Do you remember life before Amazon? Do you remember life before Google? Or even, life before personal computers? Every so often a new product creates a sea change so big that life before the product seems like just a vague memory of a previous existence in a foreign land.
And now there is Android. Android is an operating system for mobile phones that is being developed by Google. I would bet on Android to crush the iPhone and other competitors.
Now, this is a rather bold prediction coming from someone who hardly uses his mobile phone, has never seen an iPhone, and knows nothing of Android other than what he has read in news stories. True confession—I have never sent a text message. So, what the heck can I know about the future of mobile phones?
In contrast to my prediction, many technology experts, such as Matt Asay, believe Android is no match for Apple’s expertise. Asay explains, “In part this is because Google may lack the aesthetic touch that Apple has in spades, just as Microsoft does… Android is still no iPhone killer.”
Asay is wrong. Aesthetics are critical when products are close competitors in price and quality, but no amount of design aesthetics would currently sell many Changfengs (a Chinese car) over Hondas in the United States. The why is clear—a Changfeng would not be in the same quality league as a Honda.
I understand that to Apple fans, such as Asay, my comparison is ridiculous. The iPhone to them is the current pinnacle of mobile phone development. However, what Asay may not understand is the enormous flexibility and innovative capacity of open source operating systems. Unlike the iPhone and every other competitor, Android is an open source operating system.
True, there are smart developers at Apple who have apparently made a pretty good product in the iPhone. But a handful of smart developers can’t compete against many smart developers, and pretty good can’t compete against great. Planned development can’t compete against the decentralized forces of spontaneous development. Self-organizing systems are more powerful than a thousand Steve Jobs; and they rarely behave as experts, such as Asay, predict.
Google is not going at this alone. Scott Taves writes that Google has put together a “collaborative group including Google and more than 30 semiconductor and software companies, mobile operators and handset manufacturers.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Most importantly, Google is encouraging independent teams not affiliated with any company to develop applications for Android. To kick off interest among developers, Google is awarding $10 million dollars in prize money to developers with the best applications. Developers, according to Google’s Eric Chu, “will be able to make their content available on an open service hosted by Google that features a feedback and rating system similar to YouTube…We feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available.”
Even before the first Android phone has even been released, there are applications that will interest even a “not much use for a cell phone other than to call and say I’m stuck in traffic” person like me.
How about these features? You are out shopping and about to buy something on impulse. But you wonder, is it a good price? You scan the barcode of the item into an Android phone; and the phone gives you the best price online, as well as the prices at local merchants nearby you.
Or, consider this. There is an emergency; immediately, you need to physically locate a family member. Android will be able to do that too.
Here is the bottom line—free-markets always beat centrally planned economies; and similarly, Android will beat Apple and any other closed operating system. Due to compounding inherent in the market’s discovery process, five years from now, the Android powered mobile phone will be a gadget that we could hardly recognize today. In ways we can’t anticipate today, the long-promised era of convergence among all of our various electronic gadgets with different operating systems will be at hand. If Google is successful with Android, imagine next a Google computer with the open source operating system Linux. Imagine your phone seamlessly integrating with your computer. Imagine no longer having to gnash your teeth over whatever future proprietary operating system Microsoft will be trying to sell. If I was Microsoft, I would be very scared. But then again, those in Microsoft who urged a movement away from proprietary software have long ago been forced out of the company.
A world without Windows is hard to imagine, but then again, so was a world with personal computers. Smart people make mistakes, because they can’t anticipate the power of markets to change the status quo. In 1977, when IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) dominated the computer industry, DEC’s CEO, Ken Olsen, said, “There is no reason for any individual to have a personal computer in his home.”
Of course, there turned out to be thousands of reasons; but those reasons needed to be discovered by the market process. Android will unleash a new process of discovery, and the results are likely to be as revolutionary as the personal computer.
Parts of this piece may read like a gushing press release for Google. I assure you that I am not on Google’s payroll. With unrelenting bad news unfolding in the economy and the iron fist of government increasingly choking off innovation, it is good to know that American entrepreneurs are still busy changing the world and making all of our lives better in the process.
This is the free-market at its best. Without any direction from politicians, Google is about to revolutionize the world—again.