Will Android Be Google’s Vietnam?

One of my favorite quotes of all times was Ted Leonsis’s statement in the mid-1990’s that "MSN will be Microsoft’s Vietnam."  Ted said this around the time that MSN launched (on a proprietary platform – pre-Internet) to compete directly with AOL.  15 years later this seems like such a prescient statement.

I have no idea if Android will be Google’s Vietnam.  We’ll have to look back 15 years from now to really know.  But as I watched the T-Mobile G1 Video and read through some of the Android early criticism (and praise), I kept asking myself "why?"  I have my own guesses as to the answer, and I know the public answers, but when I sit on the outside looking in, I have way more questions than answers.

If Google is really serious, they’ll do what Apple did – license Microsoft ActiveSync and immediately create transparent integration with Exchange (hey – don’t forget to write the 74 lines of code that will sync tasks.)  I’m a month into using my iPhone and it’s here to stay – it is so superior to Windows Mobile 6 on a Dash that I can’t even begin to describe my pleasure with it as an integrated mobile device.  I’ve gotten used to the keyboard and can now type on it about as fast as I could on my Dash and my old Sidekick.  I continue to hear this as the major complaint from semi-converts, but I just don’t see it.  You definitely have to change a few things about how you type on a small keyboard, but I had to do that with the Sidekick (thumb clicks anyone?) and the Dash (keep your fingernails really short.)  Yeah, there are still plenty of things that could be improved, but with each incremental release I see them get fixed.

As I ponder Foundry Group’s digital life theme, including the hour long conversation I had with a new Microsoft friend at dinner last night, I realize that I believe forced migration of an individual’s legacy data simply won’t work.  I have so much legacy data associated with all my different devices, on so many different platforms, in so many different places, across so many different people / relationships that the new devices and software I use, whether by Apple, Google, Microsoft, StartupCo, or FooCo, are going to have to "respect" all that stuff.  When I dig into Android a little, I see the potential for that, but I also see resistance to that concept.  iPhone 1.0 had this problem; iPhone 2.0 is doing a much better job of not having this problem.

I’m spending the day at Microsoft’s Annual Venture Capital Summit and expect to hear a lot about Cloud Computing and Mesh.  I have my Microsoft Venture Capital Advisory board meeting tomorrow where the topic is all around where Windows Mobile is going.  Against the background of Google, Android, the iPhone, and all the various "cloud computing initiatives", it’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft has really reconciled – at least conceptually – issues that led to the MSN / Vietnam problem that still hinder it today.  Simultaneously, it’s interesting to watch and see if Google is wandering into their own Vietnam(s), or if they will deftly sidestep them.

I love working with / on this stuff and – after watching Fred Wilson’s video on the last 15 years in the New York Internet scene (and how prosaic things look like from 1995) – I’m so amused when I think about what things will be like in 2023.

  • Ben

    what's your tip on how to type efficently on the iphone. do you use your thumbs?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Yup – I use my thumbs. I've found the trick is entirely about elbow positioning. If I've got my elbows (and correspondingly my arms) positioned correctly I can type flawlessly like a banshee. If I'm even a tiny bit off you get svbumche of hunk.

  • http://ahillman.com Andrew

    The iphones exchange still needs work. The sub folders still do not show new mail via push, you have to pull the mail from the server if you have rules set. This is really annoying to me.

    I am pretty fast with typing as well so I dont miss my qwerty board anymore.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Yeah – agree – but I think it's close enough at this point.

  • http://davidduey.typepad.com David Duey

    My weird thought of the day…

    When I read your paragraph about legacy data, I started thinking about your Glue theme and the bad Terminator (T-1000) in the movie Terminator 2. When the bad Terminator was torn apart, it's various pieces would return to collective (for lack of a better description). Wouldn't it be cool if your data could automagically find its way home?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Awesome metaphor. Look for use from mr in the future. I'll try to remember to give you credit.

  • billc124

    Brad,

    Right there with you. I went from a Dash to the iPhone and kept the Dash in case I wanted to go back to it (the Dash is even better running WinMO 6.1 by the way) but I am hooked. I have the original model iPhone because I got it from a friend on the cheap and can't get out of my T-Mobile contract yet ;-) Here are two questions for you.

    1) Do you find it annoying that you can't mark a message on the iPhone as unread? Sometimes I read something and want to mark it unread so I remember to get to it when I get back to the office, can't do that with iPhone. Really bothers me.

    2) Have you jailbroken your iPhone if you are willing to admit it that is. I have and find that it allows you much more flexibility between official and unofficial apps. Like with a jailbroken iPhone you can install an app that lets you record video. Anyway, just curious…

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      I'm zero inbox so I don't need to mark as unread. Seems like a simple feature that will appear fixed sometime.

      I had a jailbroken version for a week with my tmobile sim before I decided to formally switch. Once I swiched I got a new phone on AT&T and didn't really see the need for the jailbreak.

      • billc124

        I wish I could be zero inbox…

        • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

          Repeat after me. Reply. Delete.

  • levinsontodd

    Actually, it's a pretty ridiculous metaphor, made worse by the fact that you are re-hashing it and not really committing to it in any way because you say you have no idea.

    Do you really even think that? If you do, maybe you could expand a little more and explain some of the parallels.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Why do you think it's a ridiculous metaphor. When ted said it in 1993 it was right on and an enormous rallying cry for a number of years.

      I dont know the answer. I don't feel strongly about it as correct or incorrect but I think it is interesting and important to ponder.

      • levinsontodd

        The analogy between a complex, extremely violent historical event and a bad business decision by Microsoft or Google is a weak one. Or, it is weak when the analogy is just based on the simplified idea that Vietnam was a “quagmire,” but doesn't go any deeper. No one is going to die over Active Sync, which will probably be supported by Android eventually.

        • Jay Levitt

          It did go deeper. Microsoft was making a very loud play for AOL, in their usual style: If we compete with AOL, we'll destroy them – so we'll save us both some trouble, and buy them instead. They said services like AOL were “dinosaurs”, and that MSN was the future.

          Steve, of course, wasn't publicly ruffled – but Ted was furious. They quickly announced an all-hands meeting in the cafeteria; all anybody knew was that it was something about Microsoft. Did they make Steve an offer he couldn't refuse?

          (continued)

          • Jay Levitt

            It wasn't a long meeting. Ted relayed the quote from Microsoft: They thought we were dinosaurs. Well, good: Let them think that. They have no idea what they're getting into. They don't know the territory; we created it. They aren't prepared; a few years prior, the Internet wasn't even in their product plan. They think they can brute-force their way to a victory, but we're smarter and more nimble.

            In short: They've got the wrong metaphor. It's not evolution. It's war. “Interactive online services will be Microsoft's Vietnam.” I still have the T-shirt somewhere: Ted's quote, below the letters “AOL”. The “O” was the international “no” symbol – with a picture of a dinosaur.

            (continued again.. really? “your comment is too long?” What year is it?)

          • Jay Levitt

            Ted commissioned a giant dinosaur cut-out, we all signed our names to it, and he stationed it outside his office; we all got a picture of that too, and the original dinosaur was on display in the Dulles office as recently as a few years ago. It was, without question, the most motivating, mobilizing, now-or-never moment in AOL's history.

            Is Android Google's Vietnam? Too early to say. But Google has little expertise in client software, even less in hardware and embedded apps, and none at all in wireless. Apple's wiped the floor with their competition on all of those. And if Apple's employees *think* that Android is Google's Vietnam… it might well be.

  • http://www.bijansabet.com bijan sabet

    iphone has it's flaws but its the best of the bunch for me right now

    but i'm going to get a G1 and give it a whirl.

  • Joel Kehle

    Brad,

    I'd be curious what your questions and answers list re Android is. Care to share on this post?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      I don’t know yet. I need to actually get my hands on one.

  • Richard

    You ask why a Google OS for the mobile market? Why not…Google is the first to make an Open Source phone OS available on the market. Not only is this phone OS going to out-do WM and iPhone in a few years, it will also become more mainstream and most popular platform for mobile computing ever. Think about it ….the Android OS will be made available to all mobile phone carriers (ATT, Tmobile, Sprint, etc). Google has made it easier for any and all developers to write apps for it. This is a big departure from the closed architectures like iPhone or WM.

    Don't take my word for it….Wait and see. I'll be back to post the “I told you so…” comment in a few months/years. :-)

  • Richard

    Oh yes…and Android functionality / look-n-feel is far superior to the iPhone. The interface is similar to the iPhone's in its gestures and tilt, but also has more functionality like press-and-hold. Unlike the iPhone, it does have a slide-out keyboard (at least T-Mobile's G1 does) and it has navigation buttons that the iPhone does not. This is needed for apps that require the quick, 1-button access to features.

    For those that don't know, the first iteration of Google's Android OS will manifest itself as T-Mobile's G1. Future release of the OS will be made available to other carriers and probably in many other forms. Google knows exactly what they are doing and they will be making a considerable dent in this market. Look for WM to have to re-invent itself to compete with Android and iPHone.

  • Richard

    Oh yes…and Android functionality / look-n-feel is far superior to the iPhone. The interface is similar to the iPhone's in its gestures and tilt, but also has more functionality like press-and-hold. Unlike the iPhone, it does have a slide-out keyboard (at least T-Mobile's G1 does) and it has navigation buttons that the iPhone does not. This is needed for apps that require the quick, 1-button access to features.

    For those that don't know, the first iteration of Google's Android OS will manifest itself as T-Mobile's G1. Future release of the OS will be made available to other carriers and probably in many other forms. Google knows exactly what they are doing and they will be making a considerable dent in this market. Look for WM to have to re-invent itself to compete with Android and iPHone.

  • Richard

    You ask why a Google OS for the mobile market? Why not…Google is the first to make an Open Source phone OS available on the market. Not only is this phone OS going to out-do WM and iPhone in a few years, it will also become more mainstream and most popular platform for mobile computing ever. Think about it ….the Android OS will be made available to all mobile phone carriers (ATT, Tmobile, Sprint, etc). Google has made it easier for any and all developers to write apps for it. This is a big departure from the closed architectures like iPhone or WM.

    Don't take my word for it….Wait and see. I'll be back to post the "I told you so…" comment in a few months/years. :-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I'm zero inbox so I don't need to mark as unread. Seems like a simple feature that will appear fixed sometime.

    I had a jailbroken version for a week with my tmobile sim before I decided to formally switch. Once I swiched I got a new phone on AT&T and didn't really see the need for the jailbreak.

  • Ben

    what's your tip on how to type efficently on the iphone. do you use your thumbs?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Repeat after me. Reply. Delete.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Yeah – agree – but I think it's close enough at this point.

  • bijan sabet

    iphone has it's flaws but its the best of the bunch for me right now

    but i'm going to get a G1 and give it a whirl.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/levinsontodd levinsontodd

    The analogy between a complex, extremely violent historical event and a bad business decision by Microsoft or Google is a weak one. Or, it is weak when the analogy is just based on the simplified idea that Vietnam was a “quagmire,” but doesn't go any deeper. No one is going to die over Active Sync, which will probably be supported by Android eventually.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Awesome metaphor. Look for use from mr in the future. I'll try to remember to give you credit.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Why do you think it's a ridiculous metaphor. When ted said it in 1993 it was right on and an enormous rallying cry for a number of years.

    I dont know the answer. I don't feel strongly about it as correct or incorrect but I think it is interesting and important to ponder.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Yup – I use my thumbs. I've found the trick is entirely about elbow positioning. If I've got my elbows (and correspondingly my arms) positioned correctly I can type flawlessly like a banshee. If I'm even a tiny bit off you get svbumche of hunk.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Jay_Levitt Jay_Levitt

    It did go deeper. Microsoft was making a very loud play for AOL, in their usual style: If we compete with AOL, we'll destroy them – so we'll save us both some trouble, and buy them instead. They said services like AOL were "dinosaurs", and that MSN was the future.

    Steve, of course, wasn't publicly ruffled – but Ted was furious. They quickly announced an all-hands meeting in the cafeteria; all anybody knew was that it was something about Microsoft. Did they make Steve an offer he couldn't refuse?

    (continued)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Jay_Levitt Jay_Levitt

    It wasn't a long meeting. Ted relayed the quote from Microsoft: They thought we were dinosaurs. Well, good: Let them think that. They have no idea what they're getting into. They don't know the territory; we created it. They aren't prepared; a few years prior, the Internet wasn't even in their product plan. They think they can brute-force their way to a victory, but we're smarter and more nimble.

    In short: They've got the wrong metaphor. It's not evolution. It's war. "Interactive online services will be Microsoft's Vietnam." I still have the T-shirt somewhere: Ted's quote, below the letters "AOL". The "O" was the international "no" symbol – with a picture of a dinosaur.

    (continued again.. really? "your comment is too long?" What year is it?)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Jay_Levitt Jay_Levitt

    Ted commissioned a giant dinosaur cut-out, we all signed our names to it, and he stationed it outside his office; we all got a picture of that too, and the original dinosaur was on display in the Dulles office as recently as a few years ago. It was, without question, the most motivating, mobilizing, now-or-never moment in AOL's history.

    Is Android Google's Vietnam? Too early to say. But Google has little expertise in client software, even less in hardware and embedded apps, and none at all in wireless. Apple's wiped the floor with their competition on all of those. And if Apple's employees *think* that Android is Google's Vietnam… it might well be.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I don’t know yet. I need to actually get my hands on one.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/billc124 billc124

    I wish I could be zero inbox…

  • Andrew

    The iphones exchange still needs work. The sub folders still do not show new mail via push, you have to pull the mail from the server if you have rules set. This is really annoying to me.

    I am pretty fast with typing as well so I dont miss my qwerty board anymore.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/levinsontodd levinsontodd

    Actually, it's a pretty ridiculous metaphor, made worse by the fact that you are re-hashing it and not really committing to it in any way because you say you have no idea.

    Do you really even think that? If you do, maybe you could expand a little more and explain some of the parallels.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/billc124 billc124

    Brad,

    Right there with you. I went from a Dash to the iPhone and kept the Dash in case I wanted to go back to it (the Dash is even better running WinMO 6.1 by the way) but I am hooked. I have the original model iPhone because I got it from a friend on the cheap and can't get out of my T-Mobile contract yet ;-) Here are two questions for you.

    1) Do you find it annoying that you can't mark a message on the iPhone as unread? Sometimes I read something and want to mark it unread so I remember to get to it when I get back to the office, can't do that with iPhone. Really bothers me.

    2) Have you jailbroken your iPhone if you are willing to admit it that is. I have and find that it allows you much more flexibility between official and unofficial apps. Like with a jailbroken iPhone you can install an app that lets you record video. Anyway, just curious…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/david_duey david_duey

    My weird thought of the day…

    When I read your paragraph about legacy data, I started thinking about your Glue theme and the bad Terminator (T-1000) in the movie Terminator 2. When the bad Terminator was torn apart, it's various pieces would return to collective (for lack of a better description). Wouldn't it be cool if your data could automagically find its way home?

  • Joel Kehle

    Brad,

    I'd be curious what your questions and answers list re Android is. Care to share on this post?