Some thoughts
Taking a break from more important activities to respond to a...
So, if you've been reading the news at all -- which I'm sure you have -- you're probably aware that we're experiencing a bit of a seachange. I have been doing other things with my life, so I haven't been doing as much blogging -- but we can change that, because somebody has asked me to comment a bit.

For those of you who have not been reading the news, however, a real quick synopsis: T-Mobile's latest smart phone, rather than using the Windows Mobile platform, uses Google's new Android operating system. Motorola has just announced that they will be debuting a phone also based on Android. It would appear that the open source nature of the project has finally seen it gathering some steam, such that it might even wind up being a real competitor to the iPhone.

As I said a couple weeks ago (all right, all right, actually almost a month) I have actually been following Android for some time -- actually it's closing on a year. When I did not say in that particular blog entry, however, was that has that point I had already pre-ordered the new T-Mobile phone. What do I think?

To be honest, I'm quite impressed. Of course, the hardware only needs to be adequate, because the real strength of the platform is the operating system itself. HTC is not known for making devices that are particularly beautiful, but they are known from making devices are competent. Really, that's all I ask. It comes with assisted GPS, an accelerometer, and a capacitive touchscreen that is the same resolution as that found on the iPhone, although it is slightly smaller.

The phone did not ship with a particularly impressive software suite, although there are a few areas where it really shines. In particular, the e-mail application provided for use with Google's Gmail (a Gmail account is required to use the phone, which really isn't all that much of a hassle) supports a threaded view of e-mails that is as far as I know novel on smart phones but makes a lot of sense nonetheless.

Actually, everywhere the G1 interfaces with or is in some way related to Google's properties it does an amazing job. You don't really have to plug it into your computer to get it to synchronise; for instance, any changes you make to your contacts in Gmail on your computer are, so far as I can tell, instantly propagated to the phone. The Maps utility, although now not as slick as the iPhone's, is also quite usable.

Unfortunately, the problem comes when the phone is required to step outside its Google safe zone. For instance, while the Google Talk application is excellent, the remainder of the IM applications suck very hard (a widely-reported bug has all conversations appearing to come from yourself, which is a problem for people who are not narcissists, or talk to more than one person at once) -- and while the Gmail application is practically perfect, another application provided to handle every other possible e-mail instance is, really, god-awful.

Now, the hypothetical strength of Android is that these gaps can be filled in by other enterprising coders, and although it has only been a few days since the phone's launch some of this has already started to happen. There are also a wealth of other applications, some of which are useful, and some of which are merely frivolous. The level, which uses the phone's accelerometer, is kind of nifty, although I don't know that I would build a house with it. On the other hand, the proximity alarm tied to the phone's GPS would have been quite useful for those times when I used to fall asleep on the train, since I could simply tell it to wake me up when I reached the station.

Of course, I think it is a little too early to make predictions about the operating system one way or the other. One thing that intrepid potential phone buyers should do is to check back with the phone in about six months. This will give the chance for a couple of things to happen. Firstly, application developers will finally be able to charge for their work; secondly, there should be a much larger underground application developing community, that doesn't feel the need for vindication of the Android marketplace. It will also let us see how anal T-Mobile decides to be about the phone, and how much they want to be able to lock it down.

This being said, I am extremely happy with the G1 even as it is now. If I had to assign numeric score, I'd say that it's probably about 80% right now; I would expect to see it at 90 or 95% by Christmas, and in a year's time it could well be as close to the perfect smart phone as you can imagine. If nothing else, we live in interesting times -- who would have thought, 15 years ago, that the same device we would use to make phone calls would peripherally also emulate a Commodore 64?

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