gPhone? Just a Rumor – The Real Story Is The Android Developer Revolt

Of course, we all know that the event of the past week (or perhaps we should say the event of the year, given the news coverage), has been the launch of the iPhone 2.0. Yet even amidst the iPhone news frenzy – the lines at the stores, the activations, the failures, theapps! – there was another phone getting some press too – the Google Phone. The rumor was that Google was going to build its own phone after all. Yet while that rumor was catching the headlines, the real story was taking place within the developer community itself.

gPhone – It’s Just A Rumor

A fewblogs ran with the story that Google might be considering building the gPhone after all. The reason for this latest round of rumors? Hollywood Reporter’s Dan Cox wrote an article summarizing a semi-formal press conference on Friday where Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt met to discuss the state of the technology community. In the article, Dan wrote: “The trio of Google execs also used the opportunity to talk about the inroads the company is making with its own branded mobile phone as a replacement for the iPhone.” Add to that a claim that the Ammunition Group is designing it and you’ve got a full-on Gphone rumor.

Unfortunately, the rumor is most likely just that – a rumor. Silicon Alley Insider took a look at Reuter’s reporter, Ken Li’s, notebook from the event and made the determination that “the Google guys were talking about the fact that they’re not producing their own branded phone, and that there isn’t a ‘Google phone.’ And something got mixed up in the translation.”

They also made the rather sensible statement that “if the Google guys had talked about a major change in their mobile strategy, you’d think the story might have appeared in other outlets.”

We asked Google for comment and they actually pointed us to the same Silicon Alley Insider story, saying it was all just a misunderstanding by one of the reporters in the audience. They also noted that their hope for the Android platform will spur the development of thousands of different kinds of phones.

We wonder though, if these rumors point to the fact that there may be a demand, or at least a desire, to see Android loaded onto a Google-branded phone as opposed to it being just another mobile platform? Are people already looking for a solid iPhone competitor?

Android Developers Are Mad

Of course, before you can have a successful gPhone or mobile platform, you have to have a happy developer community and lately, those guys have been getting antsy.

Public developers recently started an online petition on Android’s Google Group because they’re frustrated with the lack of an updated SDK – the last one was provided in March 2008. The complaints are that the current SDK is buggy and that certain features don’t work.

The Android Developers’ Petition

The first post that begins the petition states:

In order not to lose many highly encouraged developers, I think its time to release some news about the development process of the SDK. Maybe let us know why we have to live with these long cycles…In my personal opinion it is not the right choice to keep developers in the dark. We, the developers, are the absolute base of success to the whole Android platform. The presentation with GoogleIO was a good first step but for me it was nto [sic] enough.

Other developers chimed in to express their dissatisfaction, too. One developer claims he’s only going to wait until the end of July, then he’s switching to iPhone or Windows Mobile. Another says the developer community is falling apart, calling them “Google roadkill.” A third notes that by the time a new SDK ships, many of the developers will have already released software on the iPhone platform, noting that it’s “a platform with 20+ million users versus ZERO user install base for Android.  It’s not a hard decision to make after all.  Hopefully someone wakes up sooner than later.”

Google’s Android Engineers Are Frustrated, Too

Among the 37 responses, a Google Engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru spoke up. Although he makes it clear that he’s not the official spokesperson for Android, he does try to address some of the issues while also expressing some frustrations from the engineering team’s side of the fence, too. In fact, reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like some of the engineers aren’t happy with the decisions being made, either.

His post reads, in part (see the full version here):

I’m going to get into trouble for this post…

There is some truth however in saying that we (the Google Android team) are very much focusing on playing our part in getting an Android device on the shelves as soon as we possibly can, and that focus comes at the expense of other tasks, like getting an SDK out.

There’ve [sic] been quite a few long threads recently in various groups(this thread, along with one in android-developers and one in android-internals) around the issue of communication from Google. I’m sure that many of the people who participated in those threads get the feeling that their comments fell on deaf ears, whereas in fact that’s not true. Quite a few members of the Google Android team read those groups (and we also read a number of community web sites), and (quite a bit by definition) we are the ones who do care about the community. Many of us have played roles in various developer communities in the past, very often on both sides of the fence, and in more ways that one we understand the situation that the developer community is in right now and we share the pain. So, while those posts aren’t falling on deaf ears, they’re typically falling in the wide-open ears of people whose hands are tied and whose mouths are gagged, and the frustration that such posts create in the Android team might in fact be larger than the relief that gets created in the community.

I’m afraid that none of all that I just wrote brings any closure in terms of communication. That’s all because it’s not my role to communicate the “big picture” answers that people would like to hear. The Google Android people who read the groups hear you, we understand your pain, we communicate it back up to our management, we’re not happy about the situation either, we’d love more openness too. And, just like anybody else, we don’t like to read implications that we’re lazy, or that we’re liars, or that we don’t care about you, or any of the other nasty things that have been written or implied about us, because none of that it true.

The full post is much longer and is followed up by a second post where Queru says that he’s not about to say anything concrete about the ship date for the next SDK.

Wow. What on earth is going on over there with Android?

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