Smartphones

What is Android missing?

Google Android initially looked like the realization of an open source dream; a highly network-connected Unix-like OS in your pocket. In practice, it has fallen well short of that dream.

Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and Microsoft's WP7 seem to be the major contenders for the title of Best Smartphone OS right now, in the perception of the general public. Each of these has its positive and negative characteristics, and the result is that its relative value for the end user really depends on the user.

The same is true, to some extent, for developers. Concepts of "portability," rich development ecosystems, and useful platform APIs are understood differently by the developers coming from three different worlds -- Java plus a dash of Unix (but only a dash), Cocoa, and .NET, respectively. Each of these types of developers has a problem seeing the benefits the others enjoy. For instance, open source developers have a difficult time grasping the lack of concern among WP7 developers about Microsoft's recent disallowance of the GPL in the platform's application store (euphemistically called Marketplace). By the same token, .NET developers often cannot fathom why it matters that much whether the GPL is available in a handheld device's app store, especially when Android does not offer much (at least compared to WP7) in the way of interoperability with the world's most popular desktop OS. Many open source software users care more about having the source to their mobile OS than integration with a closed OS, and even when they do not like the GPL, they at least want to be able to use some of the software distributed under its terms.

The only really notable advantage or disadvantage that applies to any of the three such that it unbalances the competition between them is Apple's tyrannical management of its App Store -- a problem for publishers as well as developers. On the other hand, the cult-following effect all Apple products have ensure a strong following for the company's iOS regardless of such issues.

If popular mania and stonewalling from service carriers had not distracted everyone from its existence, people might have noticed a much better smartphone OS than all three of them: Maemo. This was a Debian variant offered on the Nokia N900, a full-power, open source, Unix-like operating system. Unfortunately, it appears to have been abandoned by Nokia along with Symbian (its other open source handheld device OS) in favor of WP7, as of late 2010. There may be hope, in that the last news from Maemo saw it being merged with Intel's Moblin to form a multi-corporate open source software development consortium for the nascent MeeGo platform, but Nokia appears to have abandoned that as well. This leaves it largely in the hands of Intel, along with other participants including AMD and Novell, but no clear path to deployment on any vendor's smartphones.

For now, it looks like there is no viable, widely available platform support for anything better than Android, iOS, and WP7. For those of us who care about open source software, and perhaps a faint taste of Unix (very faint indeed), it looks like Android is the only real option, despite its shortcomings. These shortcomings are not negligible, and are sure to disappoint users who expect to find something Unix-like on their smartphones when they hear that Android is based on the Linux kernel.

Three of the things Android lacks are:

OS upgrades and customization

Anyone who has been using open source software heavily for the last decade should be intimately familiar with the benefits of backward hardware compatibility. While new versions of Ubuntu might tax an old system, those who remember the existence of other open source operating systems that have been around for ten years or more know what it is like to be able to install a fancy new OS on (relatively) ancient hardware. The newest versions of some open source operating systems will even still install on a 386, if the user is willing to forego a few mostly unnecessary UI amenities. This is something neither Apple nor Microsoft has much cared to enable with its own operating systems over the years.

Android utterly fails to live up to its open source roots in this respect. In fact, it does worse than Ubuntu. The problem is not that it gets too bloated with new versions like a default install of Ubuntu, though; it is that service carriers and device manufacturers who act as gatekeepers to this handheld device OS actively hinder the ability to upgrade the OS version. While the current version, as of this writing, is 2.x (closing in on 2.5), and some people already talk about Android 3.0 as though it is a done deal, many who bought their smartphones in 2009 and early 2010 are still stuck with Android 1.5 until the two-year service contracts that allowed them to get $300+ devices for under $50 run out.

Sure, one could root an Android device, which offers a lot of options for customization as well as merely upgrading, but there are risks involved. Voiding the warranty, bricking the device, and making it effectively impossible to get any tech support from the service carrier are three possibilities.

Basic system utilities

Any user that tries using a command line pager like less or more to read a text file on an unrooted Android device will be disappointed. The same goes for more-basic utilities like cp. Good luck getting anything done with pipes and redirects. At least echo, ls, and cd work.

The upshot of the UI philosophy of Android seems to be that any basic functionality one would normally expect to have at one's fingertips on open source Unix-like operating systems, such as the Linux-based systems with which Android shares some of its DNA, is not intended for mere mortals. That functionality is (at least partially) provided by way of the Dalvik Android API, a toolset targeting the priesthood of Java developers. The rest of the world's Android users can either do without such tools, or wait for some Java developer to wrap them in a GUI.

Absent a keyboard suitable to touch-typing, vi would be nigh-pointless. Emacs (rumored to stand for Esc Meta Alt Ctrl Shift in honor of its finger-twisting keyboard chording) would be even more crippled on current smartphone hardware. Still, some kind of reasonably productivity-enhancing console based text editor would be nice as well.

Incredibly primitive text editing is one thing at least that can be done with echo and redirects, though:

$ echo "This may be the worst text editor ever." > foo.txt

We even get cat, so that those who are exceedingly clever and masochistic can do all their text editing and reading at the terminal on Android, though it might be more productive to just carry a pen and a pad of sticky notes in one's pocket. One can then type up one's notes on a proper computer, transfer them to the Android phone (also not as easy a process as it should be -- see below), and move on with life rather than trying to use echo, cat, and redirects to edit files, especially since head and tail are not available to easily allow small enough selections of text to be displayed to show one screen's worth at a time. One could also just install an editor from the Android Market, but the need to do so when the OS is supposedly "Linux" seems like a gross failing of the platform.

Clever Unix users might realize that cat plus redirects can be used in place of cp, and rm finishes the job of mv, but the primitivity of having to use such workarounds is a bit frustrating.

Secure remote access

Possibly the killer feature of Android, if it existed, would be access to OpenSSH on a wirelessly connected handheld device. System administration tasks could be carried out while standing in line at a fast food joint with such a tool. An additional layer of privacy could be wrapped around our Web browsing by using an SSH proxy. Perhaps most generally useful would be the ability to wirelessly transfer files over an encrypted connection between the device and any other node on the local network -- or even the Internet -- that accepts SSH connections. In the open source Unixy world, OpenSSH has made the concept of physically traipsing between computers with a USB flash media storage device quaint and unwieldy by comparison (not to mention dangerous), even if that is still the preferred method for the MS Windows world a lot of the time.

In the cantankerously "hybrid source" Android world, your computer that fits in a pocket has been reduced to the lowly task as acting like a mere USB flash media storage device. The problem is that no such SSH functionality ships with Android. There is an open source SSH app in the Android Market called ConnectBot, but its feature set is currently limited to use as a remote terminal, leaving out the other major parts of a full SSH suite: SCP and SFTP for file transfers and filesystem browsing.

There is an app in the Android Market called andFTP that covers the file transfer angle, but its functionality is cumbersome and limited, its speed leaves something to be desired, and -- most importantly for a secure file transfer utility -- it is closed source software, mandating some extremely aggravating levels of caution to ensure one's security remains uncompromised. Some of these measures are just smart security practice anyway, but they become especially important for the case of using SSH via untrusted tools (such as a closed source SSH client) to connect to the system.

...But wait, there's more!

There are a lot of other missing capabilities as well, but the most immediate and obvious are the ability to upgrade and tweak the OS environment; access to the most basic system utilities; and secure remote access for system administration, proxying, and file transfer operations. Correcting these three oversights would immediately improve the value of a smartphone for the tech-savvy open source software user by at least a factor of ten.

What will the future bring?

In the end, we must make do with what we have. Of the currently viable handheld device operating systems with a future, Android's openness for developers (relative to the competition, at least) makes it my platform of choice. Its limitations also make it my frustration of choice.

It seems obvious to anyone who is watching trends in this market that there will be an open source handheld device OS without such arbitrary, aggravating limitations -- eventually. It may take a decade or more to see it, though, if something major does not change in the state of the mobile computing industry in the very near future. With the superficial appearance of something like that bringing the possibility so tantalizingly close to reality without ever actually getting there, in the form of Android, those of us who care about such things may be in for a very uncomfortable decade of waiting.

About

Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.

57 comments
anthonie
anthonie

My n900 does all the things and carries all the features that Android lacks. Yes, it??s linux, kind off, but in reality it??s a dumbed down version of it, rendering the phrase "smart phone" pretty useless. Comic, in a wy, how a device that does all a geek could possibly ask for has been structurally ignored on TechRepublic. And now they complain?

pscheyen
pscheyen

I find it funny to have WP7 mentioned in the same sentence as Android and IOS. And no mention of Blackberry OS 6. WP7 is still in the "unproven" category and, frankly, is a long shot underdog.

siteunseen
siteunseen

And doesn't iOS use *nix code base as well? Doesn't make it a linux/unix phone.

karljacoboski
karljacoboski

I see some of the Author's frustration. (recent wifi crash on mine) It would be nice to have an "Open Mode" with a warning screen and lock down the default for all the non technical users. I got a Samsung Intercept, which freezes on incoming calls, crashes from too many apps running and is almost impossible to ROOT, but I love the "glimmer" of linux it offers. Most users don't care if it's Lin, Win or OSX the just want a great user experience, regardless of the platform.

madmalc567
madmalc567

Some eejit posted this to a smartphones newsletter. These are the rantings of a linux numpty and belongs firmly in the propeller hat area.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

How on earth can you state that OS upgrades and customization are shut out of the Android experience and then in the same daily email, have an article that leads with "If you want to replace the stock UI on your Android phone, Open Home, 91 PandaHome 2, and ADWLauncher are worthy of your consideration." If you're discussing the merits of different UI replacements, you're well on the way to invalidating your argument. Not to mention that I know two people who've just gotten Android 2.3 rolled out to their phones (one is a Nexus One; not sure about the other). Those are official OTA updates to the operating system, and even lower-tier phones like my LG Ally are getting Froyo after being released with 2.1. Next, just like with Linux, you've got a huge and very active, advanced community of developers producing complete ROM setups that an adept user can implement with relative ease. Cyanogenmod is the big name that I've been impressed by, but there are other ROMs available, paralleling Ubuntu and other Linux distros. Seems to me that's exactly what we should have expected for "a highly network-connected Unix-like OS in your pocket."

laristech
laristech

Its not Android that is lacking its carriers who disable the features. These phones are not made for *.nix users. They were made for the general public. You can install newer os on older devices might run a little slow but they work. You can do any mods you want as long as you have root. Same with linux systems you cannot make any changes unless you have root. You're comparing apples to oranges. You cannot compare computers to smartphones.

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

Posted to the wrong part of the thread.

Morganizer
Morganizer

Yes, nice article, it seems to me that what we all love about the concept of open source has been constricted by the developers of Android.

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

This is so huge I can't emphasize it enough. I was one of those who bought a 1.5 device and until recently regretted it. I finally rooted my phone and installed a custom image. Now my phone Samsung i7500 Galaxy is enjoyable and responsive. Regardless of my own personal struggles with Samsung (lost my android business for good), Android needs to overcome this issue of delayed or non-existent upgrades. 3 years is a long time to sit on a bad version of any OS, and for power users it's an eternity. Carriers and manufacturers need to fix this and work together. I truly believe that Samsung simply wanted us all to buy a new phone to get the OS update we screamed for. Now that they forced me to root my phone I'm happy I did, but they lost my business for good. I'll be more careful when choosing my phone next time.

TtFH
TtFH

At uni we use a wireless system that requires users to authenticate via a proxy. Laptops, netbooks and i-thingies - no problems. Android devices - forget it, you can't tell them to use the proxy unless you root the device, which could end up rooting the device, well and truly (In Australia, rooting doesn't mean installing a root kit...). Not good enough.

seanferd
seanferd

Side dishes for this rather interesting article. Microsoft Accidentally Bans Its Own License From App Store? Microsoft Buys Nokia for $0B Oh, and: Stop Thinking That Tech & Content Are Fighting Each Other (older) Apple Trying To Run All Content Sales Through Its Own Sales System

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

So far Android deployment seems limited to consumer apps. Consumers don't care about the command line, and only a small subset are interested in remote access. Remember, the most popular applications for these devices are games and flatulence simulators; they're toys.

dregeh
dregeh

What kind of statement is this? "Many open source software users care more about having the source to their mobile OS than integration with a closed OS, and even when they do not like the GPL, they at least want to be able to use some of the software distributed under its terms." It's bad logic, and a false statement - that's what kind it is. The truth is, MOST people want their devices to work. It's that simple. It's why Microsoft has had so much trouble with mobile. It's why Linux for the desktop has had so much trouble (because it took SO long to get this right, and now it has been dismissed because it's too late). And it's why the iPhone is so successful for those that can afford them. Integration actually IS important. It's a key component to the number one rule: It has to work. The locked down system is the only way to deliver a positive user experience 100% of the time (or nearly). I'm not saying that there are not shortcomings to the iPhone and iOS, but the thing you are missing is that it's not what is missing that really makes people mad - it's the stuff that is broken that makes people mad. Missing stuff can be added (or promised) later - and the masses will be led around by the noses by promises like that.

nickdangerthirdi
nickdangerthirdi

"it is that service carriers and device manufacturers who act as gatekeepers to this handheld device OS actively hinder the ability to upgrade the OS version. " That is where the problem lies with Android, in the manufacturers, they hobble the OS so much because they want you to have to pay for things like wireless tethering, even though your phone can pull the same amount of data whether its going to the phones browser or to a laptops browser they think you should pay more for that service even though the phone is perfectly capable of doing it without forking over another 30 bucks a month.

CharlesG1970
CharlesG1970

Chad get your head out of your A$$. You complain that all these are not available "unless you root" well that is the point. If users even understand your article the have the skill to root the devise and access all these and more. I have an HD2 (win Mo 6.52) phone, that now runs Android 2.3, WP7 as dual boot, it can also run Ubutu, and MeeGo, as well as native 6.5. If I wanted a mini Linux box I would run Ubutu, I don't! I want a "Smart Phone" and after trying all the options Android is the best available, and does give me access to most things I could ever want. 1) Still in development 2) Does what consumers want 3) Has the ability to be opened and expanded by developers (or even amateur users) 4) Has a large and growing App library 5) Even the hardware is open enought to run other options if you need 6) Well developed developer comunities (cyanogen, xda, etc.)

TNT
TNT

The author is right that, for the Linux techies among us, such tools would be grand. But from a consumer/busines perspective there are more important holes to fill. Security, for istance. If someone came up with a secure platform for Android's email and text that was comparable to BlackBerry but didn't have the Enterprise Server price tag the platform would take even more market share.

apotheon
apotheon

Maemo was mentioned in the article. The problem with it getting mentions on TR before this point is that, for the most part, TR writers are kinda like a cross-section of IT people; most of them had never heard of Maemo. > And now they complain? TR is not a collective hive-mind consciousness. Each writer is different -- especially the non-employee contributors, like me. We write what we know.

apotheon
apotheon

It's expensive to try everything. Most smartphone users have never touched more than one smartphone OS -- because it is not normal to get several smartphones, and it is expensive to buy that many devices outright, and even more expensive to get a two year service contract for each of several smartphones to get a purchase discount. I have not gotten to use Blackberry's latest OS release. My experience of older Blackberries does not suggest to me that they're as capable as Android and Apple iOS, though.

apotheon
apotheon

The author (me) actually does not like Linux-based systems much. I prefer BSD Unix -- which is the basis of Apple's iOS, though what Apple has done to it to make it more appealing for its cult following has destroyed much of the appeal of the root (pun intended) OS.

apotheon
apotheon

> Next, just like with Linux, you've got a huge and very active, advanced community of developers producing complete ROM setups that an adept user can implement with relative ease. Cyanogenmod is the big name that I've been impressed by, but there are other ROMs available, paralleling Ubuntu and other Linux distros. Here's yet another person who hasn't read the article very closely. From the article: > Sure, one could root an Android device, which offers a lot of options for customization as well as merely upgrading, but there are risks involved. Voiding the warranty, bricking the device, and making it effectively impossible to get any tech support from the service carrier are three possibilities.

apotheon
apotheon

From the article: > Sure, one could root an Android device, which offers a lot of options for customization as well as merely upgrading, but there are risks involved. Voiding the warranty, bricking the device, and making it effectively impossible to get any tech support from the service carrier are three possibilities. Ignoring that doesn't make it go away.

apotheon
apotheon

The problem is that they don't want you to be able to upgrade the OS, because they want to "force" you to buy a new device every two years. Two years is how long it takes for your contract with the service carrier to run out, so you get a new smartphone at a discount in exchange for signing up for another two year service contract. > I truly believe that Samsung simply wanted us all to buy a new phone to get the OS update we screamed for. That's exactly how it works -- and this is not limited to Android devices. You'll see much the same with smartphone devices running other OSes as well. You likely cannot be careful enough to avoid that problem until the market ceases rewarding that behavior sufficiently for them to keep doing it, by which point Android will be the same as the other alternatives in allowing upgrades. Basically, you're stuck with that kind of forced obsolescence, no matter what you do. It'll change only when the OSes and hardware options mature to the point where a six-month product advance cycle slows down and people can go five years without an upgrade (which I don't think will happen before smartphones as a platform are obsolete, probably no later than about 2020).

apotheon
apotheon

That's one of the problems of having an OS that does not give you administrative priviliges; it prevents you from using basic functionality of the system that has not been exposed to unprivileged user accounts.

apotheon
apotheon

What differentiates Android from Microsoft WP7 or Apple iOS?

apotheon
apotheon

> I enjoy USING open source s/w, but don't NEED the source code The statement you quoted is tautological. Many open source software users care about whether their software is open source. How can this confuse you? How can you, with any rationality at all, dispute that? Wow.

apotheon
apotheon

You're right -- a lot of the problems with Android devices' limitations are created by the service carriers and manufacturers. It's not just that they want to charge for services that they restrict, though. They also just don't want people doing things they don't tell us we're allowed to do. Many of the restrictions appear to have nothing at all to do with anything for which they could reasonably charge us money -- and there appear to be zero plans for monetizing many of the things they restrict whether they're monetizable or not. Tethering is about the only such restriction for which they seem to have any interest in charging users, and some carriers aren't even doing that.

apotheon
apotheon

Security is a major concern for Android devices. Actually, SSH (as mentioned in this article) is a major concern for security on Android. A recent security column article here at TR touched on that very problem -- how the lack of open source SSH file transfer on Android, and similar issues with closed source SSH implementations, can be a problem (and how you can mitigate the problem).

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

Let me know where to send my Ubuntu box if I ever bung it up by mucking around with the CLI. What were the warranty terms again? Besides, you seem to have conveniently ignored my first point, which is that there are complete UI replacements (featured in TechRepublic, in the same email that I found this now rather silly article in) that one can install without rooting, and which (presumably) a hard reset to factory would take care of in the event that carrier tech support was rendered necessary.

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

I'm sure my carrier knows I've done it as well. Just like I know what version of windows every computer has installed on my network, (they report back to me), they likely know what version of Android I'm running and that it's not their crapware infested sluggish antiquated 1.5 ROM. On the other hand I look at manufacturers like HTC and they are one of the few who regularly and properly update most of their devices. I read an article recently about the various manufacturers and who is updating and who is not. Samsung ranked among the worst, I believe they updated 1 out of 9 phones at the time of publication. While HTC ranked best updating something like 90% of their devices. Please don't quote me, I'm sure I'm off a bit but the there are some companies sending out updates. Samsung isn't one of them. Like I said, while I learned a valuable skill in rooting my phone and loading a new ROM, Samsung doesn't get any endearing marks for forcing my hand. I will not buy a Samsung phone or tablet in the future.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What differentiates it from Apple is it isn't a closed ecosystem. It's also available on phones from a wider selection of carriers. So far I know zip about WP7, so I can't make even a guess. What differentiates Android from other Linux distributions?

dregeh
dregeh

I'm not confused. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt though. What I would say to you is this: Truly, many open source s/w DEVELOPERS may care whether or not the s/w they use is also open source. But most open source USERS do not care as long as the s/w is working. How many Android phones have sold? That's one open source USER per phone. 95% (at least) of these open source users are not interested in the open source/closed source/open system/closed system debate. Just give them s/w that makes their gadget work. Thanks for giving me the chance to clear that up for you and any other readers who may have mistaken what I said.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That manufacturers who implement open source products for mass public deployment will inevitably ignore many of the open source community's values and standards for fun and profit?

apotheon
apotheon

My laptop is running an open source Unix-like OS that I installed on it. My smartphone is running what came with it. In one case, the risks are known quantities and easily fixed. In the other case, the risks are higher and less certain, and the results could involve a bricked smartphone. I don't have the money lying around waiting to be spent on another smartphone. If I did, I would have just replaced the one I have. I try to spend my money a little more wisely than that, and investing in my future has to take precedent over running a substantial risk of bricking my smartphone. It doesn't help that people who have easily rooted smartphones often forget there are some models for which the rooting techniques are not very well tested, and have a relatively high incidence of disastrous effects. . . . and because mine is an older device, the idea of consuming so much of the limited resources it provides to run the newer OS version on top of the older OS version is kind of ludicrous. edit: Maybe the problem isn't that you didn't read it very closely. Maybe the problem is that you don't understand that others' circumstances may be different from yours. You are not the center of the universe, believe it or not.

apotheon
apotheon

Can you find that article again? I'd like to see it.

kotoku
kotoku

The consumer never cares 'cause they have been dumbed down not to care. Extend this to the larger economy and market place in general and you'll realize that they would care a lot if they have the chance and opportunity in being knowledgeable about what they are consuming and its effect. Think popular fast foods, until it raises a public health issue it was hip and easy and cheap and popular and no one cared about content. What is wrong with having a hand held computer (smart device or phone) in your hand and being able to "cp", "echo", and "cat". How much technical expertise does one need to do these things, yet every day they are downloading stuff. I don't think one experts your average Joe consumer to know what a kernel is or for that matter understanding machine language or byte code, but I am sure he/she will understand "cp" meaning copy something from a part of your hand held to another part. Instead of dumbing down the consumer he/she will be empowered to explore and that should be our advocacy, of course corporate interest doesn't like that, so we keep being spoon fed any and all things. By the way what is "Portable Connectivity Devices (trademark pending!)", this is the problem in the IT technical world another subject and discussion altogether, trade marks, intellectual property, patents and the list goes on.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I was utterly unaware of the role of hobbyists, part-timers, and other developers outside the ranks of paid professionals. Outside some Excel macros, my own programming experience (COBOL, FORTRAN, etc) pretty much ended almost two decades ago. I haven't seen any modern APIs, but obviously my estimates of the training and education needed to use them effectively needs revising. I just -assumed- all of these apps were being developed by for-profit companies dedicated to supplying the demand. Thanks. Your post was MOST enlightening.

apotheon
apotheon

> It strikes me that if an OS was popular enough / was a large enough potential market, someone would start writing for it regardless of the difficulty. Sure, "someone" would -- but not "everyone". The "everyone" comes from people who write code outside of their day jobs, to scratch an itch, to pad their resumes, and so on. They write code for what they use, first and foremost. Let's say you're selling smartphones. Would you like to have four companies maintaining thirty apps in the application store, or would you like to have those same companies plus another six thousand independent developers maintaining six thousand and thirty apps in your application store? I exaggerate the case a little, perhaps, but it still seems like a no-brainer choice to me. > This may be a stupid question, but there aren't any apps when something like an iPhone or an Android tablet is first released. How do developers know they want to write for such a device without purchasing it? Mostly . . . they don't. The platform vendors build an early application base through a number of tricks, such as giving devices to beta testers and other early adopters -- free, or for a substantial discount -- to get them to put enough stuff in the application store to seed the tip jar, so to speak. Then, of course, they aggressively market the platform to particular subsets of the population that they believe will prove helpful in getting things started; Mac developers for the iPhone because they'll buy anything with an apple on it, Linux developers for the G1 back in the day because they want something open source, and .NET developers for WP7 because those guys probably hate the fact that the "enemies" of their favorite platform's vendor are the major contenders in the smartphone market while Microsoft has nothing (until WP7 came out). They may even have done things like offer bounties or prizes for applications that do well in early release, building interest in the platform. A lot of the tactics used to get application development going put devices in the hands of hobbyist developers. For that to really bear fruit in the long term, though, the platform has to be something the developers actually like. If nobody likes it, the first wave will build applications in the process of finding out how much it sucks, then they'll tell everyone to buy something else instead. The more you can appeal to the developers, the better your ability to attract non-developer customers with the apps available on the platform.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It strikes me that if an OS was popular enough / was a large enough potential market, someone would start writing for it regardless of the difficulty. There's the counter position that without apps, an OS / client won't become popular enough to reach profitable size. (See Windows XP Tablet Edition.) This may be a stupid question, but there aren't any apps when something like an iPhone or an Android tablet is first released. How do developers know they want to write for such a device without purchasing it?

apotheon
apotheon

You don't have to do your development on the device in question. You do, however, have to test it on the device in question -- which, for hobbyist developers, means you need to own and use such a device. Hobbyist developers write code for the devices they own and use; they don't go out and buy devices without having ever considered whether they would like them just to write software for them. The application stores used by these OSes are basically populated by the efforts of hobbyist programmers. Corporations mostly just write things that offer them a way to sell content through a closed channel (which is not going so well on the iPhone right now) or draw customers to their Websites; other types of applications tend to cost more to develop and maintain than they're worth in terms of revenue they generate. Basically, you have to target developers who (at least start out) writing code because they like the platform if you want heavy application support -- because, while the applications are not written on the device, they have to be tested there, and the developers are unlikely to go to the trouble of learning the APIs for devices they dislike unless they're trying to turn their little hobby programs into cross-platform small businesses (and they'll probably end up losing money anyway if they try that). Things might change, but for now, that's basically how these markets work for the most part.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Who do you think writes all those apps for users who don't care about technical characteristics of the platform? Do you think it's other non-technical users, or do you think it's software developers who care about the platform being better suited to development?" If it is narrow, it's the result of my (lack of) experience. I have none as a developer; I have plenty as a consumer. Are you saying development for Android has to be done on an Android system, that it can't be done on another, more full-featured flavor of Linux?

apotheon
apotheon

> We're still not connecting. You're touting features but I'm missing why consumers would care. . . . for the same reason Apple iOS users care whether their iPhones communicate with their Macs and WP7 users care whether their smartphones communicate with their MS Windows computers. > I mention games and frivolous apps because that's what buyers of Portable Connectivity Devices (trademark pending!) are interested in, regardless of the device OS. They care about more than just that -- otherwise there wouldn't be such a competitive market based on much more than just how many "games and flatulence simulators" are available. Sure, some users don't care much beyond that, but many of them do care. They tend to care a lot more about social connectivity and portable media access than "flatulence simulators", for instance -- which is why Facebook widgets, iTunes, and aggregation subplatforms like MotoBlur are fodder for marketing. > It's like my long-held position that the average consumer doesn't care if he has the code to an open source app because he'll never look at it. He'll also never care about the features you're appalled to find missing from Android. What the developers care about affects what the end users get, even in the realm of "games and flatulence simulators" -- because the platform for which a developer decides to write code is going to be the platform that gets the next "game" or "flatulence simulator", which means it's kind of important to serve the needs of the much more technically savvy; they're the basis of what the technically unsavvy user wants out of the device. As soon as something better for my purposes than Android comes along (and is market-viable), I'll probably end up switching to that -- and any smartphone development I do will switch to that as my primary platform choice, too. > Ditto those Linux features not included in Android; including them won't make any difference in the marketplace because the average guy doesn't care. That's pretty narrow thinking. Who do you think writes all those apps for users who don't care about technical characteristics of the platform? Do you think it's other non-technical users, or do you think it's software developers who care about the platform being better suited to development?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We're still not connecting. You're touting features but I'm missing why consumers would care. "If you focus solely on "games and flatulence simulators", however, you provide no reason for end-user consumers to choose Android over the alternatives, ..." I mention games and frivolous apps because that's what buyers of Portable Connectivity Devices (trademark pending!) are interested in, regardless of the device OS. It's like my long-held position that the average consumer doesn't care if he has the code to an open source app because he'll never look at it. He'll also never care about the features you're appalled to find missing from Android. Windows Home Server doesn't have the many of the features of full-blown Server 2008, but the home user doesn't care about Active Directory or DHCP. My 'point and shoot' Canon won't do 10% of my bro-in-law's DSLR, but he's a professional photographer and I'm only interested in getting fast, easy shots of my vacation. If I'm never going off-road, I don't care that my SUV doesn't have the 4-wheel drive and 24-inch clearance options. Ditto those Linux features not included in Android; including them won't make any difference in the marketplace because the average guy doesn't care. We've close to the point where these devices are marketed on non-technological bullet points. It's not what it can or can't do, it's how cool you look doing it or how 'fun' it is to use or what the celeb du jour endorses.

apotheon
apotheon

> What differentiates Android from other Linux distributions? Android offers a much more open ecosystem than both Apple iOS (as you mentioned) and WP7. It's much less open than that of most Linux distributions. Actually, the article this discussion follows touches on a bit of what differentiates Android from other Linux distributions -- such as lack of tools, a far weaker open source culture amongst developers, and so on. My reason for asking you what differentiates Android from its most direct competitors is to make a point about the fact that undercutting its own openness is undercutting the very benefits that most differentiate it from its competitors -- and, thus, undercutting its primary advantage in the market. Yes, it's true that most end-user consumers do not care about the command line, remote access, and so on. If you focus solely on "games and flatulence simulators", however, you provide no reason for end-user consumers to choose Android over the alternatives, while those alternatives do offer reasons to use them instead of Android. Google app integration might qualify as a differentiator in the market, but it's a much smaller draw than equivalent advantages on WP7 and Apple iOS. Openness is really the big win for Android, but it's not nearly as big a win as it could be. Furthermore, integration with Unix-like systems (via remote access, tool compatibility, et cetera) could be another differentiator, but it isn't thanks to the way the system is arbitrarily and unnecessarily gimped.

apotheon
apotheon

1. I only take a hostile tone with people who have taken a hostile tone themselves, first. 2. If you think my comment titled "Emotional?" was intended to "make [you] feel bad", you're obviously just cruising for excuses to be offended.

dregeh
dregeh

You know, normally I read your articles with a little bit of reservation because you have strong opinions about your topics, and you tend to attempt to make others feel bad if they don't agree. Yet I still read them. It would be wise for you to just stop replying to everyone who has a disagreement, learn that the world may not see everything the same as you. You don't have to fight everyone, and not everyone is looking for a fight. Maybe some of that energy and time could be spent better. As for me, I'm going to spend my time better starting now. Signing off.

apotheon
apotheon

What -- did my "wow" indicate surprise? That's about the only "emotion" in my preceding comment. > Truly, many open source s/w DEVELOPERS may care whether or not the s/w they use is also open source. But most open source USERS do not care as long as the s/w is working. Are you differentiating between "open source software users" and "software users whose software includes some stuff that's open source -- but they may not know it"? I am. Most Android device owners would fall in the latter category, and not the former, "open source user", category.

apotheon
apotheon

I like to think this was more specific and practical, and focused more on the capabilities of smartphones rather than the ideals of Ubuntu users (or whatever).

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