Google Android gets positive early reviews

Some developers see great potential for opening up mobile industry

While Google's Android announcement generated a lot of hype last week, developers had to wait until yesterday to see whether the company had actually developed a good platform.

After downloading and examining Google's Android software development kit yesterday, some software developers gave the platform favorable reviews and praised it as a breath of fresh air for an industry that has long been characterized by closed devices and software.

"What you see with platforms like Windows Mobile is that there's more of a concentration on bringing Windows applications to mobile platforms," says Evan Prodromou, a writer and programmer who lives in Montreal. "But it seems that what we're seeing with Android is a ground-up approach to application development... It's a pretty decent first effort. I'm going to guess that we'll see a lot more refinement, but it's a good start."

Mobile application designer Sean Moshir also gives Google high marks for enabling peer-to-peer communication, allowing phone handsets to send and receive data with other handsets.

"Those services they're including are crucial to developers to get state of the art applications out," says Moshir, founder and CEO of CellTrust in Arizona.

Fabrizio Capobianco, the CEO of the open source mobile application server Funanbol, says that Google's decision to make an open source mobile platform is a pleasant surprise, and that he expects the company to be successful in getting third-party developers to write innovative applications for it.

"I've been pushing for an open source mobile platform since the beginning of time," he says. "To have someone as big as Google push for open source systems is a great thing for us."

A "DIY" mobile platform

It is striking how barebones Andoid SDK is, developers say. Other than adding a few demo applications, Google has mostly left it up to third-party developers to create new applications for the platform. In an online demo of Android, Google showed how the platform can be used to support text messaging, Internet browsing, Google mapping software and an OpenGL 3-D graphics interface. Google is hoping that third parties will use the platform to develop applications that will be far more innovative and useful than what they've concocted so far, and is offering a total of US$10 million in prizes to developers that create the best applications.

"The best applications [for the Android platform] are not here yet," says Sergey Brin, Google's president of technology, during the demo. "That's because they're going to be written by you and by many other developers."

Capobianco says that offering a financial reward to open source developers is a shrewd move, since it will draw more developers in to create the kinds of applications that will help the Android platform thrive.

"It has always been somewhat taboo to offer money to open source developers," he says. "But it's a smart way for Google to get developers to make applications for devices before they're even launched."

Prodromou says that Google's quest to reel in third-party developers will be further helped by the fact that it uses Linux as a base operating system, with a Java programming layer on top.

"There's such a great pool of Java developers out there, so it really shouldn't be too much of challenge to find people to work on it," he says.

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Brad Reed

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