Digital Directions: Of Androids and E-books
After a year of anticipation and rumor, the recent unveiling of the ‘Android' was decidedly anticlimactic. The launch of the first product running Google's open-source Android mobile operating system, a device manufactured by HTC of Taiwan to operate on the T-Mobile network, didn't make much of a splash. The press was unabashedly nonplussed. Out of the gate, the launch of the first Android phone, called the T-Mobile G1 with Google, failed on at least one count: matching the appeal of the iPhone.
But buried beneath the spin and counter-spin is something significant. Android represents a step in the evolution of the portable media device, including text-based media.
We have yet to see an electronic book platform that has the requisite power, simplicity and appeal to do for electronic text what the iPod and iTunes did for music. But, like some of its predecessors, the Android phone could help us understand what characteristics such an e-book platform might have.
1. General-Purpose Device
A long-standing technology truism is that general-purpose solutions generally win out over special-purpose devices. Personal computers eclipsed the dedicated word processors that preceded them. People tend to prefer a product that will provide many functions to a single-use product. This drives market penetration, which allows the general-purpose-device manufacturer to invest more to keep advancing its product. As elegant as the e-ink devices may be, they will be largely eclipsed by devices that can not only serve as e-book readers, but do other things as well.
2. A Platform for Third-Party Applications
To generate momentum in the marketplace, a portable media device must provide a platform for the development of applications by third parties. When Apple provided a software development kit for the iPhone, and a means for selling and distributing third-party applications via its App Store, a new phase of growth for iPhone ensued. By nature of its open-source operating system, Android can tap into a much larger pool of potential developers, and therefore, a broader array of applications.