Here, there, but not everywhere

Last weekend I got the Android 2.2 update to my HTC Desire.

First, let’s run through all the good things with that experience;

  • It was automatically pushed but still asked whether I wanted it or not. It also asked over which type of connection I wanted to download it to avoid me getting ripped off by mobile data rates, should I not be on an unlimited subscription.
  • Installation was fast, automatic reboot, all settings remained and data was kept

Key point: I got new features and capabilities (without paying any more than the data transfer). The most interesting seemed to be Google’s Voice Actions application. I.e. an application that enables me to control my phone by audio commands. I truly believe such technologies will be a key and ubiquitous feature in all devices in coming years.

When I got to the office Monday morning some other things became apparent;

  • I was the only one in the office with an Android device that had been prompted to be, and been, updated to 2.2. All others were on 2.1 or even 1.6 versions (We have two HTC Desire, two HTC Hero, one Xperia X10Mini and two Xperia X10)
  • Google’s Voice Actions application only works on the 2.2 version
  • Actually, it didn’t really “work” for me on the 2.2. version either. Voice Actions only work for English language. That ruled out about 90% of my contact list for email, sms and phone calls. The navigation add on to maps isn’t supported for Sweden so that feature didn’t work either. I was able to make Google searches pretty accurately if I used English queries.

I think the above points from my micro cosmos nicely summarize what the key hurdles are to leap in Google’s Android strategy:

  • Ensuring backwards and/or forwards compatibility for applications in a device base that is already diverging between versions
  • Ensuring developers make the decision to develop applications for the existing device base and not just for coming versions. Additionally, ensuring enough attraction for these developers given that the platform(s) have varying amount of addressable users, now and in the future
  • Competing with the complete end to end packaging and usability of iPhone, that has full control of Hardware, OS, UI and I/O method

With this divergence in the making, I believe that Google just might have to step back from the “Beta version” strategy and take a stronger coordinating role in how they distribute and develop applications for the device base and on how the Android versions are rolled out. Otherwise, a backlash may be imminent.

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