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.
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.