Applications Galore: Owners of the G1 can download applications such as Locale and ShopSavvy for their phones. Locale (left three images) automatically changes the G1’s settings based on, for instance, the phone’s location, calendar events, and the time of day. ShopSavvy (right image) lets people compare prices of an item by scanning its bar code with the phone’s camera and checking other Web sources.
Software apps will be available through Android Market, an online store that can be accessed via the phone. Android Market is similar to Apple’s iPhone App Store, in that it is the main method of application distribution. But, crucially, Google will play no central role in vetting applications before they are posted. Instead, developers and users can vote and comment to let others know if an application works as promised or if it drains the phone’s battery or makes it crash. According to some experts, this free-for-all approach might lead to quality-control issues in the near future.
“I’m totally cheering Android on,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law at Harvard University. “But from what I can tell, [Android Market] is banking on a ratings/reputations systems and common sense for people to know what’s okay and what’s not.”
Zittrain says the approach might even hinder Android’s progress. “I think [Android Market] may work,” he says, “but if there are a couple of well-publicized incidences of code run amok, that can really scare people away from the platform and into Apple’s waiting arms.”
Zittrain says a novel solution to quality control could come in the form of an application that warns users automatically. “I’d love to see an app that reports each phone’s vital signs. We need some sense of a nervous system for this thing,” he says, so that less tech-savvy people feel comfortable trying out different applications.
Miner is confident that the Android Market approach will pay off. “Look at YouTube,” he says. “Good things bubble to the top, and if the apps are bad, they will float down to the bottom.”
Miner adds that the Android platform has built-in security features to limit access to certain types of data and certain functions on the phone. “With Android, our philosophy was [to] make it easy for people to put apps up, but make it so when an app is on a platform, the user knows what functions it’s going to be accessing.”
The first Android phone may not surpass the iPhone in popularity, but its applications will play a vital role in the future of the platform. Within the next two years, says Zittrain, it should be clear whether or not Google’s gamble has paid off.