Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Android Differentiates from iPhone

After considering the iPhone, I bought a Motorola Droid a couple weeks ago. I read lots of reviews, and it seemed to me that the difference between the iPhone and the Droid boiled down to this: if you use your phone for media like songs and videos, buy an iPhone, but if you use a lot of Google services, buy a Droid.

I was wrong.

Google is integrating Android with telephony technology acquired from Grand Central (now Google Voice) and Gizmo to provide a whole new class of telephone applications. The difference between iPhone and Android boils down to this: if you use your phone for media like songs and videos, buy an iPhone, but if you want a mobile device that's part of your personal communications empire, buy an Android phone.

The first clue was when I was setting up Google Voice and it asked to notify me when number portability became available so I could switch my cell number to Google Voice. Well, maybe the first clue was that I could get a phone number from Google Voice at all.

Google Voice has tons of nice features for managing your voice communications life:
  • Interfaces with all your phone numbers
  • Routes calls from specific contacts or groups of contacts to specific phones (for instance, business contacts go to business phones)
  • Screens unknown callers with a prompt to provide name
  • Transcribes voicemail, then optionally forwards messages (in text & audio) to email and text
  • Plays specific outgoing messages for specific contacts or groups of contacts
  • Provides web-based and phone-based user interfaces

Then I configured my Gizmo VoIP phone in Google Voice. If you don't have a Gizmo account, you'll have to wait until Google re-launches the services. Other VoIP technology will work, but won't be integrated as nicely later on.

What's interesting about VoIP with Google Voice? Free calls. One way to place calls with Google Voice is to select a number from the Google Voice web interface. Google Voice calls me, then connects me with the number I selected on the webpage. When Google Voice calls me on VoIP, the phone call is free. So I can travel anywhere in the world where I can find Internet, and call anywhere in the US for free. Google is leveraging its Internet infrastructure to move the voice traffic market onto IP-based networks.

But wait, there's more. You can make free calls entirely on the Droid. I downloaded the sipdroid application to my Droid, and configured it with my Gizmo number (include the leading "1") and password, and set the proxy server to proxy01.sipphone.com. I'm still working out some details, but in theory I can select a contact from Google Voice on my Droid or on a website, and carry on the conversation on my Droid over VoIP. All for free. Look, mom, no voice line.

Of course, you probably can use most of the Google Voice features on an iPhone. I bet that Google will integrate Google Voice and VoIP functionality much more tightly on the Android platform, though. Making Android devices the mobile piece of an integrated search and communications platform is a smart strategy for Google. Even if Google releases the rumored Nexus One phone under their own brand, handset manufacturers will want to make Android-based devices in order to leverage Google's IP-based telephony infrastructure.

As it turns out, Apple and Google have developed their respective handset technologies to leverage their online strengths. iPhone always will surpass Android phones at using iTunes media distribution. As Google rolls out its Internet-based communications infrastructure, Android always will surpass iPhone at managing online communications.

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