The world – OK, just a group of phone geeks – is waiting for the launch of the Android phone aka the T-Mobile Dream tomorrow with bated breath. CG will be at the event in force with a liveblog and images but before we walk to the well of hype and drink deep and hearty droughts of orgasmic praise, let’s talk about what Android is and isn’t.
The casual smartphone user is a growing demographic that T-Mobile has consistently strived to serve. From the tween-friendly Sidekick to the entry level Windows Mobile phones like the Wing and the Dash, T-Mobile’s goal has always been to serve the masses and, barring that, sell expensive data plans. It is a noble goal and one I’ve consistently praised them for over the years. The ideal consumer is a smartphone-toting hockey mom who needs to organize her life and Windows Mobile has historically been the OS of choice for entry level phones with some degree of smarts.
The Dream is an excellent move for T-Mobile simply because it removes the Microsoft, Symbian, and Apple taxes from the equation. Instead of creating a whole new operating system for every feature phone – essentially any phone without an operating system a la the LG Vu and the Voyager – that comes down the pike. By saying “We support Android, so feel free to build out your phones on that platform, they are getting a solid base for expansion and allow manufacturers the freedom to avoid phone OS R&D completely and instead focus on hardware and UI.
Just as OS X is based on BSD, Android is based on Linux. This distinction means that both Apple and Google are able to foist the heavy lifting on a band of unpaid volunteers while focusing on usability.
I, unlike the inestimable Sascha Segan, believe that Android is a smartphone play. While most users just want to make calls and take pictures, T-Mobile has proven that the average consumer wouldn’t mind mobile email and Internet when the possibility arises. My hope is that Android eclipses Windows Mobile as the default operating system for higher-end feature phones and, like Symbian, brings email options to lower end phones without adding digits to the price.
Android is also a branding play. By becoming part of the mobile Internet backbone, Android will grab eyeballs for Google services. Adding advertising is trivial and presumably Google has some ability to track what Android users are looking at and doing. While this functionality should worry privacy advocates, most folks are willing to pay $50 for a smartphone that phones home than $299 for one that is fairly staid in its squealing.
It isn’t an iPhone beater, that much is clear. It is a solid operating system onto which manufacturers can hitch their proprietary applications. It is an exciting development simply because it adds another player to a tight and highly competitive market.
Cellphone operating systems are hard. Just ask everyone who is trying to beat the iPhone. Google has the time, the money, and the talent to get Android right. Here’s hoping the hype matches reality tomorrow at 10:30 Eastern.