The G-boys' Android

It is the item that's got the blogosphere buzzing - Android. But is Google's latest effort to domina

It's difficult to not write about them. After an insanely busy few weeks, the folks at Google have capped it all off by releasing a mobile phone, the G1.

The gPhone began as one of the greatest Internet-meme, a long running rumour that was finally put to rest by a post on the Google blog last december. Google weren't going to go into hardware, rather they were going to collaborate on a mobile operating system, Android, and a strategic alliance built around it.

The G1, available in the UK in November, is the first phone to be powered by this software.

The phone itself looks pretty much like any of the HTC smartphones of recent years - most of which ran Windows Mobile.

Sure, it's towards the elegant end of the spectrum, but still some way from the competitor that all the product designers are attempting to better - the iPhone. Most of the reviews are inevitably comparing it to the Apple device on functionality, tech specs and of course, aesthetic design. It's here of course that the Apple device wins out, mostly because it possesses the one thing that no competing device can possibly have - that intrinsic Apple-ness which renders it an object of frenzied nerd desire.

To the consumer then, the comparison might be as simple as a grid of tech-specs and how it feels in your hand, but the real differences between the two devices are more fundamental than that.

The Open Handset Alliance, announced at the same time as the Android, is an effort to bring manufacturers together to create a shared and open software platform for mobile development. This means a phone that is wholly user-configurable, where any Android software can be installed on the phone at any time and importantly, that software can be developed and released by anyone.

Whilst the iPhone feels like it's about freedom (and that owning one will somehow align your thoughtstyle with that of a West Coast millionaire who loves profit almost as much as he loves hanging out at Burning Man), the reality is becoming rather clearer for developers.

The Apple App store which launched alongside the iPhone 2.0 update has been serving some wonderful software, but the flow of that code has been controlled with the kind of aggressive paranoia that only Steve Jobs can muster. Recently there have been cases started to emerge of applications being barred from the App store because they 'duplicate functionality' of software that Apple already make. When developers started to air their dissatisfaction with this, Apple reminded them that their rejection letters also fell under their developer Non-Disclosure-Agreement. It seems that Apple loves innovation as long as it doesn't compete with them.

Why should Google bother with mobile phones? With three billion of them out there in people's pockets, the device is hands-down the ubiquitous computing platform of the future. Both Microsoft in Windows Mobile and Apple with the iPhone OS X have invested heavily in their share of that market with a proprietary operating system. An open platform for mobile development would be disruptive indeed.

As the always-on platform grows and network access becomes easier, the services the internet provides will become central to mobile phone functionality. Whilst on the surface this might appear to be a battle of who sells the most phones, for Google there is something far more
valuable at stake.

As Google Apps, Google Mail and Google Maps (served to you through the Google Browser) all ascend to being credible replacements for expensive desktop software, the networked software space as delivered on phones becomes a goldmine of untold potential and the G-boys know this well. After Page and Brin roller-bladed into the launch of the G1 in New York they made a few statements to the assembled press.

Brin commented, "being able to do a search with all the flexibility that you are used to having on a laptop is really, really worthwhile and we are really excited about it." Then he smiled, dreaming of the ad- revenue from 3 billion Android phones using Google as their search page.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.