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Android, an idea whose time has come...and gone?

Google's Android may well be trying to out-DOS Apple, but it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Once upon a time, Microsoft decimated Apple with a general purpose operating system and a separation of software from hardware. As the story goes, Microsoft's DOS won because it (either through hapless luck or strategic insight, depending on whom you believe) opened up its operating system and courted developers to become the standard for generic hardware.

Decades later, Google is hoping to do largely the same thing in the mobile market with its Android platform, but this time the platform is open source, not proprietary.

I'm not sure it matters. Not yet, anyway. For the near term, Apple's integrated platform will beat Google's open platform, just as it has been growing far beyond Microsoft's mobile growth rate.

In part this is because Google may lack the aesthetic touch that Apple has in spades, just as Microsoft does. Its newest update apparently is much better than earlier incarnations, but Android is still no iPhone killer.

In part it may be because Google's intended application market may well be too open. Google has been careful to avoid calling it an "App Store," not wanting to paint Android Market so narrowly.

Instead, developers will apparently be able to easily develop and deploy applications and other content. The real question is how Google and its licensees will restrict content: who wants to download spam and other craplets disguised as real applications?

Mostly, I believe it's because we're far too early into the mobile market for anything but a tightly integrated hardware/software solution to work. As Clayton Christensen suggests, integrated firms (i.e., those that control a complete product) win early on in markets. Only as markets mature do component manufacturers start to win out by developing their components more efficiently and quickly than integrated firms.

Do I think the mobile market can eventually mature similar to how the PC market has? Yes. But we're still years from this point. Meanwhile, the market is dramatically changing.

We're starting to see the PC market gel with the online world, making tight integration between hardware, software, and the web critical to success. Here, too, Apple is leading, and its ability to add one more integrated component - the mobile device - to the overall solution means that Apple may be outflanking Google, which has a strong foothold on the web but very little anywhere else.

In sum, I believe it will be Apple and Microsoft duking it out in mobile and using the desktop and web services to drive greater mobile market share. Google? Android won't be enough. Google needs a desktop strategy, and I've suggested that a Google Desktop (Linux under the hood, of course), may well be the road to getting there.

Until then, Android will be interesting but not dangerous.