Although Google has spent far too much time discussing the benefits of owning an Android-based phone and trying to make us all believe that everything is going well with its foray into the cell phone industry, it's quickly becoming apparent that there's some trouble in Google paradise.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Android's first devices will be available in the fourth quarter of 2008, while others will be ready in 2009. And while the article makes a big deal about it, that's actually what Google has been saying all along, so there's no real story in that.
But during its discussion on Android, the Wall Street Journal also points to some major new developments that strike me as troublesome to Google and possibly damning to the entire project.
According to the Journal, T-Mobile is commanding most of Google's attention, thus forcing it to ignore other partners; issues at Sprint are slowing Android deployment; AT&T still doesn't know if it wants to offer Android-based phones; and developers are experiencing issues with developing for Android because of Google's revisions to the platform.
Om Malik thinks these issues are nothing more than the growing pains of a start-up, but I think the issues with Android go far beyond his understatement.
There's trouble in Google paradise. And unless the company can turn things around, I don't think Android will even make a dent in the market.
I know it's hard for some of us to imagine a world where Google doesn't dominate every other company in its industry, but Android could be such a product. The way I see it, Google has a number of problems it has yet to address and unless it solves all of them, Android will be a loser in no time.
1. The iPhone issue
Try as it might, Google can't get away from the fact that Android-based phones look derivative. Sure, developers have more leeway with Android and there will be some differences, but to the less tech-savvy user, Android-based phones will look like an iPhone copycat from a cell phone manufacturer that's not trusted nearly as much as Apple.
As I've said here before, Apple's control on the world's psyche is truly astounding. And although Google is beloved worldwide, Android is an unknown quantity and leaves much to be desired when stacked up against the iPhone.
Google needs to differentiate its platform in some way and try to break the mold. If it doesn't, Android will be nothing more than a software package found on a company's crappy handset. And I seriously doubt Apple or RIM will be too worried.
2. Android is wonky
Although I believe Google will turn its development issues around and give vendors the product they've been looking for, there's no telling when that might actually happen. According to most developers, Android is a disgustingly horrible platform to create apps for and when compared to the iPhone SDK, it doesn't even compare. Some have attributed that to the Apple SDK's resemblance to Mac development, but it goes far beyond that.
The way I see it, Google is in way over its head and it doesn't have the know-how yet to create a happy balance for developers between functionality and ease of use. Try as it might, Google's Android platform will not be the leader in the industry if it continues to annoy developers. Instead, Google needs to find a way to make it more appealing to these companies and stop changing it in mid-stream.
3. Google needs to learn about the cell phone industry
The cell phone industry is easily one of the most dynamic, complicated, and downright frustrating industries in all of tech. Unlike the search business where things are relatively clear-cut -- create a great product and people will use it -- the cell phone industry is governed by sweetheart deals, strange contracts, low margins, intense competition, and politics that can make or break any company.
Microsoft is a prime example of one company that doesn't "get" the cell phone industry. Windows Mobile has always been the also-ran in the cell phone business and has failed to adapt to the changing times as well as the fluid demands of the enterprise. And by the look of things, Google is committing the same sin.
In order to turn a profit and establish yourself in the cell phone industry, you need to know how to play politics and get at least one major carrier on your side. Apple understood that -- AT&T is the prime reason the iPhone is so popular -- but I'm not too sure Google does.
Instead of following the iPhone blueprint (which would have worked much better), Google is trying to play the Microsoft game and become the solution for all phones on all carriers for all people. Sorry, but that doesn't work unless your company's name is RIM and you actually understand the desire of your customers.
But now that all of its cards are on the table, Google has no choice but to follow the trail Microsoft (sort of) blazed and attempt to form partnerships with the right carriers and vendors. It has done a relatively fine job so far, but unless it can get AT&T on board and do whatever it can to see the other carriers follow suit, Android could be dead before it even hits store shelves. And the worst part is, Google won't even know it.
4. Advertising is what it's all about
Google's foray into the mobile advertising space is all about mobile advertising. The company is keenly aware that cell phones are the next frontier in advertising and it wants to lead that charge. But unless it can turn things around and realize that advertising revenue only comes after success is enjoyed, it'll continue to make mistakes and lose out to companies that actually know what the cell phone industry is all about.
Google needs to wake up and realize that it's walking a fine line between success and failure and unless it can address these issues, Android will be an unprecedented failure.
Just because Google creates it, we shouldn't expect it to succeed. And if things don't change, it won't. Google needs to get to work -- and fast.
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