Disappointment of 2009: Android

by Dave Michels

Normally I would not write about the biggest 2009 disappointment until December or even November. But in this case I will make an exception. Here we are in March, and I am going to state that Android is and will be one of the greatest telecom disappointments of 2009. Disappointment is a subjective word, it represents both the result as well as the expectation and Android had a lot to offer in both categories.

Several years ago, I bought a Sidekick II from T-mobile. The phone was clunky and large, but hands down the best phone I had had. It offered a nice display (though childish graphics), an excellent keyboard, AOL/AIM, and multiple e-mail accounts. The phone was a pleasure to use based on its design, and I considered it a viable laptop substitute for e-mail on short trips. I sat there in fancy conference rooms where everyone had a serious Blackberry and looked down upon my Sidekick, but I felt smugly superior. I tried those ridiculous Blackberry’s and knew my Sidekick offered a better experience despite its silly icons and graphics. There was no BES – but my email, contacts, and calendar all synchronized seamlessly.

The folks that created the Sidekick are largely those that Google utilized to create Android. I knew they had vision, but they got pigeon-holed into a teenage following. Now, in addition to their experience and vision, they had three things going for them: Google and its deep pockets, the proven success model of an open strategy (in a closed marketplace), and the success of the iPhone that changed the rules and expectations of the cellphone marketplace. These factors combined to create a perfect storm for Android. At least in theory.

The G1 was launched in October of 2008 and was a reasonable success (based on observation, Tmobile is mum about it). The phone pretty much performed as advertised. In comparison to the iPhone, the G1 was less expensive, offered a keyboard, and had far less restrictions on the applications. Several major manufacturers publicly embraced Android and promised new Android models. The iPhone is currently on its second revision – now supports Exchange, and its application library continues to grow. Now in March, the number of available Android models remains still at one – on its first release. T-mobile is still the only supported carrier – the smallest of the major carriers in the US. The huge CES show in January showed no new models, and the even more important Mobile World Congress in February only offered a glimpse of the G2 which is slated for Europe and is effectively the same as the G1 without the keyboard.

The iPhone continues to be the phone to beat, and few see any real threat. The folks at Palm are pretty excited about their Pre – but its first generation will have to compete with Apple’s third. The Pre looks nice, but it’s a portrait phone in a landscape world and it will be locked into Sprint. Blackberry, stumbled with their Storm, but made dramatic improvements with their Curve and Bold models. Nokia too is making great strides in their platform and the oh so many iPhone look alikes are popping up all over. The size of the installed base and the number of applications on the iPhone continue to grow increasing the gap that Android (or others) will need to fill (when Android was launched the gap was small).

Apple makes brilliant products. And they changed the rules. Before the iPhone, the carriers insisted that manufacturers limit the capabilities on their phones. The carriers were concerned about network consumption and churn and no manufacturer could stand up to the communication networks for fear of excommunication. Apple, with no phones currently on the market, had nothing to lose and AT&T; agreed. The success of the iPhone (and subsequently AT&T;) changed the rules. Now companies like Microsoft, with their huge base of crippled Windows Mobile phones find their offering totally obsolete.


There are two major mysteries to this which I can’t explain.

The first is why cash-rich Google allowed this to happen. It is during recessions that cash-rich companies typically make offensive plays. Why isn’t Google pushing Android? I see advertisements everywhere for the iPhone, but I don’t think I have seen an Android ad for months. I never hear about Android, and as I mentioned, there is still only one phone available on only one carrier. I was personally expecting a big Android splash at the Mobile World Congress – but it was as if Google accidentally overslept. Even the Sidekick had better marketing.

The other thing that confuses me is why the iPhone is so popular with the open source crowds. I really thought that the Open source movement would pull Android to success. Open source folks love Linux, Apache, WordPress, Asterisk, and Mozilla – to name a few – products pulled to success not by marketing budgets but by grassroots need. But the open source crowd seems to love the iPhone – a closed device available from one company on one platform on one network with a 2 year commitment. Even more so, this open source product is backed by Google – the company challenging Microsoft with competitive versions of Office, a browser, adword network, and more. If Google is the anti-evil company, what role does Microsoft play? Admittedly, there are serious limitations to an “open” cell phone solution – so much that Android can only be loosely defined as open. Regardless though, when compared against Apple – the company that makes a propriety power cord for their notebooks, what isn’t open? Where are the Android products from Sony, LG, Samsung, and more? Where are the Android products on Verizon (the company that has probably lost more than any other due to the iPhone’s success)?

Being March, there is a possibility this will all change. But products don’t appear out of no where. The Palm Pre was announced last month and is still months away. Even the iPhone was hyped up for four months before it was initially available. The deafening silence of the Android camp has me convinced things aren’t changing anytime soon.


What happened to Android?

Why is iPhone so popular in the open crowd?

Is Android (as a cell phone) dead?

Is Android as another type of device more likely (IP Phone, netbook, etc.)?

What should I replace my Windows Mobile 6 phone with?

I want answers!

[Note:I do not have an Android phone, but I got one for my wife. She loves it. The phone’s GUI and formfactor are superior to my WM6 phone, and if your life is on Google, it can’t be beat. For example, she has her email of course, but also separate calendars for all the family members on Google’s calendar (my calendar syncs from Outlook to Google for her). The solution is very rich and slick. Seems to me like it should be a hit.]