Android 2.0: The iPhone killer at last?

Get past the hype: Here's the real deal on Android's chances to unseat the iPhone

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By contrast, Android has Motorola and Verizon behind it, both with axes to grind against the iPhone. Motorola wants to reclaim its StarTAC mojo from a decade earlier, and Verizon has been blocked by AT&T from offering the two premium smartphones: the iPhone and the BlackBerry Bold. More to the point, both Motorola and Verizon are pushing their own Android-oriented application development environments meant to compete with the iPhone App Store.

With other industry stalwarts such as Acer and HTC also coalescing around Android, the question remains: Will users follow? To be sure, the power behind Android has shifted the atmosphere around the mobile platform away from its initial positioning as an open source-driven platform, a position that to my mind slowed down Android and risked making it the mobile equivalent of desktop Linux: just a plaything for open source community.

In other words, by partnering big, Android may have exponentially increased its appeal.

What could trip up Android

Despite the promise, there are several factors that should give any user, IT operation, or developer pause before investing in Android.

The first is that Android has taken four versions over two years to reach the same ballpark as the iPhone; WebOS did it in a dot-one upgrade a few months after its release. Google's slow pace is worrisome, calling to mind Microsoft's troubled approach to mobile development. Plus having all those versions and their variants risk confounding app developers, who may stay away.

Which also brings up a major failure of Windows Mobile: the fact that every device was significantly different -- something that Android also risks. This fracture made both app development and IT support impossible for Windows Mobile, as there were too many exceptions to manage. It's also why Java's presence on 1 billion "feature phones" -- the not-so-smartphones that comprise the majority of cell phone sales still -- is meaningless to developers and IT. Each device is essentially its own platform, creating a fragmentation that benefits no one but the carriers who use it to push continual purchases of new devices as if they were games or jewelry. Android will fade away if it follows the Windows Mobile or Java tracks.

Also, Android started as a Google-oriented platform, meant to promote Google's Gmail and other cloud services. That degree of lock-in was more than even Apple or Microsoft try to achieve, and it didn't work in Google's case. Google is a powerhouse, but it fails much more than it succeeds, and using its mobile OS to help make its cloud offerings the new monopoly wasn't a bright idea.

But I'm less concerned over Google's mixed success record than I am about the active support of Verizon and Motorola. Neither company is market-savvy, nor known for innovation (well, Motorola once was, but that was a long time ago, and its floundering in the 1990s and 2000s isn't encouraging).

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