First pics of Motorola Droid with Android 2.0 build (maybe)

The Boy Genius report has just posted a series of screenshots showing Android 2.0 running on what appears to be the upcoming Motorola Droid phone (also known as Sholes). The source is credible and the pictures look real, though it's unclear how close it all is to being finished. Questions remain about what exactly is supposed to be in Android 2.0 since development is still proceeding behind closed doors, despite earlier assurances that things would be different this time around.

The Boy Genius report has just posted a series of screenshots showing Android 2.0 running on what appears to be the upcoming Motorola Droid phone (also known as Sholes). The source is credible and the pictures look real, though it's unclear how close it all is to being finished. Pricing and availability was not announced.

Small visual changes can be seen in several of the shots when compared to the stock Android 1.6 image. For example, some of the home screen icons are different, and the browser has a redesigned address line with space for the site's "favicon". The key lock screen looks quite different too. But it's hard to tell whether these are due to Verizon customizations or changes in Android 2.0. The phone dialer looks different, but it also looks different on the Acer Liquid A1 phone which appears to be running 1.6. The only thing that screams "2.0" is the Firmware version shown on one of the screen shots. You can see another view of it here. If it had said "1.6" there I would believe it, chalking up the minor changes in the screen shots to vendor mods.

According to BGR, this model does not have Adobe Flash. That's odd, because Adobe recently demonstrated Flash running on what appeared to be this very model. It was covered in tape but the back button is in the right place, the resolution was the same, and the size seemed to be about right. According to Adobe, operating system changes were necessary to make Flash work on all the demo'd phones, which made me think that we wouldn't see Flash until some version beyond 1.6. Version 2.0 seemed like a natural milestone for it, but maybe not.

Also it's strange that the model previewed does not have full multi-touch capabilities. BGR reports you can zoom in to Maps with a two-finger tap but pinching or zooming out doesn't work. The HTC Hero supports real multi-touch and it's doing all that on 1.6. The Palm Pre supports multi-touch. HP laptops support multi-touch. Microsoft Surface has multi-touch. Modders have hacked it into the Android stack. So what's the problem?

All this begs the question, if 2.0 doesn't have ubiquitous Flash and multi-touch, then what exactly does it have? Every release of Android has some reason for being. 1.6 had multiple screen sizes and a new Market. 1.5 had home screen widgets and lots of API improvements. If 2.0 is nothing more than a few UI polishes and extra settings here and there, then there's not much point to it. Droid could just as easily come out with 1.6, allowing the market to stabilize for a while at that point release before moving on to something major. BGR says the email and Maps applications are improved, but those could just as easily be handled by posting new versions of those apps in the Android Market (as Google has done before). x86 support? Already done in Android 1.x by Archos. BGR mentions text to speech and accessibility on the Droid, but those are already part of 1.6. Exchange support? Already available on some models.

I expected Android 2.0, whenever it comes out, to have something more. But there's no way for us on the outside to tell, especially if the changes are not visible in the few screenshots we manage to glimpse. Contrary to Google's assurances, Android continues to be developed behind closed doors and then dumped on the community at the last minute. They could be releasing it as I write this, or it could come out next May. It could already be rock solid and production quality in a lab somewhere, or it could be buggy, incomplete, and not ready for prime time. We just don't know. And that, my friends, is unacceptable for an open source project, even one with a commercial component.

Even Android book authors such as myself and others I've spoken to don't have any clue what's going on behind those doors. I went as far as to sign an NDA to get more info before my first book. What did I get for my trouble? Nothing. Maybe Dana's Android Foundation suggestion isn't such a bad idea. Or perhaps the governance and project planning should be moved under an existing organization who could do it right, such as the Eclipse Foundation. I don't blame the Android team members, who would probably like nothing more than to tell the world about all the cool stuff they're working on. I don't know the best solution, but the status quo is getting darned frustrating for developers.

My advice to Android programmers? Ignore 2.0 until it's in your face and about to be deployed to a significant number of your users. Until then it's just a rumor. 1.5 and 1.6 are where it's at for the foreseeable future.

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