With Froyo actually announced and slowly being trickled down to Nexus Ones in the US, Android owners are quicker than ever to assert their superiority. And that’s fine; while Froyo doesn’t seem like that impressive an update feature-wise, it’s very nice to see JIT and V8 make their appearance to make the OS an absolute screamer. (Now if only they’d drop software rendering for the entire user interface, it would be even faster!)
But I’d like to focus on one mobile OS that didn’t get much love at I/O this year. And that’s Chrome OS.
Say My Name?
There was little mentioned about Chrome OS at I/O this year; it was name-dropped in one of the keynotes; not as a reference to the OS, but rather the event at which it was announced.
There were still some things here and there that could be interpreted as Chrome OS news. Chrome Web Store could very plausibly be an app store for Chrome OS devices. Google TV, merging elements of Chrome and Android, feels like a test attempt at merging the Chrome OS and Android projects together and seeing how it goes.
But no solid news. I was expecting to at least hear product announcements for the first Chrome OS devices (they’re due out this fall, remember?) but none of that.
Coulda Had a V8
Something equally confusing to me is how we keep hearing about these mythical Android tablets that will run Flash and destroy the iPad. Sorry, that’s not what I envision killing the iPad.
Apple keeps touting the iPad as the best way to browse the Web. While there is something amazingly personal about touching the Web with your fingers and eliminating the mouse as the intermediary input device, it would be nice if the iPad could really have 9 pages open at once and not run out of RAM forcing me to reload the page when switching pages. And really, V8 does run circles around JSCore, I miss it greatly on the iPad.
The best browsing experience is Chrome. It’s just a question of adapting the interface for a tablet form factor, and you’ve got a strong contender in your hands.
But what about the apps?
Fuck the apps.
Finding good apps in Android Market is like finding a needle in a haystack. That isn’t even due to the navigational issues (you thought browsing the App Store was bad? Try Market.); there simply aren’t that many good apps for Android out there.
Part of that is to blame on Android’s disgustingly vile APIs. They feel like Java, which is to say, they feel like you’re writing boilerplate code for the sake of writing boilerplate code. (And really, who on Earth decided putting XML files all over Android projects was a good idea?) Even using other JVM languages won’t let you circumvent that; bad API design transcends the language barrier.
Google’s given their speech on how the majority of people spend most of their time in a Web browser in Web apps, or in activities that could be done through a Web app. Google’s given their speech on the advantages of using open Web technologies to develop applications. And I’m ready to believe them.
So really, fuck the apps. Being the best Web browser means you’re the best Web app environment. And with the Chrome Web Store, you have a storefront for Web apps. If Web apps are as hot as you claim they are, you should have no problem doing this.
Please don’t sue me, Betty Crocker.
The worst part of this whole Android tablet market is that it doesn’t even make sense.
Android is a smartphone operating system. It is not yet intended to hit other devices. Just look at the APIs that let you dispatch different UIs depending on screen size; anything larger than a 5.6 inch 160dpi screen is considered “large”. That gives you one size category for big phones, tablets, television sets, you name it.
Smartphones have to pass the Android compatibility tests to be eligible to ship with Android Market, so that gives developers a general idea of what the platform looks like and what hardware to target. There are no such compatibility requirements for tablets or any other class of device, so anyone developing an Android tablet needs to have their own market, and developers don’t even have a vague idea what the overall Android tablet scene will look like in the coming few months.
A big complaint you hear about the iPad is how it’s just a big iPod touch. On the iPad, user interfaces have been thoughtfully redesigned to make better use of the bigger screen, so it does have some visual distinction from “just a big iPod touch”.
I have yet to see one Android tablet where it did not just look like a big Android smartphone. I have not seen any thought go into whether or not just blowing up the original apps made any sense in a tablet form factor, meaning many apps will look as ridiculous as the ones shown at the Google TV demo.
OEMs are using Android as this sort of Hamburger Helper OS (just add drivers! and it’s
cheap free!) for tablets and low-power devices when it’s not ready for those. Unless Android actually starts supporting more device classes in Gingerbread, Android has no business showing up on devices other than smartphones. It just makes developers’ lives even harder and extends the fragmentation of the Android market beyond smartphones.