Google, Andromeda, Mythology and Hubris

Next week, Google is expected to unveil a new operating system named Andromeda, which in some ways combines the existing Android and ChromeOS operating systems. The choice of name is interesting – Andromeda is a figure in Greek mythology, and it’s worth briefly recapping her story. Specifics vary depending on the version of the story you consult, but here’s the gist: Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of Aethiopia. Her mother boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, who were the companions of Poseidon. As a punishment for Cassiopeia’s hubris, Poseidon sent a sea monster to ravage Aethiopia, and an oracle recommended to Andromeda’s parents that she be chained to a rock on the shore, where the sea monster would eventually claim her and be pacified. Fortunately for Andromeda, Perseus happened along and saved and subsequently married her. Below is one of many artistic representations of this story. gustave-moreau-perseus-and-andromeda Why do I bring this up? Well, given Andromeda is also the name of the hybrid OS due to be announced next week by Google, there are some interesting parallels. This past weekend Hiroshi Lockheimer, who owns Android and ChromeOS at Google, tweeted as follows:

Think back to September 2008, and how Android was received then. Although Google had certainly talked up the new operating system plenty, and some of the early coverage was pretty breathless too, the reality is that early Android was pretty disappointing. The hardware was clunky and ugly, and it took several years for Android smartphones to begin to approach parity with the iPhone, both in terms of performance and in terms of sales. Of course, over time Android smartphones became very competitive and eventually began to outsell iPhones significantly, but if you were to plot the trajectory, it would look something like the chart below. hubris-curve My worry with Lockheimer’s remarks is that, in September 2008, Android wasn’t obviously going to be the hit it has since become. In hindsight, the launch of Android was enormously important, and helped create today’s smartphone market, but at the time the G1 launched it was a clunky and marginal bit of hardware. The concern is that whatever Google announces next week will be received – at least initially – in the same way. Perhaps some will see in it the promise of amazing things to come, but I suspect the initial impact will be marginal, and it will take years to see the true impact. And it’s entirely possible that the impact won’t be nearly as impressive as Google clearly thinks it will be. Although Lockheimer is saying that we’ll look back on October 4th as being a milestone event, he’s saying it ahead of time, and that’s where the hubris comes in. Interestingly, the mythological Andromeda’s personal trajectory fits rather nicely onto that curve above too – her mother’s hubris has her flying high, only to be brought low by Poseidon’s wrath and her parents’ intended sacrifice of her, though eventually she’s rescued by Perseus and things start looking up again. Google’s Andromeda might well go through the same curve too – overhyped up front by company executives, only to fail to meet expectations in its early versions, though perhaps redeemed as the vision plays out over time.