Android Future: Is It Cloudy?

Smartphones based on Android have quickly outsold their rivals. Every provider seems to be adding a phone based upon Android to their device line up. The variety of applications available for Android has exploded and fed the popularity of the platform. What does the future of Android hold? Is the future of Android cloudy?

For the most part, Android’s future prospects are quite bright. Android has outsold the iPhone. The number of available applications for Android keep growing. Android is also moving into other arenas besides smartphones. Samsung recently revealed an Android based tablet to compete with Apple’s iPad and plans are under way for Google TV, a set top box platform based on Android.

While adoption of Android is speedily picking up, one cloud was recently cast upon Android’s future. Oracle, who acquired Sun Microsystems recently, has filed a patent lawsuit against Android. This lawsuit claims that Dalvik infringes on a number of Java patents which Oracle acquired from Sun. This lawsuit has cast a cloud not only over the future of the Android platform but even the future of Java itself. It has also led to a number of former Sun open source projects being forked as the open source community flees from Oracle.

When discussing whether Android’s future looks cloudy, we should also consider another interpretation of “cloudy”. Android is unique among smartphone platforms. Its major competitors have been built largely as extensions of a desktop operating system. Windows CE and Windows Mobile are designed to sync with a desktop PC so that files and email from a desktop system can be “mobile”. The iPhone is based on a MacOS and is largely a mobile extension of a Mac based computer. Android, on the other hand, was designed from the beginning with the Internet in mind. As a result, Android relies heavily on cloud computing to store its data. This creates a type of ubiquitous data storage that resides “in the clouds”. I can add a contact to my Android phone and see it on my desktop Gmail. If I replace my phone, I enter my username and password and all my contacts and data are just there. This is because they exist in the cloud – not on my phone or desktop.

Cloud computing is a natural evolution of past computing paradigms. With mainframes, the computing power was centralized and users accessed the data through thin terminals. As the PC emerged, we saw fat clients with desktop applications. This eventually gave way with the rise of web applications to heavy servers and thin browser based clients. Cloud computing is a natural progression of this process. Android’s style of cloud computing can be best described as fat client-fat database. This is because the client software tends to do most of the heavier work in the shape of the various applications which run on Android. We don’t have a fat server in this model because the server side code really doesn’t do much heavy lifting. However, our data storage is almost entirely in the cloud so “fat database” describes it well.

We asked the question, is Android’s future cloudy? In many ways, the question is an elaborate word play. Yes, the Oracle lawsuit casts a cloud over the future of Android and of Java. And Android’s use of cloud data storage will likely continue to evolve as a computing paradigm. In these regards, the future of Android is definitely cloudy. At the same time, Android has a sunny future as well. It is enjoying robust sales and is a platform which is being expanded to more devices. In addition, the success of Android’s cloud based model has contributed to its growth. So Android’s future is cloudy but for the most part, this is a good thing.

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