After months of speculation, TechCrunch reports that the first Android powered phone, the HTC Dream is set to be released in the US by T-Mobile on October 20th. T-Mobile did not return my calls to confirm or deny this rumor, but one thing is certain, the iPhone is no longer the only player on the block and this will increase interest in T-Mobile for the first time maybe ever.
Android is the open source cell phone operating system that has been developed by Google over the last year or so. I asked Rob Jackson, who has been writing Phandroid.com, an Android news blog, since the very day Google announced Android. Jackson is a self-described "mobile nut" and when he couldn't find any Android resources, he created a site himself. After creating the blog, Jackson started AndroidForums.com as a place to share his enthusiasm about Android with like-minded individuals and as a place to eventually answer the inevitable questions about Android phones, applications, pricing, capabilities and so on. Jackson is as excited as anyone about the TechCrunch rumor and he took a few moments to answer some questions:
RM: What is Android and why is it important?
RJ: Computers typically have Windows or Mac Operating Systems. Phones, on the other hand, usually have an operating system that the phone carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) put on the device. They make money by creating their own applications/software for your phone such as GPS Navigation, MP3s/Ringtones and forcing you to buy their own software or simply not have any software at all.
The first beneficial quality of Android is that it is Open Source meaning, third party developers can create software for your phone that you can download for free. More choices/competition means more capabilities at better prices.
The TYPE of applications Android will allow is mind boggling. Think of using your camera phone to snap pictures of a barcode, and instantly seeing a list of places close to your current location that sell the product the cheapest. Android allows phones to communicate with not only each other, but various APIs that allow your phone to create experiences that were previously unimaginable on mobile phones.
People say, "yeah, the iPhone already does that." Yes, but that didn't happen until Android was announced. The mobile industry realized that if they didn't start to open up and serve consumers better, Google would dominate the industry. You see a lot more openness now and Android was a catalyst. Still, Android will be more open than any mobile platform on the market and its capabilities, when taking apps into consideration, will be remarkable.
RM: How much do you think the general public knows about Android. Is there a pent up a demand out there?
RJ: I don't think the "general public" knows about Android at all. The general public reads about some type of Google Phone but knows nothing about it. Once the first Android Phone is announced (HTC Dream on Sept 23rd), and then commercials start to air and finally the device launches (Rumor: Oct 20th) we'll see an increasing amount of interest.
The fact that T-Mobile is releasing the device will curb interest somewhat, but I'm confident that in the next 6 months or so we'll be seeing a lot more Android handsets on a lot more carriers and the snowball effect will be inevitable. Not only that, I predict Verizon and AT&T will have to adopt Android in the next year simply due to competitive forces.
RM: You've read about the proposed released date of the first Android phone. What are you hearing from T-Mobile about the validity of this report?
RJ: T-Mobile, HTC and Android are all playing this very close to the vest. All that has really been confirmed is the "2nd half of 2008" that we've heard since Day 1. But, I can say that the rumors look to be pretty on target barring any setbacks with T-Mobile's 3G network.
RM: Google has been working on Android for months, even developing an Android App store ahead of the phones. What impact do you think this will have on the cell phone market?
RJ: Android has already had a huge affect on the market since its announcement in November 2007. It is a big reason that Apple created the App Store, T-Mobile recently announced their own App Store, Verizon is announcing an App Store, Symbian has announced it will be Open Source by 2011. But Android transcends all of that... because it doesn't belong to a carrier, it doesn't belong to a manufacturer, it doesn't belong to anyone. In fact, it belongs to everyone.
Android phones will all be able to communicate with each other in dynamic ways. So if you've got the HTC Dream on T-Mobile and a friend has a Sprint Android phone, they can communicate with each other in real time with incredibly sophisticated interactions. For example, you could play a game of "tag" where your phone is the "gun"... pressing a button on the touch screen would shoot a "bullet" and the signal direction/speed and your opponents GPS location would be used to predict if you "hit them". Essentially, a game of laser tag with your phone as your weapon.
As you can see its hard to "explain" what Android is technically. Giving examples of some of the amazing things that can be done helps to open the eyes of people who really aren't sure what Android is. Its annoying enough to be limited to ringtones and wallpaper... Android doesn't only open doors... it knocks down walls.
By the way, since Android is "free" it will make Android devices cheaper to create. Manufacturers and carriers don't have to invest in creating an OS platform... this savings will likely be passed onto the consumer meaning phone that DO more that COST less.
RM: What impact will this have on T-Mobile as a carrier in the US, where it is currently considered an also-ran (although they are a force in the EU)?
RJ: T-Mobile will have a great benefit from this. First of all, I predict their customer retention rates will sky rocket because any customer who THOUGHT about leaving is going to stick around to test out the HTC Dream (unless they are crazy).
Meanwhile, it will lure customers from Verizon and AT&T, but probably to a lesser degree. We already know that Sprint will have an Android phone in early 2009 so their customers are likely to play wait and see.
However, if Verizon and AT&T don't hop on the Android train soon enough, I think you'll see more and more customers leave the big networks for T-Mobile at which point they'll be forced to use Android. T-Mobile and Sprint are adopting Android as a competitive advantage to the #1 and #2 US Carriers and the longer the big guys wait to respond, the more T-Mobile will gain.
Of course AT&T and Verizon might hope that if they never respond, Android will just die out. Unlikely... very unlikely. They just don't want to admit they missed the boat on opening up their platforms and now have to watch Google reap the benefits. They overcharged customers for too little choice for much too long... sorry, times up!
RM: What do you think of this particular phone, the HTC Dream and will it make people stand up and take notice like the iPhone?
RJ: I'm incredibly excited about the HTC Dream. I wish that HTC would have used the form factor/specs of the Touch Diamond/Pro/HD instead of the Dream simply because I think they look flawless. But, to me anyway, the HTC isn't about the hardware but the software and all the great Applications Android will allow on it.
If the HTC Dream isn't the best hardware ever, no worries... there are plenty more manufacturers and carriers all working towards building the best ever mobile device with Android as the OS.
RM: Who else is working on these phones and will we be seeing offerings from other carriers over the next year?
Samsung and Motorola are both working on Android handsets and we'll most likely see these in early 2009. We know that Sprint will carry an Android device and AT&T has said they aren't opposed, but are being patient.
Verizon has some qualms with Google over the 700Mhz spectrum auction. If Google has it their way, the FCC will FORCE Verizon to allow an Android handset on Verizon's airwaves because the signal they purchased was supposed to be "open" to "all devices" as long as they passed basic standards. Verizon isn't too happy with Google, to say the least.