Google kicked off the world’s biggest mobile phone show on Monday by predicting that the latest industry plan to create an open application platform could be doomed to failure.
The warning came on a busy morning in Barcelona, where Intel and Nokia announced a new alliance and several manufacturers showed off their latest handsets.
Andy Rubin, Google’s vice president of engineering, said he was sceptical about the potential success of the mobile phone operators in creating their own application platform. Rubin, who is the man behind the search engine’s Android mobile phone software, also insisted that Google will continue to produce its own-branded mobile phones, despite what analysts have described as the muted success of its first device, the Nexus One.
Earlier today, two dozen mobile phone companies -- including Vodafone and O2 -- joined forces to try to get themselves back in the market for providing customers with so-called “apps”, programs that consumers can download onto their phones. At present the market is dominated by Apple, with iPhone users having downloaded more than 3bn apps from its store, while Android’s Marketplace and BlackBerry’s own apps store are gaining traction.
Speaking to the Guardian at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, however, Rubin said he does not see a great future for the operators’ Wholesale Applications Community (WAC).
“There is always a dream that you could write [a program] once and [have it] run anywhere and history has proven that that dream has not been fully realised and I am sceptical that it ever will be,” he said.
“I just hope that the people who are managing that [WAC] really understand technology deep enough to fulfil that promise because it’s an awfully big promise.
“On the Android side what we have realised is that app stores are somewhat aligned with a platform,” such as Android or Apple’s operating system or BlackBerry, he explained, rather than an individual operator.
But one of the criticisms levelled at the industry by analysts at Mobile World Congress is that there are just too many competing “platforms”. As well as Apple, Android and RIM’s BlackBerry platforms, several handset manufacturers such as Samsung and Nokia have opened their own application stores providing apps to consumers.
At the Mobile World Congress, Nokia itself announced yet another platform. It is merging its Maemo platform, which is used in the N900 smartphone, with Intel’s Moblin, which is an open source software project, to create MeeGo. Immediately dubbed MeeToo by some analysts, MeeGo will create an open source software platform which Nokia reckons will be used in a new generation of wireless devices. Devices are due out this year and both companies want to attract a wide range of operators, handset manufacturers and software developers.
“This is not a closed club,” said Kai Oistamo, Nokia’s head of devices. “We are inviting everyone into this.
“MeeGo will create a new strong single platform that will drive the future of mobile computing,” he added. “You should look at the N900 and where that trajectory is going.” The announcement of MeeGo, however, immediately raised questions about the future of Symbian, the operating system which Nokia took over a few years ago and then made “open source” -- free to anyone who wants to use it -- in order to see-off the threat of Android, which is also open source and has already been installed in 27 different handsets from a range of manufacturers.
But Oistamo stressed: “This is very consistent with Nokia’s software strategy. Symbian is the perfect environment for democratising the smartphone, what MeeGo allows is the future of mobile computing ... well beyond what can be done with smartphones today.” But back at Google, Rubin is unconvinced that all the different platforms being produced will make it.
“Are there too many platforms? The answer is yes there are too many platforms... what we are seeing with RIM and iPhone and Android is the app stores are aligning with the platform and that enables the developers to focus on one sort of technology,” he said.
He stressed, however that this does not mean that operators are shut out. “We are here to participate in the ecosystem. If we were here to take all the slices of the pie it would not make any sense, it’s not our business model: advertising is our business model. So we are happy to allow the operators and the [equipment manufacturers] and the third-party developers to participate.” Google raised eyebrows earlier this year by developing its own-branded Android handset, the Nexus One, which it sold only through its own website. Sales, however, have been sluggish, according to industry analysts.
“Nexus One is the first in a series,” stressed Rubin. “There will be a Nexus Two and a Nexus Three but the real innovation here is the distribution of cellphones on a web store.” He said Google’s deal with handset manufacturer HTC, which developed the Nexus One, is not exclusive so the new phones could be produced by any manufacturer. Analysts reckon Google has sold about 80,000 Nexus One handsets since it was launched in the US last month. That compares with the 600,000 iPhones that were shipped in its first month and more than half a million Motorola Droid devices, which also uses Android.
Rubin, however, said the real importance of the Nexus One was in creating a new way of selling cellphones. Google has been able to use the launch to create the technology which means that “when Nexus Two comes out we will just put it on the website and it will instantly go worldwide to all the operators that are hooked into our system”.
Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010