Update: This article was written over three years ago. Since then, Google’s Android Army has gained tremendous marketshare and placed enormous pressure on Apple’s iPhone.
Google last week unveiled Android, an extremely versatile open-source mobile phone platform that will be freely available to all handset makers under what CEO Eric Schmidt calls “one of the most liberal licenses in the world.” Will Android change the mobile landscape as much as iPhone did, and if so, how will iPhone suffer — or benefit — because of it?
At the moment, Android is just software, as opposed to iPhone’s complete package. There’s no actual Google phone hardware, or “gPhone”, as some speculated Google would build.
Rather, Google has teamed up with 34 companies (including Motorola, T-Mobile and chipmaker Qualcomm) under what’s been dubbed the Open Handset Alliance to manufacture a number of different phones that will run the Android operating system.
While iPhone is priced at a hefty $400, Google says it hopes to reach a more mainstream market by pricing Android-powered devices at around $200.
That’s exciting news, considering some of the high-end features Google developers have touted for Android phones — most notably: 3G data speeds, accelerated 3D graphics and a touchscreen, as one developer Steve points out in Google’s Android demo video.
Android vs. iPhone: Open platform vs. closed
What most sets Android apart from iPhone is the openness of the platform, both in terms of its licensing approach and its accessibility to third-party developers.
Google will license Android to any company, allowing handset makers and wireless carriers to adapt the software to their needs.
Imagine how widespread Android could become if anyone can make a device for it, and any wireless carrier can support it — while iPhone in the US remains exclusive to AT&T for five years. That is plenty of time for Google to sweep up the market with Android. Should Apple be concerned?
In addition, developers will be able to build apps for Android, with few restrictions. In fact, Google has already released a software development kit (SDK) for the platform and is encouraging third-party development by offering $10 million in prizes to those who build the best apps.
This is in sharp contrast to Apple, which has yet to allow actual third-party applications — though it will finally release an SDK next February — and has even thwarted efforts by developers who hack into the iPhone’s framework so as to install custom apps.
How will Android change iPhone?
If Android takes off, the competition Apple will face from Google will certainly benefit iPhone owners, as Apple will have to work harder to keep the device fresh and “revolutionary.”
So what can we eventually look forward to with regards to the iPhone if Android becomes a threat? My guess is, at least:
- 3G network speeds
- more openness & third-party app support
- Flash & Java support
- Better handling of documents (Android will most likely feature Google Docs)
There are plenty of things wrong with the iPhone that Apple will be rushed to fix in order to keep up with Google. I’m excited to see what they come up with.
Will you ditch your iPhone for a Google phone?
Still, many questions remain unanswered, and it’s too soon to tell how well Google will pull off the open handset concept, but if the Internet giant’s past successes are any indication, Apple better get working on some new iPhone innovations soon.
Do you think Google’s mobile phone platform will take the iPhone by storm?
If you’re an iPhone owner, will you consider giving up your mobile device for an Android one? Or if you’re thinking about getting yourself an iPhone, will you put off your purchase until later next year to see how Android phones compare? Leave a comment and let us know.