Android Needs More Developer Evangelists

Or, How Developer Tools Are Like Lycra Bodysuits

This past weekend featured a bit of a dust-up in the Android blogging community. Tactically, the issue was one of confusion between Donut (the development branch in the Android open source repositories) and Donut (the code-name for an update to Android). Strategically, the issue really centers around Google's role in building a developer ecosystem around Android, particularly in light of efforts by Motorola to do the same, with the MOTODEV Studio for Android and related initiatives.To draw an analogy, let's consider road cycling.It is easy to think of long cycling races, like the recently completed Tour de France, as being individual challenges — after all, most of the awards are for individual results, not team results. However, drafting plays as much of a role in cycling as it does in motor sports, like NASCAR and IndyCar. Hence, teamwork is crucial for those individual awards to be achieved. Whether it is Alberto Contador relying on drafting behind teammates to save energy for will-sapping climbs, or it is Mark Cavendish relying upon his “lead-out man” to slingshot him to a sprint stage win, collective efforts of teammates are essential to deliver individual results. Even between teams, cooperation is key — witness the groups of riders on long breakaways from the main pack of riders working to share the load of riding at the front, to help everyone in the breakaway stay ahead of the chasers.Building a developer ecosystem is much like a long road cycling race. It is not something you do over a long lunch, or even a caffeine-infused weekend. The Tour de France takes three weeks; building a self-sustaining developer ecosystem could easily take three years.At the inception, Google was pretty much alone, among major firms, in trying to build a developer ecosystem. During that time, Google was marching forwards and backwards at the same time, with positive steps (e.g., releasing Android 1.0) being partially offset by negative steps (e.g., 2008's “summer of silence”, with zero Google support to the community). Yet, it's all we had.Sometime after launch, T-Mobile stepped up a bit, lending some people to assist on the Android Google Groups. But other major firms, most conspicuously HTC, have been absent, benefiting from the ecosystem while not publicly helping to create or nurture it. While individuals and small firms have tried to do their part, their efforts are going to be generally ignored when Android is viewed at a high level — only the “big boys” works will be visible.That's why last week's clear statement by Motorola that their MOTODEV group will be seriously pushing for developers to adopt Android was so welcome. Here we have another “name brand” firm actively trying to get developers to come to Android. There is little doubt some of this is driven by a desire to get developers to create apps that work well on Motorola hardware, but nobody said creating an ecosystem was a purely altruistic affair.Android needs more firms, perhaps from the slate of manufacturers with devices coming out or new carriers selling Android handsets, to take their turns at the front, helping to lead the race, recruiting more developers to Android. Yes, Google may prove to be the 2009 edition of Lance Armstrong of this effort, mixing “lead”, “follow”, and “get out of the way” in an semi-random pattern. But Android's success is contingent upon having a robust developer ecosystem, and it is unclear if Google could or would recruit one on its own. The more firms who help pull in more developers, the less each has to pull to achieve the collective result.Besides, remember that Mr. Armstrong isn't the one who won the 2009 Tour — a teammate did. Just because a bigger name is on the team does not mean that your firm can't win.And, uh, take it easy on the donuts.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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