Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Android Value Prop – live from Google I/O

This is a short excerpt of the value proposition of Android, as presented by Jason Chen at the "Introduction to Android" break-out session at Google I/O.

For the User:

The user “controls” the experience. Users will chose what applications to use, versus what is shoved down their throats by OEM’s and operators

For Developers:

1) Developers will be able to ship applications at will

2) All API’s are exposed

3) Integration/extension and even replacement into and of existing components:
- Integration across various applications
- Extending = customization of default applications
- Replacement = end-users could wind up replacing default applications for new cool apps developed by the community

My personal dilemmas with Android:

1) According to the presenter, discovery and distribution is left up to the community. This is nothing new to the mobile space. The problem is that operators not only want to, but NEED to control the distribution of applications. After all, it is they who issue the phone bill at the end of the month; it is they who have to answer customer calls and issue refunds to disgruntled end-users.

2) There doesn't seem to be much of a strategy around discovery of applications that are downloaded to device. After downloading an application it will reside in a subfolder that is accessible through the home UI. This is not different from today's semi-open platforms. Perhaps the Android marketing team has something in the works.

3) Hardware won’t be available to developers until 1st devices are shipped (1st handsets will ship during the 2nd half of 2008) – It seems that unless an application wins the Developer Challenge, there's little likelihood it would ship at the same time the device does. After all, applications should really be tested and re-tested on the physical device before being shipped.

4) Security questions were not thoroughly addressed during the session. I have confidence that Android is really paying attention to this, however.

Another question that did not come up but that keeps bugging me:

5) Who will address customer care once the applications ship? Operators? If so, does Google really expect operators to allow exposure of all APIs and for applications to simply ship without going through thorough certification operator-controlled processes?

Conclusion

Android will be a very sexy platform with great toolkits for developers. Graphics will be superior, guaranteeing applications to be equally sexy. Enticing API’s will be exposed (keep in mind that other mobile platforms already expose many of these API's). However, Android needs a solution to what I see as the key problem with existing platforms: discovery before and after download of applications. Also, at least in the short term, Android does aggravate the problem of fragmentation that developers face in mobile today.

I am hopeful that as these discussions with the community continue to take place Android will uncover more execution issues and work to resolve them.

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