Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.
Two weeks ago I published my first application to the Android Market. LibraryThingScanner is an extremely simple application that speeds up adding books to LibraryThing. The app launches the Barcode Scanner application to scan the ISBN, followed by the web browser to bring up the relevant LibraryThing search page. The app does so little I’ve been in two minds as to whether it was worth publishing at all, especially as the LibraryThing website does not work particularly well on an Android phone (for example continuously popping up the virtual keyboard).
Once I’d coughed up the required $25 for the privilege of publishing to the market I found the process very straight forward. There are certainly some quirks, such as being able to upload two screen shots or no screen shots, but the level of information required was very low. It’s peculiar that I find uploading my software to the internet at large, with a potential audience of nearly two billion people, a minor step, whereas publishing onto the market felt like a more significant thing, despite the comparatively small potential audience of a few million.
I’m glad that I did take the plunge. There was an initial spike in downloads as soon as I published the application, reaching 126 downloads and 97 active installs in a matter of a few hours. Since then things have levelled off and the application is averaging 17 new active installs per day out of 35 new downloads. I don’t know how accurate the statistics are for Android market application installs, but they are much more useful than any number of downloads for other software I’ve published online.
Seeing the number of active installs slowly creeping up, seeing the ratings (very slowly) coming in and now receiving my first comment (thankfully positive) makes the feedback loop from users much more satisfying than the very occasional email I receive regarding my other software. It’ll be interesting to see how things carry on longer term and what kind of reaction anything else I may publish receives.
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.
Email: colin at owlfish.com