Don't discount the G1 just yet

The internal storage capacity of the G1 are limiting, but T-Mobile will continue to provide future software updates.

Taylor Wimberly Network blogger
Taylor Wimberly became obsessed with cell phones working as a Sprint reseller as a teenager. When he's not writing about the newest handsets on the market, you can find him on the beach working the BBQ pit. Taylor also blogs about the Android community with Android and Me. Taylor is a member of the CNET Blog Network, and is not an employee of CNET. E-mail Taylor.
Taylor Wimberly
3 min read

As the T-Mobile G1 restricts users from storing apps on a memory card, many owners have complained about low memory warnings after they install 40 to 50 apps. And now we're seeing developer complaints about the lack of space for the Android operating system itself.

Android software engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru recently wrote on the Google mailing list, "Where the situation is really tricky is that the system partition on the U.S. G1 was already filled to the brim with cupcake, and we were routinely flirting with build sizes that were a few dozen KB under the limit (or several MB over...)."

Meanwhile, I was alarmed when I read that the Android 1.5 "Cupcake" update had taken up most of the available space where the operating system resides. To see exactly how much free space was left, I used the Linux command "df" to display the G1's internal partitions.

The Android 1.5 update (Cupcake) filled the G1 up. Android and Me

As you can see, the system partition is 99.5 percent full, which led me to wonder how future updates like Donut and Eclair would be able to fit on a G1 when Cupcake used all the available space.

When I contacted T-Mobile for a response, the carrier denied reports that the G1 wouldn't have the memory to accommodate future updates. "We plan to continue working with Google to introduce future software updates to the T-Mobile G1," the carrier wrote in an e-mail.

Though that's good to hear, it doesn't change the fact that the G1 has limited storage. The day will come when Android outgrows the G1's available 70MB and I was worried that the handset might only receive security updates instead of significant upgrades. Recent events, however, might have changed my mind.

Android builds that identify as 1.6 have started popping up this week. Taylor Wimberly

I'm starting to believe that Google will differentiate between first and second-generation hardware when rolling out updates. If that ends up happening, then future specific updates would be destined for the G1. Donut could become Android 1.6--I've spotted Android builds appear in mobile analytics reports that identify Donut as version 1.6--and appear on G1s later this year.

I recently spoke with Steve Kondik (aka Cyanogen) who has released his own customized builds of Android. He told me that Donut builds were a few megabytes larger when compared with Cupcake, but new compression methods were able to shrink the total install up to 10 percent. "I don't think that Donut is going to have any problems fitting on the G," he said "To make it smaller, I use a tool called optipng which analyzes PNG images and finds the optimal compression for them. Apps can be significantly reduced in size by using this tool and applying better compression to the package itself."

This does not mean that Donut is guaranteed to appear in its full form on the G1, but it gives new hope. If Google implements similar compression technology, they might be able to cram all the new features in the same space they fit Cupcake. Steve went on to say, "I don't know what features are going to be coming up in future releases like Eclair, but even if they exceed the space limit then, us hackers will still get it out to everyone one way or another."

Dan Morril responds to recent G1 buzz. Twitter

Android engineer Dan Morrill also weighed in on the discussion. He says that rumors about the G1 are exaggerated. Many customers were upset when they first heard about the G1's limitations, but it looks like some creative coding will extend its life.

So while the G1 might get Donut, it remains to be seen what future updates customers can expect. The limited storage will eventually catch up and G1 owners need to understand this. T-Mobile will continue to roll out updates, but will they match the official builds we see on second-generation Android phones?