The Theory of the Rndroid Phone

Although it might seem that Google Android popped up out of left field, that's not entirely true. Well, maybe it's a little true, because Google didn't actually concept Android. Let's start with the birthing of the idea.

Believe it or not, Android started as the brain child of Andy Rubin. He concepted Android as an open source mobile platform that would bring the mobile industry out of the Paleolithic era into modern society.

The Melding of Google Mobile and Android

Today's Internet Society

Bringing It All Together

The Melding of Google Mobile and Android

Today's Internet Society

Bringing It All Together

Open source is a method of developing computer applications and programs so that the source code is readily available. Essentially, it opens up application development for collaboration from a wide variety of programmers of differing skill levels. Many believe that this is the most efficient method of creating the best possible programs and applications. You'll learn a lot more about open source in Part III, "The Android Platform," when we get into tweaking and creating apps for Android.

The mobile industry has been hopelessly tied to more traditional thought processes about how people use phones—that is, phones with wires and cords. Before the advent of the mobile phone, people had to use phones in an area no larger than their home or office.

Rubin understood that today's mobile phone user has different needs. He designed a mobile platform that would enable any programmer to write any application for the mobile phone platform, to meet the demand of mobile phone users. In 2005, he went to Google looking for backing. When Rubin approached Google, he wasn't looking for funding. He was looking for a seal of approval. Rubin had already discovered that Google has long coattails for a mobile company: He used Google as the default search application on the T-Mobile Sidekick (shown in Figure 1.1). The Sidekick took off better than anyone had imagined. And with Google as the phone's default search engine, suddenly people were using the mobile web.


With Google as the default search engine, the T-Mobile Sidekick was more popular with users than the creators imagined it could be.


With Google as the default search engine, the T-Mobile Sidekick was more popular with users than the creators imagined it could be.

When Rubin went searching for Google's approval, he got an offer that he couldn't walk away from. Google offered to pay Rubin around $50 million for Android and agreed to put him in charge of the Android project. Rubin accepted, and the rest of the story is told in the melding of platforms, applications, and the right devices.

The Melding of Google Mobile and Android

Long before Android came into the picture, the leaders at Google knew that mobility would eventually become a large part of the business. No, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not clairvoyant. But they do understand how people communicate, and it didn't take an astrophysicist (although either of them could easily have been astrophysicists, had they been so inclined) to figure it out. All either man had to do was live a normal life, connected to their cellphones, as they surely often are. And if that wasn't enough to convince them, surely a glance around the Google-plex would. No doubt all Google employees use their cellphones much like a lifeline, even on the ubertech campus.

Fortunately, Brin and Page aren't dumb. Their first foray into the mobile world was with the release of Google SMS in late 2004. Less than a year later, in June 2005, Google Mobile Search (shown in Figure 1.2) was released; Gmail for Mobile (shown in Figure 1.3) followed a few months later, in December 2005. Brin and Page just had to figure out how to make it all work for Google and for users. That took a little longer.

So when Rubin brought the idea of Android to the Google team, Google knew the company wanted—maybe even needed—to be involved in the project. Google already had its hands in mobile technology but was exploring how to best take advantage of it.

The release of Google Chrome barely a month before the release of the first Android-based phone added another piece to the puzzle. Googlites had been working on an open source web browser that would enable each instance of the browser to run separately, to make the best use of available resources and to increase the security of browsing the Web.


Google Mobile Search enables users to search from wherever they are, using their cellular connection. You can use Mobile Search on any Internet-enabled phone.

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Gmail Mobile gives users email access directly from their mobile device. You can use Gmail Mobile on any Internet-enabled phone.

How does that translate into mobile browsing? Both efficient resource usage and browser security are requirements for browsing the Web on a 2x3 screen. First, mobile phones don't have the processing power that desktop and laptop computers have. The processor is much smaller, storage space is limited, and the whole browsing experience is different.

Having a browser that starts each new web-based application as a new page enabled Google to create a browser that operated quickly on limited resources but still shared resources, where possible, to make pages and applications load faster. That's an essential feature when you're talking about browsing the Web over mobile phone signals because a mobile phone's data transmission frequency is not quite as fast as the frequency over which broadband Internet users are accustomed to receiving web data.

Security was also a major concern. Today's mobile phones are becoming more vulnerable to hackers trying to spread viruses and phishing for personal information to be used in identity theft and credit card fraud. Each instance of the Google Chrome browser runs independently of all the others; therefore, one affected window does not affect another. Closing down the affected window efficiently ends whatever processes are taking place, ensuring that malware-ridden processes are closed completely.

In the mobile phone environment, this means that an open window on your phone is only partly as dangerous as it was before. Yes, the dangers still exist in that window, but when you click a link and move to a second window, that second window is free of the same malware. This also means that closing one window effectively shuts down whatever problems might exist within that window.

In short, independent instances of windows make it much harder (though not impossible) for hackers to create a spoofed web that tricks you into believing you're entering your personal, credit, or banking information. Chrome is a browser that's built for computer users, but Chrome is built using the same technology and theories that the Android web browser is built upon. You can easily see that Google is striving to take advantage of the opportunities that mobile web users provide.


We don't have nearly enough room to cover all the features of Google Chrome. For example, Google Chrome is open source software, which means that users can change and tweak it to meet their needs. Already, some companies have adopted Chrome as their internal browser and

Don't think there are opportunities there? Think again. Look at the Apple iPhone. On Christmas 2007, thousands of new iPhone users received their first iPhone as a gift. Do you know what their first activity was after getting online? Searching Google. Really. At the time, the iPhone accounted for less than 5% of all the smart phones in the world. But on that day, it accounted for more traffic to the Google website than all the other mobile platforms combined.

The brains at Google being brains, they understood this day was coming—and they acquired Android. They continued to build out applications, such as Gmail, Google Earth, Google Docs, and YouTube, that would work well in mobile environments. It's essential to have a little foresight about these things. Mobile isn't just a cool new technology for the geeks among us. It's a whole new way of living life.

Today's Internet Society

Part of what is driving the dramatic increase in mobile connectedness and functionality is the shaping of an Internet society that removes many barriers that previously kept people corralled to their local areas. A few years ago, the Internet was just beginning to become part of our culture. It started out as a method that scholar geeks used to transfer information to other scholar geeks. Then lesser geeks like us started using it and found a few neat features that proved truly useful—email, instant messaging, and news services. The Internet was cool but still infantile by today's standards.

And what exactly are today's standards? It hasn't been scientifically proven yet, but I'm pretty sure today's kids are born with an inherent understanding of the Internet. And now the interconnectedness of it removes all boundaries.

Don't believe me? Hand any 6-year-old an Internet-enabled cellphone, and in 5 minutes he'll be on MySpace or Facebook posting bulletins about how to build a Lego charger for your Nintendo handheld gaming system. It's true ... well, okay, maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but not by much.

tweaked it not only to show their company logo, but also to work specifically with some of their internal processes.

If you're so inclined, and have the right skill set, Chrome is a great browser to support your take on customization. You can learn more about how to do that in the second book in the Geek Series, The Geek's Guide to Google Chrome (ISBN 0789739739, Que Publishing, 2009).

The point is that the Internet is a way of life now, and the Internet on a cellphone is quickly becoming part of that way of life. Being connected to friends and family, no matter where they are, is nearly as important as breathing. The social aspect of the Internet is huge, but there's more to it than that. It's also about information—having the information you want or need in a format that's easy to access the moment you need it. That is where the Internet and cellphones come together as a catalyst for today's Internet society. Nokia released the first Internet-enabled cellphone in 1996. But true mobile Internet service didn't come along until 1999, and then it was only in Japan. From 1999 to today, the mobile Internet has taken over—many experts estimate that the iPhone has knocked down yet another Internet barrier. Instead of purchasing Internet service for laptop and desktop computers, many people, especially in lower income brackets, are skipping wired Internet altogether and going straight to mobile Internet for email access and web surfing.

This makes sense from a financial standpoint. You could buy a computer and pay $600-$1,000 (or more) for it, and then subscribe to an Internet service for around $25-$50 per month, and still pay for your cellphone and cellphone service (because without a cellphone, life ceases to exist). Or you could skip the extra cost, stick with the cellphone, and add a measly $25-$35 per month to your bill for unlimited Internet service. For those whose interest is purely in Internet and email access at the least expensive price, the mobile Internet is an economical solution.

Despite the overwhelming adoption of mobile Internet, however, challenges still exist, and that's where Google stepped into the picture with the Android operating system.

Mobile Internet needs to be more functional. To date, only a small percentage of websites have mobile versions of their sites that people can view comfortably from the tiny display of a mobile phone.

Bringing It All Together

Now mobility and usability need to come together. That brings us back to Google Android. Google is known as the "king of search," but what might not n

YeIIDW The Lego charger really does exist. If you're looking for a neat science project, you can learn more about creating a Lego charger for a variety of devices at either of these two URLs:

be so obvious (and that's probably a good thing) is that Google also rules when it comes to usability.

If you didn't recognize that, it's because Google has nailed usability so well that you don't even think about it. Most Google applications are pretty easy to use. Minimal time is required to get up-to-speed on them, and users only really need to ask for help with activities that power users might want to do. That applies to Google's mobile applications as well. Using Gmail Mobile or Google Mobile Search is just as easy as using Gmail or Google Search on your computer. Google has even taken it one step further to make it easier to use some of those applications on a mobile platform. For example, Google Mobile also has a voice capability that enables you to search for places, events, and other information by stating what you're looking for.

The challenge, of course, is making the Internet usable on a small-form factor, in the ways people want to use it. That means appealing to different audiences using different devices.

Making Devices Usable

Around 200 models of Internet-capable phones are currently available on the market. Of those devices, many are small, with screens that are about an inch and a half square. The most usable devices, however, have screens that are roughly 2 inches by 3 inches—think of the Android-enabled T-Mobile G1, shown in Figure 1.4.

In addition to the device, there's functionality to take into consideration. Surfing the Web on a mobile phone is more labor intensive than surfing the Web on a computer. A user might have to type 10-25 characters into a regular web browser to perform a search, for example, but a user searching from a mobile device might require as many as 40 keystrokes to type those same 10-25 characters. Because of the way the keyboards are set up on a mobile phone, users also spend more time typing those keystrokes.

Now, many of the Internet-enabled mobile phones that are hitting the market today are designed to take advantage of mobile web surfing. New device features, such as touch screens, full QWERTY keyboards, and even more intuitive voice commands, are becoming standard features on phones. Users demand more usability, and device manufacturers are providing it.


The T-Mobile G1 belongs to a class of mobile phones that is designed for mobile Internet usability.


The T-Mobile G1 belongs to a class of mobile phones that is designed for mobile Internet usability.

Adding Software Applications to the Mix

In addition to the functionality of the phone, the software and applications that are installed on or available for an Internet-enabled mobile phone are a factor in the usability of the device. But these applications must appeal to two distinct groups of users: those raised on the Internet and mobile devices and the rest of us, who use the mobile web a little differently. Those raised on the Internet and mobile devices tend to use those devices as a means of extending their community. That means they're not only part of productivity, but they're also part of a lifestyle. Those who weren't necessarily raised with a mobile device in our hands are typically more interested in finding information, staying connected to home and work, and accomplishing something. We don't have time to use the mobile web as a social network, but we also don't have time not to. We're busy, and our idea of mobility is being able to accomplish more during times when we were out of the loop in the past.

Mobile application designers have to bring applications to the market that reach both groups of people. It's a challenge. Working in a smaller form factor means understanding the audience you're trying to reach. It means spending time to find out what a specific segment of the audience wants and needs from an application. It also means understanding that sometimes there's a crossover from one group to the next.

That's what Google does best. Google has spent a lot of money learning how and why users use the Web. Studying different age groups, hiring the best and brightest minds in the world, and keeping an open mind about what's coming next has helped Google tap into a market that's set to explode in ways that we're only beginning to understand.

And now Google is translating all that to the mobile platform with Google Android. The phone is cool, but it's really just a device—one that will change rapidly and repeatedly. One device will lead to a better device, which will lead to a better one, and so on until the whole factor has changed significantly.

What really makes the mobile web usable is the applications that are available on the devices. Some of these applications come preinstalled on the device. Others are add-ons that users can install and uninstall at will, based on their current needs. And that's where we are now.

We have some of the best devices that the mobile market has ever seen, now available to users. The applications that make those devices truly useful are growing rapidly. Google Android is designed to be a platform that makes those applications grow faster, better, and stronger than anything that we've seen in the past.

Through the open source nature of Android, developers around the world are building applications for Android-based phones. And because it is open source, those applications are improved and added to on a daily basis. The variety is monstrous. From productivity applications such as spreadsheets and calculators to purely social applications such as Twitter and blogger aids, endless possibilities exist for every type of user. That's the promise of Android: to make the Web usable for everyone. Google seems to be successfully keeping this promise.

Closing the Door

In this chapter, you've learned how Android was concepted and how it became Google Android. You've also seen the usability of the mobile Internet and the current challenges to its adoption. But Google has met those challenges well with Google Android. Now it's time to learn more about the device: the T-Mobile G1 and the T-Mobile myTouch, also known as the HTC Magic. Keep reading. In the next chapter, you'll get a quick tour of the devices and their features and capabilities.

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