Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

Summary: Google's Honeycomb tablet OS is rife with problems. But the issues extend to the entire Android ecosystem. Here's how they can dig their way out.

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Google's Honeycomb tablet OS is rife with problems. But the issues extend to the entire Android ecosystem. Here's how they can dig their way out.

Well, my tough love article on Android Honeycomb yesterday has fuelled the fires on an interesting pair of responses from my ZDNet colleagues. I suspect that with the chord that it has struck with a lot of folks that at least a few more are still in the works.

Ed Burnette, probably one of the smartest guys I know when it comes to Android development, suggests that Honeycomb isn't rotten to the core, but rather, the fundamentals are good, and it needs a year of tweaking and another generation to become appropriately productized.

Okay, I agree with that on principle.

However, he also notes that Google's tablet OS has been the unfortunate recipient of "Malignment" by writers like myself and WSJ's Walt Mossberg (who essentially issued the kiss of death to Honeycomb's LG's G-Slate today) and John Paczkowsi that are giving the software a terrible reputation a la the mass condemnation of Microsoft's Windows Vista from a few years ago. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Also Read: Is Honeycomb Android's Vista? (Dev Connection)

Look, Ed. There's a big difference between Vista and Honeycomb -- Vista was a product based on 20 years of development and success with previous OS products by Microsoft and a much, much larger scale project that was plagued by substantial cases of managerial misalignment and organizational differences between the goals of the Consumer division and the Server division.

Members of the mainstream and technology press, myself included, were fully justified by beating the hell out of Microsoft for releasing it in the state it was in. The implementation was awful. Even Ballmer himself was pretty much forced to admit it when Windows 7 came out.

Also Read: Ding Dong, The Vista's Dead!

On the other hand, Windows Server 2008 was excellent, worked pretty much flawlessly and used the same kernel and drivers and basic systems architecture as Vista. The difference? Once it left the "Core" team at the company and got in the hands of the consumer division, it got mucked up, and it took Microsoft some time to clean up their act and put out a unified front and a clear strategy for both the Server and Desktop products with Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7.

Google has a totally different set of problems. First, Android is an operating system that has only been under development realistically since 2003. While it is based on heavily on Java and Linux, to suggest that it is a mature product even in its smartphone implementation -- where it is currently enjoying a vast amount of success is a stretch.

By comparison, Apple's iOS has only been productized since 2007, but we have to remember that the technologies it uses is based on continuous work by successive generations at NeXT and Apple since 1985.

As sophisticated and as powerful the technologies in Android are, there's an awful lot of continuity and stability that Cupertino has to its advantage which Google doesn't have the benefit of relying on. Google doesn't build OSes traditionally as part of its core product strategy. This is a completely new game for them, relatively, compared to Apple and Microsoft.

Additionally, Apple has virtually no hardware variation to contend with because there are no OEMs. Nobody has to build custom kernels and software overlays to support 40+ branded flavors of iPhones and iPads. Google, on the other hand, has many OEMs that do. And it appears that if you want to stabilize your experience and get the most out of Honeycomb today, you need to root your device and swap out your kernel.

That's just fine if you're a developer like Ed that knows exactly what's going to blow up in his face or a very knowledgeable end-user like Scott who enjoys tinkering with Linux and firmware and are willing to work around issues to make things work.

Also Read: Motorola XOOM versus Galaxy Tab 7, A Study in Usability

But consumers aren't Android developers like Ed Burnette or veteran Linux system admins like Scott Raymond. If Google really thinks they can air their dirty underwear on their front porch and expect consumers to try it on like they do with GMail and other "Perpetual Beta" products, then they have all of their priorities completely out of whack.

[Next: Google, Here's Your Sign.]»

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has a very concise analysis of this condition on their blog which I think is well worth reading.

Honeycomb is not ready for the average consumer. The operating system software itself is in a state of heavy transition, the applications at large are not properly optimized for it, the ecosystem is not being properly curated and the hardware OEMs and the carriers themselves are not being given appropriate guidance or the tools to help them succeed with their products.

But all of this can be fixed. To do that, however, Google needs to make some very substantive changes.

First, I think that Google needs to adopt a standard for running Android using hardware abstraction methods, such as through a Type 1 mobile hypervisor. I've beaten this horse to death before, but now that I've seen the abortion of Honeycomb first hand and hearing numerous reports of how stability varies greatly from hardware OEM to hardware OEM, I think they need to give this serious consideration for the entire platform.

Also Read: Android Virtualization, It's Time

Once a mobile hypervisor is included as part of the entire Android stack, Google needs to distribute the "Kasherized" gold master virtual machine image as part of its release schedule which all smartphones and tablets should be based on, and a clear, well-defined compatibility matrix as well as requirements that the carriers and manufacturing licensed "Google Experience" devices must follow which should include mandatory set timelines for over-the-air updates of the official VM.

Additionally, a clear End of Life roadmap for devices that cannot take an updated hypervisor or run a newer version of the VM needs to be published, so as not to string the consumer along in the hopes they'll get an official update.

If the community at large wants to address those folks it's fine, and you should give them all of the tools to do this -- but don't make people wait a year to hope their device will get an update from the OEM.

And by the way, Google, release the damn source you're giving to your OEMs to the community at large regardless of the condition it's in. That would help a great deal.

This is a proven recipe for participation, engaging your developer community and Open Source software improvement, as evidenced by successful projects such as Ubuntu.

I would expect, for example, that with this new software release methodology, that phones and tablets of the same hardware generation from all the OEMs running a standard hypervisor should be able to update their OSes over a 30-day timeframe, after a gold master image is released, allowing for branding changes and built-in value-added applications.

Next, Google needs to impose order on the chaos that exists in Android Market. Not only does the Market itself on Honeycomb need significant refinement, but the apps need to be cut off by what APIs the VM is running on the device. For example, if this system were in place today, native 3.0.X apps should get their own section (as they do now) and then I would cut off anything that won't correctly run on Gingerbread.

Throw all the legacy junk in the garbage where it belongs.

This is the only way the OS is going to get any kind of application quality control. It's worked successfully for Apple on iOS on their App Store, and it will work for Google and Android. Any developer who cares about their code and monetization whatsoever will ensure that their smartphone app conforms to run on a gold master 3.x or 2.x VM.

Next, Honeycomb and Gingerbread, Smartphone and Tablet need to have a consistent, uniform user experience. Nobody who uses an Android smartphone should have to mentally context switch between that and a tablet because the UI's are radically different.

Google needs to run a bunch of serious usability studies to figure this out, as opposed to letting developers and engineers decide what they think is good for us. Apple can afford that level of arrogance because it has decades of experience in this. Google doesn't. They need to learn what customers want, and learn it quickly.

There's a bunch of other things which Google can do to ensure the success of their smartphone and tablet OS, but I think this is a good start. Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Laptops, Android, Tablets, Software Development, Software, Smartphones, Operating Systems, Mobility, Hardware, Google, Apple, Virtualization

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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169 comments
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  • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

    What are you blathering about now? Honeycomb works just fine.
    Droid101
    • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

      @Droid101 Yes, we have always been at war with Eastasia.
      jperlow
      • Good news!

        @jperlow

        Choco rations are going up.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @jperlow

        jperlow, who are you talking to, there is not and never was a person named Droid101. He/she never existed, and of course we have always been at war with Eastasia.
        KBot
      • Perlow, while I agree that Honeycomb makes Windows ME look great.....

        I don't agree with your argument about Vista and how many years were behind it vs Honeycomb.
        For starters, Google has stolen untold numbers of Microsoft developers and other technologists. They have raked in staff from many various companies so they are not "behind" anyone.
        I mean they have 20 years of Linux behind them. It has nothing to do with it being a "new" venture but a total mis-management of the project.

        As for your comparisons to Vista, that is not even something you can do on zdnet because you it's not a level playing field.
        I might say that the biggest problem with Vista was the lack of 3rd party drivers and it was stable for most users.
        It supports 99.9% of all XP sp2 code and beyond, sometthing that the ABM camp never spoke of and neither did any blogger here. Compatibility mode. Yes, when Apple jumped to x86 to play catchup from their deadend platform, their ability to run old code (which they phased out) was categorized in the brilliant column here on zdnet, which Vista's compatibility mode features were left out, nothing was ever said about it. There was a perception painted here and elsehwere that Vista could not load and run XP drivers, at least that is perception I got from the many "let's bash Vista" blogs.
        Even bloggers as yourself that are normally objective and somewhat vendor neutral were repeating the ABM communities tag lines, many of which were patently false and most of which were half truths.
        zdnet has dedicated ABM bloggers and now you have SJVN...WOW!!! I thought you were only a step or two behind slashdot before! But there are no ABG or ABA or ABL bloggers here. Not a one. Some might lump Ed Bott in that category but he is the only blogger, IMHO, that puts a ton of research and data to support his blogs into most of them. They are no just fluff that is designed to Villify a certain vendor.
        Bottom line is you can't compare your campaign against Vista and this. That was relentless and stole the headlines every day, not matter how trivial. This will not receive an all out assault like Vista, even though your logic about MS being more deserving, IMHO, fails, and it should. But zdnet must pander to it's majority.
        xuniL_z
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @jperlow Glad to hear you admit you were making up stuff to help your friend Steve.
        Everq
    • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

      @Droid101
      Why would anyone want to use Android, when you can get the original and be cool.. APPLE!
      Hasam1991
      • People started smoking because they thought they looked cool.

        @Hasam1991
        look where that got them. :(
        Bill Pharaoh
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991
        I don't like having to plug my Tablet into a computer to sync... Android does it wirelessly.
        Droid101
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991 Yes, we have always been at war with Eastasia and Choco rations are going up.
        freakqnc
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        crApple's not cool, but snobby
        nomorebs
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991 You're an idiiot. You're a Windows user who has upgraded & bought an Apple thinking it makes you look clever but your technical capability is minimal at best...
        alfielee@...
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991 @Hasam1991 You're an idiiot. You're a Windows user who has upgraded & bought an Apple thinking it makes you look clever but your technical capability is minimal at best...
        alfielee@...
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991 The Empire use Apple - the rebels use Android.
        Everq
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991
        If iOS was better than Android, I'd use it...bit it's not. The "original" is not always better. Android came later to the game, but they have improved on Apple's ideas and taken things to the next level, offered more features and a better OS. This happened to Apple in the PC market as well. They launched, then others copied and improved, and then blew them away. Apple has a knack for coming up with great ideas, but they never seem to be able to keep up once others join the game and in the end they are always the small fish in a big pond.

        Why is it that you people (ZDNet folks) talk about Android's issues in comparison to iOS, and imply iOS is a perfect, pristine OS on perfect, pristine devices??

        iOS and iOS devices have more severe issues than Android, such as lack of Flash (huge deal), no real multi-tasking, can't remove the damn battery in an iPhone or iPad, no memory card slot, being chained to iTunes, only able to use it on one computer, antenna gate, etc, etc, etc. Android's issues are minor compared to that iOS's train wreck of issues.

        How many Android phones do you see with "band aids" over troubled antenna spots? Now how many iPhones do you see with "band aids" or "bumpers" to cover troubled antenna spots? Yup...I rest my case.

        I use Android because Android just flat out does more things than iOS, that's a fact. It's just a better overall OS. I want as many features as possible, not a locked down and limited OS like iOS is. I have no issues with Android's functionality or performance. It really has really been a great OS, and I've used it since the first G1 all the way up to my D2.

        You fanboys need to get your heads out of Steve Jobs' butt and realize what's going on.
        Xander_Crews
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Xander_Crews You end your post with [i]"You fanboys need to get your heads out of Steve Jobs' butt and realize what's going on.'[/i] yet you are no better. You are nothing more than a fandroid, different side of the same coin. To be so rabidly one sided then to attack others for being the same way with a different device only shows how delusional you are. Every device or OS has it's pros and cons, one size does not fit all. Just because you have the ability to type out the official Apple haters talking points list doesn't mean they have any validity to anybody but yourself. Sure, some if not all of those talking point might be an issue to you but based on sales of iOS devices they are not an issue for 10s of millions of people. I say they might be an issue for you because who knows if you really care about those items or just have to spew them out because you don't know any better. I have talked with more than a few people over the past couple of years that spewed the same crap then through conversation found they never swapped the battery on there device or used the SD card or like a recent conversation about the lack of flash and the hater never needed on his Android device but hated Apple for not allowing it. Point is that most spew that crap because it makes them feel better, not because it really matters to them let alone the vast majority of average consumers. You like Android and it works for you. I am happy for you and would not bash you for making that choice. Of course I am a mature educated person that doesn't have to belittle others to make myself feel better. You Fanboys and Fandroids should try growing up sometime, there is a lot more to like that small minded attitudes.
        non-biased
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @Hasam1991

        While I don't hate Apple outright, I bought an Epic 4G for myself and I am very satisifed and yes I have played with iPhones before and don't like Steve Jobs walled garden approach.
        DonRupertBitByte
    • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

      @Droid101
      I think he is trying to say that Honeycomb should be more controled then it is now so that People get that uniform experience between Tablets..... What I don't Understand is why the heck would I want my Tablet to be the same as my phone? The tablet should be more productive and laid out not like windows and not like my phone but more like well Honeycomb is. IOS makes since on a 3.5 inch screen when you don't have the real-estate to do much more then Icons but give me the real-estate of a 10 inch screen and I just sit and wonder "Why the heck am I looking at all theses apps icons?" with Honeycomb I don't feel like that I feel it is well laid out and natural to navigate. Yes a monkey can play games on a Ipad but I am no monkey I have the ability to use something made like honeycomb.. I understand Honeycomb needs work but no more then any new operating system.... The bottom line is I wont choices when it comes to my computers Android gives me that freedom to not have my choices made form me.
      nickitnite
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @nickitnite An excellent description of both Apple and Droid users "Yes a monkey can play games on a Ipad but I am no monkey" If you want to be productive I'd move away from both platforms.
        ITSamurai
      • RE: Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell

        @nickitnite
        I definitely agree.... The only reason I am even thinking about getting a Tablet (and have researched it so much)is because I'm military I am constantly getting underway so I want something that can give me a good battery life for movies and is easy to take with me around town so I can use it at WiFi spots and talk to home. As for now I have a netbook running Linux for this but I've been looking for something lighter and still useful I really don't see the Ipad as useful and the $$$ seems a little much. Android 3.0 gives me a little more but still seems a little restrictive.... We'll see still not impressed with the Tablets yet
        nickitnite