The biggest obstacles facing Google’s Android

Google Inc. has removed the Bluetooth application programming interface (API) from the first version of its mobile phone OS, Android 1.0. And while analysts agree the move is surprising, it could just be the first of many disappointments for those looking forward to the initial batch of Android-based phones.

In a blog posting earlier this week, Android engineers cited time constraints as the primary reason the Bluetooth API was scrapped. Nick Pelly, the Android engineer in charge of the Bluetooth API, said the software developer’s kit (SDK) would not include Bluetooth capabilities until the company was able to settle on an API interface that would “future proof” the Bluetooth app.

“The Android Bluetooth API was pretty far along, but needs some clean-up before we can commit to it for the SDK,” he wrote in blog post. “Keep in mind that putting it in the 1.0 SDK would have locked us into that API for years to come.”

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Despite the lack of support for developers though, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant confirmed that Android 1.0 will offer support Bluetooth headsets. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney called the absence of a Bluetooth API a serious omission, but said Android’s partial support for headsets would alleviate some concerns.

“That is all that’s really required,” Dulaney said. “While the other profiles would be nice, having headset support was essential.”

According to Dulaney, one of the major side effects of the missing Bluetooth API – and of the open source platform in general – is that the Android-based handhelds will suffer from serious fragmentation across the various vendors using the platform. The open source SDK, he said, means that handheld makers will create their own different Bluetooth capabilities, and as a result, complicate the development process.

“That means Android won’t be one flavor, it will be many, making it more difficult for software developers to write [code] once and run it everywhere,” Dulaney added.

Besides Bluetooth connectivity, Google will also have to work out other key issues that are often found in first generation handheld devices. Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst based in Northborough, Mass., said the usability of the platform’s Web browser as well as its ability to sync up with Exchange will be crucial to Android’s success.

“The whole notion of how secure the phone will be is also important,” he said. “Is it encrypted? Can it be locked down?”

Gold said that even though the phone is initially going to be targeted at the consumer crowd, the OS will need to demonstrate its applicability to the enterprise environment.

“Consumers are also enterprise users these days, so if you’re building a high-end feature phone you better be able to make it fit into an enterprise environment,” he said. “It’ll be about both manageability and security.”

Whether or not Android will address these issues remains to be seen, as Google has kept many of the specifics around the platform under wraps. The secrecy has even put off some of Android’s development community, which has questioned Google’s commitment to open standards.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, said that as long as Google is working to create a highly useable and reliable mobile operating system, keeping Android close to its vest is a wise move.

“Remember a while back that Apple didn’t actually open up the iPhone to developers during the first year,” he said. “The phone’s got to work as a phone first, because if it breaks or is unreliable, then you might not get a second chance.”

He added, “Everything hinges on the finished product with Google’s Android. Nothing that Apple did on the iPhone mattered until people could buy the phone.”

But despite the rumours and hype, Dulaney reminded users that operating systems are the most difficult lines of code to write of any software product out there and advised potential buyers to be patient with the first generation Android devices.

“There will be things missing from Android that you would expect from a mature operating system,” he said. “I think it’s going to take the traditional two or three years to mature. That’s true with any operating system starting out today.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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