Gingerbread or Honeycomb?

Has Google Forked Android with 3.0?

Jessica Thornsby

Following a preview of the Android 3.0 SDK this week, bloggers have debated whether Google have forked Android.

ZDNet writer Steven Vaughan-Nichols has blogged that, “for all intents and purposes” Android has been split into two official versions, following Android SDK Tech Lead, Xavier Ducrohet’s announcement that “Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) is a new version of the Android platform that is designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets.”

Vaughan-Nichol interprets Ducrohet’s statement as meaning that Google has forked Android – although he has sought confirmation of this from Google, and has yet to receive a definite answer. Vaughan-Nichols predicts we will see two lines of the Android platform emerging: the 2.3 line for smartphones, and the Android 3 ‘Honeycomb’ line. He is pleased with Honeycomb’s feature list: new UI framework, 2D and 3D graphics using built-in OpenGL, support for multicore processors etc. – but he views it as evidence of “Honeycomb going its own way” and questions whether this feature list is worth splitting Android in two for. Although, Google have taken care to ease the move from Android 2.3 to 3.0, with a UI framework that makes the new Honeycomb paradigms available to applications that were built for older versions of the platform. But, reverse this: how easy will it be to backport Honeycomb apps to Android smartphones running previous versions of the software? This, for Vaughan-Nichols, could be the deal-breaker. If you wish your new app to run on all versions of the Android software, you will still be required to write a Gingerbread version and a Honeycomb version.

RedMonk’s James Governor takes a different stance on the notion of Google forking Android. He argues that when forking enters the development process, a technology can benefit from an increased rate of innovation and cross fertilisation of ideas. There is already evidence of this happening in the Android landscape: Android fans will soon be able to get their hands on Android-powered headphones, Android-powered ski goggles, and an Android gaming suite, although this is always going to cause app developers major headaches. However, Governor is confident that the community can handle it: “will all this innovation create management challenges for Google and its partners? Sure it will. But forks are there too be resolved, and innovation isn’t going to wait.”

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