An interview with Timothy Bray

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.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

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.

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