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Devs Grapple With 100+ Versions of Android 386

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the propagation-of-the-androids dept.
Barence writes "The scale of the challenge facing Android developers has been laid bare by Twitter client TweetDeck. During beta testing of its new software, TweetDeck encountered more than 36,000 testers using an enormous pool of 244 different handsets. Not only was hardware for the platform fragmented, but Tweetdeck had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android, highlighting just how muddled the market is for the open-source platform. The splintering of Android is making life difficult for app developers. 'It's not particularly harder to develop for Android over iPhone (from a programming standpoint),' said Christopher Pabon, a developer who writes apps for both the iPhone and Android platforms. 'Except when it comes to final quality assurance and testing. Then it can be a nightmare (a manageable nightmare, mind you).'"
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Devs Grapple With 100+ Versions of Android

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  • Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slaxative (1867220) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:30AM (#33894964)
    They forgot one bit of relevant information. So how long did it this massive job take?
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:31AM (#33894976) Journal

    ...being too successful.

  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RMH101 (636144) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:32AM (#33895004)
    Seriously, this is getting as bad as Engadget with their phantom Android Fragmentation issue.
    You have a basic hardware spec (number of buttons etc) laid out by the OHSA, you have processors of varying speeds and some have keyboards and better GPUs. The market can already limit what you see based on these requirements. App developers just need to think about the spec they want vs the number of handsets of that spec in the market. Hell, if your app's good enough, it'll drive the spec of the handset. It's just like what they have to do in the world of PC app development, made easier due to the rapid churn of handset specs as they get steadily faster and cheaper.
    Android's not doing at all badly compared to Apple's iOS, is it?
  • by cheddarlump (834186) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:33AM (#33895030)
    It's interesting to me that this is the same problem facing PC's, where there are hundreds of different versions of open source OSes vs. Windows/OSX.
  • by JoltinJoe77 (1199263) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:34AM (#33895036)

    Apple by controlling the OS and hardware out of the starting gate had it right. Microsoft learned it the hard way after years of unsupportable carrier-specific hacks of their Windows Mobile OS, culminating in a much more rigidly defined Windows Mobile 7. Phones that are difficult to upgrade and that cannot run software that runs on other similar phones hurts brand loyalty. If Google wants to retain loyal customers in the mobile market, they are going to have to consolidate these variants and force a single, portable, upgradable OS like Apple and Microsoft are doing.

  • by pscottdv (676889) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:34AM (#33895050)
    Programmers write software for a myriad of different versions of Windows running on thousands of different types of hardware without these QA issues. What is Android doing that causes this problem?
  • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by revscat (35618) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:41AM (#33895156) Journal
    So?

    So it means that you have a lower return on investment, given that your testing costs are higher.

    Hell, if your app's good enough, it'll drive the spec of the handset.

    This is both irrelevant and wishful thinking. App popularity does not change the amount of testing required to get it popular in the first place, nor would popularity reduce the number of configurations you must test against even were the spec to change.
  • BS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:43AM (#33895182)

    As an AC developer, I call BS - have you looked at the "versions" of Android they identified? "Baked Snack 1.0 Epic" or
    "5.0 Welcome to Prisneyland, Fish"? Most of the versions (I dont see the numbers, but I would guess about 80%+ from the chart) are 2.2, 2.1, and 1.6.

    If you have a custom android deployment on the phone, then you may have problems... but don't come whining to me about how you Baked Snack build doesn't support Angry Bird!

  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:45AM (#33895210)

    So, you've got to query for functionality, design to fallback in some cases for the features you work with/around, then design tests to make sure it works in the cases you design for. From that, you budget your time, allocate test machines/staff, and ballpark your costs.

    Doesn't sound too unusual - the more features you implement, the more combined testing you have to do for edge cases.

    It's just like with video cards and graphics programming - you design for a limited subset of possible cards, have code to query the cards capabilities, have fallback code for some cards, then test against a good range of cards. Blaming card manufacturers at large for their variety of design isn't productive - they're what makes the market you have the chance to code for.

    Ryan Fenton

  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:46AM (#33895240)

    It's too late.
    I wanted an Android phone but with Motorola's iPhone-like ambitions and HTC's If-rooted-Reload-default-OS feature, I'd rather go for a poorly guarded jail (iPhone) than a WW2 concentration camp.

    I tell people that Android is a failed experiment that proves that Carriers' and Manufacturers' greed will kill any open source advantages that Android could have brought.

  • by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:47AM (#33895256)

    It's interesting to me that this is the same problem facing PC's, where there are hundreds of different versions of open source OSes vs. Windows/OSX.

    I believe you put Windows on the wrong side of that equation. The controlled platform is OSX. The wild-cards are Windows and Open Source OSes; much wider selection of hardware and much less control over OS tree / components / build.

  • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by delinear (991444) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:48AM (#33895270)
    So how is this different to developing games/apps for the desktop (or, hell, laptop, tablet, netbook variants thereof), or every other phone OS other than iOS to date? Is this really a surprise to these people? If so they only have themselves to blame for going into the market blindly, as I'd have thought this would be self evident to anyone developing for an OS that's deployed to multiple hardware platforms.
  • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shawn(at)fsu (447153) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:49AM (#33895288) Homepage

    Agreed.

    I don't see how it can be an issue. Look how prolific development is for windows is, you have no guarantee what the hardware is yet that didn't seem to hinder development for Windows esp if you compare Windows to Apple.

  • by pspahn (1175617) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:52AM (#33895348)

    If Google wants to retain loyal customers in the mobile market, they are going to have to consolidate these variants and force a single, portable, upgradable OS like Apple and Microsoft are doing.

    I disagree. One of the selling points of an Android phone is that there are many options when it comes to what kind of phone you want. Let's assume you are correct, and future versions of Android are standardized in a way that prevents hardware vendors from offering a variety of devices. If I, as the consumer, need to get a new phone, I can either time it just right so that the hardware options I desire are available the moment my carrier contract is up, or I will have to wait until such is offered.

    This is such a negative selling point for any type of iThing in my book. If I had needed a new phone several months before the current gen was released, I would either have to switch to something else, purchase the same phone I had previously, or go without a phone for several months. While it's possible I might just go without, it is not possible that I would fork out money for the same device I bought a couple years ago. This leaves me with switching to another phone as the best option, which is exactly what several people I know have done as they were looking to replace their iPhones several months prior to the launch of the current model.

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by delinear (991444) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:53AM (#33895364)
    Not to mention most of the custom builds are just vanilla builds with the UI tweaked, and where they do something different it's usually to add base functionality rather than removing it, so I'd be surprised if an app that was tested and working on the standard build failed to work on a custom ROM.
  • by molnarcs (675885) <molnarcs&gmail,com> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:54AM (#33895382) Homepage Journal

    Programmers write software for a myriad of different versions of Windows running on thousands of different types of hardware without these QA issues. What is Android doing that causes this problem?

    As you probably suspect... nothing. There are thousands of useful apps working on all handsets without problems. I have about 30 installed on my Nexus One, carefully read the user reviews for each on AppBrain, and there is a reason most of these have 4.5+ stars... In other words, there are programmers who can do, and programmers who can whine on their blog. What I don't understand is why Slashdot links to random whining programmer to inflate the issue of fragmentation. Actually, you're right on target with the windows analogy. There are shitty programmers whose apps suffer due to hardware/platform (win7/vista/xp) differences, and then there are apps that work fine across all versions of the OS/hw.

  • by osssmkatz (734824) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:56AM (#33895418) Journal

    I just want to thank US Cellular. They sell one phone with naked android, and one phone with HTC Sense. Both are running the Android 2.1, which is almost up to date. (Only the Nexus one and some tablets have 2.2).

    This is the key, I think: ship the Google code and only the google code, and ship an up to date OS.

    Many devices are still running 1.6 and some 1.5. This is unacceptable. Blackberry is no better. They sell their OS upgrades as a feature with their phones. Not OK.

    --Sam

  • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shadowrat (1069614) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:58AM (#33895452)
    it's different because apps cost $0.99 and don't have as large a potential consumer base. is $0.99 going to be profitable when you have to pay an army of testers overtime and have developers working feverishly to squash bugs for a year?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:58AM (#33895456)

    You see, cell phones are magical.

    On desktops, multiple OS versions and enormous variations in hardware aren't a significant problem. But on cell phones this an insurmountable problem that can only be solved by locking down everything possible, down to one OS, one hardware manufacturer, and one carrier if at all possible.

    On desktops, a total lack of sandboxing or any filesystem security to speak of is not a significant problem as long as you have anti-virus and keep your browser up to date. But on cell phones any hint that an application can access shared data is a gaping hole through which your entire life will be stolen by hackers. The only solution is to disallow any IPC or shared data, no matter how useful it would be, and let experts vet all applications for us.

    On desktops, the ability to install any software you want is a healthy competition that leads developers to constantly innovate to keep up with the competition. But on cell phones the ability to install any software is a flaw, where developers can add new features that only serve to confuse users and create a convoluted experience that people can't hope to comprehend. The only solution is to let the corporations decide for us what we can and can't install.

    Why are cell phones different than desktops? It must be magic.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:03PM (#33895518)

    *You* may think Android is a failed experiment, although I'd argue that 250K Android activations a day is a success:

    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/10/04/google-approaching-quarter-million-android-activationsday/ [cnn.com]

    Reality is somewhere between being idealistic and pragmatic. Carriers and Manufacturers may try to kill Android's advantages, but that's the beauty of Android. You can simply pick a different carrier or manufacturer. What do you do if you don't like who makes or handles the connectivity of your iPhone?

  • by energizer-bunny2 (1308043) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:03PM (#33895528)

    I tell people that Android is a failed experiment that proves that Carriers' and Manufacturers' greed will kill any open source advantages that Android could have brought.

    Then sir, you are a fool. How exactly is is a failed experiment? My phone seems to work just fine, I can find any application I want...and...I can replace my battery!

  • by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte AT drunksnipers DOT com> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:04PM (#33895534) Homepage

    TweetDeck for the iPhone crashes way too often (about once a day on averahge), and for that there are only a handful of different versions. So TweetDeck for Android must be real garbage.

  • by samkass (174571) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:05PM (#33895564) Homepage Journal

    Google dumped Apple into 3rd place and is the top selling smartphone OS and it sales rate is accelerating at a tremendous rate.

    You have an interesting definition of the verb "sell". Apple makes over 50% of all the profit in the mobile handset world despite their tiny market share (which is currently about the same as Google's if you exclude iPod Touch and iPad). Google gives Android away for free, and carriers are doing the same with free or buy-one-get-one deals. Profit drives innovation, so we'll see where things stand in a few years. No one can afford to keep giving things away for free indefinitely, so when users start paying the true costs are they still going to prefer it?

  • Re:Android Dev (Score:5, Insightful)

    by codepunk (167897) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:07PM (#33895588)

    The flip side to that is it takes a whole lot less testing to hit the targets on the iphone / ipod / ipad. In fact a couple of my apps did not require any modification when the ipad was released it just ran.

  • by jorenko (238937) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:09PM (#33895614)

    The way I see it, the issue is OS rev fragmentation, moreso than hardware. Imagine if Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP all came out 6 months apart, with Vista slated to launch next month and 7 in the spring, and 50% of computers shipping today had 98 installed, and no support for higher versions.

    Related is the carriers' insistence on adding a layer on top of android to make it their own, which just delays the release, meaning by the time they're done the next OS version is out.

  • Cost/Benefit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:09PM (#33895622) Homepage Journal

    So it means that you have a lower return on investment, given that your testing costs are higher.

    Right - this should be a simple cost/benefit analysis.

    "I want access to these additional six million customers and it's going to cost me an additional $4600 per year to test for them. Worth it or not?"

    Sure, 'free' would be lovely, in some kind of dream world. But "I want to have these customers and I don't want to bother testing for them," just smacks of greed and/or stupidity. Perhaps the smart developers will seek to stand out by letting people know they've actually tested their software on the device the potential customer owns.

    Is there some sort of contractual obligation that precludes the developers from saying, "sorry, we haven't tested our app on this $130 non-flashable off-brand 7-inch Android tablet that you got from the local bedding supply store on clearance?"

  • I am just curious. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drolli (522659) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:13PM (#33895666) Journal

    As a customer: Does Fragmentation mean that i actually have a choice what i buy?

  • by e70838 (976799) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:24PM (#33895878)
    I am very happy that good languages like java and objective C have put C++ out of hype.
  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:25PM (#33895890)

    If the 'you can't give stuff away and make a profit' argument held in reality Google would be bankrupt instead of one of the most profitable companies in the world. That 'free' OS? First and foremost it ships by default with a ton of Google apps installed, all of which generate advertising revenue and market information that Google uses to generate it's profit. Secondly, since a ridiculously large majority of people still use Google for their search it stands to reason that the more connected people are to the internet the more money Google makes, even without their apps. Google makes money off of android the same way it makes money off of search: collecting information about its users, and selling ad space more effectively than the competition.

    As for the carriers... really? You really think that they just give away phones 'for free'? Here's what you should hear when you listen to those advertisements:

    We'll give it to you for 'free'*

    *Where 'free' is equal to $720 ($30 per month * 24 months).

  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:29PM (#33895970)
    . . . is that the implementations are not completely vetted. This was a problem with Windows Mobile 5.x and 6.x. Some OEMs did not implement everything (e.g., DirectShow), and apps that used certain hardware such as the camera would unpredictably fail. It is one thing to have a bug in your app and quite another to have a bug in the platform your app depends upon. Until you determine for certain that it is not your fault, a.k.a. proving the negative, you catch all the flack. Good luck with that.
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:32PM (#33896040) Journal

    I don't think so. The main issue seems to be that of Android residing on multiple dissimilar handsets, the OS changes this necessitates, and the programming challenges to support same. Of course that's going to be tougher to program for than a closed single hardware platform. The upside is that an application that runs on a majority of Android handsets is more likely to be purchased on a majority of Android handsets.

    My Android handset has a larger than average screen resolution, and a few widgets don't play nice with it. I'd rather have the hardware choice and deal with the small incompatibilities than have one company tell me to take their phone and love it.

  • by Xaroth (67516) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:36PM (#33896128) Homepage

    Many of the highly modded posts right now seem to be missing some key information about exactly how Android is fragmented. It's not just the hardware - that can usually, but not always, be worked around in the ways they suggest. But it's also the software - every carrier and handset manufacturer likes to put their own little spin on the underlying software, and this causes more problems than one might expect.

    You get scenarios where some functionality is partially implemented or simply broken on some devices but not others, so you can't rely on simply querying to see if that functionality is available. The OS will happily tell you it's working, but it won't, so you have to find ways to work around it and/or implement long lists of special cases in the code. On some devices, the way that some input elements are displayed will have forced styling that's inconsistent with the rest of the platform, which you won't learn about until you've actually tried it on that device and seen your layout get destroyed. The autocomplete functionality or keyboard input method can vary substantially from device to device, potentially impacting how one's UI flows work. The list goes on.

    Limiting supported major OS versions and querying for hardware only solves part of the fragmentation problem. The fact that most every device has its own little fork of Android is more what causes the QA challenge. Since - generally speaking - one doesn't have these kinds of problems for mainstream desktop OS's, that's why people keep bringing up fragmentation of the Android platform as a major sticking point.

  • by stoanhart (876182) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:41PM (#33896246)

    Even with some manufacturers locking down their phones (in futility), your analogy still seems backwards. Even on a locked Android phone, you have the ability to install any app from any source, which alone makes it more open by orders of magnitude compared to the iPhone. If you really care about a phone which you can flash with your own ROM, there is always a set of phones that are capable of that right out of the box; just buy one of those. If anything, iOS is the WW2 concentration camp, and *some* Android hardware is the poorly guarded jail.

  • by No. 24601 (657888) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:43PM (#33896294)

    As a potential customer for an Android smartphone, I have to admit that the one thing that is holding me off buy an expensive (and thus likely more profitable for its manufacturer) phone is the fragmentation issue with Android. This is a very real problem that is the source of many if not most of the problems with Windows. A fragmented platform is one that is more costly to test on. Pure and simple. I don't want to buy a $400 phone today and discover a year from now that I can't run an app that my phone should support hardware-wise, but simply doesn't work because that phone no longer supported by its developer. This is a problem that Google has to address very soon. And, no they haven't adequately addressed it yet, even though Android is selling so well.

    While I don't like the "uniformity" of iPhone, testing is going to be cheaper and thus more likely to occur on that platform as opposed to Android.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:51PM (#33896424) Homepage

    Sure, there's lots of versions of Android out there. But how many of those really matter? No, not in the sense of market share or anything, but in the technical sense of you have to worry about them in the code.

    I run into this programming for Unix. Sure, there's probably hundreds of versions of Unix out there, hundreds of thousands if you count variations in installed software. But in large part I can ignore them. The major question is usually "SysV or BSD?", that is are the system's APIs based on BSD's or System V's. Some libraries I care about version but I often only care about large swathes of versions, eg. I care whether OpenSSL is 0.9.7 vs. 0.9.8 but I don't care about 0.9.8e vs. 0.9.8n (other than that 8e has bugs that're fixed in 8n, but that won't usually affect my code). And of course different hardware has different screen resolutions, but then I shouldn't be hard-coding for exact screen resolution anyway. Make the relevant calls to find out the screen size and just adapt to it, and you'll usually find you have a few general sizes you need to handle and a plethora of one real close to one of those general sizes that you can just handle automatically. Eg. a 328-pixel width probably can use the same layout, icon sizes etc. as a 320-pixel width, just make the main area 8 pixels wider or add a pixel to each side of padding and border spaces to make up the 8 pixels.

    You don't handle driving a car by learning how to drive a Ford Focus, and then learning how to drive a Ford Fusion, and then learning how to drive a Chevy Cobalt, and then learning how to drive a Toyota Camry, and so on, and then when faced with a Hyundai Sonata you have to sit there and wait for someone to teach you how to drive one because you haven't driven one before. You learn how to drive a car, and you apply that general method to the particular kind of car you're in at the moment. The controls may be a bit different on each make and model, but the truly basic ones boil down to "Manual or automatic?". Beyond that, things like the headlight switch, turn signals, wipers, radio and all the rest are usually a matter of a couple minutes to sort out. If someone complained that there's thousands of makes, models and years of car out there and it's so much work learning to drive all of them, you'd laugh at them I'm sure. Computer systems are the same way: you don't learn every variant individually unless you're just starting out, you learn different kinds of systems and how to categorize any particular system by what kind it is in a particular area.

  • Re:Cost/Benefit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adamstew (909658) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:53PM (#33896470)

    Agreed. $4600 will pay for the salary, benefits, and expenses of one tester for maybe 1/2 a month...salary, rent, equipment, insurance, taxes, benefits, etc...Labor isn't cheap.

    One tester for 1/2 a month might get your app tested on two platform variants, depending on how complex (or not) your app is. There are now 100 platform variants... so getting enough testers, equipment, etc. for all variants of android can cost $230,000.

    That is, of course, if you are paying testers directly. If you do a public beta, you can get testing done for less money, but it's still expensive and time consuming.

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:59PM (#33896618)
    If you think that just because Google is not charging for Android that they are losing money on it you have an issue with your brain that should be checked out immediately.

    Maybe they should also stop doing Gmail and Google search for free. They are bound to run out of money soon. Poor idiots.

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DJRumpy (1345787) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:07PM (#33896768)

    It is different, at least for Windows and OS X, in that the OS is relatively unified under 4 or 5 variants (OS X 10.5-10.6) and Windows XP - Win7), whereas under Android, they have hundreds of different hardware variations (albeit the same basic chips for the most part), in additional to various Android OS flavors on top of each of those hundreds of hardware variations. It's probably more akin to a different Linux distro for each handset, although that may be a bit of a stretch.

    Personally I think software fragmentation is one of the key pieces that holds Linux back from wide adoption by companies like Steam and Microsoft. Where Windows and OS X have a relatively stable (albeit moving slowly) target for the OS, they can assume that the current footprint will remain stable for 2-4 years and a new iteration probably won't change things too drastically. The basic infrastructure for the OS is standard however, which is key. In Linux, even the method for getting packages into the OS varies by distribution. Mix in new window managers, File managers, etc, and it just becomes too much to bother with.

    I really wish Google had kept a sterner hand at the keel for Android standards. A well polished infrastructure to assist handset vendors in get-current-stay-current would have been a good start. Instead it seems they just throw it at the wall and sometimes it sticks. Sometimes you can be a little TOO wild west, to the point where it becomes detrimental (IE6 is a good example of that) where folks stray to much from a standard and the developer and the end users pay the price.

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:10PM (#33896836)
    Whenever I hear people say "I realize it's a closed system, a walled garden, tends toward vendor lock-in, and the company that produces it has tended to be extremely arrogant and is practicing censorship, but it's really nice phone" I hear "Come to the dark side, we have cookies". Sometimes you need to show a little idealism, otherwise things get worse, not better. I'm fairly sure sure it's the existence of Android that has made Apple back off on a few of their more draconian policies.
  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:16PM (#33896958)

    I don't think so.

    The 'success' of Android is good for everyone (several strong competitors in the smartphone OS market push development and innovation) but too many versions and handsets at this young age of Android make the future easy to predict: it will only get worse.

    There is going to be a small industry built simply to provide testing for Android devices until either a) Android flavors congeal or b) developers start focusing on specific segments of the Android market.

  • by ADRA (37398) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:21PM (#33897068)

    Um, where to start...

    The API's for accessing the touch screens, multitouch, and everything else you mentioned are all built in. There's no magic hand-waving for the N devices that you're developing for. The biggest hurdle for a developer is really supporting a variety of different screen form factors, and a well planned application can handle that well with planning and foresight. You may have to say 'if X' then do an extra step when a notable feature is absent, but you'll find that by far the majority of the handsets support a core set of features that any sane and plain developer can work with. If you really want to obsess over the exact look and function of every single handset on the market, then you have the freedom to do so, but I wouldn't recommend it. You could test your iPhone app with every possible bumper and slider on the market to make sure that the interface isn't perfectly crisp and exactly as I intended it to be, but I wouldn't recommend that either. Really, if you have such a big problem with android and the platform just filter away android stories from slashdot and be done with it.

  • War Stories (Score:3, Insightful)

    by smcdow (114828) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:22PM (#33897078) Homepage

    Anyone who doesn't see this as a problem probably has never really had to deal with configuration management and Q/A issues in a production environment.

    I have, and if I were an app developer, this info would scare the crap out of me. Keeping your product stable, repeatable, and traceable on a single platform is hard enough.

  • Re:Cost/Benefit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:26PM (#33897168)

    Is there some sort of contractual obligation that precludes the developers from saying, "sorry, we haven't tested our app on this $130 non-flashable off-brand 7-inch Android tablet that you got from the local bedding supply store on clearance?"

    Nope, but there is plenty of bad publicity that comes when those users bitch about not being able to use your app.

    Its too bad slashdot and OSS geeks never seems to that having a working product is far more important to most people than 200 half assed products that work sometimes, partially. Not everyone has this retarded notion that 'choice' is always better than 'functionality', in fact most people don't.

  • by Xaroth (67516) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:29PM (#33897222) Homepage

    That's exactly my point. One specific example I remember from a while back had to do with telling a list view to redraw itself. For most devices, it would work without difficulty. On a certain set of devices, the exact same call would happily return without actually updating the listview, because the handset manufacturer and/or carrier thought they knew better and tinkered with the underlying functionality of the OS and subsequently broke something.

    That sort of fragmentation - a million tiny undocumented forks - can't be gracefully handled by abstractions, capability querying, or API versioning. And the only way to discover that this sort of problem will occur is to actually run the software on the afflicted devices to see what breaks. *That* sort of problem is what TweetDeck is referring to when they say "more than a hundred different versions of Android", and is the sort of problem that causes people to complain about Android fragmentation.

  • by ADRA (37398) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:34PM (#33897312)

    Sure, and unless you're making a game that requires a certain minimum benchmark, or if you're trying to do VERY specific measurements using the built-in sensors, who does this affect the developer at all? The API is there, and it pretty much covers all you need in order to insulate against the hardware / OS tweaks. If you decide that you want native blobs instead of Java/Dalvik, then you're into a brand new world of fragmentation, that's why you should be very careful about deciding to make the jump into native development (which I would never recommend unless absolutely necessary).

  • by adjustable_pliers (1409219) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:34PM (#33897320)

    For most app development, I would be comfortable applying Pareto's Principle. I don't have any data, and unless I'm mistaken about how fractured the Android OS implementations are, then I imagine that 10% of my effort would work on 80% of the market. The rest of the market would be considered fringe and not worth a return. Caveat Emptor for those who bought those versions.

    Finally, given time, there will be some certifications across vendors to assure compliance. It's messy, but that's the cost of freedom and access. It beats dictatorships and walled gardens.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:38PM (#33897378)
    Whoohoo!!!! The Microsoft astroturfer strikes again!!!!
  • by Americano (920576) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:44PM (#33897450)

    This is a problem, and one of the things that risks ruining Android's "openness" - it's open to the carriers, who have the money & staff to spend on locking your device down just the way they like it. It's open for the carriers, not the *vast majority* of consumers, who will take what the carriers offer, and form their impression based on that.

    In many ways, the iOS vs. Android 'battle' isn't really a battle between Google & Apple, it's a battle between Apple's "the phone maker dictates the feature set" & the carriers' "the phone carrier dictates the feature set" models. If you're smart enough to know how to root your Android device, great; if you're smart enough to know how to root your Apple device, great; but neither of the platforms at this point is particularly "open" in terms of what the *consumer* can do with it.

  • The difference... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by huzur79 (1441705) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:50PM (#33897574)
    A user with a PC can add ram, change video cards, and upgrade CPU's to meet the requirements for a application. Users of phones locked into contracts are stuck with what they have until they can buy another phone. Also the performance levels between low end PC's and high end PC's are not as bad as with low end phones vs top model phones. Almost any app created on a PC is going to run because the hardware has the power to run a full OS plus many apps at the same time. Lots of room to work with. Low end phones that have just enough power to run the OS present problems for apps that demand more. The available features also present a problem. If something is in 2.2 but not in 2.0 the app isn't going to work. On a PC they all have the same abilities for the most part. On the OS end unless you design your app to only make use of a feature in vista or windows 7 and I can't think of anything that does it's going to work on XP too. Even if designed only for windows 7 HP, toshiba, Dell don't lock your PC from using a new OS. The customizations on android by cell companies also present a problem. PC makers don't replace the windows GUI for there own. A developer does not have to work with a custom Dell GUI or custom HP GUI. The machines that do have a custom GUI are specialized task machines that are not part of the picture like manufacturing tool machines. OS upgrades in the windows world are 3 years apart as well. It's easy to list a apple app as being for iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 only. Or iOS 4 only. For android phones a developers best bet is to list app compatability like this, works on driod phones with android 2.2. Might work on others and might not. Even the most powerful phone is a small % of the power of a low end PC. Android is a fail and you can blame phone companies for it. And popularity has nothing to do with if a product is a win or fail. Windows is a fail to but is on 90% of PC's. Android sells well it's open which is a win but it's also a fail with fragmentation. Those that dismiss the issue saying it's not a problem are lying to themselves.
  • by UnanimousCoward (9841) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:50PM (#33897576) Homepage Journal

    I have a very selfish view on the C&B analogy. I too like my cathedral-like iPhone, but I'm glad that the unwashed masses :-) are pumping up the bazaar to put pressure on the cathedral landlord to innovate and evolve (READ: hurry up and let me switch to Verizon!).

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jedrek (79264) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:52PM (#33897628) Homepage

    It's not different than developing for any other phone... and that's why so few people used non-preinstalled apps on their phone before the iPhone. Look at Symbian, it's a clusterfuck of versions, headsets and implementations. My last Symbian phone would crash if I tried to used T9 in my favorite IRC app and GMail would just quit after 2-3 emails. Screw that.

    It is completely different than developing for a PC because computers are viewed by consumers as platforms while phones are viewed as tools/electronic gadgets. If an game doesn't run on somebody's PC, they'll update their drivers, reboot their machine, etc. If an app doesn't work on someone's phone, they say, "what is this shit" and complain about the app. It needs to just work.

    Look, at the end of the day app developers want to make money. If they can do it by developing against 3 phones/OS configs vs 200+, that's a huge savings.

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tharsman (1364603) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:14PM (#33897962)

    So how is this different to developing games/apps for the desktop (or, hell, laptop, tablet, netbook variants thereof), or every other phone OS other than iOS to date? Is this really a surprise to these people? If so they only have themselves to blame for going into the market blindly, as I'd have thought this would be self evident to anyone developing for an OS that's deployed to multiple hardware platforms.

    You are almost right. For the most part, there are only 3 OS versions you can expect desktop users to be running (WinXP, Win7-32 and Win7-64.) Then comes the huge array of hardware differences, though.

    But as I said, you are almost right. Android is like Windows. iPhone is like the XBox or PS3. Develop a game for an XBox or PS3 and you are sure it will run on all of them. The iPhone has a tiny level of feature fragmentation that is not as different as seeing XBoxes with or without hard drive. Actually, the speed of some versions may work as a target, but also the versions are so limited you can still pick the minimum generation device to support and go from there without headaches.

    Actually, thinking it about it, due to OS versions, developing for the Android is more comparable to developing for Linux and expecting it to work flawlessly in every single Linux distro and configuration. Developing for Windows Phone 7 may be more comparable to developing for the Windows Desktop.

    That being said, there is a reason why the console gaming market is way larger than the PC market. There will always be publishers that make cool games for PC thanks to the freedom to develop and self publish, but most of the developers will first do their thing for the iPhone and just risk porting to Android if they see huge success with that platform.

    That is the beauty, for developers, the iOS offers. That's why there are so many apps and so much movement in the iPhone's app store.

  • Re:Cost/Benefit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RobDude (1123541) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:52PM (#33898514) Homepage

    Writing software is more and more like buying a very expensive lottery ticket. Most app developers end up working for pennies on the dollar.

    "But the picture starts out bleak. The average developer gets to pocket a mere $3,050 per year, and this is still considered 'above typically successful', and the most typical developer earns less than that per year."

    Software scales very, very, very well; but our price point expectations are set by the biggest, most successful companies. If you are a top-of-the-charts record breaking seller, you aren't making $$$.

    In this case, with Android, if you don't test for everyone and you get one guy who can't run your app and puts a negative review; it can prevent your app from ever gaining traction. The unpaid hours you spend writing your app are a complete loss.

    I'm a software developer by trade. Most of us make pretty good money. Entry/Mid-level software dev is ~$30 an hour. Almost a year ago, I wrote and sold my first app for $5. It works as described, it's gotten lots of praise from my users. 10k hits to the site, 6k downloads of the trial edition. And 24 sales. That's $120. And, even though these 24 users are only paying $5 dollars, they have an unbelievably high expectation for support. I've had to step people through things like 'opening a .zip file', all the while they were condemning my application for 'not working'. Because they couldn't extract the files into the same place before running it. Just processing the sale, approving the charge, etc, etc - takes time.

    I'd have made more money working at McDonalds than writing and selling my own application on the net. Sure, it's not the greatest thing since the dawn of computers; but it works, it does exactly what it says it will, and it does it well. Customers are happy. And, for everyone one real sale I get; I've got 10 people who are using the trial version for months.

    Most phone devs are in a similar position. For free, people would use it, for money virtually nobody will buy it. When you add market segmentation on top of it, it's even worse. At the very least, it makes the barrier to entry very, very high. You need a lot of time and resources to both develop an app, test it on a slew of different android devices, and provide support for a slew of different android devices; all before you see a single penny.

  • by cibyr (898667) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @04:08PM (#33899702) Journal

    Nope. You'll choose a phone based on the hardware, and put up with the shitty manufacturer+carrier customisations. One of the best things about the iPhone is that Apple doesn't allow carrier customisations.

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by node 3 (115640) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:17PM (#33902886)

    If you need to raise the price of your app....nothing is stopping you. If you think it's worth that much.....

    Nothing, except for all the people that bitch if an app is even $4.99.

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