Imagine, if you will, a mobile phone that can be changed in any way the consumer wants, a phone that isn’t locked to a carrier – and never was-from factory to buyer.
Google, LG, Samsung, Motorola and HTC (among many, many others) have dedicated themselves to building a better phone, calling themselves the Open Handset Alliance. They have collaborated to develop a new mobile operating system called Android, which is extensible as Linux but as easy to use as Windows Mobile or the iPhone flavor of OS X.
Android is unique not because you can develop your own applications, put them in the online marketplace and then let others download your app, but because they can then rewrite the app to fit their own needs.
Android is completely open source. With the exception of some essential hardware control software, every line of code in the OS can be completely overhauled to make it more useful to the purchaser.
Don’t like the dialer? Find a new one or write your own. Don’t like the way the Web browser works? Find a new one. Want a plug-in for the browser that you just can’t find? Write it.
The first Android-based phone, T-Mobile’s G1, was released Sept. 23 with much fanfare. Originally hailed as the G-Phone of a year ago, what was once expected to be a phone developed by Google with its own hardware to compete directly with the iPhone, it debuted as a community effort.
This phone is, in typical Google fashion, essentially a beta version of itself, to be brought out of development by the buyer. Initial reviews imply it has a good chance at taking some serious market share from the WinMo/iPhone juggernaut, if consumers can get past inconsistencies in the user interface.
Google doesn’t seem worried about the UI problems, though they are extensive. This phone wasn’t meant to go out exactly as the customer wanted. It was meant to ship as a base model with add-ons readily available to make the phone completely customized.
Though Google may not take top spot in the market with this – businesses should note a current inability to sync with Outlook and consumers may still want something complete, if limited – it may well serve as the catalyst to make manufacturers and carriers open up their specs.
While everybody in the mobile phone industry has been trying to tie things together and lock people into their pipes with contracts and fees, Google has once again played the benevolent monopolist and organized formerly warring factions into a cohesive unit fighting against former causes.
While they may not change anything immediately in this deeply entrenched market, OHA is a force to be reckoned with and will definitely shake industry foundations. And when data from the Hubble space telescope is a quarter of the price of cellular data, the industry needs some shaking.