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Droids - everywhere! Is Apple really even in the game any more?

I ain't drinking the Kool Aid, but I can't avoid swimming in it

DroidCon 14 Reg bad-boy Dom Connor was walking the halls at DroidCon recently - this is what he saw ...


Flyver was among the exhibitors at DroidCon 2014, where it unveiled an API that works with your Android phone to control a drone.

It's also selling a bundle of sensors, battery and processor that's light and cheap enough to be shoved into the drone and programmed to do inspections, surveying or use a Follow Me face recognition app to keep up with you – although we can see applications for stalking.

Wearables which are actually wearable

Although Apple says its wearables are coming, the vastly more diverse Android ecosystem is throwing up watches, body monitors and several types of glassware, not just the Google kind, with Sony bordering upon smugness about the superiority of its own - even though, unlike Google, they won’t let me actually code for it any time soon.

Security: Apparently NOT a Dirty Word

Android developers seem to be taking security more seriously, which made James Sanderson’s talk one of the most popular at the event, although it was scary in its own way. As developers, we are letting users down by not even doing the basics like validating SSL certificates, he said, and asked whether Android developers really still needed to be told about SQL injection in 2014.

We have the paradox of more secure platforms in a more hostile environment. Android devs may have edged past iPaddies as the cool kids but they’re no better than their C#, VB or C++ brethren – even if Java means fewer buffer overflow attacks. At least the 'droid devs know they need to start thinking about security.

Another sign of maturity is in the toolset. The best thing that can be said about Google’s emulators is that they are free, so we are now getting third-party products like Genymotion which aren’t as slow and emulate things like sensors.

Microsoft Azure: Why?

Like the hand of a corpse grabbing your ankle as you dance on their grave, Microsoft turned up: to pitch Azure as a back end. Android devs are front enders, sometimes gloriously so, and dread having to do all the dull crap like provisioning servers, failover and integration with OAuth or any other authentication service. So, for a fee the Vole will rent you processing and data centre grade database processing that scales with your user base. With most startups not having a clue how many users they'll actually get, few want to invest in a server farm even if they knew how to run one.

Someone’s Watching You watching them

The Eye Tribe showed me easily the ugliest addon to your Android that tracks your eyes by bouncing infra red off them; which is entirely safe, honest. Their hope is that you never buy their 6 inch protrusion: they just want to show that a simple infrared LED built into your device is both feasible and desirable - though at present it does seem to want you to keep your head still and move your eyes which is a bit of an ask.

Escape Plan

In the O/S wars of the 80s and 90s there was a profusion of multi platform development environments to hedge your bets on who would win and save development time and money by writing to one API - which would have been good if using the toolset didn’t feel like being on the wrong end of demonic revenge.

Even though I’m the Windows Phone user, I accept that the fight between Apple and Android is far from over, so we see things like MyAppConverter that breaks the back of porting your code between the two dominant mobile platforms. The process is made less awful by looking at the semantic intent of your code, which would be a big ask if it taking any other language other than Java, where the stylised boilerplate nature of so much code makes automatic analysis a lot easier - but even then you’re going to need to work with the output, which is C++. That’s a brave decision, Java devs are easily frightened by pointers and other Real Programming techniques, but it does mean you get to tweak the code to get away from the “lowest common denominator” effect when you cross platforms.

Hudl Up

At the time of writing Tesco hadn’t actually been shut down by armed agents of the Serious Fraud Office, so the Hudl 2 was up for grabs and although less sexy than the Samsungs et al it shows why we’re looking at Android seriously outnumbering Apple. Novoda’s customised setup that “guides” you towards the UK retail giant’s offerings is a lot more attractive than Amazon’s heavy handed leverage towards what's more like a walled back yard than walled garden.

It's not just where the Cool Kids are, it's where all the kids are

The bottom line is that the future is in the numbers. This has just been the shiny things I found wandering around DroidCon: the real message is the body count of developers who paid up to pitch up and listen to the talks and explain to me what was going on. That's over 1200 geeks, putting Apple’s reach in harsh perspective. As Novoda’s CEO Kevin McDonagh says, contributing to projects and saying useful things in online tech chats is a better way forward here than a better CV. ®

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