The mobile operating system Android is just celebrating its tenth birthday, so we at Deutsche Telekom are also looking back – with a touch of nostalgia – to the launch of the T-Mobile G1 in New York and everything that happened afterwards, regarding the smartphone.
About a year after Apple unveiled the iPhone, Google also started revolutionizing the mobile communications market with smartphones. The T-Mobile G1 was at the time the product of an alliance between HTC and Google; it became the very first smartphone to run Android. We at Deutsche Telekom were also proud back then, “as the world’s first company to launch a cell phone on the basis of the new Android operating system,” as our then Group Product & Innovation Officer Christopher Schläffler said.
Touchscreen, QWERTY keypad and trackball, the Play Store was still called Android Market at the time, photos came courtesy of a three megapixel camera and G1 provided mobile communications with 3G and EDGE. And can you still remember your first smartphone rate plan at Deutsche Telekom? Android came onto the scene back in the day “to open up the mobile Internet not just for millions of users, but at the same time to mobilize the community of developers,” explained Andy Rubin, then Senior Director of Mobile Platforms at Google. After ten years, there is no doubt about the Android success story. With just under three million available apps, revenue of around two billion US dollars was generated in 2016 alone. However, the Android operating system itself is free for users and is currently used on over 80 percent of all smartphones worldwide.
Fabian Nappenbach is the head of European Product Marketing at Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC and, as an Android user from day one, can still definitely roll off all the Android versions together with their nicknames, or can he?
Fabian Nappenbach: So without googling? I think it started with Cupcake, that must have been 1.3, then D – Donut, E – Eclair, F – …. Froyo, i.e. Frozen Yogurt, G – … (it’s gone), then there’s Honeycomb. Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, Nougat, Oreo, Pie and the next must then be Quince. But the G is really bugging me. Got it! Gingerbread. Ah, I can just imagine all those tiny little people beavering away on the Google Campus.
So it’s based on ABC and confectionery, but now things are getting a bit tight: we’ll soon be at Q. Quark, Quince… we’ll see.
The first smartphone with Android “Base” was dubbed the T-Mobile G1 at the time and came from HTC. Was Deutsche Telekom involved in the G1?
Fabian Nappenbach: Involved is stretching it a little, I mean Deutsche Telekom wasn’t involved in the design or the hardware. An operator usually tends to be more involved in the software, not directly in the coding though, more in the way of expressing wishes: “I’d like to have the wallpaper in magenta and the following apps preinstalled!” That is very limited access to the actual handset design, Google or even HTC were mostly taking the decisions.
How did you experience the launch of Android?
Fabian Nappenbach: At the time I was HTC Product Manager with the competition and was looking toward Hamburg with more than a touch of envy since the Dream, i.e. the G1 was exclusive to Deutsche Telekom at the time and so it was something I could only do from a distance so to speak. At O2 you had the XDAs, at Deutsche Telekom they were called MDAs, and then a new operating system from a tried-and-trusted manufacturer was of course incredibly exciting.
What function was most exciting for you at the time?
Fabian Nappenbach: The exciting thing about Android was basically that it remains one of the first operating systems to be geared consistently to the cloud. Switching to a new cell phone always used to be such an inconvenience, the contacts via the SIM card and then the address book using some or other cable and adjust this, adjust that, adjust something else… – and then you simply had to type in your Google address and you're almost done, suddenly everything is up and running. And your whole life was at that point in time on your device and I felt that was a huge breakthrough compared with everything we used to refer to as smartphone or telephone.
What apps did you install first, what are your favorite apps to date?
Fabian Nappenbach: I think what changed my life the most is definitely Google Maps, because I’m on the move a lot. So you can be kicked out of a taxi anywhere in the world and know where you are straightaway. That’s why I have to say it’s Google Maps by far.
Android is the world’s most commonly used operating system. Why is Android so successful?
Fabian Nappenbach: Android is freely available for any manufacturer that sticks to Google specifications a bit. And that’s why you’ve got Android from a 50 euro phone up to a 1,300 euro luxury smartphone. And for me Android’s strength is its openness and in turn also the biggest difference to the competition. At any point in the operating system, I’m free to choose as a customer whether I’d like to use this keyboard, this browser, this gallery and what have you. Here the manufacturer doesn’t tie me down to certain options and that’s what I really like and that’s what seems to appeal to others too.
What is missing from Android? What things should Android also be able to do in future?
Fabian Nappenbach: I’d like to see a genuine security patch system. While we do often talk about patches, when you look at the detail, these are built in such a way that you always have to put together, test and roll out a brand-new operating system. And that’s why it also takes so long. If it works like with Windows that you only have to transfer the small patch to all devices, then the entire process would be much smoother. I don’t know whether that’s technically feasible, but I imagine it would be a major improvement.
How important is Android today as an operating system for the smartphone manufacturer HTC? And when will Google and HTC be working together?
Fabian Nappenbach: Basically we are agnostic: that is to say HTC started with Windows, then virtually set up Windows Mobile and at the time helped develop Android. At present all our mobile devices exclusively use Android. We do still have VR glasses that run on Windows PCs, but even our standalone VR glasses are based on Android. So in this respect, the operating system is enormously important, but we are not married yet.
We’ve always had a very close relationship, always liaised closely with Google. HTC has, for instance, consistently made devices for Google. That started with the G1, then the Dream until most recently the latest Pixel generation. Google also took on a bunch of our developers for the Pixel Team, but we nonetheless remain independent of Google. So it’s not the same company, but there is undoubtedly a close friendship.
What are your favorite apps and your experiences from 10 years of Android? I look forward to hearing what you say!