December 21, 2014

Google Should Have Made The gPhone

If you have spent time in the dating game, you know the harsh reality: it is usually better when you are being wooed by someone, than it is when you are running after them. When you are the one who is trying to win over someone, no matter how great your qualities and offerings, they may act reluctant, express doubts, second guess your motives and in the end, not accept you at all. On the other hand, when someone is wooing you, even if they know your negative qualities and idiosyncrasies, even if you act all pricey, they might still brush those aside and pursue you; they will be happy to accept you as you are and make a good life with that.

Reading about Google working with handset makers and carriers, I get the impression that Google is wooing a bunch of Reluctant Rebeccas who are demanding much and not making it easy for Google. The angst of a hassled suitor is best expressed by Google’s director of mobile platforms, Andy Rubin: “This is where the pain happens,” he says. “We are very, very close.”

Very close, but no cigar… yet.

Imagine how much better it would have been if things were the opposite: if all the carriers and handset makers were lining up at Google’s gates because they were desperate to have this great new awesome that Google had built. Even if they had to a pay high price for it.

Google should have built The gPhone first. It should have worked with one handset maker, in secret (with occasional leaks to the “person familiar with the matter”, of course!), to build the most awesome piece of mobile hardware. And, instead of spending time and resources to build and manage a reluctant alliance, Google should have concentrated all its own energies on doing what it does best: make innovative software with a revolutionary, irresistible UI.

With such exclusive focus, Google would have been ready to launch the g(od)Phone this June or July. Imagine the launch where Google not only showed off an awesome, unlocked, full-featured, uncrippled phone, but also offered the open mobile platform Android for free to anyone who wants it, and announced the Android developer challenge! Now, that would have been a true 1-2-3 knockout punch from which that other locked-and-limited-but-shiny-and-popular phone coming out in July would have found hard to recover. Carriers would have lined up to get the gPhone on their networks ASAP. Handset makers would have lined up to get Android on their phones ASAP. Developers would have lined up to churn out apps for the original godPhone and all other Android phones ASAP. Happy customers the world over would have lined up to get the new gPhone ASAP. Really, can you imagine how all that would have played out? That would have shaken up the mobile world, alright! Then, Google could have built the OHA as a strong coalition of willing converts, rather than a loose alliance of skeptical and reluctant participants.

Instead, what we have today is a situation where Google is scrambling hard to help T-Mobile launch the first Android phone before the end of the year. This is taking up enough of Google’s resources that Sprint cites that as an excuse for not offering an Android Phone on its own network yet. Of course, Sprint has other excuses too: top management shuffling, plans to skip 3G and go straight to 4G with the Android phone, preference to offer its own branded services on the phone (read ‘walled garden’) rather than offer Google’s built-in services. Sprint, purported founding member of the OHA, has made ambiguous and non-committal statements about Android from the very beginning. So, I am not surprised that they are not ready to offer an Android phone any time soon. In fact, I’m glad that Google is first working with T-Mobile, the carrier which cripples phones the least among all the popular US carriers.

Google should have learned from its Gmail launch. Gmail is a complete email product, with innovative, unique features. It wow-ed the world when it was launched. Some Gmail features are so unique, almost no other email provider has replicated them or even offered them as options years after Gmail launched. Remember the days when people all over the world were desperate to get an invite to Gmail? Now imagine that Google never built Gmail, and instead built a plug-in to work with Outlook or Yahoo mail or any other email system, to bring the Gmail features like threaded conversations, labeled mails, hidden quoted text, etc. to your existing mail box. Google would have had to go through hard and frustrating times to get the plug-in to work with the numerous mail systems out there. Having done that, it would have been even more difficult to get the other email providers to offer this plug-in as an optional feature, if at all. Even if Google had offered the plug-in as an independent download, it would not be as ubiquitous and useful as Gmail is today.

Google’s attempts to push Android on reluctant carriers and handset makers is akin to pushing a Gmail plug-in on existing email systems! Moreover, it makes you wonder what compromises and limitations Google might be building into Android in order to make it acceptable to the carriers. I’d like to believe that Google would not do that, but then I’d also have liked to believe that Google does not offer a self-censored search engine in China.

Anyway, what is done is done. For better or worse, Android is on the path it is on now. Nobody wishes for its success as much as we do. But it’s still not too late for Google to make and market its own branded, full-featured and unlocked godPhone which can be held up as a standard for other phones to measure up to. Perhaps, they should partner with the struggling Motorola, which has put its best engineers to work on an Android phone, to make the ideal gPhone. An ideal gPhone would serve Google (and us, the mobile customers) very well. For one thing, it would show the world what Android can really do. And, it would prevent carriers from crippling other Android (and even non-Android) phones too much. Why would people buy a crippled phone if a full-featured one is available? And even if the carriers crippled their phones a little, they would be forced to offer something in exchange – like awesome hardware or innovative services or simply cheaper phones – to tempt customers to buy those phones. Would be a win-win for everybody.



  • TareX

    gPhone, HTC Dream, Motorola…whatever. I lost all enthusiasm after learning about the pre-Christmas release.

    Windows Mobile 7 (with all the next-gen fluidity and UI) will be all over the mobile market, and iPhone 2.0 will have a million 3rd party apps. What will Android have by then? Nothing.

    Too late. They underestimated the time factor.

  • death to the masses

    I understand where u are coming from and to me its not a bad idea, but I would have to side with Google here. The most important thing about Android is the software and if they have released a Gphone first before Android then there would be little applications out there to back it up. By releasing the stack first before the hardware, developers would get more familiar and by have their applications ready in time for the release of the first phone. When users get a hold of the first Android, they most likely will not have to deal with underpar and rushed applications from developers who had less time to play around with it.

    Thats just my opinion which might not make any sense.

    Note: this opinion is not of my own, there is a section of my brain that creates random opinions on the fly thus i have no control of whatever that was written here today

  • http://techvideoblog.com Charbax

    I think Google should have bought Archos and release an Android powered PMP/Google/IPTV/VOIP/GPS/HSDPA device based on the Texas Instruments DaVinci and sell it exclusively online from google.com all the while also doing the whole Open Handset Alliance work as they are doing now to encourage all others such as Motorola, Samsung, HTC and others to participate in using the Android platform.

    The problem is, Google thinks it has to play it like Microsoft and Intel has been doing it for decades. Google doesn’t want to be a hardware manufacturer, they figured they’d rather stay neutral and provide the platforms and help companies optimize the platform on reference designs based on each of the ARM processor architechtures out there, be it Texas Instruments DaVinci, Qualcomm Snapdragon, Freescale, Samsung, Nvidia Tegra, Marvell Xscale and others.

    Google is probably thinking the same thing for when they target Google Android to laptops (probably within the next few months), Google wouldn’t want to release a 100 dollar Google Laptop themselves, they’ll rather help other companies on reference designs and sit and watch those other companies try to make profit margins and feed the intermediaries as the established consumer electronics industry is used to.

    Somehow it seems Google is afraid to bet on making hardware themselves and sell it themselves. They might think they shouldn’t risk making the established consumer electronics industry mad at them. “You don’t try to compete with your own partners” they must be thinking. Though I think the best solution ultimately might be a single mass produced 100 dollar Pocket Google Android device and a 100 dollar Google Android Laptop, each fully open source while still running all software patented codecs and features needed, each using VOIP and other free and disruptive IP technologies and built around giving the users the maximum control. Google could thus mass manufacture the Pocket and Laptop Android device and sell them like OLPC does, like a non-profit. Cause Google shouldn’t try to make a profit on selling hardware even if they manufacture and sell it themselves, Google makes more money when more people use the Internet.

  • Todd

    ( Good “meaty” op ed post, we need more of these here )

    “Google in the hardware business” – I have had that same impulse, and yeah it would probably accelerate an actual physical phone, but at what price? The overhead to start making physical objects is huge, and Google hasn’t been very successful in the past with their search sever:

    So, let’s give the feet dragging carriers a few more months to face reality or die a horrible Darwinistic death. Remember market forces will always fill a profitable void ( American electronics and cars R.I.P. ). If the evil carriers want to maintain their ability to bind their ( awful ) content with their service and their hardware, they’ll have to release an Android handset – if they don’t, someone else will.

    *Weird to think about. Imagine if when you bought a new Sony TV it only let you watch Sony content ( Sony owns Columbia movie studio and Viacom ) and only let you use the Playstation – No xbox, no ABC or ESPN, if you wanted to watch ontent from a different providers, you’d have to buy another TV ( !!! )

    …That’s what the carriers want to be able to continue to do!

  • Darwin OS

    Some Times when we’re writting Application for Android we don’t real know how we can build the Interface! Android Phones will have Touch Screen, Multi-Touch(I hope), Qwerty Keyboard and so on. As developer you can’t real foresee in what kind of Phone you Application will be used! When I began to develop for the iPhone it was real easy! my Application just looks in all iPhone the same and the inputs Methode are the same. it real improve the Usabilitiy.

    Google should real make a gPhone. if the don’t want to spezification for the Handset Makers.

  • TareX

    If Google started with the gPhone, it would be a HEAD ON collision with apple’s iPhone. Total loss. iPhone wins on 3rd party apps alone.

    I’m all ok with releasing Android first. But the time frame…. total nonsense. When Windows Mobile 7 comes out, I KNOW I’ll forget something called “Android” was even suggested.

    Unless a Christmas miracle happens and WM7 isn’t the next-gen OS is was meant to be.

  • JerryA

    “If Google started with the gPhone, it would be a HEAD ON collision with apple’s iPhone. Total loss. iPhone wins on 3rd party apps alone.”

    Not really. The Android platform would be a lot easier to develop for right off the bat if there was a standard gPhone. With the iPhone you had to wait for someone to hack it, build new hacks to get around the relocking from Apple, and now they are finally going to allow approved 3rd party apps. Their main advantage is strong hardware that is standard across their single phone. It’s basically always Apple’s strong suit. They limit the hardware so they can build a more specialized OS that is locked to the hardware and that they control. If Google made an iPhone-class phone that was also open and not tied to a carrier, it would be a much better device than the iPhone by far.

  • TareX

    I’ve always loved that white gPhone design you guys have up there…

    Especially if it came with a slideout qwerty… vertical or horizontal.

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