eComm One day, Google believes, software developers will love its "non-existent" Android handset just as much as they love the iPhone - and maybe more.
Speaking this morning at eComm, a conference dedicated to "emerging communications," Google mobile platforms guru Rich Miner acknowledged that for the moment, Apple may have an advantage. After all, Steve Jobs and company have actually shipped a piece of hardware, while the first Android handset won't arrive until "the second half of this year." But Miner also told the crowd that Stevo hasn't treated developers as well as they deserve.
"There are certain apps you just can’t build on an iPhone," Miner said. "Apple doesn’t let you do multiprocessing. They don’t let your app run in the background after you switch to another. And they don't let you have interpretive language in your iPhone apps."
All this may be true. But even that interpretive language bit hasn't stopped Sun from a very public show of unrequited iPhone love.
Nonetheless, Miner says that Android - an open source software platform based on Linux - will soon be neck-and-neck with the Jesus Phone. "My belief is that any startup company or company that’s trying to build a popular mobile app will build it for both platforms," he said. "They’re both contemporary programming environments. As long as somebody cleanly architects their system and uses contemporary techniques. It shouldn’t be too hard to maintain multiple versions of apps across both Android and iPhone."
At that same time, Miner insists that one of the chief advantages of the Linux-based Android is that it eliminates the need for developers to maintain multiple versions of apps across multiple platforms. This was an effort to prove that Android - billed as a "handset stack" - is more than just "(another) Linux OS".
"Yes, there are lots of other Linux initiatives," he proclaimed, "but the problem is that there are lots of them. The problem is that if they just focus on the Linux OS, and they leave out all the other parts of the mobile stack.
"So, if two companies build two phones, they make two different sets of decisions about the stack. And that means the phones are different. You can't just write for one phone and move it over. You have to write for two."
So, with Android, you don't have to write for more than one platform except when you do. How to resolve this paradox? Well, maybe Miner thinks the iPhone is even more useless than he lets on.
"The iPhone was certainly one of the most thunderous mobile introductions over the past year, and Apple did a number of things right the first time with their first device - which they should be commended for. And they just launched their third party development environment.
"But because of their business model and their partnerships, certain people believe that there are control issues as well. But I’m not going into that. There are plenty of blogs that discuss that."
We're guessing that these "certain people" include Rich Miner. As you might expect, the bulk of his speech was all about Android's uber-openness.
'We're better than Microsoft too'
In this case, when Google says "open," it appears that the company actually means it. Once the first Android handset arrives, Google says, it will release the source code to world+dog. "When I or most people at Google think about 'open,' we think about source code," Miner told the eComm crowd here in Mountain View. "If something is broken, you open up the source code, and you go and fix it."
In other words, Android's openness not only trumps Apple; it trumps Microsoft too. "When I was at Orange, we launched the first Windows Mobile phone. And I was impressed with that phone, or at least the promise of it," Miner said. "But we wanted to do a push to talk service, a very simple service. So you could push a button and speak. And then we found a bug in Windows Mobile, in a documented API.
"We didn't have the source code. The manufacturer who built the phone for us didn't have the source code. So we went to Microsoft. And Microsoft took about 18 months to fix this problem in a documented API."
Google taking a swipe at Microsoft is barely worth repeating. But when asked if Google would have any objections to developers making changes to its stack, Miner said "No."
"How willing are you let people actually modify the architecture?" the questioner asked. "What happens when people get their hands dirty and maybe disagree with you on how you put it together?"
"Once we open source this, it will be like any open source project," Miner answered. "You'll start to shift from initial implementation to a process driven by the community, starting to steer the functionality."
"Just look at how Apple manages the WebKit development progress. If a 17-year-old hacker proves he's competent in driving WebKit modifications and improvements, he's allowed to contribute to the WebKit system. Webkit is one of the model examples for Android."
So, does Miner approve of Apple or not? Let's just say he thinks the two companies are alike in some ways and different in others. "Ultimately, Steve Jobs just has a different goal than we do. Apple will ship iPhones to people who want that particular experience. Meanwhile, Android will be 12-key feature phones, as well as high-end smart phones, slide-out qwerty keyboard phones, and more. There will be a much larger variety of Android phones in the the long run."
And with uber-openness, he believes, Android can make up for lost time. "750,000 have downloaded the Android SDK. Even if just one per cent of the people who downloaded the thing are building apps, that’s 7,000 to 10,000 people who are actively building applications for our platform.
"That's because it's open. I don’t think you’d have developers developing for a non-existent phone - a phone that hasn’t been released [Nice try, Rich -Ed.]– if they didn’t believe that this openness would allow them to get their applications distributed."
Well, that's one argument. ®