Like the rest of the phone world and half the tech-savvy public in general, I too awaited this past Tuesday's Google/T-Mobile press event with baited breath. Mainly, I wanted to know two things: What would the G1 Android phone cost, both up front and per month, and would the phone look like the one shown in all of those leaked photos or did Google have something sexier up their sleeves.
The news Tuesday was both good and bad. The good is that $179 on contract and $25/month for data (on top of a voice plan) isn't too steep a price of entry. The bad is that the G1 is, in fact, the same Plain Jane handset that was leaked all over the Web during the past few months. While I firmly believe that the Android platform has a great chance to shake up the mobile world in an iPhone-esque manner and further usher in the age of "mobile computing" (as pretentious as that sounds), I also think Google and T-Mobile just let a huge opportunity slip through their fingertips, and the indefatigable nerdy spirit of Google co-founders Larry and Sergey just might be to blame.
Straight up, the G1 is NOT a sexy phone. Not in photos and on video, anyway (I hear it's nicer in person). As responsive as the hardware and software seem to be - and bear in mind I'm reporting on reports here; I eagerly await my chance to play with a G1 hands-on - nobody's going to see a G1 on the street and do a double-take. Well, nobody who's not already a tech geek will, anyway. Where iPhone is sleek and sexy in its black and chrome and the Sidekicks are iconic in their bulky, flashing colored lights kind of way, G1 is pretty boring looking. The swivel-out touchscreen is kind of neat, but that's about it. Sure, the modest "with Google" logo on the back of the device fits into the search giant's less-is-more design philosophy, but have you looked at cell phones lately? Consumers don't want boring, they want colorful, shiny, and customizable. Even BlackBerry's gotten this, as evidenced by their new fleet of colored Curves and Pearls and the black and chrome Bold.
And where's the internal storage - nay native video player - to satiate our currently unquenchable thirst for media on the go? iPhone has 8/16 GB of storage built in and G1 packs a measly 256 MB with a 1 GB microSD card packed in? Meh. Geeks know a 16GB microSDHC card is an easy answer to the storage problem, but mainstream buyers want to rock and roll right out of the box, like the can on an iPhone, Nokia N96, or HTC Touch Diamond.
While I don't know anything firm on this for sure, I'm not going to blame HTC for the G1's lackluster design. The new wave of HTC's - the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, and Touch HD - are sexy pieces of kit, so they clearly know how to make an eye-catching mobile. Word around the industry is that HTC will make whatever their client wants (witness the smooth backs on Sprint's Touch Diamond/Pro vs. the diamond-faceted back on the unbranded versions), so my money's on Google's being at fault for the lame look of G1.
The now infamous "Ex-Google Product Manager Who Criticized Android" had this to say about G1's looks, "In terms of LOOKS, compared to other HTC devices (such as the Touch or Touch HD) and competitive devices, such as the iPhone I believe the look of the G1 Hardware is somewhat?well?dated."
Beauty isn't only skin deep, though, and for as much as G1's design leaves something to be desired so too does its feature set. I understand that this is just the first in what should be a long line of Android-powered phones, and that the platform was built both to accommodate a wide range of hardware designs and to be extendable via open-source software add-ons. But come on! You know the cell phone market is hot and super-competitive, so why not build out your first device with every hot consumer feature?
Stereo Bluetooth on the G1? Not yet. Video capture on the G1? Not yet. Flash on the camera? No. Integrated headphone jack? It's USB!
Let me get this straight: You partner with Amazon to offer 89 cent per track over the air downloads to the device, but you saddle the thing with a USB headphone jack? Are you kidding me? Have you not paid any attention to the mobile phone and electronics marketplace over the past few years? Build in a headphone jack and roll it out with A2DP built-in from the get-go. Consumers want to jack their phones into their headphones, their car stereos, and anything else they use to listen to music. Why not let them?
And no video capture? YouTube is the hottest thing since fried eggs - and Google owns it, for Goodness' sake - and there's no video capture on the first Android phone? Don't tell me about the Open Source community's ability to develop killer apps like video capture; consumers want to see "camcorder mode" on the packaging. They don't care who the open source community is, and frankly they shouldn't have to.
I really just don't get it. As commenter nuggetz on Gizmodo put it:
"You would think that with such an important thing like Android that the developers of the phone would have ensured that it met all our expectations and more importantly be the real iPhone killer but I guess not. I'm convinced that people are pretty stupid. This confirms it."
Beyond that, you have to manually download and install the video player (what?) and from what I've heard and seen on video, the mp3 player isn't exactly top-notch. Engadget actually called it, "B-Team." Ouch.
A little industrial design work, a few lines of code, and a few fifty-nine cent parts and I'd be raving about the G1 instead of picking at its flaws. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be excited about on the heels of Tuesday's launch event. But in my eyes the excitement has a lot more to do with Android getting off the ground than the G1itself.
Now I may well change my tune on some of this when I get a G1 in my mitts. And like I said, I'm very excited about Android's potential to push the mobile industry forward and open up the carriers' death grip on the US cellular marketplace. But so far as coming through on a highly anticipated launch goes, I really think that Google and T-Mo hit a double when a monster home run was well within their sites.
Ah well, there's always the G2 launch to get excited about.