Android Update Alliance?

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At Google IO 2011, a very important announcement was made: The Android Update Alliance was setup in order to insure that Android devices in circulation would not become subject to fragmentation, and that older devices would receive timely OS updates if their hardware allowed for it. The website Android Police had this to say about it in an article they published at the time:

This is huge. Like, massively huge. Probably the best thing to come out of Google I/O so far this morning huge. I’m talking about the Android Alliance and the solution to a problem that has plagued Android users since the beginning of time (okay, maybe not that long).

The Android Alliance is a special task force dedicated to delivering Android updates quickly and efficiently to all devices for 18 months after they’re released. Among the companies involved are Verizon, HTC, Samsung (imagine that), Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola, and AT&T – which basically covers most of the Android world.

This is some of the best Android related news that we’ve heard in a while, as this is the solution to the biggest problem in Android: fragmentation. It seems like the top-notch, practical solution that we’ve all been waiting on. Instead of getting a tighter grip on Android and compromising its open nature, Google decided to join together with those responsible for releasing the needed updates. It’s a genius plan, and I’ve never been happier to be an Android user.

6 months or so into the process though, many outlets (such as Slashdot and PC Mag) are reporting that the process isn’t going nearly as well as advertised by Google. PC Magazine went and surveyed all of the Android device manufacturers and carriers in the US, and the results weren’t pretty:

Motorola: ”We are planning to upgrade Droid Razr Motorola Razr, Motorola Xoom (including Family Edition) and Droid Bionic by Motorola to Ice Cream Sandwich. As we add other devices to this list, we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.” They ignored our specific question about the Photon 4G, the Atrix 2, the Droid 3, the Droid X2, and the Admiral, and our follow-up question that if not, how Motorola would reconcile this with the pledge it made back in May.

Samsung: ”After reviewing various factors such as system requirements, platform limitations, and partner-related issues, we will consider upgrading Galaxy devices to Ice Cream Sandwich. Specific upgrade plans will be communicated separately. Samsung will stay committed to responsibility for its customers as much as possible.” Our question about the Samsung Captivate Glide, the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, the Samsung Conquer 4G, and the Samsung Exhibit 4G was ignored, as was our follow-up question about the company keeping its Google I/O pledge.

Sprint: “Sprint will begin to rollout Google’s latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, to our customers in early 2012. Ice Cream Sandwich will be available via an over-the-air update to a variety of devices, including HTC EVO 3D, HTC EVO Design 4G and other key products in our line-up. Please stay tuned for more details and exact timing.” Our question about the Motorola Photon 4G, the LG Marquee, and the Samsung Conquer 4G was ignored, as was (you guessed it) our follow-up question about holding to the Google I/O pledge.

T-Mobile: We asked T-Mobile about the myTouch 4G, myTouch Q, LG DoublePlay, and Samsung Galaxy S II. “T-Mobile is coordinating with Google to deliver Android 4.0. While we don’t have any information to share regarding the devices you noted … we’ll let you know when we have more details to share,” a spokesperson said in response, but T-Mobile did not mention anything about Google I/O, either.

Verizon Wireless: A spokesperson confirmed two existing upgrade announcements for the HTC Rezound and the Droid RAZR, but couldn’t release any more information at this time. Our questions about the Samsung Stratosphere, the Motorola Droid 3, the LG Revolution, and the HTC Droid Incredible 2, and the Google I/O pledge in general all went unanswered.

This is somewhat discouraging for Android users, although it clearly hasn’t slowed down the sale of Android devices. What it means is that for developers, fragmentation continues to be (and likely will continue to be) a major problem. While Ice Cream Sandwich and Honeycomb have many awesome features such as hardware accelerated graphics, when designing an app you have to be prepared for it to be running on Gingerbread, or potentially even older devices. As developers, we at Hardin are particularly conscious of this, which is a unique challenge that we don’t face to nearly the same degree when developing apps for a lot of other platforms (iOS, for example).

10,000,000,000 Downloads = 10¢ Apps

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(Full story here)

Congratulations is in order to the Android market which just hit its 10 billionth download earlier this week.  It took 2 years for this market to reach the milestone, while it took Apple 2.5 years.

To celebrate, Google is releasing selected apps for 10¢ for 10 days (starting 3 days ago).  You can view today’s deals here.

There is also a neat infographic on Technolog’s post showing breakdown of top 10 countries (page 2), top 10 categories of apps (page 3), and a few other fun facts (page 4).

Everybody Hates AT&T

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A few weeks ago we posted a story about how before his death Steve Jobs was mulling over the idea of trying to create an Apple-controlled cell network independent of any of the carriers. Based on recent publications by Consumer Reports, it’s not hard to imagine why this might have been an attractive idea (beyond all of the additional profit Apple would have been able to keep):

Consumer Reports’ latest ratings survey of cell phone carriers revealed that Verizon Wireless scored the highest satisfaction score out of the four major U.S. service providers, earning particularly high grades for texting and data service. Verizon was followed closely by Sprint and T-Mobile USA, but all three companies earned scores lower overall than their figures from last year. AT&T was at the very bottom of the list for the second year in a row. While AT&T’s satisfaction score in 2011 wasn’t as bad as its score from 2010, the Dallas-based cell phone provider, which recently discontinued its bid to acquire its better rival T-Mobile, still ranked at the bottom of the pack. Last year, AT&T was the only carrier for the Apple iPhone, but still managed to receive the lowest scores.

It’s interesting that the two additional companies Apple chose to do business with after AT&T (who they only picked originally because they were able to negotiate the most favorable deal with them after AT&T essentially capitulated to all of their terms) were the two highest rated companies for network satisfaction.

FYI, Star Trek Fans

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Picard Uses Android

An iPhone World Without Verizon or AT&T?

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According to John Stanton in an article on ITWorld referenced by Slashdot, Steve Jobs had plans to completely alter the landscape of mobile networks in the same way he conquered the music industry, by creating his own network that would use unlicensed spectrum rather than rely on mobile operators (i.e. Verizon and AT&T):

One of the more profound ways that the iPhone changed the mobile industry was the fact that it upended the relationship between the handset maker and the wireless carrier: Apple sells many of its phones directly to customers, and in general has much more of an upper hand with carriers than most phone manufacturers. But venture capitalist John Stanton, who was friends with Steve Jobs in the years when the iPhone was in development, said the Apple CEO’s initial vision was even more radical: he wanted Apple to build its own wireless network using unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum, thus bypassing the carriers altogether.

People often miss the fact that beyond completely revolutionizing the smartphone industry, the iPhone triggered a pretty profound shift in the balance of power between device manufacturers and networks:

Companies like Apple and Google, which develops Android, sell a variety of software and services that capture revenue streams that might have otherwise gone to the operators. [Stanton] advised operators to take some chances with new phones and services rather than invest too heavily in established offerings. Sprint, for instance, has been criticized for making a $15.5 billion four-year deal with Apple to sell the iPhone. U.S. Cellular, however, has revealed that it decided that it would not be a good investment to similarly take on the iPhone.

This shift in power has allowed Apple’s production and sale of the iPhone to be immensely profitable:

As the above charts show, the profit share of the iPhone far outweighs its actual market share, meaning that Apple is keeping a bigger piece of the pie than other manufacturers for the devices they sell. One can only imagine how profitable the iPhone would be if Steve Jobs’ vision had become true and Apple had been able to cut out the networks altogether.

A Little iPhone/Android Humor

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These aren't the droids you're looking for...

Designing for Phones vs. Tablets

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At Hardin, we’ve recently been working on rolling out an original application for iOS. More details will be unveiled when the app launches in the app store, but I wanted to share some of our experiences designing an app optimized for both iPhone and iPad. When producing an app for both platforms, it’s important that your apps share an overall design philosophy, but also that each design takes advantage of the platform that it is running on. Designs for iPad “HD” versions of apps should not just behave like really big iPhone apps. Even if they share a codebase, as ours do, simple techniques like building different cell renderers for UITableViews can make the iPad version of an app feel like a native tablet app, even if it is using the same codebase as an app designed for a smaller platform like the iPhone. Here is the design we came up with for the iPad version, which is running an identical UIViewController class with the only difference being the cell renderer:

Porsche + Blackberry, Really?

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People who know me well know that I really like both Blackberries and Porsches, so I was intruiged when I saw an Autoblog article about Porsche’s custom-designed Blackberry:

While its styling has refined over successive generations, you don’t buy a Porsche for how it looks. You buy one for how it works. And the same could be said of a BlackBerry. The favorite communications tool of businesspeople worldwide and a number of private consumers as well, the BlackBerry is – like a Porsche – more about function than form. Leave it to Porsche Design, then, to up its style factor.

Porsche has been thought of as a design inspiration for many great pieces of technology (Steve Jobs, for example, credited Porsche as a design inspiration for the first Macintosh), but this seems pretty lame. Add to that the $2,000 price tag, and it gets even sillier. As RIM continues to slide further downhill, I’m not sure which is worse: this, or BBX?

Here’s my Porsche… See the resemblance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ICS Giving Nexus One the Cold Shoulder

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I was reading an article on Slashdot, along with a corresponding article on Tech Crunch, noting that as Ice Cream Sandwich (the latest and greatest release of Android) is being rolled out, many devices including Google’s Nexus One, will not be getting the new OS and will not, in general, be eligible for future OS updates. According to the Tech Crunch article:

We’re all ready to get a hefty helping of Ice Cream Sandwich, but some may wait longer than others. HTC is still firmly on the fence about details, while Motorola has promised Android 4.0 to the Droid RAZR in the first half of 2012.

Meanwhile, Nexus handset owners will be on a shorter waiting list, with the exception of the Nexus One. Unfortunately for owners of the original Google phone, Google has confirmed that the Nexus One is just “too old” for the new software. Google’s Product Management Director of Android Hugo Barra has confirmed that the Nexus S, on the other hand, will get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich “within weeks.”

The Telegraph reports that Google hopes to get Android 4.0 out to the Nexus S just after the release of the Galaxy Nexus, an NFC-capable phone recently announced in Hong Kong. Then again, Nexus S owners can get an almost-complete version of Android 4.0 over at the XDA-Developer forums. Brave Nexus One owners can also find a flashable ROM of an Ice Cream Sandwich build in this thread.

This leads to an interesting consequence of the difference in philosophy between Google (primarily a software company) and Apple (primarily a hardware company). While Apple is able to maintain excellent compatibility between various editions of the iPhone, and various editions of iOS are supported on seemingly ancient Apple hardware, the fact that Android is allowed to run on so many different phones can present end users with the unfortunate discovery that their phone is no longer supported or eligible for updates. Obviously Google’s approach with Android has led to a rapidly increasing market share because their OS is on so many devices, but it still strikes me as an approach that has the potential to infuriate some users. Michael Degusta, in an article on his blog The Understatement, breaks this down:

The announcement that Nexus One users won’t be getting upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich led some to justifiably question Google’s support of their devices. I look at it a little differently: Nexus One owners are lucky. I’ve been researching the history of OS updates on Android phones and Nexus One users have fared much, much better than most Android buyers. I went back and found every Android phone shipped in the United States1 up through the middle of last year. I then tracked down every update that was released for each device – be it a major OS upgrade or a minor support patch – as well as prices and release & discontinuation dates. I compared these dates & versions to the currently shipping version of Android at the time.

He further breaks this down via an interesting chart:

This is bad for a lot of reasons, as noted by Degusta:

Consumers Get Screwed

Ever since the iPhone turned every smartphone into a blank slate, the value of a phone is largely derived from the software it can run and how well the phone can run it. When you’re making a 2 year commitment to a device, it’d be nice to have some way to tell if the software was going to be remotely current in a year or, heck, even a month. Turns out that’s nearly impossible – here are two examples: The Samsung Behold II on T-Mobile was the most expensive Android phone ever and Samsung promoted that it would get a major update to Eclair at least. But at launch the phone was already two major versions behind — and then Samsung decided not to do the update after all, and it fell three major OS versions behind. Every one ever sold is still under contract today. The Motorola Devour on Verizon launched with a Megan Fox Super Bowl ad, while reviews said it was “built to last and it delivers on features.” As it turned out, the Devour shipped with an OS that was already outdated. Before the next Super Bowl came around, it was three major versions behind. Every one ever sold is still under contract until sometime next year.

Developers Are Constrained

Besides the obvious platform fragmentation problems, consider this comparison: iOS developers, like Instapaper’s Marco Arment, waited patiently until just this month to raise their apps’ minimum requirement to the 11 month old iOS 4.2.1. They can do so knowing that it’s been well over 3 years since anyone bought an iPhone that couldn’t run that OS. If developers apply that same standard to Android, it will be at least 2015 before they can start requiring 2010’s Gingerbread OS. That’s because every US carrier is still selling – even just now introducing2 - smartphones that will almost certainly never run Gingerbread and beyond. Further, those are phones still selling for actual upfront money – I’m not even counting the generally even more outdated & presumably much more popular free phones. It seems this is one area the Android/Windows comparison holds up: most app developers will end up targeting an ancient version of the OS in order to maximize market reach.

Security Risks Loom

In the chart, the dashed line in the middle of each bar indicates how long that phone was getting any kind of support updates – not just major OS upgrades. The significant majority of models have received very limited support after sales were discontinued. If a security or privacy problem popped up in old versions of Android or its associated apps (i.e. the browser), it’s hard to imagine that all of these no-longer-supported phones would be updated. This is only less likely as the number of phones that manufacturers would have to go back and deal with increases: Motorola, Samsung, and HTC all have at least 20 models each in the field already, each with a range of carriers that seemingly have to be dealt with individually.

So it will be interesting to see how much (or how little) backlash Google sees as backwards compatibility of Ice Cream Sandwich and future Android versions continues to lag behind Apple’s, with their walled garden of tightly-controlled hardware.

Ice Cream Sandwich: Google’s Latest Progress with Android

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Last night was a big deal for Android fans, it marked the release of Android 4.0 (codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich) and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is the premier phone for the platform.

You can watch this YouTube video to see a recap of the announcement if 10PM EST was too late for you to care about a new product release.

What does Ice Cream Sandwich mean for those of you who have apps in the app store? The big thing to keep in mind is that Android 4.0 is basically Android 3.0 for phones. Android 3.0 was a big step forward for the platform, so bringing all those improvements to handsets is very welcome. Just a recap of some of what the Honeycomb feature set includes (from a development perspective):

  • Resizable widgets with support for lists.
  • Opt-in hardware acceleration for the 2D view drawing stack.
  • Refactored view animation framework, which allows for smooth complex animations on the view layer.
  • General speed increases across the platform.

Fragmentation is already a huge issue for Android development, so bringing the handset OS inline with the tablet OS is much needed. Also keep in mind that Ice Cream Sandwich is a new tablet release.

So, are there any new features for Ice Cream Sandwich? The short answer is yes, there are tons. Here are some of the more interesting ones I found while reading over the change lists:

  • Calendar API: Before we were limited to interfacing with Google Calendar through Google APIs or hacking the Google Calendar app. Now we have a built-in calendar with full platform API support.
  • Social API: I’m not sure what to think of this one yet. It seems like a provider to access some information on social networks using platform API calls. This could be a great new feature, because, as Android developers can tell you, the official Facebook SDK is very awkward to work with.
  • TextureView: I haven’t had time to play around with this, but this could be one of the coolest things in Android 4.0. Video on the platform has traditionally be rendered in SurfaceViews, but these were pseudo-views because the OS “punched a hole” through the view to expose an OpenGL layer. If you have ever used the old SurfaceView inside an animated view (such as a ViewPager) then you would have noticed some tearing on the sides of the view. TextureView promises to be fully rendered in the view hierarchy, which should do away with this issue.
  • Wi-Direct: This is a new API for ad-hoc wi-fi connections between devices. This seems to be the Android analog of Apple’s Bonjour and peer-to-peer connections.
  • Improved HttpURLConnection: This is a very low-level new feature, but blog posts on the official Developers Blog promises a much improved HttpURLConnection interface, which is much easier to use than the Apache HTTP classes.
  • VPN Client API: Clients that care about enterprise level security will be happy to know that there is now new support for making VPN connections in apps.

What does this mean for legacy apps? Unlike iOS, Google has been good about supporting legacy apps on newer platforms. Your apps should still work out of the box on Ice Cream Sandwich, but you should test them to make sure. One thing to be aware of is that older apps will not take advantage of new features like hardware acceleration without some updating, so your legacy apps will appear to be slower than other apps that do take advantage of these new features.

Have questions or find a mistake in my post? Post in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

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