The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Unlocked Android Phones Already Available From Google

First Published on Technorati: December 15, 2009 at 6:33 am

Reuters on Monday quoted an unnamed source that confirmed plans for Google to sell both a locked and unlocked version of the leaked Nexus One device, with the locked version sold to T-Mobile US customers. T-Mobile official sources would not confirm the plan; however, former employees at the company reminded us that today unlocked versions of the T-Mobile G1 and T-Mobile MyTouch are sold through the official Android Developer website.

The site reminds developers that end user devices available through consumer retail outlets “are not designed to allow system image updates by the user,” the site says. It goes on to say, “If you are interested in manually updating the device with custom system images, then you'll need a developer device such as the Android Dev Phone 1.” Android Dev Phone 1 is unique finish of the T-Mobile G1, while Android Dev Phone 2 a variation of the HTC Magic, also known as the T-Mobile MyTouch.
From Google's Official Android Developer Site
In addition to providing developers with phones to run custom builds of the Android software, Google must also provide reference hardware for developers in markets where T-Mobile US does not provide service. Unlocked phones would give those Google employees in countries like China or India the opportunity to build solutions concurrently with new major OS release builds.

In addition, Google has an enterprise agreement with AT&T to offer employee discount plans, like many US corporations do.  AT&T has built a strong base of customers through enterprise sales, which are often designed to enable payroll deductions for wireless service and provide group purchasing power for employees.

Google maintains the Nexus One devices were handed out to employees to encourage “dogfooding”, or internal use of the pre-release product by employees to de-bug and accelerate innovation. However, for a significant number of employees to engage in that activity, the phones needed to be unlocked so their AT&T SIM would provide them a live service experience. Unlocking the device could signal a broader need for testers against a new major OS release, or significant changes to the hardware that triggered bugs across existing applications.

The unlocked G1 devices sold through the Android Developer site did not seem to put a dent into demand for the T-Mobile product, which reached its million-unit mark in Q2 of this year. For Google to drive a substantial number of unlocked units into the market, they will need a reseller partner or retailer who can manage fulfillment, returns, insurance and warranty of the hardware, something that has taken Apple years to develop for themselves. 

Related story: "Google Phone May Be Much Ado About Nothing"



Can An Open OS Ever Really Be Mainstream?

Nexus One via TwitpicThe recent announcement that Google plans to deliver an unlocked mobile phone into the market sometime next year has been an encouraging sign for fans of the open operating system that finally wireless carriers won't be able to control what phones their service customers can use. Many feel as the Wall Street Journal technology columnist, Walt Mossberg does that carriers have been acting like "soviet ministries" as they intermediate between the consumer and the providers of the handsets they use to connect to the carrier networks.

Having launched the T-Mobile G1 as an executive with the company, I have a great affinity for the open Android platform. I appreciate that the Android marketplace enables garage developers to create magic as moonlighting inventors, and brings innovation to the masses through the power of the open programming interfaces and developer tools Google provides online.  But I also saw first hand the customers who, after downloading 10 random apps, wondered why their battery life halved or the screen seemed no longer responsive.

The open developer model has given anyone who can code access to consumers without an accompanying process to ensure they put quality product on the shelves, and as a result more developers step in and create solutions like Astro, an Android task manager to help manage processes, tasks and files that may impact your Android device's performance. Much like on my Windows PC, I find I am delighted to have such a tool and aggravated when I have to use it. It seems I rarely find myself on my iMac, iPod or iPhone worrying about multi-threaded processes or unresponsive programs. And for most consumers, that's one more thing to love about the Apple OS. Sure, it comes with the cost that I can't have apps running in the background on my iPhone, but my iPhone rarely hangs, crashes or has a radical change in the battery life with each new app I might download to it.

Ratings and reviews of apps in the open market are meant to help consumers, but I often wonder which reviewers to trust and whether one app offers the complete solution I need or a more usable interaction model for my tastes. In the case of Astro, several apps purport to do some or all of the capabilities. Some charge. I then wonder, will the quality be the same for the developer who isn't getting paid?Courtesy of Gizmodo Will they maintain the app? Will they support me if I have trouble? Will they care if the application doesn't work well with other applications I may download? And how will I know if they conflict until I download them. A reviewer of the application may not have the same things on their phone that I do, or want to use their phone as I do.

In a world where there are infinite ways to configure a phone with settings and application combos that meet any user's specific needs, the best solution a service rep can offer when a customer complains about their device's performance is to wipe it clean and start over. But facing that experience when you need to place a call and your phone is frozen is daunting. As an example, last night, my home screen theme application was corrupted and the home screen displayed a message compelling me to force it to close. After five times of doing that and not being able to break the cycle, I removed the battery and I removed the SIM. Neither action, both typically offered as the first cure by carrier care reps who don't know what apps I may have downloaded and configured, repaired the problem. The device seemed completely inaccessible and unusable. After a trip to the T-Mobile Forums and a hard reset, which removed all settings and personalizations,  I was able to make a call more than twenty minutes later. But now, which apps to re-load? How do I know what was the offending piece of code?

As geeky as I am, I still want things to just work, and I get frustrated when I use applications that allow me to do things I really shouldn't or require me to understand arcane technical jargon. And I don't have the time to fuss with bad design to engage and interact with a solution. The challenge with open is that everyone can play, but maybe for consumers that isn't always going to be a simple way to have compelling experiences.


Android Fragmentation is Everyone's Responsibility

In response to a post on Moconews by Tricia Duryee, "Will Google's Android Suffer from Fragmentation?", I'd like to highlight 3 areas most likely driving the variations in Android which will impact how the community being built around the open OS emerges:

1) UI/UX. Each market developer will not be compiling to each of the branded presentation frameworks that the OEMs use to differentiate themselves.  The market is a separate set of apps appended to the interaction screens created for a particular phone.
2) Device. Each manufacturer will try to optimize the way Android runs with their combination of choices for chipset, software solutions, screen and licenses. Over time the linkage between how the market apps are informed as a whole about how to interoperate with these unique stacks may get tighter, but the 3rd party app developer may not get access to APIs directly.
3) Network. OEMs and carriers will not want to enable apps to hog resources like the “fat kid at the front of the buffet line.” Because there are variances in each carrier’s network, and testing between the OEM and the carrier before the device is certified, apps that unduly use network resources may be blocked at the device or network level through configurations that prevent it from degrading all customer experiences on that network (e.g. constantly polling the network.)

Will this de facto create fragmentation? Perhaps. But for Android to succeed at open, everyone in the value chain has to believe it is a good idea to open each layer that impacts the user experience on a particular device. I would argue that it isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the consumer to do that since many consumers I have seen with Android devices can’t tell a good app from a bad app. The messages about what the app uses are so geeky that consumers ignore them, take anything and everything onto their device, and can rapidly find themselves with a sluggish, underperforming handset that is undependable as a mobile phone.

Just like with Windows, consumers may still find they have to purchase a new device to upgrade to a newer version of Android’s OS even though their handset is capable of receiving an over the air update. If their existing device hardware is unable to support the next gen features (eg, better screen resolution, ROM size), the update just won’t come to it and they will have to buy new hardware. This is a bit of a red herring, and pretty much a fact of life with most update-able consumer electronics, but perhaps just more noticeable in the rapidly changing world of wireless devices.



What is Open?

It has been a day to listen to industry leaders talk about the topics around breaking down the walls erected by the "soviet ministries", AKA the wireless carriers. Great panel at the Open Mobile Summit, moderated by Walt Mossberg. Guests were AT&T CTO, John Donovan, Palm SVP Michael Abbott, Google Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch. Conversation kicked off with a question about where in the value chain or technology stack manufacturers or developers or networks need to open. Does open require access to every component of a product's architecture? Is fragmentation simply a verticalized solution of a horizontal technology?

Also, some discussion centered around the semantic web, creating an open Internet data model, and the individual consumer's control of their own personal data history.

IMS is seen as a driver of a converged data model and is expected to require policies around the handling of consumer data to ensure security and privacy.

VoIP is a a hot topic when the industry talks about access, which is a consequence of open systems. It is still obvious that there is no shared perspective in this group.

Another interesting topic was the challenge for a user to see how their data moves around the open web and in and out of mobile devices with them. In a world of federated statuses and shared address books, consumers do get benefits from open (APIs and shared logins), but what happens to their personal data along the the way?

Wasn't Open ID supposed to provide this? As Vint Cerf reminded folks "Innovation is useless unless adopted," which Open ID has not been. So what credentials will emerge to help consumers protect themselves and their personal identity in the wild west of open mobile?