Android 3.0 Honeycomb SDK Shortcomings, Page 2
A Few Honeycomb Disappointments
As sweet as Honeycomb is, it's not perfect. There are some changes to the Android SDK that we don't particularly like and wonder why they changed -- for the worse.
Honeycomb SDK Emulator Performance
The emulator performance for Android has never been particularly good. This is especially true as screen resolutions of the emulator have increased. With the Honeycomb SDK, we now see emulator resolutions as high as 1280x800. The end result is that even on our relatively speedy development machines, the emulator performance is only barely good enough to see what an app will look like, but not how it will likely behave. Even seeing how the application will appear takes some patience. We're developers, we don't have a lot of patience for tools that slow us down. Right now, we have resorted to primarily debugging our apps on the physical device. The Android team recognizes this problem and claims to be working on this issue. We wish them speed in improving the emulator performance.
Lost Dedicated Buttons
For years now, developers and users alike have gotten used to and even enjoyed the functionality of the four primary dedicated buttons found on all Android devices: Back, Context Menu, Search, and Home. These are gone now. Back and Home have been replaced by on screen buttons. The Context Menu is being replaced by an Action Bar menu, although there is a context button that appears on the bottom bar for existing applications. The Search button is also gone; search will now normally be found on the Action Bar. This is quite a shakeup from a user interface design perspective.
While these changes are arguably improvements for the long term -- after all, the buttons will now be in the same place regardless of the device or screen orientation, these changes necessitate some retraining of developers and users alike. And since all of the existing devices still have those buttons, we also have a case of both hardware and software fragmentation that developers will have to deal with for some time to come.
Missing Android 3.0 Features and Apps
We've never expected perfect forward compatibility, despite the fact that it was promised. (See the Android Developer's Blog, "While it's true that devices without the latest software can't run some of the latest apps, Android is 100% forward compatible -- apps written properly for older versions also run on the newest versions.") We can't help but notice when features are no longer present at the platform level or at the "core" application level. For instance, new changes to the Android Market no longer provide a way to review apps. Are developers who ask for reviews supposed to send their users to the online Android Market? Was this just an oversight?
Some platform user features have also changed. Users can no longer create folders to hold applications as an organizational method. Live folders can still be created. Where did this feature go? As users, we relied on it to have apps closer at hand. As developers, we want my apps to be closer to the user.
These types of changes -- where we lose features but no comparable features are added instead -- lead us to question, "Why fix it if it isn't broken?"
Growing Pains for Android
Even Google's own applications aren't immune to some upgrade issues with regard to Honeycomb: for example, Google Voice no longer works. (See Google forums for acknowledgement that it's unavailable and this article for info on it crashing.) Google Voice is not present on the market for Honeycomb devices. Reports show that those who try to side-load it find that it crashes. If Google's own apps don't work without modifications, then the argument that the platform is truly forwards compatible doesn't hold water, and leads to doubt and developer anxiety over the stability of the platform. Does this mean my apps will crash, too?
Platform instability is not good for users or developers, especially when it attracts negative media attention. It makes us wonder: Was Honeycomb -- and the Xoom -- rushed to the market simply to get out there before the competition? (You know what we're talking about, right?)
Honeycomb Supports Phones… or Not.
Reports have been all over the board on whether or not there will be smaller screen devices (aka phones) based upon Honeycomb. Initially, it seemed like there might have been a split in the operating systems but thankfully, this doesn't seem to be the case. With many of the Honeycomb features already available on phones via the static library, it's very possible that the next platform version will simply be available before the smaller screen hardware comes out and phones will skip from Android 2.3.3 to Android Ice Cream Sandwich (nom, nom).
All in all, Honeycomb delivers quite a lot of exciting new features and generally improves the platform in a variety of ways. Yes, with these improvements come changes, and developers, application publishers, and users alike are going to need some time to adjust. Not everyone likes or appreciates change, but in the long run, these changes help ensure the future success of Android as it continues to eat up market share and make the other competing platforms sit up and pay attention.
About the Authors
|Shane Conder and Lauren Darcey--Contributing Editors, Mobile Development--have coauthored two books on Android development: an in-depth programming book entitled Android Wireless Application Development (ISBN-13: 978-0-321-62709-4) and Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours (ISBN-13: 978-0-321-67335-0). When not writing, they spend their time developing mobile software at their company and providing consulting services.|