Google’s Nexus One – Thoughts
Today, Google finally announced the much-hyped, finally-official googlephone at their Mountain View office. Admittedly, there wasn’t much about the actual announcement that wasn’t previously known; specs, photos, and even an entire review had already leaked out before the official announcement. But the announcement marks google’s first real step into distributing google-branded hardware directly to consumers, the entry of another google-blessed flagship for the Android platform, and a different, long-needed business model for selling phones and wireless contracts.
It’s been a year, 2 months, and 14 days since the launch of the T-Mobile G1, and Android has matured into a serious contender since its beginnings as an aspiring platform in a market dominated by Windows Mobile, Symbian, and the iPhone OS. While the G1 seemed awkward in a kind of adolescent manner, it’s chin a strange design ‘feature,’ its storage ultimately limited, and design-by-committee UI/navigation (anyone remember “how many clocks does it take for google engineers to tell time?”) the Nexus One is finally enough to make it a real iPhone contender alongside the Droid.
That said, the platform does still suffer from a number of notable shortcomings:
- Application storage limited to 512 MB partition
- (Which google says it will fix by allowing applications to reside on an encrypted partition on removable storage, soon)
- No multitouch within official applications
- (This strange choice likely stems from legal and patent concerns between Google using Apple IP/prior artwork. Google likely doesn’t want the whole board-member-sharing fiasco to undergo any more scrutiny than it already has)
- Slower web browsing
- (Flash? more on that in a second)
- No support for CDMA (Verizon) until spring, AT&T 3G band support unclear
- (Rumors abound that Google is working on an AT&T version, but only a “dozen or so employees have access to this hardware”)
I’m going to expand on numbers 2 and 3, since personally I find these the most interesting immediately.
Engadget did a rather thorough of the Nexus One, pre-empting it’s announcement (karma for the same way Google tried to pre-empt CES?), and notably included a quick and dirty comparison of the loading speed of browsers on the iPhone 3GS, Nexus One, and Droid. Qualitatively, the winners and losers are painfully obvious from the video, but I took down some times and came up with the following:
- iPhone 3GS – 17 seconds
- Nexus One – 71 seconds
- Motorola Droid – 82 seconds
What immediately sticks out is that it took both of the Android 2.x platforms roughly 4 times longer to load the same website as it did the 3GS.
Initially, this doesn’t make sense. The 3GS is sporting a relatively recent ARM Cortex A8 underclocked from 800 MHz to 600 MHz, while the Nexus One is running the latest (also much-hyped) Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC running at 1GHz (Qualcomm QSD 8250 according to Google). The Snapdragon SoC is extremely similar architecturally to the Cortex A8, so comparing clock speeds is roughly applicable. Then, why the heck is a newer, faster generation chipset clocked 66% faster 4 times slower? Heck, the Android browser even runs lean and mean WebKit at its core, same as Mobile Safari on the iPhone, and Chrome and Safari on the desktop. Why then is it so much slower?
My theory? Flash.
The same multimedia platform hogging resources on the desktop is now hogging resources and slowing down browsing on mobile devices. Excellent. Sure, there’s a lot of content out there that’s driven by Flash that’s useful: videos, games, navigation, photo websites, fancy UI. But what’s the biggest reason? Advertising. Adobe knows it, I mean, just watch their video on mobile flash and notice what they highlight. Advertising.
Up until now, browsing just about everything on all the modern smartphone browsers I’ve used (mobile safari, opera mobile, opera mini, IE mobile) has been usable without adblock primarily because they didn’t have support for flash. Unless mobile browsers begin allowing plugins such as adblock or similar (similar to how mobile firefox, aka Fennec has begun doing), Flash is something I’d rather see disabled than enabled. How much of a feature is it to waste not just performance, but ever-critical battery on a mobile device primarily to show animated and intrusive advertising?
No AT&T 3G, Just T-Mobile
A lot of what Google was really trying to do with the Open Handset Alliance, launching a phone that customers can buy almost directly from HTC (the Nexus One OEM) and introducing essentially a new mobile business model at the same time was abstracting the carrier away from the device.
That is, handsets are increasingly moving towards being carrier-agnostic. In reality, this is the way it was intended to be (and moreover, should have been, at least in GSM-land). In fact, while this business model is entirely new to the US, the portability of handsets using SIMs is nothing new to customers in Europe, who frequently purchase handsets unlocked and bring plans (and SIMs) with them. (As an aside, much of the reason CDMA became dominant in the US was because this same flexibility wasn’t part of the specification; the unique identifier is built into the phone itself in the form of an ESN/MEID.)
It follows, then, that if Google truly wanted to create a splash in the industry and achieve its goal of creating and directly selling the ultimate flagship device that’s totally carrier agnostic, they would have made absolutely certain that HTC built in either multiple radios for UMTS and CDMA, or some modern, hybrid UMTS/CDMA chipset similar to the Qualcomm MSM6200 (PDF link) rumored to be at the core of the next-gen iPhone.
Whatever the case, the decision to launch hardware that at present restricts it to T-Mobile for 3G, EDGE on AT&T, and no CDMA functionality at all, extremely limits the device and ultimate impact. Moreover, it means that HTC and Google are going to have to support 3 sets of unique hardware for the “Nexus One” name. One with a CDMA-stack version for Verizon/Sprint, the current incarnation for T-Mobile, and a final version supporting AT&T’s 3G frequencies. Perhaps even more if they eventually move to support additional carriers in Europe and Asia.
Personally, I find it heartily ironic that rumors abound Apple is using a hybrid UMTS/CDMA chipset in the next gen iPhone. If so, that would make the same iPhone so many complain about because of its exclusivity with AT&T, the most open.
More open, in fact, than the Nexus One.