After watching the video about the introduction of Android for developers, I'm convinced that the new phone will generally be as useful and user-friendly as e.g. the-also-newcomer iPhone. Well, it came as no surprise to me, I'm just expecting a lot of innovation from the new player in mobile space. I don't expect that the new platform will offer as many features as traditional Symbian-powered devices and I can even dare to say that it's not going to be as stable, either ... yet. However, I'm pretty sure that they will catch up soon and offer real alternatives for users, phone manufacturers, operators, etc.
What has totally escaped my attention, though, was that the programming language for this platform would be Java. Based on the fact that it's going to be a Linux-based OS I kind of anticipated that the programming language would be C/C++. I don't know the rationale behind this decision, but it will definitely give a boost to the otherwise stagnating JME programming environment.
I wonder, though, how Google is planning to solve the infamous Java fragmantation problem for mobile phones. What is that? Well, even though Java is a very popular and platform-independent (aka portable) programming language, it's just the set of Java core services that is available on every mobile device. The presence of additional features, such as advanced mobile graphics, security, etc. depend on phone manufacturers' decision, whether it's worth adding them. Which makes Java mobile applications market very fragmanted (some features are available, some are not) and development very frustrating. You know, I have heard an example that a mobile Java game programmer had to make 100(!) variants of his game "just" to be able to distribute it to as many phones as possible.
Another thing about mobile Java development is that most mobile phones are running on another operating system than Java. In fact, Java is not an operating system at all, even though there have been attempts to make Java-based mobile platforms, see e.g. SaveJe for more details. But Symbian OS is similar to Android platform in that they both have their native platform (Symbian OS and Linux, respectively) meaning that platform features are usually available in native programming language first and then some JNI layer added on the top and there you are, it's ready for Java programmers. So far so good. However, it introduces some latency in the equation as it requires some time to write features in native environment first and wrap it in the second round. Will Android suffer from the same problem?
My regular readers already know that I was involved in S60 Browser development and it was very challenging and I really liked it. For that reason, I'm happy to see that Google chose WebKit for their mobile browser (S60 Browser is also based on this rendering engine) and in the demonstration it worked well. I was wondering which display method they would choose for web pages:
- S60 approach that displays the web page in its entirety without scaling
- or iPhone approach that scales down the web page to so that it fits to display dimensions, though it's hardly readable, but lets the user zoom it very conveniently (e.g. by double-tapping on screen)
So these are my first impressions after spending half an hour with Android after midnight. I'm really keen to hear your comments - just as usual! :)
[Update]: I'm shocked, check this out: Dalvik: how Google routed around Sun's IP-based licensing restrictions on Java ME. It basically says that Android phones will NOT be JME-powered, but you can write JSE programs to them. With Android, Google has introduced their own VM, Dalvik, which eventually does not make use of Java bytecode, but their own Dalvik format. It's all to get rid of Sun being involved in licensing.
It's another question how good or bad will it be to the community. It means a new variant on the horizon, a VM incapable of running so-far-standard Java bytecode, thus your midlets will have to be re-compiled. I can see why Google is happy to have their own solution to this problem, but I can also see why developers would be unhappy due to that they'll have to take just another Java variant into consideration. Even if their pockets will be full with (Google's) money.