Developers hold the Ice Cream Sandwich

The latest release of Google Inc.’s mobile operating system unifies the table and handset platform into a single flexible environment, which ought to appeal to application developers.

However, the leader programmer at Winnipeg’s IndigoRose Software says developers will likely hold off on writing new apps for Android 4.0 because so many devices on the market are running older versions of the OS.

“You have to wait for a large user base for it,” Mark Mruss said. “Initially it will be a very small number of phones that will support it.”

The features of Android 4.0 – dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich by Google – are appealing, he said, but it might take a while before developers can justify spending tie researching and using them.

IndigoRose Software created Andromo, a solution that, according to its homepage, allows anyone to make an Android app.

Mruss, like other Android developers, has been wowed by some of the GUI updates, the backend work and the unified OS approach. Because of Android’s open platform, however, and the amount of handsets it’s used on, they have to wait out a length adoption period. “You have to wait for certain OS’s to get to each phone.”

Michael Battista, research analyst at the London-Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Inc., thinks this may have impacted how many truly new features Google ended up putting into ICS. “From what I’ve seen, there aren’t any mind-blowing new features that developers will rush to incorporate,” he said.

“However, that may be a good thing. Fragmentation, and the perception of fragmentation, are some of Android’s biggest issues. If Ice Cream Sandwich introduced new features that only worked on some hardware and for some people able to update the OS, it could be a nightmare for developers wanting to reach a wide audience.”

Mruss said this isn’t a problem with iPhones. “Apple releases an update and it’s pushed to every device,” he said. From then on out, developers can utilize all the new features without worry of fracturing its user base. He said the problem with Android is there’s no incentive for handset makers to force, or even allow for OS upgrades. “After you’ve already paid for the phone, what money do they get from you to upgrade the OS?” he said.

Battista agreed with Mruss. “I think Apple is in a much better position by keeping OS upgrades far away from the carriers,” he said. “There is a clear advantage in being able to write or update an app with all the latest features, then tell users to go upgrade to take advantage of them without worrying that only a fraction of users will be able to.”

He believes this is the way all platform makers will do things from now on. “We’ll see even more of this in the future,” he said. “Windows 8 will merge mobile devices with laptops and desktops and Apple is already tentatively smooshing iOS and OSX together. After their mobile OS is unified, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google [Nasdaq: GOOG]  preparing to replace Chrome OS with Ice Cream Sandwich’s successor.”

The pain point now, for Android in particular, is that getting a new OS ready to deliver to an old phone costs money and time, money and time that handset makers won’t get back without selling you another handset.

In fact, Mruss said that he’s more concerned with making his tools backwards compatible at this point. “You have a lot of people (still) using 2.1 or 2.2 and since they’re over 50 per cent of the user base, you still have to support,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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