Aug 28th, 2008

UPDATE: Android Marketplace Officially Announced… DETAILS HERE.

While manufacturers continue the mobile arms race, packing more megapixels in every camera phone and pushing the spec sheet to new extremes, the main battle will soon be fought on a new field… where applications are the warriors.

When Android was announced in late 2007, the industry buzzed with what an Open Source mobile OS could mean to consumers. Freely downloaded 3rd party applications could totally change the mobile world. Little did most consumers know that downloadable 3rd party applications were readily available for Windows Mobile, RIM’s Blackberries and other devices. But it wasn’t optimal, it wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t enjoyable… it pretty much wasn’t anything that the mass audience was eager to adopt.

The Android announcement acted as a sort of catalyst, propelling the talk of the industry towards 3rd party applications and all the new and great things you would soon be able to do with your mobile phone. Apple seized the moment by launching an application kit for developers and later an Application Store specifically for the iPhone. In a sense, they stole Android’s thunder.

At first, Android’s “edge” was the opportunity to download 3rd party applications. Apple can now check that off their iPhone list. Then Android enthusiasts (us included) stated that the iPhone was just one niche phone without the critical mass to make universal applications. But then Apple released its iPhone 3G with affordability in mind… across the entire globe…. CHECK!

So what is left? Why does Android and the rumored “Android Marketplace” still have an edge on the iPhone and their application store? We could go on and on about the differences but instead, we’d like to point out a single difference with some recent developments that should illustrate Apple’s downside and Android’s potential.

The key here is that Android is striving for OPEN. The goal of OPEN being that YOU control what applications are on your phone. And “choosing” is now more enjoyable because with openness comes variety, competition, better prices, etc…

Apple keeps extremely tight reins on what can and cannot be placed onto your phone by means of the App Store. Application developers have to send their apps jumping through hoops to be granted the opportunity to sell their software on the app store. And while “security” would seem like one of the main reasons it certainly isn’t the only reason.

Want to play Tetris on your phone? How about Scrabble? Or maybe you want to read a cool comicbook style comic on your mobile? Easy enough… you can do that all on your iPhone!

NOT. SIKE. JUST KIDDING. Apple recently removed its “Tetris Clone” from the Application Store. Sounds like how Facebook removed Scrabulous app from Facebook, does it not? And oh yeah, Apple also removed a violent COMIC from the iPhone App Store because it – get this – “does not satisfy their community standards”.

Keep up the great work, Apple! You’re definitely on the right track with complete censorship and iron fist rule. While you’re at it why not remove all songs from iTunes that reference synonyms to the words, “poop” or “doody” (read: crap or shit) and leave something called freedom of speech, freedom of choice and all that good stuff to the big boys with Android.

Gizmodo featured a fantastic article about all the shortcomings of the iPhone App Store, yearning for an iPhone App Black market. Among the shortcomings they list of the existing iPhone application system:

  • iTunes/iPod functionality can’t be altered/used by 3rd party apps
  • Apps are only something you run your iPhone OS and the basic packaging and phone use can’t be altered by developers much… if at all
  • Pirated/Copied games/movies/etc are a no go
  • Too much hidden by the SDK. Developers simply don’t have access to the ins and outs at the deepest possible level, limiting what can be done.
  • The App Review process is a complete train wreck and total mystery
  • Apple wants to profit… so Apps that divert profits to a 3rd party developer or software aren’t likely to come about… they are stifled by the SDK

So will Android’s “Marketplace” fulfill the promise of 3rd party mobile applications or be riddled with the same types of shortcomings that have the iPhone App Store leaving us so unfulfilled? That remains to be seen… its not likely that the carriers will simply remove their stranglehold on the application market they’ve cornered… but they’ll loosen their grip significantly.

Its all but officially confirmed that T-Mobile will launch the HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1) as the first ever Android enabled phone. Its also been rumored that they’ve been prepping an iPhone like App Store that would allow for downloadable applications across every phone in their offering.

Google has claimed that Android would allow for carrier customization but it would be a complete shame if those with the HTC Dream were forced to find and download apps through a T-Mobile regulated system that isn’t likely to be better than the iPhone App Store.

There are two key differences here.

First of all, the iPhone is a single device and T-Mobile is an entire carrier. Regardless of your phone’s form factor and whether it runs WIndows Mobile, some bloated T-Mobile OS anything else, you can utilize T-Mobile’s application store. This would be a HUGE step forward for American carriers independent of Android and Apple.

Second of all, just because Android would be “included” in the T-Mobile store doesn’t mean they’ll be exclusive to the T-Mobile store. Couldn’t they appear in a “T-Mobile marketplace” AND an “Android Marketplace” that is all inclusive of the platform and non-carrier specific?

In many people’s minds, Google has already flubbed up Android with 2 unfortunate MIA APIs in the SDK. Wow, that sounded incredibly geeky. In any case, the Bluetooth and GoogleTalk SDK’s were missing in the .9 SDK release of Android… the version that will ship with the first devices.

The uninformed consumers following Android initially flipped out, “No Bluetooth? No Instant Messaging? ZOMG EPIC FAIL!” They misunderstood. The HTC Dream and the other Android devices WILL support Bluetooth and GoogleTalk Messaging… they just won’t provide developers with API access so they can utilize them in their own 3rd party applications.

If you ask me this is a good thing for both consumers AND Android. The reason these APIs were left out were the possibilities of security flaws being exposed. As we recently saw with the iPhone’s security flaw, that revealed personal information, even the most minor issue can create a huge consumer backlash. In the case of the established iPhone product its not that big of a deal and it was a minor issue anyway. But for an unproven product facing unlimited scrutiny, a blow to the security of the OS could prove fatal. Better for ALL of us that they get it right before they include it.

On top of that, there is a REASON that manufacturers of anything don’t give you the farm on the first go around. Sometimes they don’t include things THIS time around so they can WOW you (and upsell you) on the second time around. Inclusion of the Bluetooth and GTalk API in the next iteration of the Android SDK is sure to make Android Dev Challenge #2 a huge hit and return focus on new applications that utilize these all new features. The same way that the iPhone didn’t have cut/paste, GPS, video capture and only a 2.0 megapixel camera… these are all things they can improve upon… and then promote heavily.

So the question remains, where will the Android Marketplace fall on the scale of openness? Will it allow for anything and everything, relying on an extremely well written SDK and a savvy consumers to prevent security flaws and keep an eye on what apps are good/bad?

Or will it follow the iPhone App Store path or be influenced by carriers like T-Mobile and default to their preferences which, obviously, include alterior motives that don’t coincide completely with consumer choice and empowerment?

Google and the OHA need to take a good hard look at their initial Android announcement and understand why it was such a big deal to begin with. They need to understand the shortcomings of the iPhone App Store and that anything LESS than what they provide, crippled by the carrier, will be unacceptable. We can all hope for the best but thats just it… right now we’re just hoping.

The success of Android doesn’t rely at all on how well the first hardware (HTC Dream) performs, sells, works or anything else. Its all about the apps and if Android’s marketplace doesn’t outperform the App Store (at least conceptually) from the getgo, the OS could be dead in the water.

Don’t mess this up, Google. Yeah, we know its not just you… the entire OHA has a lot to do with it. But still… please don’t mess this up.

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