New York City recently hosted the President of the United States. Ho hum.
But if you were looking for real star power, airtight security and, frankly, much better food, you just had to head across town to the introduction of Google’s long-awaited Google Phone, officially called the G1. As in, Google One. Like the president’s jet, only with better gas mileage.
Yes, there wasn’t a lot of subtlety at the introduction. But there were a lot of very nice surprises — Google could actually out-Apple Apple in its easy, simple-to-use cell phone operating system, called Android, and there were some stunning little developments in the phone itself that bear mentioning.
But first, the lack of subtlety: if you’re wondering whether or not Google and T-Mobile are aiming directly at Apple and AT&T (the iPhone’s official network), don’t. They are. More specifically, Google and T-Mobile want to eat Apple’s lunch. There is no question about any of this: when the G1 hits T-Mobile stores in a month, on October 22, for example, it will cost $179, which is $20 less than the iPhone.
When your first phone bill comes in the mail a month later (assuming you’re lucky enough to get a G1), it will cost you $25 for your unlimited 3G data plan, which is $5 less than the iPhone. Getting the picture? Oh, speaking of the picture: the G1 has a 3 megapixel camera, while the iPhone only has a 1 megapixel camera. You can almost hear the folks up at Google shouting toward Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters, “So there!”
Finally, and unlike the iPhone, the G1 has a slide-out keyboard. One of my only complaints about the iPhone, otherwise a masterpiece of technology, is that if you want to text someone or type in any kind of address in a search bar, you have to brush your fingertips on a flat piece of glass and pray you’ve hit the right "virtual" button. With the Google G1, you hit actual keys to tap. Big ones, by the way — they’re easy to see and use.
Now brace yourself: what I’m about to say is a little wonky, but hang in there — it directly affects you. The way the G1 behaves right now is not going to be the way it behaves in a couple of months. On purpose: It will be better. Much better than it already is.
How do I know? Because unlike Apple, which is the CIA of consumer electronics, Google has thrown open its so-called “Android” operating system to the whims and creative impulses of the world. Meaning? If somebody really talented doesn’t like the way the G1 works, they can rewrite the software and make the improvement available to the world. The code is open to anyone who wants to look at it and better it. Google just about fell all over itself during the introduction to emphasize that unlike Apple, Google wants people to enhance the G1’s workings by developing even better interfaces and software.
Apple, on the other hand, which is about as likely to open its operating system as you are to publish your Social Security Number, has a different thought about people developing applications for its iPhone: fuggeddaboutit. Yes, they recently opened up a little bit after legions of customers and software developers complained, but trying to open up an Apple iPhone is still like trying to break into Fort Knox.
Sometimes literally: Apple finally admitted a few months ago that people who illegally put non-Apple-developed software on their iPhone would discover that their iPhone would eventually shut down and stop working, just like that. It was termed “bricking” the phone, as in, turning the thing into a brick by disabling it. Apple just didn’t want people messing around with the operating system.
Google is going about it the opposite way: see a way of improving the phone? Go ahead!
That said, it’s hard to see how this first shot could be dramatically improved, other than its slightly clunky music player and the fact that its way-fast 3G network is only available in 27 cities. And the fact that it isn’t nearly as beautiful as the sleek, elegant iPhone.
But here are some of the advantages: the G1 automatically syncs up with all of your online Google calendar and contacts, so those are immediately in your phone, at your fingertips. No need to connect it to a computer. And the Google Maps function gets an amazing outlet in the G1 — since the phone has an onboard compass, you can literally just spin the phone around and get Google’s amazing “Street View” of where you’re standing, right there on the screen. And like the iPhone, you can touch the screen and ‘flick’ through web pages, but amazingly quickly and easily by comparison to the Apple product.
Speaking of touching a screen, here’s a cool feature: the G1 actually allows you to save pictures you see online on the phone, just by touching the picture and holding it for a moment. There’s lots more to discover. Here’s how you do it: just wait until October 22, and look for the (long) line in front of the T-Mobile store. Good luck.
Paul Hochman is the gear and technology editor for the TODAY Show and a Fast Company magazine contributor. He covered the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Athens and Torino, Italy, for TODAY. He was also a three-year letter winner on the Dartmouth ski team and has a black belt in karate. Paul’s blog can be found at: