The “gPhone”: T-Mobile G1

Google G1 PhoneSo the infamous Google Phone aka gPhone is finally out. The big news is that it is the first to run Android, which I shared my thoughts on a few months ago. Now that the press has been all over it, here are my observations:

App Store

The fact that there is no company (yet) restricting what you can install on it is awesome. Apple has seriously dropped the ball in this regard. I’m still thinking Apple will eventually loosen up just like the original “no applications” stance. I’m also thinking T-Mobile, if not other providers will want to clamp down on what users install to ensure nothing competes with their offerings and eats too much bandwidth. Not to mention security, or “security” depending on how you look at it. Just wait. They already block VoIP. It will expand in time.

The Network / Bandwidth Cap

T-Mobile’s 3G network is enough of a reason to say no. It’s way to small and new. Likely because of this, they snuck a little clause in the terms (via dslreports.com) limiting you to 1GB of 3G data, then essentially crippling the service for the remainder of the billing period:

If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users

Software

Android is Linux. I love Linux. That said, love polished software most of all, and I love the UNIX-ness of Linux most about Linux. That said, the iPhone’s UI is way more polished even in the demos, which we all know are way better than reality. That said, iPhone OS is at 2.1 now and Android is just taking off. There’s time for future polish.

Another gripe is the attachment to Google services. What happened to “do no evil”? Google released Chrome which kept your default search engine (even if it was a competitor). The phone on the other hand requires a Google account. Lack of Exchange support isn’t a great thing. I bet this is because of it’s open source nature. Apple simply licensed ActiveSync from Microsoft. I’m not sure if Google could do this for Android itself (though an application running on Android potentially could). The licensing could be tricky. Push mail for Gmail is a nice touch though.

Hardware

Google G1 PhoneHaving a keyboard is nice. Totally not worth the size though. USB adapter for a headphone jack? It’s 2008, that’s not acceptable. No multitouch? Come on. It does have a Qualcomm MSM7201A which is a 528 MHz ARM9 chip from what I understand. Not sure if it’s underclocked or not. The iPhone has a 620 MHz ARM11 underclocked to 412 MHz. It has 192 MB RAM compared to the iPhone’s 128 MB and a 3.1MP camera, compared to the iPhone’s 2MP. Using an SD card for storage is a mixed blessing. One one side you have expandable storage (awesome). On the other hand, no built in storage (suck). You’ll need to buy a card if you want more than 1 GB, meaning most of the hardware cost savings between it and the iPhone will be gone.

From a size perspective, it’s slightly larger in most ways and heavier. That’s likely mostly due to the keyboard.

Gizmodo has a great hands-on discussing their initial impressions. Pretty much matched my feelings from seeing the demos, and having played with the Android emulator.

So far the iPhone is still the clear winner, but it’s only one phone on the the Android platform thus far. It’s not a threat yet, but it’s not eliminated either.

The Illusive Gphone

So the illusive Gphone is finally announced, but not as a phone but an alliance.

One should note it coincides very nicely with last months announcement of Firefox Mobile becoming a priority. Firefox has a nice share of the Linux browser market. Extending it to mobile seems somewhat natural. A real win for developers. The same browser on all major PC platforms, and many mobile devices (on multiple carriers by different manufacturers) creates one of the largest platforms on the planet for a high level language like JavaScript. It also means it will be easier to port existing web applications to mobile devices knowing the browser is of the same lineage and honors true standards. It’s also nice to know that other mobile browsers like Safari on the iPhone are also very standards friendly.

Obviously absent on the list of members in the alliance is Verizon, AT&T, and Apple. I’d be curious to know what Apple is thinking. Could this be another Mac vs. PC? Or will Apple “Think Different” this time when faced with a pending platform war? I know what I would do. I’d start hacking up a Wine-like API for running Linux applications on Mac OS X. Since Linux doesn’t need to be reverse engineered like Windows, development should be much easier. Mac OS X having strong UNIX roots would also likely be helpful. At the end of the day, you would then be able to run Android applications on top of the thin(ish) compatibility layer. Casual users wouldn’t know any better. I guess in a sense Apple has started down this road. There is X11 for Mac OS X. They can of course keep it all under the radar for a while, just like Mac OS X for x86 until they need to play that card.

Om Malik makes an interesting point:

  • Google (GOOG) says it’s open source, letting you download it and do whatever — except that carriers can create their own locked-down versions of the software with Android. That doesn’t seem very open to me.

It does make me wonder if Google is doing the heavy lifting and carriers will just fork it when done and ship a closed version of the software and take advantage of not needing to pay licensing.

Very interesting stuff, but still doesn’t answer my question regarding bandwidth becoming fast enough, and affordable enough to hit critical mass. It still seems that mobile data services are just too expensive for many people to justify. Will this encourage enough competition in the mobile space to drive prices down? Or is there going to be some incentives to offer lower priced data services?

Firefox Mobile

I am really glad to see the new Mozilla Mobile initiative. Mozilla 2 is a great time to undertake most of these changes. The thing that really sucks about developing for mobile devices is the browsers are pathetic at best (with the notable exception of the iPhone). Wireless speed is still an issue in some cases, but with 3G coming about, it’s not the biggest concern if you can manage to keep things slim. XUL on mobile will be very interesting. If done right, it would allow for client side applications that don’t suck, yet have the lowest barrier to entry (JS+XML = Easy). Not to mention you can target a bunch of devices with one download and code base. Don’t forget you’d still be able to do rather realistic debugging on your desktop.

Hopefully by the time this all comes around, data charges for mobile will drop significantly. The iPhone is still $60 for the cheapest plan. If you need more than 450 minutes of voice, you’ll be spending even more. While interest in the iPhone is high, between hardware and plan costs, I think it’s still to high to attract the masses. There’s still time. Firefox 3 isn’t even out yet. Mozilla 2 is still a little while away. I suspect these prices will be dropping as other providers try to compete with the iPhone. A price war is very likely.

One question remains: will it run on the gPhone?