You may be seeing a lot of information on TV, the web and at local cellular phone providers on the up and coming platform, Android. What is Android, specifically? What are some of the differences between it and other smartphone platforms like iOS? The news that the operating system powered a third of all smartphones sold from April to June, 2010 has reaffirmed that Android is a platform that cannot be ignored. Google reports that “160,000 Android phones had been activated each day during the second quarter, up from 65,000 in the first quarter.”
Aside from its boom in popularity, there are not a whole lot of specific technical features that give Android devices an edge over the iPhone concerning mobile learning development. Both of these platforms offer excellent hardware options, great stable OSes and amazing connectivity capabilities. Where the Android platform does excel is getting applications out to market and allowing more developers to join the party. How does the platform do this and how does this impact mobile learning? Consider the following:
First, Apple charges $99 dollars per year to distribute apps to its App Store and then takes 30% of any revenue from all app sales. Apple does not allow any other wide distribution options outside of the App Store. While this does simplify the process of finding and installing apps and offers tight App Store and iTunes integration, it does mean that Apple is the gatekeeper for iPhone application distribution. Currently, the only approved method of compiling iPhone applications involves using XCode, an Apple application only available on the Mac OSX operating system. While this application is technically free, running this development environment does require purchasing a Mac. There is no such requirement for producing Android applications. Also, the sentiment from many developers is that the provisioning, certifying, and overall process of app distribution is cumbersome and also involves waiting to see if apps meet Apple’s approval which can be an undefined amount of time. Android apps can be distributed with no approval from Google or any other entity and cost nothing additional to develop. The cost to publish to the marketplace is $25 with 30% going to Google on app sales (identical to Apple’s take), but you do have other wide reaching distribution options, since you are not technically required to use the marketplace to distribute your apps to Android users.
Second, Android is making it easier for more applications to get into consumers hands by further opening up the options for development toolsets beyond their native Android OS SDK. With the release of Android 2.2 (Froyo) comes the Adobe Flash Player 10.1, which will allow Flash developers to produce content for Android in the form of rich web apps, games and more using optimized Flash content. Another Adobe product AIR for Android, currently in a beta release, offers the ability to publish ActionScript and Flash applications directly to an Android apk file. This published file, in conjunction with a single download of an Adobe Air runtime, will allow AIR applications to run directly on the Android device. These Adobe tools are already in the hands of a lot of learning content producers, so there may be some easy ways to bring your eLearning developers along for the ride. This could be a major savings over typically more expensive development houses or toolkits.
In addition to Adobe easing application development by opening up programming language options on the Android OS, Google has also announced its upcoming App Inventor which will allow more people to develop applications with less platform specific knowledge about Android and its development tools. App Inventor offers a graphical, drag and drop web interface and the use of coding “blocks” to make development more available to people who may not know any code but have some great ideas for an application. This style of building applications should be very familiar to eLearning developers comfortable with rapid development tools like Authorware, Lectora Publisher, Articulate or others.
Using these tools and processes, more developers can try their hand at Android development. This in turn offers more options to consumers and learners. More options, even options that turn out to be not so good, allow developers to learn what works for users and what does not. The development community can act as a collective Thomas Edison. “If [we] find 10,000 ways something won’t work, [we] haven’t failed. [we are] not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” We can with each iteration of an application do what Edison did with the light bulb, make it more viable to the public and more usable for the average user. We can build on the ideas of those before us and around us to make a better product. This ultimately makes it both easier and more enjoyable to use our mobile devices.
While Android may not be the next electric light bulb, it is a prominent mobile platform offering advantages in the mobile learning space.
Erik is a Float Mobile Developer with a B.S. in Computer Science (University of Illinois Springfield) and Education (Illinois State University). Before working for Float, he created many community driven websites and online applications, as well as built interactive learning experiences. Erik has developed educational interactives for The Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum and The Adler Planetarium and has built and maintained customized content management systems for colleges, rapid eLearning companies, and real estate groups. Erik focuses on clean and creative development practices to build engaging experiences.
Erik's personal development blog is at electricpineapple.net