Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.
There have been a lot of articles recently accusing Google of dropping the ball with Android by creating “fragmentation” within the Android platform. This references either the number of base O/S versions (currently three versions make up 99.5% of active Android phones) or the fact that HTC, Motorola, Sony and others often put some of their own software on top of Android.
This trend of complaining about fragmentation has now extended as far as complaining about the iPhone OS (recently re-branded as iOS). This new complaint is that Apple has also somehow fragmented their platform by introducing new devices with different hardware capabilities, in particular screen resolutions and densities (think iPad versus iPhone 4).
While it makes developer’s lives easier to have a single hardware platform to target, it’s also something that we are not used to. From the earliest days of home computers there has been a huge variety of hardware and software to contend with. Today’s desktop landscape is no different – developers need to decide which basic platform (Windows, MacOS, Linux) and what versions (Windows XP, Vista, 7?) of those platforms they are willing to support.
The development of larger and higher resolution screens isn’t fragmentation – it’s progress. The Android platform provides a set of easy to use mechanisms that mostly make the extra size and screen density transparent to the developer. Similarly the SDK makes it easy to know when you are using a feature that does not exist on earlier versions of the platform. You can then either make it optional, or if you truly need such a feature, drop support for older phones and be glad that Google’s rapid pace of development makes your application possible at all.
When considering the mobile application environment today I think there are far more pressing issues than additional phone screen sizes to be concerned about. The 30% cut that Apple and Google take from every application sold, Apple’s active censorship of artists and arbitrary banning of applications are far bigger and more pressing issues.
In some respects I’m rather late to the Android / smart phone game. Many of my colleagues carry an iPhone, with a small (but growing) number carrying an Android phone some sort. After the first few weeks of using the HTC desire I can now say that I would struggle to go back to a normal phone.
The killer app for me is not the broad selection of applications, many of which fail to live up to their initial promise, but rather those few applications that keep me in better touch with the world. From news applications for the New York Times, Evening Standard and Guardian through Facebook, Twitter and email it’s much easier to keep up with the world as well as friends. When sharing a photo with the world is two taps away the barrier to doing so is hugely reduced in comparison to the desktop experience of going home, plugging in the camera, finding the right photo and finally uploading it.
The software on the desire has a few glitches on occasion, but for such a young platform with such grand ambitions, it is very usable and achieves a great deal. For example the automatic synchronisation of phone numbers from Facebook into the phone provides a huge amount of value. The amount of alternative software available for core functionality is less surprising than how well it integrates with the overall platform. It’s only rarely (and usually from HTC’s customization) that new software fails to fully integrate with existing apps.
In summary I’m extremely pleased to have caught up with the world and joined the throngs of start phone toting individuals.
Email: colin at owlfish.com