Brace for the Future

[This post is by Dan Morrill, Open Source & Compatibility Program Manager. â€" Tim Bray]Way back in November 2007 when Google announced Android, Andy Rubin said “We hope thousands of different phones will be powered by Android.” But now, Android’s growing beyond phones to new kinds of devices. (For instance, you might have read about the new 7” Galaxy Tab that our partners at Samsung just announced.) So, I wanted to point out a few interesting new gadgets that are coming soon running the latest versions of Android, 2.1 and 2.2.For starters, the first Android-based non-phone handheld devices will be shipping over the next few months. Some people call these Mobile Internet Devices or Personal Media Players — MIDs or PMPs. Except for the phone part, PMP/MID devices look and work just like smartphones, but if your app really does require phone hardware to work correctly, you can follow some simple steps to make sure your app only appears on phones.Next up are tablets. Besides the Samsung Galaxy Tab I mentioned, the Dell Streak is now on sale, which has a 5” screen and blurs the line between a phone and a tablet. Of course, Android has supported screens of any size since version 1.6, but these are the first large-screen devices to actually ship with Android Market. A tablet’s biggest quirk, of course, is its larger screen.It’s pretty rare that we see problems with existing apps running on large-screen devices, but at the same time many apps would benefit from making better use of the additional screen space. For instance, an email app might be improved by changing its UI from a list-oriented layout to a two-pane view. Fortunately, Android and the SDK make it easy to support multiple screen sizes in your app, so you can read up on our documentation and make sure your app makes the best use of the extra space on large screens.Speaking of screen quirks, we’re also seeing the first devices whose natural screen orientation is landscape. For instance, Motorola’s CHARM and FLIPOUT phones have screens which are wider than they are tall, when used in the natural orientation. The majority of apps won’t even notice the difference, but if your app uses sensors like accelerometer or compass, you might need to double-check your code.Now, the devices I’ve mentioned so far still have the same hardware that Android phones have, like compass and accelerometer sensors, cameras, and so on. However, there are also devices coming that will omit some of this hardware. For instance, you’ve probably heard of Google TV, which will get Android Market in 2011. Since Google TV is, you know, a stationary object, it won’t have a compass and accelerometer. It also won’t have a standard camera, since we decided there wasn’t a big audience for pictures of the dust bunnies behind your TV.Fortunately, you can use our built-in tools to handle these cases and control which devices your app appears to in Android Market. Android lets you provide versions of your UI optimized for various screen configurations, and each device will pick the one that runs best. Meanwhile, Android Market will make sure your apps only appear to devices that can run them, by matching those features you list as required (via tags) only with devices that have those features.Android started on phones, but we’re growing to fit new kinds of devices. Now your Android app can run on almost anything, and the potential size of your audience is growing fast. But to fully unlock this additional reach, you should double-check your app and tweak it if you need to, so that it puts its best foot forward. Watch this blog over the next few weeks, as we post a series of detailed “tips and tricks” articles on how to get the most out of the new gadgets.It’s official folks: we’re living in the future! Happy coding.