Android hits the fan
Unless you’ve been buried under a boulder, you’ve heard about Android. It’s nice to know what my secretive Google mobile JVM guru friend has been working on all this time 🙂
The Android forum is awash in C / C++ developers ranting about how lame Android is because it doesn’t support raw access to the hardware. It’s too bad, really. I feel for them, and I agree: Android apps are going to be slow and clunky compared to native apps.
But Google’s making a play to build a whole new kind of mobile ecosystem here. Google’s betting on increasing mobile CPU power (certainly an excellent bet), and Google knows that if Android develops a personal-computer-like reputation for flakiness, it will fail and fail bigtime. I would argue that a big reason no mobile platform has really taken off yet (besides crazy licensing costs) is that native apps are simply flaky, and the more of them you run, the flakier your hardware gets. Since Android is trying to greatly increase the hardware diversity of Android devices, allowing raw native access combined with open developer access would rapidly drive the stability of the system to zero.
Native developers hate to hear this, because they spend their lives tuning for performance and chasing crash bugs. I’m sure many of them do write good solid apps. But I’m also sure that making native code crash-proof, especially across a wide spectrum of hardware, is very, very hard to do. And if you want to throw your platform open to anyone who wants to ship an app for it, you’re guaranteed that many if not most of those people will lack the uber native skillz to achieve that kind of cross-platform stability.
So HOORAY GOOGLE! for making Android a fully managed platform! Note also that Microsoft sees the writing on the wall; they’re working on a fully managed operating system, for crying out loud.
End rant. The most interesting thing I’ve yet learned about Android is that it is fundamentally trying to end-run around Sun’s IP restrictions on Java ME. Stefano Mazzocchi breaks it down in exemplary fashion. Super cool! It’s going to be really strange to see Sun and Google at each other’s throats, but given how close the two companies are, and given how heavily Android leverages Java-the-language while totally subverting Java-the-runtime, AND given how anti-patent-war Sun is trying to be, I hope for some kind of peaceful reconciliation there. Microsoft, on the other hand, will go apeshit. Let the fireworks begin!