Google: You Too Can Be A Developer In The Privacy Of Your Own Home

Not only is the Android Market an open platform for developers (with no approval process, ala the App Store), but now we’ll likely see a vast array of specialized apps built by non-developers. This could radically increase the volume of apps in the Market versus the App Store.

I’ve written about Google’s seeming goal of getting mobile devices on the web instead of running local apps. I outlined some things that could keep Android app quality relatively low: 

  • Fragmentation – Minimal app compatibility, or a lowest common denominator app that can’t take full advantage of a device.
  • Lack of vetting – Lets weak apps through, including potential security risks. 
  • Flash support – Another way of encouraging lowest common denominator apps. 

I wrote “In short, while appearing to do all they can to let as many apps be available as possible, they’ve created a platform to breed lower-quality, inconsistent apps”

If there was any doubt about Google’s desire to have lots of apps while keeping the app experience relatively weak, their latest move should make it clear: they’re letting anyone write apps.

Google’s App Inventor is like a late-night informercial: “Why bother learning a language and coding techniques, now anyone can be a developer with the Develop-O-Matic.” I can see the infomercial endorsements now: “I was skeptical, but I just followed the simple steps provided. As a programmer I make more money each month than I ever dreamed of, and was able to quit my job snaking toilets at Wal-Mart. If I can do it, so can you!”

With everybody and their little brother submitting apps there’s little question Android’s app count will make huge gains. It probably won’t take long before the number exceeds Apple’s App Store, which is something they’re gunning for. And with weak “competition” of local apps like this, Google’s web-based solutions will look that much better, which helps lead people right where Google wants them. 

I have no issue with lots of web and local apps; let everyone decide what works best for them. But what I see is Google poisoning the well from which local apps are drawn. They don’t appear to want a fair fight, and make local apps too difficult (their market place appears to be a mess), generic (soon to include Jr. Developer Kit apps), and risky (potential privacy or security issues) so web apps look far superior by comparison.

Google is completely open except when they’re not

Like any company, Google is open in what doesn’t make them money and proprietary as heck in what does. Android is open (under the Apache license, not GPL — which should give the philosophical FOSSies pause) but Google certainly hasn’t opened their search or AdWords platforms. Likewise Apple open sources WebKit (which Google uses for their browser) and OpenCL and Grand Central and FaceTime, but keeps their crown jewels equally closed. So enough already with the open stuff. You give me free services so you can mine my data, I sell my soul to you to use them. Deal. Just don’t insult my intelligence while doing it.

Good article. It’s not the lack of “open” in Google’s business I take issue with—it’s just a business model, and a successful one at that. No, it’s bullSchmidt statements from their CEO that bug me because he’s rarely called on it.

Perhaps, albeit slowly, more and more tech writers will catch on like the one above. The open-but-not-really vs. closed-via-tiny-wall argument detracts from the actual products anyway. Offer something great, not rhetoric.

Unlike iOS, Android Users Play Upgrade Roulette: Maybe you get it, maybe you don’t

Some of the cause for the updates is likely to be HTC, which only said 2010 phones would be updated. As such, the only HTC phones on Sprint to carry Android 2.2 are likely to be the Evo 4G and possibly the Legend. Samsung hasn’t explained any of its plans for the Moment, but the company has developed a pattern of declining to upgrade phones beyond one revision.

Only phones from 2010? Only one revision? Wow. That’s some harsh upgrade terms right there. And don’t think other hardware manufacturers and carriers will think any different.

For all the good press Android 2.2 has received, little has been written about the tiny percentage of phones that are actually going to run it. The vaunted Evo doesn’t have it yet. Even unreleased phones like the DroidX will debut with 2.1.

Notice that there isn’t just one upgrade villain. Various manufacturers and carriers will have their own rules about what’s happening. Too bad for the user who wants to upgrade but realizes the decision is not his.

Still, this is what Google wrought by design. Their goal is to get as many “Androids” out there as possible. Version consistency is not a priority because they all display Google’s mobile ads, which is the entire point of Android in the first place.

Though disappointed by this, I’m not surprised. I’ve compared the Android distribution philosophy to Windows Mobile before, and this is more proof of it.

Sure, Android is better than WinMo, but saying you run “Android”—unless you’re a geek—doesn’t tell us much because of the many hardware/software iterations. Typical users will be running the original version that came on the phone two years later when they buy a new one because upgrading was too much trouble, or they didn’t know they could, or it wasn’t an option. The more Android devices sell, the more this will be true. The carriers and manufacturers are too busy with the latest spec sheet-based offering (10 megapixels, anyone?) to worry about the user who bought one three months ago.

Compare this to the iPhone. Much is made of Apple’s yearly iOS introductions, with critics claiming it’s all hype or they’re just catching up. I disagree, but none of that matters. What matters is that every year iPhone owners get an upgrade that significantly improves their existing phone and it costs them nothing. They just plug into iTunes and click Install. Further, only with iOS 4 has Apple finally dropped a device. But that original iPhone is three years old, and was already “made new” twice; we’re not talking about an HTC phone bought seven months ago. 

The reason iPhone owners watch Apple’s new iOS announcements closely is because they know their phone can upgrade to it. Meanwhile, Android users excited by 2.2 a month ago are still waiting, most likely to be disappointed. 

Android Developers Blog: We have a kill switch and we’re not afraid to use it

we’ve also developed technologies and processes to remotely remove an installed application from devices. If an application is removed in this way, users will receive a notification on their phone.

Remember the discussion about Apple having a “kill switch” that could remotely delete apps from your phone? The tech punditry howled. Well, Google’s got one and they’re using it.

The blog post couches it in motherly, keeping-you-safe terms. Right. If Google cared about what apps they allowed in the market to begin with, maybe they wouldn’t need to use this thing. Alas, vetting apps is not Google’s strong suit, nor is it ever likely to be.

Misguided Developers: Apple dominates mobile development now, but “open” will win in the end

The way developers see it, Apple might be dominating the game today but in the long-term, it will be Google and its open platform approach that will take the top honors.

Right. Just like Linux with its “open platform approach” took “top honors” on the desktop. Which reminds me, is this The Year Of Linux again?

Anyway, you can develop an app taking advantage of unique hardware and software with off the charts customer satisfaction scores, or you can write lowest-common-denominator code in Java or Flash on wildly fluctuating devices. The choice is yours.

I’ve said before that Google can have all the philosophical/political developers they want. I still believe that. I’ve seen no correlation between a developer’s politics and ability to code.

Consumers just want a really great app. Whether the developer can also sell it on a dozen other devices doesn’t mean diddly to a typical end user (you know, the ones developers should be trying to sell to). Further, whether an app is “open” is irrelevant in a tech world where the meaning of that word has been twisted by every corporate entity to mean whatever it needs to in order to fit their marketing plan.

The “open” advocates are misguided believing they don’t want to buy or code for an Apple device because the six-inch high “wall” around Apple’s “garden” has only allowed over 39,000 developers and 225,000 apps—way more than competitors’ alleged “open” systems have—but it’s the theory, not the practice, that matters to such people.

Google: With our weak vetting, how could this have happened?

Meanwhile, dozens of apps were found to have the same type of access to sensitive information as known spyware does, including access to the content of e-mails and text messages, phone call information, and device location, said Dan Hoffman, chief technology officer at SMobile Systems.

It seems clear that with unsigned apps and minimal vetting for its market place, Android’s (well, Google’s) priority is not security. When you’re trying like mad to offer as many apps as the iPhone you don’t have time for such things. Apps with security issues have been pulled after they’ve been on the market and enough users complained. It such cases the end user is doing the real vetting.

Problem is, not all apps are obvious about what they do. Sooner or later that comes back to haunt the end user, which leads to the real issue: Google doesn’t care that much because the end user is not their customer. I’m not saying Google wants third-party apps to be invasive without user permission, only that preventing it isn’t a priority. The end user doesn’t pay Google for their services, and are not their customer.

Similar to Facebook, Google’s customer isn’t the one using the product every day, but rather the marketing, ad, and analytics firms that make use of the massive amounts of data being gathered. There’s nothing wrong with this—it’s just a business model—but it’s important to know Google’s customers to understand Google’s priorities. Indeed, philosophically Google may not even have an issue with these apps. Google’s been gathering your data for years.

I’d like to see Google take some action on this. Get ahead of the game and make changes to the market place for vetting this stuff. Google can talk “open” all it wants, but they have a responsibility for what’s on their store. They have no issue refusing apps that violate copyright or other firms’ TOS, but that’s all in the interest of their real customers. It’s time they treated the end user with a little respect and looked out for her as well.

Oh Goody, Another iPhone vs. Android Feature List

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All the article “proves” is that it’s just as easy to devise a feature list favoring the iPhone as it is to favor Android. Big deal.

The inherent worth of a product is the total package, from the hardware to the software to the ecosystem. When measured on that scale I think the iPhone beats up Android and takes its lunch money. But you’ll never capture that in a feature list, can’t we just leave those to the marketing people?

A Switcher Switches (or How One Pundit Learned To Milk A Storyline)

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I tweeted the above in response to this article. Today I found out I was right.

Not only has the author not stopped whining about Apple’s “creepy” culture, but he’s not even switching like he threatened to do.

Does anyone still not believe there are tech pundits who’ll write anything to bag readers?

This guy spouted off twice in one week, taking alternate positions while using the same silly talking points each time. “I’m switching from Apple because of X, Y and Z.” “I’m staying with Apple despite X, Y and Z.” Two articles for the price of one, and he grabs both the Android and Apple crowd.

Welcome “back”, Mitch. I’m glad you got an iPhone 4; now just stop writing about it so we can all enjoy your choice.