There is something ironic in how, while Apple’s trademark tagline is “think different,” the ones who really are thinking different when it comes to phones (and a lot of other stuff – don’t they have a search engine?) is Google. Yes, yes, Apple’s iPhone is an absolutely brilliant work of function meeting form, and had it not been for the fact that Google’s (non-) phone has been on the horizon ever since the iPhone was released, I would probably have picked one up. But the fact of the matter is that, design brilliance notwithstanding, the iPhone is still just a better mouse trap. (Ok, a cooler, hipper, insanely great mouse trap.) Worse, just like all the other phones out there, it’s a locked down, proprietary, dont-even-think-about-installing-whatever-you-want mouse trap. And that is where Google, or Andy Rubin, who is heading up the GPhone effort, is rethinking the fundamental phone paradigm, as Andy Rubin explains in an article on the Gphone in the New York Times:
We are not building a GPhone; we are enabling 1,000 people to build a GPhone.
In some ways, all Rubin is doing is carrying over a fundamental idea behind Web 2.0 into the mobile domain: openness, specifically open-sourcing, as fuel for innovation. While Nokia and Blackberry and Motorola (and now Apple) are butting heads, reinventing one another’s wheels (how’s that for some seriously mixed metaphors), Google is taking the same approach to phones as they have taken to the web, which, last time I checked, seemed to have worked out pretty well. In other words, they are making all their mobile software freely available to several major manufacturers by way of the Open Handset Alliance, which currently has 30 some major phone manufacturers as members.
For me, what is most attractive about this model is that, if I so wish, I’ll be able to install software such as Skype, on the phone. In other words, I’ll be able to install free-calling software where it belongs, on a phone, not on my laptop (which was never designed to be a phone.) The reason Google has no problem with this is because their income model is not about charging me for my calls, it’s about ad revenue, which I have no problem with. Of course, someone who will likely have a definite problem with that is AT&T and Verizon, which explains why they so far have taken the Luddite stance (or should I say deer-caught-in-the-google-headlights stance?) of not wanting to join this effort.
Or maybe what they’re really scared of are the GPhone’s team of (very young) designers ;)
Is there a better way to think outside the box (er, phone?) than to ask a bunch of kids what a magic phone would be able to do?