Google: Android won't suffer from incompatibility

Security a problem, but a minor one, Google developer says

Google's Android team isn't worried about wireless carriers building Android distributions that are incompatible with one another, Google developer Dan Morrill said this week at the O'Reilly ETech conference on emerging technology in the US. He also said security problems on Android-powered smartphones will be minor compared to the potential benefits.

Android is Google's open-source mobile operating system and software stack for building smartphone applications. Some observers have said the open source initiative could prod wireless carriers to open their devices to more third-party applications; others worry it will lead to numerous versions of Android that lack interoperability or that handset vendors might prevent Android apps from being used on their phones.

Morrill took an optimistic view when asked by an audience member whether he is worried about carriers distributing incompatible versions of Android.

"In the past, that problem has essentially been solved by contractual approaches," he said. "The holder of the platform won't license it to another company unless they agree to a certain set of compatibility rules. I view that as the stick approach and we prefer the carrot approach. We believe that this open mobile thing is a very powerful concept. We don't think anybody will necessarily have an incentive to build an incompatible platform."

Though Google has trumpeted the open nature of Android, the platform uses the Apache open source license, which allows some restrictions. As a result, mobile vendors will be able to make changes to Android code without contributing those innovations back to the open source community, the Google-led Open Handset Alliance states on its Web site.

Morrill touched on several other Android topics during his ETech session, titled "Connecting your life to the Web with Android."

Security was one point of discussion. The vendor Core Security this month said it found multiple vulnerabilities in the Android software development kit (SDK). In response, Google noted that the current version of Android is an early-look release and that it will undergo a full security review before applications running on the platform get in the hands of users.

Morrill acknowledged that Android-powered phones will inherently be more susceptible to attack than phones without full Web interfaces, but said the risk will be small and outweighed by the advantages of a rich Web-surfing experience. He was responding to an audience member who asked whether Android applications could crash a phone or crash programs on the phone, such as emergency-call applications. "[Android] will probably expose users to a little more risk than they currently are exposed to," he said. "It's a trade-off. You do incur a little more exposure and risk in exchange for a vast amount more potential."

Morrill also was asked whether it will be possible to port Android to Apple's iPhone. It could happen, he said.

"We're not paying attention right now to existing devices," he said. "It's really up to anyone who wants to do the work."

It's even possible Android could be used on a mobile device that's not a phone, he said.

Android phones are expected to hit the market this year, but the Android SDK is still in an early stage, Morrill noted. As Google makes improvements, the company wants to make sure applications are easy to build and don't suffer from the browser quirks that sometimes affect programs built using Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (AJAX) scripting components. "We're trying to take the best aspects of development and leave the worst behind. This isn't just AJAX on a phone," he said.

Morrill, a wine enthusiast, says he maintains an online spreadsheet of various wines and their prices and quality to help inform his purchase decisions. He's looking forward to using an Android-powered phone to examine and update his wine spreadsheet during future trips to the wine aisle of a supermarket.

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Jon Brodkin

Network World
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