February 12, 2010

Android dreams of expanded apps

To borrow a line from the great Duke Ellington, the mantra of today’s technophile might be, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got a ring(tone).”

The mobile computing world has exploded over the past decade; objects that were nothing more than sci-fi fantasy are now reality. Show me a person who isn’t using a mobile computing device and I will show you someone who is, quite literally, out of touch.

With the explosion in use of has come the explosion of products and devices, from Apple to Palm, Blackberry to … Android? You know, the commercials with a top-secret military air squadron dropping strange pod-like containers all over the country, frightening old men and dogs alike? There seemed to be a lot of mystery surrounding Android, and now that the first products are hitting the market, there still seems to be a dark cloak about – whatever it is.

Ask most people who have heard of Android and they are likely to tell you that it is just another smart phone. That’s not completely accurate. In fact, it’s not accurate at all.

Android is actually a lightweight operating system designed for deployment on handheld and low-processing-requirement devices. Smart phones are simply ideal deployment candidates. It won’t be long before we see Android running on a plethora of devices: phones, netbooks, cameras and digital assistants, to name a few.

What makes Android so special? Well, that depends on who you ask and since you are reading this, I would say Android is special because it is built on the Linux Kernel. The whosit-whatsit?

Without delving too deeply into computer science, let’s just say that the “kernel” is the central component of most operating systems. The kernel acts like a bridge between the applications and the actual data manipulation that occurs at the hardware and processor level. The Linux Kernel is considered to be Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), software that you, the user, are allowed to fiddle with to change, improve, or add functionality.

iEconomics

To fully appreciate the benefits of the Android OS, let’s first take a look at Apple’s highly popular iPhone and iPod Touch.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics will appreciate the business model Apple has created. Apart from a few built-in applications, the bulk of the apps are conceived, designed and built by whoever has the inclination to do so. This makes apps – lots of apps – available for use on Apple’s hardware with very little development cost to Apple. Next, Apple handles the distribution of these apps through the iTunes Store, which is great for software developers large and small, and even better for Apple, which gets a little cut out of all those 99-cent downloads.

There are a couple of caveats to this model. First, iPhone apps are strictly written in the not-quite-prolific Objective-C programming language. There aren’t a whole bunch of developers out there that “sprechen that Deutsch” – yet – and fewer still who know enough to teach what they know.

Second, the development SDK (fancy word for “software that allows you to build software”) is proprietary and can only be run on an Intel-based Mac. Don’t have an Intel-based Mac? Not to worry, Apple will sell you one for approximately one-arm and three-quarters of a leg. And speaking of proprietary systems, don’t forget that the apps you build can only run on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Tweaking the model

Now let’s imagine a few little tweaks to improve upon that model.

For starters, what if application development wasn’t limited to a specific platform? What if developers could build their applications on a Mac, Windows, Linux, or even an Android-based machine?

Statistics provided by wc3schools.com suggest that a mere 6 percent of computers in operation today use the Macintosh operating system. When you stop to consider that all iPhone apps are currently developed on Intel-based Macs, which is a smaller slice of that 6 percent, you begin to understand how small a community is actually developing applications for the iPhone, and, more importantly, how large a community isn’t developing those apps.

Next, let’s remove the programming language constraints and lean toward a more prolific language, something like Java. You would be hard pressed to find a developer who doesn’t know at least a little Java, and even harder pressed to find someone who can’t teach it to you. Java is to computers as English is to the United Nations.

And then, how about allowing distribution in more than one location, possibly even on your own website or through a collaboration network? OK, so iTunes is pretty much everywhere, but hey, choice is really about having more than one option, isn’t it? Allow the same app to install and behave exactly the same on distinctly different devices by different manufacturers, and you have achieved app nirvana.

It’s exactly this tweaking of the current development model that the Android OS brings to the table. The end benefit to developers and consumers alike: choice. Android will allow all of us choice of equipment, choice of application, choice of procurement – choices, choices, choices.

However, I wouldn’t look for the Android OS to become an overnight sensation; in fact, first impressions of devices utilizing it haven’t been overly positive. But because Android is open source, it will be used to extend, expand and incorporate new technologies as they emerge.

Android will give developers the tools and foundation to bring some wonderful dreams and ideas into reality – it will act as a catalyst for innovation and will continue to evolve as the developer community works together.

Michael D. Wailes is an Interactive Developer at Burns Marketing and Communications in Johnstown. If you have questions or would like to suggest a topic for a future Geek Chic column, e-mail him at news@ncbr.com.

Other articles from the Feb. 12 issue:

Heli-One ready for jobs, work liftoff

Local firm acquired by global helicopter maintenance outfit

Centerra feels the need, the need for high-speed

FRII partnership makes McWhinney sites Web-ready

Million delivers letters of interest

Water districts write in support of Green River pipeline project

‘Success comes to those in front of the inevitable’

Chad McWhinney talks about growth, future opportunities

Midtown study starts with Foothills Malls question

Findings to be presented at March meeting

Estes Park faces future with no urban renewal authority

Voters repeal EPURA financing by 61 percent vote

Marijuana dispenser contemplates regulation

Wild West scene needs to be cleaned up with clear rules

Bank interest growing – acquisition interest, that is

Stressed assets now prime targets for takeovers, mergers

Economy poised to change with positive signs visible

Market correction at March should signal future heading more

To borrow a line from the great Duke Ellington, the mantra of today’s technophile might be, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got a ring(tone).”

The mobile computing world has exploded over the past decade; objects that were nothing more than sci-fi fantasy are now reality. Show me a person who isn’t using a mobile computing device and I will show you someone who is, quite literally, out of touch.

With the explosion in use of has come the explosion of products and devices, from Apple to Palm, Blackberry to … Android? You know, the commercials…

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