At the Londroid meet-up last Thursday, we had an all-too-brief overview of Android 2.3's new features from Reto Meier, and you could feel the crowd's eagerness to get their hands on it and get developing.
In the pub afterwards I talked with some other members about the way that the Android platform had reached its present position. In contrast with the iPhone's big-splash arrival and regular, tight iteration, Android has emerged in a messy, less predictable way. But we concluded (not surprisingly in our group of self-selected Android fans) that the future has never been brighter for the platform even though we differed on exactly what that was. The devices, the software and the developer enthusiasm all seem to be coming together for a pretty exciting 2011.
Since then, I've been reading around the web and I reckon this feeling is shared widely. Here's a great article by James, developer of the iPhone application Whereoscope, about porting an app to Android for the first time. He comments on the pain of switching phones, naturally enough, but goes on to say great things about the SDK.
An interesting complement to that piece is this one by TweetDeck developer Max Howell. You get the sense here that Howell was pushing the platform closer to its limits in terms of performance and encountering some frustrations. The UI tools come in for particular criticism from him - he ended up rewriting platform UI classes to squeeze out extra performance.
The pieces disagree on a few things, perhaps most notably on the Android documentation. James singles it out for particular praise: "the Android approach is fundamentally to expose everything to the developer, rather than try to hide important stuff on the (somewhat condescending) assumption that the platform developer knows better than you." Max disagrees strongly: "the documentation is not sufficient, and even the plethora of textbooks on the subject often are inaccurate when detailing Android’s underlying mechanisms."
I think James does a good job of capturing the good intentions of Android's documenters, but Max does better expressing the frustration of trying to learn Android via its documentation. Where the docs are good, you get a great sense of respectful developer-to-developer communication. But just as often, you're trying to use an important class carefully and correctly, and you find the JavaDoc basically non-existent. And there are no great Android books to fill the gaps. The best I've read so far was Hello, Android, a nice but all too short whiz through the basics. The other one I've read at length was Pro Android 2, and I can't recommend it in the slightest. Horrible, awkward prose. Poorly organized and uninteresting examples. Even their code samples were terribly and inconsistently formatted.
But patchy docs don't spell doom - it's really just what you'd expect from a young, rapidly developing platform. And meanwhile, it's highly rewarding to crack on and learn it.
Related tags: gingerbread, interviews, links