Android G1: Google lock-in?

I don’t have the privilege to access a G1. But have been reading number of reviews of folks who have such as Walt Mossberg at WSJ. One thing that have caught my attention is that I need to have a Google ID and password to be able to use the phone in a meaningful manner. I don’t know the scope of that control but is this a precursor to a new trend?

Traditionally the mobile operator pretty much have dictated what goes on in their network and who has what rights. That included developers, service providers, and of course we the hapless users. On this side of the Atlantic we are used to operator lock ins, and in GSM networks getting unlocked phones for most parts have been prohibitively expensive. That is assuming you have the the choice to buy them. That option has improved somewhat in recent times through the likes of various online cellphone outfits and vendors like Nokia. One can always go to ebay as long as one does one’s homework.

Phone vendors had to always cave in to operator demands when it came to determining what capabilities the devices offered, what services the vendor may be able to offer to the user and what things user can access or not. The Walled Garden expression had often been used to sum up the situation in one single phrase, although it is most often used to refer to users’ predicament when it came to accessing external apps, content and services. But the idea also extends to the level of control that operators have exerted over vendors. We all know the story of ATT disabling RIM’s GPS offering on their Blackberrys because that was too much to give away for free.

So when Google with its OHA initiative seems to require Google User ID, and makes Marketplace the key distribution point of apps, it makes me wonder about couple of things –

  • First, this seems to be a realization on the part of the operators that if they need to prosper they need to let the vendors and service provider come and play inside the Walled Garden. Ok, that’s good.  Granted Google is not really the G1 vendor; it is HTC instead. But still, Google is the external platform/service enabler that would not have had this level access just a few years ago. We can always credit this to Google’s mass and influence and the changing internet reality on the ground. I wonder whether somebody like Nokia with its devices, Symbian Foundation, and Ovi service platform will be allowed to play a similar game.
  • Secondly, and most disturbingly, I am bothered by the idea that I cannot use the G1 device effectively unless I have a Google ID account. I could have easily imagined a mobile operator doing something like this. It is little surprising and disappointing to see Google do it. It is almost like they are locking the device as much as the mobile operator. Many folks, including myself, do have Google ID accounts and most will probably never stop to think about it. I can only hope this approach will change as next set of Android devices starts rolling out. I do not know how T-Mobile feels about it, but I would imagine not all OHA operators would be so happy with such a lock-in by Google. Or may be it is the shifting of attitude and power balance that we are seeing. Or may be my concern is over blown.

We should find out soon enough. We have already seen some of this changing dynamics with Apple and ATT of course. Granted that given the iPhone charm offensive, it would have been foolish for ATT to behave the old traditional way. But Google is the new new big brother these days.

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