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Android: The Good, the Bad and That Pesky Kill Switch

Android: The Good, the Bad and That Pesky Kill Switch

Google's Android mobile phone platform has at least one feature that puts it on par with Apple's iPhone: A kill switch. Google, however, acknowledges the existence of a means of remotely removing apps from its devices -- right in its terms of service.

By JR Raphael LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Oct 16, 2008 10:59 AM PT

Google's first Android phone has finally made its way into long-waiting hands. The T-Mobile G1 device, expected to be in stores within the coming week, is drawing mixed reviews from early users. The closest thing to a sweeping overview might be that it is a powerful device with a few flaws but plenty of positives and potential, some of which isn't yet achieved.

One realization getting ample attention is the existence of a so-called "kill switch" -- an option Google retains to remotely disable any Android application on a phone at its own discretion. The discovery of a similar feature in Apple's iPhone drew fierce criticism in August. Whether Google can fend off a comparable backlash is yet to be seen.

Initial Impressions

The G1 is getting praise for its customization options, full QWERTY keypad, and overall ease of use. The lack of a standard headphone jack, video camera, and Exchange synchronization are among the key complaints thus far. The Exchange synchronization, Google has said, will likely become available via a third-party app before long.

When it comes to apps, the Android Market is not surprisingly thus far more limited than its chief competitor, the iPhone App Store -- which has been online for months. That's where the idea of "potential" comes into play. The coming months, one would assume, will see significant growth as developers begin to address the growing demand -- and that may prove to be a key factor in Android's ultimate positioning within the mobile market.

"If you look at the iPhone, obviously the user interface is what really captivated people, coupled with the very strong industrial design," Dan Hays, director of PRTM Management Consultants, told LinuxInsider. "In the case of Android, Google doesn't have control over the industrial design of the devices -- so it really needs to be focused on the quality of the user interface, the innovation that it can execute in that, and driving the ecosystem of applications that will ride on the operating system," he said.

The 'Kill Switch'

So what about this "kill switch," then? The Android Market's terms of service state that if Google discovers "a product that violates the developer distribution agreement," it "retains the right to remotely remove" it from your device "at its sole discretion." The policy alone may not present a problem, Hays believes, if it is executed properly.

"I think it's less an issue of the existence and more an issue of how it might be used," he pointed out. "To me, the question is, 'Is it going to be used to shut down a rogue application that may be doing something on the network that's inappropriate?' If so, that's probably a good thing."

A Google spokesperson was not immediately available to provide a more detailed explanation.

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