Saturday, December 01, 2007

A new penguin in the coffee bar

The mobile devices grapevine has been abuzz with rumors about the Google phone for more than a few months now. And Google’s has shown serious interests in the mobile space over the last one year. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium that includes Google and Motorola, announced the Linux based Android platform for mobile devices a few weeks back. (Motorola is a pioneer in mobile Linux platforms and many of Motorola’s high end phones have Linux under the hood.)

Some critics have dismissed it as just another mobile Linux platform, which is technically true. The difference though is that it is backed by some of the biggest mobile manufactures, telecom operators and content providers. Which is more than one can say about any other mobile platform out there today. If Android does manage to establish itself, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t, we could expect to see some standardization in the mobile platforms space.

The catch though is that the penguin isn’t coming out of the coffee bar any time soon. Like Motorola’s Linux phones, the Android platform is also Linux-Java, which means that third party developers can only develop J2ME applications for Android. That’s right, no native Linux applications if you are a third party developer. It is ‘Open’ only to manufacturers and ODMs. That isn’t as bad as it sounds though. I expect Android to make up for it with a really cool JVM that can give third party apps the same performance, power and usability as any native app. When the first Android phone rolls out next year, the litmus test for the platform is going to be this – Will the lay user be able to distinguish between native Linux applications and third party Java apps designed for Android?