May 20, 2010

Do iPhone Users Face a Draconian Future?

At the end of 2009, fed up with AT&T's ridiculous lack of quality, and knowing the iPhone's current platform was long in the tooth, rumors of Google's new uber-phone were making the rounds, leading me to say you would have to be insane to get a new iPhone now. Even as rumors of the new iPhone 4 are making their way around the Web, through early exposures and leaks, I continue to think something dramatic and amazing has to come out of Apple HQ to change that opinion - and after sucking down the Google Kool-Aid all morning at Google I/O today, I really wonder if they can do it. Part of me says they can't and that it's time to stop investing in this platform - even if I know it's going to take some time for my wallet to catch up.

Any resistance I may have had to the Android mobile platform, which has always been more of curiosity than lust (See: It Just Might Be the Droid You Are Looking For from November 2009), was pretty much eroded today as Google landed body blow after body blow against Apple in terms of displaying speed, support for more platforms and media, portability of applications, and ease of synching between devices and libraries.

The noise around who has the most apps or the most users has really become background now, and we need to look at what device can help us get our work and entertainment done in the best way for the best price. Google was bound to have the lead in terms of the numbers of devices available, and the carriers supported, but today's extremely convincing demos showed how the speed of innovation at Apple seems to really be lagging - and the decisions at Cupertino, tying to AT&T's ridiculous mediocrity, and sparring over Flash, are distracting from the ultimate goal.

Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google, said it was "critically important" to create a free open source mobile OS with innovation at every layer of the stack. "Otherwise, we would face a draconian future controlled by one man and one device - a future we don't want," he added.

That one man? Steve Jobs. The one device? The iPhone. Duh.

Gundotra's demonstrations of the raw numbers of applications and user growth were less important to me than they were for the target developers community. Suffice it to say it was "enough" and "a lot". But Google's massive array of engineering talent looks like they are doing two things - eliminating the holes Android may have had in comparison to the iPhone platform (such as app updating and music library portability) and leaping forward with tethering, portable hotspot functionality, and superior deployment of JavaScript, Flash and HTML 5.

"We're not only committed to having the world's fastest browser, but the world's most comprehensive browser," Gundotra said. "It turns out that on the Internet, people use Flash. Open means you are inclusive, not exclusive and open means innovation."

Open means a lot of things to a lot of people, so I won't get into that. For many, Flash is a perfect example of what's not open. But what keeps going through my head is that unless Flash really has a hugely negative impact on my experience, stop getting in my way and give me my content - period. Google isn't playing games of censorship in determining what media types I can get on my device. They just want it to work better, and faster.

Gundotra demoed how you can now browse the Android marketplace on your PC or Mac and can download applications and music directly to your phone, over the air, without iTunes getting in the way. "We discovered something really cool. It's called the Internet," he joked.

Similarly, the ability to map your non-DRM music, via iTunes, for example, to the Android device and make it available, is a huge step forward for a potential iPhone switcher - powered by Google's acquisition of Simplify Media. It seems everywhere Apple used to have a lead, with the exception of UI and integration with its other devices, Google has wiped those out and is moving beyond conventional thinking. Barring something dramatic out of the WorldWide Developer's Conference next month from Apple, I think we just might be done buying iPhones.**

** I reserve the right to give all my money to Steve directly whenever I want and may change my mind later.