Some Remarks on the Open Handset Alliance

So google finally announced a part of it’s mobile plans: A software platform called Android, built by the Open Handset Alliance.

There’s already plenty of commentary from the usual suspects. (See below for my favorite quotes). My thoughts:

  • In the 8 years im working in the mobile spaces i have yet to see an Alliance (e.g. OMA) or Forum (e.g. WAP Forum) to succeed. IMHO they where always doomed because operators and handset manufacturers tried to block each other. It needed a small set of predominant players (like Sun and Nokia in the J2ME space) in order to get something useful.With Google being the driving force and predominat player at the OHA (btw. a very nice acronym for german speaking people, like OMA) there is a chance that this is also the case here. But with players like Qualcomm i’m not sure.
  • There have also been / are a set of opensource Linux-based handset OS approaches most notably the recently abandoned QT’s Greenphone and OpenMoko. Neither of them is a large success. This, IMHO has two reasons:
    1. No or a very little chance to get access to a phone to put that system on.QT hat to build their own phones in order to get that done. Only a couple of hundred were build. That made them expensive.

      With HTC, one of the if not the biggest OEM manufacturers on board, one can hope that developers can get access to a reflashable Android-based phone easily. Ideally, they just publish a piece of software that reflashes their existing windows-mobile based devices.

    2. Small developer base for nitty gritty low-level developmentThere are only few people that are able (and love) doing the low-level programming needed to bring an OS to a mobile device.

      If in the OHA Google is sponsoring these people this would be a real winner.

  • Java is used instead for application development, there is no word on Javascript based development, Given the actual size of the java for mobile development community
    and my experiences with Opera Platform back in 2005 as well as recent reports with the javascript performance on the iPhone this is a reasonable choice for today. But the flood gates will not be opened until everybody is able to “develop” his own mashup by writing some *ML and javascript code.
  • There is word that Android is goin to be published under the Apache license, the press release only mentions: ” … will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products”.I’m wondering how this interplays with Linux GPL.

    I also wonder how this custom built VM looks like. Having a good VM (and i presume that tihis VM is good) under the Apache license sounds interesting.

    And since Google is able to pay the bill for the TCKs, they might even calling it Java, not having the problems bug-labs are reporting.

  • Looking at the alliance membersI think the most interesting partners are: ChinaMobile and the japanese carriers, Intel and Sirf, HTC and Samsung on the handset side and Google and Nuance on the software side.

    IMHO, the most prominent member missing from the Alliance is Sun. I guess this has to do with the license.

    You couldn’t expect any other company that hat stakes in a mobile OS to join the alliance at this stage. This includes: Nokia, SonyEricsson, Microsoft and Apple.

    From these, i guess Microsoft has the most to loose, because they are in the handset manufacturing business, and the handset manufacturers love to get rid of these licensing fees (especially in the low and middle tier handsets). Thats the reason why Motorola, Palm and all the others have tried building Linux-based mobile OS.

  • The platform looks interesting for other kinds of devices too: I think that Chumby Industries and Bug-Labs will definitely have a look at it for usingit on their Chumbys and Bugs.
  • Maybe with Android, there is finally a place where the free roaming software agents written in Dylan i loved to read about in GeneralMagics early days can prosper. Really, i’m serious. OK, maybe not Dylan but aome other prototyp base ddynamic language.

Quotes

NYT:

“Today the Internet experience on hand-held devices is not optimized,” said Peter Chou, chief executive of HTC, one of the largest makers of smartphones. “The whole idea is to optimize the Internet experience.” Mr. Chou, whose company makes several phones based on Microsoft’s software, which are largely aimed at business users, said the phones based on Google’s technology would probably be marketed primarily to consumers.

A brief demonstration of the Google software recently suggests that phones made using the technology will have features and design similar to the Apple iPhone. Mr. Rubin demonstrated a hand-held touch-screen device that gave an immersive view of Google Earth, the company’s three-dimensional visualization software.

O’Reilly Radar:

All in all, very interesting. It’s remarkable to see Apple once again in the position of selling a whole-stack platform (software and hardware, at least — network sold separately), competing with a broad coalition of commodity hardware companies using a common software platform. I think they’ll repeat history — they are already repeating history — by not doing whatever they can to bring developers to their platform. I wonder if Google will teach them what they should have already learned from Microsoft.

Techcrunch:

No ad-supported phones, says Andy Rubin in Q&A: “Part of this Android solution is a very robust HTML Web browser, so there is really no difference between browsing on a phone [and on a PC]. Contrary to speculation, you won’t see a completely ad-driven phone on this platform for some time.” But he confirms that this plays into Google’s overall advertising strategy by bringing a more fully functioning Web browser to the handset. Notes that Android will require at minimum the equivalent of a 200 MHz ARM 9 processor. The platform is open source, and that will be its competitive advantage over other mobile platforms.

MokoNews:

Availability: Rubin: “All this software will be available in about one week to developers in an SDK“. Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT) CEO Rene Obermann said T-Mobile would be offering wireless internet and Web 2.0 devices “in the US and in Europe in the course of 2008”, creating a “better-than-internet experience”, while HTC CEO Peter Chou said its first devices would come “in the second half of 2008 with others to follow”.

FSJ:

The Journal kind of nails the problem with this story. Money quote: Tech consortia for decades have been notorious for failing to live up to their promise. Google Director of Mobile Platforms Andy Rubin acknowledged the troubled history of previous consortia, but said that Android was different because “we’re actually releasing in one week this software.”

But the issue isn’t about when the software ships. Consortia don’t work because nobody can ever agree on anything and everyone always wants to push the group in ways that advantage themselves and disadvantage everyone else.

Mobile Opportunity:

Impact on Windows Mobile: Ugliness. The handset companies endorsing Android are also Microsoft’s most prominent mobile licensees. I doubt any of them are planning to completely abandon Microsoft (they don’t want to be captive to any single OS vendor), but any effort they put into Android is effort that doesn’t go into Windows Mobile. So this is ominous.

The whole mobile thing just hasn’t worked out the way Microsoft planned. First it couldn’t get the big handset brands to license its software, so it focused on signing phone clone vendors in Asia, thinking it could use them to pull down the big guys. But Nokia and the other big brands used their volume and manufacturing skill to beat the daylights out of the small cloners.

Now Google is coming after the market with an OS that’s completely free, and may even be subsidized. This will put huge financial pressure on not just Windows Mobile, but all of Windows CE. Even if Microsoft can hold share, its prospects of ever making good money in the sub-PC space look increasingly remote.