The Android phone is here! So what?

September 23, 2008 3:29 PM EDT
OK, I'm really pleased that Linux does so well in the mobile phone space. I'm very happy to see Google's Linux-powered Android phone make its first appearance. But, come on, who buys a phone for its operating system?

I know some people disagree with me. ABI Research director Kevin Burden, for example, said "Today's unveiling of the T-Mobile G1, the first mobile phone based on the Android platform from the Google-spawned Open Handset Alliance (OHA), may be the beginning of a significant movement towards a situation in which a majority of mobile phones will run a high-level operating system, rather than the variety of real-time operating systems currently powering more than 85% of the world's mobile phones."

That's all fine and dandy, but I'll bet that most people still buy phones because of the plan price than any other single factor. Of course, there is the one exception: the Apple iPhone. We love the iPhone, problems and all.

But, why do we love it? It's certainly isn't the price, and it's sure not because AT&T offers a great deal on the service plan. No, people love the iPhone because of the phone's own innovative physical design. It gave us the first touch-screen, on any device, that people actually enjoyed using. In addition, it gave us this in a slick, thin package that showed once more that Apple gets product design better than any other company on the planet.

On top of that, the iPhone, thanks to Safari, made it possible to have a real Web experience with a handheld device. Earlier phones, which used WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), simply never caught people's attention. With the new screen sizes and the WebKit Web browser engine, which both the iPhone's Safari and Android's Chrome Lite use, mobile devices will soon be able to handle the Web almost as well as a PC.

Last, but not least, the iPhone has become a software platform in its own right. People love running iPhone Apps. Indeed, one of the biggest software developer issues of the last few weeks has been Apple's restrictions on iPhone Apps that complete with built-in iPhone applications.

Now, what does Android have to offer that's different? Well, it's an open platform and open source so it will be easier for developers to write program for it. But will they?

After all, it all comes down to how many people will actually buy Android-powered phones. If you don't have enough users, it's not worth a developer's time to make applications for them.

For users to flock to Android, it has to offer great features now, not someday in the future. I've looked at the Android G1. It's a good phone. It offers all those Web goodies that the iPhone offers. What it doesn't have though is the iPhone's killer look or any real advances on the features that are already included with the iPhone.

I want Android to be a hit, but I just don't see enough 'new' here for it to attract anything like the horde of customers that have adopted the iPhone. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I'm not.