The Open Handset Alliance, or Why Open Standards are for Losers

Google Logo

So Google made a big announcement on Monday about the much hyped gPhone, or lack thereof. For what seems like years now, people have been speculating about an ad-supported phone to be given away by Google. Reality turned out to be a little more boring, but much more significant than a free phone.

Android

The Open Handset Alliance that was announced, along with its Android project, represent a very important moment in the history of the mobile phone industry. This is a business built on lock-in, so when over 30 companies come together to support an open platform for mobile phones, that’s big news. Mobile phones are just dying to be standardized and opened up, and Android might be what gets us there.

It will be quite awhile before anything tangible materializes out of Android, and details are still pretty thin, but a software development kit is due out next week, so it won’t be long before any programmer can take a peak at the project’s code. I’m expecting we’ll hear lots of technical details by the end of next week.

Android

Cue the Haters

I was pretty surprised to read the vast amount of negative coverage of the Android announcement. Some had their hopes dashed when the free gPhone wasn’t released. Others say this project is strictly vaporware until an actual product ships. Still others say a consortium of 30+ companies can’t possibly create anything meaningful and useful. Where is most of the hate coming from? Apple fanatics.

For some reason, lots of Apple fans seem to think that project Android is aimed to be an “iPhone killer”. iPhone owners must still be pretty defensive about their big purchase too, because according to some of them, nothing can ever dream to measure up to Apple’s mobile phone, so there’s no point in even trying. Plus, no one has Apple’s sense of design and style, so an Android-powered phone is surely going to suck, right?

I think it depends on how your prospective. I’m positive that the OSA won’t position Android phones at the top of the market to compete head-to-head with the iPhone. The whole point of a free, open, standardized platform is to lower costs, which makes this ideal for less expensive devices. Plus, these Android detractors are missing the real competitor Google is always gunning for.

Target: Microsoft

If we know anything about Google, it’s that it loves to take on Microsoft. MS has been steadily pushing into the mobile phone market over the last several years, and aims to get its Windows Mobile software on as many handsets as it possibly can. So, Android is the free, open alternative to the Microsoft mobile platform, just as Linux is a clear competitor to Windows in the server market.

Open Standards are for Losers (OK, the Underdog)

If there’s one thing that history has consistently proven, it’s that the industry underdogs are the first to flock to open standards in an attempt to gain traction against the companies at the top. It’s comfortable at the top, which is why you don’t see the names Verizon, AT&T, Nokia, and Apple (among others) listed as members of the Open Handset Alliance. After all, lock-in and proprietary software are what got them to where they are, so there’s no obvious benefit to them gambling their market position on standards that level the playing field.

If there’s another thing that history has taught us about open standards, it’s that eventually, they win. Sure, there will always be room for the Apples and the Microsofts of the world, but everything seems to trend toward being a commodity, especially in the software industry. Open source infrastructure and development platforms are a game-changer in an industry that has been building walled gardens for decades. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

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