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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Last week saw the introduction of the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. I've been following Android's progress with interest because it seems to be the most compelling competitor to Apple's iPhone so far.

This video by Engadget really helped me to understand the phone and operating system in a way that all of the specs and press releases have not. This particular video was better than most of the other ones I've come across because the phone's operator was quite familiar with its features.

Here are the things from the video that I really liked:

  • That little drop-down panel notification that appears and disappears after a few seconds. It also appears to be able to be recalled at any time. It's especially handy for background processes and applications, neither of which are possible on the iPhone.
  • The compass rose on the Google Maps application. This is a third-party integration, like a plugin or Greasemonkey script, that provides additional functionality not originally conceived by the app developers. This sort of customization is impossible on the iPhone and could be the basis for a much richer experience.
  • The Street View responds to movement on all axes by changing the view accordingly. This is pretty sophisticated positional analysis. Like the compass rose, it appears that Android can tell the application not only the phone's coordinates but also its orientation on all axes. That's not available on the iPhone and could be very useful.

That being said, I believe that Android is doomed to failure. First, it has forsaken multitouch ubiquity. After the pioneering efforts of Jeff Han, Apple and Microsoft have clearly embraced multitouch as the user interface of the future. By not requiring hardware manufacturers to support multitouch (or touch at all, really), Google has seriously limited application developers. If a developer wants to do a multitouch application once Android supports that, he is either limited to a subset of the customer base or he has to make it degrade gracefully on phones that don't support multitouch—neither is an appealing option.

And openness has proven time and again to not be a huge selling point to the average consumer. There are already open mobile operating systems but people are clamoring for iPhones. There's a certain abstract benefit to openness that is hard to communicate to users. The freetards may whine but the average person just looks at the iPhone and drools. They don't particularly care that their phone isn't open. Why? Because most phones in the past never were.

I predict that Android will linger forever on cheaper phones where a free operating system could make for increased profits. The Big Three—Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia—will barely notice its share and Google will mostly abandon the project due to its corporate ADD.