While some had expected Google to come out with an iPhone-killing G-Phone, the company’s announcement in November of the Android mobile platform is something far more sweeping, and it has ramifications for IT.
To show that Android is no pipe dream, Google trotted out scores of partners in the initiative, including handset vendors, carriers and software providers. What’s most interesting is that the Linux-based platform will be open source (under the Apache license) and free of charge.
So, why is Google doing this? It aspires to get its applications into the mobile sphere, but right now there’s just too much platform fragmentation. Even Java on one handset is not like Java on another. Lacking a single, strong platform to build on, Google wants to create one. That’s why it isn’t coming out with its own hardware or tying Android to one carrier.
The cost of Android (there is none!) is going to make it attractive to both handset vendors and carriers. And there are no strings attached other than a very important agreement not to fragment the platform. Google will offer a suite of mobile applications for Android, but it won’t require that the apps be used. In theory, you could see Android handsets with Yahoo Mail and Live Search, but no Google services at all.
If Google delivers on its vision, the impact to consumers could be huge. The mass market is finally embracing more functionality in mobile devices, but at the same time, carriers and handset vendors are looking to cut costs. Android might bridge that gap. And Google has the corporate heft to prevent the market from fragmenting, so it could succeed where other Linux implementations have failed.
Is Google making a smart move? To answer that, consider a bit of alternative history. Suppose that Linux had been available at the time that Microsoft came out with Windows NT. Now suppose that IBM decided to offer Linux for free to PC vendors along with a core suite of applications. How different would the PC business be today? Oh, and there are a lot more phones out there than there are PCs.
But, of course, business users are not consumers, and corporate IT will have a different take on Android. Google will need to articulate why business users should embrace this platform. At the moment, a lot is missing for business deployment. There was no announcement that Android would support Exchange synchronization, be compatible with Office applications or allow central device management. Google’s mobile competitors already have solutions for these things that work well. Enterprise developers will want to keep an eye on Android, but it’s not something they’ll embrace in the short term.
Still, IT cannot ignore last year’s big developments in the mobile market. A year ago, neither Google nor Apple was a player, and today they are two of the most relevant and talked-about companies in the mobile world. Things are moving fast, and IT has to pay attention as the combatants fire one salvo after another.