Monday, November 19, 2007

Android in Action

It's been a week since Google released their first cut of the Android SDK and despite Scoble's claims to the contrary, thousands of developers spent last week developing their first Android applications.

Where Are My Friends?

Here's what I was able to do in about 14hrs of development.

It reads the address book to find my friends, uses the Location Based Services to show how far away I am from them, and then plots everyone within 10km on a map. Philipp over at Google Blogoscoped has published my experience, leave a comment here or in the Blogoscoped forum if you've got questions -- or send me an email at

Today I'm a desktop and mobile developer.

As a development platform Android is phenomenal; It's powerful and it's intuitive. I week ago I was a desktop developer dabbling with online apps -- today I'm also a mobile developer. I don't say this lightly, desktop development is what I do to pay the bills.

Doesn't it make sense to launch the SDK well in advance of any actual phones?

Erstwhile video blogger Scoble is disappointment with Android. It seems this is largely because the launch "videos were boring". Robert? Dude? Who gives a shit about the videos? Developers don't want videos, they want CODE. Code, samples, and a well documented API. I still haven't watched the videos, I was too busy using the SDK to spend time looking at the pretty moving pictures. Apparently the shiny lights distracted Scoble as he screeches "[I] DO NOT TRUST THINGS THAT THEY WON’T SHOW ME WORKING". Android works. I've seen it, I've used it. They announced a software stack not hardware, and the software stack is available right now.

True, there are no phones yet, but Android is about development tools for 3rd party developers, so doesn't it make sense to launch the SDK well in advance of any actual phones? Google aren't going to out Apple the iPhone but they may just out Microsoft Windows Mobile.

You can bet that there's more than one Android project to duplicate the iPhone interface in excruciating detail.

There's been some complaints about the Android UI. It's true, the emulator isn't groundbreaking. It doesn't have to. It exists solely to provide the functionality developers need to write apps. How many projects do you think are right now in the process of reskining that bad-boy? The iPhone interface is as inevitable as this MS Messenger skin. The shipping UI is irrelevant, it's the flexibility of the SDK to create a new UI that's important.

Despite Scoble not knowing "...a single developer who has had his/her hands on Android" there are more than 4,500 members on the Android developer forums and more than 4,000 messages. Even if only 1% of them come up with a useful mobile application that's still about 30 more useful mobile applications than I've ever come across for Symbian.

The Android phone won't have the iPhone's consumer appeal. It's very true, but it's also entirely beside the point.

Read enough articles and you'd think that if Google doesn't immediately grab 30% of the mobile market at launch they Fail. That's short term thinking. Developers will write applications for Android phones because they literally can't write them for other platforms. One will get you ten that the iPhone SDK won't have nearly the level of phone access that Android provides.

Eventually people will be buying Android phones because the applications they *need* only run on Android phones. Don't believe me? Do you think people run Windows for the pleasure of it? Worst case scenario? Android forces people like Apple and Symbian to offer the same SDK access in order to keep their market. I'll take that and still call Android a net win.

Google's strategy seems to be 'make it open' -- with 'make it popular' a distant second.

People probably won't be lining up around the block on the release day for the first Android mobile but just like Google search and just like GMail, Android is going to change the way we think of mobile phones.

What made the PC so popular? Why has the web taken off? Because *anyone* with the inclination could bring their vision to life at minimal cost. If you've ever tried programming for a mobile phone you'll know it's expensive and difficult -- that's why there's so few *good* mobile phone applications, and very few for free. The Android platform is going to get thousands of developers playing around with new applications for mobiles, in the same way early IBM compatible PCs got thousands of electronics hobbyists interested in programming computers.

Eventually the availability of popular apps on Android phones is going to encourage more phone makers to release Android versions and networks to release Android phones. It costs them nothing in licensing.

People love iPhones, companies love options.

I don't run Windows because I like it, I run it because 75% of the applications I use every day only run under Windows; plus I can write powerful software for myself really easily.

Corporations will start buying Android phones for the same reason almost every company that's not a graphic design house runs Windows -- it's a more universal development environment with deeper access to the underlying hardware. I work for an investment bank, they'd never dream of writing corporate software for the iPhone; do you think the 300 Java developers here might be able create something useful with Android?


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    The Radioactive Yak talks about what he's done on the Android SDK so far. I gotta say, if this is what one guy does in such a short time, I am very excited to see what full on teams can do over the course of months. Where Are My Friends? looks like something that could prove very useful. I would also love to point out how much he seems to disagree with Robert Scoble's remarks last week, echoing my sentiments.

  3. Anonymous12:36 am GMT

    Your observations go right to the heart of the matter, highlighting the fact that this could ultimately come down to a head-to-head competition between Google and Microsoft, which I've also seen mentioned at The best thing about it is, we consumers could be the ones who come out winners---if we can wait for the big competition to shake down.