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To turn a phrase from Bill Clinton, the impending armageddon of new phone platforms arriving on Canadian shores this month will be settled not on the hardware side, but on the software side.
Tomorrow Google launches it's Android platform in Canada on the Rogers network with the HTC Dream and HTC Magic. Next week it's the Palm Pre and then, just days later, Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference will bring anything from a new iPhone design to a touch tablet to a simple release of the iPhone 3.0 software for the current handset line.
Regardless of what happens with the hardware this month, there's one thing you need to understand about this battle - it's all about the software.
Phones have grown beyond the clamshell and the keyboard. When the iPhone entered the realm it made the smartphone mainstream. The Blackberry, the Treo and others had existed for years before the iPhone, but when Apple released their take on telephony, the game wasn't only changed, the playing field was altered as well.
Think about the iPod. When it came out there was a great selection of mp3 players that looked nice, had great audio, were easy to use and could play your music on the go. But then Apple paired iTunes with it's iPod. It was not only a way to organize your music, it had a way to discover and buy new music built right into the architecture. The iPod was sexy, sure, but that's not why it has won the music battle - iTunes is the reason.
And the same is happening in the phone world. The iPhone is beautiful and elegant. Is it the best? Hell no, we haven't had a decent camera, video or cut and paste on this thing for 2 years yet it is responsible for 43% of the world's mobile web access traffic. 1 product, nearly 50% marketshare. Why are we there?
It's the software, stupid.
My brother is a software engineer in Seattle and has had the G1 running Android since it was released. On the eve of the Andriod arrival in Canada, I asked him for his thoughts.
The power of Android is in the open platform, and that holds a lot of promise. People will be able to write apps that run anywhere -- on wide variety of phones, and also (eventually) in hundreds of places you never thought you'd want a widget. The airplane seatbacks and car dashboards, for example, are perfect places to host Android.
But in this area Google is also losing to Apple. The number of apps written for the iPhone is absolutely enormous. Developers feel like there's real money to be made there and (just like in the Facebook apps days) there's a lot of hype around the potential of iPhone apps. Even though you can do exactly the same things with an Android phone, there's none of the excitement around the platform and the app market is suffering as a result.
Android will continue to languish as a secondary platform for a few years, but this is also a huge strategic move for Google and they won't be abandoning it any time soon. I expect steady, ongoing improvements. But iPhone has effectively captured the platform market in the same way that Windows did in the 90's. And unlike Apple's MacOS during the same period, Android doesn't have any design cachet to keep it alive among technophiles and designers.
What Android really needs is a new, differentiating killer app. Apple has better hardware with a better user experience. Android needs something new and compelling so that it can bust out of the iPhone shadow. But it would take something huge for that to happen and I'm not sure exactly what it would be (free handsets?).
Meanwhile, Blackberry and Palm definitely haven't ceded second place to Android and are also making their own iPhone killers. This fragmentation of the secondary platform market is only going to make it harder for all of these also-rans to compete.
Normally the launch of an anticipated product like Android would cause at least a few geeks to camp out to get their paws on the piece, but with the Palm Pre and iPhone 3.0 coming in just a few days, you're best to just sit on the sidelines and wait until all the new arrivals have made their pitch.
catch the buzz ... pass it on.