It’s Open, But That May Not Be Enough

Google released the new Android mobile phone OS! Now, can we all take a deep breath and exhale…. There, now doesn’t that feel better? It’s been a whirlwind of a ride so far and we’ve barely seen a working handset running an Android application, yet the world is abuzz with everything Google and Android. To be sure performing a search for either garners you a bevy of news articles from both supporters and “naysayers” a like. While I myself am very optimistic of Google’s endeavor to revolutionize the mobile handset industry it’s going to take more than just being open source to ensure it’s survival as a viable alternative to the current crop of mobile phone operating systems. Google will also need the following if it expects Android to be around for the long haul.

Innovation for the end user.

It will not be enough to simply be “new” because “new” happens every day. “New” will get my attention, but to keep it you have to be innovative. What will Android bring to the table from an end user’s point of view that isn’t already available through Symbian, Windows Mobile, RIM or Palm? While the ability to customize my operating system sounds interesting from a technical point of view how will it enrich my life, or make it more productive? Give me software that will track my fantasy football league results and standings without me having to log into a website, and have it available on my home screen all the time! Give me a program that sends me a text message with the show times of any movie or show I programmed it to look for at all movie theatres within my zip code. Open source sounds sexy but will it have a positive impact on my life?

Major support from developers big and small.

If you’ve followed the video gaming industry you know all too well that the most powerful piece of hardware is only as good as the software programmed to run on it. The Sega Saturn may have been technically superior to the Sony Playstation but software developers took more risks on Sony’s machine, while Sega stuck to its roots and released port after port of its arcade titles. R.I.P. Sega Saturn. We hardly knew ya’. If software developers don’t take risks, but instead release remakes of software that’s already available on current platforms the Android will meet a similar fate. Google has to encourage developers of all sizes to flock to yet another platform, and while their $10 million developers challenge is a step in the right direction, I question whether it will be enough to stimulate long term support from the developer’s community.

Patience.

It’s true that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it may take even longer for Android to gain a foothold in the mobile phone industry. Even the most optimistic of scenarios doesn’t see this new OS gaining 5 to 10 percent market share in the next 5 years. It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to take more than just two mobile phone operators to make it happen. While T-Mobile and Sprint are great partners to have in the OHA their customer bases aren’t large enough to impact a dramatic change in the industry. For this to work you need to convince Verizon and AT&T to come to the table with their installed base of 63.7 million and 65.7 million respectively. Without them I fear that Android will only appeal to a niche market, much like the iPhone has up to this point, and revolutions aren’t made by catering to niche markets. It will take time and positive results before Verizon and AT&T embrace this new platform. The question is will Google have the patience to wait for them?

I have no doubt that we are in the midst of something big. Android has the right company backing it because Google isn’t afraid to take chances, and they appear to be in it for the long haul. Let’s hope the developer’s can truly produce some innovative software to make Android a viable option for a very long time to come.

Don’t agree with my assessment of Android’s future? Please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear other points of view!

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