The good, the bad, and the ugly of Android
Android is about to start taking off. Motorola, Google, Verizon and others have started unleashing their marketing budgets, so you're going to see a lot of buzz around Android in the coming weeks. Having worked on Android for the past year, I thought I'd throw out a few opinions of my own as a tease.
Each of the phones in my possession has interesting user experiences different from each other. All of these items have an impact on the developer and the way their application is perceived.
- Side-loading apps – By God, I want to install my favorite Sudoku (or contacts) app and there's nothing anyone can do to stop me. Well, there will be attempts to lock down the handset, but there will be an escalation of cracks and root exploits. Just another chapter in the never-ending war between the Geeks and the Suits.
- New screen sizes – Oh, and how wonderful they look. You knew this was coming–there's been plenty of warning and the hints have not been subtle. Developers, if you've been using absolute layouts and assuming that 480×320 was the only screen size, you were wrong and you will be punished with bad reviews and plummeting sales the moment the Eclair devices start hitting the shelves. Several of my favorite apps fall into this category and I wish I could tell the authors that their apps don't work on upcoming phones, but I can't. If you've been testing your app on the same AVD for months, you'd better try some of the other sizes in the 1.6 SDK. You've been warned.
- Approaching the chasm. We're still in the early adopter phase, but consumers are going to start having Android as a choice this year. There's still plenty of time to get into the Android ecosystem and make a splash.
- The Market is a mess for the consumer. Have you tried to find an app that wasn't featured by browsing on the device? The sheer volume of apps in the few categories is too much and every category is full of crapware with 4 1/2 stars. The cyrket index is useful, but every month it gets a little slower as more people discover it. Why can't Google bring this functionality into their web interface?
- Crapware. As a developer, you should not be prevented from reaching your audience. However, if you're going to flood the Market with any or all of the following products, then you need your own special sandbox to play in…
- Stewie Griffin Soundboard
- Peter Griffin Soundboard
- Bryan Griffin Soundboard
- Bart Soundboard
- Lisa Simpson Soundboard
- Homer Simpson Soundboard
- Maggie Simpson Soundboard
- John Madden Soundboard
- Frank Caliendo doing impressions of John Madden Soundboard
- Stewie Griffin imitating Frank Caliendo doing impressions of John Madden Soundboard
- ad infinitum, ad nauseum
Don't talk to me about the power of voting down, because these guys can create accounts and vote up faster than the rest of us can vote them down. The $25 market signup fee was clearly not a high-enough barrier to entry.
The Market needs a Benevolent Dictator or an Enlightened Troika who isn't/aren't under the influence of the carriers, Google, or any manufacturer. This non-Jobsian Star Chamber need not approve every app before it can be included in the Market–just have the authority to punish developers who are gaming the system to the detriment of the users.
I'm just guessing here, but I doubt the creator of those apps actually bothered to license the audio, so having them available for sale in the US is probably a violation of some statute that the RIAA or MPAA has rammed down our throats. I'm curious if these apps are what they seem to be (annoyances) or actually the vectors for the first wave of Android malware.
- 3G Coverage. Yes, I'm on AT&T. Sadly, so is the SIM that I test with. When I do get into a 3G zone, the bandwidth is bad. It's amazing to look back at a post I made only a year ago about how cool the Moto Q is as a 3G modem. The iPhone is only the canary in the coal mine for the carriers–they'd better get their networks built out. I wonder if the Verizon "there's a map for that" commercial is all Marketing fluff. Probably. Living in the Sticks and working in a barn does have a downside…
- Locking out Dev Phone users. I really hate this "feature". As a developer with many unlocked phones, I'm specifically prevented from installing paid apps via the Google Market. To date, I've paid for exactly 1 app and I have it installed on the only production phone I own–the Google ION.
Developers, if you want a complete solution, find other ways to reach your potential users. Look at alternative markets. Allow me to pay you and tie the app to my IMEI #. Something, anything.
- Sadly, the virtual keyboard on Android sucks as much as the one on the iPhone/iTouch. Fortunately, there are add-on virtual keyboards that I can download and enable for free. Or, I just use the real keyboard on my Motorola phones. Is it too late to get Graffiti into the platform?
- Backup software. I reflash each of my developer phones every week or two. Every time I do this, I lose all my apps. I know this is an edge case, but I'd really like a good reliable solution that I can use on 6 phones at once. MOTOBLUR is a solution for the consumer, but I'm working on phones that are configured in so many ways and since my phones are all dev phones, I need something that isn't tied to the market as a paid app.
All of this, of course, is strictly my opinion and in no way reflects the opinions of my employer.
By the way, if you are in the ChicagoLand area, I will be speaking at the Chicago Androids User Group on October 29. Hope to see you there.