Google's unhappy Android developers

Controversy around its SDK, rumors of a Symbian tie-up, and the iPhone's star power call the mobile OS into question

Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst, believes that Google's mobile game plan is "strategically flawed." He notes that the company's goals are contradictory: to create an open mobile platform, yet still be able to exercise control over the quality of Android applications. Gold believes that Google's fundamental problem is that it has managed to put the cart before the horse.

"Rather than trying to push yet another platform, Google ought to be bringing the market together and building applications, which is where they're going to make their money," he says. "The developer discontent is just part of what has turned out to be a flawed strategy."

But Rob Enderle, an independent technology analyst, says he understands why Google chose to restrict access to the latest Android SDK. "It's the very same reason why Apple didn't do third-party developers first, and that's to assure the process and the program and the quality that's initially being offered," he says. "They're pretty sure they can get 50 quality applications."

Independent developer Novak also doesn't view Google's SDK decision as a misstep, given the pressure the company faces. "The community must not forget that Google is dealing with partners in the cell phone industry, and they certainly have a reputation of a closed-source, tight-lipped mentality," he says. "The community can cry foul if Google releases the newest SDK to developers a week before handsets hit the stores, but as far as I have heard that is far from the truth."

Bad timing: iPhone and Symbian steal the show

Whether or not Google made the right decision with its SDK release, the company could have hardly selected a worse time to tick off developers. With Apple's iPhone 3G grabbing sales records and headlines, the recent news that Symbian is going open source, and the fact that Android remains months away from release, Google is facing the possibility that its platform may become nothing more than a follow-up act, lost in a sea of mobile OSes.

Persistent rumors that Google and Nokia may soon merge Android with the now-open source Symbian platform has also done little to warm many developers' hearts. "Within the next six months, Symbian and Android will combine into a single open source OS," predicts Gold. From the viewpoint of many developers, such a move would undercut the basic reason for Android's existence while threatening to trash months' worth of development work.

"Combining code bases isn't exactly a trivial task," Gold says. "On the other hand, it would be much easier to do now than to tackle it in the future when developers are that much farther down the road."

Analyst Enderle doesn't expect a Google-Nokia hookup anytime soon. "To tie Symbian and Android together would require an awful lot of heavy lifting between Google and Nokia, and to do that kind of an agreement would be problematic," he says. "It would have been easier while Symbian was small and independent, but now that Symbian is basically a subsidiary of Nokia, it's going to be pretty difficult."

Symbian aside, Novak believes that developers who are serious about addressing the largest number of potential customers will ultimately decide to create both Android and iPhone versions of their products. Enderle agrees. "If you develop for Apple, you've got a ready market," he says. "If you develop for Android, it's a crapshoot because there's no assurance that the Android platform is even going to sell."

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John Edwards

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