SAN JOSE, Calif. There's no doubt the first phone to use the Google Android mobile software is open in new and important ways. But the T-Mobile G1 handset also reminds me of how Microsoft bundled its applications and browser with Windows to leverage its dominance in one market to get a leg up in another one.
My hope is that companies making Android-based phones for 2009 and beyond take another big step in the direction of implementing this platform as something truly open.
As I said in a first look at the device, the Gphone does a great job of giving free and open access to the full Web, rather than some carrier's narrow walled garden of a network. The software is also available as open source code, and third party developers can get their applications on to the phone without going through carriers.
Those are three excellent milestones in mobile openness that are igniting fires of innovation in cellular networks worldwide.
"This whole concept of openness is resonating through the industry and carriers are adopting it as part of their marketing," said Rich Miner, a founder of the startup Android that is now part of Google.
Miner notes that some carriers such as Verizon actually employ a vice president of open systems. But open is a loaded term, he said.
Indeed, my experience with the G1 handset suggested this particular implementation, design by Taiwan's HTC with assistance from Google, is in some significant ways less than fully open.
Right from the start, I was asked to supply Google account information as the easiest way to set up the handset. Because I use Blogger, it was convenient to comply.
I quickly got to the home screen to find a search bar and a link to maps both of which take you exclusively to Google's services. A touch of another menu button takes you to Google's Gmail service. However, Microsoft's widely used Exchange Mail client is not supported in the device.
"Google is consumer focused so we support things like POP and Gmail," said Miner. "I know there are a number of third parties working on VPNs and Exchange integration" for business email users, he said.
The concept for "this particular phone is it would be a best-in-class Google experience," he added. "This will be the first of hopefully hundreds of phones [and] Android is completely open."