Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 20th Dec 2013 11:11 UTC

In light of the recent The Atlantic article, Arnoud Wokke, editor at the popular Dutch technology site, pointed me to an interesting OSNews comment by Dianne Hackborn, former Be engineer (that's still major street cred right here), former Palm engineer, and Android engineer at Google since early 2006. Her recollection of the story regarding the cancellation of the BlackBerry-esque 'Sooner' prototype and the touchscreen 'Dream' prototype is entirely different from what Vogelstein states in his article.

From a software perspective, Sooner and Dream were basically the same -- different form-factors, one without a touch screen -- but they were not so different as this article indicates and the switch between them was not such a huge upheaval.

The main reason for the differences in schedule was hardware: Sooner was a variation of an existing device that HTC was shipping, while Dream was a completely new device with a lot of things that had never been shipped before, at least by HTC (new Qualcomm chipset, sensors, touch screen, the hinge design, etc). So Sooner was the safe/fast device, and Dream was the risky/long-term device.

However the other factor in this was the software. Work on the Android we know today (which is what is running in that Sooner) basically started around late 2005 / early 2006. I got to Google at the beginning of 2006, and it was around that time we started work on everything from the resource system through the view hierarchy, to the window manager and activity manager that you know today. Some work on stuff we have today (like SurfaceFlinger) was started a bit earlier, but also after Google acquired Android.

Even if there was no iPhone, there is a good chance that Sooner would have been dropped, since while it was a good idea to get Android out quickly from a hardware perspective, the software schedule was much longer. I don't recall the exact dates, but I believe the decision to drop Sooner was well before the iPhone announcement... though we continued to use it for quite a while internally for development, since it was the only semi-stable hardware platform we had. If nothing else, it helped remove significant risk from the schedule since software development could be done on a relatively stable device while the systems team brought up the new hardware in parallel.

This is very different from the somewhat internally inconsistent story Vogelstein tells. I'm very curious to find out where, exactly, the truth lies.

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Decree vs effort
by thesunnyk on Sun 22nd Dec 2013 02:53 UTC
Member since:

Here's an idea that I think hasn't been mentioned in the comments yet: Managers work by decree, and Engineers work by effort.

By this I mean, a manager's viewpoint is obviously going to revolve around their product in the scope of their competition, their market, and what they said they wanted. They "saw" a "product" that they were making that "looked old", and "saw" a "product" that Apple was making that "looked new" and decided to "turn the software development on a dime" to "tackle this new market threat". Or something. In reality, they probably did a drag motion on the Iphone and shit their pants.

To an engineer, the guff translated to "we need a software keyboard, and the drag motion should look like this", to which the engineer probably just said "OK", and carried on doing whatever they were originally doing, with the side note to remember to do the software keyboard thing. Android as a platform is flexible as fuck. If it wasn't, it would probably have died right out of the gate. The only way they could actually build all the things that the Iphone had was because they could basically build whatever they wanted -- their architecture supported that. If the Iphone had no touchscreens but a crazy advanced notification subsystem, Android would've just improved on that aspect instead.

For an Engineer working on the nuts and bolts of Android, the Iphone was probably not all that important. For a manager working on the Android, the Iphone was revelatory because they didn't (and don't) understand Android.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Decree vs effort
by jared_wilkes on Sun 22nd Dec 2013 15:52 in reply to "Decree vs effort"
jared_wilkes Member since:

Also important to point out: an engineer is likely only going to know what a project manager wants them to know, is going to be expected to at least be a good soldier and toe the party line (not just for the outside world but in order to convince themselves that they are doing the best work), and are going to have very little knowledge of the highest level product management and marketing decisions.

It's easy for an engineer to say: I know that myself or someone was working on that... Less easy for that same engineer to say I know the decisions that went into play that meant x, y, and z code was less important than a, b, c code and what decisions or events over the course of time affected the direction of the project.

And to that last point, it's not just because of my first point (communication and decision-making process) but also a general blindness due to usually understanding their trade (software engineering) much better than actual product design and marketing.... or even just because of pride.

Reply Parent Score: 2