Android and iPhone and Generativity


First phone with Google Android software expected this year.

Some skepticism is aired:

This will be the first of many Android phones, and it won't have the benefit of being designed soup-to-nuts by one detail-obsessed company. It will take an army of Android phones across many carriers and countries to start to seriously challenge the iPhone.

And frankly, it is difficult to find mobile software startups excited about making Android apps at this point. This is a platform war. If there are no compelling apps for Android, nobody will buy the phones. All of that could change the instant that an Android phone is on the market, but my sense is that most developers are taking a wait-and-see approach.

I asked Internet paterfamilias and Google evangelist Vint Cerf what kind of phone he uses, and we talked a bit about Android and Jonathan Zittrain's concept of "generative" platforms that encourage development and innovation; Zittrain is worried about iPhone lock-in.


At the moment I'm using a Rim Blackberry. I'm anticipating the use of an iPhone or something like it, what I'm eager for a telephone that runs the new Android operating system, because of the openness of the design.

That's a place where Google has a lot of interest, in the mobile platform as tool for implementing new applications. The freedom to download and execute new applications is a very attractive thing for us and others. It's the evolving flexibility of mobile platforms that's so critical.

Jonathan [Zittrain] and I don't exactly agree on everything, but I resonate with what he's trying to say.

People develop applications and technologies, and they like very much to distinguish themselves from their competitors, and that often leads to incompatibilities. On the other hand, it does open people's eyes up to potential.

So one can understand some of the decision-making that went on at Apple when preparing the iPhone. There's an interesting balance here. A closed device has the benefit that you can't make changes to it that will cause it not work anymore. So the stability and reliability of these devices is in part dependent on closing the device up, so that people can't just download random stuff.

The counterpoint is that almost every information technology I can think of, as it becomes more useful and competitors arise, leads to demands for users that interoperability is paramount. Interoperability generally translates into standards, so what happens is that things which are unique and special eventually become the turning points around which people demand interoperability. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

In the case of the Internet, the TCP/IP protocols turned out to be demanded by the buyers of the new equipment, so that they wouldn't be locked into any particular manufacturer. I wish that were true in all cases. Look at email, ultimately email was made to interwork, in part because everyone got connected to the Internet. So standardization has this wonderful benefit of leading to interoperability, which is attractive, and it also creates a platform on top of which new innovations can happen. But there's this funny tension between differentiation and interworking that repeats itself over and over again as time goes on.

I'll publish bits of my long telephone interview with Cerf here over the next few weeks -- they'll be tagged with his name -- and at some point a version of the whole thing will appear online; an edited version will be in an upcoming print edition of CIOI.


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