T-Mobile introduced the first cell phone based on Google’s Android operating system to much fanfare a few days ago. Although Android has some interesting features and much promise, I don’t expect to see anyone holding the T-Mobile G1 in Sonoma County for a while, since T-Mobile is a fringe player with limited coverage up here (and certainly no connection anywhere nearby to its high speed 3G data network).
Android is a work in progress; comparisons to the iPhone are inevitable and at the moment Android comes up a bit short, but it’s early to make any decisions. In this first iteration, Android is tied in very closely to Google’s online mail, calendar and contact services, which are fully integrated and reportedly work smoothly. It’s not as smooth for everyone else, since the integration is thin or nonexistent for other sources of mail and there is essentially no support for other calendar/contact programs.
In particular, businesses should be aware that there is no support for ActiveSync, the software that connects a mobile device to an Exchange Server. A Google Android phone is not currently a good choice for an office using Small Business Server. It’s the same situation that an SBS user faces with a Blackberry – a solution for email can be cobbled together from forwarded messages and BCCs and the like, but it is clearly a kludge compared to the true integration provided by a Windows Mobile phone or an iPhone running ActiveSync. (It bears repeating that using an iPhone with ActiveSync causes it to suck battery power so fast it actually makes slurping noises.)
There’s one other design decision for the T-Mobile device that has caused a fuss – instead of a standard headphone connector, they chose an oddball, mostly proprietary “ExtUSB” headphone connector that requires a weird dongle for every kind of headphone or earbud except the terrible earbuds that come with the phone. No one knows why but everybody hates it.
Somebody – Google or a third party – will likely make the financial arrangements with Microsoft and write an ActiveSync connector for Android, and the other carriers will be releasing their own Android devices with different hardware designs. We’ll talk more about it then.