Google opens up Android development, expands app billing options

Jason AnkenyAndroid keeps attracting admirers: Google activates two new Android-based devices every second, and the mobile OS now represents 13.0 percent of the U.S. smartphone market. But perhaps no one is a bigger Android fan than Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha--speaking Saturday at the Fortune Tech Brainstorm conference, Jha credited Android with turning around the handset maker's business, and predicted the OS will power the majority of mobile device shipments over the next five years. Jha even said Android could eventually eclipse Apple's pacesetting iPhone. He did admit to one major difference of opinion, however--according to Jha, Google wants improved Android standardization as well as support for a broad environment, while Motorola wants to differentiate its devices.

Manufacturer and operator differentiation is at the core of an escalating debate over Android bloatware, with consumers voicing their displeasure over a growing number of preloaded third-party applications and trial software that cannot be deleted from their phones. According to Wired, overstuffed Android devices include the new Samsung Vibrant (which ships with mobile television service MobiTV, WiFi solution GoGo Inflight and Electronic Arts' The Sims 3), the Motorola Backflip (including location-based solution Where and Yellow Pages app YPMobile) and the HTC Evo (featuring Sprint TV and Sprint Football). "It's different from phone to phone and operator to operator," said HTC spokesman Keith Nowak. "But in general, the apps are put there to meet the operator's business and revenue needs." According to a Samsung representative, the preloaded applications "highlight the key features and performance" of the Vibrant--operator partner T-Mobile USA adds the apps exist to showcase the phone's processor and display.

Google's relationship with its OEM partners also plays a role in its recent decision to update Android's Native Development Kit, making contributed code available via the OS's public tree in an effort to allow manufacturers and developers new insight into the platform's growth. Google will nevertheless keep a lid on unreleased versions of Android--The Register reports that the company wants to maintain a competitive advantage while also preventing the possibility an OEM could ship an Android smartphone with unfinished source code, a scenario that almost played out when an unnamed device maker wanted to begin shipping handsets running a then-unreleased Android 1.5. "There's no reason not to be in the open. We do have specific reasons for why some things we do we keep internal, because we compete with other companies in the electronics space," Android open source and compatibility program manager Dan Morrill explained, adding that code submission rates for the current Android Froyo release are 150 percent higher than for its predecessor Éclair. Morrill also notes that 40 companies are now official Android contributors. 

Another significant Android change: Google updated the terms of its Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement in advance of introducing new application payment mechanisms, strongly hinting it will expand the storefront's operator billing options. Writing on the Android Developers Blog, Android developer advocate Tim Bray states the DDA changes impact Section 13.1, adding "authorized carriers" as an indemnified party, as well as the new Section 13.2, which covers indemnity for payment processors for claims related to tax accrual. The updated DDA "is in preparation for some work we're doing on introducing new payment options, which we think developers will like," Bray writes. Any move that simplifies the application purchase process is bound to find favor among the developer community--it's no wonder Android's list of admirers keeps growing. -Jason