An Open Android Will Kill a Closed iPhone?
There has been much talk over the past few weeks about T-Mobile and Google’s Android phone, the G1. Unfortunately most of the debate hasn’t really been about the merits of one software stack over the other, or about the hardware differences between the two. I haven’t really seen it mentioned that the G1 may allow developers to create more interesting applications because it has 192 MB of RAM, or that the iPhone allows for better RPGs because the developers know that all of the iPhone subscribers have an absolute minimum of 4 GB instead of the 1 GB of solid-state storage that Android ships with. No, instead the debate seems to be around Apple’s assertion of dominance over what applications are allowed on the iPhone, and Google’s “apparent” openness to any application a developer wishes to ship, and that a user wants to install.
A couple of things about this. While Google says it won’t stop people from installing any application that they want on their Google Android phone, that doesn’t stop T-Mobile from disallowing applications on phones attached to their networks. Either Google or T-Mobile will have to implement a kill switch, similar to the iPhone, or they will terminate or suspend the user’s account if they detect the application running. The first time it happens, it will send a chilling effect into the community, as they will not have a clear idea either as to why the application was killed, or the user booted off of the network. Even if T-Mobile gives a clear reason, it is not likely to be agreed with by the developer of the application. Probably there will be some blogs citing a hidden cabal between Google and Apple to dominate the mobile market.
Also, while Google won’t stop any applications from being installed on the G1, and there will probably be multiple methods of getting an application onto it, I would be surprised to see Google being completely liberal with the applications it hosts in the Android AppStore. Google has to protect its customers as well as its servers and network just like anyone else. They have a less strong agreement with their carrier partners than Apple does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is none there, or that Google will intervene in a carrier decision to not host a particular application.
So while people will be able to open-source their code from day one if they so desire, and they will be able to easily hack applications onto their devices, at the end of the day, the carrier still has the ability and right to boot either the application or the customer off of the network. The only recourse would be to switch carriers, which can be somewhat painful, especially if there is a contract involved.
Being first Apple has had to tackle these issues prior to anyone else laying down a blueprint. Now Apple has clearly created an example to follow in some ways, and not to follow in others. I am indeed defending Apple because I feel that the critics have been far too harsh. If you look at it, AT&T is already having trouble with just the 3G traffic from the iPhone’s browser, what do you think will happen if everyone started tethering and turned off their home broadband service. Their network would come to a grinding halt. If they built out the network to support this behavior, then they would no longer be profitable at an acceptable level to their shareholders.
The “I am rich” application needed to be removed, that can be debated, but the arguments defy the common sense, Ocham’s razor logic to Apple’s position.
Finally, we get to podcaster, which would have been an awesome application, and I actually can’t defend Apple’s position here, unless, and I suspect that it isn’t, Apple’s position, I think this application would slaughter AT&T’s 3G network. They won’t even let us download music from the mobile iTunes store over 3G or EDGE. If you think about it for a second, why would Apple not want people to buy when they were on 3G or EDGE, money is money.
Clearly AT&T is playing a role in shaping what we can, and can not do on their networks with whatever device we choose. When Android devices begin shipping for Android, we will see similar restrictions from AT&T. They may take another form, but they will be restrictions nonetheless. It is important to remember that we are dealing with two companies, not just one. Heap the blame on both of them, not just Apple.