Starbucks exec: Android apps often ‘watered down’

“Starbucks’ mobile lead KC MacLaren chose an interview Monday to criticize Android development,” Electronista reports. “Although a Starbucks app was coming and wasn’t affected by the issues, he saw some developers facing a ‘watered down experience.’ Many ended up with a lowest common denominator app where, to serve the most possible devices, they had to cut down on the features they could offer, GeekWire was told.”

Electronista reports, “‘They can’t deliver a consistent [experience],’ MacLaren said of Android developers. ‘If they are using a lot of native device elements — like the accelerometer and the camera and gyroscope and all of the different pieces of the hardware — those are handled very differently on different devices. So, if you needed that, you might not be able to deliver that in a great way. You might have to take that feature out, for example.'”

“Android’s development kit was also in a rougher state,” Electronista reports. “Google was catching up, but it was ‘a year behind’ where Apple was, MacLaren said.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Google loves to characterize Android as “open” and iOS and iPhone as “closed.” We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches. The first thing most of us think about when we heard the word “open” is Windows, which is available on a variety of devices. Unlike Windows, however, where most PCs have the same user interface and run the same apps, Android is very fragmented. Many Android OEMs including the two largest, HTC and Motorola, install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The user is left to figure it all out.”

Compare this with iPhone, where every handset works the same. Twitter client, TwitterDeck, recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations presents developers with a daunting challenge. Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets running selected Android versions. And this is for handsets that have been shipped less than 12 months ago. Compare this with iPhone, where there are two versions of the software, the current and the most recent predecessor to test against.

In addition to Google’s own app marketplace, Amazon, Verizon, and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android. So, there will be at least four app stores on Android, which customers must search among to find the app they want and developers will need to work with to distribute their apps and get paid.

This is going to be a mess for both users and developers.

Contrast this with Apple’s integrated App Store which offers users the easiest to use, largest App Store in the world, preloaded on every iPhone. Apple’s App Store has over three times as many apps as Google’s marketplace and offers developers one-stop shopping to get their apps to market easily and to get paid swiftly.

You know, even if Google were right and the real issue is ‘closed’ versus ‘open,’ it is worthwhile to remember that ‘open’ systems don’t always win. Take Microsoft’s “PlaysForSure” music strategy which used the PC model, which Android uses as well, of separating the software components from the hardware components. Even Microsoft finally abandoned this “open” strategy in favor of copying Apple’s integrated approach with their Zune player; unfortunately leaving with OEMs empty-handed in the process. Goolge flirted with this integrated approach with their Nexus One phone.

In reality, we think the ‘open’ vs. ‘closed’ argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue which is: What’s best for the customer? Fragmented versus integrated. We think Android is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day. And, as you know, Apple strives for the integrated model so the user isn’t forced to be the systems integrator. We see tremendous value in having Apple, rather than our users, be the systems integrator.

We think this is a huge strength of our approach compared to Google’s. When selling to users who want their devices to just work, we believe integrated will trump fragmented every time. And we also think our developers can be more innovative if they can target a singular platform, rather than a hundred variants. They can put their time into innovative new features, rather than testing on hundreds of different handsets. So we are very committed to the integrated approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as ‘closed,’ and we are confident that it’ll triumph over Google’s fragmented approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as “open.”Apple CEO Steve Jobs, October 18, 2010

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Edward W.” for the heads up.]


  1. Google’s ‘openness’ goes only so far as repeating it over & over again ad nauseum. The truth is Google’s definition of open means you only have the ability to install software that directly benefits Google otherwise they will shut it in your face. At least Apple is not duplicitous about it.

    Ask Skyhook how open Google is to allowing third party developers to offer fair competition to their location services. It’s completely closed as far as they’re concerned as it goes directly to the heart of Google’s ability to market your location to advertisers & product placement marketers.

    That’s how crooked & bent they are.

  2. Fragmentation has been a big issue on Android.

    However MDN’s take is a bit flawed, they are going with the assumption that nothing will change going forward.

    There is a major effort to push carriers to newer android versions, and at this point really all you need to be concerned with as a developer is Froyo and Gingerbread.

    Honeycomb is likely never to be on a phone and Ice Cream sandwich is still in development.

    Anyone still stuck on a phone with 1.6 is likely about to get a new headset anyway. I wouldn’t waste the development effort there.

    Google has no issue with an application that installs and takes over the functionality of a core Android component. That is where the claim of being ‘open’ comes from. You don’t like the onscreen keyboard? You can install a different one etc.

    The issue Google has is when a handset manufacturer replaces a core Android component. This is done as much to combat ‘fragmentation’ going forward as it is to protect google’s data mining.

    Sure Google relies on people’s ‘data’ to make a living, but really if the product sucks no one will use it so they have an incentive to provide a good product to the end user. Kinda hard to mine data if everyone flees your platform because you pissed them off!

    As for handset ‘interfaces’ all of them have been UI changes. My phone runs HTC Sense and yet I have no problem using my wife’s Android phone which is running the stock Android UI on Froyo. The launching of apps, changing of settings etc. is the same on both phones, mine just has a contour to the ‘bar’ and looks ‘slicker’ to the eye.

    Sure there is a lot of work to be done, and in a lot of ways Apple has it nailed with a better experience (development wise).

    At this point google is very aware of fragmentation and is working to minimize it.

    I hope both the iPhone and Android continue for years. Seriously if these two tech titans can keep up this game for at least a decade then all of us are in store for some awesome phone and tablet operating systems!

    1. I think you are wrong. Fragmentation is only going to get worse. These droid makers have to make their device different from the others or only the cheapest piece of crap will sell. I hope Google has to quit making money by selling everything we do and makes an honest profit providing useful products. I have turned off location on my 5 iOS products, let us see how Google could live with that on droids. Not much money in free software is there?

    2. The carriers are still distributing Android 2.1 and earlier phone, often giving them away with a new contract. Of course, these phones will not be able to be updated.

      While that is happening, fragmentation will remain.

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