Devices like Apple’s iPhone and the various versions of Blackberry smartphones are revolutionizing computing. Phones and phone-like devices are increasingly blurring the lines between notebook computers, netbooks and phones. The mobile computing revolution is on!
One platform, however, truly stands out as a potential game changer. That platform is the Android platform from Google. Is Android the future of mobile computing? There is certainly a strong potential for Android to shape the future of mobile computing.
Android’s strength comes from its openness. The Android SDK is open source and the license governing Android itself allows any handset manufacturer to use and modify it. This allows Android to shape the future of mobile computing by making it available to any hardware manufacturer that wants to use it. This means that Android is likely to be the OS of choice for future mobile computing hardware like tablet PCs or e-book readers.
Android’s openness also applies to the selection of mobile carrier. This is one area where many users have been unhappy with Apple’s iPhone. Android is widely available which means that most wireless carriers have an Android handset available. Customers want choice. By giving them choice, Android positions itself as the future of mobile computing.
Android’s greatest strength, however, is its development kit. In the history of computing, the platforms that supported the application developers best became the clear winners. Failure to support application developers with robust tools killed the really Apple platform and IBM’s OS2. This is a mistake that Apple seems to be willing to repeat with the iPhone. The iPhone development tools are difficult to use and the application approval process seems terribly subjective at times. This makes iPhone application development unprofitable for many developers. In contrast, the Android development tools use Java and even C/C++. This allows developers to write applications for Android using languages they already know and use. Additionally, it allows them to use the tools they are already using such as Eclipse. The Android SDK also provides a very robust emulator so that application developers can test their Android applications without relying on physical hardware to do so. The future of mobile computing will largely be determined by the availability of the applications that end users want and need. In this regard, Android is a clear winner.
The biggest danger to Android’s dominance over the future of mobile computing is fragmentation. The ability of hardware vendors to extend Android without contributing their changes back to the Android project could lead to various incompatible versions of Android. To some extent, this has already happened as developers have had to struggle some to make their applications to support different hardware capabilities. This fragmentation of Android would make it harder for application developers to write code for Android. Since the support of application developers is crucial to the success of any computing platform, fragmentation could be a serious threat to Android as the future of mobile computing.
Is Android the future of mobile computing? I think the answer is that it certainly could be. Android’s open nature makes it possible for hardware developers to use it for whatever new devices they can imagine. Its SDK makes it easy for application developers to create the applications users want and need. Both factors make Android a strong contender for the shape of the future of mobile computing. However, there is a danger that hardware vendors will customize Android to the extent that the platform becomes fragmented. If this happens, it will be harder for application developers to write for Android and this could endanger its lead position as the future of mobile computing.