Google made a critical faux pas July 14 when it sent out a new Android software development kit to only the 50 winners of the Android Developer Challenge. How very un-open source of it.
But Google might have even erred more greatly in responding to the issue, as a spokesperson told me July 18: "The ADC finalists are helping us test the latest version of the SDK before we release it to the world in the coming weeks."
Er, okay. So, the entrants aren't qualified to test the SDK? Is that okay with programmers working feverishly on Android application development? I shouldn't think so.
Here on a Google Android Group thread is the SDK 84853 e-mail, which was sent to all ADC entrants-and not just the finalists-by mistake, according to Android Developer Advocate David McLaughlin.
As Geek.com noted, "Fifty developers have access to it while everyone else is left using the last version released in March this year."
Indeed, the move sparked angry outcries from left-out Android programmers, some of whom threatened to move over to write applications for the iPhone. Wrote programmer Shane Isbell:
"Sadly, if Google said they were to release the SDK tomorrow, I just wouldn't care anymore. Google is closed; Google is the status quo in mobile; Google is not really even a leader anymore, they are following Apple. What's really changed? Another mobile platform? More fragmented market? The carriers get a free operating system built on the hard work of the open-source community."
Others rationally torched Google for what this really was: a communication breakdown. Programmer Plusminus started a petition to call for Google to disclose the development process for the SDK.
The gaffe couldn't come at a worse time for Android, which Google hopes to make the de facto mobile operating system as it seeks to grab more mind share and market share for mobile Web applications.
Yet Apple is cruising, selling millions of iPhones. Apple's iPhone 3G launched July 11 to great fanfare and hundreds of new native and Web mobile apps.
There won't even be an Android-based phone until late in 2008, and if the company keeps treating its programmers this way, there won't be an Android phone at all until next year. How far along will the iPhone be then?
To be fair, the Google spokesperson hadn't spoken to Google Android chief Andy Rubin about how to respond to this yet, but the spokesperson said she was trying "to get more information and answer some of the questions that are coming up."
Is it too late? What can, or will, Google do to assuage programmers' pains? In short, give them the darn SDK.
I asked Enderle Group's Rob Enderle if this move was just bad for public relations, or also a symptom of a larger gulf of understanding between Google's Android developer advocates and the programmers. Here's his take:
"A bit of both. Google isn't yet used to working with developers and seems to be using the braille method (feeling their way as they go), which typically doesn't work well. Android was hot as the next big thing but has recently been eclipsed by the iPhone and developers will always prefer a real market to one that doesn't yet exist. Google is at real risk of losing most of their developers over the combination of this gaffe and Apple both getting their solution first and getting it reasonably right."
I agree with Enderle. Google had best clean up its Android act before it loses its act. It doesn't need to have a lot of negative energy brewing and perception problems before Android even finds its way onto phones.
Google needs to disclose its Android development practices in keeping with open-source tradition.