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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Google For iPhone: Android’s Beta-Test?

A former spreadsheets addict, Jon Bradford discovered the net in 2000 when he joined a start-up as finance director. Today he works in an accounting practice in Newcastle, UK.

I’ve been surprised by Google’s rapid redesign of its mobile services to support the iPhone: In less than 6 months, Google has created custom iPhone interfaces for all its key services. But it may have an ulterior motive.

The services which have been customised for iPhone include:

Google Service Comment
Maps Available at launch 29 June 2007
Calendar 24 September 2007
Reader (RSS / Atom Reader) UI updated 8 November 2007
Picasa 13 December 2007
IMAP email Around 25 October 2007
Integrated interface - Search - Email - Calendar - Reader 5 December 2007

In addition Google have developed a specific application to allow YouTube videos to be streamed to the iPhone – to get around the absence of Flash on the iPhone.

It is understandable how the iPhone platform has grabbed the imagination of Google’s employees – it’s the internet in your pocket, with a clean, intuitive interface, and with Eric Schmidt* at the helm it can’t be hard to convince your manager to let you spend your 20% on iPhone related applications. In fact, iPhone-mania at Google has even got Europe’s favorite long-tail cartographer, Ed Parsons dumping his almost new Nokia N95 for an iPhone – even though the latter doesn’t have built-in GPS!

So maybe there’s another reason. Google are gaining considerable experience developing its mobile services for its new platform – Android. But look a little closer. The iPhone and Android share the common foundations in the open source browser WebKit –

WebKit is also the name of the Mac OS X system framework version of the engine that’s used by Safari, Dashboard, Mail, and many other OS X applications. WebKit’s HTML and JavaScript code began as a branch of the KHTML and KJS libraries from KDE.

And on Google’s Android website:

[Android’s] integrated browser based on the open source WebKit engine.

Hence, what we may be actually looking at is Google’s mobile services which will be available on Android from its launch, effectively putting iPhone users through the pain of finding the flaws.

In addition, it should be noted that Flash for the iPhone has not been forthcoming, and there are also questions around whether Android will support Flash – which is not unsurprising given Google’s limited use of Flash on its own websites**.

So for those who have looked jealously on the new interfaces being developed for iPhone, have a little patience, because I think what you are looking at is Google’s services for Android.

*Google CEO Eric Schmidt is on Apple’s board of directors, and he’s also using an iPhone himself.

**Services like Google Finance or Google Analytics are among the somewhat rare exceptions of Google using Flash.

[IPhone screenshot in image by Duncan Rawlinson, CC-licensed.]


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