The history of Android is a great story that every Android user and fan should know. It all starts with a guy named Andy Rubin. The ironic thing about Andy is that he actually got his start as an engineer for Apple! After Apple, he worked for a company called General Magic where he worked on Magic Cap which is an operating system and interface for hand held devices. When Magic Cap failed to take off, Andy and several others formed Artemis Research. Artemis Research is responsible for WebTV and was eventually acquired by Microsoft. After several years, the group moved on and formed Danger, Inc. The most notable thing that came from Danger was the T-Mobile Sidekick. This is where the story gets interesting.
Andy Rubin is a brilliant man. He had this device called the Danger Hiptop (aka Sidekick) and little did he know how huge it was going to become. Now we are in the Spring of 2005. Rubin had decided to use Google as the default search engine on the Sidekick even though Google was still growing. Other companies like Lycos and even AOL were ahead of Google at this stage in the game. He gets a meeting with Larry Page who is a co founder of Google. Rubin tells Page that there are 700 million cell phones sold each year compared to only 200 million PC’s. The gap is growing larger and larger each year. Rubin said phones are the way people want to connect to each other. Unfortunately, at this time in 2005, the mobile industry was in a dark place. Mobile phones were not open and inviting like the web. They were closed and discouraging to those creative minds that could actually make positive changes.
Rubin uses this point to talk about his startup, Android and how it is going to change all of that. Android would be a free, open source mobile platform that any coder could write for and any handset maker could install. Rubin would make his money by selling support for the system. Android would be a global open operating system that would change wireless forever.
This meeting was not set up to get money out of Google. He simply wanted Google to back him, in writing. If Rubin could get something from Google, he could get more funds. There would be a hint that Google might be interested in pursuing their own Google branded phone. Right then, Rubin pulled out a prototype. Page knew the numbers. Rubin spouting the decline on PC sales was nothing new to him. The decline was rapid and he saw the change happening quickly. His problem was how did he address it. The way the internet worked on cell phones in 2005 left a lot to be desired. Cell phones ran on different software, were on pay per byte plans and had limited memory. The only company from the PC side that seemed to have any success in the mobile business was Microsoft which is one of Google’s fiercest competitors. The Window’s Mobile platform only had around 10% of the market share, but it was growing at a rapid pace. Window’s Mobile was another way to continue Microsoft’s Windows dominance. They were not concerned with opening up the web to mobile users. Microsoft underestimated the growth of the internet, and this is where Google surged ahead.
So what did Larry Page think of Rubin’s pitch? Well, he was very interested but he did not want to give a supportive email or even place the Google logo on his phone. He wanted to buy Android! Rubin was in shock. He went there to gain support and ended up leaving with one of the biggest paydays in his life. The eventual purchase price was estimated to be around $50 million.
After Google bought Android in July 2005, Silicon Valley was rocking with speculation about what the search giant was planning. Everyone knew Apple had a phone in the works and the assumption was that Google must be developing one too. Rubin and his cofounders, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White, weren’t talking. When Apple unveiled the iPhone that summer, everyone just knew a gphone was going to be announced any day.
Nothing came for a couple of months. Finally, in November, Google had a press release. No, there was no gphone announcement. The announcement was that thirty four companies were joining forces with Google to create an open source platform based on Linux software. Companies like Texas Instruments, Intel, T-Mobile, and Sprint Nextel were part of a group dubbed The Open Handset Alliance. Competitors let out a deep breath and thought, seriously? This is how they are going after the wireless market?
The reponses from CEO’s showed their lack of understanding of what Rubin was attempting to do. “Their efforts are just some words on paper,” were the comments from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, at a conference in Japan. “Another Linux platform,” shrugged the CEO of Symbian, one of the dominant smartphone operating systems outside the US.
Google wasn’t done there. A week after the press release, Google announced the Developers Challenge. A free Android software developers it was placed on Google’s site and a challenge was placed for someone to create the best applications for the new system. The best one would receive $10 million! This was not limited to certain people, anyone was eligible to take a shot. People were starting to see Rubin’s grand vision. FInally a rival to the iPhone could be realized. Yes it was different, but that is just what was needed. Google was not out for hardware. They never intended on coming out with a gphone. They wanted hundreds of gphones!
HTC, Motorola and LG all announced plans to market new Android phones in a variety of shapes and sizes as well as different software options. That was the beauty of Android; it was a fully customizable system. Any application could be removed and another could be added. Google was not concerned with the apps themselves as long as Android was underneath it. Now remember how earlier I mentioned how Google realized the shift to cell phones from PC’s? This is where Google’s brilliance shows. The company thought that if you make browsing the web by phone easy and fun, people will use it like a dekstop browser and use Google to do their searching. The Christmas of 2007 was proof that Google was onto something. That Christmas, people unwrapped their iPhones from under the tree, clicked on their Safari browser and went right to Google. In that 24 hours the iPhone drove more traffic to Google than any other mobile device. If Apple could bring that much business to Google then surely Google could do much better for itself.
Let’s get back to the Developers Challenge. Keep in mind that Google had intentions of allowing anything to be installed and run on its platform. No questions asked. The deadline for the first challenge was April 14. Google had received nearly 1,800 submissions! These apps came from large corporations to single persons and they came from all over the world. As a matter of fact, only a third of the entries came from the U.S. Google got exactly what they were looking for. A multitude of apps using location awareness and social networking. Lets look at some of these apps. One developer came up with Jamdroid. Jamdroid is an application that you turn on in your car and feed real time traffic data to a server. That info is compiled and then beamed to other Jamdroid users. LifeAware is another neat app. It tracks friends or family by plotting them on a map and alerting the user when the other person leaves a pre defined area. E-ventr is another software that combines with Google Maps to organize a party. BreadCrumbz is a program that lets you share photo-enhanced walking or driving routes with anyone in the world.
Out of the 50 finalists, the top 10 earned $275,000 and the next 10 earned $100,000. Some of the $275,000 winners were: (Links are in the logos)
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Things were looking great. Rubin’s Android idea was picking up steam. He knew that when he went to the big carriers, he had the right asking price; FREE. Typically, software is about 20% of a phones cost. With the price difference, the carriers have options. They can pocket the difference or use lower priced handsets to get users hooked on smartphones. Rubin even made promises to take each carriers network limitations into account. “We have to be conscious of the cost they incurred to purchase the air,” he says. “So we don’t want to use too much data. We have to constantly think about how we can give users a great experience without wasting the spectrum.” In the beginning, the only carriers Android could land were T-Mobile and Sprint. T-Mobile was a smaller carrier and Sprint was willing to do anything if it meant they got some customers back. They were losing customers at an alarming rate. AT&T and Verizon both passed on Android. “There wasn’t anything viable we were willing to entertain,” says Verizon Wireless spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson. Unfortunately, the bigger networks wanted revenue. Revenue that developers forked over to the mother ship. With Android, anyone could play and you are your own boss. What Google had on their side, was their advertising which was expected to hit $16 billion this year. If Google could get their web dominance in the mobile world, who wouldn’t want to partner up? The carriers said, show me the money!
At this stage in the game, Google had more than $12 billion in cash that it could use either to force the carriers to open up their gates or launch their own competitive wireless network. In early 2008, the company bid $4.7 billion to buy prime 700-MHz spectrum in an FCC auction. Verizon Wireless beat out Google in the bid but Google drove the price high enough to trigger an FCC rule requiring the spectrum’s new owners to allow access to nearly any device. Rather than walk away with their tail between their legs, Google committed $500 million to front Clearwire, a national WiMax touting partners such as Intel, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable. Any device, including Android phones, can use the high-speed wireless network. This action cut the carriers out of the picture. Google tried to play nice and partner with Verizon and AT&T, and now they were going to fight. In June of 2009, Verizon announced their plans to sell a phone similar to the G1 with a qwerty keyboard. In January of 2010, AT&T announced a new product lineup. A lineup that included Android devices.
In October of 2008, the first Android smartphone hit the market. The T-Mobile HTC G1. It took mobile phones to a new level. Six months after the phone launched, T-Mobile sold its 1 millionth G1. Nearly 2 years later, the G2 is about to come out. Will history repeat itself?