Android: room to grow

I recently had an interesting conversation with John Ashton Edgar (Strongbow from the forums) about the storage limitations imposed by the hardware Android ships on. Because Android doesn’t officially support apps2SD (AOSP support may be on the way), the number of applications a user can install on their Android device is determined by the size of the apps they download and the internal storage offered by their device. That is, unless they hack said device and flash a cooked ROM that allows the installing of programs to the SDCard – a feature better known as apps2SD.

When looking at Android as an option for the average consumer, hacking is not part of the equation. It’s interesting to look at the needs the hacking community has addressed as a list of the platform’s weakness in the market, but in when discussing what Android is capable of in the public forum, hacked-on features don’t count. This was the background to our conversation. Noah Kravitz actually kicked it off by sending the two of us this link, followed by the word, “Thoughts?” The author of that post, Taylor Wimberly, makes the point that iPhone and iPod Touch games rock, and that one of said games (Myst) pushes 730 megs. Where are Android users in that race?

JAE’s position on the matter is that Android 2.0 isn’t even available to devs outside of the OEM ecosystem, so how can someone complain about the incompatibility of software that hasn’t been written yet? (At least I hope I’ve captured the heart of his argument. I had originally intended on copying our entire conversation here, but it’s just too long.)

Wimberly uses large iPhone games as examples for the argument that Android devices need support for the use of external storage for apps, and I would go a step farther and say that support is required for uniformity in terms of device compatibility. I think app uniformity in terms of overall feel and navigation is a major weakness in the Android Market, and the number one advantage of iPhone over Android. Uniformity in terms of usability on different devices is even more important. iPhone doesn’t have any concerns there.

I think Taylor Wimberly makes a valid and important point in the article. If Android is to avoid fragmentation (see comments), uniformity in app compatibility is paramount. This means software supplementation for older phones, and those without massive amounts of internal storage. Otherwise, titles like MYST (for example) will be limited to Archos owners (who already have their own app store in the works, big surprize).

I think large games are of interest to the average consumer. 10 MB is freaking HUGE for a G1 owner. Like…ridiculous. But then again, most of our game graphics look like Sega Genesis. Backward compatibility is a major issue when you’re talking about a promiscuous OS like Android, if you ask me. And what’s the best way to enhance the memory on older devices? Software support for external storage.

At one point in the conversation, JAE said:

I understand his point, but its like buying an egg and being pissed off it’s not a chicken yet.

It’s a sore point to me because so many people expect so much of Android without realizing the progression of things in open source. I think people expect too much from Android too soon – professionals and the general public. I agree with you about uniformity and device compatibility. It will take more time and the Market will flush and weed itself out. Sooner or later there will be an update that will make previous stuff incompatible unless updated and the garbage will have to be taken. I was giving Android 2 years for this to happen. Uniformity will come when the developers have a capable OS to start development of more than Mickey Mouse games on.

Why should phone manufacturers spend money on additional memory storage for apps that can’t even be created yet? That can’t and won’t be supported for some time and that is easily rectified by an update?

I agree with a lot of this to an extent. The Market will evolve. But what’s the point of delaying that update? I think Wimberly mentioned additional internal memory only because external storage is not an option without the apps2SD hack. Speaking of chickens and eggs, what *should* come first; the desperate, unanswered need for more space, or the capability to access external storage? If the answer is the prior, it sounds to me like we’re talking about immovable, monolithic corporations; not open source. But I’m not a developer.

I hope I haven’t been biased in my presentation of this conversation. After all, there must have been 20 emails, most containing several paragraphs. It’s difficult to summarize. I’d be interested in any comments from our readers.