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A Few Thoughts on the Nexus One

There will be many posts focusing on the look, feel, and features of the Nexus One, so I’m going to focus on what Android’s latest incarnation says about the competitive landscape – what I’ve elsewhere called the war for the web. Android vs. iPhone is one important front in that “war.”

nexusone.jpgNews from the front: a possible turning point for Android. I’ve been a huge iPhone fan, but after using the Nexus One for a few weeks, I find so much to like that I’m close to the point where Android might be my first choice. While I may yet go back to my iPhone, I’m conflicted.

The key to the turning point is not how slick the phone is – even though it’s thin, fast, bright, and beautiful, with amazing sensor-based capabilities including noise-canceling headphones, automated brightness adjustment based on external light levels, voice-activated search, navigation and data-entry, different “home” screens based on whether it’s in your pocket or sitting in car-dock. Nor is it the fact that you can buy unlocked phones without any plan directly from Google, or that you will soon be able to choose plans from Verizon and Vodaphone as well as T-Mobile. The real turning point is Google’s commitment to making the Nexus One a web-native device. As Google VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz said in today’s press conference, a nexus is a place where multiple worlds meet. “The Nexus One is where the phone meets the web.” It’s a connected device in a way that is more fundamental than any previous phone.

The biggest pluses of the Nexus One are all around the simplicity and completeness of the cloud integration:

  • The Android Market rocks. It’s a “one click” experience compared to the iPhone App Store. Find the app, add it directly to the phone. No separate syncing step. And there’s more than enough choice there, with more apps being added every day. I found myself having much more fun exploring and adding new apps than I ever had on the iPhone. Payment is also easy – I have a feeling that the Android Market is going to be a major driver for Google Checkout, growing its base and making it a real contender as a first class internet payment system. Not to mention that you buy the phone itself online using Google Checkout.

    I’m delighted by the useful security warnings (now, that’s unusual!) that show what system features each app you download will have access to. I also love that the Market shows you how many times the app has been installed, so you can immediately see how popular it is.

  • Gmail is so good on the phone that I can, for the first time, imagine being totally without my laptop.

  • No need to sync address book and calendar. Everything’s always up to date.

  • Multi-tasking makes the phone feel much more like a real computer.

  • Maps and turn by turn navigation are great, although the speaking voice of the turn by turn is just awful.

  • In Android 2.1, Google has speech-enabled every text field on the phone, not just search and navigation. Frankly, speech recognition still doesn’t work as well as I would hope, but as I’ve written previously, when speech recognition isn’t happening on the device, but in the cloud, it gets better the more people use it.

  • Google Goggles is still a bit rough, but really promising. I understand why it’s not pre-loaded on the phone, but think it has real promise as a must-have app, and one that plays to Google’s strengths. I believe that image recognition and speech recognition are key to future UI improvements in mobile devices, and I applaud Google’s long term commitment to these areas, even though they aren’t yet fully baked. And the awe factor when you see someone point a camera at you and have the app say “That’s Tim O’Reilly” tells you just how much more a device can do when it is backed by big data and powerful algorithms running on a cloud platform. (Google has kept face recognition out of the production version of Goggles, but I had a full version demoed to me a few months ago, and it was truly a taste of the future.) Augmented reality is coming to the iPhone as well (Layar, the Yelp Monocle, and ShopSavvy being only a few examples), but this is Google’s home turf.

The biggest minuses (as might be expected) are around UI:

  • The iPhone was always intuitive for me. The gPhone is definitely a learning experience. But the more familiar I get with it, the happier I am, unlike some devices where you never get over the hurdle, and never feel comfortable or effective.

  • Visual Voicemail is a killer app on the iPhone. Going back to having to dial a number to hear voicemail just seems so wrong. I’m assuming that this is our wonderful patent system at work, as otherwise, it’s hard to imagine that Google wouldn’t be copying this feature.

  • It’s hard to make a single-touch UI that’s as simple and useful as a multi-touch UI. I know multi-touch is coming for Android, but not having it now is a big miss. I love the experience of zooming on the iPhone with a pinch. What’s more, the sensitivity of the touch screen on the Nexus One leaves a lot to be desired. Dragging seems to work fine, but some of the button presses aren’t recognized unless you press really hard.

  • The notification trackball is a nice idea, but I don’t think it really adds much to my experience. In fact, there are so many applications that send notifications that if the light is enabled, it’s constantly flashing. Future applications may learn better how to use color in notifications.

  • I really miss access to my iTunes music collection, which is also where I listen to audiobooks from audible.com. That being said, this omission pushes me back in the direction of cloud music apps like Last.FM and Pandora, though I’m wishing that Rhapsody was available, since I’m already a subscriber via my Sonos home music system. Google has added its own built-in music app, but it has a limited selection, and what’s worse, pre-empts the controls on the headset. At least right now, they aren’t available to other music applications – pressing the pause button while in Last.FM just starts a competing stream from the Google music app. Unless Google is REALLY serious about getting into the music business, they should give up on their own app and work with third parties to fill this hole.

  • Google hasn’t done as good a job as I would have expected of integrating photos and videos with Picasa and YouTube. While Google claims one-click YouTube upload, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me. In any event, there’s a potential liability in Google’s tie to its own services. For example, I’d love to be able to auto-sync my photos to Flickr rather than Picasa – it will be interesting to see if Google’s definition of open extends to the choice of competing cloud services, or if they will use the device to tie people ever more closely to their own services.

  • The lack of some simple features, like the ability to take screenshots, is also annoying. Heck, even to install third-party screenshot apps, you need to root your phone.

Overall, the phone is good enough that it’s conceivable in a way that it wasn’t a few months ago that we’ll see a replay of Apple’s experience in the PC market twenty-five years ago, in which Apple’s fit and finish was unquestionably superior, but a commodity platform that was “good enough” and available to the entire industry ended up taking the lead.

(Henry Blodget makes this case in Hey, Apple, Wake Up — It’s Happening Again. On the other hand, Mark Sigal raises a different historical analogy, Novell vs. Microsoft, asking whether Google’s release of its own anointed phone might end up blunting adoption by other vendors, while Google takes the eye off its core business. A lot depends on whether Google holds back anything from the platform available to others. At today’s press conference, Google emphasized the open platform aspect of Android, so they are trying to address that fear. The model seems to be to work with individual partners to push the ball forward, but to return those innovations to the pool available to all partners.)

Overall, though, it seems to me that Google’s experience in delivering cloud-based data-driven applications is aligned with long-term trends in a way that Apple’s device-bound heritage is not. Apple is playing catch-up in cloud infrastructure, building its own location services, for instance, but iTunes and the App Store excepted, Apple’s cloud experience is limited, especially in the area of algorithmically driven applications, which I believe is so central to the future of computing. Meanwhile, Google has so many data assets, and so much experience in algorithmic applications, that it may be difficult for Apple to compete in the long term.

There’s also the matter of cloud-native “killer apps.” Apple’s email, calendar, and address book show their PC-era roots. They live on the PC and must be synced to the phone. Google’s web-native equivalents are always up to date, with syncing happening in real time.

In Apple’s favor: software and design patents, which hold the competition at bay in a way that they didn’t in the 1980s. Also in Apple’s favor, its own killer apps, like iTunes, which is still the gold standard in music, but also the hub for podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks. Audiobooks and ebooks might make it into the Android Market, but it’s hard to imagine the Market becoming the same kind of content hub that iTunes has become.

Also in Apple’s favor: Google must make some of its key assets available on the iPhone or cede the real estate to competitors. It would be a major blow, for example, if Bing search or Maps were the default on the iPhone instead of Google. It’s easy to imagine an Apple-Microsoft alliance in areas like search, location services, speech recognition, image recognition, and other cutting edge areas that will be a key part of Google’s competitive advantage in the future.

Meanwhile, there are key third party apps that can make or break either platform – perhaps not quite as essential as in the days when Adobe’s commitment to the Mac before Windows helped give Apple an insuperable lead in the design market, but still significant.

Google needs to aggressively map out a partner ecosystem in areas like music, ebooks, and the like, to make sure that they have a compelling offering to match what’s already available on the iPhone.

Meanwhile, Apple needs to either beef up its capability in the kinds of data-backed applications, or partner aggressively with companies with more expertise than they currently have. They also need to re-factor their core applications like iPhoto and iMovie to make them web-native, turning them into a base for collective intelligence. Picasa and iPhoto both sport image recognition, but Apple has to train its algorithms on sample data sets, while Google gets to train Picasa on billions of user images. As Peter Norvig, Google’s chief scientist, once said to me, “We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.” Collective intelligence is the secret sauce of Web 2.0, and the future of all computing, and by locking user data into individual devices, Apple cuts itself off from this future. Rather than having MobileMe as a separate revenue add-on, Apple needs to make all of its applications web-connected by default, so that they can learn from all their users.

What we see then is a collision of paradigms, perhaps as profound as the transition between the character-based era of computing and the GUI based era of the Mac and Windows. We’re moving from the era in which the device is primary and the web is an add-on, to the era in which a device and its applications are fundamentally dependent on the internet operating system that provides location, speech recognition, image recognition, social network awareness, and other fundamental data services.

We’re in for an interesting ride.

P.S. Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb reminds us that new FTC guidance requires bloggers who receive free products to disclose that fact. Since the Nexus One didn’t go on sale until today, and I mention that I’ve had it for a few weeks, it should be obvious that I did not buy the phone, but received it from Google. However, they did not ask me to review it. O’Reilly often receives early access to software and hardware products from vendors so that we can plan our publishing and conference programs, and so we can provide feedback about the product. We believe that the FTC guidance is over-broad. It is designed to protect against potentially deceptive paid endorsements, not to prevent the development of third party documentation or other services.

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  • Tim O'Reilly

    From twitter, @obra makes a good point:

    obra @timoreilly – re lack of visusal voicemail – Google Voice with transcription is a _much_ nicer user experience than simple visual voicemail

  • Paolo Amoroso

    Requiring root access to take a screen shot is a giant design blunder

  • Tim O'Reilly

    From @RhapsodyPR on twitter:

    Hey Tim, just saw your post…Android beta begins next week.

    http://blog.rhapsody.com/2010/01/droidapp.html

  • Edd Dumbill

    Your point about MobileMe is well made. Every iPhone user should be entitled to a MobileMe account.

    I ponied up for MobileMe when I got my iPhone, and have been enjoying instant sync of contacts/address book, which is one of the standout points you mentioned for the Nexus. I only sync my iPhone to add music to it.

  • Felipe Barone

    “The biggest pluses of the Nexus One are all around the simplicity and completeness of the cloud integration”

    Nice pointed, i think the web integration is gonna be the key to beating iphones… also the idea of buying the unlocked phone is great! No need to get stuck with a company’s services for the hardware only!

  • Jesse

    “I really miss access to my iTunes music collection”

    Check out a program called iTunes Agent – it lets iTunes sync with any USB device, including an Android phone.

  • Luigi Montanez

    Remember that Apple had to work closely with AT&T to develop Visual Voicemail.

    Similarly, T-Mobile did come out with a Visual Voicemail Android app last summer:

    http://www.cnet.com/8301-19736_1-10302039-251.html

    I don’t think Sprint or Verizon have come out with VV apps of their own, however.

  • Oliv

    “The Android Market rocks. It’s a “one click” experience compared to the iPhone App Store. Find the app, add it directly to the phone. “

    I think you never tried using the appstore from your iPhone. You don’t need iTunes to install new apps.

    Anyways the competition is going to be fun to watch

  • Tim O'Reilly
  • Jesse

    Verizon has a visual voicemail app, but I think you have to pay for it.

  • Josiah

    Sounds like a lot of the things to like about the Nexus One are also available using Google’s blackberry tools on a blackberry. I have visual voicemail by forwarding my mobile’s voice mail to google voice and using the Google Voice bb app, then I have contact and email synced to the bb through gsync. I don’t have turn-by-turn directions. I have speech enable search. I don’t have a “market place”, but get lots of apps via OTA link that means I don’t have to have a central location to find apps.

    There are some things it doesn’t have, but I’d have trouble justifying even the price with a T-Mobile plan over my blackberry that I already own.

    I’m not a big fan of blackberry. I like the idea of openness in the handset arena, but the blackberry is keeping up. They just need a new web browser.

  • Tom Brander

    T-mobile has a visual VM download for the G-1 and therefore I assume the other Androids as well. Also you can control the notification flashes from most apps,, in the app setting specific to the app, I turn most off except what I really want for the reasons you mention.

  • Greg Stein

    Screenshot capability for non-root applications means that an app could surreptitiously take a screenshot of a password entry field. Or a bank account web page. Or …

    Screenshots jump past all security constraints. I’m not surprised that the capability is not present. Too bad, but I’ll take the security instead.

  • John

    Verizon Droid has a Visual Voice Mail app. True to Verizon’s style, you have to pay extra to use it. $2.99/month I think.

  • Paul M. Watson

    Reminds me a bit of the Palm Pre overall but with bigger clout behind it. If the Nexus One comes over the Atlantic I’ll be giving it a go

    OT: I rarely use the App Store in iTunes, preferring to use the App Store app. on the iPhone. One click install of apps, no syncing (Though you need to frequently enter a password.)

  • @Greg

    So you’re going to take a screenshot of your own bank account and what…post it online?

    Password fields are usually asterisked, so I don’t see your point about security.

  • Mark Sigal

    Nice assessment, Tim. While Apple has done a fairly poor job on MobileMe so far, I have yet to see the cloud-native “killer apps” that you are referring to.

    I so much want to love Gmail, I really do, but it’s unquestionably a product built by techies for techies. What else screams out as a killer app in the cloud?

    To be clear, I totally agree with your assessment on all of the wonderful things that you can do when you leverage the intersect of cloud, sensors and LOTs of data. If anything, the knee jerk says that where Apple DNA is lacking is in religion about the CROWD more so than the CLOUD, an area where Google is very strong.

    Finally, as noted on my earlier missing leg post on Android (http://bit.ly/87URNI), the lack of a compelling iTunes equivalent is a huge gap. Not only did iTunes feed a spend workflow that greased the skids for App Store, but it provides a core way that most people sync/back their data today.

    Mark

  • Jeff Ballard

    While many apps don’t take advantage of multi-touch, the OS supports it. Download the Dolphin Browser for the android (at least the Motorola Droid) and pinch to zoom until your heart’s content.

  • Glenn

    I am a little confused WRT to Rhapsody. Are you saying that you cannot access the Rhapsody website via the web on this device? One of my main reasons for getting a smartphone like this one is so I can listen to internet radio anywhere I happen to be.

  • Greg Stein

    No… I meant that if an app can take a screenshot, then it can do it in the background without telling you. And then forward that off-phone for malicious use.

    There are plenty of password fields with a checkbox that says “show password” (ie. connecting to a protected wifi network).

  • Ralf

    “The Android Market rocks. It’s a “one click” experience compared to the iPhone App Store. Find the app, add it directly to the phone. No separate syncing step. And there’s more than enough choice there, with more apps being added every day. I found myself having much more fun exploring and adding new apps than I ever had on the iPhone.”

    Purchasing apps on the iPhone right from the device is a “one click” experience, too. Requires no syncing. You’re comparing the Android on-device experience with the iTunes Desktop experience. Makes no sense.

    The fact that Android does not set any minimum standard for anything on the desktop (think media management) in my opinion is a bad thing. I hate Motorola’s Media Link which I have to run in a Parallels Windows machine to organize media beyond SD Card USB Storage means.

    “In Android 2.1, Google has speech-enabled every text field on the phone, not just search and navigation. Frankly, speech recognition still doesn’t work as well as I would hope, but as I’ve written previously, when speech recognition isn’t happening on the device, but in the cloud, it gets better the more people use it.”

    True. But also means that potentially everything you enter (dictate) goes right to Google’s servers. I see some real privacy issues here. Google already learns so much about consumers that now sending even their Short Messages to Google’s servers for Advanced Speech Recognition might be too much. Of course you don’t have to use it if you’re concerned but I wonder how Android 2.1 informs consumers about this aspect. Is there a warning when you first use it?

    Just immediate thoughts on what otherwise I consider a pretty good post.

    I’m covering Android, iPhone and other stuff over at The Next Web (http://www.thenextweb.com), The Next Web Germany (http://www.thenextweb.com/de) and my personal blog at http://www.24100.net.

  • Herve Kabla

    Strangely enough, your post tells a lot about synchronization with iTunes and GMail. But what about … Microsoft Office?

  • Mark A.M. Kramer

    “The real turning point is Google’s commitment to making the Nexus One a web-native device.” Brilliant! –

    “Cloud-computing” and ubiquitous computing are very promising scenarios, and I can envision that the Nexus One is clearly designed for this. I just hope that the network/communications infrastructure can keep up with the advances we are experiencing in mobile realm.

  • Ron

    You are dreaming if you think of Apple’s product and paradigm development as a static target that a new product will bypass, even in a fundamental ‘cloud computing’ way. From all observations quite the opposite is true.

  • Chris Boyle

    Screenshots can be taken over USB on any device: turn on USB debugging (settings/applications/development), get the Android SDK (developer.android.com), run “ddms” and click actions/screen capture.

  • Reality

    “Google needs to aggressively map out a partner ecosystem” YES, and please consider GLOBAL marketing strategies as an integral part of the ecosystem. Why is the Nexus not available in Australia? Why is Google declining to partner people in Aus who have invested in this technology… why is it impossible for us to upgrade at a discounted rate? Especially considering the G1 quite possibly won’t be able to upgrade to Eclair? Consider including us in Aus with an upgrading plan so that we can keep up with the rest of the world. COME ON GOOGLE, COME ON.

  • Leigh Klotz

    I’m just dumbfounded every time a new mobile computing device comes out without a keyboard. The G1 keyboard is no great shakes (even the Danger devices were better) but at least it’s better than a picture of a keyboard. Can’t manufacturers give those of us who want to do more than the occasional hunt and peck a chance?

  • Stephen Dewey

    Regarding the following: The Android Market rocks. It’s a “one click” experience compared to the iPhone App Store. Find the app, add it directly to the phone. No separate syncing step.

    I’m not sure how you’ve been using the iPhone, but there is no syncing step to install apps. You browse the App Store directly from the phone and install apps with one click… maybe it is also possible to sync an app in, but it’s not necessary. Look for the App Store icon on your iPhone…

    Also, regarding: automated brightness adjustment based on external light levels

    Not only does the iPhone have this, but many other phones have this as well, and have for years.

    Also, regarding: Gmail is so good on the phone that I can, for the first time, imagine being totally without my laptop.

    Do you mean this literally? You’d never need a keyboard again?

  • Ignobilitor

    Others have already pointed this out, but your comment about purchasing from the Android Market without syncing is frankly bizarre. How much do you know about your iPhone? Have you read any of the iPhone books your company publishes?

    The equivalent would be praising Google Chrome OS because “it allows you to go on the Internet, unlike like OS X.”

  • Rad

    How often an average iphone user takes the screenshots on the iphone? I mean not accidentally?

  • Dave Nattriss

    RE: visual voicemail, Android has Hullomail (also available for Blackberry, iPhone and others) – http://www.hullomail.com – which is very handy in the UK/Europe which doesn’t have Google Voice yet, and it integrates with Googlemail really well – all my voicemails become e-mails that I can deal with like any other, yet are still available as traditional voicemails too.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    For all of those who complained about my comment about syncing new apps on the iPhone vs one-click download on the Android phone – you’re right. It was a dumb comment, but perhaps instructive nonetheless.

    I have found myself adding most apps to the iPhone because I heard about them off the phone, via the web. So I click on a link, add them to iTunes on the laptop, then sync. Or I search for them in the app store in iTunes, because it’s easier to search there than directly on the phone. This isn’t an option on Android, since you always sync directly with the cloud.

    What I was trying to say was that while in many ways iTunes as a control station on the PC is a powerful tool, it can make the phone experience a little less pure “phone” than it would otherwise be.

    This is a case of an apparent weakness becoming a strength.

    But I agree that the thought was very poorly put. I was rushing to get the post out, dashing off a few thoughts while listening to the press conference.

    My main point was that I was impressed by the seamlessness of the Android Market experience. Apple is the only company besides Amazon with 1-click (and I’ve never understood how they managed to license Amazon’s patent, while no one else has done so), but Google’s checkout experience seems just as simple to me.

    I really also did like the download statistics and security warnings, which give me real time feedback when choosing apps.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Jesse -

    iTunes Agent sounds like a great tool, but on a quick look, it only appears to be available for windows.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Greg Stein -

    Good point about screenshots and security. A trivial point in any case. I was just missing it when I was writing my blog post. It was not worthy of comment.

    Chris Boyle – thanks for the heads up about the right way to do screen shots. Since it’s a USB solution, that solves the rogue app problem Greg was talking about.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Luigi, Jesse, Tom, John -

    Good to hear that there’s a visual voicemail download. Not sure why it’s not baked into the phone.

    But I actually haven’t been getting the full T-mobile experience (including 3G speed), since I’ve been testing my Nexus One using the AT&T sim card from my iphone, till I decide whether to commit or not…

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Glenn -

    I’m sure you can access the Rhapsody website. But I want a dedicated music app that I can designate as THE music app for the device. I certainly don’t want multiple music apps competing for the headset, which appears to be the case now, with one poorly populated app as the default, and third party apps as second class citizens. Music is clearly still hugely advantage to Apple.

  • Neil Anderson

    “How often an average iphone user takes the screenshots on the iphone?”

    My son is nine-years-old. He takes screenshots of games and art several times a day.

  • Simon Wentley

    “It’s the app store, stupid”

    Err, sorry I don’t mean to be calling you stupid but rather paraphrase someone else (Bill Clinton?).

    It seems to me that everything comes down to the app store and its closed and tightly controlled nature. This is the achilles heel of the iPhone and its the easiest point of attack for competitors.

    Via advertising and marketing, Google should relentlessly attack the iPhone/Apple’s restrictive and controlling approach to mobile application development.

    If Google can position itself as the white knight of application development, allowing coders to write any sort of application that they choose, using any API that they want, then they will really have thumbscrews to put on Apple.

    And thank goodness too that Apple has left itself so exposed with its obsessive control of the app store. iPhone’s dominance is beginning to look as all encompassing and stifling as Microsoft Windows in the 1990′s. Without the app store as a competitive foil then there really would be little chance for any competition from Google or anyone else.

    We desperately need a more open competitor in the mobile space that actually has a chance against the iPhone.

    I was glad to see the Windows monoculture broken, ironically by Apple. Microsoft does not have what it takes to play in the mobile phone market. Go Google, please get in the riong and have a real shot at the app store.

  • Samira

    I do not like Android’s Market
    The market’s search is very bad, I tried to search for applications typing application names or expected functionality features “twitter” “photo online” and get some random results ordered in random order. They should work in improving market search to make it comparable to Apple’s store.

    I am very concerned how much data google may collect about me and I am not going to buy Android phone before Google clearly explains its privacy and data protection policies. I’d prefer to keep my logs of my searches, logs of my ads clicks, my email letters, logs of my location in separate places.

  • Dave Brown

    I can’t say I’m all that impressed with the design. However, as an avid mac user and iPhone geek, I’m itching for a new phone to pull me off AT&T. the network is horrid and i’m ready to jump ship – the only piece i’m concerned about is I currently use Mail, iCal, iPhone and iTunes. Is there an easy transition or synching w/ Nexus One? Oh, and I’m a sucker for physical keyboards. Just sayin’.

  • AdamC

    Great post but good for you if you go for the goog phone which means 1 less user to hog up the ATT network.

  • GadgetGoat

    Google is rumoured to be doing talks with spotify. Music and soon to be ebooks. I have the app on my phone in the UK. That should tick another few boxes.

  • KevinT

    “I really miss access to my iTunes music collection”

    A friend of mine just posted TuneSync, which can solve this problem for Windows-based PC’s.

  • Jason Martens

    The Sprint Hero has visual voicemail included for free.

  • NQ Logic

    Google is moving down in the stack to challenge B2C opponents with an open architecture and new sets of standards. In creating a post-revenue business model, Google can only manage success if consumers accept a co-branding and outsourced manufactured device … NQ Logic recommends reading about the rest of the new Google’s mobile strategy at http://www.nqlogic.com

  • Brandon Blatnick

    Tim, can you please let us know your decision whether you end up committing to the Nexus over the iPhone as your primary mobile device?

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Mark Sigal -

    Love your line: “where Apple DNA is lacking is in religion about the CROWD more so than the CLOUD, an area where Google is very strong.”

    I hadn’t read your “missing leg” post. It’s a good read: http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/12/google-android-on-inevitabilit.html I definitely agree that the (lack of a) music player is Android’s achilles heel – but I also do think that over time, cloud alternatives like Rhapsody will come into their own as a real alternative.

    Oh, and thanks for the pointer to doubletwist (in the post just mentioned.) I’ll try it.

  • Will Pollard

    Is Flash of interest? Compared to iPhone? Could be more open but do people use phones much for video?

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Ron -

    I’m not expecting Apple to stand still. What I am saying is that the battle lines are drawn, and that they are showing us a battle between paradigms. The Apple paradigm is rooted in the PC era, for all the strengths of the iPhone:

    * iTunes/iPod functionality: fundamentally tethered to the PC

    * Calendar, Mail, Address Book, photos, videos ditto. To get cloud sync, you have to pay extra for MobileMe, which many people will not do.

    * Key cloud-based apps like mapping provided by Google; latest iteration with turn-by-turn directions not available for unknown reasons (is it Google or Apple that is preventing the update?) Apple is scrambling to bring up its own location-based services, but Google has a huge lead. And location based services are absolutely central to the future of the phone. Not saying Apple can’t do it, but it’s at least as big a hill to climb as Google has in music. (Unless Apple partners with someone else like Microsoft, which they’ve never been good at.)

    Meanwhile, for good or ill, Google is fundamentally committed to the cloud. Where they are weak (which is in many areas), cloud is a rising tide that will help them.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Stephen Dewey -

    I said I could imagine using the phone as my primary mail device, not that I’m doing it today. But I will point out that many executives have been doing this for years on the blackberry. Not everyone writes long email messages.

    I’ve often seen Jeff Bezos hunched over his blackberry, firing off three word emails.

    A lot of what I do in email is act as a switchboard – forwarding stuff to people in my organization who need to see, understand and respond. That doesn’t require a lot of typing.

    That being said, it was a bit of hyperbole.

    But what the phone will definitely help me to do is to make the full time switch from mail.app on the mac to gmail. (I use both, with all my mail forwarded to gmail as a backup. But when on the laptop, I’ve tended to use the native mail client.)

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Herve Kabla -

    Frankly, Microsoft Office just isn’t that important to me any more. Increasingly, people who want to share documents with me use Google Docs. And I see little or no need to access Office documents on my phone.

    Office is obviously still incredibly important in the office, but most of that work happens on desktop or laptop computers, not on phones. To the extent it happens on phones, it will be via Microsoft’s cloud access.

  • Eric

    I think you overemphasize the importance of “data” for the average user. Most people just don’t have the amount of data ubergeeks do. They don’t use a calendar, get few (nonspam) emails, don’t do much video. Photos is probably the exception. So google’s advantage in non-syncing always synced apps probably isn’t as important to most people as you make it. Although it is pretty important for people with a lot of data, I’m sure

  • Josh

    For all the people posting comments saying there is no extra step for downloading applications directly from the iPhone app store… as an iPhone user, there is a separate step. Apps over 10mb cannot be downloaded while on 3g, the iPhone will tell you to use wi-fi or sync on itunes. I would say this is a quarter of the apps I try to download. App updates also cannot be done if the update is over 10mb.

    I’m so rarely in range of free wi-fi that the only way to download such apps is to use itunes. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing, as downloading apps is much better on the computer. But to say that you don’t need iTunes to install new apps is technically not correct, unless you drive to some wi-fi area every time you download an app or update.

  • Alex Tolley

    I agree with you about ‘web native apps”.

    However, I think you miss the key point about the phone being unlocked. This makes the carriers just dumb pipes. Theoretically an Android device could switch seamlessly between WiFi and any of the carriers’ cell towers. That should look like a situation we have seen before – an auction market for bandwidth. And we know Google does auctions superbly.

    I can foresee Google/Android phones doing instant auctions for bandwidth, which should drive down price of bandwidth usage, breaking the high prices carriers charge today, especially for data and text messages. This could finally break the carriers’ model for control and put Google in teh center of the communications web.

  • Jeff Yablon

    Well said, Tim

    My disappointment with the Nexus One (and I’m a Droid user, so the UI issues are already covered for me) is that Google . . . egged us on.

    You could argue that they’re the masters at this, but my perspective is different: they made their PR machine get us all thinking that there would be something new here, if not technologically than from a business perspective . . . and there isn’t. Android 2.1? Whoopee. OLED screen? Nice, to be sure, but . . . that’s it?

    And of course on the business side of things there’s nothing new here AT ALL.

    Here’s mt spin on the issue, by the way, complete with props to David Pogue . . .

    http://answerguy.com/2010/01/06/google-android-nexus-one-phone-business-change-none/

    Thanks,

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  • Stephen Dewey

    Tim,

    Thanks for the response – that makes sense. If Gmail is as good as you say on the Nexus One, then maybe I should try it…

    By the way, you might not have known this, but apparently you can set up Gmail on your iPhone home screen as if it were an app (to bypass the default iPhone mail client more easily):

    http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=31238

    I haven’t done it yet but I’m going to try later.

    Stephen

  • Seaseal

    “If Google can position itself as the white knight of application development, allowing coders to write any sort of application that they choose, using any API that they want, then they will really have thumbscrews to put on Apple.”

    This is a huge issue. I just got a new (used) digital camera. The instruction manual has seven pages of instructions on using the camera with Windows to download pictures. The Apple/ Mac instructions take up a third of a page.

    The reason for this: Apples requirements any app written for their OS must comply with specs. This ensures no problems with running more than one 3rd party app while other apps exist there. This means NO huge problems such as Windows users routinely have from conflicting code.

    Don’t knock Apple’s foresight about code conflicts. As the end use, I much prefer the hard work to have been done by the programmers not me!

  • Yoav

    Dude, the Palm Pre has been doing ALL the things you’re excited about for almost a year now. Palm is the true pioneer in terms of a real “web based” phone with their new Web OS. Google just copied what Palm did!

  • TJGodel

    The Nexus One is a milestone in a titanic shift in computing. The next shift will occur when the ChromeOS is adopted by netbook manufacturers sometime this year. My only question is how long will it take for the shift to “web native apps” to be the dominate (mainstream) means of computing? I’m almost sure it will occur faster than it took for the personal computer to become a mainstream device.

  • Jim

    T-mobile is limiting their capitalization of this phone by limiting their plans. People dont want only one choice of 500 minutes individual plan, no matter if it is a great phone. Some wont mind, but it wont attract most. In the spring I think Verizon wont make this same mistake.

  • Ryan

    Hey Tim, your bullet about visual voicemail really needs correcting. Using Google Voice on an N1 is far superior to any pre-existing voicemail setup.

  • Roger Weeks

    Just one quibble:

    Gmail is so good on the phone that I can, for the first time, imagine being totally without my laptop.

    I hardly ever take my laptop anywhere for just email. Both the mail app on the iPhone and gmail in the browser are so good that I don’t need my laptop for email.

    Roger

  • RobShaver

    I am not a fan of iTunes. I have two Mac Pros for video editing and a PC for everything else. I have an iPod shuffle for listening to podcasts. The iTunes podcast page is very hard to use. Why can’t the list what’s new in one place instead of making me scroll up and down the huge list to discover if any new files have downloaded?

    And the iTunes store where I have to go to search for new podcasts is also poorly designed. Why can’t I apply a filter that limits my searches to podcasts only?

    As far as smart-phones go, I’m just not willing to spend $80+ per month for this kind of service. My TrackPhone costs me about $100 per year. I could go double that for a smart-phone with data service, but no more.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Ryan -

    You’re totally right about Google Voice’s voicemail beating the pants off of Apple’s Visual Voicemail. I hadn’t made Google Voice the default voicemail for my phone.

    But that raises the question: why did I have to go to all the trouble to set it up? Why wasn’t it set up by default?

    It could be that if you buy your phone on google.com/phone, it’s connected from the get-go with your google account, while mine (being a pre-release model, and also being used with a temporary AT&T sim) needs all this manual configuration.

    But it could also be that Google hasn’t put all the pieces together in the way that Apple has, because they don’t control the experience.

    I’d be interested to hear from people who’ve bought new phones direct from Google. Was Google Voice already set up as the default voice mail?

    If not, I urge everyone to set it up!

  • Chris Cardinal

    I appreciate your take on the phone and your thoughts on Google’s approach towards entering this market with their own product backed by their own platform.

    It should be noted that Google Voice isn’t automatically configured because, (to my understanding,) GV is still invite-only, and invites aren’t implicit in a purchase of Nexus One. Really, I think they should be, as Google Voice with voicemail transcription AND Visual Voicemail functionality is too useful to keep at arm’s length from your customers.

    I was also thoroughly frustrated with the lack of transparency on the subsidy for existing T-Mobile customers, something I haven’t heard much about elsewhere.

    I wrote about this at length here: http://www.htmlist.com/tech-news/nexus-one-subsidy-hack-drop-your-data-plan-for-100-bucks/

    Effectively, I found that a quick call to TMO to cancel my data plan would net me an additional $100 subsidy right off the bat, because the subsidy tiers are determined based on whether you are adding or upgrading a data plan as an existing customer. Rather roundabout, that, and frustrating that there are tiers at all—when they claim the phone is $179 with a 2-year contract, that should be its price across the board.

    Still, I’m excited to upgrade to a “real” phone from my aging SE cameraphone.

    Thanks again for the post.

    –Chris Cardinal

  • AdrianG

    What the Android App Store is behind in is Google’s reliance of local phone providers/telcos enabling access to paid apps for the device. I am still waiting 9 months (or so) after first purchasing my HTC Dream (G1) after it was the first Android device brought to Australian shores by Optus a little before that. I am still waiting for more than just a placating ‘we’re working on it’ response as to when this will actually happen.

    This issue will mean worldwide access and opportunity will be out of sync depending on where you live and who your provider is. iTunes does not have this issue. Granted Apple iTunes accounts are country related (copyright issues… joy) but at least I can still buy something from them easy as. Your bit above about controlling the experience… Google needs to take more control of this side of it.

    Would love to get my hands on a Nexus One but alas I can’t buy one yet in Australia as they are not being sold here (unless I provide a appropriate countries mailing address….a hassle I don’t want). The waiting game continues….

  • Jeffery Williams

    Your post here is very short sighted and extremely confused. Your mistake about the one-clickness of the appstore shows that you’re fundamentally misinformed and biased. In fact, your bias against Apple is shown throughout this entire post.

    The notion that the iPhone is tied to the PC is nonsense. I have two parents, both with iPhones, that never sync to their PC’s. Never. They don’t even consider or care about it. They use the iPhone with all of it applications and functionality without ever syncing.

    You may think your android phone is totally cloud based, but I promise you – you won’t think this way when it takes a crap on you and you lose data. I’ve had experience with this on the droid – it happens, and it will happen to you.

    Finally, please don’t characterize the android store as a one-click affair. You know damn will that it isn’t. You are required to click at least three times before the app is downloaded onto your phone. Not to mention, the layout and search capabilities are horrible – before you even get there. I just don’t understand how you can characterize this so poorly, other than the fact that you’re willfully lying.

    Please correct your blog post, if you are indeed interested in truth. My sense is that you are not.

  • MD

    Seriously, I see the psychology behind your post / article here. Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Nexus One are not as different as you make it seem.

    1. I buy Apps and music and download podcasts directly from my iPhone. I don’t have to sync to get my apps and music etc. So, either you are misinformed or just googly eyed.

    2. My calendar, mail and addressbook is all synced up. On my phone it is from the exchange server from work and on my wife’s from her google account. It may be a step or two extra but it works and works flawlessly.

    While you may want to say that Google Nexus One is awesome, I don’t see that. No till you have the real touch feel that iPhone has. I have tried all the touch phones that have tried to beat the iPhone and they all feel kind of yuck.

  • Moritz Zumbühl

    Question: I dont know the american law very good and also not how fast the us-justice system is in situations which could require a new law.
    So it is possible that there will be a law which requires vendors to supply access to different CloudServices out of the box?

    I think it would be great for competition!

  • Steve

    Address Book and iCal both have options for syncing contacts and calendars with Google and Yahoo.

  • gene keenan

    I stopped reading your article when I got to this point:

    “The Android Market rocks. It’s a “one click” experience compared to the iPhone App Store. Find the app, add it directly to the phone. No separate syncing step. “

    You obviously have never used an iPhone or you would know that the experience is the same. The only time you need to sync is when an application is more than 10MB in size. That’s an at&t issue not Apple. Do better research next time.

    • http://tim.oreilly.com/ Tim O'Reilly

      Gene -

      Since you didn’t read the article, you probably didn’t read the comments either, in which I acknowledged that I usually end up finding iPhone apps via the web from my Mac, which takes you to buy them in the iTunes App Store, and that does always require a sync step. You’re right that that isn’t a fair comparison, because with the Android Market, you can’t find apps on the PC, but can only get them on the phone.

  • Matthew Frederick

    Apple’s email, calendar, and address book show their PC-era roots. They live on the PC and must be synced to the phone. Google’s web-native equivalents are always up to date, with syncing happening in real time.

    It’s likely worth noting that if you already use Google apps for these services — Gmail, Google Calendar, and Gmail — then Google Sync will automatically sync with the native iPhone apps. My Gmail, Google Calendar appts, and Gmail contacts are always available and automatically synced over the air on my iPhone via this free service.

    Just visit http://google.com/mobile

    Mind you, I still use the Gmail web app on the phone, though, because of the many ways Gmail is superior in general, most significantly message threading.

  • @CascadeRam

    >>We believe that the FTC guidance is over-broad.

    Why do you say it is over-broad ?

    What is the problem with explicitly disclosing that a reviewer received a free product (in some cases) or marketing fees (in some other cases) ?

    imo (from a reader perspective), disclosure is more important in the latter, but it is also useful to know that a reviewer received a free product that is worth more than $500.

    A few weeks ago, the NYT public editor discussed a related issue and suggested that a reporter writing a story on Mac OS should also disclose that he has other related interests (e.g. sales of a book that he wrote on Mac OS).
    imo anytime there is a potential conflict of interests, full disclosure is warranted.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    It seems to me that the main thrust of the FTC guidance is to curb paid endorsements. There’s a big difference between a paid endorsement and getting a free product. That’s how reviews are typically written: someone who is known to be in the business of reviewing products is given an advance copy of a product before it is released. It isn’t “pay for play” in the sense of the main thrust of the FTC guidance. There’s a big difference between getting paid by the subject of a review to write said review, and receiving the object of the review in order to assess it.

    For example, book reviews are always done from free books. Why waste space and the reader’s time announcing the fact?

    The NYT public editor piece wasn’t a few weeks ago, if it’s the one I was thinking about regarding David Pogue, it was over a year ago. It’s worth reading, but to my mind just highlights the ambiguities. What is the point of David Pogue disclosing that he has written a book about Mac OS X. He’s also written one about the competing product, etc.

    Of course, as David’s publisher, I’d love it if he had to disclose the existence of his book every time he wrote about Mac OS X for the New York Times, but that would actually be having the opposite effect from the intended guidance: it would be mandated self-promotion of his commercial interests.

    What’s more, at some point “disclosure” becomes silly. For example, in this article about the Nexus One, should I disclose that I’m the publisher of the bestselling book on the iPhone, David Pogue’s iPhone: The Missing Manual, and that I have a major Mac publishing program? Should I disclose that the iPhone is the #1 channel for the sale of O’Reilly’s ebooks? Should I disclose that Google executives sometimes appear on stage at my conferences, and that Google co-sponsors Science Foo Camp with O’Reilly and Nature? We live in a web of relationships. When there’s a clear possibility of conflict of interest, we need disclosure, but we also need judgement, or we’re all going to be living in a world where every public statement gets a paragraph or two appended, like those silly ones you see at the end of emails from lawyers.

  • Pedro Assuncao

    Tim, I only have one sentence for you, which sums up my entire Nexus experience:

    “Sorry, the Nexus One phone is not available in your country.”

    I don’t care if it’s God’s mobile phone, if I can’t buy it I’ll go for the iPhone instead :)

  • James

    Great article and breakdown of actual experiences (from a knowledgeable user) vs. reading the list of different features and assuming more features must mean ‘better’ like most Press Release based reviews I’ve read.

    I have one comment though — and I’m a big Google Voice fan — the transcription accuracy is a joke. How that’s a UX bonus is debatable at best. It’s an empty promise at this point vs. relying on incorrect information. I’ve personally turned of sending me txts of the transcriptions, and use the emails as fodder for jokes with my friends — they’re that bad.

  • Mark

    One of the most interesting things to me is how Google’s approach to the cell phone market has differed from Microsoft’s approach to the mp3 player market. Google first introduced and backed an open OS that runs on lots of different Android phones. Then after a year or so they release their own hardware. They aren’t afraid of attacking all the gates at once. Certainly they will be able to learn faster and gain market share with this approach instead of the closed-loop system MS tried to implement.

  • Jake Hobbs

    I am disappointed that Google could not make a phone that works on Verizon (CDMA) and other GSM networks (I have a European sim card i’d like to pop in while traveling there).
    I would love the Nexus instead of the Blackberries World (maybe also Storm 2).

  • Carlton Northern

    If your missing the iTunes experience try SongBird. SongBird does for the NexusOne what iTunes does for the iPhone. SongBird isn’t quite as mature as iTunes but it is close.

  • Steve2

    A good thought provoking article Tim, however, I am surprised in one aspect of it.

    While ending up with advice on what Apple and Google each need to do to strengthen their commercial hands, you paid little attention to the plight of many of your own constituents (Developers – the buyers of OReilly text books) in all of this.

    Google are loosing the battle for the hearts and minds of many 3rd party software developers, all for the want of some decent/basic communication about their intentions and timeframes. App developers can only sell their wares from 9 countries: Austria, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, France, UK and the US – and it has been this way (no countries added and no plans to do so) since Oct’09. That’s just a small fraction of the countries that Apple can do. Google don’t answer any requests about when or even whether they plan to service application developers in other countries (never mind allowing consumers to buy the paid apps of existing Marketplace publishers). In many developers minds, Google’s mantra has gone from ‘do no evil’ to simply ‘do no’.

    Sure, since Motorola’s Droid and now the Nexus, the buzz in the marketplace means that for every developer they have lost, they have probably gained several others (within the 9 serviced markets only). But my point is, they are loosing people – developers, software engineers, CS and IT students, even Java programmers in significant numbers – that they didn’t need to loose, all for the want of a bit of feedback and transparency.

    When I say ‘loosing Java programmers’, I mean to other languages. Hordes of programmers have been drifting away from Java for a good few years, only accelerated by the takeover, then the stagnation of the takeover by Oracle of Sun. Suddenly, early in 2009, Android looked like the place for Java developers to move to. Google seemed to have delivered what Sun never seemed able to do: provide a mainstream application marketplace where Java (and java skills) were not only applicable, but were the main game. Those who hadn’t already gone to Objective C and C over at iPhone, suddenly found a mainstream market where their existing Java skills could be maintained, even capitalized on. On top of all that, Sun/Oracle has had their hands tied for a year, a one-time vacumm that will not come again.

    Google should have cleaned-up by winning hearts and minds of java programmers and more importantly, upcoming students – worldwide. I, like many, who put off going to Objective-C and the iPhone, because Android looked so very promising in early 2009, have now put the Android books (e.g. your two) back on the shelf, dropped java, and resurrected their iPhone and Objective C plans with urgency. Once programmers make a switch in their main language, they often don’t move for a good long while.

    I’m sure the Android app developers in the 9 serviced countries mentioned above will read this with a vested-interest inspired glee, but it could all have been so much better for Android, Java the language and Java developers worldwide, and so much worse for Apple, Objective-C, Palm, Microsoft and even Oracle/Sun. Perhaps Google are feeling a bit cocky and wanted to give the competition a sporting chance.

  • Al Carruth

    I can’t imagine why putting your music on the Nexus One would be difficult, but then I’m not an iTunes user.

    I’ve a large collection of mp3, ogg and flac music files. To get them onto my new Nexus One I simply mounted the phone via the USB cable and dragged the tunes I wanted to the Nexus One with a mouse.

    If it is difficult to move iTunes tunes to the Nexus One, I’d blame Apple, not the Nexus One.

  • David W.

    A couple of things: I have an iPod Touch, but I have no problems with Gmail. I have two gmail accounts. One is my regular email that acts as a forward to Gmail. That allowed me to go from a 10Mb inbox to a 7Gb inbox. The other is a standard Gmail account I use for technical mail lists. I had no problem configuring both of these email accounts to use the iPod’s Mail App.

    The other is that this is NOT Windows vs. Mac or even Novell vs. Microsoft.

    What the new Mac surge has illustrated is that third party native apps are no longer as important as they once were. Back in the 1990s, the lack of native Macintosh applications almost doomed the Mac into oblivion. The smaller the Mac market share, the fewer third party apps produced. The fewer apps, the fewer people who bought a Mac, etc.

    Part of the Mac’s latest success is the realization that Internet ease of access is the prime importance. iPhoto with its ability to post to Facebook and Flickr is now more important than whether Microsoft Access works with Macs. Microsoft missed that, and Apple took the lead.

    What really matters with these smart phones is their interconnectivity with the rest of the world. Both use SMS messaging. Both allow you to access Facebook and Twitter. Both have email. And, both have WebKit based web browsers. The third party apps are just dressing.

    And even third party apps aren’t all that much of a barrier. Unlike their desktop brethren, Smart phone apps are much smaller and work not in the proprietary environment of the manufacturer, but in the connected world. The Twitter API is more important than the Android or iPhone API itself. Translating an iPhone app to an Android app (and visa versa) is not that difficult. As long as either platform has a decent market share (around 10% I would guess), you’ll see similar apps on both platforms.

    I am glad that Android is a strong competitor. It is no iPhone killer, then nothing would be. If I rate phones on a scale of 1 to 10, when the iPhone came out, it would be an 8 when everything else was a 1 1/2. The iPhone as a great innovation and improvement upon everything else in the market place. The Android can only be a slight improvement at best — at least until the Apple releases the next version of the iPhone.

    The race is on, and we as consumers will win. Apple will probably stop its exclusive agreement with AT&T. The iPhone’s camera will improve. The ease of accessing Google applications will be better. Android will become more mature and the equipment will get better and better. A real music service will appear.

    There is plenty of room for growth for both platforms. The big losers right now are Simbian and Windows Mobile. Microsoft bragged in its keynote speech that AT&T is about to release a new Windows Mobile phone the day after AT&T announced it was releasing five Android phones.

    That’s not a good sign for Micrcosoft.

  • It does have multitouch!

    If you download the (free) app ‘dolphin Browser’ multi touch works just fine. :)

  • Danny

    Actually, this is not the right comment here but I thought it was a quicker way to reach u. (Sry abt that) I loved ur book Head First Data Analysis…written very thoughtfully and easy to read and understand. You got me out of huge mess.. thnks

  • Bruce Stoner

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  • Brandon

    I really want this phone but i really dont want to buy it unlocked. If i but the phone with t-mobile, will i have to have the web to go plan in order to own one?

  • http://sexinthebigcity.tumblr.com/ Anna

    I have a nexus one and I’m in loved with it. Is the best phone ever, now I heard that Samsung will lunch the next generation of Nexus One, but I’m not so excited like I was with this one. Since they kind of blew it with the Samsung Galaxy S… I mean they made a super phone and put android 2.1 on it.

  • http://oua.be/5sd Pandaranol

    If you download the (free) app ‘dolphin Browser’ multi touch works just fine. :)
    –> It doesn’t work for me