Android: Welcome to the Open Handset Alliance?, a group of more than 30 technology and mobile companies who have come together to accelerate innovation in mobile and offer consumers a richer, less expensive, and better mobile experience. Together we have developed Android?, the first complete, open, and free mobile platform.

No more “gPhone” it seems. I mean, did anyone get why a search engine company was making a handset? Either way, having seen this announcement, I have to that I’m rather underwhelmed by this latest news…

Maybe skeptical is a better term than underwhelmed.

The only thing that I’ve heard that’s “good” from this announcement was the call for a “full” web browser on mobile devices. Not an unoriginal idea, but certainly one that is extremely hard to do. Consider this web page: does it make sense to have one 2″ screen view over a page that can easily fill a 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper? I wouldn’t want that. There’s other tech that’s tried to address this; Safari is the best attempt so far, but even that isn’t a complete solution… in fact, aside from having custom content for mobile devices, I’d say this is going to be a lot of hype with little delivery.

[For what it’s worth, I did my part to address this with: but that was mostly for me, to monitor comments.]

Beyond that, I love that the media is getting their panties wet over this “complete, open, and free mobile platform” bit.

Free? For who? For you? As an end user, do you care that the manufacturer paid a licensing fee or not? You won’t get the savings passed on to you, if they get their OS for free. Trust me on that. Say you want phone “model A”. You stand on one side of the gym – the phone on the other. Between you is an OEM, Carrier, and Reseller(s) – all of them are already pissed off that they “have to subsidize” phones to stay competitive. They already feel they don’t make enough money for the hardware they make/sell – by the way, they’ll have to spend more to spin up developers for a new “free” platform. Are you telling me that these people will put extra money in your pocket if a phone uses Android? Hah!

Then there’s the open bit. For this I look to my experiences with Windows Mobile. As an ISV, I already had Visual Studio, but I can also get Visual C# Express for free. I can then get the Windows Mobile SDK for free. I then create my application, publish an MSI file, and put it on my web site, which you download for free. Most WM phone owners do this with no problem… some people have issues where their phone is locked and it doesn’t allow new software to be installed. Who controls and enforces this lock? Not Microsoft. It’s put into place by either the Carrier or the OEM or both. So why would Android be any different from an end user’s point of view? Carriers will not give up their control on this end of the business; if they are already restricting software, that simply will not change.

Wait a minute: wasn’t J2ME open? Supposed to be. And a bunch of people offered tools for free. Why has J2ME recently been “retired” by Sun and why wasn’t it a runaway hit? Consider the problem that an ISV faces… The core problem with J2ME is that every OEM made their own KVM and each one had a different level of support for the language and others added new device-exclusive features. The whole point of Java was that you could write software once and run it anywhere. With J2ME, there were different devices, screen sizes (and types), and general randomness – for instance if you wanted to support vibration in your odd, you had to target a specific handset and get that OEM’s JAR pack. Motorola had three different KVM’s: one for iDEN, one for China, and one for everywhere else. You simply couldn’t make applications that were write-once/run-anywhere and have then offer a richer experience than WAP. Again, take my word for it: I spent over a year in this space and had to live with this first hand. And again, there were OEM’s and Carriers getting in the way of what was supposed to be open by adding restrictions and locks.

A complete solution? That I have no opinion on… I mean, the SDK hasn’t dropped yet, so I’ll believe them at their word. I’m sure it will be on par with most J2ME environments, and that should be “good enough” for most.

Beyond that, I won’t have much to say on this until I see some devices. After all, I believe it’s the hardware that makes a phone a must have – the software becomes the “second” and longer term thing. Don’t get me wrong: if the software sucks, it can kill the success of a device, but I still say that people buy a phone for the hardware and then keep it for the software. At least that’s been my experience.

The best thing about all of this is that now I don’t have to figure out why a search engine company is making a mobile phone, which is good, because I didn’t get that either.

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