Wired has a fantastic write-up of Google Android’s origins, methodology and ultimate plans for world domination. I think the piece reaches its narrative peak by the second t page, recounting the first Android meeting between founder Andy Rubin and Google’s Larry Page. It’s an exciting description of the internal reasoning that turned a meeting aimed at getting a Google stamp of approval on Android into a quick company buy-out.
The desktop metaphor was fading. Phones were going to replace PCs as the main gateway to the Internet, and they were going to do it soon. Why would consumers tether themselves to a PC when phones were growing more and more powerful – and were cheaper, too?
But because cell phones ran on different software, had less memory, and operated under the constraints of pay-per-byte wireless networks, the mobile Web was a stripped-down, mimeographed version of the real thing. Reading and surfing and – more to the point – viewing Google ads was a slow, stultifying chore. Even worse, a second-class Web could derail Google’s grand strategy… working the problem had been a nightmare. Google engineers had a closet overflowing with mobile phones to test the company’s wireless applications – mobile Google, Blogger, search over SMS. There were dozens of operating systems to navigate, a mobile Tower of Babel completely at odds with the easy access and universal language of the Web.
What worried Page most was that the only firm from the PC world that seemed to be successfully navigating the mobile labyrinth was Microsoft, one of Google’s biggest rivals. The Windows Mobile platform had less than 10 percent of the US smartphone market, but it was growing fast. Microsoft’s system, however, was the ugly stepsister of what Rubin was proposing: Redmond executives cared less about opening up the Net to mobile users than about tying the mobile operating system into its desktop dominance. A decade ago, Microsoft had underestimated the growth of the Web and then lost control of it to Google. Now it looked like it was Google’s turn to be caught flat-footed.