The Google Android Rollout: Windows or Waterloo?

Google-Android-Napoleon.pngWatching Google’s rollout of Android to date, including this week’s announcements about the Google-branded, HTC-built Nexus One phone, I am left with two conflicting thoughts.

The first is that everyone I talk to within Google is supremely confident that the data they are looking at suggests that they are poised to win in the market.

The second is that I am confused. Relative to the ‘battle’ and ‘war’ analogy, what is the battle that Google is fighting, and what is the war that they expect to win?

After all, at this stage Android is not in the same league to WIN the potential iPhone buyer because, relative to iPhone, Android lacks on hardware design, developer tools, media libraries, apps momentum, and marketplace functionality.

Yet, based upon RIM’s last quarter earnings report, it’s not as though Android is taking market share from the Blackberry, either.

My best guess is that Google is REALLY going after the Nokia and Symbian ecosystem, which is fine and logical, as it represents a comparable structure in supporting a broad variety of device form-factors and a multi-carrier approach. Plus, it offers (relatively) easy pickings, as Nokia/Symbian has a dispirited developer base, making it low-hanging fruit.

The only paradox is that to win that audience you can’t be competing with the handset guys (i.e., Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG) in either hard or soft form – i.e., by anointing a preferred device/partner or formally branding and marketing a Google device.

Why? Because a successful platform play demands clear delineation points between the areas where the platform creator is looking to the ecosystem to fill the gap (and, thus the platform provider won’t compete with them); where they consider something proprietary to themselves, and thus won’t allow a third-party to augment/swap out; and where it’s more akin to ‘co-opetition’ (the platform creator will cooperate, but reserves the right to compete as well).

When You See the Fork in the Road, Take It

In Google’s case, they have positioned themselves as the more open alternative to iPhone, and have been very vocal from the get-go (i.e., during the two years that they have been courting handset makers) that they are not getting into the hardware game.

In fact, just two months ago, Andy Rubin, VP of Engineering for Android at Google, scoffed at the notion that Google would “compete with its customers” by releasing its own phone.

“We’re not making hardware,” Rubin said. “We’re enabling other people to build hardware.”

Yet here we are, and it appears that Google is indeed materially changing the rules of the game by rolling out a Google-branded phone.

History suggests that when ecosystem partners conclude that the platform creator is competing with its own constituency or using built-in advantages unfairly, they will become less loyal and less dedicated to the platform.

In the Android market, the most likely way this manifests is handset makers more freely making product decisions that are at odds with the ‘greater good’ of a unified Android platform, thus accelerating the rate of Android platform fragmentation.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Apple has been a saint in how they’ve managed their relationships with developers. They haven’t, and have been rightfully pilloried for their deafening silence and sometimes-capricious handling of the App Store approval process (in terms of their interaction with third-party developers).

The difference is that with Apple, the ecosystem is making real money, the universality of iPhone/iPod Touch App and Media distribution is compelling, and the monetization workflow is straightforward and just works, so Apple developers cope and deal. Besides, as a developer, you always prefer a unified platform to a more heterogeneous one, right?

Hence, the argument here is that Google watched the rate that the iPhone Platform is evolving and how rapidly consumer and developer mindshare continues to grow, and concluded that ‘staying the course’ was unpalatable, and decided to do something dramatic about it.

In other words, this move was dictated by what Apple is making happen in the market rather than any pure failing of Android. Nonetheless, it’s a telling statement on what Google now believes is the quickest way to get the best possible Android phone out, a statement they appear willing to make even if it results in collateral damage to the Android ecosystem.

Call me a naysayer, as it’s certainly contrary to conventional wisdom, but I believe that this move is an indication that Google has misread the market, and now faces a choice between a fragmented Android marketplace or abandoning the core precepts of Android (as an open, hardware vendor-neutral software platform play) in order to go toe-to-toe with Apple in areas that, I would note, Google hasn’t proven to be strong at; namely, hardware design, user experience, and developer tools.

Framing this dilemma, MG Siegler of TechCrunch nicely captures one bit of fallout from the imminent Nexus One launch in his excellent piece, ‘With Nexus One, Is Google Eating Its Own Dogfood or Its Own Children?‘:

Google is unveiling the Nexus One just two months (nearly to the day) after the Verizon Droid was released. The Droid, of course, was seen as the Android platform’s Messiah by some, and the one phone that could maybe hold a candle to the iPhone. Sales have been good, and the general consensus is that the phone is a winner. But now, just two months later, we have a new Android phone that by just about every account is better than it. In fact, the only real upsides for the Droid over the Nexus One is that it runs on Verizon’s network, and that it has a physical keyboard. The Verizon point is certainly a fair one – there’s a reason why everyone is clamoring for a Verizon iPhone. But the physical keyboard argument seems moot, as the consensus is that the Droid keyboard is a pretty poor one.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty annoyed if I just shelled out my money for a Droid, and locked myself into a 2-year contract (even one with Verizon). It reminds me of when Apple first unveiled the iPhone for $599 then slashed the price just a few months later, leaving all the early-adopters bitter. Apple eventually gave a partial rebate to those buyers, but it still was a curious move. And Google’s is arguably worse here, as it’s not just about the money, but about the unveiling of a superior piece of hardware so quickly after it put a lot of its own marketing muscle behind the Droid, trying to convince customers that it was the Android phone to buy.

Mind you, this is the same company whose credo is “Do No Evil,” and just a week ago delivered a somewhat sanctimonious, self-serving and much-derided manifesto on the Google definition of openness. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber commentary was by far the richest: proclaiming, “It’s the biggest pile of horseshit I’ve ever seen from Google.”

Fair or unfair, when you emblazon yourself as being more open and less evil than everyone else, as Google has, you put a bit of a target on your back.

Somewhat paradoxically, Apple gets a free pass here, because with Apple, product positioning is all about the products and the user experience, and not about morals and openness.

Everything Old is New Again

The prevailing meme in assessing the battle between Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone is that it’s a redux of Microsoft Windows v. Apple Macintosh, with the premise being that the company with the broadest base of hardware OEM support will inevitably outflank and usurp the market position of the integrated and more proprietary hardware, software solution provider (read: Apple then and Apple now).

That chapter has yet to be written but I would submit that there is another chapter from tech history that bears re-reading: Novell v. Microsoft.

Novell-Windows-Mac.pngIn 1994, Microsoft was rapidly moving into the driver’s seat as the de facto leader of desktop/personal computing, yet many forget how utterly dominant Novell was.

In fact, at one point, 90% of the market for PC-based servers was under its control via its NetWare Network Operating System and surrounding ecosystem of hardware, software, integration and education/training partners.

At that point in time, it was not apocryphal to wonder whether the Network was poised to swallow up the Desktop, or vice versa, in much the same way we ruminate today on whether ‘The Cloud’ will swallow up Edge-Based computing.

But then something interesting happened. Novell’s Ray Noorda, believing that its strategic position gave it a secure foothold from which to establish a beachhead in the desktop environment, opted to take Novell head-on into Microsoft’s Office stronghold by rolling out a product suite that included WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, a one-time Excel competitor that had been acquired by Novell from Borland.

When the dust settled, not only had Novell lost the desktop battle badly, but in the process of focusing its forces to fight Microsoft on its home turf, Novell missed the disruptive power of the TCP/IP-based Internet (NetWare was built on a protocol stack known as IPX/SPX), and now, relatively speaking, nobody uses NetWare anymore.

Netting it out: rather than seeing this as a Microsoft v. Apple analog, maybe Google should view this as a Microsoft v. Novell analog, with Google sitting in the Novell position. Either way, the Mobile Wars are shaping up as the juiciest industry battle in years.

Related Posts:

  1. Google Android: Inevitability, the Dawn of Mobile and the Missing Leg
  2. Open “ish”: The meaning of open, according to Google
  3. iPhone, the ‘Personal’ Computer: The Future of the Mobile Web

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  • Tim O'Reilly

    Mark -

    I agree that Google starting to compete with its own ecosystem might well be a body blow for Android adoption – unless Google is just trying to move the ball forward, and encourages others to copy the best features in their own phones.

    But for your analogy to hold, there would need to be another TCP/IP waiting in the wings to challenge Google’s core position in search and big data algorithmics. What do you see that is the alternative that would blindside them while they are playing on Apple’s turf?

    I tend to see the Apple/Windows comparison as the stronger analogy. FWIW, Apple is trying to compete on Google’s turf as well–e.g. hiring location developers etc. I see far more risk to them than to Google.

  • Sriram

    Mark,

    Excellent post and you capture essentially all the major points that come up when trying to understand the decision by Google to launch the Nexus One.

    I look at the Nexus One as the ‘droid for the rest of us (the rest being those who want the best Android phone without having to switch to Verizon). It’s certainly nothing spectacular, will soon be eclipsed by better and faster phones and will remain a footnote in the history of Android phones.

    Having said that, I see nothing in the works from any of the current players to unseat Apple’s current position in the smartphone market – a phone (no matter what the specs) is hardly going to do it.

    You need a cohesive content platform (apps,music,video) to drive usage, compelling development environment to attract developers and a phone that is well designed (UI,performance,etc.). Its a lot harder than it looks and Apple has 2 year head start.

    BTw – I am no apple fanboy – I owned a G1, now a Google ION and have an ipod touch (which I find myself using more and more these days)

  • CaptainSEO

    I think the main problem big G has with Android (which I love) is the de-centralised app stores.

    It seams Nokia etc will have their own.

    It really does need a central hub, which bearing in mind big Gs core business, needs to be Mich easier to search. It’s quite dull and best-useless.

  • Mark Sigal

    Hi Tim,

    First off, thanks for the note. First off, the nature of disruptions is that they always come where you least expect them, but at least relative to core search, I see nothing screaming obvious today.

    Where I do think Google is vulnerable, however, is with their AdWords/AdSense core revenue business, where most advertisers in my world are fairly disappointed with the quality of the ad unit, the contextual relevance of it’s placement (when’s the last time you clicked on an AdWord?), the analytics/tracking richness (why does Google Analytics suck relative to all of the innovation in analytics/BI space), and the general lack of transparency by “open” google on what’s the spread, which sites perform better than others, etc.

    Plus, publishers generally gripe about how the model has undermined the value of their content, and the general economic proposition. Relative to the world that they replaced, it was a big step forward but the innovation has been pretty weak there, and they seem potentially vulnerable.

    As to Apple, my only comment is that we (in the tech business) have a heavy bias against products that feel proprietary, and right or wrong, Apple has the proprietary position relative to Google’s open position (which I think is a lark; Android is open until you want to access the proprietary google of Maps, YouTube, the Google Index).

    In the short run (3-5 years), I still think it comes down to “who has the best R&D, the richest ecosystem and the greatest drive to re-invent?”

    Today, that is unquestionably Apple, IMHO. Google feels more like the car maker with a lot of concept cars, but few big new bets.

    Now in the long run, everything may get commoditized such that it’s Windows v. Mac, but that also pre-supposes that Apple stops innovating as well as they are right now.

    Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @Sriram, thanks for the comments, and agreed that today, at least, I see nothing screamingly obvious that disrupts Apple, save for Apple themselves failing to innovate, or giving in to the darker side of their proprietary nature.

    Along those lines, some time back I wrote a post called ‘The Scorpion and the Frog’ where I ruminated how Apple could cross the line with their developer ecosystem by giving in to the temptation to co-opt the best products, innovations of the developer ecosystem, a practice that the Apple of the 90s fell into repeatedly, killing developer good will.

    Here is a link to that post, if interested:

    The Scorpion and the Frog
    http://bit.ly/1IV1Np

    Also, the other risk, which Tim alludes to is that Apple gets sucked into segments that are non-core to their business. Today’s acquisition of Quattro Wireless raises some questions along those lines.

    Regards,

    Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @ CaptainSEO, de-centralized app store, or lack of a centralized hub, is a bulls-eye point (i.e. it’s a show stopper). 100% agree. Google could mitigate this by having a Google-run “official, governed” app store, but deviate from Apple by allowing other hubs to promulgate. Thanks for the great thought! :-)

  • Allan

    Mark,
    I agree with you, if the thesis would be only one market – the US market, then Google would defiantly be on the wrong path. But if we look beyond the US, market and on to something more interesting like the Asian markets, it is another picture.

    iPhone is NOT the preferred handsets in many of these markets, in fact Nokia still has the turf, while RIM has made it on the Thai market.
    In China you even have the usual suspects now porting the android into their “grey handsets” instead of low-end Symbian or Samsung software.
    So yeas the US market and parts of Europe are defiantly pro iPhone while many of the Asian markets who currently are Symbian markets would be easier for Google to conquer.

    And many of the Asian markets do not have contracts like in the US or EU most are prepaid. In Thailand, who together with Hong Kong had the largest growth of smartphone buyers in 2009 RIM’s Blackberry has the crown, why? Because the local telcos and RIM promoted the BB together with low prices on usage (Email, internet) Looking at handsets overall, then the Chinese made handsets had the largest growth at the end of 2009 moving brands like Nokia, Samsung and Motorola down the scale. Already you are able to buy an android run, Chinese smartphone with tons of features for ¼ the price of a low budget normal Nokia.

    For developers Google’s android is way easier to localize than iPhone or Symbian. More apps are being developed using standard internet language, to be used via the phones mobile browser instead of an app to download. This opens up for better revenue for telcos and developers.

    Will those new customers use the android app shop? I guess not, since the markets are filled with piracy software and there are no real alternatives to payments other than via the telo’s (SMS/WAP payment)

    But by partnering up with the local telco’s providing special internet (GPRS/EDGE/3G) packages for android phones Google would be able to make a good deal.

    So looking beyond the US market I do think android/Google could win on THAT battlefield.

  • John Battelle

    Just a fun fact…Eric Schmidt ran Novell after Noorda but left for Google in 2001, tired of trying to compete with Microsoft….

  • James Bailey

    Mark,

    I think most of your points are cogent but as of today’s announcement of the Nexus One, the argument that Google lacks on hardware design is no longer true. I am an iPhone owner and I really like the iPhone ecosystem but from a pure hardware point of view the Nexus One is a tremendous phone. The only remaining question is battery life but everything else trumps the iPhone 3GS pretty handily.

    Add to that, a future CDMA version on Verizon’s network and Apple now has some catching up to do. On the other hand, there is no reason that the next iPhone won’t have fundamentally the same hardware specifications as the N1.

    One last point, while analogies to past events may help in describing the current market, I don’t really think that there is anything in the past that is like what is happening now. Apple is following a more or less traditional, for pay, business model where profits are derived from selling hardware and services.

    But Google is doing something that competitively unprecedented as far as I am aware. They are giving away the main product for future advertising revenue alone. Even the N1 introduced today must be selling nearly at cost. The AMOLED screen alone has to take up much of the cost of goods on the device not to mention the rest of the very high-end hardware.

    I can think of no previous environment where one competitor is doing a pure ad revenue model to compete against a traditional, for pay market. Can you?

  • Mark Sigal

    @Allan, fair comments on the international distinction, but based upon that logic and the assessment of web apps v. native ones, Nokia should be rocking and rolling (units are great, profits not so much), and we should have seen killer web apps off of the best mobile browser out there – iPhone (and now Android), we haven’t YET. To be clear, I am not down on Android; I just don’t see it as outflanking iPhone anytime soon. Thanks for the thoughts, btw. :-)

    @John Battelle, I almost made that exact same point, but I thought it might confuse the audience, as enough different themes rolling in the piece.

    @James Bailey, to be fair, I don’t have the phone in my hand, but most of the reviews have touted features and specs and not the complete hardware of the device. More to the point, it’s not a core strength of Google’s so I see it as an area they will always playing catch up, but I could certainly be wrong, especially if enough handset makers keep iterating to the promised land. As to the give away model, I don’t think that’s true. It’s still $500+ untethered and $179 subsidized. Hardly outflanks iPhone, and there is ample precedence in gaming console space to sell hardware at a loss and make up in games. Either way, Google is doing a heck of a lot right; I just think that the decision to brand own phone after feeding ecosystem that that’s not their plan, could/will prove strategically unwise (i.e., they should be all in or all out on that front).

  • James Bailey

    “As to the give away model, I don’t think that’s true. It’s still $500+ untethered and $179 subsidized.”

    I’m assuming that the main product is the Android system, not the Nexus One. As I said, it looks like that is being sold nearly at cost at $530. A quote from the N1 announcement when they were doing Q&A:

    “Q: What are the revenue opportunities for Google?
    A: It’s about advertising. There is a small margin on unit sales, but making sure people get access to Google services and get online is their #1 priority.”

    Doesn’t really model the game space either since they are selling consoles as loss leaders but games are still real products and services. Google isn’t doing anything like that. They might have a loss-leader in the N1 and are going to make it up in future advertising revenue.

  • Mark Sigal

    @James Bailey, thanks for the clarification on your point, but unclear what the economics are between Google and HTC on Nexus, inasmuch as phone designed to Google specs making it closer to iPhone model than pure software platform.

    As to economics of software based business models, they are as varied as they get with lots of free software that is ad supported, plenty of open source based businesses where the software is free and you pay for service and plenty of free bundled software to get you the main product (e.g., MS giving away IE to lock you into windows and monetize via OS and Office).

    In other words, that aspect of their business is not that revolutionary. If anything, it underscores a knock that I have on the company – they are completely and utterly dependent upon ad dollars for revenue (as a percentage of total revenue) and that forces a different discipline (build a “good enough” offering, not a game changer) than when you build products that have to directly produce revenue.

    The bottom line is that they feel they can’t cede mobile real estate, as that is so much of how we will communicate, compute, be entertained, etc. and this is seen as an enabler of that goal.

  • Evan

    Why is centralization of the app store or Android Market so important? It seems like an evolutionary backward step. The PC software market has never been centralized. True enough, it started before the internet age, but would it have been a good idea to have a “Windows Market”? How would this centralized, de-democratized approach helped to speed up Windows adoption? I think the answer is that it would have, in fact, slowed it down. Now that we are squarely in the internet age, where distribution is essentially free, why are we introducing centralization now? Or more to the point, why is centralization now a better idea than it was 20 years ago?

    Now, let’s take the fragmentation argument. The PC market was always fragmented. As soon as you bought a computer with Windows 3.1 or 95, you knew that Windows 2000 or XP would come out someday. The solution to and problem with this was that Microsoft decided to make essentially every iteration of Windows backwards-compatible. Windows grew to be a mess, but people could run their “applications” (we had more time back then to say the whole word, I guess). It’s not clear what the strategy of Google and its partners are regarding fragmentation, but I think Google would be wise, and its partners would be wise to follow the same approach. (The devil you know…) Google should release a new version of Android OS every 1-2 years, about the lifetime of a phone these days. The OS should be backwards compatible with the phones from the last few years, and the phones should be able to easily upgrade to the new OS. The great thing about Android as opposed to the M$ model is that it is free. Either way, it seems that most people always ended upgrading to a new Windows version simply by buying a new PC. This was obviously part of the business model to sell more computers and more software. Did people need faster and better? Who knows, but it was there, and we had to have it. The same phenomena is happening in the smartphone era, and I think all parties involved are smart enough to know it.

    The only downside? Android may at some point become bloated and buggy just like Windows did.

  • Alex Tolley

    “The second is that I am confused. Relative to the ‘battle’ and ‘war’ analogy, what is the battle that Google is fighting, and what is the war that they expect to win?”

    Google set the ground with the spectrum auction “win” that opened up the choice of carriers with any device. Today, AFAIK, only Google offers a device that you can switch carriers with. (My iPhone is locked to AT&T, although the choices in the US are crap). The point is that when teh device is the focus, the carriers just become commodified dumb pipes and their value falls faster.

    What I would be asking myself is this: What features of Android (if any) play strongly to this model?

    If anything, I think the war is more like teh Microsoft vs Aple circa 1990. Apple tightly control the Mac OS API and required developers to jump through all sorts of hoops to develop Mac software. Microsoft didn’t care and let anyone develop Windows apps. The rest is history regarding Windows dominance. I see Apple making the same mistakes with the iTunes store and its app certification process. If Android is more like Windows, then I see it as getting an advantage over the longer term.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Evan, thanks for the thoughts. Relative to the first point, a centralized marketplace is certainly retro in that the trend the past 25 years or so has been towards horizontal or loosely coupled types of integration models. The distinction relative to the PC world is that iPhone (re) introduces a model whereby the consumer doesn’t have to worry (generally) about apps not coexisting cleanly, software changing files/drivers that it shouldn’t, malware posing as legitimate software, your credit card data running off, and equal to the point, developers can rely on 100% access to the installed base, a predefined target that they can auto-install to in a consistent manner and a clean path to monetization. The fact that 3B apps have been downloaded via this model when few people downloaded apps prior to its existence speaks to the fact that it addresses the bottom line: It Works! Now, that is somewhat independent of the larger question of whether Apple was right to provide App Store as THE marketplace as opposed to A marketplace (one of many), but the governed model relative to the more anarchic model is not something I mind as a consumer one bit.

    As to the question of fragmentation, and the net out of your answer which is, hey, at some point just upgrade, maybe you like that cycle and EVENTUALLY that is inevitable, a lot of this comes down to whether you want a lowest common denominator type of experience or a highest common divisor one, something I blogged about in:

    Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best
    http://bit.ly/4lfbF

    My take? Everything is subordinate to innovation. What model leads to the greatest diversity and the greatest win for consumers and developers alike. So far, at least both constituencies are pretty thrilled with the iPhone model fully recognizing that every approach has paradoxes attached it.

    Check out the post I refer to, and the comments within, as it exhausts the topic pretty fully.

    Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @Alex, I wonder if a lot of the people who cite the Mac v. Windows analog were into computing when that battle was being fought. My experience, as both a long time Mac owner and a long time PC owner (my first PC was a Radio Shack TRS-80), is that Apple quit meaningfully innovating, and worse, had no discipline when it came to cultivating their developer ecosystem.

    If anything, they would announce cool new foundational technologies, and then shortly after developers invested time/dollars in them, they would abandon them, or worse, they would coopt the innovation by the development community for themselves.

    As a third-party developer around the Apple ecosystem in 1994 time frame, I can tell you we just got to a point where we wanted to get away from them, and more to the point, so much of computing was defined by scarcity (of processing power, storage, ram, etc.) that it really was a race to the bottom.

    Microsoft fed this race to the body, which while democratizing, led to a fairly unsatisfying computing experience. As people to compare their “personal” computer to their iPhone/iPod Touch and you understand which device is truly personal.

    In other words, Mobile, today at least, is the exact opposite of the PC model. It’s the race to the top; the best most polished user experience where stuff just works.

    Now, that isn’t the same as saying every iFart app is golden, just that the soil is more fertile when developers know what conditions they are planting within.

    Mark

  • Alex Tolley

    Mark,
    I was writing code since before DOS. While I never did write code for Macs, my developer partner and I did start going through the Apple hoops until we gave up in disgust and focused on Windows with the newly emerging libraries.

    I disagree with you about Mobiles vs PCs. I think the battle is very similar – it is about freedom to do what you want with your device and escape from the restrictions the carriers have imposed – and part of that freedom includes using any code that works on the platform.

    The iPhone was the breakthrough device that really made it “personal”, compared to the handsets the carriers provided, with their extremely limited functionality that was more like the failed ‘thin client’ experiment. As mobile devices become the dominant platform, I see them as the next incarnation of general use computers and thus the factors that drove OS and language choices will be the same on this platform too.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Alex, thanks for the added (career) background. I think that your take is probably the dominant view, i.e., that this is Windows v. Macintosh all over again, but I also think that that assessment also belies how much of the Microsoft playbook that Apple has emulated and learned from. Time will tell. Thanks again for the reasoned perspective.

  • Peter Payne

    Hi, I happen to be in the adult game business, and license and translate “dating-sim” games from Japan for the PC. It irks me no end that both Apple and Google are too puritanical to allow these games to be sold through their networks to free-thinking, mature adult over the age of 18. They can both go to hell, for all I care, and take their corporate moralism with them.

  • socialmediapark

    Google is doing something that competitively unprecedented as far as I am aware. They are giving away the main product for future advertising revenue alone. Even the N1 introduced today must be selling nearly at cost. The AMOLED screen alone has to take up much of the cost of goods on the device not to mention the rest of the very high-end hardware.

  • android developer

    In my opinion, Google needs to focus more on encouraging developers to create more 3rd party apps for the Android. Just like Apple did, they now have thousands of apps to download to their phone and it makes it even cooler and gives it so much more appeal!

  • David Haggard

    What makes Google’s Nexus a winner in my book is one key word: “Unlocked.” Not only unlocked, but at a reasonable price compared to buying other “legally unlocked” hardware. When I travel out of the country, the ability to buy a local pre-paid SIM for my phone, rather than pay outlandish roaming fees to an American carrier, is THE big selling point.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Peter, we live in a society that is still fairly victorian in its public acknowledgement of prurience, and will kids games such a focus of the iPhone/iPod Touch combo, this is hardly surprising, right?

    @android developer, I think that Google gets this, but Apple has done a gonzo job here, and some of the how (to grow a developer ecosystem) strategy/tactics seem governed by Google’s more de-centralized, loosely coupled culture, which I will argue till I am blue in the face (or proven wrong by the market), leads to a less compelling tools and marketplace piece of the platform.

    @David Haggard, I am sure that there is a small market for what you are talking about, but it’s the tail and not the dog for what makes a winning mobile strategy. Some of this, though, gets to the nut of the three dimensional chess game that Google is playing, which is to disrupt the carriers, commoditize the handset business and get google search, apps and advertising everywhere, each interesting goals in themselves, but you can only fight a battle on so many fronts, and hope to win, which is my waterloo analogy.