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Up close and personal
The programmers I've been talking to with their sights set on Android slates have a different idea. They want to create apps that they want to use themselves and this is very difficult on the closed systems typified by iOS and Windows Phone 7.
In conversation with one prospective Android slate programmer I attempted to point out the ease of creating a Windows Phone 7 app. There was a short pause and then:
"so I pay $99 to Microsoft for a year and they let me down load my app onto my phone and two others".
When I pointed out that it was slightly worse than that as if they didn't pay the $99 the following year then the apps would stop working....
You can guess the conclusion that particular programmer came to, and they are now happily working on their Android personal app.
You might think - who cares? Such amateur night apps are not of any importance. Well I don't agree with that point of view. I think that a program written for love or personal need is probably going to be better than most and potentially game changing.
When Steve Ballmer made his famous (or infamous) keynote speech were he ranted on about
"Developers, Developers, Developers (keep iterating till you get bored)"
he really didn't get it.
Developers are important to the success of a platform but that's all developers, not just the ones working for money, i.e. the ones visible to Ballmer.
So what are the bottom line conclusions?
Smartphones and slates are compelling platforms because of their form factors, range of sensors and modes of interaction with the user. Currently the Android OS is the only one that you can simply sit down with, dash off a program and be using it within a few hours without formality or payment of up-front cash.
It is open in a way that the rest simply aren't.
What is more Windows is completely shut out of this open new world by virtual of not running on the hardware and being very unattractive if it did. Android users are very happy with what they have. (One of the promises for WIndows 8 is that it will run on ARM hardware - but this will almost certainly be too late.)
This device is not an iPad killer - but at closer to $50 than $100 there are jobs it can do that the iPad is just too expensive for.
The result is that there is a growing bandwagon of programmers who are excited about the Android phone and slate platform and for the first time in a long while there is no need to consider Windows, either as an alternative or as a compatible partner.
Even Google's Chrome OS has missed the boat because Android sailed it away from the dock a good while ago.
Of course it is possible that we are about to see a fragmentation of the infrastructure to accommodate a third layer. With servers mainly running Linux, desktop machines mostly running Windows and slates and smartphones running Android. But as time ticks on the middle layer is going to look increasingly clunky and squeezed by the other two layers.
What is the future of the desktop? I don't know but for the first time in years the grip that Windows has on the machines we most use is uncertain.
What I'm seeing at the moment are the small steps of a few pioneers. In the coming months you can expect to see a growing number of Android 3 devices - some so cheap as to be almost disposable and some more upmarket. While most of the media will be going gaga about the upmarket devices because they look stylish and are iPad alternatives, in many ways it is the cheaper device that has the most potential.
The cheap and cheerful devices will make great development platforms and provide the hardware that the crazy, frivolous, niche application needs The top of the range devices will provide yet another ecological niche for more serious custom "enterprise" apps - that were most probably developed on the cheapo devices...
For the first time in quite a while - the future looks fun.