Why Android will suck

Hello again, Vincent here. Excuse me, I seem to be in a cranky mood lately, as far as technology goes, probably explaining my public rants towards the Facebooks and Scobles of this world. But I can’t let that stop me, here’s another one, aimed at Google’s Android.

Yesterday, Rich Miner, group manager for mobile platforms for Google, announced that he believed the distribution of Android to surpass that of the iPhone-OS. Maybe so, but I have little doubt that it will be equally, if not more crippled than the iPhone has been so far.

Three reasons:

  1. hardware,
  2. carriers,
  3. and the business-model.

On the hardware-side, Google will have to design an OS for a number of mobile-technologies, ranging from Samsung to Motorola. The kind of legacy-support kind of reminds me of a number of other software-projects: Microsoft’s Windows, which is historically (maybe not currently) known for its software-vulnerabilities due to its legacy-support; and cross-platform web-ware like Adobe’s Air and Flash, and Sun’s Java, both not exactly top-of-the-line in terms of performance and elegance. But, cross-platform alone has never stopped developers from creating (mostly free) applications. So, my worries here are security and user-interface, and I expect the latter to especially suck.

The other side is the carriers, who have shown no qualms about enforcing their rules on both hardware- and software-manufacturers. Fact is that while iPhone 2.0 may become more open, it will be limited by Apple to not disrupt their business-arrangement with carriers. This is implemented in two ways: in the restricted range of applications that can be developed for the iPhone (e.g. very likely no Skype) and the distribution of said applications (centralised and approved by Apple or NO GO).

Finally, the business-model. When the iPhone SDK was released, it was reportedly downloaded more than 100,000 times. Very likely this happened for several reasons:

  1. the market for Apple-products is notably less price-sensitive (k-ching, baby!);
  2. iTunes as a store (easy $$$);
  3. VCs like Kleiner Perkins are holding out carrots (omg, I’m gonna be rich);
  4. and it has strong relationships with carriers (a big barrier for mobile software-publishing so far).

Will the same thing happen for Google’s Android? Let’s see.

  • It’s Google, and we all know that the company does not have a history for charging for things.
  • While Google has created ecosystems of “apps” with its iGoogle and Google desktop-service, I don’t think any of these are premium. Also, their video-store, its one commercial platform, has failed.
  • Similarly, it’s releasing the OS for free under an Apache Software License, and we all know how easy it is to make money on open-source platforms.
  • There is a fund, but it comes from Google, not exactly a signal that the market believes in Android’s commercial success
  • It does have confirmed partnerships with carriers like China Mobile, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile, but how restrictive will these partnerships be?

And probably some other things I forgot.

I may be cranky, but believe me that I want software like Android to succeed. Just like I want a self-sufficient Linux OS (no, it doesn’t exist!). But Google’s strategy appears too fragmented, too focussed on the technology, and too little on the business of it. Maybe, maybe, Google is planning to become a carrier themselves. There have been plenty of rumours about that since the 700 Mhz auction. Instead, I expect that their main goal is to extend their advertising-platform as efficiently as possible to the mobile sphere, and that that would be incompatible with a large technology-push towards building physical networks.

What do you think? Thumbs up or down for Android and why???

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28 Responses to “Why Android will suck”

  1. Matt says:

    Hi Vincent, Matt here.

    I think you made two very good points:

    first, Google is primarily making money with advertising, and there is little chance for them to deviate from this strategy, they must have some ready-to-launch new advertising models for mobile devices and it might as well involve some parts of the Android API ?

    Also, Google seems to be interested in becoming a carrier itself, and even though there have been some debates about it, I think it would be a very smart move (just like their move to buy spree of fiber optic cable in North America).

    However, opening up Android is totally in line with their culture and their other products, and the idea behind that is probably to be able to provide services and products, no matter what the platform is, mobile or computers.

    Google has not been performing that well lately (see the stock prices, growth rate, etc.), and it appears to me that they are just preparing the new-generation Google with loads of new services/products to come.

    Even though I am not convinced of the absolute success of Android in the first place, and I believe that it’s not going to be such a buzz like the iPhone, on a long-term approach, they may be able to actually set up a stable environment with a constantly growing community of developers (hopefully).

    As for revenues model, they may adopt a personal vs. corporate approach and just charge businesses for specific services/products.

    What do you think ?

  2. Vincent van Wylick says:

    Hi Matt, thanks for your insightful comment.

    I think, from Google’s standpoint, they could probably build the whole application-infrastructure themselves if they wanted to. They have the business-model (advertising) and they have many of the necessary apps for both a business- and personal user-environment.

    I am sceptical at how interesting Android will be for developers, however, as there are many barriers to them making a profit, for the reasons mentioned above.

    As far as them becoming a carrier is concerned…. I think, from a strategic stance, that they benefit more from fragmenting the market—which is what they seem to be doing with their demands in the 700 mhz auction—then shifting their focus to building infrastructure.

  3. StareClips.com says:

    It seems to me like you haven’t actually been closely following the Android project, which is odd because you seem to attack it and want it to succeed at the same time. Maybe you are right about the “cranky” part.

    For one thing, Android is a complete open-source software stack for mobile devices, not just an operating system.”

    Secondly, the limitation that will hurt the SDK for the iPhone the most are the fact that you cannot allow you application to run “in the background,” which pretty much invalidates instant messaging applications and the like. Android allows for this type of integration. In fact, anything the OS has access to, developers will also have access to. The same cannot be said about the iPhone.

    When you talked about the hardware support, you made it sound as though Google is trying to write software that will work on legacy phones. In reality, phone handset manufacturers are writing phones specifically for Android. So, as new phones come out… they will either feature Microsoft’s Mobile OS… Android… or some proprietary OS. Android is the only completely open development platform of these choices, so it is going to be the developer favorite.

    Then you talk about carriers. While this may be a limitation, I don’t see how this is specific to Android? It sounds to me like you are just complaining about the entire mobile market as a whole than necessarily comparing Android to Microsoft’s Mobile OS… or to Apple’s iPhone. Also, keep in mind that Apple’s iPhone OS only works on ONE piece of hardware… THE iPhone. Users have no choice. With Android, users will have a choice. As such, this competition will force hardware manufacturers (AND carriers) to compete in this area. AT&T has no incentive to be “competitive” in regards to the iPhone because you MUST use them if you own an iPhone.

    Then you talk about how the iPhone SDK was downloaded over 100,000 times, and wonder if the same will happen with Android. The Android SDK has been downloaded over 750,000 times. The iPhone already physically exists and no such Android phone exists yet, but the difference in the developer community is huge.

    Finally, something to keep in mind is, there is no competition between the iPhone and Android. They are two different things. The iPhone is a piece of hardware. Android is a complete open-source software stack for mobile devices. You’re comparing apples to oranges, no pun intended. The iPhone SDK will only help developers write applications specifically for one brand of hardware operating on one carrier. The Android SDK will help developers write applications for several different mobile phones operating on several different carriers.

    I notice how you say that Google is too focused on the technology and not enough on the business. Why are you so interested in seeing Google make money from this? If your car broke down on the side of the road and someone helped you out, would you be upset with them for not being more profitable at it? I don’t understand that. What Google is doing is basically jump-starting the mobile phone and software future. How they stand to gain is the fact that they already dominate the Internet, now all they need to do is make sure that mobile phones can see the Internet in the same way that laptops and PCs do. This is what they are doing with Android. iPhone is also helping Google in this effort, but it is a niche. Only those who want to pay for that specific hardware and that specific brand and be with that specific carrier are going to use an iPhone. The future of Android is that fans of Motorola phones, for instance, will likely have an Android option or three.

  4. Vincent van Wylick says:

    Wow, SC, you wrote a whole blogpost in a comment. Which sucks because now my response will be long. That said, you seem well-informed on some of the technical aspects and I appreciate it.

    Android was released November 12th 2007, that’s 750,000 downloads (source?) in ca. 20 weeks. iPhone SDK had 100k in 1 week. There is a difference.

    The reason for iPhone SDK’s popularity is, I believe, its commercial merit; developers smell money and Apple makes a good business-case. I have not yet seen a similar case from Google. I’m not eager to see Google make money from this, *I know they will*, but what about developers?

    My stance is (still) that I believe Android will suck for a number of reasons. It’s an open source project and there are few open source projects that are as, let’s say, “user-friendly” as commercial projects. Just my opinion, from the open source apps I used. Google’s history also doesn’t suggest that it will be easy to charge for applications on Android, which isn’t attractive for professional developers.

    Let’s say there’s is an explosion of development. Great! Another barrier will be, how much freedom these apps will have when the carriers have their say, and it’s pretty sure they will.

    I’m not saying iPhone is perfect; as a matter of fact I will never be getting one, because I don’t like the deal I’m getting. But, because it’s “an Apple,” because it’s built for *one* machine (well actually 2 & probably more), also designed by Apple, because Apple is building networks of services around it, it is my guess that its *user-experience* is more favourable to that of Android.

    What else, hardware. That was my weakest point, because there’s no telling what kinds of phones will be coming out of this. So, I’ll give you that, for now.

    Generally though, if you read the open handset alliance’s FAQ, it’s all pretty vague. Most of the advantages listed are openness and lower cost, but you could say that of Linux. How much percent does Linux have on the desktop? I can’t find the story, but the last stats were something like .0something %.

    I’ll stick to my original statement.

  5. Kari Silvennoinen says:

    Guys, you’re forgetting something – Symbian. It’s just the most used smart-phone OS in the world.

    I don’t understand what indicator downloading the SDK is. It doesn’t tell you about anything else but hype.

    > Secondly, the limitation that will hurt the SDK for the iPhone the most are the fact that you cannot allow you application to run “in the background,” which pretty much invalidates instant messaging applications and the like.

    I’m starting to get really tired about this “what’s wrong with the iPhone this week”. In fact, And the canonical example is stupid, I do not see how this invalidates instant messaging. Even with this limitation I’ll bet that there will be IM apps on the iPhone. But this is beside the point.

    > Most of the advantages listed are openness and lower cost, but you could say that of Linux. How much percent does Linux have on the desktop?

    True, but one major factor of Linux adoptation on the desktop sales is that there’s Windows. People actually care about the OS in their computer – mostly because of familiarity and program support. These two things are mostly non-issues on mobile phones.

    > Android is the only completely open development platform of these choices, so it is going to be the developer favorite.

    Okay, let’s pretend that there’s no Symbian, but this is still flawed. The developer favorite is the platform that fulfills the requirements of said developer. In an ideal GNU world, openness and freedom would be values, but still we have something called MS Visual Studio.

    > Why are you so interested in seeing Google make money from this?

    Because, after all, they’re a commercial company and their sole purpose is making profit?

    Seriously guys, you’re talking about mobile phones and no mention of Nokia, Symbian or rest of the world, but about AT&T, Motorola, iPhone and Google? No offense, but that’s quite a small subset of the global mobile market. And come on, smart phones themselves are just a small subset of the global handset market.

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe things like Android are paving the way for a revolution. But that’s years in the future.

  6. Vincent van Wylick says:

    Man, you guys should all write essays or something… But I appreciate to being placed on the straight path; The only objective judgement could come if you compare all the operating-systems, all the applications that can run on it, all the mobile phones, and all the carriers. Unfortunately, that was a little out of the scope of my short blogpost.

    My point was about Android sucking, not about other mobile operating systems (not) sucking. Just like Google is a commercial machine and I’m sure they have a business-case for Android (e.g. move advertising to mobile), developers will also need some kind of business-case. And I’m not seeing that yet, apart from Google’s 10 million-dollar fund. There is no mention of some kind of commercial model for developers on the faq. And for that to happen, you’ll also need carrier-support, and their role is also not clearly specified.

    My focus on technology was in fact limited to hardware, because I gladly admit that coding software is not my strong suit, actually there’s no suit at all. I, for instance, don’t much care about apps running in the background as long as there’s a state-saving function and my phone doesn’t get slowed down because of it. If I did decide to buy a (smart)phone, which I haven’t, I’ll care more about good apps and how well I can integrate those with my business, not so much about free and open.

  7. Vincent van Wylick says:

    Looks like the discussion is being carried on this blog too (referring to the comments below the ad hominem attack).

  8. Jeremy Fain says:

    I have to say I don’t believe Android will be a flop.

    When in Silicon Valley, we were demoed Android by Marissa Meyer of Google. It was both fast and rather good-looking. Google is positionning on the juicy market of mobile advertising and I think it has everything it takes to win in this space; last, Google’s bargaining power vs. telco carriers is high so they can cut pretty cheap deals.

  9. Vincent van Wylick says:

    Looks like the whole world is against me… :D I concede, if only to enjoy the rest of my Sunday! Let’s wait and see how Android turns out, both as an OS and as a development-platform.

  10. Kari Silvennoinen says:

    Jeremy, even Nokia can’t bargain that much with telco carriers, so what makes you believe Google can?

    In my opinion, Android makes business-sense to Google only if they also act as a telco or ISP for it. It seems to me that the whole lure of Android for many is bypassing the telcos’ walled gardens. Nokia has first hand felt what’s the backslash from telcos if you try to do that (first with Club Nokia, now with Ovi). What’s in it for Google to piss off the telcos and their traditional “value added services”? What’s in it to the manufacturer to play a middle-man making Google more ad revenue?

    The telcos can already fill any phone with their branding and ads to the point of consumer irritation, so I’m genuinely interested what Google’s value proposition is and to whom. Who is Google actually trying to sell the platform to? Advertisers, handset manufacturers, telcos, consumers?

  11. Vincent van Wylick says:

    @Kari: I think Google has one shared characeristic with carriers that they value, and which Nokia/Apple/other hardware-manufacturers don’t have: the ability and desire(!) to monetise services. Nokia + Apple’s business-model centers around margins from hardware, Google builds software/services to catch eye-balls, which is something the carriers will appreciate.

    I do think that value-proposition that Google brings to the table is good, for them and for carriers. How developers and users will be served is the question.

  12. Jeremy Fain says:

    @Kari What special asset Google has that Nokia doesn’t? The #1 by far advertising platform on the Internet.

    Their bargaining power with telco carriers is by & large the same as with Apple and its iPhone: everyone will want exclusivity so Google can read its conditions.

    If the product is a product (and not FUD or slideware), then Android cannot loose.

  13. Kari Silvennoinen says:

    Jeremy, to put it bluntly, so what? Google might have #1 advertising platform on the internet, but what on earth does that have to do with Android?

    The analogy probably doesn’t hold, but how would releasing their own Linux distribution make Dell et al. want to bundle “Goonix” instead of Windows or something? Because they can put advertisements? I hardly see this as something either manufacturers or consumers would value.

    Google can’t get hip Apple-like exclusivity, because it doesn’t provide the phone, just a platform for manufacturers. I don’t get this exclusivity thing either, Nokia and Symbian didn’t get where they are with exclusivity.

    My point is that Anrdoid might very well be a very good platform for mobile phones, but technical superiority is not enough. Google’s halo effect surely has works here, but I’m not convinved until someone tells me how Google can sell Android to manufacturers and what Google gets as reward (_not_ necessarily from the manufacturers. this is important). A “Google gots some ads!” red herring jsut doesn’t cut it.

    I guess, you’d be right if Google made their own physical product.

  14. notcoolatall says:

    Android is not an OS. it is an SDK. In no way can it disrupt carrier business models. They make money from selling service contracts phones and charging for extras (like games, ringtones, texts, etc). Android will not in any way hinder this model and I suspect that third party companies who might offer easier browsing of content than phones’ built-in OSs will actually make it better. I think you got it all wrong dude. Hope you like your iPhone.

  15. Kari Silvennoinen says:

    Notcoolatall,

    Not sure if you’re trolling or not, but given that the Open Handset Alliance says that “Android™ will deliver a complete set of software for mobile devices: an operating system, middleware and key mobile applications”, I would say you’re a bit misinformed.

    But you’re right in that carrier’s are not willing to change their business models. They’re like music and movie industry in that sense. And you’re also correct, if I understood it correctly, that whatever makes browsing the Interwebs easier on mobile handset is good for carriers. That’s why many of them are in OHA.

  16. [...] Kari Silvennoinen @ 10:20 am Judging from Vincent’s latest post (and the comments!) about why he thinks Android will suck, there are many misunderstandings about global smartphone markets. First of all, they are a small [...]

  17. Georgia says:

    Thumbs up!!!

    For the simple reason that Android has a strategic objective that is clear even those who challenge it relentlessly.

    “…extend their advertising-platform as efficiently as possible to the mobile sphere, and that that would be incompatible with a large technology-push towards building physical networks.”… as you have put it and results of the 73 auction confirmed.

    V for prophet!

  18. Wert says:

    I do think that value-proposition that Google brings to the table is good, for them and for carriers.

  19. Symbian Blogger says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  20. newb says:

    Hi, nice read. Actually there’s exists Linux based mobile phone as an alternative to android. Just try to search about Maemo and Nokia N900(released this month, November 2009). You can do *LOTS* of things with that phone (Firefox, openoffice.org, viewing pdf for free, even editing perl and python code). Maemo itself is based on Debian(hey, just apt-get and you’ll get lots of free oss software!) and you can develop software on it using C/GTK+.

  21. coloro says:

    hmm do lets see, one year later (november 6th 2009 here / day of the launch of the DROID) and guess what? it does not suck at all! actually it rocks and pretty much everybody agrees its better than the iPhone .

    • Vincent van Wylick says:

      Actually, I was talking about the hardware+software combination, which varies from phone to phone. I don't know about the "everybody agrees that it's better than the iPhone" part either, but I do agree that from what I've seen it rocks.

  22. [...] think I was fairly down on Android as an OS and fairly up on Chrome OS (COS), long before it either came out. I’m still sort of [...]

  23. sitrin says:

    all u guys suck.Android rocks! go eat your words…

  24. Mr.Android says:

    ANDROID ROCKS NOW :)

  25. MAnuel says:

    I hope your skills as a tech implementor are greater than your technical "insights". Whatever your employer is paying you, they're getting robbed.

  26. kari says:

    Judging from the recent comments on this post, it looks like Andoird fanbois have really poor reading comprehension skills and commenting skills of YouTube users.

    A lot of has changed in the two years, but Android is still mostly unfilled potential. Neat technology and Nexus One was a brave experiment, but technology alone doesn't a good product make.

    • Vincent van Wylick says:

      It's fanboyism and fanboys have no concept of time. In any case, my post was written before Android was released, of course it will be better now.

      I was right about the hardware angle, in that developing for so many phone brands is bound to lead to problems, for the rest, I am hearing good things about Android (on certain phones only).

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