As Usual, Some Tech Bloggers Are Getting it Wrong

There’s a pretty big stink right now about Google letting the top 50 entrants from the Android Developers Challenge get advance use of the latest Android SDK. A lot of tech sites and bloggers are acting as if this was something from out of the blue. Here’s a sample of what I found being reported…

“Some developers indeed are working with an updated SDK — one that was issued in secret.”

“Google has intentionally disadvantaged many developers and kept the broader Android community in the dark about the progress of the platform.”

First, let me clear the air up on the first quote. There is no secret. The public knew months ago that the semi-finalists in ADC 1 would receive the latest copy of the SDK, before everyone else does. There was an email sent out to all fifty teams letting them know that they’d get it about 3 weeks before the deadline for round 2 of the challenge. Here’s a snippet of the email:

As a Round 2 participant, we’ll be providing you with the most up-to-date Android SDK so that you can take advantage of the latest tools & platform capabilities that will be shipping in devices later this year…these releases are definitely “bleeding edge.” Approximately 3 weeks before the submission deadline, we will provide a final early access SDK. You will need to submit your entry using this version of the SDK.

Since these early access SDKs are not ready for the public, you need to execute a special SDK license. This is the same SDK license that governs the public SDK with the addition of a confidentiality clause.

We reported this back on May 20th – almost two full months ago. I’m not sure why this is getting such traction right now. As far as Google intentionally putting many developers at a disadvantage with this goes, that’s another argument. Personally, I think it’s more of a “perk” for the top 50 to get the sneak look. Google never said that they weren’t giving it to the public. All other developers will be getting it over the next few weeks/months.

Being that I am not a developer, I probably have a slightly different look at this situation. I can imagine the frustration that some might be feeling, wanting to get their hands on an updated kit. But, and here’s the big but… there’s nothing wrong with Google wanting these top developers to submit their apps on a version of the SDK that closely resembles the platform shipping later this year.

Switching from Defense to Offense

To keep things impartial as possible, I do have a couple things I would like to say from the other side of the debate. Google should step up in a personal matter and address the situation with getting the public a new SDK. Get Andy Rubin or Dan Morrill to send out an email or post on the official Android blog. Give us something that says “We hear you and are working to get you the new version as soon as…” The quicker the better, as right now there’s a lot of misconception that needs to be cleared up.

Google would also do well to announce as much concrete information as possible as soon as they have it. Start that hype machine up with an official launch date or some blurry photos of a device. Heck, even some new video would help. You have to do something to keep people from getting shackled to 2 year contracts with 3G iPhones or new BlackBerry handsets. There’s about 6 months worth of customers who might wait a little bit longer if they knew something better was not far off.

There’s a lot of work left to do on all fronts. The more open communication between Google, developers, and fanboys, the better. We’re all on the same team here. The last thing any of us wants to do is get mad and take our ball home. Or pick up a different sport.

  • Still, Google needs to clear the air about the issue.

  • As I wrote in a comment in a blog entry by Glyn Moody (, we don’t know *who’s* really at fault for the communications blackout. It could be Google. It could be some OHA members. Google gets the brunt of the flak because they’re the public face of Android to the developer community, but only in the fullness of time will we see if that flak was properly directed.

    Besides, as I keep repeating, being a “playa” in the mobile space is a marathon, not a sprint…

  • Todd

    Yeah, fellow commenter Mr. Murphy there is on the right path.

    Cannot prove it, but the internal Android development team at Google is probably caught in a truly awful game of “monkey in the middle”, between the evil carriers and the AdSense sales people ( Good grief, imagine those meetings! ).

    We all boo and hiss, but all they players haven’t reveled themselves, and our criticism about slow, unfair SDK releases is probably misdirected.

  • lordhong

    Another issue is the SDK is GPL licensed and should be open to everyone whenever there’s a release. It cannot be released to a selected few. It cannot have NDA associated with. It’s against GPL principle.

  • TareX

    Google is SOOO drunk on “word of mouth” publicity, it doesn’t know that this doesn’t work for the cellphone market.

  • GreenLeaf

    Google is right about making available the new SDK only to 50 semifinalists as they have stated that this SDK is not extensively tested hence could be buggy & hence not yet ready for public release. For developers, not having a new SDK should be better than having one that crashes up on every other command.

    Google is so hell bent on releasing an android device by this year end that it is taking all of their time, working with phone manufacturers & carriers to get the final version of android for them. Once they give away the final version of android (Android 1.0) to HTC, they can concentrate their resources on modifying or stabilising the SDK to suite android 1.0 & releasing it. So that by the time phone manufacturers & carriers are ready to roll out first android device, developers can have final version of their apps ready.

    These are very difficult moments (this is where the pain happens!!!). The last thing Google needs now is developers turning their back on android. Please guys (developers) stay with Google; don’t give up on them yet. They will not let you down!

    Meanwhile you can learn a bit or two about marketing your apps from Apple’s apps store. Keep a close eye on it, see the trends. You can also use this time (gap) to work on your interface, designs.

    It would help a lot if Google comes out & says something; anything. Just one word of hope would mean to developers a lot.

  • lordhong

    why wait for android when you can develop for iPhone? market drives software development, unless you doing it for fun. 10 million iPhone applications downloaded over the launch weekend, WOW!

    the question is for Google: why developers turning their back on android?

    i think the answer is very clear.

  • dev

    You can try to justify it any way you want, but the SDKs were, in fact, provided in secret. That e-mail was leaked by the recipient in violation of a non-disclosure agreement. All developers who got access to the SDK had to agree not to tell anyone that they had access. They are not even permitted to describe features or provide screenshots. So, yes, Google is in fact making these new SDK builds available secretly. The fact that it was a secret is reflected by the number of third-party developers on the mailing list who have been *begging* Google for even the slightest detail about the long-term or release plans for the SDK.

    The problem here is that Google’s actions are completely inconsistent with their rhetoric and the manner in which they have consistently described the platform. The following are from Google press releases:

    “By providing developers a new level of openness that enables them to work more collaboratively, Android will accelerate the pace at which new and compelling mobile services are made available to consumers.”

    “Android does not differentiate between the phone’s core applications and third-party applications. They can all be built to have equal access to a phone’s capabilities providing users with a broad spectrum of applications and services.”

    Developers who are actively trying to build applications against a buggy old version of the SDK that has been outdated for four months are placed at a serious disadvantage. If there are a sufficient number of API changes, those developers will have to practically start from scratch in order to achieve compatibility with the new APIs when the current version of the SDK is finally released to the public. This is not the “equal access” that Google promised.

    It’s also worth noting that third-party developers are not the only ones who believe that the current situation is unfair. Several of Google’s own Android engineers have posted messages in the public discussion lists saying that they are unhappy with the situation as well but can’t do anything to remedy the problems because they have been forbidden to act.

    Since you are not a developer and are consequently not properly equipped to understand the implications of Google’s actions regarding the SDK, then perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to say that the tech bloggers are the ones getting it wrong.

  • dev is correct: what was touted as a bastion of “openness” and”equal opportunity” for developers has turned out to be anything but, a morass of NDAs and “friends only” releases–reportedly because the latest SDK is even less “ready for prime time” than the previous ones. M5 proved less stable than m3; this latest non-release seems to be unstabler still.

    In the meantime, Google involvement (other than from JBQ who states at the outset that he’s “going to get in trouble” for speaking up) has almost completely dried up. Dan Morrill’s apparently vanished from the face of the earth, not having posted since May.

    The simple fact–as evidenced by the petitions on the various android lists–is that the current state of affairs is already driving developers away from Android. It seems like the OHA partners, particularly the carriers, are having a lot of trouble with it as well.

    Is Android Google’s Copland? Writing operating systems isn’t easy: if it was, everybody’d do it.

  • I’m not certain where LordHong gets the idea that the Android SDK is “GPL licensed”. There are (small) portions of Android under the GPL/LGPL or similar licenses, including the kernel, Webkit and QEMU, and Google has posted some patches to those components.

    However, for the remainder of the code, use is governed by Google’s Terms and Conditions, which contain plenty of stuff that’s “against GPL principle”: (from sec. 3.3) “…you may not copy (except for backup purposes), modify, adapt, redistribute, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, or create derivative works of the SDK or any part of the SDK. Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not load any part of the SDK onto a mobile handset or any other hardware device except a personal computer, combine any part of the SDK with other software, or distribute any software or device incorporating a part of the SDK. “

  • MacBoy

    Like the earlier person said, its GPL. Behaving and acting in secret is against GPL practices.

    Open-it-is-not !

    I wonder, I really do not know, does Apple participate on WebKit in a secretive manner? Or is it equal-access and equal-knowledge the basic principle?

  • James Bailey

    I’m a bit confused–I admit that I haven’t been paying close attention to Android recently. But I thought Android was open source? Did Google change its mind and close it up? That would be too bad but not completely unexpected considering the assumed push back from the carriers.

    If Android is open source, can someone explain how they can restrict the access to the latest version of the SDK or is it some strange form of “open”? Open source that has separate license agreements for newer versions is “open” in name only.

    Thanks for any information.

  • James Bailey

    I should read comments before posting.

    So, the sad news is that Android is no more open than the iPhone SDK. That is unfortunate since I was hoping for pressure on Apple, AT&T and the rest of the wireless carriers to open up their devices and networks. Apparently Google isn’t really focused on doing that. I find it very surprising that Android has such a restrictive license agreement that it can’t be copied freely. Too bad. I had high hopes.

    I guess there is no reason to wait for Android devices since the iPhone is already available and you can write and distribute applications right now. The iPhone SDK has some strict and frankly stupid restrictions but the alternatives appear to be as bad or worse.

  • What makes early adopters upset is that they placed a bet on a platform that had no devices and no market, based on the belief that Android would be open, not just open-source but with the belief that Google would support a diverse development community and give us openness that is lacking in mobile. I have personally sunk many hours and many thousands of dollars into development because of my commitment to open-source. I helped build out SlideME, open-sourcing a lot of components; I built and open-sourced Maven build plugins (MASA); I open-sourced an atom reader for Android. I put in my passion because I felt that here is a new way of doing mobile, an open way.

    I’ve worked in mobile for a number of years and never liked the insider way of doing business. In May when I found out that Google was creating this insider system, I was angry about it. Why did I give up so much of my personal time believing that I was doing good, when Google was acting like every other player in the mobile ecosystem? So it’s not just about a delayed SDK; it’s about making personal sacrifices based on a lie. It’s about being used and stepped on to further the interest of Google.

  • One thing I do find amazing is that when I describe to non-technical, non-business people about open-source, they immediately get it. It’s like volunteering or community service, they say with a flash of insight. But in the business world, cost benefits are applied in trying to understand it, often with a distorted lens about open-source motivations.

    To put it in it’s simplest terms, let’s say you volunteered (no-pay) for an organization to help orphaned children. You spent sleepless nights and your own money in for this organization. Then one day you find out it’s a front for building a megamall. You would be pretty pissed. You would be even more pissed if they said: “Trust us, this is really a giant orphanage.”