Monday, September 29, 2008

Android and Apple

Last week, T-Mobile and Google officially unveiled the G1 phone, formerly known as the HTC Dream. As the first phone to market running on the Android operating system, this is a huge landmark in the field of mobile technology. Inevitably the G1 will be compared to the iPhone, so let’s look at some key differences.

By offering Android to cell phone manufacturers as an open source OS, Google has the opportunity to get in front of a huge audience. Unlike Apple’s exclusive contract with AT&T, Google is not locked in to any one carrier or piece of hardware. This gives them an advantage, but it can present a challenge as well.

One of the key selling points of Android is the Android Market, Google’s answer to the iTunes App Store. Anyone can develop applications for Android and make them available in the Market. However, some developers are concerned about having to code and support software for a variety of phone hardware configurations.

Apple has tried (with minimal success) to quality control the applications made available for the iPhone with a vague approval process. They have taken quite a bit of criticism recently for rejecting apps (MailWrangler, Pull My Finger) and rather than reevaluating their policies, Apple’s solution has been to silence the rejected developers. Since there’s no approval process, innovative developers will have a much easier time making their products available to the Android audience. The drawback is that the lack of an approval process could lead to a glut of useless apps that must be sorted through to find the good ones. Even worse would be buggy or malicious software. Google will have to overcome these concerns.

Ultimately the biggest factor in deciding the success of Android will be usability. The iPhone, for all its shortcomings (lack of voice-dialing, no copy and paste, no real-time GPS navigation, among many others,) is easy to use, provides the best mobile web browsing experience available, and serves as an excellent all-in-one media and communication device. That’s a tall order for the G1 and subsequent Android devices to match or exceed. But the effort will officially push mobile technology into its next generation.

Cell phones aren’t just cell phones anymore. They are rapidly transforming into mobile computers. As prices on these devices drop, and new software makes them easier and more flexible to use, mainstream acceptance will increase. I’m locked into my iPhone until 2010, but as a tech junkie I’m excited to see what develops before I get my next phone.

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