I spent many years singing the praises of the Sidekick (though not so much the Sidekick 3) which I found was usually met with consternation. I heard everything from "Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard of that" to "what does it run, Windows Mobile?" to "1980 called and said they wanted their Sidekick back" (my favorite) to "Isn’t that a phone for teenagers?" to which I would respond that the Sidekick was misguidedly only marketed to teenagers by T-Mobile, but was, in fact, arguably the best mobile experience right up until the launch of the first iPhone (which is what finally made me give up my Sidekick 3), with the possible exception of the Blackberry for "enterprise" users.
Although I managed to convert a few people, most happily went back to their Nokia S60s or Windows Mobile abominations. But now, with the launch of the first Android powered phone yesterday, I feel I have finally been vindicated.
So what does the Sidekick have to do with Android? A great deal! In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Sidekick is the father of Android. Here’s why:
- Andy Rubin, the founder and pioneer of Android, first founded and pioneered Danger, Inc. which created the Danger Hiptop (aka, the T-Mobile Sidekick). The significance of Andy having founded both Danger, Inc. and Android was not lost on Microsoft who acquired Danger, Inc. not long after Android was purchased by Google.
- The Hiptop OS is based on Java, and apps are authored in the Java programming language, just as they are on Android.
- The new T-Mobile G1 (the first Android phone) looks very similar to the Sidekick right down to the sliding screen (the Sidekick is primarily know for its flip screen, but there are models that slide, too). The G1’s keyboard looks almost identical to the Sidekick’s (the Sidekick’s keyboard was one of the best things about it — anyone who thinks a virtual keyboard is better for typing has never used a decent mobile keyboard), and the G1’s trackball was clearly inspired by the Sidekick 3.
- I’m sure it’s no accident that Google’s launch partner is none other than T-Mobile. T-Mobile and Andy Rubin are teaming up again, and, with Google behind them this time, they are sure to get much further than the Sidekick ever did.
All this is not to say that Sidekick devices are comparable to Android phones. Clearly, the G1 (and Android in general) are far superior. My point is simple that while we praise Android and G1, we should remember our history, and all acknowledge Android’s evolutionary roots.
While I’m reminiscing about the Sidekick, a few additional fun facts:
- The Danger OS was the first mobile device I’d ever seen (and may still be the only one) which offered over-the-air updates of both the OS and of applications, automatic network backups, an integrated OTA app store, and seamless real time data synchronization of personal information management applications with their web-based counterparts. While Danger has been doing this for many years, these are achievements that Apple is still struggling with or hasn’t even attempted yet.
- No other mobile device that I’ve seen has gotten instant messaging as right as the Sidekick did. In fact, to this day, I still don’t use IM on my iPhone 3G because the experience is so horrible compared to the Sidekick (and hopefully to the G1, as well — I can’t wait to get my hands on one).
- I believe the Sidekick is the most easily navigated mobile phone ever made. In comparison, the iPhone is nothing short of frustrating. The Sidekick uses keyboard shortcuts for switching between applications, and familiar shortcuts (like control + n for a new email or appointment) once in those applications (including control + c and v for copy and paste!). I really hope Android follows suit.
So why am I using an iPhone rather than a Sidekick? While the Sidekick is still way ahead of the iPhone in some ways (updates and synchronization, for instance), it’s way behind in ways that I can’t handle anymore. I need things like 3G, a real browser, and, most tragic of all, Exchange support. In these respects, the iPhone is amazing, and in general, I’m very happy with it. Now if only I could get my battery to last an entire day, have a reasonably good IM experience, and talk for more than 15 minutes without the call being dropped, it would seem like Christmas.
So the next question is whether I’m going to switch from the iPhone to the G1 or another Android-powered phone. Here’s my prediction: short term, no. Long term, probably.
Short term, I’m sticking with the iPhone. As much as I complain about it, it’s really pretty amazing, and it outperforms Android in many ways. Unfortunately, I need Exchange support, reliable 3G (which T-Mobile can’t promise just yet), and I love how the phone goes from portrait to landscape automatically (I use that all the time when browsing). I also love the auto-zoom-by-double-tapping feature in the browser (which Android doesn’t have), and I like the iPhone’s video support (not iTunes videos which are too restrictive and expensive, but it plays the videos I put on myself really well).
Long term, I hope to switch to Android. Once they fill in some of the gaps in the platform, I think its openness and resemblance to the Sidekick/Hiptop will eventually win me and many others over. I don’t believe that Android is a threat to the iPhone today, but today is never what a technology company should be thinking about.