Sunday, September 21, 2008

Five Reasons to Be Super Psyched About Android (and Five Not to Be) [Android]


The launch of Android is the most important event in mobile phones since the release of the iPhone. It could actually be more important, in the long run. Even if it doesn't exceed Google's wildest dreams to become a ubiquitous mobile platform, it's sure to re-stoke innovation in mobile phones as platforms slug it out for supremacy. But besides all that, Android just looks pretty damn cool. Of course, Android isn't all Google-y amazingness—there are some definite reasons to take a step back from the love-in. So here are five reasons why you should be absolutely hyped for Android on Tuesday, and five why, well...

1. It's open! The single best thing about Android is that's a modern mobile phone OS that's also almost completely open, unlike some other locked down mobile OSes. (There are a few restrictions in accessing the hardware for security reasons.) It's based on Linux, and once Google has released Android, most of it will be totally open source, so it'll be incredibly easy to dive into its guts and mess around, which will help build a robust developer community, along with all of the other benefits of using open software. Most of its other awesome traits grow out of its openness, actually.

2. We'll keep the Steve references to a minimum here, but Android will accelerate the process that the iPhone helped kickstart last year—the gradual devolution of carriers to open, dumb pipes. Before, carriers controlled every single facet of what a phone could and could not do. They still do to an extent, and it's not completely "anything goes" on the iPhone and Android, but together they have and will make the mobile landscape change far more rapidly than before. As Opera CEO Jon von ! Tetzchne r told me a few days ago, just a few years ago, carriers thought that the idea of full internet access was ridiculous, not to mention dangerous, threatening the obscenely lucrative business they have set up around miniscule bits of data like text messages, crappy "web portals" and ringtones. Android phones will be constantly connected and totally revolve around the internet, incessantly sucking down ever cheaper data—a carrier's worst nightmare not so long ago.

3. You'll have tons of hardware options. Android's designed to be versatile, so lots of manufacturers will be putting it on lots of phones—ones with QWERTY keyboards, touchscreens, T9, outrageously spec'd out phones, as well as ones that are kinda crappy in the spec department, actually. But this also provides a common platform for developers, making it easy to put their apps on millions of phones. It's the benefit of any OS that runs on a lot of hardware—like Windows or Linux, etc. Of course, this is also the Windows Mobile argument against all of the other proprietary OSes like Palm and BlackBerry.

4. There's even more potential for amazing apps than the iPhone, because developers are almost completely unencumbered by arbitrary rules and restrictions. So awesome apps like Podcaster or Instictiv Shuffle won't be mercilessly killed for not fitting into a tightly controlled framework or navigating a byzantine approval process.

5. It'll have the best Google apps experience of any mobile device, and play super nicely with Gmail, Gcal, Maps and everything else Google puts out. Or at least it damn well better, ! since yo u know, it's Google's baby. Simple, direct syncing with Gcal is tops in our list, since doing it on the iPhone requires sacrificing a goat while chanting from a book covered in the skin of baby unicorns.

Bonus reason: Not an iPhone. And our software geek sister Lifehacker has some more too.

1. Google can see into your soul. If you've ever been wary about how much Google knows about you, how are you going to feel when they're all over your cellphone? While a lot of the reason Android came to be was just to get people really using the internet on their phone (because when people use the internet, they use Google), we won't be surprised to see contextualized local ads, kind of like the sidebar ones you see offering you a date from hot local girls in Brooklyn or whatever hovel you're holed up in. But this will be hot girls just around the corner, since the phone will know where you're at.

2. It's not on the US's two biggest carriers, AT&T or Verizon. Statistically speaking, you've got one of them. But so far only the two runts of the majors, Sprint and T-Mobile are going to have Android phones. T-Mobile's 3G network is pathetically tiny compared to the other three, and well, Sprint's the only carrier actively losing subscribers, if that tells you anything. It's possible we'll see some Android action on Verizon's mythical open network though.

3. Buuut, carriers still have the right to gimp Android to their liking, precisely because of its Apache licensing. So a Sprint Android phone could hav! e its bu ilt-in "store" stocked only with, say, Yahoo! apps—or no store at all. In Verizon's hands, the UI could still look like it fell in a bucket of gaudy red paint.

4. Android is designed to run on a ton of different of hardware—phones with and without touchscreens, with and without QWERTY keyboards, phones with amazing specs, crappy phones, and everything in between. While this is a strong point as mentioned above, it could also be a point of suckiness. That means there won't be a consistent Android experience, and it'll depend heavily on the device you're using. Devs told us that you'll likely see different versions of their apps, so that on weakass phones, you'll have more diluted apps, which might be an issue for people picking up a cheap Android phone expecting to do everything a more expensive one will.

5. Relying too much on developers to fill in features could result in a phone that's not quite totally seamless and consumer-grade across the board. For instance, from what we've seen in the SDK, there's not a built-in, Google-made media player. It's rumored that the excellent TuneWiki will be Android's default player, which is great, but doing this for too many key features could make things a bit bumpy, since you're talking several developers instead of just one.

Bonus reason: It's not an iPhone.