I'm a developer in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of Hello Code.

Published Sat 17 November 2007

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Where's the Android hype?

Months before the iPhone was released, the web was on fire with hype and speculation. And a lot of drooling. People were going nuts about the idea of a touch screen phone that ran a stripped down version of a real operating system, and was basically a tiny computer. Mobile phones would be forever changed, etc etc. The nickname 'JesusPhone' was coined — which should give you some idea how much hype was generated.

And now Google has released the SDK and some UI videos of its upcoming mobile operating system. And it could be as game-changing as the iPhone is. But where's the hype? The blogosphere remains pretty quiet.

Why there's no hype

An SDK does not get the average consumer excited. Sure there are some videos of the interface, but Google's doesn't look revolutionary. Pretty, yes, but nowhere near Apple's. Plus it's as much about the hardware — and Google isn't announcing any at this stage. There's no multi-touch, no super-thinness, no massive screen. Just a press release and a way to create applications for this upcoming OS.

So okay, fair enough. That rules out most of the public. But what about developers?

Well it turns out even they don't want to get excited, either. Java developers are annoyed because Google's used their own JVM and flavour of Java, somewhere between JavaSE and JavaME. A new variant to learn which isn't as powerful as what had been predicted — the full JavaSE stack. Grumble grumble.

But you can't please the non-Java developers either, of course — they're annoyed because they have to use Java if they want to write applications.

You just can't win.

Why there should be hype

For the geeks and the developers, there should be plenty of reasons to get excited, however. They're just getting lost. Here's a couple of things I've picked up on.

A truly open operating system means you can swap out applications like you can on your own PC.

Do you know what that means? If I don't like the included messaging program because, say, it doesn't let me search my inbox, I can just install a better one and set it as my preferred message handling program. Want to manage my calls better? I'll just use a more advanced app I downloaded. This is a massive win in my eyes — it turns a proprietary mobile device with software dictated by the manufacturer into a mini PC. Imagine if buying a brand of PC meant you were stuck with their default applications? It seems ridiculous and in a few years it will hopefully be just as silly in a mobile context.

The barrier to application development has been lowered.

From what I've read in the blogosphere, initial reactions to app writing for Android have been fairly positive (for those who haven't just grumbled, anyway). Layout is defined by XML (a good move) and a lot of common objects are provided to make sure you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Plus there's support for SQLite, meaning you can finally use databases for storage on a mobile device. It's been a while since I've written in Java, but what I saw made sense to me. That has to be good.

The thing that has me scratching my head is that developers had to break in to develop native apps for the iPhone. But when they're given the ability to write native apps for another full mobile OS, they ignore it.

The age of mobile computing (web3.0?) has arrived.

You may groan, shudder, or ignore me, but it's inevitable. The next major release of the web is going to be all about location-based services, baby. And Android looks like the one to start the ball rolling. It allows the integration and extension of Google maps in any application, but it also allows location-awareness, even without GPS. The really nifty thing about Android is that it will take advantage of GPS if the hardware provides it, but it will fall back to cell information and finally to querying the local wi-fi network. It remains to be seen how well this works, but it's still better than what we have now. (Hint: nothing.)

Any application will be able to take advantage of this new-found location awareness. If you're out on the town, find out if any friends (with their own Android phones, of course) are also in the area. If you're a tourist, use the service to find related touristy-type places to visit. And of course, there's a million other uses we haven't thought of yet, but in five years, we won't be able to live without.

I might be wrong

The problem with predicting the future is you're not always right. However, in my honest and humble opinion, Android is going to change things for the better.

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