Android Applications and Backward Compatability


backwardsThe very words “Backward Compatability” provoked MG Siegler from TechCrunch to dread the complexities that would inevitably follow. But “Backward Compatability” was the exact topic of discussion on the most recent Android Developer Blog post.

Complain if you will but the issue can not be avoided and I applaude Google for addressing the issue head on. Apple is running their Operating System in a vacuum – they are the only puppet master putting on The iPhone Show. Google is taking charge on behalf of the entire Open Handset Alliance which includes many carriers and many manufacturers, which if you ask me, is at the root of the backward compatability issue.

Different hardware. Different specs. Different carriers. Different languages. These are problems that Apple and Android both face. But different priorities and agendas? Only Android has that problem since with the iPhone, Apple has a “my way or the highway” mentality.

While Google keeps Android Open Source they have to assume that different manufacturers and carriers will choose to take the platform in different directions. They also have to hope that application developers will try their best to account for these differences, with the community giving negative ratings to applications that fail to bridge gaps. But Google isn’t in the business of making other people’s decisions for them. They aren’t in the business of forcing, refusing or demanding. Google would rather leave that to Apple.

So while some view the Backward Compatability post as a sign that Android is already becoming a huge cluster-muck of a mobile ecosystem I suggest that the glass is half full. Google offers the greatest “freedom of choice” to manufacturers, carriers, developers and customers. But with freedom of choice will come bad decisions and so beforehand, Google is informing us as best possible so we’re not left saying, “hindsight is 20/20”.

The TechCrunch article compares this new Android vs. iPhone mobile comparison as the PC vs. Mac which first cropped up in the 80s/90s:

Yes, it’s essentially the same thing that happened with Microsoft versus Apple in the PC wars of the 80s and 90s. But, as we’ve learned from that, “bigger” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.”

Well if you ask me, “better” doesn’t necessarily mean “better” either.

Here is an interesting section from the beginning of the article:

Android 1.5 introduced a number of new features that application developers can take advantage of, like virtual input devices and speech recognition. As a developer, you need to be aware of backward compatibility issues on older devices—do you want to allow your application to run on all devices, or just those running newer software? In some cases it will be useful to employ the newer APIs on devices that support them, while continuing to support older devices.

If the use of a new API is integral to the program—perhaps you need to record video—you should add a manifest entry to ensure your app won’t be installed on older devices.

The emphasis was added by me. I think if developers follow this guideline it will clear up a lot of the potential problems, confusion and complexities. And to be honest, call me old fashioned, but the fact that Google isn’t just going to ban applications because they aren’t properly backward compatable or don’t meet there expectations is… refreshing.

When reading the above please keep in mind that I am NOT a developer and haven’t developed for Android or the iPhone. I’d love to hear first hand from some developers… from both side of the fence.

Rob Jackson
I'm an Android and Tech lover, but first and foremost I consider myself a creative thinker and entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for ideas of all sizes. I'm a sports lover who cheers for the Orange (College), Ravens (NFL), (Orioles), and Yankees (long story). I live in Baltimore and wear it on my sleeve, with an Under Armour logo. I also love traveling... where do you want to go?

HTC Magic Unboxing

Previous article

Swiss HTC Magic Coming In June

Next article

You may also like


  1. What I dont understand is why this is Google vs. Apple if they seem to be pretty close.
    There are plenty of mobile OS’s out there. And I’m pretty sure Google isn’t competing against Apple. It seems more like they are competing against Microsoft since they both do the same thing. Make the OS, someone else makes the Hardware. But Google looks more responsible, and I think that’s what they’re trying to prove. Idk. *shrugs*

  2. what’s cool is that google doesn’t insist on anything re: the platform, but leaves it to the market to decide what works, or doesn’t. if your app needs to be compatible, you can make it so, and if you don’t care, limit your audience (users) to the ‘early-adopters’.

  3. I had the G1 since the first day of its release, and it’s been a disappointing seven months or so. I like the idea of open-source market, but it’s being cluttered with crappy wallpaper apps and such. I gave up checking the market altogether as a result. Now I’m left with a phone that is marginal at best. I’m sick and tired of talking about potential, and waiting for an update that is taking forever to arrive. The HTC Magic should have been the first Android phone… I don’t see why they rushed an unfinished product.

    And for what it’s worth… iPhone>>>G1 at this point… and there’s no need to cry about the first gen iPhone and how long it’s been out. I’ve been running both phones for a little while now and they both have what I consider to be deal-breaking setbacks. Android 1.5 and iPhone 0S 3.0 will be the deciding factor for myself, and perhaps thousands of others… and that’s says alot considering I will have to hand T-Mobile $200 to get out of my contract.

  4. You have a bad link in your post. The link with the anchor text “Android Developer Blog post” has a bad href attribute (destination). I tried to send this to you via your Contact form, but the CAPTCHA method is busted, at least on FireFox and Chrome.


  5. @ Jon

    go ahead and trade in your G1. but I have 2 ask 2 things

    1) Why did you buy the G1 the first day if you thought it was “unfinished”? Don’t try to tell me you just decided that now
    2) If you love iphone so much, get off an android news site! Don’t tell me that you don’t love the Android if you’re on this website

    da <- figure that one out

  6. Apple are Google are very close.
    The Google CEO is also on the board of the directors for Apple, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_E._Schmidt .

    I’m guessing that’s why Android doesn’t have multitouch out of the gate and Iphone has so many google apps.

    Both companies also aren’t on friendly terms with Microsoft and visa versa!

    I just wish the android market had an offical or well designed facebook application. That is such a big hole in the market. Who cares if google messed up and backup the wrong horse (myspace) and microsoft has a stake in facebook. I’m the only one hurting…

  7. Maintaining backward compatibility is a pain in the neck, but it is the nature of the beast; same should happen w/ iPhone 3.0.

    And this is why the manifest is for.

    What is better from the user’s perspective, to have a bunch of versions of same app, or just one that works in the current app market regardless of Android version?


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Opinion