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Something to think about... / blog
Google Andriod

Written by on September 24, 2008

Yesterday was a day full of exciting new announcements. First we got Adobe CS 4, and later in the day, T-Mobile also announced the first Google Android phone.

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I have been following Google Android "from a distance", because I live in Europe. Europeans are, for some strange reason, considered a second class citizen by technology companies. We have such complex and diverse markets (and so many different laws and rules) that it is hard to introduce new technology, and be successful at it. As a result I am not going to get my hands on a Google Android phone for quite some time.

But as anyone knows, from reading my articles about the mobile internet, this is an important event. So far the iPhone has been the supreme ruler of the modern mobile internet experience. Only HTC has been able to come up with something even remotely as good (with the HTC Touch HD). HTC is also the manufacturer behind the new Google Android phone.

Samsung did come out with their Instinct phone, which some said was an iPhone killer, but its "mobile internet" capabilities are lacking. The problem with none-iPhone devices is that the web experience is like using a slightly better version of WAP - or, to phrase it differently, isn't usable for any serious internet use. The only other browser manufacturer that can match Safari Mobile, is Opera Mobile 9.5 (which is on the HTC phones), but even that doesn't come close to the Webkit capabilities of the iPhone.

As long as they keep relying on useless browsers, no "smart phone" is going to make any considerable difference.

So what about the Android? Well, as for the internet experience, it does seem to allow for the full rich-browser experience. But what I have not seen yet is how well it does when it comes to mobile web applications.

The App Stores and Web Applications

Apple got the App Store, which is great and they got a lot of interesting things in it. They have a real problem with openness, and this is going to hurt them when other devices enter the market. Google Android also got an App Store, and I think that will be equally successful. Microsoft, with Windows Mobile, also introduced their app store, which has more apps than any other combined - although all of them are pretty boring.

So, we got 3 different app stores that are based on three different development platforms. On top of that we also got all the other development platforms for Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson phones.

This is a complete mess and not a cost-effective environment for mobile developers. Many people do engage in it because of all the buzz and the excitement factor, but it is not a good situation to have for the future.

The solution to all these things is to turn away from app development, and into web development. Where we use the browser as the mobile platform and through that creates a compelling and exciting web application. This way, we only have a single development platform that works on all devices - regardless of who made it.

That is the future we should be aiming for.

The iPhone is still the leader in this area because Safari is, by far, the most capable mobile browser. Not only because of its extensive support for Webkits, but also because it is the only browser that can capture touch events. Again, I have not tested the Android (yet), so I don't know the extent of its support for these things.

There are still, however, a long way to go. We need a lot of things to really be able to use the power of the mobile internet. We need:

  • to be able to overwrite the browser interface, creating a web application that has its own toolbars and interface elements.
  • even better support for external events. Better control over touch events, screen accelerometer etc.
  • to be able to tap into system UI elements, like special keyboards and drop down menus.
  • support for HTML 5, so that we can utilize the new form elements.
  • to be able to take the web experience offline
  • to be able to embed interactive content and video, instead of being forced to open it up in a secondary window.
  • have access to system level graphic and rendering capabilities.
  • ...and we need all those things we have yet to think about.

Google Android is an exciting development towards this goal. For one thing, it is good that Apple now has a real competitor with the mobile internet experience. That alone is going to push the technologies and capabilities forward.

Secondly, I actually think that Google Android is going to come out ahead of the field, simply because it is an open platform. With the iPhone, people have to use a very limited set of development tools, and everything has to go through Apple (which may reject your app based on lot of inconsistent reasons). On Google Android, you are in control, you have the power, you make the decisions - all backed by the mighty force of the Google community.

Apart from the "internet experience", the Google Android phone is very close to the iPhone. The biggest difference is that it is a phone made for the cloud. That is, you really need to be connected to use it. There is no desktop synchronization (as far as I have been told). You sync with Google's online services - or more specifically Google Apps. This is great if you are big Google user, but not so good for the rest of us.

It uses single-touch as opposed to multi-touch - and that limits things a bit (but not much). They have introduced a number of "single-swipe" interactions that looks very nteresting.

Google Android is exciting - and I think it will make quite a substantial impact on the market. But don't leave out Windows Mobile, the Blackberry, Samsung and Nokia just yet. There are all huge companies with a track record of making new innovative mobile products. They will fight back - it is just a matter of time.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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