Android's enterprise promise and more from MIT's EmTech conference

Ning CEO Bianchini describes biggest social network site you never heard of

Google's Rich Miner was introduced at MIT's EmTech event today as the guy nobody wanted to share a panel with. That's because he's one of the key figures behind the Android mobile platform that at least temporarily knocked Apple and its iPhone out of the headlines with T-Mobile's introduction Tuesday of G1, the first Android phone.

Suspecting that Miner was probably running on empty by then, I nevertheless pulled him aside after his panel to ask a few questions regarding his vision for Android in the enterprise (indeed Miner had been at the T-Mobile G1 launch in New York City the day before and had been up early fielding interviews from the European press on Wednesday).

Miner noted that while the enterprise wasn't the focus of the initial HTC-made Android device, he fully expects more enterprise-oriented offerings to follow from various vendors. In fact, he argues that Android phones should be highly suitable for enterprises in that applications on the devices can be customized by OEMs and IT shops for very vertical workforce applications. "There's no doubt we'll see Exchange integration and VPN support," he said, anticipating questions about those applications, lacking in the G1. "Enterprises will be able to customize Android phones right down to the homepage screen." Miner added that Android has been designed securely so that applications running on it won't have access to other applications' file systems.

Asked about whether T-Mobile's rollout of a device locked into its network undercuts the Open Handset Alliance's message of openness surrounding Android, Miner said not at all. "People have to realize carriers do have business and revenue models to support. If the carriers are investing in and subsidizing these devices, as long as they're adhering to the openness principles of allowing any applications to run on the phones, we're very supportive." This echoed his point from the panel discussion when he said carriers might not have good reasons for erecting walled gardens but they have had "good rationales" given concerns about security and support costs.

During the panel Miner acknowledged that the G1 is a higher-end smartphone given its $179 price tag, but he said Google's goal is "to ride that hardware curve down," meaning that before you know it, phones costing more like $100 will have the power of today's high-end devices and will come packaged with Android.

For those wondering how Google and the other Android backers will convince developers to build applications for the new platform, don't look for Google to have a sales force dedicated to the task, Miner said. He said the message of openness has been getting out, as seen in part by the million or so software development kit downloads. If Android does catch fire and results in a bunch of new applications, the structure of the Android Market site where they will reside could resemble something like YouTube, where interested buyers will be able to search for applications that interest them based on tags and those that are most popular will be given good ratings by past customers.

Other tidbits from the event:

       Gina Bianchini, CEO of the Ning social network company she started in 2004 with Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame, gave a keynote/sales pitch on her company, showing off some of the customized social networks designed by its customers, such as the New Kids on the Block. She referred to Ning as "the largest social network you've never heard of" and said, yes, Ning is coming to both the iPhone and Android. Ning claims 500,000 social networks have been created via its platform, many of which are actually being used. Bianchini predicts there will be millions in less than a year.

  • Attendees wore fancy electronic badges that enabled them to swap virtual business cards and review session schedules right on the devices. They heard tell of amazing new mobile applications exploiting location-awareness and other technologies. However, at least a couple of attendees were heard to say they would have been more impressed by a few more electrical outlets in the auditorium in which to plug in their laptops.
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