Android: First Impressions

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Facilitated by Peter Campbell, EarthJustice and TechCafeteria

Peter will discuss his experiences with the new G1 Android phone, which is shipping with an open source operating system and SDK developed by Google. The session will offer first impressions of the user experience, the development platform and the range of possibilities. Time will also be spent reflecting on the trade-offs of developing for the G1 versus other mobile platforms and operating systems.


Android is VERY new, and Peter predicts it will grow slowly but steadily.

Android does have an app store.

Six well known mobile operating systems: Symbian Android Palm Windows Mobile Apple/iPhone

Is there a major US vendor with a Symbian based phone? [Rob mentions that 3G held back introduction of symbian devices in the US]

Apple is completely closed; Windows mobile is closed but not with respect to apps.

Email is the killer app on a smartphone but email pushing is really useful. Things were bad, then came along Blackberry with an intermediation layer, and like Apple had end-to-end control.

Couple years ago, MS got their act together by introducing ActiveSync, which works pretty well for push.

Android's email support:

Gmail client rocks, better in some ways than web based Gmail. Imap/pop client kinda sucks

Google's philosophy: Let the market determine needs, develop responses.

Apple's philosophy has been to lock down development on the iPhone: Apple tightly polices approval for the App Store. You have to sign up to get an account, write your software, and then HOPE apple approves it.

Nathan wrote a Twitter Vote Report app – after paying a nominal fee, they wrote this app and released it on Android market in a couple hours.

There is no official web based market that can be accessed except from an Android phone. Though there are alternative markets. Google has said everything submitted to the store must be free through January.

Android's SDK is Java based. Nathan finds the Android toolkit really fluid and effective. Plug into Ecplise. If you want to play with an Android phone, the SDK has an emulator which also lets you test your mobile web apps in their emulator's browser.

Android based special use, DIY phones – i.e. very secure Android based phones.

OpenMoko can run Android.

Android is meant to be a true open source project – Google claims that they have been applying third party patches from 3rd parties.

The HTC android device is the only one expected this year. This is mainly because T-Mobile took the initiative, not because of an agreement with Google (though T-Mobile puts Google's name on the phone.)

Open Handset Alliance is google's industry group.

Nathan: In Brooklyn young people used to rock the sidekick, and are now going out and buying the G1, which is interesting.

Can you run your own build on Android phones?

Can you boot off an sd card? This will be an interesting future for Android based devices.

Nathan: Not hard at all write Android apps that can access your data (such as location, time, etc), nice widget building system. 5000 people d/l'd twitter vote report app, 300 submitted good reports – many more iPhone users, but pretty successful for software released immediately before the election. Porting this iPhone app to Android took less than a day.

Social implications: Nathan's question – how do we use this for election monitoring globally?

Peter: Because of the platform's openness, there's lots of interesting applications, such as a barcode scanner app that leverages the camera.

Layouts on Android are XML based.

Because Android builds and describes its apps in a smart way, it is possible to dynamically generate Android apps (such as custom survey apps).

From a commercial perspective – selling J2ME was hard to do, you couldn't be little. Apple broke that model.

Google probably wasn't going after Apple, or the iPhone, so much as MS and Windows Mobile.

Google and Apple have superior development processes compared with MS and Palm.

Mobile web apps vs. multiple toolkits.

I-UI makes your browser based app look like iPhone app.... interesting.


Why you should care: Lots and lots and lots of people have cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices` An open mobile platform has a lot of potential... and now it exists! There's enthusiam because Android is usable and open source and easy to develop for. The development tools are high quality, useful, easy to learn. There are interesting opportunities for things like live SD card distributions for Android devices.