Tuesday, 11 November 2008

T-Mobile G1 - The first of the Google Android Phones. Part 2

After being left disappointed by the hardware of the G1 we get onto the really interesting part; the Android OS.

So what is Google Android?

Quoted from Wikipedia: Android is a software platform and operating system for mobile devices, based on the Linux kernel, developed by Google and later the Open Handset Alliance.[2]managed code in the Java language, controlling the phone via Google-developed Java libraries,[3]. Applications written in C and other languages can be compiled to ARM native code and run, but this development path isn't officially supported by Google.

The intention of Google Android is to produce an open source operating system that is able to be installed on any mobile hardware and subsequently be developed for by anyone using the free developers kit from Google. There are some fairly obvious restrictions that have been put in place when it comes to what the developers can access. Specifically the end users personal data and contacts. From the Android Docs:

Security Architecture

A central design point of the Android security architecture is that no application, by default, has permission to perform any operations that would adversely impact other applications, the operating system, or the user. This includes reading or writing the user's private data (such as contacts or e-mails), reading or writing another application's files, performing network access, keeping the device awake, etc.

An application's process is a secure sandbox. It can't disrupt other applications, except by explicitly declaring the permissions it needs for additional capabilities not provided by the basic sandbox. These permissions it requests can be handled by the operating in various ways, typically by automatically allowing or disallowing based on certificates or by prompting the user. The permissions required by an application are declared statically in that application, so they can be known up-front at install time and will not change after that.

This is the core to many peoples misgivings for the OS and hopefully their intention holds in the end product. We have already seen that the initial release has a major security hole in that it executes every typed command as Super User meaning that with a couple of key presses any user can inadvertently brick their phone. Not the best way to endear peoples trust in you looking after your personal data.

All the technical information aside lets get down to the T-Mobile G1 implementation of Android.
When you turn the phone on you are presented with the expected G1/T-Mobile splash screen and then a nice little pulsing Android Logo. After that you're presented with a locked status screen.

When you press the MENU button you are presented with one of the first cool innovations on the G1. Instead of a numeric or password based security lock Android uses a user defined pattern that you then repeat to unlock the phone. The share number of variations of the patterns is pretty mind boggling. After 5 attempts it starts giving you time outs before finally requiring you to enter a PUK code to unlock the phone. I'm not looking forward to my first drunken night out trying to unlock this sucker!

We're in! The front screen is actually one of three panels that can be accessed by a sideways sweep of a finger. Each screen can be customised with folders, widgets and shortcuts to anything from fast dials to web pages and applications. These can be organised by holding your finger down on the icons or widget and dragging them around or down to the tab at the bottom of the screen which becomes a rubbish bin. The wallpapers extend across the three panels rather than repeat which makes the wallpapers of a higher resolution than the phones 320x480 to 640x480.

There are two 'blinds' on the home screen. Across the top there is a notification blind that displays any conversations, text messages, emails and download/install status for any apps that you install from the Market. This is accessed by dragging the panel down with a finger.

On the bottom there is the Application Blind that is pulled up in the same manner as the Notification Blind. It can also be extended by tapping on the tab. This tab contains all applications including any that you have installed. They are organised in an alphabetical manner and once you have installed a few apps this becomes quite cluttered. I think that in future versions of the OS they should think about being able to change the organisation of this blind to allow defining of folders and/or arranging by relevance or use. The icons are a bit small and do not allow for a rapid recognition so you do end up searching a bit. Any of these applications can be dragged up onto the home screens by holding your finger on them, the blind will automatically close, then you can place the icon where you like. When there are more icons than can fit on one page of the blind you can scroll up and down by using a finger and dragging as you would intuitively expect.

When the phone is opened sideways the screen automatically rotates to the side and the Application Blind is accessed by a sideways drag or a tap. I would've expected the contents of the Apps Blind to then be accessed by a side scrolling motion but you still scroll up and down. Personally I find this a little counter intuitive however until someone else uses it to confirm it may well just be me.

I will go into the applications and settings in Part 3.

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