My Google phone hangup

Attention CIOs and IT execs responsible for mobile applications: Google is coming to save you!

That's right: Google has announced a consortium of companies to develop an "open" mobile device platform, designed to unleash the creativity and innovation heretofore stifled by the major big, bad wireless carriers.

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This news should be like ringtones to your ears – except that Google is so wrong on this one, so wrong.

Google thinks that creating a developer-friendly platform for mobile applications and unshackling mobile devices from the micromanagers at AT&T and Verizon Wireless will deliver huge benefits to end-users, just as Internet protocols and standards did for PC users.

Get ready to duck and cover; it could get really ugly if Google makes this work. Your users will be calling you 24/7: "My cell phone crashed again!"

Here's a quiz: What do Research in Motion, Garmin, and Apple have in common? Answer: All three figured out that by controlling every aspect of a mobile device experience, from hardware to OS to apps, they could create a well-integrated, reliable, and user-friendly encounter that would win huge "share of pocket."

Apparently Google hasn't heard of these companies or just hasn't realized that simpler is better and that nobody wants a repeat of 20 years of the evolution of the PC software stack. Nobody wants the PC's messy, crashing world filled with nagware, malware, and adware on their cell phone. All right, maybe some people do, but not me.

Not to get ideological on you, but PCs and laptops were all about cost, power, and peripherals. Mobile devices are all about form factor, design, and functionality per cubic centimeter. With the former, you want as many players as possible competing to increase choice and lower costs, and redundancy is no problem. With the latter, you want a dictator like Steve Jobs telling the engineers to make it smaller, brighter, easier to use, more ergonomic, and less power hungry. The design challenges of mobility are at the software/hardware membrane.

Google's right about trying to break the telco stranglehold and opening access to their networks, but it could've done that just by buying one of the big carriers (the company can afford it) or bidding on wireless spectrum (which it may do anyway). The problems here are at the transport layer, not the presentation layer. Moreover, we don't need new standards for mobile devices – we can port most of the standards we need from the Web, from identity to Web services to content syndication to you name it.

Google may be right about next-generation mobile services based on location, presence, video, social networking, whatever. But those will be driven by consumers and become another big headache for your support guys.

Google didn't give the people what they wanted – a gPhone would turn out to be a true iPhone competitor, maybe running on Verizon Wireless, something simple and powerful, with some well-integrated (and fast) Web-based apps and services.

But instead, what we got was an idealistic press release and a vision of a messy cornucopia of software (and ads) competing for pixels on everyone's mobile screen. I think I'll stick with my current mobile setup for now.

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