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The Android Ecosystem by Tim Bray

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Tim Bray, who recently joined Google as a Developer Advocate, presented his views on the Android Ecosystem at the Seattle Android Developers group. (A similar presentation, Tim gave six months ago at the Google Developer Days is available here). He emphasized that Android is a major investment for Google. One of the primary reasons is the number of users: the mobile platform is the largest technology platform in the world, with 4 B users, about 4 times the number of PC users, with a huge presence in the developing world. He also emphasized that the growth of the smartphone is pretty much unheard of: if AOL or Netscape reached about 50 M users in their first 5 years, iOS reached over 200 M users in less than 5 years. Android itself is growing at a faster rate than iOS.

The first part of is presentation focused on the business models for mobile developers. He explained that even though the numbers look big, the vast majority of developers are not making money on any Mobile Application Store. He sees application upgrades as a much better way to make money than the initial sale, yet most app stores do not support paid for upgrades.

“In-app advertising” should be another key element of any business model. Google has reinforced his integration with admob with a one-click entry to an admob campaign setup from the developer console.

For him, “In-app sales” should eventually represent the most important source of revenue for apps, because it allows to draw revenue from existing customers.

Another business model that is often overlooked is the “server side revenue”. He cited tripit or 37signals which have successfully added a profitable mobile component to their web app subscriptions.

Tim emphasized that DCB (Direct Carrier Billing) was a major growth factor typically doubling app or in-app sales as soon as they are enabled. Google is partnering with all major carriers across the world to integrate with their billing systems. In that case, the purchase is still done via the Android market, but it shows up on the customer phone bill.

Tim also suggested that mobile devices are an important economic agent in developing countries and writing an app for your typical affluent 20 something may not be the easiest way to grow a mobile business.  

So far, 4.5 B apps have been installed from Android market with US, Japan, Korea being the largest markets.

The second part of his presentation focused on the new Android features being released this month and beyond. He started by reiterating his position that Android is “open” after the recent controversies that erupted a few months ago.

Google announced recently support for Multiple APKs in the Android market to support different resolutions or market segments. 

Tim also justified the Honeycomb fork: “a tablet is not a phone, tablets spend a lot of time in landscape mode”. They have an extended battery life, ... and a lot more pixels.

He emphasized some of the recent additions to Android: the action bar, the system bar, recent apps and system notifications, which Apple is revamping in iOS5.

For him, “Fragments” are the biggest new feature for developers to build cool apps. Fragments represent a behavior or a portion of the user interface in an activity. The fragment can be reused in multiple activities. They leave inside an activity and have their own lifecycle and can be removed or added as needed, which can be a bit tricky for developers. Fragments are so convenient that they are now available in 1.6 and higher.

Yesterday, Google also posted a major update to the UI builder that seem to render the UI a lot better than the previous versions.

He also talked about the improved support for USB and for the Host API.

In June, Google will also roll out its support for “big apps” (up to 4 Gb in size).  The code and large assets will published in separate archive with up to a 50 Mb app package + two additional 2Gb archives. The Android Market will provide hosting for installs and upgrades of these “big apps”.

Tim spoke briefly about the Web vs Native debate. He showed the “Tripit” app and mentioned that he preferred their native version. He uses many native apps himself. Only native apps can take advantage of all the capabilities of the phone. He explained that most mobile development shop are now cross platform and the best chance for “Web Apps” is if Windows Mobile, takes off. He believes it will be to hard for most teams to keep developing on three different platforms.

Some people asked question about support for additional languages. Tim reiterated that what was important was the framework. 

What's your take on Tim's views? are you moving to become a cross-platform mobile developer? What are the cool features you'd like to see in Android? Tim emphasized that his job is to bring your feedback to Google.

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