Android's Jelly Bean Entices Developers
Bangalore: Google at its annual I/O developer conference in San Francisco debuted its Android version 4.1, also called Jelly Bean. It also introduced innovative Google-branded devices that will use the Android OS apart from enhancing the Google Play storefront to expand the reach and influence of the Android ecosystem.
The combined effect of all of this is more opportunities for developers, who must now evaluate the various new options and determine if, how and when to incorporate them into their app development strategies.
Google's Android OS also leads the market in terms of developer "mindshare." The research firm VisionMobile found in a recent developer survey that 76 percent of developers have adopted the Android operating system, compared to 66 percent for Apple's iOS. But competition for developers' time and attention is increasing.
Jelly Bean is now available for developer use
Jelly Bean is now available to developers via an SDK. The OS update offers some notable incremental improvements to Android, including a much smoother and faster user interface and a search and personal assistant service, called Google Now, which is intended to compete against Apple's Siri. Other enhancements include a more versatile and enriched notification feature, the ability to resize widgets, new encryption capabilities for paid apps to reduce risk of piracy, and more efficient tools for updating apps that are already available in the Google Play store.
Google said that Jelly Bean will appear first on the market in its new Nexus 7 tablet, which it announced at the event. The tablet, manufactured by Asus and co-branded by Google, will ship in mid-July with the OS pre-installed. Google said the Jelly Bean update will be distributed over-the-air to Galaxy Nexus, Motorola Xoom and Nexus S devices around that time.
But Jelly Bean's take-up on other devices will be needed to really drive developer adoption of the technology. So far, the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) update announced last year has only made it to about 7 percent of Android devices, further fragmenting the market for Android apps.
Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research, expressed disappointment over Google's inability to solve this problem, which he says has been caused by a failure of carriers and manufacturers to push out the new OS versions to their devices as well as the lack of adoption by users.
Google, he said, has not "addressed the continuing and growing fragmentation problem where few devices are updated to the current OS."
New Google-branded devices: the Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q media hub
Google introduced two Google-branded devices that it will begin selling this summer: the Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q media hub for music and video streaming in the home.
Google especially needs the Nexus 7 to become a compelling Android tablet that will inspire Android developers to target the tablet form factor and market for their apps.
More than 50 percent of developers are now targeting tablets today, according to VisionMobile, because tablet apps can generate more revenue than smartphone apps. But so far, iOS developers are more likely than Android developers to create tablet apps, the firm found.
Forrester's Gillett noted that Google's user base for music, books and movies that can be delivered to tablets is not as strong as the end user markets that Apple and Amazon have for these types of content. He said Google will need time to build a strong customer base and it needs to make up for the lack of "compelling tablet-optimized apps."
"Google has yet to address how to motivate developers to fill the gap," Gillet said.
Broadening the offerings in Google Play
Google is working to beef up and extend the reach of Google Play, and the storefront factored into many of its announcements. The company announced, for example, that the storefront now supports digital movie purchases and will sell television show episodes and full series. Google Play will also sell magazines.
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