Five reasons Android can fail

Five reasons Android can fail

Summary: I want Android to succeed and grow, but the way things are going, I'm beginning to doubt that it will thrive in the long run.

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I use Android every day both on my Droid II smartphone and my Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-reader/tablet. I like it a lot. But, I also have concerns about how it's being developed and being presented to customers.

Before jumping into why I think Android faces trouble in the long run, let me mention one problem I don't see as standing in Android's way: The Oracle lawsuits Yes, Oracle claims that Google owes them billions in damages for using unlicensed Java technology in Android's core Dalvik virtual machine.

I follow patent lawsuits and here's what going to happen with this one. It will take years and millions of dollars in legal fees, but eventually Google will either beat Oracle's claims or pay them hefty licensing fees. So, yes, one way or the other Google, and to a lesser extent Oracle, will spend hundreds of millions on this matter before it's done. But, so what?

The mobile technology space is filled with patent and licensing lawsuits. When I checked on these lawsuits in mid-October there were dozens of them. Since then, Apple has sued Samsung; Dobly has sued RIM; and Lodsys, a patent troll, vs. Apple and all its iOS developers, By the time I finish writing this column someone will probably have sued someone else!

The end-result of all this, besides lining the pockets of lawyers, is that we're all going to have pay more for our tablets and smartphones. It doesn't matter who wins or who loses. Thanks to the U.S.'s fouled up patent system, everyone who's a customer, everyone who's a developer, and everyone's who in business to make something useful is the loser.

That said, here's where Android is getting it wrong.

1. Too many developer versions

When Google first forked Android into two versions--The 2.x branch for smartphones and the 3.x for tablets--I didn't like the idea. I like it even less now.

According to the Android Developers site, there are eight (8!) different versions of Android with market presence. If we ignore the out-dated Android 1.5 and 1.6, that still leaves us with six shipping versions that a developer needs to keep in mind when he or she is creating or updating a program. In the case of the 2.x and 3.x lines that's a lot of work. Oh, and yes there are now two versions of 3.x: 3.0 and 3.1.

Currently used versions of Android.

Currently used versions of Android.

Who can keep up with this? I couldn't. But, wait there's more!

2. Too many OEM versions

You'd think that Android 2.2 on a Droid II would be the same on the Samsung Galaxy Pro. You'd think wrong. Every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) insists on tweaking the software and adding their own particular programs to each phone. Sometimes, as James Kendrick points out, the same hardware doesn't even work with Android on the exact same model.

Kendrick has found that the useless microSD card slot in the Motorola XOOM, even after its Android 3.1 update, still doesn't work. Or, to be exact, it won't work in the U.S. In Europe, XOOM users will get a fix that will let them use microSD cards.

Argh!

Here's a history lesson for Google and the rest of the movers and shakers of Android. I've seen a "common" operating system used in this way before during a technology boom. Once, it was with the pre-PC microcomputers. They all ran CP/M-80, but every vendor had their own little tricks they added to make their computers "better." Then along came PC-DOS, soon to be followed by MS-DOS, and all those companies-KayPro, Osborne, and IMSAI-became answers in computer trivia games.

How did Microsoft make its first step to becoming the Evil Empire? By delivering the same blasted operating system on every PC. If users can't count on using the same programs and the same hardware accessories, like microSD cards, on Android, they're not going to stick with Android devices. If things don't get better with Android, who knows, maybe Windows 8 will have a shot on tablets after all!

Page 2: [Open Source, Security & Pricing] »

Open Source, Security & Pricing

3. Still not open enough

Google, for reasons that still elude me, decided not to open-source Android 3.x's source code. This is so dumb!

I'm not talking about playing fast and loose with open-source licenses or ethics-so Google really stuck its foot into a mess with this move. No, I'm saying this is dumb because the whole practical point of open source make development easier by sharing the code. Honeycomb's development depends now on a small number of Google and big OEM developers. Of them, the OEM staffers will be spending their time making Honeycomb, Android 3.0, work better with their specific hardware or carrier. That doesn't help anyone else.

4. Security Holes

This one really ticks me off. There is no reason for Android to be insecure. In fact, in some ways it's Not insecure. So why do you keep reading about Android malware?

Here's how it works. Or, rather, how it doesn't work. Android itself, based on Linux, is relatively secure. But, if you voluntary, albeit unknowingly, install malware from the Android Market, your Android tablet or smartphone can't stop you. Google must start checking "official" Android apps for malware.

Google has made some improvements to how it handles Android malware. It's not enough.

So until things get better, if you're going to download Android programs by unknown developers, get an Android anti-virus program like Lookout. Heck, get it anyway; it's only a matter of time until someone finds a way to add malware to brand-name programs.

5. Pricing

Seriously. What's with Android tablet pricing? Apple owns the high-end of tablets. If someone has the money, they're going to get an iPad 2. Deal with it. Apple's the luxury brand. Android's hope is to be the affordable brand. So long as OEMs price Android's tablets at $500 and up, they're not going to move. People will buy a good $250 Android tablet, which is one reason why the Nook is selling well. They're not buying $500 Android tablets.

Here's what I see happening. Android will still prosper... right up to the point where some other company comes out with an affordable platform and a broad selection of compatible software and hardware. Maybe that will be webOS, if HP drops the price on its TouchPads. Maybe it will be MeeGo. Heck, it could even be Windows 8. What it won't be though in the long run, unless Android gets its act together, will be Android.

Related Stories:

The failing of Android as a tablet platform

Amazon tablets reportedly being prepped: Watch prices fall

Are we too hard on Apple's iPad rivals?

The first great Android Tablet: Nook Color

Microsoft vs. Android

Topics: Open Source, Android, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Malware, Mobility, Software Development, Tablets

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  • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

    2 more nails in the Android coffin: Java patents and the newly awarded iPhone multitouch patent.

    Boom.
    CowLauncher
    • AWESOME!!!!

      @CowLauncher
      Can't wait for Android to die so that developers can focus their energies on only creating iOS apps!
      woulddie4apple
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @woulddie4apple
        But... some people don't want iTunes, the buggy malware, installed on their machines. What options do they have? Windows Phone 7? Lul.
        Droid101
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @droid101
        I think his posts are ironic.
        hoaxoner
      • And if they don't want to

        develop on iOS?

        If they wanted to, they'd already be doing it.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @woulddie4apple Competition and consumer choice are the key drivers for innovation. You should be thankful that more than one company (platform, product or whatever) are fighting for the same market. In the end, the consumer wins. Apple products get better, because they have to. Same goes for Android, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry (poor RIM). The point is, not one product will ever fit everyone's needs.
        JLishere
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @woulddie4apple

        Don't forget iOS 5, iCloud and breaking away from iTunes installed on a PC, should shut most of the whiners up and let the rest of the world get on with using the World's largest music, movie and software store.
        bannedagain
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @Droid101
        If you don't want malware, why you running android?
        razzledazzle
      • 'woulddie4apple' is probably just trolling, because there is no problem of

        @woulddie4apple: ... developers spending energy to Android, if they did not spend it already on iOS first.
        DDERSSS
      • it's a shame ...

        @woulddie4apple ... that more folks don't get your sarcasm. Hilarious stuff, though. Keep it up. :-)
        jscott69
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @woulddie4apple Funny Stuff!
        The_Omega_Man
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @woulddie4apple I say let Android live since its more popular and let iOS die since nobody is interested anymore its market share has been flat and its an overall inferior system to Android.
        storm14k
    • Meego

      @CowLauncher Looks like Meego will be the way to go. It is truely open source.
      global.philosopher
    • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

      @CowLauncher

      Oracle is having some difficulties getting exactly what they want in the lawsuit, so there is no guarantee that it will automatically go Oracle's way. For example, the number of claims they originally wanted has been whittled down significantly to a few core items. Google isn't stupid, althought I would say their "don't be evil" mantra isn't that accurate anymore.
      DonRupertBitByte
    • nails and nails

      @CowLauncher
      It must be very hard living with all those nails we read about again and again and again.
      Sorry, I lost the count, but how many times did it die already again?
      bezoeker
  • How is this different?

    I'm not sure I understand all of the frustration with so-called fragmentation. Windows developers have been dealing with this on a variety of levels ever since Windows 95 hit the scene. Consider that the average boxed Windows software package still says, "Compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, Server 2003, 2000". And in regards to the Xoom SD card not working - I'm not aware of the details (and am too damn lazy to Google them right now) but if Android is going to support several hardware manufacturers, it's on those OEMs to make sure either their hardware is compatible with the Android specs or that they have properly coded in the support for their hardware. I don;t really see how this is any different than hardware manufacturers providing drivers for their peripherals, aside from the fact that the OEMs have direct control over the hardware installed AND how the software accesses it.

    Even UI hacks like HTC's Sense aren;t unprecendented. I can;t remember the last time I booted a fresh HP machine and didn't get their custom apps booted immediately, telling me to register with HP, backup to DVDs, etc. And as for the custom apps that get added - raise your hand if your HP, Toshiba Lenovo, etc. laptops came without any additional, non-Windows crap on your desktop.

    This just reads as more unnecessary FUD. While I agree that, in an ideal world, the end user would have ultimate control over their machines and what comes installed on them, no one should be taken aback by these practices. And no one should be scared by the number of versions in the wild. They are, after all, backwards compatible. As a developer, I'll need to choose the target version that best balances features against install base, just like I always have. And I'll have to test in multiple environments to ensure compatibility (or, failing that, deal with the inevitable support issues), just like I always have. There's truly nothing new under the sun here.
    rzazueta
    • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

      <ul><i>the average boxed Windows software package still says, "Compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, Server 2003, 2000". </i></ul><p>I was thinking the same thing.

      Ultimately this article comes down to a rant about how no one wants to take a product that costs $400 to produce and sell it for $250.

      When we do see the amazing $250 offering, it turns out to have a much smaller screen. That's fair, but it has nothing to do with "Android," it has to do with making a cheaper device by incorporating a cheaper screen.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @Robert Hahn <br><br>1. Microsoft release new OS only every 4 years, so it's not much of an issue<br><br>2. OEMs install their own apps. They did not modified Windows. Windows Update still works right.<br>Android equivalent is like having to as HP to make special Windows Updates for just HP PC.
        illegaloperation
      • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

        @day2die

        1) Even so, each version of Windows has different APIs and it is not up to Microsoft (even as much as they may want it to be) to drive the adoption, for all consumers, of the newer versions of it's products. The corporate and ever growing consumer communities have found their power (in shear numbers), by saying NO to some of these never ending forced upgrade practices. Therefore, we have many people with, "Legacy," versions of Windows out there. For example I am typing this on a corporate Windows XP based machine. Therefore, a developer needs to assure compatibility with the, still existing, broad base of "Legacy," Windows machines in the wild. The same thing is true with Android based systems. In this case it applies to smart-phones and not general purpose computers.

        2) CEMs install the "Extra" Android Apps (a.k.a Bloatware) based upon the specific Carrier's requirements and demands. Google supplies the Android source code to the CEMs (only ONE code base per version) and they are allowed by License to augment (not replace or re-engineer) that base OS code, in certain ways, to help differentiate the end user experience on their respective platforms. This is loosely equivalent to an HP, Acer, ASUS, Toshiba, DELL or a Lenovo adding or replacing specific device drivers, DLLs, permissible system extensions, and/or registry keys, to help differentiate their respective PC devices.

        Android is a real mobile computing platform analogous to that of modern day Linux and Windows based PCs, which happens (by design) to support Cellular voice and data services. Android sports a more modern and portable input system than most of todays PC incarnations. (Desktop=Home Screen, Shortcut=Shortcuts, Folders=Folders, File System=File System, Preemptive Multitasking=Preemptive Multitasking, Removable Storage=Removable Storage, Icons=Icons, Widget support=Widget Support, Sharable Files=Shareable Files, File Level Security=File Level Security, etc.) This is contrast to an iOS system, which has some of these capabilities out of the box, but generally tends to function more like an greatly enhanced and purpose build feature phone.
        The_Omega_Man
    • RE: Five reasons Android can fail

      @rzazueta Indeed it _is_ absolute FUD. <br><br>Fragmentation isn't the boogyman that non-developers (and naive developers) make it out to be. It's no different on Android than with all the versions of iOS out there (because so many owners never update their device). In fact, it's a bit worse with iOS because half the user base versions cannot even multitask, among other important things. <br><br>As for different screen resolutions, so what. That's normal fodder for mobile developers. iOS also has the problem with original screens, "retina" screens, and iPad screens. Big deal.<br><br>The so-called UI customizations like Sense, are mostly the launcher and related, so they don't really affect developers.

      Any time someone writes about Android fragmentation being a hurdle, you know immediately that they don't know what they're talking about.
      kevindarling