Droid's debut galvanizes Android app development

What a difference a device makes. With Verizon Wireless scheduled to introduce its first Android smartphone, the Motorola Droid, on Nov. 6, Android application development is exploding--project starts increased 94 percent between September and October according to mobile in-application analytics provider Flurry, a leap attributed to the Droid's pending launch. "Flurry market data shows that Android continues to gain interest from application developers, and that iPhone is no longer the only game in town," said Flurry president and chief officer Simon Khalaf in a prepared statement. "Developers who used to develop only for iPhone are now adding Android applications to their lineup in record numbers."

The Droid also brings with it the Android 2.0 SDK, which promises a host of enhancements for developers and users alike. The updated SDK--available for download here--introduces new APIs for sync and Bluetooth. "Using the new sync, account manager and contacts APIs, you can write applications to enable users to sync their devices to various contact sources," writes Android SDK tech lead Xavier Ducrohet on the Android Developers Blog. "With the new Bluetooth API, you can now easily add peer-to-peer connectivity or gaming to your applications."

Major user additions to Android 2.0 include Quick Contact, which provides instant access to a contact's information and communication modes--for example, users can tap a photo and select whether to call, text or email the individual in question. Other applications like Email, Messaging and Calendar can also reveal the Quick Contact widget upon touching a contact photo or status icon. Android 2.0 additionally boasts support for Exchange, a combined inbox to browse email from multiple accounts in one page and search functionality for all saved SMS and MMS messages. The software upgrade also boosts camera functionality, introducing built-in flash support, digital zoom, scene mode and related visual effects. An improved keyboard promises to simplify text input and improve typing speed, while the framework's multi-touch support guarantees key presses aren't missed during two-finger typing sessions.

Perhaps the most significant browser enhancement in Android 2.0 arrives via support for HTML5, which enables browser-based applications to behave more like native apps. Speaking in February at Mobile World Congress 2009 in Barcelona, Google vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra trumpeted HTML5 as one of the cornerstones of the modern, cutting-edge mobile browser. Gundotra also emphasized the value of application cache support for offline use and geolocation API support, both featured in Android 2.0 as well. The update also adds a refreshed UI with actionable browser URL bar, enabling users to directly tap the address bar for instant searches and navigation, as well as bookmarks with web page thumbnails and support for double-tap zoom.

Not all developers are eagerly awaiting the Droid's debut, however. Last week Google confirmed the launch of Google Maps Navigation (Beta), a free turn-by-turn navigation app premiering in conjunction with Android 2.0. According to Google, the mobile app boasts all the familiar bells and whistles of premium GPS-based navigation systems, like 3D views, voice guidance and automatic re-routing, but was built to take advantage of smartphones' constant connection to the web, enabling features like real-time traffic views, street and satellite views, updated maps and business data. "Obviously, we like the price of free and consumers like that as well," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said during a preview of the service, adding the company can figure out how to make money from the product later. If the application is a hit, rival navigation software developers earning revenue via subscription-based solutions may find themselves forced to devise new business models as well. -Jason