Developers praised the programming experience and the potential of Google's Android mobile platform at the Google I/O conference as the company emphasized its flexibility and showed cool new features.
There was a lot of buzz around Android at the conference, which covers all areas of Google development, and an "Introduction to Android" session was full. Google wants the technology to open up the mobile industry, where developers have faced hurdles getting applications ported to many different operating systems and approved by carriers. But Android will enter the fray as just one mobile platform among many, including the Apple iPhone SDK (software development kit).
The latest prototype version of Android drew comparisons to the iPhone after it was demonstrated during a keynote session Wednesday morning. Google showed a home screen with colorful widgets similar to the Apple iPhone's, plus a compass and a status bar that can be pulled down in any application to view messages. The compass, which could be built into a handset along with an accelerometer, would be able to orient maps according to which way the user was facing. As demonstrated with Google Maps Street View, it could show the exact view that a user was looking at, with street-name and address information built in to the map. Videos of the demonstrations were posted by the Android Community blog.
Aside from features on high-end phones, Android will reach far more people than the iPhone platform, if it meets its potential, said Atif Iqbal Chaudhry, a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who attended the conference. The platform could be extended to inexpensive phones with a smaller set of capabilities for average consumers, he said.
Android is an easy way to begin developing a mobile application, because Google provides all the pieces required, unlike some other platforms, such as PalmOS, Chaudhry said. He has been developing location-based applications through the PC-based emulator software for Android and said he is looking forward to trying out the software in the field on a real handset.
Google and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance are pushing Android as more open than other mobile platforms, including the iPhone. Developers won't need to get Android applications certified by anyone, Google Developer Advocate Jason Chen told the Android breakout session. In addition, there won't be any hidden APIs (application programming interfaces) accessible only to handset makers or mobile operators, he said.
Developers will also be able to modify core elements of the interface and come out with replacements for the basic building blocks that come with Android, such as the address book, Chen said. Even the look of the home-screen widgets will be customizable. For users, that will mean being able to control their own experience by downloading their favorite third-party versions, Chen said.
Google expects the first Android-based devices to hit the market in the second half of this year and will make the finished software platform available to developers after that, so anyone can create their own phone platform, Chen said. The core elements of it will be released under the Apache open-source license.