Posts tagged "android"

Everyday Convenience

Benedict Evan’s “Cloudy” take on WWDC has dovetailed with a number of thoughts I’ve had over the last few months:

I’ve described this before by saying that Apple is moving innovation down the stack into hardware/software integration, where it’s hard for Google to follow, and Google is moving innovation up the stack into cloud-based AI & machine learning services, where it’s hard for Apple to follow. This isn’t a tactical ‘this’ll screw those guys’ approach – it reflects the fundamental characters of the two companies. Google thinks about improving UX by reducing page load times, Apple thinks about UX by making it easier to scroll that page.

In particular, this excerpt reminded me of Fred Wilson’s recent comments about Apple not being a “top three” technology company by 2020 because they don’t get the cloud. Over the last couple of years, it has been arguable that Google is getting better at what Apple does faster than Apple is with Google’s core competencies. Whether it’s user experience, design, or even a more platform-centric approach, Google has advanced those fairly quickly compared to Apple’s mastering of the cloud.

So, yes it was a year of Apple having the cloud—including what Benedict calls the “personal cloud”—underpin a number of their key initiatives. But with Google getting better at some of Apple’s strengths, will Apple’s “dumb cloud” approach be able to compete with the likes of Google Now?

I would guess that many consumers would still choose using SMS or taking phone calls from their Mac—features powered by OS X Yosemite and iOS 8—over being told when to leave for an appointment. Clearly each of those kinds of features appeal to a specific demographic but Apple continues to cater more directly to everyday convenience where Google’s AI and machine learning are attempting to solve bigger and more complex problems. Obviously Google Now is just one example but self-driving cars and drones also come to mind.

Put another way, Apple continues to optimize for the relatively near term. Each year they make consumers lives just a little bit better. What they bring to the market may not appear as lofty as Google’s future initiatives but as John Gruber notes, Apple knows how to ship. These aren’t concepts, they’re products that scale to the mass market.

Of course, Apple has their own future-focused, mind-boggling roadmap, which is what has allowed them to launch market-transforming products like the iPhone or iPad. Still, I’ve wondered if Apple is not focused on the future enough. The corollary may be more pressing for Google: optimizing too much for the future will continue to reduce the impact they can have on the present. Apple may not have self-driving, concept cars but there’s no company that can compete right now with their ability to deliver incremental, everyday convenience to the mass market each and every year.

Reactions to Google I/O 2013

Unlike in 2012, this year’s Google I/O was not a distinctively Android-focused event and that’s telling: Google has realized that the key to mobile does not rest with Android itself. Google does not win mobile by competing against Apple and iOS. It wins by being Google, focusing on servicing its customers across platforms.

While there were some significant product announcements such as Google+ Hangouts—which launched on Chrome, Android, and iOS simultaneously—I’m going to highlight the interesting Android developments that caught my eye. For further details, check out Google’s wrap-up of the Android announcements on their blog.

Google Play Services

The big three here were new location services, Google+ sign-in across devices, and improvements to Google Cloud Messaging. Having worked on applications that heavily rely on location, I’m pretty excited about the low battery consumption aspect, along with the new activity monitoring that can detect movement type (e.g., walking versus running).

Making Google+ immediately more relevant as an identity provider, is the automatic sign-in to an app that’s been downloaded across your Android devices. This update is something that is extremely difficult to execute if you’re Facebook or Apple, without having to rely on one another.

On the Google Cloud Messaging side, there are some goodies for developers like upstream messaging and persistent connections. As a consumer, however, I’m looking forward to the fact that notifications are now synced across devices. Dismiss a notification on one device and that’s respected across your Android devices.

Google Play Developer Console

Thankfully, we’ve found a great localization partner in Applingua and they’ve helped us localize about a half-dozen iOS and Android apps. I believe that has definitely increased our success, which is why it’s surprising that more developers don’t take the time to localize their apps. That’s likely going to change with how easy Google’s making it to localize apps by submitting the strings file through their developer console to approved localization vendors.

I am initially concerned with this approach providing the right context to the translators, as a strings file alone won’t do that. We always give a build to Applingua and even when doing that, we sometimes have to tweak strings after a release. Provided that there is some level of interaction or quality checks involved, it’s a great addition.

Another welcomed update is the ability to do alpha and beta distribution via the console. I don’t love, however, that this seems wrapped up in Google+ itself by sharing with specific people or Circles. Hopefully it won’t be. In any case, we’ll still be using Hockey for the foreseeable future since it’s a one-stop shop for doing distribution across platforms.

One strategy mobile game developers have done for the last few years, is to initially launch an app in Canada to see how it performs, make revisions, and then tackle the U.S. market. With Google’s new “staged” rollouts, that might be a thing of the past on Android. Along with referral tracking, optimization to do’s, and the new revenue reports coming to the console, Google is finally bringing its algorithmic DNA to mobile app developers.

Android Studio

If you have spent any time around developers, you know they regularly complain about all and any IDEs. Thus it wasn’t surprising that my Android team members were immediately skeptical at this announcement. But within 10 seconds (literally) of Android Studio being demoed, they became very interested in it.

The verdict is still out obviously but Android Studio appears promising. Having an IDE specifically focused on Android is going to reinforce Android as a platform and at least in theory, reduce the learning curve and speed the development of Android apps. It’s a smart move by Google and the Android team.

Paid Apps Are NOT History

A sensational title on BGR that is a testament to a single reality: games are the most popular apps on mobile platforms. More specifically, games continue to thrive under the freemium model. So, it’s no wonder that the highest grossing charts are filled with free game apps.

The good news is that to survive on the App Store (or in app stores in general), it’s not necessary to be on the overall top grossing chart. And at least to this point, the freemium model is largely unproven in the non-game market. Thus, a better title would have been,

Paid Game Apps Are History

Reactions to Google I/O 2012

Jelly Bean and Nexus 7 and Nexus Q…OH MY!

Yesterday’s keynote at Google I/O was impressive. I’m tempted to put an asterisk on that sentence but this year, it feels like Google is ready to deliver on its mobile promises. Here’s what caught my eye outside of the typical items the press covered.

Jelly Bean

  • Android 4.1: Jelly Bean is no small update; while not stated, it’s obvious Google is not bumping up to 5.0 due to lack of adoption of Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Project Butter: One of my long complaints about Android is that scrolling (in particular) is still not silky smooth; the demo’s showing performance increases of Jelly Bean over Ice Cream Sandwich looked great
  • Offline Voice Typing: Voice to text is all I really want Siri to do and it usually can’t due to network issues…nice win
  • Better Notifications: Much more useful, notifications are actionable and can perform common functions of an app without having to open it at all
  • Smart App Updates: Delta updates of what’s changed in an APK are very useful, especially over cellular connections; Google can use this feature to entice carriers to push out Jelly Bean

Nexus 7

  • Nexus: Google’s doing its best to make the Nexus brand relevant but at least in my non-technical circles, I mostly hear “Droid” still when people talk about Android; look at the website and notice the branding emphasis on Nexus instead of Google, which continues to seem a big mistake
  • 7″: There’s another similarly sized device running a version of Android that’s doing well; unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire though, the Nexus 7 benefits from a true tablet-optimized experience
  • $199: Also following the Fire’s aggressive pricing model, Google is clearly pulling all the levers it can to get its flagship tablet in customer’s hands
  • Content Emphasis: Google is giving away $25 credits to the Google Play store, a free Transformers movie, and some other content for a limited time, showing they believe content is king on the Nexus 7; this squarely pits the Nexus 7 against the Kindle Fire, which is likely part of Google’s strategy (i.e., compare buying the Nexus 7 over the Kindle Fire…not the Nexus 7 over the iPad)

Nexus Q

  • “Q”: Sounds like the name of a smartphone and not a media device; if Google wanted to stick with “Nexus” at least give it a non-mobile device name
  • Over-the-air: A smarter strategy than trying to load up the Nexus Q with apps that are specific for it; while Google mentioned 600,000 apps, they are still behind in overall quality and quantity and don’t need another place for developers to focus right now
  • Collaborative Focus: Features like having multiple people being able to control a Nexus Q with an Android device is definitely a nice to have but still may not be worth another $200 over an Apple TV

How the Amazon Appstore Addresses the “Other” Android Challenge

Last week, a big headline was Google’s new “anti-fragmentation” stance. It’s going to be some time before their new position has any real impacts, since Android is now heavily in the wild and wildly out of control. While that’s happening, however, Amazon has made a big move addressing the other major challenge with Android—it’s app store—and the Amazon Appstore for Android is going to have a larger impact than people initially realize.

Android Market Problems

There’s no doubt that the Android Market highlights the problems of a fragmented platform. To see that in full effect, just read the reviews of almost any Android app (but especially the popular ones), and you’ll find the main complaints being about the app not working on a specific device and OS combination.

Fragmentation doesn’t address the Android Market problems as an app store though and it’s arguable that those are as important, if not more important, than fragmentation itself. The reason is while fragmentation deals with the getting developers buying into the platform, the Android Market is concerned with converting existing Android device owners into Android app consumers. Here is a quick list of the most critical issues:

  1. Payment Mechanism Most people haven’t even heard of Google Checkout, let alone have a Google Checkout account. Compare that to the over 200 million credit cards on file via iTunes Accounts. Not offering other payment mechanisms is a huge barrier to drive paid downloads.

  2. Curated Content Apple’s App Store has a series of finely curated featured lists. That’s the likely product of the App Store review process and the fact that the App Store Review Team literally touches every single app before it gets published. Meanwhile, the Android Market is still confusing to browse and lacks the same marketing prowess of what it means to be featured.

  3. Familiar Branding The Android Market, like the Chrome Web Store, is outside of Google’s historical primary focus. For example, the interface for the reviews is unfamiliar compared to what consumers see in the App Store (which is similar to music reviews in iTunes). There’s also no real credibility or trust with Google in this context, as they are known more for services than content.

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Enter the Amazon Appstore

A big reason that Amazon might eventually own the Android market (note the case) is that it knows how to sell content. As John Gruber notes, “Amazon knows how to sell digital content; Google doesn’t.”

Time and time again, Google displays an amazing ability to tackle and overcome huge technology challenges but it is ultimately a company run by engineers. Consider Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs, and all of its most successful consumer-facing products. They each consist of sparse interfaces but they are all for task-oriented products. The Android Market doesn’t fall into that model but a similar design philosophy has been applied.

When considering the pain points identified in the Android Market, Amazon has a distinct advantage in pushing paid downloads: 1) They have a huge amount of credits cards on file, since payment is facilitated through existing Amazon.com accounts. 2) They are much more hands-on about filtering and curating apps (e.g., they even have a free app of the day). 3) The app listings almost feel like Amazon product pages, complete with the now infamous Amazon customer review area. As you can see with these screenshots, Amazon’s initial effort of an app store already looks better than Google’s various iterations.

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Amazon Hardware

While Amazon may not be pursue its Blaze smartphone this summer, it is no stranger to developing hardware. As I alluded to previously, the Amazon tablet could be well on its way, providing Amazon something Google now wants: a unified hardware-software solution.

In the not so distant future, Amazon could become Apple’s largest mobile threat in the tablet arena. It could leverage its well-known brand, huge content catalog, cloud services, easy checkout, and an actual tablet to quickly surpass other Google partners. Dan Frommer doesn’t see Amazon going after the high-end of the market, leaving that to Apple, but as he writes, “there’s no reason Amazon couldn’t compete with the likes of Motorola, HTC, and Samsung in the mid-level Android tablet market.”