Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Android? Give Me a Call When (If?) Phones Go On Sale

In this era of cluetrains, agile, getting real, perpetual beta, and all the rest, I would have thought that FUDly tactics like announcing big game-changing vaporware just to assert your position couldn't be taken seriously.

Not that Google's Android phone software is vapor (you can download it today) -- rather, the proposition of a viable phone ecosystem (devices, carriers, software -- in short, something you can actually use) is vapor.

It pains me to write this. After all, I proposed an platform-oriented MVNO (which Google may become with its possible spectrum bid), and I also stated that, to change the game, Google should support J2SE (and more), which Android does. And Google's challenging the carriers, who are the big problem in wireless software.

But I gotta call it like I see it, and announcing a big platform initiative when the first real handsets are at least a year away is a movie I've seen before.

There's an ALP announcement like this every six months; Palm announced the mythical Cobalt (with SDK!) over and over; Motorola made a big deal about its Linux phones. To be fair, Moto does ship a number of phones running Linux under the hood. But they're not really open, and neither developers nor consumers have taken much note. In early 2006 we were told MIDP 3 devices would be shipping by, er, now. Oh, and Sun's magic wand is going to bring us JavaFX mobile devices.

It's old-school (bad!) tech marketing at its worst. At best, these announcements need a bogo-coefficient to convert, say, "Just 12 months away!" to "Just 36 months away!" ... but really it's best not to believe in anything you can't buy at your local Sprint store.

Producing the SDK for public consumption now is not necessary to provide development lead time (how long did it take developers to build apps for the iPhone?). Plus freezing APIs now just makes it that much harder to alter the them when unforeseen issues crop up closer to mass production.

Although Apple is famous for taking a haughty approach toward their developers and customers, there is something to be said for putting the hardware and carrier together first, releasing the phone second, and then when you see what people really want to do with it, release an official SDK to help them.

I wish Google the best of luck with 700MHz, the carriers, the handset makers, the FCC, and the public. I'm just not sure this is off to an auspicious start.

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