While the iPhone continues to snub Java, Google looks to step up to the plate

When Google announced that it was working on a phone project, many fantasized that it was making a "GPhone", similar to Apple Inc.'s iPhone.  Google surprised many when it was revealed that it was instead creating a Linux-driven OS and development environment to compete with Symbian and Microsoft's mobile phone operating systems.  Google is taking the project very seriously and is offering $10M to developers and startups to develop creative software for the platform.

Google released the Android SDK with much aplomb in November, confident it would rock the industry -- it did for some extent.  The platform gained strong support from T-Mobile, HTC, Motorola, and other key industry players.  It has been opposed by Verizon and AT&T, though, who were concerned that it would undercut their proprietary.

Now a new version of the SDK is out and with it is some new improvements.  The programming interfaces and development tools have been updated to be more functional and easier to use.  Google has added a new OS user interface, which includes an OS X dock look-alike.  It has also added the capability to create layout animations for applications.  The phone now supports many more formats, including OGG.  It also includes geo-coding support and a new Eclipse plug-in.

What is really interesting is not so much the minor iterative details, but the big picture of what Google is trying to do.  With Android, Google is emphasizing not only the importance of SDKs for phone operating systems, but also the value of Java support for mobile applications.  While Java seems a natural fit for mobile applications, it was snubbed by Apple's Jobs and did not appear in the iPhone.  Jobs was quoted as saying, "
Java’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain."

However, many argue that the iPhone and iPod lineups onboard iTunes components could be much better written and full featured if they were written in Java, which was made for such cross-platform embedded scenarios.  Google is championing Java, and unlike other Java SDKs for mobile applications, is letting programmers work with the phone on a deeper native level -- a first.  It feels that by doing this it can leave less full-featured phones like the iPhone in the dust. 

One key competitor to Google will be Sun's own JavaFX Mobile SDK, which is currently under development.  Where Google basically uses its own brand of Java with “Dalvik” bytecode, Sun supports traditional Java bytecode.  This means that while Google's Android SDK can run equally deep and full featured software to Sun's offerings, there will be no working code base for it from legacy code. 

Who will win the mobile phone industry -- Android SDK with an early launch and lots of financial backing, or JavaFX Mobile SDK with its more traditional Java support -- remains to be seen.  However, it is clear that Google is very committed to pushing both mobile SDKs and Java.  Sun and Google are certainly united on one issue -- that the iPhone and various other phone maker's lack of native Java support is a glaring, and ultimately fatal, flaw.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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