Google vs. iPhone: Is Steve Jobs Reliving Past Mistakes?

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Jacob Silberberg / Reuters

The new T-Mobile G1 phone runs Google's Android software

Journalists are great at pattern recognition. It's a silly function we perform — this thing looks like that thing — and we usually do it to show off our vast institutional knowledge.

Still, with the launch of the first "Google phone," it doesn't take a journalist to notice the obvious signs of history repeating itself. Is Steve Jobs, whose iPhone is the toast of the telecommunications world, doomed to relive the mistakes of the past?

The tragedy of Apple is, of course, well known. Jobs, a young visionary, and his older, nerdier pal, Steve Wozniak, created the first true personal computer in 1976. But while Apple established and dominated the early market for computers and software — creating a record for "fastest start-up to reach the Fortune 500" — it rapidly lost the market. The rise of the IBM-compatible PC a decade later, which ran Microsoft's operating system, smashed Apple. The key to the PC's success and Apple's downfall was that the open-standards-based IBM-compatible PC created a platform for third-party hardware and softwaremakers to ply their stuff.

Clearly, Jobs, who left Apple in a power struggle, then returned to resurrect it from a near bankrupt state, learned something from his missteps. The iPhone is more open than Apple's computers. Apple relies almost exclusively on third parties to create software for the iPhone, and even sells it to developers in its App Store. That's why iPhone applications look to be a $1 billion business.

But! The platform is far from open. Developers and their programs must be approved by Apple. This does not sit well with the dudes who write software, and it's getting ugly among the rank and file. Apple, which has accepted then summarily rejected some apps after they've gone up, is doing a poor job of handling developer relations and is getting a reputation for being capricious. Some angry developers are already defecting to Android — the OS that powers T-Mobile's G1 and will power all successive iterations of the Google phone.

And that's the point, of course. The G1 is but the first in what's bound to be a very long line of smartphones that will live in a wide-open ecosystem. Sure, they're crufty and ugly — as are Windows and the machines that run it — but I guarantee that they will get cheaper and better looking as more devicemakers launch their Android phones. And unlike Apple, which listens only to Jobs, these manufacturers will be listening to the market. It was not a coincidence that the very first Android phone gave users a cut-and-paste function — something that iPhone users have wanted since Day One. The tragedy, and the farce.

(See photos of the iPhone 3G hitting stores here.)