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Betting on Android

Google’s Rich Miner thinks Android will bring more people to the mobile Web.
October 24, 2008

There’s a lot of talk at Mobile Internet World 2008, in Boston, about how great applications for mobile devices die all the time because it’s so hard to get through all the negotiation that stands in the way of real people using the software. A startup often has to work deals with carriers, device manufacturers, and the company that controls a device’s operating system before having any hope that people might one day be able to buy or use any software that the company intends to build.

Rich Miner speaking at eComm2008. Credit: James Duncan Davidson

But while insider woes may not matter to the average person, the goals described by Rich Miner, group manager of mobile platforms for Google and one of the visionaries behind the company’s open Android platform, could vastly change how large numbers of people access the Internet–if Android succeeds. Google is supporting Android for a long-term reason, Miner said. The company’s products are all Web services, and, after having successfully won the hearts and minds of many people using laptops and desktops, one way the company hopes to grow is by convincing more users to access its services through mobile phones. That requires making it possible for them to do so.

Miner described Google’s frustrations building a Maps application for mobile phones. Miner said that after having established itself by building on open-source software in most cases–using the Linux operating system, for example–the company was shocked at the closed, serpentine processes typical of building mobile applications. The company wants to change what is now often an expensive, 18-month process into a matter of days and a $25 application fee. The company has successfully pushed industry giants to talk the same talk. Yesterday at the conference, Verizon Wireless director of open development Anthony Lewis spoke about his company’s efforts to reduce the application approval process to only four weeks.

If these types of efforts succeed, people will see many more applications available through mobile phones. It will be easier to access Web pages and services familiar from the larger Internet, and devices will stop existing as separate animals. And presumably, Google will continue to rake in money through advertisements as more people access the Internet more often.

The vision that Miner described is in line with other things that I’ve heard from Google, particularly in relation to App Engine, its quick-start service designed to help Web application developers get going quickly and easily. The idea is that the easier it is for people to build software for the Web, the more reasons people will have to access the Web. The Web will become an ever-larger part of people’s lives. In the end, this will be good for Google. In service to this strategy, the company has poured money and effort into shaking up the mobile industry.

Since the first phone running Android software came out this Tuesday, with many more to follow, it’s time for users to put Google’s strategy to the test. I’m hoping that Android and other open efforts succeed. Google’s profit motives aside, the mobile industry is clearly choked and stifled by the wrangling and politics associated with getting new software and hardware on the market. Breaking that block will bring better services to people using mobile devices.

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