Google’s About Face

image credit goes to Steven Troughton-Smith

An avalanche of truly fascinating information has been pouring out of the Google-Oracle trial, not the least of which being documents about the prototypes of Google’s early Android phones. You can find some software and hardware shots over at The Verge, AndroidPIT, and High Caffeine Content, and there’s no question that the direction Google was taking Android in 2006 and 2007 was far different than what they would release in the fall of 2008.

Back during Android’s development, Google appeared to be set against the idea of touch screens as the primary input. Several months after the iPhone was released, Google had this to say about touch screens:

Touchscreens will be supported. However, the Product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption, therefore a touchscreen cannot completely replace physical buttons.

Somewhere between 2007 and 2008, Google decided to make an about face and follow Apple’s lead on touch screens. This isn’t about Apple versus Google though. What it’s about is the impressive speed at which Google changed gears on Android development. In roughly twelve to fourteen months, Google took Android from being squarely aimed at keypad-based phones and turned it into a capable touch screen environment. And yes, the rough edges showed in the original Android phones, but the nimbleness demonstrated by the development team is staggering.

One year from old to new. Images from Steven Troughton-Smith and Wikimedia Commons.

Google wasn’t the only to initially scoff at the iPhone’s touch screen, but they were the first to realize their error and do something about it. It took Microsoft three years to unveil their response to iOS and Android. The same is true for Blackberry, and how are those two doing in the mobile industry today? According to Gartner, Android is on 51% of smartphones sold to customers, and iOS accounts for 24% of sales in Q4 2011. Between 2007 and 2012, the mobile industry has been dominated by two newcomers, newcomers who now control 75% of the smartphone market. In contrast, veterans Research In Motion and Microsoft are hovering around 9% and 2% respectively.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the merits of iOS and Android over the other. We can pick nits about nuances of both platforms, but the simple truth is this: Apple changed the game with iPhone, and Google was the first of the mobile companies (before they had even released anything tangible) to see the shift and respond in kind. They did so with impressive speed and created a product millions of people have come to use and enjoy. When looking at how far Android has come in a very short time, I can’t help but come away impressed.


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