UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Sep 2008

Yesterday’s Guardian (24 September 2008) contains an article on the release of the Google G1 phone. An accompanying review, entitled “Innovation For Tech Heads” describes how the technology is “as good if not in some cases better” than the iPhone, and mentions G1’s strengths in its camera and download speed. Most importantly, though, the article describes how “The real difference between the two devices … is likely to come from the openness of Google’s operating system, Android, which allows tech-heads to design ‘widgets’ for the phone.” The article does concede that the phone lacks the “wow factor of the Apple device“.

Now I’m sure that most readers of this blog will understand the benefits provided by openness and the dangers of being locked into a proprietary system – whether this is Facebook, Microsoft or Apple’s iPhone. Some readers with a pragmatic view of the world may have bought an iPhone as at the time there wasn’t an equivalent open system. But now that the G1 device is available, which provides, unlike the iPhone, an open environment for accessing widgets, that argument is no longer valid. So we’ll soon be seeing those iPhone users who have strong beliefs in open systems and have criticised the closed nature of various Web 2.0 services seeking to move their contract, won’t we?  And this should include many of the people I follow on Twitter who became very excited when they purchsed their iPhone.

Is this a likely scenario? Isn’t it the case that IT professionals and policies makers can be impressed by the ‘wow’ factor  – this isn’t restricted young people who we sometimes accuse of being impressed by the latest ‘fad’.  And don’t we all have to make judgements about openness, cost, functionality and, indeed, personal preferences.  So if the iPhone, G1 or whatever other new device comes along and provides a valuable personal learning environment, personal research environment, personal work environment and personal social environment for the owner of the device, then shouldn’t we accept that?

And if we accept that argument for the device that we have in our hand, then doesn’t it also apply to the equivalent service which we have accept via our fingertips- whether this is our preferred social networking environment or aggregation tool? Or to put it another way, when should openness trump personal preferences?

(Disclaimer I’m the owner of a Nokia N95 with a short battery life!)

13 Responses to “Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads””

  1. ajcann said

    I’m sadly disappointed with both the iPhone and the G1. No video. No FLASH. It’s not just about open, it’s about what they can do. Both of these devices lag behind the Nokia offerings. Shame.

  2. Paul Walk said

    I think the Guardian article, and your post, slightly missed the point….

    There is, of course, an SDK for the iPhone, and a large and growing number of third-party applications have been developed. There is no distinction in principle with Android at this level.

    The actual distinction between the iPhone and Google’s offering is that Android can be deployed on other hardware, whereas Apple have never licensed their operating systems to run on other hardware.

    I purchased my iPhone after some research into who was likely to develop software for it when the SDK became available. So far I have not been disappointed!

    Regarding ‘openness’ and ‘lock-in’: I think you need to distinguish between the openness of open-source software and ‘open-data’. As a consumer/user, I want control over the openness of my own data. For this reason I have issues with systems such as Facebook which seek to ‘wall-in’ my data. As a developer, I have long been convinced of the benefits of developing software with an open-source component-based approach, but the downside of this usually lies in the difficulties one can face in getting components to work together. The use of open standards helps here, but their efficacy is often overstated. When the most important thing is that something just works, without needing time-consuming ‘fiddling’, then a more closely controlled production process can be beneficial. This is the method of production at which Apple excels.

  3. Mike said

    Paul’s point is absolutely crucial. Data portability is key. When data is portable, who cares if it’s being used in locked-down, proprietary systems?

    It’s also worth re-iterating (although slightly off the point) that most users couldn’t give a stuff about the closed nature of their devices, applications OR data. Facebook, iPods, iPhone, any gaming console – the list goes on. These all seem to be pretty popular, however much us IT types continue to shout about the dangers of closedness..


  4. Interesting musings Brian, the iPhone as a marketing phenomenon fascinates me. It still has a pretty small share compared to Nokia and others. BUT it seems to be doing that thing which Apple does so well, provoke a strong sense of customer loyalty. I am writing this on Mac hardware and although I use the other major OS’ as well Mac is now my desktop/laptop preference.

    Not so with mobile devices, at least not yet. The iPhone is a beaut of aesthetic design but I’ve always felt it doesn’t actually offer that much that is new other than it’s packaging. I also think as a device it has some usability challenges (but then what doesn’t!). Of course I write this as someone who is pretty well informed about small device digital technology and understands the differences in spec etc.. The iPhone has the WOW factor, as you put it, I concede and that’s important. Alistair Sutcliffe here at Manchester and his team did some interesting research on the WOW factor and its impact on usability and it suggested that it could really influence the decision making process of the consumer. The iPhone seems to be commercial proof of that. When it was launched (I know some of this has changed with the new version) it was 2G connectivity (poor for a ‘smartphone’) and 2 megapixel camera, again low spec given the screen size. Its also expensive, again it has come down in price but to get a ‘free’ legitimate iPhone you are still looking about £810 over 18 months. Given that many contract holders still get free devices with web access and other comparable features to the iPhone for about £450 over 18 months thats quite a difference, again it gives evidence for the power and loyalty the device and the brand inspires.

    So OK power of the brand to one side. What about closed and open systems. The challenge for educational providers looking to use digital personalisation is to recognise that these systems are going to exist side-by-side amongst end users. It’s our problem. If we are serious about offering personalisation through digital devices and they say ‘I want to use this for my learning’ and the device offers the basic features that are required for the interaction then I don’t think we can call it personalisation if then say “no because we have only developed this way, so you must buy/use this instead”. So we need to develop systems that are adaptable and interface with different devices in different ways. I think the platform vendors hardware and software have a key part to play. Closed source systems need to be open enough to play nicely with interactions and open systems need to make sure there is enough genuine community support to make them viable in the medium-to-long term.

    In reality although personalisation might be in part about allowing the learner great freedom of choice I think for sanity’s sake and budgets we will need to set baselines. If a users device is so locked down that no one can work with it then sadly it will have to be left in the cold. Also if it is open and there seems to be no real stability in its release or use again it can’t be supported.

    So in my rambling way I guess I advocating a use of baselines for service and data delivery. They don’t need to be the same for all and not necessarily fixed but at least it gives everyone of chance of discovering what is required.

  5. “There is no distinction in principle with Android at this level.”

    Yes, there is. The fact that both Paul and Mike miss it (although go on to make other decent points), is reasonably depressing.

  6. Paul Walk said

    Please don’t be depressed Phil….

    With the iPhone one has a choice – the closed but commercially supported Apple deployment/delivery regime, or the ‘jail-broken’ open development option with varied levels of support. I have made a conscious decision to chose the supported option because at this stage of my life I want a device which ‘just works’ (10 years ago I would have chosen the other route with the iPhone and been fiddling/hacking/debugging happily – in fact I would have been regretting owning an iPhone and lusting after the ‘open’ android offering).

    The iPhone SDK can be used by for Apple supported and non-supported development, so I stand by my statement that “There is no distinction in principle with Android at this level.”

  7. Mike said

    Phil – I find it sad when developers seem to think that any real users actually *care* about what’s under the hood ;-)

    The iPhone isn’t a great device because of its specification, and anyone who assumes specification is the be-all and end-all really does miss the point by a million miles. It isn’t about brand, either, at least not entirely. It’s about a subtle mix of marketing, usability, technology, brand, peer kudos and so on. Do you think I own a £120 Dualit toaster because of specification? Cmon. The thing doesn’t even eject the toast when done. But it looks like the dogs nuts. This isn’t a “fad” – I’m no more (I’d argue, waaaay less) sad than a geek arguing for Ruby over Django or schema X over schema Y. I just like it that way.

    Let’s spend a moment looking at the users here – say, students – do you think they’d choose an all-singing, all-dancing “does everything” phone because of its open tech? Hah. They’d choose it based on peer choices, brand, sexiness, whether it playes their itunes library, cost.

    Having a look at the bigger picture might help your depression, maybe? :-)

  8. […] This competition should help to bring down prices, which will be benefical to the consumer (as Stuart Smith pointed out to make use of a ‘free’ iPhone “you are still looking about £810 over 18 months“). […]

  9. […] This competition should help to bring down prices, which will be benefical to the consumer (as Stuart Smith pointed out to make use of a ‘free’ iPhone “you are still looking about £810 over 18 months“). […]

  10. Mike, I didn’t dispute any of that. In fact, I didn’t even mention it.

    Paul, I guess what I’m really talking about is the installation of 3rd party apps – not development. From my understanding, jailbreaking is an actual *crime*. I should not need to commit a criminal offence to install an application. Not only that, if I do develop an app it should be installable by the whole user base, not just the criminal bit of it. I think the store for apps is great, but it would be better if they used it as a gateway for just the best applications, and let anyone who’s able to write an app put it on the web and let anyone install it (kind of like the Ubuntu Add/Remove programmes feature).

  11. […] can only be installed using Apple’s iStore service, unless you are willing to take the (possibly criminal) risk of ‘jailbreaking’ the device.  And recently I’ve read an article published […]

  12. […] the relative  merits of the iPhone and the Google Android device took place following my post on Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” in September 2008 and a follow-up post on The Wow Factor, The Openness, The Developers […]

  13. […] – Le téléphone mobile de Google défie l’iPhone et le BlackBerry – Android invasion – Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” – Why iPhone developers should defect to Android – Contenant/Contenu, Apple/Google, le cas du […]

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