Dell Android Mobile Device Sounds Nice, but Curb Your Enthusiasm

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-06-30 Print this article Print

The Wall Street Journal has generated the latest report (paywall) about Dell creating a mobile computing device.

The news would seem to substantiate Michael Dell's allusion in March that Dell was "exploring" mobile Internet devices, or MIDs.

The key action item in the latest report is that the device is rumored to run on the Google-created Android mobile operating system software. If this is true, it's a bigger piece of news for Google than the T-Mobile G1, the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, the HTC Hero or any Android smartphone announcements out there.

Why? The latest adopter of Android is Dell, a major computer maker. You expect mobile phone makers to build Android phones, which is what Android was originally targeted for.

If computer makers see Dell pump out an Android device, they may well follow suit with their own MIDS, smartphones or even netbooks. We've already heard that Nokia is planning to launch an ARM-based netbook that runs Android.

Every device launched is a measure of validation for the Android platform, a key new entry point for Google to extend its Web services and online advertising reach. If Android fails to gain traction, it will be a major failure for the company as it seeks to sow new seeds in the computing sector.

So in comes TechRepublic Editor in Chief Jason Hiner, who may succeed in curbing your enthusiasm for Android with this piece. If you are an Android fanboy, this will be depressing because it basically blows Android out of the water, turning what Google sees as strengths in its software iteration to damning weaknesses.

For example, Hiner notes that while Google's willy-nilly approach to software evolution works for Google's search engine, it won't float Android smartphones. He basically says the G1 and HTC Magic suck, and says Android should have been named "Beta." Ouch. Hiner writes:

Smartphones require something different. They demand meticulous attention to the end-to-end experience of the user. To accomplish that, a company needs tight collaboration among all of the engineers working on the project, plus a disciplined management process to coordinate all of the details. Those are not Google's strengths, and it shows in the Android phones that have hit the market.

It's hard to argue with that. I'd add that while there are certainly merits to platforms based on open standards, it's better to have a more controlled development process for complex tasks such as smartphone software development.

Any analyst I've ever talked to who examines the mobile operating system space talks about how difficult it is, how rare a success like Apple's iPhone is in the market and how structured the development process must be for a successful product. We may hate how controlling Apple is with the apps that propel the iPhone, but there is something to be said for having a strong captain to steer the ship.

The only resistance I offer to counter Hiner is that it's early days, man! Google can certainly alter its software development process if it feels it needs to (Who knows what your post will trigger?) Note how Google is shuttering certain software projects that aren't working and closing ranks on projects that matter.

Google arguably wouldn't have dreamed of this a few years ago when it was more freewheeling, but it's definitely become more corporate, more bureaucratic, more controlled. This philosophy, which comes from CEO Eric Schmidt, could well bleed over to Android, forcing tighter software development by the Android team. That could help iron out the bugs.

Hiner also notes another popular argument against Google making smartphone software: that Google doesn't make the hardware along with it!

The result is software that is built for lowest common denominator of devices, and that makes those devices far less intuitive and usable than devices such as the Palm Pre, Apple, iPhone, and the various BlackBerry models where the hardware and software are tightly integrated.

Touche. Hiner 2, Google and fans, 0.

Hiner also takes issues with the notion that Google Apps is enterprise-ready, but he supplies a weaker argument for another post (maybe later this week). For now, I challenge you to refute Hiner's argument about the Android weaknesses.

Can you flip these on their ear and make them strengths, or do you agree with me that Google will tighten up the ship going forward? |

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