‘The Day Google Had to “Start Over” on Android’

The Atlantic has an excerpt from Dogfight, Fred Vogelstein’s book on the mobile platform battle between Apple and Google (same book from which this great piece on the iPhone introduction was adapted):

For most of Silicon Valley — including most of Google — the iPhone’s unveiling on January 9, 2007 was something to celebrate. Jobs had once again done the impossible. Four years before he’d talked an intransigent music industry into letting him put their catalog on iTunes for ninety-nine cents a song. Now he had convinced a wireless carrier to let him build a revolutionary smartphone. But for the Google Android team, the iPhone was a kick in the stomach.

“What we had suddenly looked just so… nineties,” DeSalvo said. “It’s just one of those things that are obvious when you see it.”

I’ve read the book, and it is, on the whole, very good. I highly recommend it. Vogelstein’s reporting is excellent and remarkable; he documents much that has heretofore gone undocumented. His analysis, though, I consider flawed in many ways — Vogelstein’s take on the competitive dynamics between iOS and Android is, more or less, the thinking man’s defense of the Church of Market Share.

Another quibble, from today’s excerpt:

A lot was wrong with the first iPhone too. Rubin and the Android team — along with many others — did not think users would take to typing on a screen without the tactile feedback of a physical keyboard. That is why the first Android phone — the T-Mobile G1 from HTC, nearly two years later — had a slide-out keyboard.

That first sentence is fine — the original iPhone left much room for improvement. But Vogelstein’s supporting example — the on-screen keyboard — is an example of something the original iPhone got right, and which took the rest of the industry, including Andy Rubin and the entire Android team at Google, years to come to terms with and accept. What percentage of smartphones sold today have a hardware keyboard? I’m guessing it’s in the single digits and dropping.

Thursday, 19 December 2013