Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Android for carriers

The conventional wisdom is that with Android you get Google. Therefore, if you are a mobile operator and you are looking at Android, you must take it all. The G1 comes with Google, you need to put in a Gmail login to turn it on. Android is Google. As a mobile operator, you must kill any hope to control your users and give them all to Google.

Well, that is not true. Android and Google look intertwined but it is a lot easier to take them apart than most people think. Actually, it is quite easy...

First, the OS is totally available and it is based on the Apache license. If you take that code and run away, you do not have to return anything back to the community. Not my preferred license, but... that's what Google chose. Good for them I guess.

Second, the Google part in the OS is really the Gmail client and the sync. Nothing else. Gmail is a visible app, and easy to remove (if you really want to). The sync is a bit deeper, but again, fairly easy to unplug. You just have to put something else there: email and PIM sync (guess who can provide you with that? ;-)

It is very easy, at least, for a company who has decided to package Android as an OS and sell it to mobile operators. A Red Hat of mobile. I am expecting a bunch of them to appear and grow fast. I met one yesterday...

What do you get if you are a mobile operator? A full phone, you can brand. Totally brand. From the HW to the SW, including the look and the applications on it. And you can put together a service to provide a MobileMe-like solution for your users. The full package, without Google.

So why not LIMO or any other Linux variation? Where is the difference? Why Android?

Well, it is the applications. How many apps are out there for Android? Plenty. I mean, a lot... Check the Android Market. It is unbelievable. Developers drive applications. And they go where there are deployments. Deployments go where there are applications and developers. It is a positive loop.

Are there any LIMO apps? Nope... Will developers build for it? It depends, let's see if there are deployments. No deployments? No apps. No apps? No chance to make it a success... Google broke the cycle pushing apps even before the first phone came out. Their brand did the trick, now it is a snowball effect. Not for LIMO (yet).

If you are a mobile operator, do not look far. Take Android, strip out Google (or leave it somewhere, but not make it a Google phone and kill your brand) and have your own branded phone with a branded experience on the service side. Allow people to download their applications and customize their experience.

You need a couple of companies to make it happen (do not do it yourself, that is not your business...) and you have a BIG winner.