It strikes me that the recent set of comments made to my post on “Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” have wider applicability to the networked development environment.

To summarise some of the issues which were highlighted in the original Guardian review which I cited and have been expanded on in John Naughton’s Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway” article published in Sunday’s Observer (28 September 2008):

The Wow factor: Yes, the iPhone clearly wins with its ‘wow’ factor, As the Guardian review admitted the Android phone lacks the “wow factor of the Apple device“.

The usability: The iPhone, like many Apple devices, also has its strengths in its ease-of-use. As Paul Walk has commented “I want a device which ‘just works’“.

The openness of the application environment: As John Naugton describes in his Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway article, a strength of the Android device there’s “a row brewing inside Apple’s cosily walled garden“. It seems that “developers are beginning to resent what they see as the company’s dictatorial attitude”. As one commentator puts it: ‘Trying to discern ahead of time [and of development expenditures] what Apple will or won’t accept has become close to impossible, not only because Apple isn’t talking about it, but also because it won’t let anyone else talk about it. All apps store dealings with developers are covered by a non-disclosure agreement“‘.

The potential for power users: Now the geeks will argue that the iPhone’s walled-garden is a non-issue as it’s possible to ‘jail-break’ the device to allow the installation of applications which may not be available via the Apple store. However this approach is clearly not one which the majority of users would be happy with, and conflicts with the need for a device which ‘just works’.

The hardware environment: The iPhone, like Macintosh hardware, is only manufactured by Apple. The Andoid phone, in comparison, can be made by any manufacturer. This competition should help to bring down prices, which will be beneficial to the consumer (as Stuart Smith pointed out to make use of a ‘free’ iPhone “you are still looking about £810 over 18 months“). So much for social inclusion and widening participation!

Now as Mike Ellis argues “most users couldn’t give a stuff about the closed nature of their devices, applications OR data. Facebook, iPods, iPhone, any gaming console – the list goes on. These all seem to be pretty popular, however much us IT types continue to shout about the dangers of closedness.” And I think he’s right – the IT development community tends to focus on the backend development processes and policies which are not necessarily of great concern to the majority of users. But even if we accept John Naughton’s premise that ‘Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway’ we need to emphasise the importance of word ‘could‘. It was not so long ago when people argued that Google’s Open Social widget environment would blow away the closed development environment provided by Facebook. But that, I would argue, hasn’t happened (and, indeed, Scott Wilson wrote a blog post back in November 2007 in which he described why he was singularly unimpressed by Open Social).  Let’s be honest and recognise that both the iPhone and Facebook are very popular with large numbers of users – and let’s acknowledge that the development community can learn from the popularity of these closed environments.

And let’s remember the point Mike Ellis made when he said “I find it sad when developers seem to think that any real users actually *care* about what’s under the hood 😉“.   But why do I think that Mike isn’t just referring to the mobile phone debate when he makes this point?