The director of Android’s global partnerships talks about Google’s plans and help for developers.
Born and educated in Sweden but having spent 12 years in Japan, John Lagerling is director of global Android partnerships. This makes him right-hand man to Andy Rubin – the company's vice president of engineering and the head of the company's Android strategy and execution. This role has kept Lagerling at the front line of Google's gargantuan effort to build a feature-rich mobile operating system from the ground up, and seen him spearheading the company's efforts to build partnerships with the telecommunications carriers that it needs to bring the devices to the masses.
In so doing, this self-professed "total geek" has found himself walking the fine line between Android's broad goal of openness and the tighter controls – over user experience, access to value-added products, and even anti-piracy efforts – that are necessary to fulfil carriers' requirements.
We spoke with Lagerling to find out just what it is we can expect in the future as Google fights to win developers, lure users, and keep Android jumping from strength to strength.APC:
Even though Android has been out for two years, Australian developers only got the ability to sell apps to customers last October. Developers have been champing at the bit, so why did it take so long?John Lagerling:
Even with the other guys releasing an amazing and global App Store, it still doesn't mean that you're guaranteed that what you develop will be made available everywhere. The value proposition of the Android Market is that if you develop something, you will be able to distribute it on a global basis. That has never been the case on mobile, ever. But the platform has grown faster than some people expected, which meant that more people wanted to get on and become developers of paid apps, which wasn't really available in some regions. It's a scaling effort: each country requires a specific effort, and has its own processes as to what licenses or infrastructure you need to have in place to enable these things. We've looked at where are the largest amounts of developers, and where are the largest amounts of users. The latest push, which added Australia and a lot of other countries, was hard work; we're just trying to grow and keep up.APC:
What sort of outreach is Google doing to help developers get up to speed with Android?JL:
At Google we're pretty well positioned to understand the psyche of developers because most of our engineers are developers of applications and software; it comes with the territory and culture. We are a community of developers and share the frustration that has been there around another embedded software solution company; that's why we made sure we offered a free, open SDK that anybody can download and start building. And we have developer advocates whose aim is to work directly with developers – whether with large development houses, at outreach events, and on the web in community forums. We don't only invite the big shops, but also the guy hacking it out in his bedroom. Everyone has an opinion about how the Android platform should progress and, given that it's an open-source platform, it's community driven as well. We acknowledge that innovation can come from smaller and nimbler teams, and will work to ensure that gets up the food chain; you can never predict where the great ideas will come from.APC:
While 2.3 Gingerbread was recently released, many Australian customers had a long wait to get 2.2 Froyo on their phones, waiting through most of 2010. Why did Froyo take so long to come out, and can we expect these sorts of delays with every upgrade?JL:
Traditionally the mobile industry has had almost 18-month cycles for products. But Google is a company that has almost daily cycles for some iterations, and we work on a quarterly basis for everything we do. It's just taking some time for manufacturers to recalibrate their efforts to these faster cycles. We were surprised at how quickly users started relating to our releases; we expected the industry to be excited and interested, but I don't think we expected the mass market to be so judging. But they buy devices depending on which version is on there. That's a positive for us because it means people really value the innovation that is happening. And it puts pressure on everybody in the Android ecosystem to keep up with the seed of innovation.APC:
How big a team of developers is building Android?JL:
I wish I could tell you, but it's probably smaller than you would imagine. Andy has a vision that we don't want this to be a huge, political and anonymous team. It's a team of individuals and while it's growing, people work very hard. The focus on what we want to achieve is quite clear, and Andy's leadership is crisp and clear in that direction.APC:
Early Android-based tablets are getting a mixed reception; in Australia, for example, we have name-brand devices like Samsung's pretty well-received Galaxy Tab and Telstra's not-so-well-received T-Touch Tab. To what extent are tablets driving your vision for Android?JL:
We're already seeing tablets in the market, and it's proof that Android is open. People can put Android on their refrigerator displays, vacuum cleaners, whatever. It's cool to see how it's spreading so fast, and I'm very excited to see how that's going to progress. For tablets, there is still a lot of value that can be added to that experience, and in the Honeycomb [3.0] release we'll make enhancements for tablets that will be something people wouldn't have imagined – and will like a lot. We have some pretty smart ways of dealing with different form factors and categories of device; I don't have anything to announce, but I think we are aware of the value of developers being aware of which apps and devices their apps are being made available to. The sturdier you build your app, the more varieties of device it will be able to cope with.APC:
With so many OEMs working to differentiate their products, and tablets with different sizes and capabilities confusing the situation further, how can you make sure the market doesn't get fragmented just like Steve Jobs says it will?JL:
There are three levels of fragmentation from a developer perspective. One is the technical: will my binary run or not? That's one thing we're securing on the platform on a generational basis. Then there is the question of specific devices: what screen size and ratio does it have, what controls are made available in terms of buttons, what APIs are there, are the cameras front-facing or back-facing, and so on. We try to make those capabilities very clear for developers, and in the API we work to make sure the device communicates with apps what is available or not. This is more work for a developer than a closed system, but it also allows more innovation on the hardware side. The other thing that could be fragmented is policies. In the old-school way of distributing mobile apps, you had to go to each carrier to understand their policies, and each one had different revenue sharing. We always share 70% of revenues back to developers, and I think that clarity and absolute non-fragmentation has big value as well.