Love the iPhone or hate the iPhone, at least you know what you’re getting out of the box is a device that will work with all the apps in the App Store. That’s been the case so far with Google’s Android platform as well — but only because there has been only one device, the G1. With more devices starting to roll out, and a new firmware (1.5, “cupcake”) to support them, things are continuing to get a bit murky.
Last week, we wrote about how the 1.5 Android software update would break some apps that previously worked with Android. Google gave some tips as to how to fix them, but it’s still a bit troubling. Today, comes another post on the Android Developer blog with two dreaded words: Backward compatibility.
As an open platform, Google isn’t requiring backward compatibility for all Android apps. But as more devices and applications come out, that could be an issue. As Google writes, “do you want to allow your application to run on all devices, or just those running newer software?” Plenty of iPhone apps answer that very question with the latter. And while you might think that may be limiting, it ensures a certain level of simplicity in the App Store — and perhaps more importantly, in developing for the iPhone.
The iPhone platform already has a massive lead in terms of applications built for it over Android. Anything, such a backwards compatibility code, that adds complexity to developing for Android is certainly not going to help. And it ties back to the fundamental difference between the iPhone and Android. iPhone, as a closed system with devices only made by Apple, can easily control the development ecosystem and important things like user experience. Android, with its more open system, will have a much harder time doing both. But because Android will be on so many more phones (and various other machines) it would seem that it will grow into the larger platform at some point.
Yes, it’s essentially the same thing that happened with Microsoft versus Apple in the PC wars of the 80s and 90s. But, as we’ve learned from that, “bigger” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.”