Gear the Web on mobiles

android on dwm

Update (3/3/2008): We’re also working to bring Google Gears for mobile to Android and other mobile platforms with capable web browsers.

Here is my writeup of yesterdays Android Code Day in London.

Eclipse 3.3 is needed to get the plugin working. Only eclipse 3.2 is in Debian unstable. Download the Europa release and re-setting up the plugin will do it. I’m no Eclipse fan boy, though the integrated debugger works. The iteration cycles are really short for trying stuff out. Very good.

Developers, mainly from a Symbian background grilled Jason Chen over security and wanting C API access. Lot of people didn’t seem to like the idea that users were controlling security. I like Google’s “empowering the users” stance, though I think representatives from operators don’t. I heard that poor argument about users asking their operators for android support. Jason argued well that it’s up to user education to contact the right people. When a computer crashes in the UK, who do people call? VirginMedia? Please! :) How about Breakpad crash reporting on Android?. Jason used the OHA to defend Google from looking like they have all the political power… Hmmmm. :)

I can understand the tight rope that Google are walking. They are trying not to fragment their platform before it’s properly released. OEMs, operators will feck it up if they have the chance to play with the source code before a Google co-ordinated release. Once they release Google claim they will release everything under the Apache 2 license. So I asked could we see Android on desktops? Jason said there is nothing stopping you. I hope not. Their opened fonts and multimedia codecs on desktop PCs could really make a big difference for Linux take up, especially in Asian (growth) markets. I have studied and implemented Asian fonts and Android’s font rendering even on that nightmare Website sina looked good to me.

Despite the “Symbian developers” giving Jason hell in the beginning I had impression they actually liked Android. It fealt almost staged. Scary. Symbian C++ programmers learning Java and jumping ship!

Same old problems with images. People are concerned about how bitmap images will scale on different target screens. There is four ‘skins’ already supported in the emulator (QVGA-L+P, HVGA-L+P). We need scalable images too on the Web. ;) Though there are some workarounds demonstrated which seemed OK to me.

During the hackathon, I wanted to write a backup/sync tool. Since only Jason Chen seemed to know Android and there was a filled audience, I didn’t get to ask him how really to go about coding it. Though with the help of Dave from Zyb, we eventually found out about content providers. Took some debugging to find that out, but we got there. Having a working debugger is really really nice. We discovered we needed “android.permission.READ_CONTACTS” in the manifest to make our little application that read out the contact on stdout. Cool, though I’d rather use Javascript and the Web stack. Anyway, Android seemed like a good platform, but I have concerns.

My biggest concern is basically where is Google Gears on Android? Jason could neither confirm or deny this, so perhaps they have it. Though gears is an opensource project and you can see code reviews… no Android mentioned.

What happens if the Android platform is wildly successful? Then we are going to see two major platforms. The Android platform on mobiles and the Web platform on everything else. I worryingly saw no support for Web application device APIs on Android. Encouraging people to write for their Android/java-esque platform undermines their main Web platform! It’s like Microsoft’s mistake of undermining their own platform all over again.

From Android you can use Webkit and the Web stack. But from the Web API stack you can’t seemingly access their Dalvik VM APIs. I disclose I am an employee of Aplix (opinions etc. are my own), also a OHA member. I am actively working on a plugin technology that exposes APIs as familiar JS APIs to Web developers. I have already done a proof of concept implementation of Google Gear’s Location API on mobile devices with Aplix technologies.

Google you should really do the same and make Web applications equal citizens on your mobile platform by implementing Gears on Android (if you haven’t already).

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