“It seems like Google called for a party and forgot to order beer”

Tuesday, 13th November, 2007

The Android SDK and documentation came up late yesterday and already this morning there were a thousand messages on the Android Developers discussion group. I’ve had a quick look and here are my first impressions:

1. Android is hosted at Google Code: http://code.google.com/android

2. The second thing that hit me was the Android Developer Challenge: $10million in prizes (max $300,000 per project) for “innovative, useful apps that make use of Android’s capabilities to deliver a better mobile experience.” Application deadline 3rd March 2008. OK, that’s something to aim for.

3. The third thing that hit me, and from which I’m still reeling, is that Android is Java. On top of a modified Linux kernel, and some core libraries written in C/C++, there is an ‘Application Framework’ layer providing Java libraries. All “Applications are written using the Java programming language and run on Dalvik, a custom virtual machine designed for embedded use” [http://code.google.com/android/documentation.html].

What is wrong with “the Java programming language”?

  1. me no like.
  2. I am interested in speech tech development. The third party libraries I’m interested in using – Sphinx, HTK, festival, openMRCP – are all written in C. There are equivalents written in Java (e.g., Sphinx4, FreeTTS, Cairo) but they are not as good.

I am not the only one who is reeling from this revelation that access to the Android OS will be so limited, and there is a fair amount of discussion around the theme of “Why no C/C++ support!?”. As well as irrational anti-Java rants, there are more reasoned threads like ‘Developing using C++‘ (this post’s name came from message 26 on this thread) and ‘C/C++ level API for Android?‘.

4. Last but not least, there is no word about speech technology on the Android. No news about Nuance’s ’embedded speech technology components optimized for open-source distribution’ (see my previous post). There are a couple of threads on this at Android Developers – ‘Speech Applications‘, and ‘Text to speech …‘. Dan Morrill, who seems to be an Android rep, says a couple of interesting things here:

On ‘Speech Applications’:

That’s a great question [i.e., when will voice-recognition and text to speech software be added to the Android sdk]. Unfortunately we don’t know the answer to that right now.

We will add the voice-recognition APIs as soon as they are ready, but we don’t have any information on when that will happen.

On ‘Text to Speech’:

Currently there is no support for text-to-speech. We are considering the general problem of accessibility, but don’t yet have any concrete plans in this area.

It’s interesting that Android has no concrete plans and no information, given that Nuance claims they have already contributed speech tech components.

[update: just found android.speech.recognition, about which Dan Morrill says (on ‘Text to speech …’:

To be clear, Android will include voice-recognition software that can (and will) be used to create voice dialers. You’ll be able to use the same APIs to build speech-enabled applications. However, the APIs for that are disabled in the current early look, because they aren’t ready for use yet; they’ll be enabled in a future SDK version.]

So, what now?

– Keep up with discussion, both on and off the Android site. For example, here’s a useful-looking blog: http://benno.id.au/blog/.

– Try & find out what’s really happening with speech tech on the Android platform. [see update above].

– Wait.

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