Google's Andy Rubin Talks Android, WP7, Fragmentation, Gingerbread and More

We're probably just a few weeks off from the announcement of Gingerbread, the next major update of Android. The fact that Andy Rubin has accepted to give this interview to Sascha Segan from PCMAG.com, is proof that Gingerbread is coming soon, and he wants to build a little anticipation for it.

Of course, Windows Phone 7 is going to be launched next week, so that might have something to do with it, as well. However, as he says in the interview, there aren't many reasons to be worried about WP7.

But let's break it down a bit. I'm going to give you PCMAG's questions, which are great questions by the way, and then summarize Andy's answers because they are too long, and also give you my opinion about his answers. So let's go.

We have all these [Android] versions out there, people are still releasing phones on 1.6 ... how can you guys give developers and consumers a consistent experience when there are all of these different versions and different overlays going out there?

Andy says that manufacturers are experiencing on their own skin what it means to keep selling phones with old versions of Android, and they see the uproar of consumers when they don't give them the latest and the greatest versions of Android as soon as possible. Consumers will choose with their wallets.

When one manufacturer stays up to date and the other doesn't, they will choose the one that is up to date. If manufacturers decide to heavily skin their Android and therefore slow themselves down when the next Android version is out, they will experience fewer sales, especially when they don't even promise an update. The market will force them to adapt and give people what they want.

So you guys aren't slowing down the speed of mainline Android releases?

Andy says that up until Froyo, they've been mostly playing a catch-up game with their competitors (i.e. iPhone OS), but now they're done playing catch-up and we are going to see a lot more innovations from Android. Something tells me Gingerbread will have quite a few nice surprises for all of us. Expect the unexpected!

There's no advantage to the OEM for using an older version of Android?

Manufacturers have no advantage using an old version of Android, especially when all the new versions so far have been faster and more stable than ever. What that means is they run even better on same hardware, or they can run on weaker hardware, and it's giving manufacturers the opportunity to not only make high-end smartphones, but mid-end and low-end ones, as well.

People have been saying that the freedom of Android has basically meant that the carriers are free to screw the consumers.

I have to admit, I've been getting a little worried about this, too. It does seem like not only manufacturers, but carriers, too, are trying to take advantage of Android's open nature to force feed stuff to consumers, that they don't really want.

However, as Andy says, I believe the market will ultimately take care of this. Out of anarchy we'll eventually have discipline, just like out of conflicts, progress results.

The truth is that if Google had made an OS that every manufacturer had to use, they would've never agreed to it in the beginning when Google proposed to them that they become part of the Open Handset Alliance and back Android up.

I believe there is a reason why the phone and smartphone markets have always been this fragmented, with all different kinds of OS's and UI. The phone is not like a PC. It's something much more personal, that you get to carry around with you all day long, and it contains some of your most personal information. It's also something you can identify yourself with.

But even though Android can be on all these manufacturers' phones, they are still able to customize it they way they want, unlike an OS that would not allow them that (hint: WP7).

But you guys do have minimum standards for Android devices. So why not say you can't build devices that don't accept non-market applications? Where do you draw the line?

Andy says that they don't like drawing lines in general, and that they are trying to give up even more control by putting it in the hands of the community, and see what they can do with it. It's what being open means. I do hope, they at least give more freedom to the hacking community to do more with Android, though.

But when you say "you've put it in the hands of the community," what people in the U.S. frequently hear is "you've put it in the hands of the wireless carriers."

Here he's saying that his intention is not to assert authority over the carriers and tell them what to do. He believes that in the end carriers will learn just like manufacturers, what people truly want from Android, and the market will force them to adapt.

Back in January, I had this really interesting talk with Erick Tseng about the Nexus One, which was supposed to offer an alternative retail model by which Americans could pick their phone and technology and carrier independently. But that doesn't seem to have panned out.

Andy believes that unlocked phones in USA are still a possibility but we have to discover how to do it the right way. I think that smaller carriers that offer pre-paid services and are starting to adopt cheap Android smartphones, might be a solution to this.

What Android features are you personally most proud of?

One of the features he seems to be most proud of regarding Android, is the security architecture they've built out. He should be because, even though there are some problems with Android security once in a while, just like with iPhone's security, they seem to be pretty minor and isolated. I'm actually surprised Android is as secure as it is, given its open nature.

Another feature he seems proud of is the notification seems, which he says doesn't get in your way the way the one from the competition (iPhone) does.

Webs apps integrating with native apps seems to be another thing on his mind, and I believe we'll see more of this in Gingerbread.

Are you going to start integrating the Gizmo5 VOIP technology into Google Voice on Android soon?

I'm a little confused about his answer here. He's basically implying that they don't want to step on the carriers' toes by offering a Voice (VOIP) service. So they are offering it in GTalk but not on Android? How does that work?

His answer is confusing, so maybe they are going to offer it soon, but didn't want to announce it right now. Why even buy Gizmo5 if they aren't going to use it in Android, then? Unless they simply used their technology for GTalk calling, in which case it seems like a waste. I'd much rather have it well integrated in my mobile, than in my PC.

What about video chat, though?

He seems to imply that they are working on it (hopefully coming to Gingerbread), but they don't want it to use a lot of bandwidth so they need to make sure it works like that first.

What I'd hate to see is see apps like Tango, Skype, and soon even Yahoo offering both Wi-Fi and 3G calling along with videocalling (except Skype), while in the same time Android not having it by default. I'd really like to see Wi-Fi and 3G video/calling integrated by default in Android.

What are some of the themes and ideas that are going into the next version of Android?

Two of the features he mentions that are coming is improved social media support and he also says that we'll see a lot more gaming  on Android. This ought to be good, especially with chips like the Unreal 3 supporting Tegra 2 coming up. 2011 will be the year of the GPU and this will also lead to an avalanche of amazing 3D games on Android.

He also mentions more HTML5 support in the browser. One thing I'd definitely like to see is hardware accelerated being implemented in their mobile browser. Pages just don't render fast enough on a mobile because of processing power limitation, but with the upcoming dual core 1 Ghz Cortex A9 chips and hardware acceleration enabled in browser, supported by some killer GPU's in 2011, we should see page rendering that is a lot closer to the one in your desktop or laptop browsers.

Flash is an interesting issue because people have talked about it as a checkbox thing as something they really wanted. But now it's here, and performance isn't what you see on the desktop. Is it what people want in their mobile experience?

Like it or not, Flash is still part of the web for now, and seeing blocks of blue on pages is not what most people want to see on their smartphones, and especially not on their tablets where they expect a good web experience. Flash is on Android today and it's working pretty well considering it was never designed for chips as weak the the mobile chips we've had so far (compared to desktop ones), but with dual core Cortex A9 and powerful GPU's we should see Flash that is hardware accelerated next year and works a lot better on mobiles.

On Monday, Microsoft is announcing their first Windows Phone 7 phones. What do you think of that platform as a competitor?

Although he doesn't think absolutely everyone will use Android on their phones, Andy Rubin doesn't think the world needs yet another mobile platform. He thinks Android really has the best strategy here and I agree with him.

Even though WP7 is promoted heavily by Microsoft by paying developers to write apps and whatnot, and it's going to have quite a few partners at launch, probably by warning them they'll get sued just like Motorola if they don't build WP7 phones, WP7 is still heavily limited compared to Android. And I'm not not just referring to the lack of multitasking here.

First of all, WP7 only works on smartphones and this is going to be WP7's biggest disadvantage. Android can be put not only on smartphones, but on tablets, in cars, in TV's, printers, in entertainment devices aboard airplanes, and who knows how many other types of devices. Because of its open nature, the limit is only manufacturers imagination. This means people are going to see a disproportionate amount of news and buzz surrounding Android, compared to the one about WP7. Android's overall popularity across devices, is what's going to keep it well ahead of WP7 in smartphones.

Could Microsoft put WP7 on everything else, too? Since WP7 is not open, and they are not giving manufacturers much control over it, it's almost impossible for it to be taken and put on all kinds of devices. It would also take away the focus from smartphones, and Microsoft is already too behind in that market and it needs 110% attention from them in order to get back at least some market share.

But this is only one reason why we won't see WP7 on anything else. We could see it on tablets, but will we? No, we won't - simply because Microsoft also realizes that tablets are the future of computing, and they don't want their cash cow, Windows, which costs like $100, to be replaced by WP7 which costs $15. They'd rather see Windows be used on tablets, than WP7.

But if they don't want Windows to be disrupted by WP7, that's ok, because Windows will eventually be disrupted by Android anyway, once everyone uses tablets and other touchscreen future devices, that are all powered by Android, not Windows.

I believe Android has one more thing that it needs to get right with Gingerbread - the user interface. If they create a very polished, and quite different from competition, UI, then consumers will hardly have a serious reason not to buy a Android phones anymore.

If you want to read the full interview, check it out below at PCMAG:

[Source: PCMAG]

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