Google offers Android updates only to challenge winners

A Google employee working on the Android mobile phone operating system made a gaffe that has some developers saying they’ve had enough and plan to focus their efforts on the iPhone instead.

David McLaughlin, Android advocate at Google, apologized on an online forum for accidentally sending a note intended for the 50 winners of a developers’ contest to a wider list of developers. The note implies that Google has been privately offering updates to the SDK (software development kit) only to a subset of developers, even while the broader developer community has been complaining about a lack of updates to the SDK.

“Ahhhh, now it makes sense,” one developer wrote on the Android forum. “So they’ve been making private SDK releases while the rest of us suffer with the pile of bugs from the 4+ month old release.”

The wider developer community wasn’t pleased to hear that they were being excluded from the updates. “Wonder how many of us would have actually gotten behind Android if we knew that they were going to only cater to the top 50. Definitely feel betrayed…” wrote Ken Adair, a developer, on Google’s Android Forum.

The incident comes just a couple of weeks after one developer began circulating an online petition asking Google for updates or at least information about when updates to the SDK might become available.

Google risks losing developers just as competition for their attention is heating up. Developers can now build applications for Apple’s popular iPhone. While Google’s Android attracted considerable excitement when it was launched, it has more recently been criticized for a slow development process.

“Personally, I’m heading over to iPhone development,” one person wrote on the Android forum.

Developers had been speculating that a small group of people have been getting SDK updates, but Google hasn’t spoken much officially about the matter. On Wednesday Google confirmed that it has been offering SDK updates to contest finalists, but said it has been doing it for testing purposes. “The [Android Developer Challenge] finalists are helping us test the latest version of the SDK before we release it to the world in the coming weeks,” Google said via e-mail.

While some of the 50 finalists of the challenge seem reluctant or possibly unable to discuss the SDK updates, one pointed to a blog post quoting from a letter that finalists from the first round of the challenge allegedly received from Google. The letter confirms that the finalists were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to receive updates to the SDK. It also says that they’ll get early access to the final SDK several weeks before the deadline for the contest.

Google did not respond to a request regarding the authenticity of the letter.

Another developer said that McLaughlin’s mistake confirms the suspicion that the contest winners were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement to get access to the latest versions of the SDK. “The e-mail you all received was an accident, but is essentially an admission of this policy,” Josh Guilfoyle, an Android developer, wrote on the forum.

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