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)