The Android Invasion Has Begun

The Herald has reprinted a story run in The Independent (UK) about Android: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10586401&pnum=0

Forget the iPhone – Google is on a mission to take over the mobile world.

Hehe, and I hope it succeeds.

With four billion handsets in the world – more than twice the number of internet users, and two and half a billion more than the number of televisions – it’s safe to describe the mobile phone as the most successful technology of our generation.

I didn’t actually realise that cellphones were that popular but those are some impressive stats.

Android, in case the news has passed you by, is billed as the mobile phone operating system that will change the way we use mobiles. Where traditionally, phones have all worked differently, with usability ranging from the passable to the infuriating, Android’s mission is to simplify, partially by devising a more intuitive interface, and also by making it so widely available that it becomes a standard.

What really differentiates it from its competitors is that it is built on the Linux operating system beloved of geeks worldwide, and almost entirely distributed “open source”, meaning anyone with the relevant technological know-how can contribute to its development by suggesting and creating improvements.

I am even doing a paper on it at uni.

“Given how complicated phones are getting and how hard and expensive software is to write, there seems little reason to persevere on a customised solution when you can just use one customers already know and like,” says Stephen Charman, an Android developer.

With any discussion of mobile phones, the elephant in the room is always going to be Apple’s iPhone, which has been a huge critical and commercial success.

Android phones and the iPhone might appear to be in direct competition; they are both high-spec, and similarly priced. But Al Sutton, a UK-based Android developer, thinks the situation may develop along similar lines to the home computing market: “I can see the iPhone and Android co-existing in the future in a similar way that Macs and Windows PCs do at the moment”, he says. “Apple is focused on being a premium brand, whereas Android’s focus is ubiquity.”

In other words Android will rule the world and the iPhone will be the cool little cousin in the corner that is cool but doesn’t do much other than acts cool.

Although Android phones are only rarely to be spotted in the wild in Britain right now, the groundswell of support for the system from manufacturers may well see a number of devices launched at once in the coming year.

I have one in the wild… And I love it.

Even though they have much in common, the philosophy of the iPhone and the Android phones about to hit the market could hardly differ more. The iPhone is, in a sense, a dictatorship – the applications which make it what it is are all vetted by Apple’s often draconian censors, and those that are made live must pay a hefty price for their inclusion in the App Store.

In contrast, phones running on Android have access to a market for applications which are posted directly by their developers, the majority of which are free, and, of those you do have pay for, the profits go straight to the developers. While some developers are unhappy about shortcomings like the lack of an adequate online interface, Google insists problems will be ironed out in time.

And Android programs in Java, while Apple is trying to make Objective C cool again.

It isn’t just Silicon Valley that is the centre of innovation – people are building cool things all over the world, and then some people are just building things for a local market.”

This global focus is part of what makes Android in tune with the technological zeitgeist. It is open-source, non-proprietary, cross-platform, and, focussing on mutual success over the exclusive technologies of the iPhone, and with the mighty Google in its corner, few would bet against this robot army taking over the world.

Let the phone wars begin.