Update: Google, mobile alliance partners provide 'early look' at Android SDK

Software development kit is released; $10M contest planned to entice developers

The Open Handset Alliance today released an "early look" version of the software development kit for Android, the Linux-based mobile software stack that Google Inc. and its partners in the OHA detailed last week.

In addition to the SDK, Google today announced a contest with a total prize pool of $10 million to try to encourage developers to build mobile applications based on the Android technology. Android will provide an operating system, a user interface, middleware and applications for use in future smart phones.

Google said that as part of the Android Developer Challenge, a panel of judges chosen from among OHA members and "the industry in general" will award cash prizes ranging from $25,000 to $275,000. Half of the $10 million will be awarded for entries submitted between Jan. 2 and March 3 of next year, the company said. The other $5 million will be distributed in a second round that will start after the first Android-based phones appear in the second half of 2008.

A posting today by Google engineering director Steve Horowitz on the Official Google Blog includes links to a page that explains how the contest will work and to another where developers can download the early version of the Android SDK.

Through Google, the OHA has also set up a blog and a discussion group to enable developers to interact with one another and with Google engineers.

The OHA describes Android as "a complete mobile platform" built on a Linux 2.6 kernel that supports a custom-built virtual machine called Dalvik that Google designed to help maximize application performance and security in mobile devices. The full Android technology is scheduled to be released next year under Version 2 of the open-source Apache Software License.

Touch-screen capabilities also will be supported in Android, according to a discussion thread among developers that was already fairly active shortly after the SDK's release. Synaptics Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., announced today that will provide a software driver to enable touch-screen interfaces for the Android SDK.

The SDK includes tutorials and sample development code as well as a plug-in for integrating its tools with the Eclipse open-source development framework. One of the code samples, which have been posted on Google's Web site, is a "Lunar Lander" game that includes a mobile-device screenshot of a spaceship that can be controlled to land on a lunar landscape with a partial view of Earth in the distance.

Four variations of Android wallpaper are also available online for an assortment of screen sizes. The Android logo is a light-green droid with legs, arms and a head that includes eyes and antennae but no mouth.

A six-minute video featuring Google co-founder Sergey Brin shows two prototype phones that are running Android applications. One device demonstrated in the video by Google Engineering Director Steve Horowitz shows a small-screen phone that integrates a contact list with calling capability and a Google Maps function.

A second prototype uses a larger touch screen similar in size to an iPhone's, offering a glimpse of 3-D and 2-D graphics capabilities that run over a 3G network, with new graphics displayed quickly -- apparently contrasting the prototype's speed at loading graphics with that of the iPhone over its slower EDGE network from AT&T Inc.

Developer questions After releasing the Android SDK, more than 100 comments were posted on a Google forum on a range of topics.

Most of the developers were asking about various ways to run the SDK, including whether it works on a Power PC Mac. (It does not, according to several posts.) One developer wanted to know if text-to-speech would be supported. (It currently does not, a Google representative said.)

Others -- including a posting from AndroidLloyd to the OHAdev Forum, which is separate from the Google forum -- wanted to find out if there are any wireless phones that could run the Android SDK.

Of all the developers posting comments on the Google Android forum, only one, from "Paul," seemed highly critical, saying he would wait for the iPhone SDK in February. "Does anyone else think that Android is a total flop?? Based on the videos I just watched it looks to be a crippled version of the iPhone??? Those videos are totally uninspiring!!," the post said.

A subsequent posting from MaryFinkle responded, "I think you're alone on this one. It looks like a great stack to build off of."

Brian Jordan, who helps run OHAdev.com with his brothers as a resource to Android developers, gave a positive review of the SDK in e-mail comments to Computerworld. He said his site is not affiliated with Google and does not receive funding from the search company.

"Judging from Sergei Brin's little video, and the Android developer challenge, it's clear that they thought through this SDK with an open developer community in mind from the start," Jordan said. "This is in clear contrast to Apple, which was happy to keep internally developed content exclusive to AT&T's carrier platform."

He added that when the iPhone SDK is released, "Android will already have a thriving community of homebrew games and demos, possibly even running on the hacked iPhone itself, and that will be hard for Apple's own offerings to match."

Android has the "potential to open up the mobile software industry to developers not already tied in with phone companies," Jordan added. "As long as the Android OS actually makes it onto a substantial number of phones, it will start to dramatically blur the line between cell phones, PDAs and computer workstations. We feel that anything that lowers the barrier of entry to the mobile market is a boon for indie developers or small businesses, and the Android SDK will do just that. The Android SDK shows Google's commitment is far more than just words on paper."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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