Open Source Phones? What does Android mean for the mobile market? ~ Ask The Admin

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Open Source Phones? What does Android mean for the mobile market?

Good afternoon! My name is Scott Webster and I am one of the administrators over at I’d like to thank Karl for letting me fill in today as a guest blogger.

I’m here to talk briefly about the current state of Smartphones as well as what we might come to expect from Android and the capability of open source phones.

As of right now, there are only three major options being used in the US for smartphones and PDA phones. You have RIM’s Blackberry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, and Apple’s iPhone/OSX. Sure, you also have niche devices like Helio’s Ocean and the T-Mobile Sidekick, but predominantly, these three are what makes up the high end phone market today. Overseas however is a different story. Nokia and Symbian have pretty much dominated the industry and is slowly seeing market share build over here. While each of these platforms is unique, they share very similar features from one to the next. Higher end camera’s, internal memory, and the ability to install software are just three things that separate them from your mom’s flip phone. It sounds great to be able to install software on the phone, but it’s not as easy as it would initially seem. This is where the drawbacks start.

For years, Blackberry devices were almost locked airtight when it came to 3rd party applications. It is only recently that you can point your browser to a site and get games, tools, and enhancements for your device. Microsoft has been steadily improving their Windows OS and offering two lines options depending on your style of handset; Smartphone and Pocket PC software. Apple came along and shook the industry up a little bit this summer by introducing us to phones using the same user-friendly, sexy OSX that graces many of their computers.

With an entirely touch based phone, it opened up a lot of doors and enticed your tech enthusiasts and prosumers. This was the way of the future, right?

The iPhone was not without its detractors though. There were two major gripes coming from the community. First was that there was no way to add applications to the phone. A user was confined to the pre-installed package of programs, no matter how nice or easy to use. Secondly, people were turned off by the fact that they had to sign up to AT&T for service. With a phone already selling at $400-$600, people were not ready to plunk down another $150-$200 to get out of a contract with their current provider. So what happened next? To address these problems, people began dissecting the phone literally from day one. They were looking for ways to ‘open’ the phone up and unlock it. ‘If it takes a SIM card, it has to work on T-Mobile or another carrier’ was the general consensus. It didn’t take long for people to figure out how to jailbreak their handsets. Now, it’s a game of cat and mouse with Apple releasing their updates and hackers releasing patches. In the meanwhile, Apple comes out and says that they will be releasing a developers kit next year so that users can enjoy new ways of taking advantage of all that the iPhone offers.

Enter Google and the Open Handset Alliance.

For the last two years, people have speculated as to what Google’s role might be in the cell phone industry. Months ago, when the news started to really pour in that a ‘gPhone’ was in the works, the blogs and tech sites began to wonder as to what this phone would look like and how it would work. Mock-ups and ‘leaks’ were hitting the internet on a regular basis. As time went, the industry conversations gravitated towards not just one handset called a gPhone, but rather a few models using a Google based operating system. Was Google creating a brand new operating system for phones? Well, yes and no.

Google was in fact working with a couple dozen other companies on an operating system. An open source one to be certain. This list of companies behind this project reads like a “Who’s Who” in the technology industry. In the handset corner, you have Samsung, HTC, LG and Motorola. In the carrier corner, you’ll notice Sprint and T-Mobile. Looking further down the list, you’ll see other major names like eBay, Intel, nVidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments. This group of companies is known as the Open Handset Alliance.

So what happens when all these guys come to the same party? Magic. What else would you expect from today’s movers and shakers? I can almost guarantee that these companies have their hands in at least one thing you touch or use every day. We have total confidence that Android will not just become a major player in the phone industry. We believe that just by merely existing, they will revolutionize the market and force some of today’s names to either adapt their own model or risk extinction. Google and their friends have been doing their homework and listening to people for a lot longer than you think.

If you look through AskTheAdmin’s posts on open source, it’s almost universally in favor of it. Take a look at some of the software you’re probably using right now. Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, Flock, home-brewed DVR's, XBOX Media Center, etc. Let’s also consider what happens when you work on projects socially like Wikipedia. The power and potential is limitless. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine the kind of phone I will be holding a year from now.

Please stop by if you’d like to stay up on developments. Also, please be sure to leave us feedback.

Thanks again to everyone at AskTheAdmin for their support!

Scott Webster |

(Edit From TheAdmiN: Do you guys like what you see? Do you want us to make this a weekly spot for The AndroidGuys?)