Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Given the announcement due tomorrow I think we’re going to be looking at consumers being able to get their hands on an Ice Cream Sandwich device before developers have had a good chance to play with an SDK, which, just like the last time this happened, is pretty disappointing.

There isn’t really anyone who wins from this because it creates a situation where consumers get their new shiny ‘phone only to find out that all the latest features are only supported by a few apps which are either preloaded (in the case of the G-apps), or they come across in Market by chance and are from a select few privileged developers.

The reason this is a problem is because the preloaded apps set a level of expectation, then, when the user downloads apps from the Market, they find that many of the apps they’ve downloaded don’t meet this expectation either via the UI or via the available features, and they become disappointed.

No user takes into account the fact that developers may not have had access to an SDK when the user bought the device, all they know is the apps they get from Market don’t gel nicely with the ones that came on their device, and so the user experience appears inconsistent and the apps are seen as being of a lower quality because they don’t make use of the latest features.

So you’ve now got users with a less than smooth user experience who are unhappy, you’ve got developers who can’t address support requests because they haven’t yet had time to get to grips with the new APIs, and you’ve got reviews and articles being published commenting on the lack of support for the latest version of Android.

Anyone see this as a good situation? The only people I can see winning in the short term are the people in the device sales chain who get to sell some devices based on the new features which aren’t actually supported by many apps. Even then, once word gets around about the UI and feature support issues, it’s only going to hurt sales in the long term, so for those folk it’s not really a seriously bankable win.

One “reason” I’ve heard is to protect innovation and ensure competitors can’t roll out new features to their OS making a new version of Android look less innovative. Well, given Apple is well know for being tighter than a ducks back-side about protecting prototypes, why do you think they feel it necessary to release an SDK months before a new OS is rolled out to consumers? As they’ve just see 4 million iPhone 4S’s sold in one 3 day period it would appear the evidence doesn’t back up this idea.

Before anyone jumps in saying “Google can still do it!!!!”, look at the iOS 5 SDK. The first beta was released on June 6th, that’s 4 months before the OS rolled out to consumers, and if Google wanted to help developers out by giving them that kind of lead time then we’d be closer to Easter than Christmas before ICS devices go out the door to consumers, and I really can’t see Samsung and the rest letting Christmas go past without having something new and shiny for you to buy your loved ones.

I just hope Google come to their senses again and start realising that third party apps are an important part of the appeal of a device to consumers (They should have got a hint from the number of articles about Honeycomb which mentioned app support), but, alas, it would appear, that at the moment it seems that developers are just expected to suck it up as the users start throwing the “Why does your app look/behave strangely on my device, and why doesn’t it use feature x?” punches.