Google's Android team took significant technical and procedural steps Aug. 18 with the release of a beta version of the new Android 0.9 SDK and the introduction of a development road map for the Linux-based mobile operating system.
The release comes the day Engadget, VentureBeat and other blogs found schematics for the first Android-based phone, the HTC Dream, as well as the blessing by the Federal Communications Commission for the device to hit the market Nov. 10.
More significantly, the software development kit comes after a raft of controversy in July in which programmers building Android applications complained that only the 50 winners of the Android Developer Challenge contest were given the SDK beta.
Some programmers took exception to the perceived preferential treatment and vowed to take their coding skills to Apple's iPhone or some other smart phone.
This would be a difficulty for Google's Android effort as the company seeks to expand its mobile advertising and applications positions versus the iPhone and devices from Nokia, Research In Motion, Palm and Microsoft.
Other developers complained about Google's lack of transparency around Android's development timeline. This brings us full circle to today, Aug. 18. Google Android Developer Advocate Dan Morrill wrote in a blog post that the 0.9 SDK beta is the first big step on the SDK's road to compatibility with 1.0. Morrill added:
"Since this is a beta release, applications developed with it may not quite be compatible with devices running the final Android 1.0. However, the APIs are now pretty stable and we don't expect any major changes. If you're one of the many developers who were waiting for something a bit more mature, this might be a good time to take another look."
To help programmers on this yellow brick road of development, Google has published an Android development road map, which you may view here.
Google reaffirmed a bunch of release dates, including the Android 1.0 SDK release 1 availability date (third or fourth quarter of 2008), the first Android 1.0 devices available (fourth quarter) and the release of the source code in the fourth quarter.
The road map's details are sparse, but it should allay programmers' fears that the Android team, by virtue of being so secretive these last few months, was clashing with classic open-source practices of full disclosure.
As for the SDK itself, the changes are many. Morrill said it includes a new Home screen with user interface changes for 1.0, new development tools, such as a graphical preview for XML layouts for users of Eclipse, and a tool for constructing 9 Patch images.
Android advocates also removed GTalkService and the Bluetooth API for security reasons. Read about more changes here in the release notes.
Overall, programmers should be pleased by the work. The rest of us can prepare for another tidal shift in sentiment around Android.
In June, Google was besieged by negative press after the Wall Street Journal said Google and its partners would not meet their fourth-quarter deadlines for producing Android phones.
Google stoutly refuted these delay claims. A couple of weeks later, Google's Android team was perhaps justly abused for partiality around the SDK release.
In the course of one day, we learned that the HTC Dream was cleared for takeoff Nov. 10, just in time for the holiday rush, and got a look at the new Android SDK and a development road map.
That's quite a turnaround. As we roll toward the fall and Google and its Open Handset Alliance partners have to file more public documentation about Android phones, expect more reports and schematics to surface.
I'll reserve judgment until people buy these phones and begin to use them. If most people don't feel the user experience is on par with the iPhone, that's when we'll be able to begin sounding the death knell for Android.