Google's Challenge to the iPhone: Android..

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Google's Challenge to the iPhone: Android..

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Today's smartphone market (North American) is dominated by one phone, the iPhone. Who can challenge this behemoth of commercial glamour? With it's intuitive design, trademark Apple sleekness, and App Store, it has stolen the hearts of many consumers, and turned countless Blackberry users into Apple maniacs. Case in point my father Greg. But many developers have been dissatisfied with Apple's Microsoft like monopolistic closed policies and forced use of proprietary software. Enter Google Android, an open source Java mobile solution that Google has said "will create a truly free environment for third-party developers."
With the advent of smart phones, many companies have offered a wide variety of solutions, Symbian OS, the iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry OS all have a large share in the mobile market. The difference? According to Google, "Android is the first free, open source, and fully customizable mobile platform." So how did this all come about?

A Little History
     Everyone loves Google, Google has money. These are two facts key to the evolution of the Android project. In the summer of 2005 Google had more money than it knew what to do with, so it bought a plethora of startup companies. One was a little known company called Android Inc. After much brewing and conjuring over in California, Google courted LG, Samsung, T-Mobile, ebay, Sprint, Intel, and Texas Instruments (among others), who together formed the Open Handset Alliance. Soon after, on November 5th 2007, The Open Handset Alliance announced Android, the world's first truly open and complete mobile platform. A few days later they released a sneak peak of the SDK, . Back to the spell casting over at Google HQ, and the Android Market was announced in late August. Then, on October 21st, 2008 Android was made an open source project. The next day, the T-Mobile G1 was released to consumers, the first android phone.

iPhone vs. Android: A Developers Viewpoint
     As an open-source developer and broke college student, I love free stuff and hate proprietary software. Therefore the Google SDK frankly excites me. Firstly, and this one is huge, unlike Apple, Android allows Java and Flash! Steve Jobs said of Java, "It’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain." I'm sure he felt similar about Flash.  I must say that as a Mac lover, I was hurt deeply.  Back to Android, Android as a development environment is comparable to XCode. Android is fully integrated into Eclipse with an interface builder and robust emulator. The documentation is surprisingly good, with nearly every feature shown through detailed code example. Since quite a bit of the Mobile market runs Java, many mobile developers will find that Android is not to big of a leap from past experience. Another integral feature of the platform is the Android Market, Google's answer to Apple's App Store. The publishing policies are much more lenient than Apple's closed approach (which may or may not be a good thing, as we shall see). People who like the words "freedom" and "open" and "keep a larger percentage of my profits instead of giving it to Apple" will love the Android model.

     But the Android is not without it's faults. The nature of Android allows for many different types of phones, with many different screen sizes, resolutions, buttons and on and on. How Google solves this problem could be instrumental in the ultimate failure or success of the Android platform. There are also questions about the speed of Java on the platform (as always when talking about Java) but these worries were directly addressed by the Davlik JVM.  Also, in reference to the Android Market, unfortunately the increased leniency allows for horribly coded applications to appear and clog the Market, ultimately hindering developers.  Still, the prospect of keeping most of you're profits instead of splitting them with Apple is very appealing.

     So with it's combination of an open source, free environment, Java/Flash compatibility and more lenient publishing policies by way of the Market, Android would seem a developer's dream right? Well there's more to this story.

iPhone vs. Android: The Consumer's Viewpoint
     We all know that in the end the consumer will not really care about the "open architecture" "Java support" or "multi-tasking capabilities" that us developer's get so excited about.  In the end what the consumer wants is what actually matters. Thankfully, the Google phone has a lot that will appeal to your regular average person, it's Google integration (Maps, Gmail) is one of the key concepts that could give Google an edge. Their "real web browser" is quite nice. But still, I would have a lot of trouble convincing my technically unsophisticated mother that the Android is better than the iPhone. Why? Polish and shine. The iPhone is undeniably sexy, Apple is undeniably sexy, the things Steve Jobs says are undeniably sexy. The iPhone has a very intuitive interface design, anyone can use it to it's full potential. Will the Google phone be able to approach this level? Despite the iPhone's faults (no multi-tasking, physical keyboard, Java, Flash, or real web browser), it is beautiful, and that will appeal to the majority of consumers.

     What applications does Android need to succeed? Google loves third-party developers, and they will make all the difference. Take a look at these apps.

So will Android be a revolution in mobile technology? I can only hope.

 Josiah Hester is a full time student attending Clemson University majoring in Computer Science.  He is currently researching mobile education solutions on the iPhone, Web, and Google Android.  He has also written on Image Processing and has varied interests regarding computing.


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