Google has forked Android

Summary:There’s no official word, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see that Android 3 will be for tablets only while the Android 2.x line is for smartphones.

The last thing I wanted to see was Android to split into two “official” versions. Well, guess what, for all intents and purposes that’s what's happened. Ack!

It’s bad enough that Android has multiple current versions. Then, Xavier Ducrohet, Android SDK (Software Development Kit) Tech Lead, announced “Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) is a new version of the Android platform that is designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets.”

I asked multiple people at Google if they could expand on this news. None of this could.

So, I’ll spell out what I think is happening here. We’re seeing an Android fork. There will be one line for smartphones, the current Android 2.3, Gingerbread, line, and the forthcoming Android 3, Honeycomb, line.

According to Ducrohet, besides Android’s common features set—multitasking, notifications, and widgets—Honeycomb will have a new UI (user interface) framework for creating great apps for larger screen devices; high-performance 2D and 3D graphics using a built-in OpenGL (Open Graphics Library); support for multicore processors; rich multimedia; new Bluetooth APIs (application programming interfaces) and enterprise enhancements such as encrypted storage and password expiration. That’s all great, but really do we need to split Android into two parts to do this?

If you look at the Android Honeycomb highlights, it becomes even clearer that Honeycomb is going its own way. There is some good news for developers who don’t want to re-do their Android 2.x work for Honeycomb. As the Web page states, while “The new UI brings fresh paradigms for interaction, navigation, and customization and makes them available to all applications—even those built for earlier versions of the platform. Applications written for Android 3.0 are able to use an extended set of UI objects, powerful graphics, and media capabilities to engage users in new ways.”

There’s the rub. If you write apps. for Honeycomb and the coming flood of Android tablets, it sounds like you’re not going to be able to easily backport them to Android smartphones. Sure you could just write for Android 2.x, but your 2.x compliant applications won’t look half-as-good running on tablets. No developer who wants to make money is going to do that.

I like Honeycomb’s new features. They sound great. I just object to Google to turning Android into two separate but unequal platforms Sure, the hardware was never going to be the same, but did Google really need to make two platforms? Apple seems to be doing OK with iOS for everything from iPad Touch devices to iPad.

For Android developers the bottom line is going to mean more work because they’ll need to write two different versions of every single application. Like I said at the top: “Ack!”

Topics: Laptops, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Software Development, Tablets

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

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