October 10, 2010

Google engineer on WP7: The world doesn't need another platform

In an interview with PCMag (via Engadget), Google engineer Andy Rubin discussed Android, market fragmentation, and even Windows Phone 7. In what was probably a spur of the moment statement, Rubin stated that he thinks that the world doesn't need yet another mobile phone platform. The way Rubin sees it, the only reason someone would even try to create a new platform is for political reasons. Maybe he has a point. More OS's mean more fragmentation in the market, more phones that developers have to choose between, more chances of incompatibilities, etc. Many of us clearly remember the pre-Windows world of desktop computing and the annoyance that came with finding out that you can't get the software you want on your machine.

When Android was first announced, Apple's iOS was taking the world by storm, Blackberry was getting into the ‘touch' scene, Symbian was doing OK, and Microsoft had a small share too. At that stage no one knew they needed Android, and there were already plenty of OS options. Since that time, the market has become even more complex with Samsung throwing in a new in-house OS (Bada), and soon Microsoft's going to be launching their Windows Phone 7 platform - but it's still Windows Phone. Microsoft's replacing the old Windows Phone with a new (very different) version, they're not a new player with a new brand. Claiming that the world doesn't need another phone OS seems a little strange to me when you work for a company that made a completely new OS, and you're trying to brush-off a competitor that's heavily revising their OS.

On the topic of fragmentation, Rubin shared the views of most consumers and claims to want OEMs to use the latest Android versions instead of out-dated builds. Of course, Google's long-time competitor Microsoft would be able to tell them a few stories about OEMs not giving up on old software versions. In fact, Windows XP might be the case study that Google needs to learn from. The biggest reason for XP's prolonged (zombie-like) existence isn't because people don't like change, and it's not because people don't want to upgrade their hardware. It's because so many companies put so much time and effort into building applications for XP - and it takes a long time for those companies to decide that it's worth the money to rewrite huge amounts of code. Android, which has gone through a number of version changes since birth, may be suffering from a similar fate. Perhaps Google's way out of the fragmentation mess is to change is to give developers more of heads-up, that way they'll be able to code with future changes in mind and not be stuck with a customization that only works on one build.

What do you think about Andy Rubin's comments? Is Windows Phone 7 going to add that much more confusion into the mobile marketplace, or is it already so full of competition that it won't matter?

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