Sprint engineer demands retraction of Google critique

Jake Orion, the Sprint engineer in charge of Android development who mixed honest criticism with cautious optimism for Google's Android device in an interview he gave AndroidGuys.com earlier this week, has, under pressure, backed down from his comments and demanded that AndroidGuys take down his interview.

Before, Orion told AndroidGuys that while "Google’s confidence, vision and self-assurance are refreshing and innovative," Google needs to " to appreciate and address industry fundamentals more pragmatically." Most critically, he went on to say: "Android isn’t providing unknown magic other OSes are quantum leaps behind on. In many cases their competition is ahead." Now, the updated AndroidGuys article only reads:

We were asked by Jake to remove the article as it was published. We complied with his request as we are not the type of people to put others into sticky situations over a tech blog. Jake advised that he would work with us down the road, but as of right now, the original article has been retracted. We hope you guys understand and appreciate our compliance.

Unfortunately for Orion, Google never forgets, caching everything it crawls. Orion's entire and now very newsworthy interview is below. Besides the most eye-catching quotes we picked up, what else might have offended Google?

The AndroidGuys' Scott Webster told us: " I think the whole "pragmatically" thing is what is getting Orion in hot water." Webster refers to Orion's argument that Google needs"a more proactive and direct linkage to the carrier's network and service requirement."

When we first reported on that bit of the interview, we — not experts in the field — posited that Orion meant Google needs to make Android more easily coupled to Sprint's existing newtork. MocoNews, which follows all this much more closely, disagreed; "We are guessing that the statement has more to do with revenue sharing." Webster has a different take:

I don't think it's so much revenue sharing at this point. I think it's more along the lines of getting the devices to look and feel like a Sprint or T-Mobile handset as much as possible and not a Google Android phone that is more opened up. Might be the carriers resisting the sea change. Even those in the Open Handset Alliance are still not going to like losing some of that control they have grown accustomed to. I don't think Google wants to worry about revenue just yet. They want to "get out there" in general, and deal with an end game later. Nothing concrete has been said yet regarding ads, location based advertising, adsense, etc. It's a lot of speculation at this point, but that's the bad thing... people are speculating and Google/OHA has done nothing to set the record straight.

Orion's entire, now redacted, interview:

A few weeks back we were contacted by one Jake Orion of Sprint Nextel. He advised us that he is part of the Android team over at Sprint and invited us to ask questions. We were excited to try to dig in a little bit and get some answers for our readers. We already know, more or less, what T-Mobile has planned for Android later this year. But what about the other US carrier? We wondered we could find out just a smidgen of info about our #3 provider. Conducted via email, here are the questions and answers with Jake Orion.

In a comment you left on our site, you mentioned that you were the “lead for Android at Sprint.” Can you tell us a little bit more about what that means? What is it that you do?

Product Manager of Android mobile devices. Team selects and defines next generation platforms for Sprint services.

What does the Android team look like at Sprint? How much is dedicated to the platform?

Sprint is dedicated to making game-breaking leaps forward in services and solutions to its customers. Joining the OHA is a key component in this spectrum.

Sprint has and will continue to dedicate uncompromised resources to uphold its responsibilities in the development ecosystem.

My personal experience has been very positive here, I see growing momentum and aggressive support. It is a particularly exciting time.

Are you working on any particular devices now?

All device announcements are released through controlled practices outside my purview. So my apologies, not at liberty to disclose this information.

What do you think of Android as compared to other operating systems?

Android’s solution targets the personal customer electronics (CE) space. Namely it’s made for individual user like us -not business enterprises. Its chief long term competition are the high tier ‘internet-centric’ solutions by LiMo, S60 (Nokia) and iPhone (Apple).

Windows Mobile and Blackberry RIM are mainly business enterprise focused but have a lot of presence and deployed user base. Near term they are certainly in the mix.

Okay, now we can talk about features:

When you evaluate Android’s capabilities versus its peers, it’s awfully complex to sum up. Similar to laptop specs except handset tradeoffs aren’t always dominated by cost versus performance. Handset experience fundamentals such as battery life, physical size, start-up times, interface responses, etc all need to be crafted, contrasted, and balanced.

As it stands today, Android code is nascent and thin in relative capabilities, thus it is hard to see exactly how it compares on a component by component and API by API basis (an API in simple terms are the commands programmers can use to build their applications. More APIs provide more possibilities).

In general, Android’s strength is expected in internet-centric services (browsing, web 2.0 experiences, web multimedia, mash ups etc.]. Its peers are likely to be more telephony, business enabled, and/or traditional multimedia enabled.

Note: the above is at a high level and very general. Fully appreciate these kind of statements can be more disturbing than valuable for the tech savvy reader. If so forgive me.

What’s your gut tell you about Android in the market? What kind of adoption do you see?

We are at that delicate stage where one can’t predict success rate, but can see mechanisms that may prove debilitating.

Google’s confidence, vision and self assurance are refreshing and innovative, but to be effective in this space Google will have to appreciate and address industry fundamentals more pragmatically.

Needs includes a more proactive and direct linkage to the carrier’s network and service requirements. Also, a more stable development and testability process -particularly during the time critical carrier test and debug phase.

In summary, making quality handsets requires more than just engineering prowess. Solutions need to astutely incorporate the market dependencies and the associated operational processes. If Google learns this and stays committed to the business, Android is in the running to be the majority player. It is that big of threat in the mobile arena.

You only have to watch its competitor’s recent reactions to confirm this.

What is the relationship like between carriers and handset makers?

In the USA, carriers define, purchase, warehouse, subsidize and distribute devices. The handsets makers build the devices. The style, feature set and cost is negotiated between them.

Open access (building a device to work on a network without requiring a carrier’s consent) is not a practical reality (yet). This is not a technical limitation, it’s a business one. Non-subsidized products simply can’t compete in mainstream markets segments.

As an aside; carriers have an array of services their customers enjoy and are dependent on. A carrier’s obedience to the customer means it needs to include its services on new operating systems (like Android). This is costly. Carriers and handset OEMs can not practically support every OS. This is another reason why a carrier’s backing of a new OS like Android is essential to market adoption. Same holds true for the handset OEMs.

Is there anything being done different with members of the Open Handset Alliance?

Nothing strikingly unique.

A common (mis)conception is that Android will be “free software with revenue from ads” as the business model. Care to shed any light on that?

True cost is complex. I am not a handset maker and prefer not to comment.

From what you can tell, are you guys “branding” your device around your services? Adding/removing anything from Android?

Exciting stuff is expected here, stay tuned to Sprint. Will reach out as soon as prudent.

How long have you been working on Android?

I personally have only been working Android since Sprint announced

participation in the OHA. That date was 11/05/2007

Realistically, when do you expect to ship Android devices?

There is no reason to suspect the press releases are inappropriately misleading and/or overly optimistic. Track records between press releases and actual device ship dates in the industry are pretty consistent and Android should be no exception.

Is there anything that people don’t know about Android in general?

People seem to have the right idea, but here are three matters to set our expectations: (1) Android has stiff, astute competition that is reacting to its plan (2) Android isn’t providing unknown magic other OSes are quantum leaps behind on. In many cases their competition is ahead. (3) Android’s strength as an internet-centric device is wildly exciting, however, mobile devices that render the internet experience like that of a desktop are going to be higher-end devices for the foreseeable future (5+ years). This is due to a myriad of technical and business reasons.

Please exercise caution with the above, none of it is says Android will have little value, far from it. Its potential is exceptional and the possibilities invigorating. I encourage Google and applaud Android’s already impressive technical achievements.

Important aside: perhaps more importantly from an industry standpoint, Android/Google is arguably at the fore of a revolution in mobile business models, open access policies, and internet services. Credit can be a touchy subject, but truly Google’s temerity and vision deserves accolades here. Google’s actions are changing the landscape to an unprecedented level.

The typical consumer is not going to care about open source, installing new apps, tweaks, etc. They simply want a cool phone with neat features. Is Android going to give people that?

You are very correct and well said. Android by itself can’t really drop one’s jaw in awe by its lonesome. It’s an operating system, it needs a data pipe, applications and back-end servers to impress.

Thankfully, Android on Sprint or Clearwire’s superior high speed network along with powerful services (eg TV, music, GPS, push-to-talk, IM etc.) puts all the pieces in place. It’s the perfect storm. Here we see a V12 engine getting fed high octane fuel in a Lamborghini chassis on a high performance race track. Know I said this three different ways but this is worth getting excited about. Some real exciting stuff is coming you have never seen before -buckle up.

Android Guys, hope this helps. I read your web site regularly and am consistently impressed with your quick and insightful material. My thanks to you all!!

By the way, Sprint is always looking to hear from its customers and exchange

ideas — feel free to email me. Your opinion and ideas really count.

[redacted]

Thanks again to Jake for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope he stops by again down the road to share anything new and exciting on the Sprint/Android front!

(Photo by traviscrawford)