Mobile Tech

On Your Mark, Get Set, Develop: Google Offers $10M for Android Apps

The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) made good on its promise to deliver a software development kit (SDK) for the new Android platform Monday, and Google sweetened the offering with a new US$10 million developer’s challenge.

The Android SDK is now available as an early look release, enabling developers to both start working on applications for the open mobile platform and help shape its development, the alliance said. The entire platform will be made available under the Apache v2 open source license in 2008.

Google’s Android Developer Challenge, meanwhile, will provide $10 million to developers who build mobile applications for Android. Designed to spark innovation on the platform, Google will award cash prizes ranging from $25,000 to $275,000 to developers whose applications are picked by a panel of judges.

“We’ve built some interesting applications for Android, but the best applications are not here yet, and that’s because they’re going to be written by developers,” said Sergey Brin, cofounder and president of technology for Google. “We’d like to reward these developers and recognize them as much as possible.”

Flexible Development Model

Announced last Monday, Android is a complete mobile platform built on the Linux 2.6 kernel that offers a robust operating system, libraries, a rich multimedia user interface and a complete set of phone applications. Its application model makes it easy for developers to extend, replace and reuse existing software components to create rich and integrated mobile services for consumers, the OHA said.

The Android platform also includes the Dalvik virtual machine to maximize application performance, portability and security.

“We believe that the Android platform offers developers a unique opportunity to create truly innovative mobile software,” said Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms. “We’re challenging developers to stretch their imaginations and skills to leverage the full capabilities of this new platform and to create something amazing.”

SDK Requirements

Included in the SDK are advanced development and debugging tools, a rich set of libraries, a true device emulator, in-depth documentation, sample projects, tutorials, FAQs and more. An Eclipse plug-in is included to integrate these tools with the Eclipse integrated development environment.

The site hosting the kit will also feature a blog and discussion groups to foster interaction and knowledge-sharing among contributors.

To begin building applications for Android, developers will need to download the Android SDK to an x86-based computer running Windows XP or Vista; Mac OS 10.4.8 or later; or Linux Ubuntu Dapper Drake or later. Other modern distributions of Linux will also likely work, but are not directly supported, the OHA said.

Developers will also need Eclipse 3.2 or later, with Java Development Tools and the Android SDK’s plug-in, or Java and Javac 1.5 or 1.6; Apache Ant; an integrated development environment; and Python 2.2 or later.

Two Challenges

The Android Developer Challenge prize money will be distributed equally between the Android Developer Challenge I and II. Submissions for Challenge I will be accepted from Jan. 2 through March 3, 2008, and the 50 most promising entries will be recognized by the end of March with $25,000 to fund further development.

Those 50 entries will then be eligible for even greater recognition by applying by May 1, 2008, for 10 awards worth $275,000 each and another 10 worth $100,000 each. Recognition for the top applications among those entries will be announced by end of May.

Challenge II will launch after the first handsets built on the platform become available in the second half of 2008.

Judging will be done by a panel of technology and mobile experts selected from among OHA member organizations and the industry in general. Awards will be given to the developers “whose applications leverage all that the Android platform has to offer in order to provide consumers with the most compelling experiences,” Google said.

Developers will retain all intellectual property and other rights to their applications.

Spurring Innovation

“This is a nice incentive,” Neil Strother, wireless analyst with JupiterResearch, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s still many months before the first devices come out, and it will be interesting to see if this spurs a lot of innovation.”

Financial incentives do seem to work, and will likely encourage developers “to put on their creativity hats and come up with some ideas,” Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group, agreed.

“Ten million is enough to get some folks coding, and clearly they need a lot of folks coding so they can hit the ground running when this thing releases next year,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

Multiple Efforts

Whether it will be enough to propel Android into an industry standard, however, is another question.

“I’m a little worried about Android because there are a lot of Linux implementations on mobile, and it’s important to recognize that Linux on mobile is different from Linux on servers, which is different from Linux as an embedded application,” Bill Hughes, principal analyst with In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld. “In each case, the benefits to developers and users are different.”

Linux has a real advantage on servers because it’s cheap and reliable, Hughes noted. “In a mobile environment, the most expensive operating system you’ll run across is $12,” he added. “So, yes, it’s a benefit to have something that’s next to free, but that’s not the real compelling reason.”

Another troubling issue is the sheer number of Linux distributions out there, and also the existence of several mobile Linux organizations with very similar objectives, Hughes said.

Potential for Confusion

“There’s a real opportunity for confusion to set in,” he said. “The organizations may have common interests, but that doesn’t mean they will go about things in the same way.”

So while financial incentives will undoubtedly help get attention for Android, “money isn’t the only answer,” Hughes concluded. “With so many similar initiatives going on, this is going to take some time.”

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