I played with Android yesterday. I don't gush over products. At least not in years. But this one makes me feel a bit like I did when I got my Kaypro. It's a solid device that hints at the beginning of a "golden age" of solid and reliable smart phone technology.

For those of you as uninformed as I've been lately, Android is Google's new cell phone operating system, coming to you any day now on a phone made by HTC - the folks who have been making the Treo (but without their own name on the case).

I've played with a lot of phones, but this is the first true "smart phone" that is as easy to use as an iPhone, Sidekick, or Helio Ocean. Unlike the iPhone, it has a real keyboard that slips out from the bottom (and a bit more effortlessly than the one on my Ocean). Real keys, too, that feel good and click.

Oh, did I forget to mention it? Copy and paste.

The touchscreen interface does everything I could think of, as easily or moreso than the screen on the iPhone. Less of that weird delay-jitter. Extreme clarity. Everything in its place. It's not like trying to operate a laptop through a two-inch screen.

What I like best about Google's approach (as compared to some other companies who shall remain nameless) is that they're creating a site where people can just upload the apps that they've written for the phone. No licensing, filtering, or requirements - other than they not be malicious. Further - by writing the code in the "sandbox" fashion of the Chrome browser, applications that screw up are isolated from the rest of the operating system. Programs are separated if they don't play nicely with others.

My fear (what would a post about Google be without a little fear) is that the openness of the Google world really means openness to Google's advertisers. The World Bank, for example, forces nations borrowing its money to "open" their markets to foreign investment. This means they have to let multi-national corporations build plants, destroy the environment, compromise local agriculture; whatever low standards the WTO has agreed upon become the standards by which the country has to operate. Is "openness" really an ethos for Google, or just a means to a very particular end? Is what's good for Google good for the entire communications infrastructure? I'm not so sure.

While I doubt Google will suddenly push ads on the unsuspecting T-Mobile subscriber, I could foresee a Google future in which people get cheaper phone plans for giving Google's advertisers access to their screens. This could subject those without sufficient funds to buy their way out of marketing to an entirely different communications experience than everyone else.

Still, for the time being, this device, this OS, and the relatively open source model Google is pursuing feels less restrictive, more stable, and just a bit more virtuous than what I'm seeing elsewhere. (Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)


  1. > The World Bank, for example, forces nations borrowing its money to “open” their markets to foreign investment. This means they have to let multi-national corporations build plants

    I find it amusing that the left used to be the part of progress and creating options for people, but over the last decade or two, the attitude has swung around so that globalization is not seen from the perspective of individuals (new options, new jobs with pay high enough to tempt folks into them, new working environments indoors out of the weather), but instead as a destructive force that – OH NOS! – disrupts established patterns and gives people new foreign choices.

    I’ve got huge problems with the World Bank, and think that it shouldn’t exist, but worrying that it forces governments to allow their people to trade with other people on the other side of a government-drawn border…I just don’t get that.

  2. Does no one else have a problem with that fact that you are required to possess a gmail account and corporate email account access is not available?

    Plus there is the fact that any company can alter android for use on their phone. Sure the HTC whatever maybe seem like a smooth experience but the next phone that comes out could be a totally different experience. It may be open but there will be no consistency, carriers can gimp it as much as they want.

    And finally: the symbol/icon/trademark is stupid. It looks cute but I’m sorry the definition of an android is not a robot it is a humanoid robot. It’s supposed to resemble a human. It’s a small thing but it seems so stupid to me. It would be like replacing the apple on a mac with a loaf of bread.

  3. I think I’ll hold off for a year or two. I love open source, but that open-ness comes with a price of stability. I’ll stick with my iPhone until the platform has really stabilized and the development community has developed some good apps and add-ons.

    In my experience, it’s good for developers to be early adopters of open source, but often risky for end-users. And when it comes to my phone, I can’t afford any loss of functionality, or headaches from a developing platform.

  4. Actually, it seems that HTC built the Treo Pro most recently (announced at the end of August), but Inventec built most of the others until a ways back.

  5. A few questions for Douglas…

    – Does it work with ActiveSync?
    – Does it work with push email?
    – How does the actual phone app work (the most important app)?
    – How easy is it to connect to a computer (besides ActiveSync)?
    – Does it allow the phone to be used like an internet connection for a computer?

  6. I don’t know if the sync is activesync. But it definitely works pc and mac, and mac is as easy as the itunes sync thing.
    It has cut and paste. (I should have mentioned that).
    It syncs mac and pc.
    It has push email.
    The phone app is touchscreen keys – which is the only part that’s a little weird for me. No regular phone buttons except on the qwrty.
    Yeah, you can tether the laptop to the phone. That’s more a function of the plan, though, I think. This one was on Tmobile.

  7. Also, the guys at Gadgets will know more about the specific tech than I do. I just touch and play with it, then think about cultural implications.

  8. With an open development platform, I would expect that something like AdBlock (the Firefox lifesaver) would rapidly appear to save the sanity of users exposed to unwelcome advertising. AdBlock’s great – and it’s a great example of what open development will do that corporate development won’t.

  9. When is a cool phone going to be made to work with Verizon? It’s the only carrier I can use because I travel out in the sticks a lot. I just need a phone I can use to access my AIX box from my canoe. Give me that and I’ll never need to go back to the office again.

    Sprint (don’t laugh) has a number of good phones, and they don’t cripple them at all. One of the features they don’t cripple is the ability to force roaming, and conveniently enough Sprint phones will roam on Verizon if necessary (or, in your situation, they will roam on the same roaming providers that Verizon uses in “the sticks”).

  11. Advertising-driven phone plans already exist! I am on the UK network “Blyk” ( which offers a certain number of free texts and minutes for 16-24 year-olds in exchange for advertising being delivered to their phones via SMS and MMS. As a poor student I find it incredibly useful, as with moderate use I can survive for months without having to spend any money on top-up.

  12. Wow Bayamus…now I know there are two…yes two design geniuses who read this blog.

    And finally: the symbol/icon/trademark is stupid. It looks cute but I’m sorry the definition of an android is not a robot it is a humanoid robot. It’s supposed to resemble a human. It’s a small thing but it seems so stupid to me. It would be like replacing the apple on a mac with a loaf of bread.

    I wrote about this same thing back in February.!.html

    Read the whole thing there…but I point out…

    While I like the whimsical logo they have created, and of course I love anything with androids…this OS does not resemble in appearance or function an android.

    A better analogy to explain why this is a terrible name for the platform would be that Google and their phone OS is more analogous to Skynet from the Terminator story arc

    While the Terminator itself….is an actual android.

    The Google Android logo is actually a robot.

  13. It fails my “30 second” test. I’ve spent 30 seconds looking for high-quality screenshots, videos, demos, etc. Result: the first video that I come to, on the *official* Google Android web site, is a presentation that begins with:
    * Telling everyone in attendance to squeeze together if there are empty seats nearby
    * Telling everyone in the audience to please fill out a feedback form for the presenter
    * Telling everyone to pick up a badge and wristband before 2 pm
    * Lunch has been extended

    How about making sure that when I put “android” into the google search field, the first link I see is a well-polished, succinct, consumer-facing web site that highlights the benefits of your new toy? Something that makes me want to buy it, perhaps?

    It’s too bad. With Google’s money and power this could have been a great launch So far, this thing smells a lot like any other open source project. Lots of luck competing with Apple.

  14. As with all things Google, I am concerned about the privacy of my data. Chrome tracks everything you do and reports back to the Mother Ship. Even if one accepts that as a practice (I don’t), it requires stellar implementation in order to remain secure and anonymous. Google doesn’t have a good track-record in that regard.

  15. One of the best things that may come out of this would be Apple standing up and saying, “Hey, the App store is too restrictive. Sorry folks. We were wrong. We’re going to open it up a bit.”

    Oh man, this is some DAMN good weed.

  16. i think it’s more up to t-mobile than google to promote the G1
    i also think that t-mobile are taking a wise move in their promotion of the G1, stressing its features and customizability, but not sticking the android name everywhere, since most consumers won’t understand what an operating system is, let alone buy a phone on the strength of the fact that its OS is open-source
    a google search for “android” gives me the android developer homepage and a search for “g1 phone” gives the G1 homepage (although both give some news stories about the G1… i think this clear separation – G1 for consumers, android for developers – is a good thing. sure, in the future when several phones are available running android, google might want to make more use of the android “brand”, but at the moment it doesn’t really seem relevant

  17. TJIC @ 1: I believe he was saying that the actions of the multi-national companies in these underdeveloped and under-regulated countries are harmful, both to the environment and to the people of that new nation. This doesn’t mean international trade is bad, but the reasons for huge corporations to move into developing countries are usually focusing what’s best for the company, not the country they should be working with.

    JASONHSEWELL @ 14: I think you need to revamp your “30 second” test. Just because the first video you saw didn’t give you all the information in the first 30 seconds, you seem to think they have failed in getting information out. Maybe they have for impatient people, but if you notice below that video they have a “More Videos” section. If you can’t stand introduction speech, then perhaps you need a video that has more “action”, like one of these: or

    I found both within 30 seconds. Expecting all the flashy graphics to be there for a product that hasn’t moved out of the development seems pretty asinine.

    How about creating a well-informed, DEVELOPER-facing web site, since that’s who they’re aiming at for the moment? When they release it for customers, I’m quite sure they will change their site appropriately. And apparently you didn’t even read the boing boing post you commented on, because there’s nothing to buy, it’s open source software. So when this actually DOES launch, it’s too bad you’ll miss out because it will take more than 30 seconds to hear what they have to offer.

    Lots of luck sticking with your iPhone.

  18. It looks cute but I’m sorry the definition of an android is not a robot it is a humanoid robot. It’s supposed to resemble a human.

    The google “android” logo *is* a humanoid robot — it has two arms, two legs, and two eyes. These are features that real life robots that build cars and vacuum our floors, etc. don’t have. Obviously, it doesn’t look exactly like a human — if it did, nobody would know it was supposed to be an android, would they?

  19. that is the first t-mobile promo video

    regarding the cash, I don’t think that google needs to push ads onto your screen. they just have to charge anyone, who makes money on the platform. Say, somebody wrote a program and charges you for using it. for doing that, they will have to pay google. That way everybody is happy.

  20. I think google’s approach is that web browsing on phone in the US market is currently horribly sucky, and if they make it better, then people will be able to browse on the web, most of which google has advertisement on.

    I’m pretty convinced that this is what Google’s developer left hand tells its financial planning right hand in order to let them keep doing whatever the heck they want.

    The positive thing is that even if this business plan doesn’t hold up in the long run (seems to be fine now), they are currently producing actual useful software that’s open and available. Perhaps they can get medieval with their copyright after the fact, but the code’s out there – they could only restrict future development.

  21. As far as the icon/logo drama goes, any reader of Donna Haraway might consider that the android is actually just the person who is using the phone.

  22. That is hilarious agraham999!

    a few other things that have come to my attention, apparently tmobile will slow your connection down to 50Kbps after you reach their 1GB limit which is actually far far slower than EDGE. Also when comparing the iPhone and this HTC phone you should mention that not only does the HTC NOT have an actual headphone jack it also does not have internal storage for media so you’ll have to rely on SD cards. As well as the fact that the touch screen does not have multi-touch capabilities. The iPhone has been out for a year and google still doesn’t a date for when a true touchscreen device will come out with the Android OS.

    And to clarify, like I said before with having to have a google account, there is NO desktop syncing on this phone. You have to sync through Google.

  23. What I like best about Google’s approach (as compared to some other companies who shall remain nameless) is that they’re creating a site where people can just upload the apps that they’ve written for the phone. No licensing, filtering, or requirements – other than they not be malicious.

    In concept, I completely agree. However, I’m wondering if there’s not a certain wisdom to Apple’s approach. As an iPhone user, I enjoy the iPhone Application Store both because of the programs it offers and the absolute confidence the apps won’t hurt my phone. Where with my home computer, I’m more willing to tolerate conflicts and troubleshooting, that’s not the case with my phone. I want it to be as reliable as possible. Google might be opening themselves to stability issues that ultimately undercut user experience.

  24. @#28
    I’ve had the iPhone since last autumn and I can certainly tell you that it is not very stable.

    While the first versions (1.x) where quite stable, they lacked in other qualities. The 2.x series firmware is slow and crashes quite often. But has features that makes me not want to go back to 1.x.

    Some of the instability can probably be attributed to the fact that I’ve unlocked the phone, but a few google searches makes it pretty clear that even people with unmodified devices have stability issues.

  25. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s possible to hack the T-Mobile-only lock out of the OS once the phone is released. As it’s based on Linux I wonder how much of it you could just hack, recompile and go?

  26. I just switched from TMobile Blackberry to Att iPhone. Tmobile Blackberry was more reliable. Att iPhone is flexible. I may have moved too quickly, because it seems you may be able to get both reliability and flexibility in the Adroid. And I’m stuck in a 2 year contract…

  27. Is that photo an official product shot (as in, provided by HTC or TMo)? Because it looks to me like the display tilts just slightly when it’s slid up, which made me it immediately appear shoddy and flimsy to me.

    Android seems promising, much more so than most open-source crap. But the (potential) wide range of hardware is going to make it weird for developers. Regardless, this phone is not for me – I abhor a physical keyboard fattening up my already-too-large pocket-weight, I’ve never been impressed with any HTC phone, and I’m not too fond of TMo either.

  28. It’s about the software stupid. Comparing the phone to the iPhone or whatever makes little sense. The REAL power of Android is that it will eventually run on multiple phones. You just pick the one you like and the GUI will be the essentially the same. Then of course there will be all sorts of 3rd party apps. Once you pick your hardware you then pick the apps you want. You simply CANNOT pick your hardware and apps with anything else out there. That’s the beauty of this approach.

    You iPhone and other traditional smart phone fanboys are simply not thinking outside the box.

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