Android Expectations

The new issue of Wired has a nice 5,000-word piece by Daniel Roth offering a behind-the-scenes look at Google Android. More about Google’s (and their Android team’s) motivation and goals than about specific details of the platform, but interesting.

One thing I should make clear, given some of the email I’ve gotten this week, is that I’m rooting for Android, big-time. My obsession is with wonderful, thoughtful software and gadgetry. I love the iPhone because it’s fucking amazing, not because it’s from Apple. It’d be fantastic if even one Android-based phone is as good or better than the iPhone. And Android’s “code what you want to code, install what you want to install” openness is a fascinating contrast to Apple’s tightly controlled iPhone software platform.

If things work out ideally with Android, it’s easy to imagine how Android, as an overall platform, could wind up being better than the iPhone, or at least could force Apple to open the iPhone software platform further. But that’s an enormously big if.

The big advantage Apple has with the iPhone is that they control the entire product, top to bottom. The case, the chipsets, the OS, the user interface. Apple knows exactly what the screen will look like when a brand new iPhone is turned on for the first time. Google’s dependence on hardware and carrier partners puts the final product out of their control — and into the control of companies whose histories have shown them to be incompetent at design and hostile to users.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but my hunch is that the only way we’ll see an iPhone-caliber Android phone is if Google does what they’ve said they’re not going to do, which is to design and ship their own reference model “gPhone”. That doesn’t mean Android won’t still be successful in some sense if it remains on its current course, but that I don’t expect it to be successful in the “holy shit is this awesome!” sense that the iPhone is.

I have high hopes for Android, but my expectations are pretty low.