Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Cloud Phone Has Landed

I'm 30 days post-iPhone now.  I still have my iPad and MacBookAir, but I have long wanted to explore the very hackable world of Android.  And after 30 days I can honestly say: it's not nearly as good as the iPhone.  Nothing in the world comes close.

Look Ma, No Wires.  Photo from Flickr, Creative Commons License (Link to Author)

But it is fun.  If you like hacking (as I do, in the classic sense of an amateur making a complete mess of something), Android phones are fun and friendly.  You can do a lot with them and since I bought a Nexus S and then rooted it, I have the most open and hacker-friendly device on the market.

Now, 30 days later, I have a few key take-aways from my experience.  The most notable is that I never plug my phone into my PC.  There's no physical sync going on at all.  I use WiFi to transfer files and sync music and it all happens without any involvement from myself.  All mail, applications, and all other data flows between the phone and the cloud with no desktop client.

Unlike my iPhone and iPad which must be periodically tethered to a MacBook, no PC is really required at all to have full functionality for an Android phone.  This doesn't mean much right now, but it has big implications in the future for both enterprises and consumers.

For enterprises, the cloud-basis means that configuration and integration can be fully automated remotely.  For consumers, this means that lost phones are easily replaced.  In emerging markets, this could be a bigger deal, as the idea that you have both a phone and a PC is something that is only true in mature industrial economies.

Several times I've had to wipe clean my phone (rooting gone wrong, upgrades gone wrong, stupid hacking tricks gone wrong) and each time, re-assembling my data has proven quite easy.  Google's market-place does a very good job (but not quite complete) of remembering your settings and automatically downloading your applications when you sign-in again on a wiped phone.

I don't see any sign of competitive advantage one way or another here for Google.  Apple can easily close these gaps and, when they do it, it's likely to be done with an elegance and simplicity that exceeds what's available today on Android.  I'd also expect Google's own capabilities in this area to keep getting better.

One group of companies where it does have implications are the makers of Android handsets.  Remote backup services are among the most important features companies like HTC and Motorola have built into their proprietary extensions to Android.  As Google expands this functionality, it will make it harder for hardware makers to differentiate their products.

As for applications, I have been able to replicate all the same ones I relied upon with the iPhone on my Android phone.  I have not noticed any significant decline in quality either - though I have not seen anything in the gaming category at the standard of the Rage HD game for the iPhone and iPad.  Overall, though, the transition to Android has gone smoothly and entirely without the need for a PC.

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