Today, the finest minds from Google, HTC, and T-Mobile on hand to launch the Android platform proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the iPhone’s monomaniacal “whole widget” development model is the only way to claim genuinely new territory in a market. The T-Mobile G1 comes up tragically short in the race to launch a widespread, modern mobile OS to prevent the proliferation of Windows Mobile. As Steve Jobs has learned, if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself. In fact, the Android Troika is making the same assumptions that have ensured that Linux will always be a marginal desktop OS in developed markets. Here are the top three reasons why:
3. Presuming that Someone Else Will Fix Your Problems
Google has left a lot undone with Android: no built-in Exchange support; no desktop syncing; no video playback; a comically variable UI. But it’s OK, Google says: third-party developers will definitely come up with solutions. While that’s probably true, it also means that standards won’t get established for these features, which means that new features will always lag behind more tightly controlled platforms like the iPhone. Worse, the Exchange omission ensures that this will never play with corporate IT environments that are looking to replace a fleet of aging Treos right now. That means the only credible alternative to Windows Mobile and BlackBerry? iPhone. I never thought I would see the day when Apple was more corporate friendly than the open alternative.
2. Believing Flexibility is More Important Than Usability
Geeks love the freedom to modify hardware. It’s one reason why the original Apple II was a nerd’s dream machine back in the day — it had a ton of slots for new hardware to fit into. The G1 is a little bit like that – it has very little on-board storage for holding applications and music, relying on a Micro-SD slot instead, which means people can have as much or as little additional storage as they like, with 1GB included. Unfortunately for tech companies, most people hate having to manage stuff like that. There are a ton of prospective G1 owners who probably couldn’t swap storage if they tried – which means they’re saddled with a high-priced media phone that only has the same amount of storage as an iPod shuffle. The G1 can take an 8GB card, but that’s expense above and beyond the regular price – and a major headache.
A resistance to simple design means that the new Google Phone is complex now and only destined to become more complex. It tries to meet every feature people could possibly want, and ends up leaving a few out and compromising the others. That’s why the phone has a bizarre Touch-with-Scrollball interface and can ONLY type in landscape mode with the physical keyboard. Trying to do too much always leads to mediocrity, and it does here.
1. Guessing that “close enough” is good enough
The iPhone set the world on fire by making multi-touch a household word. The G1 has a touchscreen that can’t do multi and hopes people won’t notice. The iPhone blended the features of an iPod with those of an advanced smart phone and created something better than either. The G1 has a kludgy music interface that make’s the BlackBerry media player look elegant, and it doesn’t even have a headphone jack – just a mini-USB adapter. Mobile Safari kicked the door down for the mobile web. Android Browser can parse HTML, but the browsing experience is feeble. The iPhone App Store uses a rigorous review process that creates headaches for developers but also ensures that users don’t install malicious code. The Android Marketplace looks exactly the same, but it does nothing to keep out malware. Unless you can know precisely which applications should have system settings access, you might hand the keys to the kingdom to a hacker. Can you say Norton Anti-Virus for Mobile? I knew you could!
The G1 comes up seriously short because its developers presumed that people are too unsophisticated to tell the difference between an iPhone and everything else. And on that point, they’re almost right. People probably can’t tell the difference on paper. The problem is, they’ll notice as soon as they start using it, and they might grow to hate its shortcomings. And if this thing isn’t better than it looks, public opinion might be poisoned to the initiative from the start. It’s not too late to make Android a huge hit, but it won’t happen because of this device. Let’s hope Google gets it right once they get all of this out of Beta…
The iPhone had shortcomings when it launched, too, but all of those (save cut-and-paste and video recording) have been addressed since then. It rocks because its software and hardware are optimized for each other and for its most important features. Apple kept software and hardware in-house and is miles ahead of the market as a result.