Does Android's Open Platform Hurt Developers?

A developer of applications for the iPhone and iPad feels that Google's Android platform is too open, making it difficult for developers to write apps. The clear choice going forward, he says, is Apple's mobile development environment.

Dan Burcaw, founder and CEO of Double Encore, predicts on the Cult of Mac Web site that "...a year from now, developers and consumers alike are going to find the Android platform really disappointing."

Burcaw compares Android development to the downside of Linux development: "heavy on philosophy and egalitarianism, but quality control? Not so much."

He goes on to point out what he considers Android's biggest flaw for developers: too much freedom. There are too many variations of hardware (i.e. phones), and with Google exercising almost no control over what's published in its Android Market, development is much more time-consuming and expensive. For example, writes Burcaw, developer tools are immature:

"Android also shows its youth in the tools offered to Android developers. Consider the numerous devices problem: one would expect a set of tools that would help developers navigate the wilderness of multiple Android devices with varying screen sizes, resolution and even CPU speed. The Android emulator expects that you, the developer, configure profiles for each device you want to support. And I do mean configure. Every aspect of the hardware must be defined; there are no ready-made profiles for the current devices on the market."

He compares these drawbacks to Apple's iOS platform:

"Apple's an established consumer company; and it has an established developer platform that's been refined over the years -- along with a set of tools and clearly defined guidelines by which developers must abide if they want to participate...Apple's tools are very mature from a capabilities perspective, and this is a clear result of the platforms having been refined over its lifetime."

While Burcaw does acknowledge the tight control Apple keeps on app development, he sees it as a positive: "I can count on the quality. I don't have to worry about the apps I write not working from one handset to another. I can't say that about Android."

He concludes: "If Google doesn't fix its consistency and quality soon, it will find its Android marketplace deteriorating and the brand as a whole will suffer from confusion."

Of course, not everyone agrees, and a number of comments below the article challenge Burcaw's assertions. "Bob" says more development tools, which the Android platform provides, are better: "Over on the Android side, there are more tools (if you hate Eclipse) and the default language is one all developers know anyways (Java)."

He also points out that if Apple rejects an app, it means wasted time and resources for the developers: "Then there's the arbitrary gatekeeping of the app store. You could invest tens of thousands and try to create a company on your app, only for some wiener at Apple to decide your app looks too much like a desktop three months after approving it. Developers need stability, and they just don't have that on iPhone."

Randy Magruder makes a similar point, saying there's no consistency in Apple's decisions to accept or reject an app:

"They are there because the user base is there, not because Apple is so awesome. Many horror stories have gone public about companies investing in a technology only to find that Apple took an interest in that space and slapped their apps right off the market. You want a password-protected podcast downloader? Can't have one."

"Max" also prefers to develop on Android: "I know both worlds (iOS + Android) very well and have to say that Android has some very powerful concepts which I miss on iOS. And the development environments of both worlds are equal."

Not according to Burcaw. "So, Google and Android: learn the lessons of Linux -- a little less freedom, a little more quality and consistency? That's where you should be headed."

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.