Thursday, February 26, 2009

Android / T-Mobile G1 First Impressions

After 2+ years as a more-or-less-satisfied BlackBerry user, I just made the switch to the G1, the first (and currently the only) production handset running Google's Android OS. As regular readers know I have high expectations for the Android platform, but felt like I needed to get closer to the OS and developer ecosystem to really understand what was going on.

Despite a terrible onboarding experience from T-Mobile (the title of a forum post I found on the subject: "Steve Jobs is laughing his ass off right now", pretty much nailed it), I'm otherwise delighted with the device / OS combination. A few quick thoughts in no particular order below:
  1. Moore's Law is Fully in Effect: Despite being in the software business I'm not a big gagdet guy, but each time I pick up a new device I'm reminded of the fact that the rate of technology change contines to accelerate. My BlackBerry 8700 was a nice piece of gear when I bought it, but both the hardware and software capabilities of the G1 (as with the iPhone) are astounding by comparison.

  2. Power Supplies are the Mobile Bottleneck: While device and connectivity leap ahead, mobile device batteries aren't keeping pace. My BlackBerry could run for 2-3 days on a single charge, but I'm lucky to get through a full day on the G1. The mobile promise will continue to be dragged down by battery life until a power supply breakthrough comes along.

  3. Apps are Fun But... : With over 500 million iPhone app downloads (and counting), smartphone users clearly love customizing their devices. Indeed, user-customized smartphones are now totems of indentity much like cars have always been. But (as this Pinch Media study suggests), the actual use of these apps is very low. Three related questions that come to mind are:
  • Q: What happens to the mobile app market and developer ecosystem if / when the novelty of customizing a new phone wears off?

  • Q: For how long will network conectivity and latency issues make mobile client apps (as opposed to purely browser-based ones) a viable path for software innovation?

  • Q: Will the anticipated "mobile platform wars" among Apple, Google, Palm, BlackBerry and Nokia extend the runway for the mobile app opportunity, or simply ensure the continued dominance of the current leader, Apple?
My gut tells me we're still in the first innings of the mobile applications opportunity - these new devices are just too fun and easy to customize for the demand curve to flatten out anytime soon. But as an investor with a strong preference for "picks-and-shovels" businesses vs. "hits-driven" ones, I'm still looking for a way to profitably surf that demand. If you've got suggestions, please send them my way...

[Update: One thing I took for granted with the G1 but - given my BlackBerry experience - I'm surprised I didn't highlight the fact that the Google onboarding experience with Android was flawless. All I had to do was enter my credentials once and my Gmail, Contacts and Calendar were all immediately loaded and ready to go on the phone. I spent countless hours fighting my BlackBerry to kludge together a solution to this problem and it was a total delight to have it all happen automagically.]