Lessons from Google's Nexus One woes

Android is a compelling OS, but it's not clear Google knows what to do with it

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Lesson 3: Google is deaf to its developers
Also seething as a result of the Nexus One are Android developers, angry that there was no SDK for the new Android 2.1 OS the Nexus One uses (the SDK was finally released a week later). Android developers still haven't forgotten Google's foot-dragging on the original Android SDK, and they're frustrated by the several versions of the Android OS in use by various handsets, which makes development unnecessarily complicated. A scheme by Motorola to have its own semi-proprietary SDK doesn't help matters, either. Plus, Android developers are mad about how the Android Market app store works, though Google has made changes to calm some of those waters.

Developers are often an unhappy bunch, but they're rightfully upset that a new Android OS version is available that they can't test their apps against, much less take advantage of. It would have been fine for Google to keep Android 2.1 under wraps until the Nexus One announcement, making the SDK available the same day. After all, Apple does that routinely, allowing a favored few early access, but once the cat is out of the bag, so is the updated SDK. But to have a new OS on the market and not make it accessible -- that's just stupid.

At the very least, Google could have said the SDK would be available soon, rather than saying nothing. But I bet the silence was because no one at Google planned on releasing the updated SDK in the first place. Google's own announcement said, "Android 2.1 does not add significant user features." Which is odd, given that Google talked up the Android 2.1 OS a week earlier in its Nexus One announcement, extolling its enhanced user customization and, more important, its ability to voice-enable text fields in apps. But even if it was a minor upgrade, developers should still have access to the current OS' SDK.

The message to developers -- reinforced by the handling of the Nexus One -- is that they don't matter. That's dangerous. Apple has annoyed many iPhone developers, creating an opportunity for a platform like Android to benefit from those eager if prickly developers. With Google acting worse to its developers than Apple, whose iPhone already has an amazing number of apps available, it's putting the Android platform in danger.

The takeaway: Google isn't thinking through the ecosystem issues of offering a platform it wants others to help drive. Instead, it's driving away allies.

Can Google get it?
A few weeks ago, I suggested that Google should buy a struggling carrier like Sprint or T-Mobile and use its smarts to redefine the mobile market in a positive way, coupling its software know-how with a complete package of network and devices.

I still think it's the right idea. But I'm not sure Google is the right company. Its algorithmic culture may be too distant from customers and developers -- that is, people -- to compete for the long term with an Apple or even Microsoft in a consumer market. Google may be too intellectually rigid and emotionally hands-off to "get it." Or maybe it's often-marketed persona of being a different kind of company focused on doing good is just marketing hooey.

Either way, it's acting like a traditional carrier: offering poor service, demanding high return fees, providing uneven 3G quality, delivering tone-deaf developer relations, and shipping run-of-the-mill phones.

Maybe Apple, not Google, should buy Sprint or T-Mobile. But then, we'd all be decrying how "resistance is futile" as Apple becomes the Borg of mobile. I like Apple's products and culture of useful innovation, but I'm not sure I want the company to be that powerful. However, I am sure I don't want Google to be.

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This article, "Lessons from Google's Nexus One woes," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments on mobile computing and Google Android at InfoWorld.com.

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