Android splintering? Yes. Problem? Hellz Yes

Someone twittered this, and I wanted to post my complete agreement. I had a similar conversation with my friend Josh on twitter.

His position was that it’s the carriers that are responsible, not Google. I completely disagree. Google should have been in the same position as Apple. However by taking the “we’re Google, everyone can play, we’re not involved once we release.” approach, they’ve ensured that no two Android devices are the same.

Yes the carrier’s are responsible for the splintering, and yes that’s what they’ve always done, and why until recent history the mobile phone space has been so craptastic, hell look at Nokia. Grab any two S60s and I’m willing to bet the OS won’t look the same or work the same or have the same function in the same place.

Sure looks like that’s the way Android is going too. Russ is right, pick up any iDevice and you know where settings is, you know how the mail app works, etc.

I completely agree with Russ, if Google doesn’t step in and get control of Android it’s gonna go the way of Symbian, a flavor for every device, except it’ll be worse, since Android is on multiple carriers, so the splintering will be exponentially more shitty.

That’s gonna spell disaster for Android, it’ll be irrelevant before it’s relevant. As an iPhone owner I want Android to be a rival, to keep Apple competitive, and make my iPhone worth the money I spend. I want to have a viable alternative to my iPhone, so that if AT&T doesn’t get their act together, I can drop ’em like a bad habit.

Don’t mess this up Google.

14 thoughts on “Android splintering? Yes. Problem? Hellz Yes

  1. Brian Swartzfager

    While the differences in Android devices make it tough for developers to build an app that works perfectly on each and every one, I don't think the situation guarantees doom for the platform. I remember being at a keynote session at Adobe MAX 2006 where they were showing off an IDE that let mobile Flash developers see how their app/game would look on various cell phone screens and hardware: the challenge of developing for multiple devices and form factors has been around for awhile.

    Even if Google could prevent the handset makers and carriers from messing with the OS, there would still be hardware differences (different buttons, screen sizes and resolutions, etc.) to account for.

    1. John Wilker Post author

      And how has Flashlite done? :) It has the same problem, it's not "build once know it'll run" it's build once for this device, built once for that one, etc.

      Yes, but at least hardware only, is easier to program for. Good programmers are including code that checks for a hardware keyboard, etc.

      That problem even exists for iApps. iPod Touch has no camera, isn't as "Always connected" etc.

  2. Justin Carter

    I think the "problems" are a bit overstated… An app required a physical keyboard (clearly written only with the G1 in mind), an app required some certain hardware button (the lack of hardware buttons on the iPhone is an annoyance too, actually), or an app required some certain screen resolution – they're all beginners mistakes (or, perhaps, they are that way for a reason!).

    The biggest mistake Apple have made is having the ultimate say in which apps can be installed on their devices, how often updates can be issued, how long it takes for an app to get onto the app store, etc. If Apple says "No" then you can't have it – unless you want to jailbreak your phone. iPhone developers are angry. Example, Joe Hewitt (Facebook iPhone app developer) has recently quit making iPhone apps because of Apples ridiculous behaviour regarding app approval.

    The last thing I would want is for Google to control all application publishing and phone hardware for the Android platform. I agree that they could perhaps introduce a "Google Approved" program to certify "premium" apps that meet certain guidelines of compatibility, but so far I think Android is doing well and the 2.0 release looks nice. And the diversity in hardware is a good thing. High resolution screens are beautiful. Physical keyboards are easy to use and take up zero screen real estate. Scroll balls and d-pads are very useful, as are hardware keys for camera, call/end, etc (tried using an iPhone in winter with gloves on?).

    I think Android is in a better position than the iPhone to provide a range of accessible devices and that "splintering" is the least of Google's worries.

    1. John Wilker Post author

      I agree splintering isn't a concern for Google, because they're not very invested in Android. If it fails, Google won't care

      You're right the iPhone isn't the perfect eco-system, but when I buy a game, I know it's gonna work. When my sister who has a G1 iPhone, will also know the app will work, maybe slower, but it will work.

      That isn't the case for Android phones. Versions aside, If an App expects Bluetooth, and Verizon has disabled it, or GPS, etc. Things that have happened, compare a Palm Treo from Verizon to it's Sprint counterpart. It's not just a matter of checking in the code for things, it's now a matter of
      "Is there a keyboard? Am I on Verizon?" ETc. which will only get worse.

      From the tweets and blog posts i've read Android isn't doing well. Developers are bailing on it for the iPhone. While many iPhone devs are bailing on the iPhone, they're not flocking to Android.

      Time will tell, but I see Android following Symbian down the path of obsolescence (Even Nokia, who bought them, is ditching them) long before it comes anywhere close to threatening the iPhone, which sucks. As I said, i want Android to be a strong contender, not a footnote.

      1. Brian Swartzfager

        From what I understand (and I'm still new to the Android world), Android developers can provide certain metadata in their apps that denote what devices their app is compatible with, and the Android Marketplace can use that information to filter the app listings you see on your Android device accordingly. For example, one of the apps I really wanted to get was the augmented reality app Layar, but when I searched for it on the Android Marketplace app on my Motorola Droid, I couldn't find it. It turns out Layar is not yet compatible with the Droid, so the Marketplace hid it from me.

        So it sounds like, if the developers provide the correct metadata, any app that you see in the Marketplace will at least run on your device.

        Whether or not it runs well is another matter, but apps are easy to remove and you get notified when there are upgrades to any apps you have installed (even if you haven't ever opened the app).

        1. John Wilker Post author

          The burden falls to developers when there's 30 different android handsets? What if Verizon's Droid ships with Android 2, but the Sprint ships with 1.6? (hypothetically).

          To me that's the problem. 1 The burden shouldn't entirely be on the developer, and 2. I can attest developers are often lazy, I know I'd be very uninterested in testing my app on n device profiles in the hopes I get them all. I'd either pick the device i have, or not bother with a convoluted platform.

          Sounds like Layar is a perfect example. Is it truly not compatible with Android 2? Is it because 2.0 isn't backwards compatible? or is it because when Layar put the app in the marketplace, the Droid wasn't out, so they couldn't check that box? Or embed that metadata?

          1. Brian Swartzfager

            Direct quote from the Layar blog post on the subject:

            "This is due to an API change in the Android implementation on this device. It breaks a feature that was enabling Layar to draw a camera view in portrait mode and overlay it with the well-known Layar interface elements. Unfortunately this is not something that can be fixed easily. Therefore Layar is not available for users of Verizon’s Droid phone at this moment. Note that the Verizon Droid Eris phone is supported, as it runs on a different Android implementation.

            The upcoming major version of Layar (v3) will change this and we will also support Android 2.0 devices in this new version."

            Does it suck that developers have to do additional work to make their app compatible on different devices/different platform versions? Sure (been there, done that). Does it suck enough to stop them from developing apps for the platform? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

            Will it get easier as the platform matures? Probably: web developers have seen cross-browser compatibility improve over time, so I imagine it will happen here as well.

            And Google programmers are also writing apps for the Android platform, so they also have a stake in making it easy to develop cross-device/cross-version apps.

          2. John Wilker Post author

            Doesn't that pretty much support my concern? A newer version of Android (or at least Verizon's flavor) isn't even backwards compatible.

            I think that's where we differ in opinion. I don't see it getting better over time, because more devices and more variables will enter the market.

            Web Developers have had to deal with inconsistencies, but the number of them has never changed. IE, Firefox. Maybe Safari. Of course now Chrome is in the mix, but overall the problem has never been more than 3 or so browsers, and many simply gave up. "This site isn't compatible with X browser, sorry"

            I do agree with Dave, that it's probably too soon to tell, but my opinion hasn't changed, that the current state of things will get worse for Android developers.

          3. Justin Carter

            It's not as if the iPhone 2.0 and 3.0 releases didn't break any apps, some developers had exactly that problem, *and* the 3GS has hardware features that aren't on the 2G and 3G models making some new apps inaccessible to those with older devices :) Aside from that, new operating systems always break things. There is always some backwards compatibility issue, no matter how hard the OS developer tries, and sometimes breaking changes are necessary.

            If what Brian says about meta data is right then there should be less compatibility problems because an app can be targetted at a device with sufficient features for it to work. Comparatively, the number of browsers we have to support is always changing, and web sites can't just be "hidden" from certain browsers because they're expected to work everywhere. You're also forgetting Opera, and you're forgetting that there are multiple versions of each browser (e.g. IE 6/7/8, Firefox 2/3/3.5, Safari 3/4, Opera 8/9/10 beta, Chrome, not to mention the ones we don't bother testing). So I think web developers have a *much* tougher time ensuring global accessibility compared to mobile app developers!

  3. Dave

    Interesting point made here but It is too soon to tell. The Archos machine is a very different animal than the Android phones and being an owner of a G1 and a Droid I found the user experience to be very similar. The Droid is a natural upgrade of the G1. I believe The Archos implementation was just to soon.

    The point is valid but overstated, the phone products are very similar to each other at this point. I think the phones are what the market is looking at right now and currently that is what Android is being judged on. I’m betting instead of going the way of Symbian it goes the way of Windows.

  4. John Dowdell

    I'm not sure it's an either/or situation, of sphincter-clenching corporate control triumphing over inchoate anarchy. WWW browsers have had a similar fragmentation problem, and we've found ways to muddle through…?

    1. John Wilker Post author

      For sure, I don't propose Apple's model is the right one at all. There must be something in the middle. Apple is too tight, and Google has taken the polar opposite approach, which I think is equally bad.

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