The good news for Google’s Android mobile operating system: It’s finally getting a lot of good support from mobile phone manufacturers and carriers.
The bad news: Because so many different companies are involved in the mix, it’s at risk of becoming very confusing and fragmented. That’s already starting to happen.
For example: Let’s look at just one feature — support for multi-touch “pinch” zooming — on the two sexy Android phones that Verizon Wireless introduced this week.
That’s the cool feature on some smartphones that lets you zoom in and out on a Web site, map, or photo by “pinching” your fingers open and closed on the screen. (As iPhone and Palm Pre owners know, once you have it, you won’t want to live without it.)
But if you’re a Verizon Wireless sales rep, good luck explaining this to your customers:
- The Motorola Droid’s Android 2.0 OS supports multi-touch out of the box, but Google and Motorola haven’t turned it on for any of the phone’s built-in apps.
- So the Droid’s Web browser, Google Maps, and built-in photo app do not support pinch zooming.
- Some third-party apps for the Droid can run multi-touch, such as Picsay, a photo viewing app. More will come over time, and maybe Motorola and Google will eventually turn it on for some or all of the phone’s main apps.
- Meanwhile, the cheaper HTC Droid Eris, which runs an older, customised version of Android, also supports multi-touch — but only for a few apps made by HTC.
- The Droid Eris’s Web browser and built-in photo app do support pinch zooming. (It’s quite fast.) But Google Maps does not.
See how confusing that is? And that’s just one feature on two phones from one carrier. Imagine what will happen when dozens of companies are selling different, slightly customised flavours of Android. That could make things even more confusing. (And contrast this to Apple’s iPhone offerings: One operating system with only minor hardware differences between the two models on the market today.)
Does this matter? On a small scale, probably not. And that Verizon Wireless — the top U.S. wireless carrier with 89 million subscribers — is pushing Android as its main Christmas smartphone story is a huge win for Google and its partners, overshadowing any of this minor confusion.
The worry: That inconsistencies among phones will continue to grow. And that it won’t just be confusing to consumers, but could be a roadblock to developers writing apps for Android. That is something Google can’t afford.