Earlier this week Google found the time to let the air out of one room in the rumor mill by announcing, what most thought would be a single gPhone is actually a platform for building "gPhones" called, Android and the the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). Despite the expressed pining for another tech-heavyweight to make a splash within the mobile device market, a la Apple, the combination of Android and OHA are actually more ambitious than one phone. The Android team did a colorful yet credible job of breaking down Google's perspective on the subject. My take is that Android (an open source platform for mobile developers) and OHA (an open member alliance) make more sense for Google than a headfirst plunge into the device market even if it has the brand strength to stir up notable buzz surrounding a prospective entry.
Initially I questioned if there is the opportunity for innovation and/or differentiation that would attract a fringe (at best) player like Google? Obviously there is copious room for improving the mobile experience, but is one company going to act as the catalyst? Maybe, but truly kick starting innovation in the mobile device arena won't be a single company's cross to bear. Rather it will fall on the shoulders of an inclusive group of individuals, visionaries, companies and organizations. Hence, the OHA. One point worth considering is the fact that open is well on its way to becoming a buzzword, so the level of transparency in action and approach remains the barometer for OHA's execution of its expressed mission.
Still, Google is slated to play sizable role in the evolution of the U.S. mobile 'third screen' which stands at a unique crossroad in the history of the U.S. cellular industry. Currently there are just as many hurdles to be navigated as there is potential to be realized. Presently, mobile operators continue to function as vanguards over the third screen, blocking badly-needed innovation in defense of outdated telco business models. The result has been far too many closed gardens and an unhealthy obsession with extracting value in place of creating it for the end user. Google has demonstrated that it grasps the implications of this status quo and did well to express interest in facilitating a 700 MHz system adjusted to its specifications. However, pending of the outcome of its planned $4.6 billion bid, Google has yet to fully elucidate its plans to establish traction as a front runner in the race for the third screen.
At this point it remains to be seen how a dose of open source disruption will affect the U.S. mobile ecosystem that's ripe for transformation. Specifically, it's important to understand how Android will fit into Google's strategic outlook for gaining momentum within the mobile industry. I see the follow as particularly critical:
- Add mobile-focus to the Google ecosystem. Android should emerge as the epicenter of the mobile side of Google. The trajectory and time line for the development of a healthy layer of partners and participants, i.e. the OHA, is still an unknown.
- Follow the widgets (or gadgets). Google refers to them as gadgets but their overriding characteristic is that they have yet to produce much in the way of. However, what passes for useful functionality as it relates to the traditional browser can be introduced as a significant step forward within the mobile arena. Wherein, the ability to inject behavior to data, encapsulate services and add some extra punch to existing applications is sorely needed.
- An uninterrupted Google brand. Unfortunately the tendency to view the mobile Internet as a discrete entity from the Internet still exists. In reality, they are one and the same. Google must own up to the prospect of seamlessly transmitting its presence to the third screen without relying too heavily on the fixed/mobility differentiation. The Google experience in whatever form it takes (not just search) should be Google regardless of the medium through which it is accessed (within reason).
- Emphasize localization. Just like in real estate, for the mobile world it's Location, Location, Location. The possibilities surrounding mobile communities are exhausting but in order for them to flourish the demand for local information and context must be met. Currently the value of these communities is tied to PC-based access methods. As Android matures I can envision the Google platform extending to include an increasing array of services which aid in this direction.
- Redefine mobile innovation. Unfortunately, the U.S. mobile industry has thus far strangled innovation both intentionally and unintentionally. On the other hand, Android is being billed as a type of innovation accelerator so while I'm high on a focus centered on empowering mobile developers, I like its potential to lower the barriers to innovation even more. The first step of which is enabling developers to impart more flavor to the mobile experience.
I'm looking at whether Google has the wherewithal to channel initial waves of experimentation with Android into the larger cohesive OHA community/ecosystem. Unlike some of the company's other open source efforts, this one can't remain in perpetual beta for an indeterminate period of time. While the sheer scale and ambitious nature of its goals require realistic expectations they also entail a sharper, results oriented approach.