Android and Skyhook… Strike Two?

Google not allowing Skyhook is the latest example of why Google’s attack on Apple’s “draconian” future is the pot calling the kettle black.

The second “strike“, if you will, got me thinking about why these incidents are such a big deal.  Apple’s iPhone OS has always been a closed platform.  When Apple first released the iPhone, it was completely closed… no 3rd party applications at all.  Developers complained, loudly, and eventually got what they wanted when Apple released the iPhone SDK, which turned out to be a huge success.  However, today the iOS is still a closed platform and all apps submitted to Apple’s app store are subject to a screening process.  A lot of developers still aren’t happy with this process.

Google heard the developers as well, and used their complaints against Apple as a marketing tool.  They claimed Android would be a completely open platform.  I think this is subject to interpretation.  At the time, I’m sure a lot of people took it to mean users & developers could do whatever they wanted on their mobile devices with Android.  Looking back on it now, I can see how it would mean differently.  Android itself is an open source mobile operating system.  Anyone can obtain it and do with it as they wish, which includes writing or installing whatever applications they want.

However, there are three primary ingredients in using a mobile device:  the device itself, the device’s operating system, and a communication channel.  Two primary communication channels for mobile devices these days are cellular and wireless.  Cellular data is obviously a much more attractive option to consumers because of it’s availability.  Wireless is obviously faster, but coverage/availability is limited.  Cellular is always “on”.  So obviously, Android wasn’t going to be much without a decent mobile device and cellular carrier.  The mobile device part has been taken care of pretty well,  HTC’s models have been very popular in the Android community.  So what about the carriers?

Between the big 3:  AT&T, Verizon, & Sprint… none will allow a device on their network in which the user has full control to do whatever they want.  Bandwidth is expensive, and cellular networks are still in their infancy regarding data speeds.  While they are a lot faster than they were a decade ago, they leave a lot to be desired.  Many users on the same network will cause problems.  AT&T has been having well known problems dealing with the surge of traffic caused by the iPhone.  Users want the fast, reliable, and abundant connections that cellular networks are coming to provide.  Because of this, Android will never be 100% open & free.  We will always rely on a “draconian” third party, whether it be Google themselves or the cellular carriers, to provide us with a product that will give us the “always on” experience.

I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose between the software company or the cellular carrier calling the shots, I’d pick the software company.  It’s becoming more obvious (or speculative) why Apple chose AT&T alone and no other carrier to host the iPhone.  They most likely wanted someone who would allow them to call the shots over what could or couldn’t be done.  Before the iPhone was released, AT&T wasn’t the consumer’s carrier of choice.  They’d more likely go with Verizon, Sprint, or one of the smaller carriers local to an area.  The primary reason being, to my recollection, fewer dropped calls and better customer service.  The big 3 almost always shared the same phones, so consumers had the luxury of chosing.  So why did Apple chose only AT&T?  I don’t think anyone truly knows, but it’s fun to speculate.  More than likely, they both needed each other.  Apple needed a carrier with lots of potential that would give them the control over the device they wanted.  In return, AT&T would get a much needed boost in sales.  It is likely Apple also went to at least Verizon (and possibly Sprint), with the same offering.  I think Verizon was the number one carrier pre-iPhone, so they weren’t as desperate for the boost in sales.  Apple likely approached them with their terms, and Verizon likely (and foolishly) thought Apple needed them more than they needed Apple.  I’m sure Verizon’s CEO is still kicking himself for that one.  Rumor has it that the iPhone will be coming to Verizon January 2011, though I’d bet you that if it happens, it will be on Apple’s original terms… not Verizon’s.

Because of these three things required (device, os, & carrier), no mobile platform will ever be truly open from the consumer’s standpoint.  Even if Google themselves rolled out their own cellular network, you can bet they would still practice some kind of control over what could & couldn’t be done.  Their reasons are seemingly typical of any large governing body:  ”It’s what’s best for users as a whole”.  The users who are interested in this kind of news are most likely the ones that don’t like these governing bodies determining what’s best for them, because most likely these users are well capable of troubleshooting their own problems and really just need that connection they’re happy to pay for.  Unfortunately, these governing bodies don’t see it that way.  To them, you’re no different than your grandpa who just uses his cutting edge device to check the weather every morning.  So, Android is open, as long as you’re willing to provide the device and network yourself.  Only then can you do whatever you want.