The Google/T-Mobile G1 Phone: A Sign of Things to Come?


I have been using the new Google Android phone for about a week as my primary phone. It was a good experience that gave me a view into a future that I think will be amazing. First let me walk you through my impressions of the phone and then we'll move on to the future it and the iPhone are heralding.


G1: Ugly Duckling Great Google Phone


I think the T-Mobile G1 beta design was intended to be a stealth product; it was designed specifically not to be flashy so that people wouldn't be able to easily distinguish it and some wayward reporter write an early review of the phone before the software was done.


In general I think the device, as a beta product, performed that function, but the end result is a phone that clearly trails the field when it comes to looks. But what it loses in looks it makes up for in function. Tied back to the Google suite of services, this is a solid phone for those that live on Google properties (just like the iPhone is most enjoyed by folks who are tied at the hip to Apple). This is true of Windows Mobile phones as well, in that they are best enjoyed by people tied to Microsoft services and tools.


Up until I had the G1, the best browser I'd ever seen on a phone was the one on the iPhone. The G1 has some limitations, but it seems to conceal them better than the iPhone does and fooled me into thinking that it supported flash when it, in fact, actually doesn't. YouTube videos come up incredibly quickly and feel like they are built into the phone, particularly when it is connected to T-Mobile's new 3G network.


This is one of the limitations of the phone: T-Mobile doesn't have either the low bandwidth or 3G coverage AT&T, Sprint or Verizon do. But its plans are very competitive, particularly when you include its very good Wi-Fi coverage. This phone likes Wi-Fi and T-Mobile hasn't been as restrictive with regard to Wi-Fi functionally as AT&T and, by proxy, the iPhone. AT&T really wants you to use the higher-cost network while T-Mobile aggressively markets Wi-Fi options.


The initial Android applications were light in terms of depth but each had good quality and all were initially free -- you can't beat that cost. They all loaded easily and worked generally as advertised, which reflects Google's initial and unique focus on ensuring application quality. It only let through the applications that passed quality guidelines and, unlike AT&T and Apple, doesn't seem to be interested in blocking those (yet) that may compete with their own offerings. This last could eventually be Android's greatest benefit, as it implies a much greater choice and pits Google against Apple in much the same way that Linux positioned itself initially against Microsoft.


Looking to the Future


The G1 and the iPhone both represent phones as platforms connected to an ever richer application store where developers are encouraged to think creatively, particularly in the Android platform's case. Both offerings are driving Microsoft to craft its own similar offering and, like Google, Redmond is expected to be less restrictive than Apple to provide a competitive advantage. The delayed Windows Mobile 7 platform, which coincidentally will be tightly coupled to Windows 7, will bring all three platforms to maturity, and the resulting battle will be one for the history books.


Apple will have a beautifully designed phone with its heart in media; Google will have a number phones with their hearts in the Internet; and Microsoft will have the most mature platform tied to the Windows ecosystem that currently dominates what Google and Apple do not.


On top of all of this, we'll have the new Intel MID technology platform which promises ever more capable phones and the emergence of WiMax, a sort of super powered Wi-Fi which promises -- and is starting to deliver -- cheap high-bandwidth voice and data plans.


Underneath it all we have Cisco's Visual Networking initiative which is driving video in and around the home helping to provide content, and NVIDIA's Visual Computing initiative assuring that these devices can become windows into a virtual reality that has only been possible on desktop PCs.


We are watching, in slow motion, the birth of something amazing, the G1 is just one more step in that process.