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

Limited options may keep enough developers on board

Google may still be able put its Android development house in order, but time is running out. Enderle notes that the company will have to work hard over the next several months to assure developers that there are good, financially rooted justifications for creating Android applications. But he acknowledges that Google faces a tough sales job as it feels its way through its first major mobile software venture. "While Google does simple well, this is Google's first device, as opposed to Apple, which clearly has been doing devices for a while."

Google can take some comfort in the fact that Android developers face a limited set of distribution alternatives, primarily Apple and Nokia. And both companies -- Apple in particular -- have also experienced developer discontent. "Apple is treating developers terribly and really undermining the community," Novak says. "The fact that applications have to go through the iTunes Store in order to be distributed really shows how much control Apple has over the entire OS."

Other marketing options open to developers include Microsoft Windows Mobile and Palm OS. Yet many developers view both of these platforms as unexciting and dated, rooted in a PDA past and increasingly irrelevant in a wireless mobile world.

Enderle believes that developers are ultimately going to embrace whichever platform or platforms promise a good return on their development efforts. "At the end of the day, developers want to make money," he says. "So they're going to develop on a platform and put resources on a platform that will make them money."

Discontented Android developers also need to consider the fact that skipping out on Google at what is still a relatively early stage could turn into a big mistake should the company manage to turn Android into the next big mobile thing -- or even a respectable second-place platform.

Mark Murphy, author of The Busy Coder's Guide to Android Development, says that Google's recent actions have managed to split the development community. "Undoubtedly, some developers have written Android off and will never return," he says. But Murphy also notes that many developers remain unperturbed by the commotion, and some plan to assess the situation over time. "Lots aren't paying a darn bit of attention to the whole mess because there aren't any devices ready yet," he says.

Novak, however, is optimistic that Google's Android strategy will eventually pan out. "Android is going to be something unlike anything currently out there in the cell phone industry," he says. "While it might not be an overnight rock star, it certainly will change the mobile world for the better."

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John Edwards

InfoWorld

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