Code & Sundry

Jon G Stødle

Will the PDK clean up Android?

787 words, 4 minutes to read


That’s the simple fact of it, no. Android’s problem isn’t just the fact that the hardware isn’t getting the latest updates it’s the fact that the hardware vendors have the freedom to do what the they want. Of course, this is one of the great advantages of Android and the devices that run it; the great diversity and choice. There’s an Android device for everyone.

The problem however is that some of the hardware vendors (read all) think they can do a better job than Google designing Android. One of the best examples of this is the HTC One X: HTC has altered the way multitasking is handled in the operating system, making it much more aggressive to close apps, resulting in frustration for some power users. According to them the added feature produces unwanted behavior. For most users though it should result in better battery life, which is something Android is notoriously bad at.

Thankfully, not all hardware vendors considers themselves hardware engineering geniuses and leave a lot of the designs of Android to Google, and stick to making smaller, cosmetic changes and improvements. Some adding tighter and/or better integration with different services to differentiate themselves from the competition. While this might a good thing in theory, it adds confusion in reality: one of the strengths of the iPhone or Windows Phone devices is a consistent experience. If you pick one device up, there’s no confusion to use it; if you’ve used one before, you’ll know how to use this one too.

In the early days of Android I didn’t mind this customization too much, I agreed with the hardware vendors: Android is far from perfect, let’s help Google make it better. As both years and versions has passed by, Android has gotten better and better, even at integration with other services. I’m the first admit that Android still isn’t perfect is something as close to it as can be. I think that it’s finally surpassed iPhone and Windows Phone hasn’t caught up quite yet. Windows Phone is at the place where Android was a few years ago.

With the legendary 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, release of Android, the mobile operating system finally grew up and become not only beautiful, but also polished; more so than ever before. The UI didn’t only look good and distinct without looking like something designed in the early 2000s, it actually looks modern and sleek. The experience was snappy (at least on the devices I’ve tried) and it felt like something that could seriously compete with the iPhone. At this point Android had also surpassed the iPhone when it came to features, the place it should have. Android was made for a lot of features and it’s finally there, the iPhone can’t keep up and shouldn’t; the iPhone is not the device with all e features one. An think of, it the device that looks good while using it.

The recently announced 4.1, Jelly Beans, will add some features that the iPhone did better, and refine and improve some that the iPhone still doesn’t do as well. With 4.1 Android suddenly became tempting again to me. I stopped using Android two years back and didn’t think I’d never want to go back, but Google proved me wrong. With the announcement of the new version, there was also the announcement of the PDK, Platform Development Kit, an SDK for hardware vendors.

The PDK is Google’s latest attempt to make hardware vendors port their custom software into the newest version of Android at a much quicker pace, something that I don’t think is the main problem. The main problem is the customization itself, in my mind the only proper Android experience is on the Nexus line devices. I would only call Android on other devices a passable experience and sub-par to the one you’ll be having on a “proper” Android device. While I’d admit that the Improved battery life of the One X is preferable, but the rest of the experience is not desirable to the default one on the Nexus devices.

All in all, I don’t think that Android can be “saved” from the hardware vendors, but it can be properly experienced on the Nexus range. Although I’m mostly invested in Windows Phone myself, I can’t deny that I have a general interest what’s going on in the “enemy” camps. There’s nothing more that I want, than to other platforms to succeed at something, making the competitors scrambling to make something comparable, that’s called innovation and progress.

I dont think that Android can move away from it’s current situation but it’ll push it’s competitors to make improvements and continue to make better experiences and products.