Nexus One Illustrates an Important Lesson

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The Nexus One press event held by Google today was largely underwhelming, in my opinion. There was an underlying message, though, that smartphone users--particularly Android-based smartphone users--can learn a good lesson from.

Google's Nexus One is impressive, but the real news is the Android 2.1 operating system.
The press event was supposed to focus on the Nexus One--Google's first branded Android mobile phone. It was really two events, though. The hardware part was the unveiling of the HTC Nexus One device, and the software side was the launch of Android 2.1.

HTC Nexus One

The device itself is not revolutionary. Don't get me wrong--it looks like an awesome smartphone, or "superphone" as Google has chosen to dub the next-generation smartphones. If I were in the market for one right now, the Nexus One would definitely be on my short list of smartphones to choose from.

The Nexus One hardware represents only incremental improvements over existing platforms like the Motorola Droid, though. Yes, it has a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and a 3.7 inch 400 x 800 AMOLED display, and a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. Yes, it also includes the GPS, compass, and accelerometer that seem to be standard features that define a "superphone" from a "smartphone". It even has some innovation in the form of light and proximity sensors that can help extend battery life and improve the user experience.

The HTC Nexus One hardware is slick and sleek--as we've come to expect from just about everything HTC makes. Even if Google didn't collaborate on the Nexus One, HTC would probably have developed the same hardware on its own. If not HTC, then someone else, and if not for Android, then another mobile operating system. Bottom line, the Nexus One hardware is awesome, but not groundbreaking, and won't compel users to jump ship from their current carriers or line up to fork over $530 for the unlocked version.

Google Android 2.1

The more exciting part of the Nexus One press event was related to Android 2.1 and the new and enhanced features Google has developed for the latest version of the mobile operating system. Some of the new features--like the "living wallpaper" that moves dynamically and interacts with the user's touch, or the Google Earth for Android app are more novel than functional. Living wallpaper seems like it would just be an irrelevant battery drain after the initial novelty wears off.

One of the most compelling features in Android 2.1 is the ability to dictate in any text field using your voice. Android 2.0 already had voice-capable search, and some limited voice commands for working with device applications, but with Android 2.1 you can use voice to dictate an e-mail or Twitter update.

The good news for Droid, and other existing Android smartphone, owners is that Android 2.1 will be available for those platforms in the very near future. Which brings me back to why the Nexus One is not all that compelling. The vast legions of Droid owners just purchased smartphones they love, and they will still get the benefit of Android 2.1, so they won't be missing much from the Nexus One experience.

Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha, a member of the panel answering questions at the end of the event, pointed out, though, that there are some functions of Android 2.1 that the Droid is not capable of delivering, like some of the 3D graphics features in the Android 2.1 gallery.

Err On The Side of More

That is not the end of the world, but it underscores the lesson to be learned. Google will continue to update, and "iterate" as they are fond of saying, the Android mobile operating system. The new releases of Android will most likely be available to most, or all, of the existing Android-based devices. The question will be whether or not that existing device has is physically capable of delivering the new features and functionality.

Android is a tour de force right now. It doesn't have a significant market share--yet, but it has captured the hearts and imaginations of smartphone (or "superphone" ) enthusiasts, and mobile hardware manufacturers are lining up to build devices around it. Devices like the Nexus One and the Droid have the appeal of an iPhone, and the open source roots of the Android operating system make it a powerful and flexible platform for business use.

The trick is to make sure that whatever hardware you invest in has the fastest, most powerful processor possible, and the most advanced graphics and display capabilities, so that when Android 2.2, or Android 3.0, etc. comes out your hardware can keep up and you can take advantage of the latest features without having to upgrade your handset.

Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page .

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