November 8, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Google must woo mobile app developers

Google executives have a lot of work ahead of them as they court application developers skeptical of the search king's new open software platform for mobile devices.

Android, unveiled earlier this week, is touted as the answer to a major problem facing mobile-application developers: how to make developing applications for mobile devices as open and easy as developing applications for the Web.

Most experts and consumers agree that accessing the Internet on a mobile handset is very different from accessing it on a PC. Often, users get stripped-down versions of Web sites, with far fewer applications available. The shortcomings have been blamed on whoever controls the network, the device itself, and the underlying technology. Also, the mobile market is incredibly fragmented, and software developers are forced to support various systems.

Google believes it can change all of this with its Android software platform and its Open Handset Alliance, a collection of 34 companies working together to embed this technology into chipsets, handsets, and services.

But mobile-application developers interviewed by CNET News.com say they've heard these promises before. While they're not saying "no" to Android, they're wary. They worry the new effort will do little more than fragment the market further by making them develop yet another iteration of their applications. And they're keen to see what Google produces when it unveils an Android software developer's kit on November 12.

"Right now, Android just adds to the headache of developing different versions of our applications for different operating systems," said Kay Johansson, CTO of MobiTV. "It will be just another platform we have to support. I think for the Google platform to really be a game-changer it's going to have to offer more than just an open-source operating system for a mobile phone. It will have to create mobile Internet devices that happen to make phone calls."

Google did not return calls for comment.

Developing applications for the traditional Internet is simple compared to developing them for the mobile Web, because there are common operating systems, browsers, and standardized programming languages. What's more, the underlying services delivering applications on the Internet are agnostic, meaning that regardless of whether someone is using a Comcast cable modem service or a Verizon DSL service, the application looks exactly the same.

Struggling with the variables
The situation on a mobile device is quite different. Developers must contend with several different factors when programming for a mobile device. Not only must they take into account the different shapes and sizes of the screens, they also have to adjust applications based on the particular differences among various operating systems and carrier networks.

In the end, an application developer must often write dozens of versions of one application to port onto hundreds of handsets. While this is not an impossible task, it's time-consuming and expensive, and many experts say it stifles innovation.

"The big difference between the mobile Web and the traditional Internet is that on the traditional Internet I can connect from any broadband provider and get the same experience," said Iain Gillott, founder of iGillott Research. "That's just not the case on the mobile Web, and it probably never will be."

Google is not the first company to promise the mobile phone community an easier and more streamlined way to develop new applications. Sun Microsystems has tried to do this with its mobile Java programming language. Qualcomm developed BREW, a standardized environment for developing applications. There's also the Symbian operating system, developed by a consortium of handset makers including Nokia and Sony Ericsson. The software is licensed to a number of handset manufacturers and is the No. 1 smartphone operating system for handsets in the world. Microsoft also offers its Windows Mobile platform on a number of different devices and has gained significant traction in the last few years.

So far these companies haven't truly created the same kind of open environment that spawned the development of successful Web applications such as Google's YouTube, Yahoo's Flickr, or Facebook.

"Java promised to allow a 'write it once, publish many' model," said Mauro Lollo, CEO of Movidity, a company that has created a new way to stream video on cell phones. "But the reality has been much different. There is still a lot of customization that needs to be done depending on the device and the carrier."

Phones come in all different shapes and sizes. They have different graphics and processing capabilities, causing a problem that's acute for the less sophisticated "feature phones," which make up the vast majority of the market.

See more CNET content tagged:
developer, Google Inc., mobile device, handset, programming language

17 comments

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It will work if Android SDK is Java based
I see 3 options for Android on the table:

Option 1) it comes with a native open source JVM. This is the Blackberry approach and the best scenario. It will enable running existing J2ME applications (thousands exist today) and Google will provide more powerfull APIs for their integrationg with their application suite, like GMail, Google Maps and YouTube. GPS APIs would be great too. They will also provide a custom Java based UI toolkit to make applications consistent with the phone UI. IDEs will be Netbeans and Eclipse. The low level access to the underlying Linux OS would be hidden from the developer.

Option 2) The JVM is not part of Android, but available as a addon. This is Palm approach (IBM provides the JVM for Treos). In this case, Esmertec will likely provide a non open source JVM to run J2ME apps to each phone vendor. This is OK but not very good, as the JVM may or may not be present and they will be no integration with existing app or UI toolkit. Developer will have to code all apps running on Android with C or C++ APIs using Eclipse. the SDK will be very similar to the now defund Palm Foleo or the Nokia Linux Maemo platform.

Option 3) No JVM, but a powerfull mobile Web Browser ala Safari, based on the Safari WebKit, which is open source, to runn local mobile AJAX apps written in Javascript and DHTML. Google would provide in the browser custom APIs as Javascript libraries to integrate with the platform and custon Javacript UI compomenents. This will be similar to the current iPhone development and also like the Google widget developement. This is ambitious and risky and will not work for mutimedia or game apps. This is not GREAT, but this is OK, specially if they can integrate some version of Google Gears, enabling mobile AJAX apps to run offline.
OR ... all 3 options ? Anyway we will know when the SDK is released on Nov 12th 07

Thierry BRETHES
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.unyverse.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.unyverse.com</a>
Posted by tbrethes (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
tbrethes is on the right track
This assessment is right on. There are only a few house keeping chores needed.
The OHA must offer their own HSS/HLR to free the end user.
The OHA should be able to offer location, GPS etc.
A generic UDCR (Universal Device Capability Repository) will take care of the physical display and operational differences with the handsets.

These 3 items are outside the OS. There are open standards (OMA) that describe these functions.
Posted by Grumpyz77 (19 comments )
Link Flag
Google-must-woo-mobile-app-developers
IMO, one application developer needs Neomedia Technologies.

They need the NeoReader for their new GPhone.

Mobile phone permission based response should be the #1 priority to reach the consumer in one click.

I should be able to click on the physical world around me as I walk down the street, ride the bus, or at home watching T.V.

Consumers should be able to click on logos, trademarks, keywords (which is Google's main soucre of income for their PC software), slogans, billboards, RFID tags, 2D, 1D, QR, data matrix, EAN, UPC, what else m I missing?

Are they thinking outside the box yet?
Posted by Swampthing18 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Waiting for the Great Un-Lock
While the Open Handset Alliance and Google's efforts may be dubiously noble the single greatest obstacle to success is the locking down and dumbing down of phone. While it is transparent to see why a carrier wants the locked phone having them feel the financial pain of continuing to offer inferior products will be slow in coming to the 2 largest US carriers;Verizon and AT&#38;T. Sprint/Nextel willingness to participate in borne out of financial desperation. T-Mobile may not be in the same dire straights as Sprint but then do seem to have a reputation on a world wide basis of being perceived as being more forward thinking.

On October 29, 2007, Sprint lost a law suit in Califirnia requiring device portability. The next day T-Mobile said they were no longer locking devices. AT&#38;T and Verizon dug n their heels and issued more inferior product. savvy consumers (it doesn't take much to be one either. Just try a different carrier for a month or two and you too can be savvy. One data session on any other network outside of AT&#38;T will make a believer out of you and operating any other phone not on the Verizon network will give you an idea of what you are missing.) Knowing AT&#38;T and Verizon they will have to be forced, state by state to offer unlocked phones. It is said that there are only two true motivators for the human condition; pain and love. US carriers are pretty short on love and it is up to the consumer to deliver the pain necessary to affect change. The OHA, with a bit more maturity may just be capable of saving US mobile consumers from themselves. Google only has to take a slightly different tact on the old 80-20 rule. They are capable of giving a 20% experience that is so freeing that the public will wait for the 80%. The big US carriers are too arrogant to see any reality other than their own. Just wait until cable companies start to offer competing wireless services.
Posted by Grumpyz77 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google ... must ... diversify
Yet another lame brain way of pushing the Google brand up the arses of naive consumers and mentally-incapable investors. A company that literally set its own market cap based on 90's dot-com idiocy isn't 'getting it.' Google, focus on saving yourself and more importantly, stay away from my cell phone!
Posted by GuruofGames (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
There must be lots of lame brains
Ok genious, so you declare to be the only smart guy since nearly everyone else are "idiots" and "mentally challenged" and "lame brained". Sorry to tell you but thousands of "lame brains" got rich with Google. Do you work for MS? Last time I looked they seemed to be the guys desperately trying to diversify.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Link Flag
Mobile App Developers
Dear App Developers:

Avoid Google, Inc right now, they have lost ethical control of their company to banking interest who's only intent is artificial inflation of share price through continual theft of all intellectual property brought to the company to artificially maintain market share.

No Kidding.

Personally having been stuck in the Justice Department going broke for 2 1/2 years while Google, Inc.'s attorneys defer paying me for You Tube, while Goldman Sachs try's to exit the common shares - Then infringing on my gurfrip patent because I refuse to do any more business with them till they pay up.

Would indicate to me that Independent Mobil Developers would be better off working with a less greedy company that does not want to leave any property on the table for real innovators.

Google, Inc. as a company is just too imature to work with outside innovators and developers and until they learn their lesson an pay up.

$1,800,000,000 in CASH not worthless Google, inc shares, then I would personally recommend that every app developer find a different company that has a longer history and more experience in working with outsiders.

A Tech Company with no respect for others intellectual property or rights to the same opportunities its founders [brin &#38; page] were afforded is condemned to failure. Regardless of what Goldman Sachs says - they're just another bank and banks don't create anything.

Microsoft and Apple come to mind as appropriate avenues for new app developers in the business line.

Google, just has to grow up and be trustworthy.

They are not, That simple.

Just ask DOJ.

Sincerely,

jimmy/JAMES - genius
James Reginald Harris, Jr., INVENTOR
You Tube[google infringment], GURFRIP Database &#38; PATENT [google infringment] &#38; Technical Gravity [ask nobel, cern]
Posted by gurfrip (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Huh?
Have you considered patenting unintelligible rants?
Posted by larsenje (5 comments )
Link Flag
Woo who?
for those unfamiliar with the suite of semi-open source interfaces that Google offers for their products, this article might seem valid. But, for those that are familiar with the ease and popularity of applications and widgets that plugin to iGoogle or Google Enterprise, there's the knowledge that this move opens the floodgates for development, not just for heavily funded software companies, but any geek with a cellphone and a computer.

And that's precisely what Google is trying to do. It doesn't seem they're overly concerned with appealing to the arcane and soon-to -be-obsolete companies that thrive based on niche experience with proprietary software. These guys are soon to be extinct. Google is trying to cater to the upcoming generation of app-developers that want the freedom to create what they want for their own, and their friends devices.

The truth to the matter is that Google doesn't have to woo the mobile app developers, because they're going to open the source for millions more.
Posted by webalupagus (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
20,000+ applications for Android ?
I totally agree with your point about the problem for application developers due to fragmentation of the cellphone operating system marketplace.

In fact, the mission of StyleTap is to address this very problem by bringing the largest ecosystem of mobile applications (20,000+ originally written for Palm OS(R)) and developers to the other major cellphone/handheld operating systems.

StyleTap currently offers a product for Windows Mobile/CE and has recently demoed the upcoming Symbian version at the Symbian show in London.

While we are not yet ready to commit to a version for Android and depending on whether the upcoming SDK supports native Linux applications, StyleTap could go a long way in helping make Android a success.

For more information on StyleTap, please see www.styletap.com
Posted by bobatstyletap (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Johnny one note becomes Johnny come lately
Google has really done only one thing well, search on the desktop.

It knows it has to expand, so it goes into a growing market, mobile. Problem is, that market is already crowded with far more mature players.

It's hard to see Google's effort as anything more than painting by the numbers. I see no vision here that's going to change the game in any important way. Open source? More ads? What in God's name does any of that do to make smartphones more attractive to the ultimate customer -- the consumer?

Whatever one may say about Apple's effort, they never lost sight of the fact that they had to have something to sell that actual people might have a reason to buy. Who can say that about Google's venture?
Posted by frankly0 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
4 Steps to Create a Developer Frenzy Around Alien
1) Friction free distribution- A lot of opportunity for the Google Gorilla to make this better.

2) Permission to believe on distribution- continuing momentum.

3) Killer App(s) - Will you buy an Alien phone as a present? If not, there's probably no killer app(s).


4) The Right Stack- Google is going to get this right.

...more at crowdfluence.com
Posted by corneliuswillis (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are you kidding me?
No offense, but I would expect a little more knowledge from someone reporting on mobile web applications other than:

"Right now, Android just adds to the headache of developing different versions of our applications for different operating systems."

And who are these experts?

"In the end, an application developer must often write dozens of versions of one application to port onto hundreds of handsets. While this is not an impossible task, it's time-consuming and expensive, and many experts say it stifles innovation."

Has anyone on cnet staff heard of or is familiar with .mobi and mTLD?

A guideline and a set of standards is already in place with tons of sites popping up that is supported on any cell phone capable of accessing the web. All phones, all apps, all work with this format. There is no "...headache of developing different versions". It is one site, one version, one set of standards that operate on all OS and phones. And, get this...this is the cool part...it works equally well on the PC!

Just take a look at mTLD.mobi rather than shun this and overlook it. You guys get all the newest and coolest stuff to play with so put it to good use and to the test. Plus, CNET.MOBI is owned by CNET networks. So what are you waiting on? I could be reading this on my Helio Ocean.

Better yet, take a look at some of these sites:

SDCA.mobi San Diego CA complete with surfing conditions
DIR.mobi...a list constantly updated of mobile compliant sites

Bigger known and recognized US and International based companies:

Banking
BofA.mobi (Bank of America)
Deutsche-Bank.mobi
Wachovia.mobi
Barclays.mobi

Insurance
Ing.mobi
StateFarm.mobi
AXA.mobi

Hotels
Marriott.mobi

Car Manufacturers
Ferrari.mobi
BMW.mobi
Rolls-Royce.mobi
FordCA.mobi (Ford Canada)

Transportation
Amtrak.mobi
AAA.mobi (American Automobile Association)

Sports
ESPN.mobi
NBA.mobi
WNBA.mobi

Magazines
Time.mobi (Time Magazine)
BusinessWeek.mobi
CNNMoney.mobi

Internet
MSN.mobi
GoDaddy.mobi / TDNAM.mobi

Technology
Cisco.mobi

News
FoxNews.mobi
AlJazeera.mobi

Newspapers
TheSun.mobi

Guides
Zagat.mobi

Mobile Operators
T-Mobile.mobi
Three.mobi
Vodafone.mobi
TIM.mobi
Orange.mobi

Mobile Manufacturers
Nokia.mobi
SonyEricsson.mobi

Telecommunications
Ericsson.mobi

Weather
Weather.mobi (The Weather Channel)

Cities
Helsinki.mobi

Airlines
SAS.mobi

Clothing
Polo.mobi
Quikstore.mobi (Quiksilver)

Airports
Schiphol.mobi (Amsterdam)
Posted by .pH (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Standards are not always standard
You said "It is one site, one version, one set of standards that operate on all OS and phones" I have become very wary of the word standard. The fact is that standards are not always "standard". Everyone who makes something which complies to a standard does it slightly differently to try to beat their competitors. Anyone who has written HTML code for websites will know this. The simple fact is that diversity is always going to happen, and it is a real pain for software developers since they need to make sure that their product works the same on all the different platforms that it will be used on. This is time consuming and hard.
Posted by scottmmmm (1 comment )
Link Flag
Android Developer Community
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ohadev.org" target="_newWindow">http://www.ohadev.org</a> Given the recent news of the "g-phone" and the Open Handset Alliance. A new website has been launched to facilitate coordination between developers who intend to use the "Android SDK" from google.

please visit: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ohadev.org" target="_newWindow">http://www.ohadev.org</a>
Posted by JoshuaB86 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Unofficial OHA's Android Developer Community
News, forums and user downloads will be avaible - Android applications, Tools, SDK - as they start to appear - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ohaandroid.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.ohaandroid.com</a>
Posted by gaiolas (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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