I sit here in Barcelona awaiting the start of the Mobile World Congress, a T-Mobile G1 Android phone blinking by my side. According to some, the MWC - the world's biggest cell phone show - was supposed to be Android's coming out party. Some have even declared 2009 "the year of Android."
Well, maybe. But so far, Android is still mostly smoke and very little fire. And I don't see a conflagration erupting any time soon.
As I write this, the total population of Android phones seen in the wild consists of the T-Mobile G1 and ... well, the G1. Samsung was supposed to unveil its long-rumored Android phone at the MWC, but last week Samsung's head of marketing Younghee Lee told the UK's Guardian its Android handset wouldn't be ready until the second half of this year.
I suspect that decision took a lot of people by surprise.
(Samsung also abruptly canceled a briefing they'd set up here with me - I can only assume it was going to be about their Android phone.)
UPDATE: Well, you know what say happens when you assume things? At the MWC I got the official word from Kim Titus, PR director for Samsung. Titus says he has no idea how the whole Samsung Android announcement rumor got started. "We never had any plans to announce the Android phone at MWC," he says. "The Android phone is not delayed; it is on track to come out before year end." That briefing was not canceled, as I had been told, but it was about Samsung's new Omnia HD and Memoir camera phones.
It also doesn't help that well-respected security wonk Charlie Miller announced a major security hole in the Android browser just last week. The vulnerability could allow malicious code to take complete control of the Android browser and steal your data. It even had some folks suggesting G1 users stop surfing the Web until a patch is issued.
UPDATE: Miller later backed off on his warnings about how severe the bug was. See the comments section below for more details.
As smart phones go, the G1 isn't bad - and it's leagues better than any Windows Mobile Handset I've played with, though that's not saying much. But it still feels more like a proof of concept than an actual handset.
It's slick, with a beautifully designed and uncluttered interface. The context-sensitive menus button that adjusts to whatever app you're running makes it super easy to use. It has a satisfying heft and an actual QWERTY keyboard with decent spacing and nice tactile feedback.
On the other hand, I find the touchscreen quasi-responsive and the camera bare bones. But my biggest problem is that the Android phone is boring. There's no wow factor. I can't see people talking about the G1 the way they rave about the iPhone.
Now, I don't think the Jesus Phone walks on water. (OK Apple fanboys, have at it.) But even so, picking up the G1 after having used an iPhone is like dating Jennifer Aniston after you've been shacking up with Angelina Jolie. I mean, what's the point?
Google's announcement last week that it will start accepting pay-to-play apps in the Android store should help. Presumably that will spur the creation of groovy apps like the ones that make the iPhone something entirely different than any phone we've seen in the past.
Meanwhile, Motorola, LG, HTC, and other handset heavyweights have all pledged to bring out Android models this year. Some may even be showing here at MWC. (If I see any, I'll let you know.)
Why is this important? Because the future of computing - and by extension, our economy - is largely about mobility. I don't think the Windows metaphor works on small screens (it barely works on large ones) and Apple is just a bit too megalomaniacal for my tastes. I'm all for open source solutions like Android; I think they'll speed the development of the mobile Web and have a dramatic affect on how we live, work, and play.
They just better get here soon. Because I don't know about you, but I can't wait much longer. And you know Microsoft and Apple aren't going to.