Android 2.2 and Its Previous Versions: A Sweet Developer Review
The Android platform has really matured in the past year or so. With the latest Android 2.2 SDK just released at Google I/O 2010, we thought it would be fitting to do a little review of how far the platform has come.
In typical tech-sector lingo, the Android development team has used a naming theme for all the Android SDK versions, naming each (alphabetically) after sweets: Cupcake (Android 1.5), Donut (1.6), Éclair (2.0), Flan (2.1), FroYo (2.2), and the upcoming Gingerbread (3.0). Despite being referred to as "minor," many of these releases have had major implications for developers and carrier/operators -- not to mention users.
The Android development team has been adding features to the platform at a fast and furious pace -- maybe too fast for some. In the past 18 months, they have produced eight separate Android releases, each of which was deemed important enough to have its own API Level number. Statistically, since Android 1.5, 19 new packages and 172 new classes have been added to the Android SDK. Along the way, even more changes (additions, removals, improvements, bug fixes, etc.) have been made to existing classes.
We're now on API Level 8, which corresponds to the Android 2.2 SDK. Aptly named FroYo, the Android 2.2 SDK is leaner, faster and comes with a variety of new and interesting features (flavors?). Currently, though, there are really only three SDK versions running on devices: Android 1.5, 1.6, and 2.1. It's pretty safe to assume that most Android 2.1 devices will receive an over-the-air firmware upgrade to 2.2 in the coming months.
Now let's look at some of the areas in which the Android platform has grown the most.
Explosion of Android Devices
It's hard to believe, but just a little more than a year ago the only Android phone available was the T-Mobile G1 (USA only). Now, more than 60 Android devices ship across 48 countries and on 59 carriers. And the devices are as diverse as their user bases -- the Android platform is now running on everything from sleek smartphones to monster tablets to companion applications that complement the anticipated/hyped electric car, the Chevy Volt. Soon, developers also will be able to develop applications using Google TV (a marriage between Google Chrome and Android). With 100,000 devices activated daily and a thriving app marketplace, the Android platform is growing very rapidly.
A Thriving Market: If You Built It, They Will Come
Not long ago, the Android user community was considered mostly early adopters. The Android platform adoption rate (measured in device activations) recently outpaced that of the Apple iPhone. There are now millions of users running Android devices worldwide, with 3 million new devices added monthly. Having aggressive adoption rates is excellent news for Android developers -- after all, they need people to buy their apps.
Nowadays, we can't leave our homes without encountering some random non-geeky layperson jamming away on his or her Android device (yes, we pay attention to such things). Whether it's a late-night hotel manager, the international business exec sitting in first class, the friendly chef at the local bakery, the Facebook-addicted babysitter or even one of our moms who lives in rural Vermont, Android users now come in all flavors. And developers can benefit from this because user diversity means a huge opportunity for niche applications.
The Android Market now hosts a pretty impressive catalog of Android applications. It wasn't very long ago when the Android Market didn't even support paid applications. Today, 50,000 applications now coexist and thrive on there, which means:
- Healthy competition
- Happy users
- Assurance of a stable and thriving future for the Android platform
New applications are constantly rising to the top and garnering tens of thousands of downloads and rave reviews. For a good case study, check out Chris Prett's Replica Island, a free game recently featured on the Android Market. If the success of Replica Island is any indication, it's certainly not too late to write some cool Android app and make a name for yourself.
The marketplace has also remained remarkably open and accessible, despite the walled-garden problems of past mobile platforms.
Flash Will Make a Splash
The addition of Flash 10.1 and AIR support in the Android 2.2 platform just caused the number of "applications" available to Android users to go from tens of thousands (native apps) to millions (all the Flash-based apps on the web). Flash support is a compelling feature likely to tempt many users to consider an Android device if they haven't before. Even those who aren't tech-savvy have complained to us about the lack of Flash support on mobile devices because they can't access their favorite web tools, whether they are the Nickelodeon website or the WeightWatchers e-tools for lifestyle management.
Adding Flash may also shake up the Android developer community a bit, as native apps will have to compete with a huge contingent of web apps. Still, the bottom line is, if it's good for users, it will be good for platform adoption and therefore good for developers.