second half of 2008.”
“An early look at the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) will be available on November 12th.”
This makes the announcement the biggest marketing anticlimax since the Segway. They’re not announcing anything but a toolkit, and I don’t even get to see that for a week. That week only increases the “WTF?” I keep murmuring. Yes, yes, there was this huge buzz surrounding gPhone/Android, but why are you leaving people like me with nothing to do but be snarky for a week, without having the code there. If the code were there, any comment I could make could be pushed back with the reply of, “go look at the SDK.” Absent an SDK, I have to peer at what is on the web site, and what is there is anticlimactic, as there will be no phones for a year (or longer). It’s less of an anticlimax than cold fusion, but that’s not hard.
The parts of Android that aren’t an anticlimax are downright frightening.
Some of that is harmlessly frightening. There are two videos on the OHA web page. One is of children talking about, “if I had a magic phone” and it is treacly and content-free. I, too, would love to have a phone that made me an astronaut, take me to the moon, make cupcakes with sprinkles as well as pizza, cookies, and peanut butter sandwiches, and help animals feel better. I would pass on the phone that turns into underpants, and if the
gPhone Android does this, I’ll stick to something else, thank you.
However, I believe we already have phones that take pictures, fit in my pocket, and have a keyboard. As a matter of fact, there is one of those in my pocket now. Those suggestions show the difference between being imaginative and innovative. Watch this video; I’ve inoculated you from needing a barf bag.
The other video is of a bunch of adults showing the same level of attachment to reality. The closing child remark is that a magic phone will do whatever you want it to and that is the theme of this second video.
The adults say some telling things. The video opens up with a sound check and a clapper, to let us know this is unfinished. Nick Sears and Andy Rubin’s dog tell us about how this comes from thinking from Danger (who made the Sidekick) and T-Mobile, not Google. Despite what the paper of record has said, Google is nowhere mentioned. People who have been following the gPhone rumors know that Google bought the company, Android, that is now giving us the phone software, Android. The message, therefore, is that this isn’t really Google, it’s Android. They tell us that there is no gPhone, “what we’re doing is enabling an entire industry to create thousands of gPhones.”
So this is a committee-based, excuse me alliance-based system. It’s Linux and all the stuff like GTK toolkits. The tech lead, Brian Swetland, tells that there will be “at least five people out there who read Slashdot, who will be all over that.” I blinked when I heard that. Go watch the video for yourself. I didn’t take that quote very much out of context. This is not a phone. It is an OS and toolkit. That’s it.
The vision behind this non-announcement? Well, the kids want cookies, pizza and trips to the moon. The adults want a shared family calendar (ummm, doesn’t the iPhone have that? Not having an iPhone, I don’t know, but I thought it does), “keep track of my kids,” “maybe some social thing,” “my taxes,” and “make me understand my wife better — it would translate her thoughts” (this latter one coming from German Bauer, Experience Designer). Oh, man, I’m sure Jonathan Ive is kicking himself now. (Or maybe not. If you’re an android, understanding humans you’ve married is hard. I think Mr Ive is sympatico with humans.) I finished watching that saying, “That’s it? That’s it? That’s all you can think of?” It is harmlessly frightening because I’m frightened that so many smart people can have so little there.
Missing from the vision of children and adults alike is my vision of a magic phone. I want a magic phone that doesn’t drop out every other word when someone calls me, and can display their name when they call, even if one of us is in a different country. My magic phone makes phone calls.
I loathe my present phone with a special white-hot passion because it has a GPS and can show me with Google Maps where I am to three meters, but it doesn’t do the things that I think a magic phone should.
The serious frightening parts are in the Android are in the text of the overview.
“All applications are created equal. Android does not differentiate between the phone’s core applications and third-party applications. They can all be built to have equal access to a phone’s capabilities providing users with a broad spectrum of applications and services.”
“For example, Android enables developers to obtain the location of the device, and allow devices to communicate with one another enabling rich peer-to-peer social applications.”
In other words — there’s no security. Nowhere on the Android web site does that word appear. But they do flat out have as their vision tracking people. The architecture proudly enables geo-targeted ads, malware, bots, spyware and so on. The designers tell us they don’t understand their spouses and want to track their kids before they tell us.
“Android breaks down the barriers to building new and innovative applications. For example, a developer can combine information from the web with data on an individual’s mobile phone — such as the user’s contacts, calendar, or geographic location — to provide a more relevant user experience. With Android, a developer could build an application that enables users to view the location of their friends and be alerted when they are in the vicinity giving them a chance to connect.”
Gosh, thanks. Eesh.
The clear winner in this announcement is the collection of Apple, Microsoft, Symbian, and RIM, who should see no threat in a committee whose vision is to deliver things that you can get from the iPhone, N95, or other present smartphones. The clear loser is OpenMoko. Sorry, guys. You’re dead. Someone else has Linux phone with no apps, and a bigger marketing budget. They’re also smart enough to flee from Copyleft and the GPL. They’re are using Apache licensing, so they are more open than you. I recommend switching to delivering Android on your hardware for those “five Slashdot readers.”
If the winners want to kill Android, they can, easily. Let’s suppose that Apple said that Android-compatible apps would work on iPhone 2, or Microsoft said the same thing about the next version of Windows Mobile. Much of the reason for considering Android to be separate would vanish.
Fortunately, we the humans who use phones do not appear to have any threat from the androids, because sometime next year they’re going to deliver this year’s smartphone.