Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On the Eve of the Nexus

The Google Nexus One is upon us, like the stress of Christmas and New Years, the hoopla will come and go quickly enough. Also like the Holiday Season it's a time of relection as well as looking forward.

There is really nothing quite like the appearance of the Apple iPhone almost four short years ago in terms of the it profound implications it has had on the mobile market and the role of the carriers in our technological lives. A few aspects of the Nexus recall that time however. Let's start with reviewing what we know.

It's manufactured by HTC and resembles a larger Hero or Droid Eris, with the characteristic Android trackball and four fixed function silkscreened touch-sensitive keys. It has a screen exceeding WVGA resolution and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8x50 system on a chip. In the United States it's destined for T-Mobile whose improving 3G network capacity will be put to the test. It has a 1Ghz clocked Cortex-A8 core nestled in the system on a chip, making it the fastest Android device on the market with an ARM cpu. Even still, it's ATI second generation mobile graphics processor is outclassed by the PowerVR in the Droid/Milestone, the same core used in the Palm Pre and iPhone 3gs. Also, we have on some authority knowledge that it (or an unanounced follow on) will allow complete custom software replacements to be installed without complicated work-arounds through an OEM mode in it's bootloader.

This brings us to what we don't know, as Google piles service upon service, some will see glory and other fade anonymously back into 404, and product upon product, at the very least Android and the Chrome OS so far, into the already cloudy (ugh) picture that is the mobile OS and web.

Is it the Wave Phone yet?

Yes, Google Wave is revolutionary. No, you shouldn't care yet. It's only when you take a look at the whole picture that you see the significance and the promise of a large-screened keyboardless device. It's not exactly for voice or for text, so it must be about multimedia, maybe short bits of text with pictures shot or chosen or pulled from an equiped camera over WiFi, maybe maps or other widgets so you can tell someone where to go or how to get there. Maybe you just want to keep an eye on what you desktop-using collegues are doing. Wave will do all of this and even more, but not before the whole of Google Docs, the old Jotspot wiki, new collaberation features for attached documents, project, Gantt charts, spreadsheets and forms all get thrown in the mix. Maybe then it won't matter whether you are a gmail user who keeps that constantly updating Inbox open in your Chrome of Firefox browser, because Waves will be part of the conversation. Or you use a work email account with Google Apps because there too Wave will fill in the gaps you (and Microsoft) thought only SharePoint could. In both cases your Wave Phone will get every push, every update, see and play every video and voice recording, and let you add your thoughts or annotations from the bedside stand before drifting off in a multimedia story book on the same device. (Was that an Apple tablet crying?)

But until then there's the Nexus, whose first operating system is Android 2.1 with a new 3D navigation experience grafted on the existing and familiar Android interface with it's welcoming status bar icons. (Please see any of the many reviews, this is not first hand knowledge.) First operating system? Well, I'm a dreamer. Android has it's place and it's purpose which I feel is to provide an Apps environment somewhat like the iPhone does. Beyond this it exists to showcase Google services and the convenience a synced email and contacts backup provides, assumming your email provider is Google and you have a Google Experience Android phone. But is it the most effective at this task? I would argue no, though it's an improvement over other platforms for which Google has provided software, such as BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, in how the applications are delivered (mostly in the box) and how integrated they feel (it's the 'Google Experience' for a reason). Even still, many central services are relegated to an icon in a field of other icons, a democratization of sorts, but no better than on iPhone and other devices. Some things which we might assume would at the very epicenter of the experience, like sharing a game with friends on Google Talk, are nowhere to be found. Each developer is on their own in that endeavor. And the Market? By all accounts lacking, fragmented and not quite to the level of the iPhone Apps Store. There is a lot of potential in Android, it's ability to run the same applications on multiple types could prove useful, it also has a carefully designed user interface and layout system that can allow creating powerful applications for specific purposes with little effort.

What may be far more important is the changing landscape into which this new entry is being introduced. The initial offered iPhone plans predated the offering of unlimited voice plans by the major U.S. carriers outside of limited local offerings by primarily Sprint. They also predated most affordable data offerings for smartphones and other powerful mobile devices. The initial iPhone plans did provide some clarity into the mobile world, removing the concept of an iPhone user being unable to use their new device to it's potential for fear of additional data charges. The new Nexus plans appear to do the same thing, while considerably less generous than some other voice options, they do ensure the availability of data service when a Nexus device is activated on a contract with T-Mobile, at least according to the previously known details. The options when a Nexus device are purchased unlocked are to my knowledge not yet known.

Other Things

After a year of suspended signups, the GrandCentral service was relaunched as Google Voice with an initially limited number of invitations available to new users. Shorter afterward the Gizmo5 service and company were purchased in deal disclosed by both that company's website and Google themselves. The reason and future of the service is mostly unknown, signup for gizmo5, the gizmo project, and other related services which was previously widely available has ceased for the time being. This may portend the voice over internet protocol company being part of a future Google offering or it may not. This alone challenges the status quo of unlimited data and metered voice, as gizmo5 has in the past provided calling to numbers nationally at very low cost or even free, depending on how the calls is made. At the same time, Google Voice offers free call connection where either number can be any phone nationwide, and GOOG411 connects callers to businesses at no charge at the same time you phone company, fixed or cellular, may charge once for the directory listing and again for the connection. We can be pretty sure that Google is not offering free calls with your data plan, it's serious about keeping it's partners happy and upholding aggreements. This makes it difficult to see what exactly may be offered then, nothing is quite as obvious as the impossible.

I'm offering some thoughts and would like you to join in the conversation. Tell me what you like or dislike about Android, Chrome OS or your own device, and what you would like to see in a dream device.

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