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The Open vs Closed Story, Updated June 9, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

I’m at the Better Software/Agile West conference in Las Vegas (and I don’t gamble) this week, and sat in on Julian Harty’s talk on mobile device development.

(I passed on a Martin Fowler keynote to hear Julian. I’ve heard both speak – both are excellent, and really wanted to stay for Martin, but I thought that Julian’s talk would be more practical for me)

While he talked about a number of mobile hardware/OS platforms, he saved most of the discussion for iOS and Android, which makes sense, as that is where the buzz is right now.

 He noted that Android is the only OS around where every single component can be replaced with an alternative. He also explained the process of getting an iOS app approved for the Apple AppStore.

Perhaps smartphone operating systems illustrate the point in my previous post more succinctly. Apple doesn’t let users or developers replace a single hardware or software component on an iPhone (including the battery). It lets you sell apps only in one place, and requires developers to write those apps in a single language (Objective C), and submit app, source code, screen shots, and other documentation to Apple for approval to put up in the AppStore.

By contrast, you can write Android apps in Java, C, and C++ (and probably others by now), and sell them or give them away just about anywhere. The user experience varies (but is in general pretty good), because there are so many different implementations.

The users might be confused, however, because as Julian pointed out, there are between 500 and 1000 different Android smartphones and other devices (my Nook, for example).

Product developers and software developers love this flexibility. iOS and the iPhone is a pain in the butt for developers, on a number of levels. But because the user experience is so great, developers want to write apps for it.

Android is somewhat easier for developers, especially from the customization standpoint. Users only see a pain if they happen to choose a poor implementation, but in general the user experience is at least good enough.

I’m not passing judgment; both models work. But I will argue that that iPhone model wouldn’t work without alternatives, because there is no such thing as one size fits all in any consumer market.

I’ll also say that Julian said that he wouldn’t go anywhere without his Blackberry (my current choice of smartphone). The network is so mature that it just works everywhere, especially for email.


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