Will Apple or Android get in my pocket?

Matthew Sparkes
16 Sep 2008

Following the unexpected demonstration of an Android handset here at Google's Developer Day, more information about the OS and the upcoming handset has been leaking out of Android boss Mike Jennings in the last hour, as nearly a hundred curious developers fire volley after volley of tough questions at him.

He's already using an Android-based handset as his personal phone, he claims, although he has to switch to another when in public. "Soon I'll be able to show it off in less controlled conditions," he says hopefully, carefully revealing nothing about the official release date.

Personally, I have six months left on my own mobile contract, and Google has just less than that time to tempt me away from an iPhone. What I've seen this morning bodes well, but I'm not the only one who needs to be won over.

Developing the software was just the start. After that Google had to win over handset manufactures and telecoms suppliers who are taking a massive risk on the operating system. Users installing their own apps, and having access to the source code that runs the device, is not something that they are normally comfortable with.

After that, Google had to win over developers, and judging from the mood here there's still work to be done. 

There are already scores of coders working on Android applications, but many of the programmers at this event are still sceptical. There seems to be some doubt that "Joe Public" will choose to buy an Android handset, despite any technical advantages it may offer. The iPhone wasn't mentioned, but is clearly on everyone's mind. 

During the keynote speech earlier Jennings asked who had heard of Android - every single hand was raised. Then he asked who was developing for it - two or three hands went up, out of hundreds.

Even once the device is built, and a decent range of applications are available, potential customers (like me) still need to be convinced to spend their hard-earned cash. The first handset, expected to be the HTC Dream, is essentially exactly the same as devices currently out there in terms of functionality - even Mike Jennings didn't openly deny this - so why should customers choose Android?

"There's better software," he says. "With Windows Mobile, I don't know if you have a copy of the source code, do you?" I must admit that I don't, and I see what he's getting at.

From a customer's point of view there will also be regular new features, delivered via updates to the operating system. This will be a very easy job, claims Jennings. "You should be able to upgrade your own device. I think that its going to be targeted more for a consumer experience, so your grandmother would be able to get a new version of the OS"

So, free applications, regular OS updates and a cut-down codebase that seems to run extremely fast compared to Windows Mobile (which it has to be said, doesn't). 

 Customers will also get easy installation of mostly free applications, via branded SD cards or through the web (either third-party sites or Google's own application marketplace).

In case you're worrying about your data security with an open-source application, as some of the folks here were, they will have to ask permission for certain things like dialing out, or accessing the camera or microphone, so the chances of any funny business are greatly reduced.

It will be interesting to see if I end up with an iPhone or Android device in my pocket in six months. I'm unlikely to be disappointed in either case, but the open-source advocate in me hopes that Google can do what is needed to shake up the mobile market.

 However, it could be the case that even if I opt for an iPhone I might end up owning an Android device anyway. One devloper asked Jennings if he could use Android in devices other than mobile handsets. "Why not?" was his only response. 

Other news from the London Google Developer Day
Google says it can keep Chrome on top
Android handset hits London

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