Developers are hopeful that the upcoming "Ice Cream Sandwich" release of Android will fix the long-standing problem of fragmentation on the platform, which has forced application builders to write their programs differently for the multiple versions of the OS in circulation.
Android OS 4 "Ice Cream Sandwich" is due by year's end, providing a unified platform for both smartphones and tablet devices. "It's definitely going to be a good direction because fragmentation seems to have been a direction they were going in. Hopefully, this brings it all back together," said Brian O'Neil, software architect at Turner Broadcasting. Developers could find an easier path with "Ice Cream Sandwich," he said.
Concurring was Mark Wolgemuth, chief architect at Web time-tracking tool vendor RescueTime.com. "We have an Android app that I'm working on trying to get it to work across [versions] 2.2.x ["Froyo"], 2.3 ["Gingerbread"], and 3.0 ["Honeycomb"], and the UIs behave a little differently in some ways. To not have to code to a diverse branch of platforms and be able to code to just one and instead use screen-size detection and things like that to handle UIs is a much better solution."
"Ice Cream Sandwich" is positioned as an open source release for multiple device form factors. "We want one OS that runs everywhere," said Mike Cleron, a member of the Google technical staff. Capabilities from the 3.0 "Honeycomb" tablet release of Android -- including a holographic UI, multitasking UI, and richer widgets -- will be able to run on smartphones. Also, APIs will enable developers to take a UI and scale it across different form factors. For conferencing applications, "Ice Cream Sandwich" will be able to detect who is speaking and shine the device's camera on that person.
"I think [the upgrade] will help with fragmentation as far as the tablets and the mobile world is concerned," said Mike Adams, a Web developer at marketing firm Brooks Bell Interactive who has dabbled in Android application development. "Developers right now are developing for multiple devices, which can cause problems depending on their hardware. Just to have one source for an SDK is going to help out tremendously."
Android has been beset by too many OS versions, said Conor Power, CEO of SaaS developer No Good Software. A movement by Google toward unity is the "right direction," he said.
Mobile Web application builder Rich Manaling said fragmentation involving different screen sizes has been the biggest complaint he's heard about Android. But Apple iOS developers also deal with different screen resolutions for different iPhones, he said. Manalang expects most improvements in "Ice Cream Sandwich" to be related to the UI layer.
Android application developer Matthew Nakatani, a student at Sonoma State University, lauded Google's plan to have Android devices support 18 months of OS upgrades after their release. "Previously, the devices were never guaranteed an upgrade," he said. "So, you [would] buy a device, it's got the software on it and you throw it out."
"That [new policy] alone is huge because that reduces the amount of devices you're going to be throwing out, and so reduces the amount of new devices that you're going to have to be purchasing," Nakatani said. Partners such as Sony Ericsson, Verizon, Motorola, and AT&T will receive OS upgrades for their devices.