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Why the Google Android Phone Isn't Taking Off 745

Hugh Pickens writes "Farhad Manjoo writes in Slate that while the iPhone commands nearly 14 percent of smartphone sales and BlackBerry about 21 percent, Android has only 3 percent. And even though Android is far friendlier to developers, it has failed to attract anywhere near the number of apps now clogging the iPhone. Manjoo writes that Google went wrong by giving handset manufacturers and carriers too much control over the design and marketing of Android phones so there is no idealized 'Google phone' — instead, Android devices get names like the T-Mobile G1 or the myTouch 3G, and each is marketed separately and comes with its own distinct capabilities and shortcomings. 'Outside handset manufacturers lack ambition — -none of them even seems to be trying to match the capabilities of the iPhone, let alone to knock us down with features that far surpass those of Apple's device,' writes Manjoo. 'A smart handset manufacturer could build a top-of-the-line Android device that outshines Apple's phone in at least a few areas — better battery life, a much better Web browser, a brighter or bigger screen, faster or more functional controls... something that might help Android inspire gadget lust. But so far, that's not happening.' John Gruber echoes this advice and adds this advice to Android manufacturers: 'If Apple is BMW, you can be Porsche.'"
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Why the Google Android Phone Isn't Taking Off

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  • "It's the Network" (Score:4, Informative)

    by Stupendoussteve ( 891822 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:01PM (#29180019)

    The G1 and myTouch are nice, unfortunately they're on T-Mobile, which is nice but not nice everywhere. If T-Mobile worked in my area I would certainly try them out, at least.

  • by Doctor_Jest ( 688315 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:08PM (#29180087)
    That's my problem. T-mobile has some craptacular coverage out where I live.. (and it's even hit and miss closer to the big city...) I'd rather them get some decent coverage (and I hate AT&T as much as I do Microsoft.) But what's funny is that I'm not interested in an iPhone, even though I'm a mac-head. (I have 4 Macs of varying ages... evenly split between Intel and PowerPC.) I guess I'm not the target demographic, but I wouldn't hazard a guess as to what that demographic might be (I'll leave that to marketeers and the like.)

    Here's to hoping T-Mobile fixes their service issues (to bring them on par with the AT&T/Verizon ubiquity.) Oh, and hopefully they won't lose customer data again. :)
  • by TheGreenNuke ( 1612943 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:15PM (#29180141)
    Agreed. Most people I know consider T-Mobile a second rate carrier and the only thing holding them back from getting the G1 or myTouch. It would be interesting to see what happened if they started selling them unlocked thus allowing them to be used on AT&T's network for some (closer to) direct competition with the iPhone.
  • Re:Citation needed (Score:4, Informative)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:16PM (#29180155)

    Well, you don't have to pay Apple money to develop for Android, and you don't have to get Apple's permission to distribute your app to users. Those are probably pluses even if you experiencing full-on reality distortion.

    Apple may still be providing a more attractive program though, simply by bothering to market their phones.

  • Well in Canada... (Score:4, Informative)

    by seifried ( 12921 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:18PM (#29180177) Homepage
    No-one is selling the darn things (I've yet to see one in a store/cell phone kiosk). That could be part of the problem up here at least. If anyone knows where I can get one (in western Canada) please let me know, I'd love to be proven wrong.
  • by sadler121 ( 735320 ) <> on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:22PM (#29180227) Homepage

    An unlocked Android phone will only work on GSM/GPRS/EDGE. T-Mobile and AT&T use different frequency allocations for UMTS, UMTS 850/1900 for AT&T and 2100/1700 MHz for TMobile. What would be great is if we can get a quad band Android phone that supported those frequencies, but as of yet, there is none. []

  • by TheGreenNuke ( 1612943 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:22PM (#29180229)

    $300 unlocked will not sell well

    Right, because people didn't line up to buy their $599 (8GB) or $499 (4 GB) iPhones when they first launched. $300 unlocked would be a bargain for a smartphone.

  • Re:Citation needed (Score:5, Informative)

    by jelizondo ( 183861 ) * <jerry.elizondo@gm a i l . c om> on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:25PM (#29180247)

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, the "friendlier" to developers is really that it is open source, that you can use open source tools (Eclipse, Ant, etc.) for development, but that's all folks! as the good bunny said.

    Documentation sucks, most of developers are outside the U.S. (from my experience mainly India and Pakistan) where they can't get a developer's phone, the emulator is fine except that it can't emulate making calls or receiving them, etc. etc.

    It is "friendlier" in a sense but like the Apple of old days (i.e. early 80's), when you could get real support, real docs and real machines to develop apps.

    Someone needs to get behind developers' support right away!

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:31PM (#29180299)

    We've spent a lot of the past 6 months optimizing a mobile version of our website & ecommerce systems as well as developing native apps for the iPhone and Blackberry. I go around and test on anyone with a smartphone I see. And I've yet to meet a single person with a G1 or MyTouch.

  • Re:Citation needed (Score:2, Informative)

    by josteos ( 455905 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:36PM (#29180345)

    I found Android to be a great platform to develop on. The biggest hurdle was using Eclipse after being a Win32/Visual Studio dev for 10 years.

    I was attracted to it by the lower cost of entry (I didn't have to buy an apple!) and the lack of a GateKeeper at the app store. The pleasant development framework was an added bonus. The smaller user population isn't as cool right now, but I haven't invested so much into it that I can't afford to wait while the market grows.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:40PM (#29180391)
    But do you think Verizon would even -allow- a phone with Android to run? I mean, I've compared the same dumb phone (I think it was the Razr) across AT&T Sprint and Verizon, the AT&T and Sprint phones were pretty good but the Verizon phone was pretty much neutered to the point where they can't do anything beyond changing the background, changing it from ring to vibrate and using the camera. Verizon is -terrible- when it comes to phones, they might have the "network" but when all the phones are total crap, the network is useless. I think it even went as far as Verizon rejecting any phone with wi-fi.
  • Re:Excelsior, Manjoo (Score:3, Informative)

    by 1001011010110101 ( 305349 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:58PM (#29180539)

    They already did []

    Not sure when it will be available, but I think it was Real Soon Now.

  • by JoeSavage ( 906113 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:59PM (#29180543) Journal
    The bands for 2G (GSM/EDGE) and 3G (W-CDMA) are different, so you can have a phone that is "quad-band" for 2G but is single-band for 3G. The radio designs for W-CDMA are MUCH more complex than GSM/EDGE, thus having a phone that supports multiple W-CDMA bands significantly increases the BOM cost and the radio footprint compared with a single W-CDMA band design. Such phones are definitely being made, but at least it makes sense why a phone targeted for T-Mobile would only support their frequency bands. FYI, in the States, AT&T uses bands II and V while T-Mobile uses band IV. See []
  • by Bodero ( 136806 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:01PM (#29180559)

    Verizon Android Phones Are Officially Coming [].

    There exists a pretty strong misunderstanding that Verizon "locks down" their phones. They did, yes. But in the past year, they've stopped disabling GPS on their phones [] (including the Omnia, Storm and Tour), said that all future Blackberries will have Wifi [], and launched their Open Development Initiative [] to get data devices (among other things) on their network.

    Oh, and their next generation network (which is launching 2+ years before AT&T's) is LTE, based off the GSM standard. []

    But I don't blame you, they've definitely had restrictive tendencies in the past.

  • Re:Excelsior, Manjoo (Score:3, Informative)

    by RedK ( 112790 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:03PM (#29180573)
    Samsung already has. The Samsung Galaxy. It is already available on O2 in Germany from what I can gather.
  • by mini me ( 132455 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:04PM (#29180579)

    Rogers uses UMTS 850/1900 and offers the HTC Dream (same as the G1) and the HTC Magic. It shouldn't be impossible to get one into the US.

  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <> on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:08PM (#29180625)

    I'm curious -- have you done any development for Android, or are you armchair'ing this one?

    They've been _extremely_ careful about what is declared a public API, to the point of holding back features on account thereof. That's one of the major reasons RFCOMM support (to pick something dear to my heart) has been unavailable for developers in every version released so far -- they're unwilling to declare the API stable until they have something they know they'll be able to maintain through newer versions of BlueZ and security audits/updates, and their compiler flags any attempts at using anything which isn't a public API (they've also released updates which break attempts to get around these measures and build software using version-specific, unreleased APIs).

    Personally, I expect Android to take off on a larger scale when the fleet of phones expected to release late this year (from numerous manufacturers) make it out their respective doors.

  • by bobetov ( 448774 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:17PM (#29180701) Homepage

    What part of "don't have to pay Apple money to develop for Android" and "don't have to get Apple's permission to distribute" did you not understand?

    Android is a platform that give much more, and more meaningful, freedoms to app developers.

    I'll add another big one - on the Android platform, replacing core apps with your own version is *encouraged*, and in fact *designed into the platform*. Unlike Apple's recent filing about "altering the core experience" re: Google Voice. Apple could create an iPhone-themed app suite for the G1 tomorrow, host it on their own servers, and no one could say otherwise. That's a pretty fundamental difference.

    Say what you will about the iPhone as a sexy beast, etc, but as a developer platform and ecosystem, the only thing Android is missing is higher handset sales.

  • Too Slow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by codepunk ( 167897 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:25PM (#29180759)

    Developer Friendly? Not, I spent some time a few months ago trying to port one of my games to the G1. The game requires some fairly heavy physics, it runs
    blistering fast on the the iphone. The G1 however just is not up to the task, face it the IPhone is just a much better performing device. When it comes
    to squeezing performance out of these tiny devices get java out of my way, I need to be able to program against the metal.

  • by markkezner ( 1209776 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:32PM (#29180821)
    FYI, my Android Dev Phone 1 is quad band and can work with at&t or theoretically any other GSM provider. Related Wikipedia article []

    I can't speak for the vanilla G1, but I don't think it's capable of this.
  • by sammyF70 ( 1154563 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:17PM (#29181213) Homepage Journal
    Factors that are friendly to developers :
    • the developer fee is $25 ONCE
    • there is no review of your application and when you publish it, it's on the Android Market right away
    • Applications are written in Java, which means you can develop on any platform you like in a language that's not OSX specific
    • the SDK integrates nicely in Eclipse, which means you can have a ~nice~ (debatable I know) IDE for free
    • the documentation is (contrary to what other said) quite good and the #android-dev IRC channel on freenode provides great help

    Sadly, Android suffers from

    • an incredibly bad Market, with one of the worst search engine ever written (a regular joke on #android is whether Google should ask Microsoft or Yahoo for a better search engine), and virtually no useful feedback mechanism for developers. This results in developers pushing fake updates just to make users aware that their applications exist, and comments like "sucks. crashes" littering the market (with no way to know which version actually crashed, nor to ask the user who posted the comment why/how/where the application crashed
    • 24 hours refund even for 99c applications who have demo versions available and virtually no copyright protection. When you first get a ORDER/REFUND" cycle of less than 4mn on one of your applications, you get angry. The angriness just transforms into fatalistic depression after the tenth. Similarly, with games, when refunds is asked after 23 hours, you can't help but ask yourself what exactly, in terms of gameplay, users expected from a 99c game. (this is especially infuriating when the game has high replay value, but can be finished the first time around in a few hours)
    • Non-homogeneous hardware. You're supposed to write your applications so that they can run on vritually any display resolution, with or without trackball, hardware keyboard, and whatnot. Add to that the fact that the T-Mobile G1 is quite underpowered for graphically intensive applications and that that's probably what you're using to develop and the range of stuff you can do shrinks greatly.
    • Android applications are writen in Java, with the shortcomings this brings with it (anybody want to write a game and see how the GC kills the framerate by processing stuff that has nothing to do with your application? it's *really* fun)
    • So .. all in all, yes, it's far friendlier to developers, but it's also a highly frustrating platform to develop for.

  • by RedK ( 112790 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:33PM (#29181375)

    There are 2 APIs floating around in the SDK right now. Android 1.1 and Android 1.5. This is no different than the iPhone, where the APIs and frameworks are getting introduced and updated every release. If you use 3.0 features in iPhone's SDK, you're stuck as a 3.0 app. Same with Android. A 1.1 app will run on a 1.5 phone, but not the opposite.

    I don't see where that is a problem since all software development as been like this for ages.

  • The API sucks (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gunark ( 227527 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:40PM (#29181445)

    The honest truth is, the Android API sucks. You're given the worst of both worlds -- doing simple things (like storing simple application settings) is tedious and awkward -- but neither are the tools powerful enough to do anything interesting.

    As a developer, I found the whole experience of building apps for Android extremely disappointing. The potential is there, and it shines through in (for example) the Eclipse-based IDE tools, but the API itself absolutely sucks. Why is there no built in abstraction layer for persisting data? I have to manually create SQL databases and write SQL queries just to retrieve a simple application setting? Seriously??

  • by Mr2001 ( 90979 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:45PM (#29181475) Homepage Journal

    It's really, really easy to get started with iPhone development. You pay Apple a small fee and get access to piles and piles of sample code, great documentation, a mature API, and you even get 2 support incidents in which you get to interact with a real Apple developer for your money.

    With Android, you get access to piles and piles of code without having to pay anyone. Want to know how the default music player works? Just look at the source code. Good luck finding the source to the iPhone's music player.

    If you want to interact with a real Android developer, just post on the newsgroups or find them on IRC. Again, it's free.

    I haven't done iPhone development, so I can't comment on the relative quality of Android's documentation or API, but they seem fine to me.

  • by EvilJoker ( 192907 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:03AM (#29182111)

    I hate to be pedantic, especially since your source makes the same mistake, but LTE is not based on GSM- it's just that GSM has reached its end-of-life and needs to be completely replaced. Currently, the best option for future deployments is LTE, therefore all the GSM carriers are going to switch to it. CDMA still has life in it (LTE is based on UMTS, which relies heavily on various parts of the CDMA stack), but Verizon has decided to switch to the upcoming technology now, rather than invest further in an unpopular technology.

  • by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:04AM (#29182115) Journal

    Actually, T-Mobile G1 has free roaming on the AT&T, so my coverage is always at least as good as AT&T. I love hacking Android, but HTC makes crappy phones. I think that's the real reason they aren't selling well. Basically, it's a sucky phone. In particular:

    - Battery life is a joke. It's a smart-phone with a bright color display and the old Razr battery.
    - There's no headphone jack. Instead, you get a kludge-cord that connects your headset through the power jack.
    - The camera takes butt-ugly pictures
    - The speaker is too quite. You can't hear your call or music in traffic or on a plane
    - Cheap construction - the glass lens cover on mine broke when I dropped the phone 2 feet onto carpet.
    - The phone is ugly, and has a small display when compared to an iPhone.
    - It's actually *more* expensive than an iPhone, once you buy some flash memory for it.

    In short, only dorks and geeks like me who love hacking Android and hate getting screwed by Apple are buying G1's, and it's HTC's fault. I'll consider buying a different Android phone if someone could please just add a damned headphone jack!

  • by sammyF70 ( 1154563 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:11AM (#29182165) Homepage Journal
    ... provided of course you own a mac (just to make that clear)
  • by sadler121 ( 735320 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:19AM (#29182213) Homepage

    Quad Band GSM, not UMTS. According to the wikipedia article you linked to, the dev phone only has 3G WCDMA (1700/2100 MHz).

    Of course, others have suggested to by a G1/G2 off ebay from Canada unlocked as Rogers uses the same frequencies as at&t in the States.

  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:23AM (#29182239) Homepage

    both are CDMA phones with SIM cards

    No, both are CDMA phones with a GSM module shoehorned in as well, which allows you to "fallback" to GSM in foreign parts where CDMA isn't supported. The "Verizon SIM" is just a billing hack to make the GSM module work. It's not like you can stick any SIM in an 8800, or pull the Verizon SIM out of one and stick it in an iPhone.

  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:32AM (#29182297) Homepage

    The difference is the iPhone had -everything- usable

    Except copy/paste, 3G, video recording, and several other features that came standard on other phones of the same period. But yeah, every one of the features they deigned to include worked quite well.

  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @04:07AM (#29183375)
    And both of you seem to have missed the important first step before you can develop for iPhone using the official SDK: buy a new PC from Apple, because you won't be able to use the one you've already got. I thought the days of tying development tools to overpriced vendor supplied hardware were over, but apparently not.
  • Shiny! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kerr ( 889580 ) * on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @04:40AM (#29183501)
    Unshiny android?

    Htc have launched an android phone [] with their new Sense UI []
    If you've ever used a Htc phone before, you'll recognize it as being very similar to their awesome TouchFlo 3D interface for windows mobile.
    The G1 is too underpowered to be serious competition for the Iphone, but things are getting better.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:10AM (#29184001)

    Here's one: you can develop on whatever OS you want. I wanted to get an iPhone to write apps, but guess what? You can't develop iPhone apps on a Windows or Linux machine, you must do it on a Mac!

    And another two: You write your apps in Java - not in Objective C, and with the NDK you can even write parts in C.

  • by Thing 1 ( 178996 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:30AM (#29185599) Journal

    There was a time when you could only buy your land line phone from Bell [...]

    Actually, it was even worse: you had to rent your phone from Bell; I recall my parents being warily convinced that we should purchase a phone, so we could remove that line-item from the bill. (They were concerned that any issues with it, Bell wouldn't cover it, or worse, an issue with the line Bell could point to the owner-owned phone and say "sorry that voids the warrantee" or something similar.)

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.