Arguably the most important development in the world of open source in the last year or two has been the rise and rise of Google's Linux-based Android operating system. It's true that the mobiles out there employing it are not 100% free, but they are considerably more free than the main alternatives. More importantly, they are turning Linux into a global, mass-market platform in a way never before seen.
The fact that Android is starting to appear in a wide range of other consumer devices – tablets, set-top boxes, televisions etc. - is one way in which Android has already outpaced its main rival, the iPhone and its associated software ecosystem. The latter still has far more apps than Android, but that's not really surprising, since it was launched some time before. And against that, we have the following notable trend:
The number of apps available on Android Market is expected to surpass 100,000 sometime this month. Just a year ago less than 7,000 aps were available for Android users and six months ago the number was under 25,000. In June alone, developers churned out 15,288 new apps and the positive trend continues.
Of course, a comparison with Apple’s App Store is inevitable. Apple has been the daddy of the mobile app market for a couple of years now and it still enjoys a massive lead, with 225,000 available apps. However, with such impressive growth, Android could narrow the gap and perhaps even overtake Apple over the next few quarters.
That might sound ambitious, but it could even happen faster than that, thanks to Google's new Android App Inventor:
App Inventor is simple to use, but also very powerful. Apps you build can even store data created by users in a database, so you can create a make-a-quiz app in which the teachers can save questions in a quiz for their students to answer.
Because App Inventor provides access to a GPS-location sensor, you can build apps that know where you are. You can build an app to help you remember where you parked your car, an app that shows the location of your friends or colleagues at a concert or conference, or your own custom tour app of your school, workplace, or a museum.
You can write apps that use the phone features of an Android phone. You can write an app that periodically texts "missing you" to your loved ones, or an app "No Text While Driving" that responds to all texts automatically with "sorry, I'm driving and will contact you later". You can even have the app read the incoming texts aloud to you (though this might lure you into responding).
App Inventor provides a way for you to communicate with the web. If you know how to write web apps, you can use App Inventor to write Android apps that talk to your favorite web sites, such as Amazon and Twitter.
Of course, this will lead to even more junk Android apps – already much in evidence - but that doesn't really matter. Users will just concentrate on the ones worth using, and ignore the rest. What it will do, though, is increase the overall visibility and appeal of the ecosystem: however meaningless it is, the number of apps is a kind of marker, and when Android has more of them than the iPhone, it will be a sign of something significant, even if the details aren't.