An interview with Timothy Bray

An interview with Timothy Bray

Summary: I had the opportunity late on Thursday to interview Timothy Bray, Google's new "Android Developer Advocate" (among lots of other things). We talked about his role with Google and his vision for Android.


I had the opportunity late on Thursday to interview Timothy Bray, Google's new "Android Developer Advocate" (among lots of other things). We talked about his role with Google and his vision for Android. I've summarized his answers to my questions below.

1. What's a typical "day-in-the-life" of Timothy Bray, Android Developer Advocate? Tim explained that he had 2 major focuses: To become intimate with the development community and really understand their concerns, issues, and successes and to begin writing some applications himself. He can't address developer challenges without doing some development and fully understanding the advantages and pitfalls of Android and can't bring these issues back to Google and influence the direction of Android platform development without experience in the platform, in addition to lots of travel, conferences, and meetups with members of the community.

2. In your Being Kind to the Cat post on your personal blog, you make development and deployment (obviously on a microcosmic scale) sound remarkably easy. Does it have the potential to be a development platform in which a lot of people can participate easily? In his opinion, "the single most interesting thing about Android is its low barrier of entry to development." The self-described "pretty good" Java programmer was able to develop a "visually compelling, nifty app" over the 2008 Christmas holiday after purchasing the T-Mobile G1.

More importantly, because the platform is open source and the APIs to all of the components of Android phones are open, there are no developer NDAs. Programmers who encounter a problem merely need to Google the error code and find answers and solutions in the large development community. There are 30,000 official Apps in the marketplace, but he doesn't have a good handle on just how many Android programmers are working in the open source community. Suffice to say, it's a lot.

Go to the next page to read about where Android will be in 5 years. »

3. 5 years is forever on the Internet, but how about Android itself? Where will Android be in 2 years? 5 years? His vision is largely focused on handsets, however they will evolve over the next few years. As he said, in 2 years, the Nexus One will look like a toy. However, he expects Android and the iPhone to be in the market "for the long haul." He hopes that Palm makes it because they have a compelling platform (but didn't sound particularly confident) and reminded me that Nokia is still the number 1 handset maker in the world. Bottom line? He hopes for at least 3 major competitors in the market driving innovation and providing consumer choice over the next several years.

4. What are your thoughts on the fragmentation of Android across different vendors? We now see Android devices on the market running version 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, and 2.1; that is creating some confusion in capabilities and challenges in developing apps. Will Google take a role in dictating what is available and influence the upgrade path? Mr. Bray said that he has been overwhelmed by developers reaching out to him after the announcement of his employment with Google (he published his email address on his blog). While a few mentioned market fragmentation, it certainly wasn't in their top 10 concerns. If a particular App doesn't run on whatever version of Android is loaded on a handset, then it shouldn't be displayed in the Marketplace when accessed through that phone. It should be relatively transparent to users (and if it isn't, it's a bug).

He explained that openness and the ability of developers, carriers, and handset makers to customize Android was quite important, even though in an ideal world, Google would see everyone using the latest and greatest version of the OS with universal access to all of the available Apps.

5. Do you see Google taking a larger role in promoting Android both as a platform and a brand? Largely it's been left to the vendors to this point. This was one of those "I can't speak for Google in this respect" questions. However, like most of us, he certainly expects that conversations around building brand and awareness are happening in Mountain View.

Go to the next page to read about the novel Apps that Mr. Bray would like to develop. »

6. If you could see a novel App developed for Android, what would it be? Something genuinely new and different. Mr. Bray told me that he has lists of potential Apps, but most of them are relatively unexciting. For example, he'd like to see a good touch-optimized universal remote control, instead of the $400, 200-button models on the market now. He wasn't sure how to deal with IR on a phone, but seemed confident that someone out there could develop it.

He also described a recent visit to rural Saskatchewan. The cell service is understandably spotty and he was wishing for an App that would shriek at him every time he dropped down to 2 bars of service.

7. How about market segmentation? Do you see some Android devices displacing blackberries, others displacing iPhones, others displacing tablets, ebooks, etc? Will this be function of hardware, apps, the platform itself, or all of the above? For small and medium businesses, Microsoft Exchange is a "soft target", Bray noted. However, no matter what the CIO of a company says about acceptable devices in the enterprise, with 60,000 Android handsets being sold a day, there are a lot of Android phones already in the corporate environment.

I got the sense that the sheer versatility of the platform and the Apps meant that market segmentation would (and could) happen naturally in Bray's view.

8. What happens if Apple does dominate the world? iPad takes off, iPhone explodes even more than it already has...where does Android go from there? "Even though I'm not very right-leaning, I can't stand monopolies...and believe in the magic of the free market," Mr. Bray answered. Referencing what he called the Dark Days of Microsoft ("when Internet Explorer was your only choice"), Bray noted how happy he was that Apple was back in the PC market and pointed to improvements in computing that have resulted from the competition.

9. What needs to be fixed regarding Android, apps and how things are done? Overall, he's quite happy with the state of Android development and the APIs. The biggest issue (as described by developers above) is simply the lack of availability of Android in most countries. Developers are excited but can't get to devices or service to move forward. However, as one can imagine, bringing Android, Android-based handsets, and the Android Marketplace to hundreds of countries is a regulatory mess.

10. We've been hearing a lot about the Google/Intel/Sony/Logitech partnership -- Should we expect to see Android move significantly beyond handsets? The platform is flexible enough to make this happen, although it really isn't his focus right now. He pointed to 2 Taiwanese companies that he'd never heard of, though, who just announced tablets based on Android. He also mentioned the Barnes and Noble Nook, saying that where Android moves is largely up to the market. Everyone, however, is "watching the iPad very closely."

I'm sure he is, too.

So what's the takeaway? Go download the Android SDK and start coding! Developers, talk back below and let me know just how low that barrier to entry is from your perspective.

Topics: iPad, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Software Development

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • What bull... Google is becoming the new monopoly

    >>> I can't stand monopolies... and believe in the magic of the free market >>>

    Google IS the new Microsoft/monopoly as it feels it needs to get into everything Internet/computer-related.

    It started as a simply search engine then branched into... email (GMail), online apps (Picasa, Docs, etc), social networking (Buzz and online video with YouTube), maps (along with Google Earth, Street View), buying up online advertisers, it's own browser and OS (Chrome), and recently with it's own hardware with the iPhone wannabe Nexus One (and Android sw) and now the newly reported Google TV (teaming with Intel and Sony). And you can bet it will soon be in the tablet/slate market to go against the "evil" Apple and others.

    What else is there to not monopolize computing and the Internet?

    And Bray has the nerve to criticize (a "closed") Apple and monopolies.

    One of the worst (or best) examples of pot calling the kettle black yet (or, those in glass houses...).

    So much for do no evil.

    (and I'll add the fact it holds gazillion bits of data and info about it's users... a reason I don't subscribe to GMail or other Google offerings)
    • Bingo, MC!

      You get it! What is sad--and VERY scary--is that so many people
      apparently can't see the big picture. They are too busy playing
      with their free Google toys and singing the praises of Google's
      "openness". That's scary!
      Also, before spouting off about "monopoly" and "free market",
      Mr. Bray should do some homework and find out what a
      monopoly REALLY is!
      • I'd suggest...

        both you and the poster above you research what a monopoly is yourselves.
    • Its funny how words take on their own meaning..

      Having a monopoly means that you control a market. Google controls none of the markets you listed. In every single one you have a choice and do not HAVE to go through Google to use any of the other services, use Google services, or interact with anyone using their services. You clearly stated it yourself when you said you don't use GMail or other Google offerings. If Google had a monopoly you wouldn't be able to easily do that.

      Its like its been pointed out so much that MS has a monopoly on the desktop that idiots label any company with a broad range of services and products as a monopoly. No wonder most Winnuts can't understand how MS has a monopoly.
      • You're missing the point

        Google's monopoly isn't as much about end-users as it is about advertisers. That's where they have monopoly power and can control prices.

        Free and choice has nothing to do with it. IE as a browser was free but Microsoft was still successfully sued by the DOJ and others for being an abusive monopolist. Some might argue that MSFT got unfairly screwed but that's another argument.
      • Speaking of idiots... and hypocrites

        >>> [b]What happens if Apple does dominate the world? iPad takes off, iPhone explodes even more than it already has... where does Android go from there?[/b]

        "Even though I?m not very right-leaning, I can?t stand monopolies... and believe in the magic of the free market," Mr. Bray answered. Referencing what he called the Dark Days of Microsoft ("when Internet Explorer was your only choice"), Bray noted how happy he was that Apple was back in the PC market and pointed to improvements in computing that have resulted from the competition. >>>

        I claim Google is BECOMING the new monopoly with it's far reaching influence (all aspects of computing and the Net), giving away free to capture a market (eg, map/nav app... using Bray's own reference to MS and free IExplorer) and using one market to infiltrate another.

        Using your definition of monopoly also excludes Apple in Bray's tirade as no matter how much of a market Apple has (mp3 players, phones, perhaps the iPad as in the question posed to him), you still have choices other than Apple.

        For Bray to berate Apple (as a monopoly) and for you to support him while excluding Google is the height of hypocrisy.
  • Powerful impetus for open source

    Nice interview, with an interesting developer. This guy is, it seems, really going to give open source a powerful boost, in an important area.
    • I agree

      He brings a lot of really diverse experience
      and has an interesting voice (speaking
      figuratively, not just because he's Canadian :)
      ) to Android.

      One of my more interesting takeaways was the
      ability of both the FOSS community and
      developers looking to monetize their efforts
      have a great platform on which to work.

      I'm excited - definitely looking to keep in
      touch with Mr. Bray in the next few years as
      this evolves.

      • get all wet over ANYTHING Google. (nt)

  • Go to the next page to read about where Android will be in 5 years,, no.

    Oh you mean what some people are guessing??? No thanks, I like to deal with real facts.
  • If Nexus is a toy, should anyone buy it?

    That's the trouble with the smartphone market - it's already a mess, with prices too high, tariffs too high, and immature products.
  • Unlike Microsoft I see nothing wrong with what Google did

    Expanding like they do is not a problem with one exception.

    1.Google is not a monopoly. Apple has MobileMe. There are other search engines like Bing from Microsoft, Yahoo, etc.

    2. Again, there is NOTHING wrong with monopoly itself. The problem is abusing its dominant position.

    What Microsoft did to browsers is an example.

    3. The only thing I find Google doing remotely resembling a problem is, if they use Google search engine as their start page in the Chrome and Android browsers.

    But then even that setting can be easily changed.
    • Totally miss the point

      Google is a major monopoly. And they reached that status in remarkably short time. You are thinking of the fact that Google's users have alternatives. Google doesn't care about it's users, at least not directly, because they are not Google's customers.

      1. Google takes something greater than 90% of all Internet search [i]profits[/i].

      2. Google uses the money it makes as the online advertising monopoly to enter new markets at zero (or perhaps even [i]less than zero[/i] in the future) cost to the user with no intent on ever monetizing them, just so that there is no way competition can emerge. This is just like IE driving Netscape out of business. MS has never made a dime on IE, but that move [i]did[/i] thwart competition on the Internet for more than a decade. Users benefit in the short term because we get free toys to play with, but in the long term we suffer because choice is destroyed.

      3. Google's customers (their advertisers) will get better and better information about Google's users as Google collects increasingly precise pictures of your personality, which will make them a better place to advertise at the expense of all other places. Thus, the advertising monopoly will only grow stronger, and can be used to subsidize moves in to ever expanding numbers of markets.

      In other words, this is a dangerous company that needs to be closely watched.

      To see how this is already happening: reflect, for a moment, that Google has always been "platform agnostic" in terms of to whom they give their toys (Maps being the most ubiquitous). Now, the latest and best Maps software is only available to those on their OS, and the new toys seem tied only to their OS, as well. No offense to Android, but it is extremely mediocre as an OS, no better really than Windows Mobile or Symbian in many ways. However, the [i]Google toys that run on top of it[/i] are very nice, and because it is "free", Google's partners (device makers and telcos) like it, so it gets "the push". The OS is open source (and very bland, just another Linux distro), but the toys that differentiate the Android experience, and make it exciting, are Google's own. So can we really claim that Android is "open"?
      x I'm tc
      • Excellent explanation of the "big picture".

        Good for you! I agree totally. It's Google's ability to provide "free"
        stuff as a result of their dominant ad revenue that is wiping out
        competition. I guess killing competitors in that way is not evil,
      • Agreed.

        Google MUST be watched closely.
      • Great points

        Thanks for a very well thought out response.

        I think you hit on the issues very nicely.
      • I'd think you were Mr. Fantastic stretching like that...

        What you've failed to do in all that ranting is explain how Google CONTROLS any market that its in. It may have the lions share of the market but they have no control over it. Google can't stop anyone from getting into any of the markets you mentioned. For instance if you start a search engine it in no way has to be compatible with Google even though they have the majority of the search market. If your engine is better and you get it publicized you can overtake Google. Contrast that with making an OS thats better than Windows but because of closed protocols and file formats must be compatible with Windows. If you don't go through MS you have a much harder road to ho.

        On top of that many of Googles services have API's that are published and free for use. You can't control a market when you freely allow interoperability with your services. Even if everyone uses those services a competitor can make use of them long enough to build up a name and then cut ties and give their users a simple transition to new services.

        The maps example is laughable and actually a perfect example of what I'm saying. So what if Google maps works better on an Android device than any other device. Nothing is stopping anyone from developing their own map service thats better than Googles and completely replacing Googles service on Android. You do realize that any app for Android can become the default over any stock app on Android right? Microsoft could release Bing maps and put it on the market. Or they can do as Motorola and At&T did with search and partner with a carrier to distribute Bing or some other service as the default map/search. They WOULD have a monopoly if you couldn't do that much like you can't with the iPhone or Windows Mobile or WinPhone 7. The user gets a first class experience with any 3rd party service as if it was baked into the phone from the start.

        No....what you all are confusing here with monopoly is complete and utter laziness. Nothing Google is doing is stopping any company from taking over any market from Google. That would be CONTROL and thus a monopoly. And in fact Google invites you on Android to replace their services. What we have are companies that simply can't outdo Google when given the opportunity and fanboys ready to scream monopoly at some other company since they know their favorite company is guilty.

        Now I will say it won't be good if Google gets to a point where they start locking you in and locking out competition. But thats far from the case as it stands. If companies can't make better search, maps, mail, etc... thats not Googles fault. And ironically the inability to do so on Microsofts part is a direct result of them sitting on their butts for so long with their own monopoly. Now they've tried to jump back in with WinPhone 7 and already they are sounding like flops. Call Android mediocre as compared to WinMo if you want but you'd only be lying to yourself.
        • Excuse me, stormy......

          You wrote: "Nothing Google is doing is stopping any company
          from taking over any market from Google." Let's look at the
          navigation market, shall we? Google uses the vast revenue that
          they get from selling targeted ads to create and give away
          Google Navigator for FREE. Now, suppose that I'm a small
          company that creates wangdoodle nav software, maybe even
          better than Navigator. As a small company, I don't have the
          resources to give away my product. I have to charge for it. If
          you're a customer for nav software and have a choice of free or
          pay, which one will you take? Chalk up one for Google. You
          continue: "That would be CONTROL and thus a monopoly." And
          on that point, I agree with you completely.
          • I see why some people succeed and some don't...

            You DO have almost all the resources you need to give away your product. You probably just don't want to use them. ;-) Hint....Google did and still does the same thing. If it wasn't the post you responded to it was the other but I even pointed how Google LETS you use their services to get your own competition off the ground.

            And its a pretty poor example when internet startups giving away services pop up left and right. You have far more to fear of someone throwing a patent in your face than not being able to compete with free.

            Its also amazing how the arguments made by certain groups of people here don't add up. I mean when you talk about an OS people will supposedly pay for a "better" OS but in this nav scenario they'll go with thats free even though its worse. Ironically it points right back to the real definition of a monopoly where no matter if the OS if free and arguably better it must still interoperate with the dominant OS because it actually has control of the market via locked down protocols and proprietary file formats that aren't freely shared. Again with nav the only barrier is the ability to drive your cost down to zero long enough to grab a foothold. In the case of the OS example you're going to have the overhead right off the bat of paying for protocols and file formats IF they are even being sold.
          • OK, stormy. I give up. Which one are you?

            Larry or Serge?