The Ever-Evolving Android

Android 2.0: What It Means for Users and Developers

Android 2.0 is a big win for Android users. Google Maps Navigation, better contact management, more camera features, Exchange integration, and the like are all boons for those owning Android 2.0 devices.  Developers get the long-lost Bluetooth APIs, along with a contact sync framework, more CDMA APIs, and the like, adding new areas for apps and feature expansion for users owning Android 2.0 devices.The key is who all has Android 2.0 devices.The first to get Android 2.0 will be those buying devices that offer it in the near term, such as Droid being offered by Verizon in just a couple of weeks. Other devices will get updated in upcoming months. Some devices, like the T-Mobile G1, might not be upgradeable to Android 2.0 due to firmware size limitations.In the abstract, none of this should be surprising. After all, pre-iPhone, the vast majority of smartphones never received any sort of OS update — they were appliances more than PCs. Even with iPhone, not everybody gets the upgrade (e.g., iPod Touch users who do not bother). Expecting everybody with an Android phone to be in lock-step on Android versions indefinitely was wishful thinking, just based on what came before.That being said, there is going to be some confusion for a while among users and developers alike.Developers will have to deal not only with multiple devices (and their multiple screen sizes, multiple pointing devices, etc.) but also with multiple Android releases. After all, for a while, 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0 will all significantly be in production use. Android has many facilities to help manage this, but there will still be a fair bit of learning and adapting that the Android ecosystem will need to do. Furthermore, developers will have to make some decisions vis a vis their apps: do they rely on Android 2.0 features and live with a smaller near-term user base, or do they aim to support a wider range of devices?Users will be confused as fallout from the developer confusion. Apps that are published only for newer versions of Android will not show up or be installable for older Android devices. This will lead some users to wonder why their friends can get such-and-so app while they cannot. Particularly since Android versions are less obvious to users than, say, Windows versions, it is possible that this sort of confusion could become widespread. A smart Market can help here (e.g., don't hide apps the user cannot install — explain to the user why they cannot install it).Android will evolve on a regular basis, and devices will run the gamut of Android versions, just as PCs run the gamut of Windows, OS X, and Linux versions. Developers and users alike will need to adjust their expectations to take into account these new Android versions...and Google and the device manufacturers will learn from today's crucible to find ways to do all of this better in the future, we hope.

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