Android

Photoillustration of a woman photocopying an iPhone.

Relax, Fandroids. I kid because I care.

Cover of 'Dogfight' by Fred Vogelstein.“As a consumer, I was blown away,” says Googler Chris DeSalvo in a quote from Fred Vogelstein’s book, Dogfight, upon seeing the now-legendary January 9, 2007 Stevenote when he unveiled the first iPhone.

“I wanted one immediately,” DeSalvo continues. “But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.’

According to the Atlantic article The Day Google Had to ‘Start Over’ on Android, an excerpt from Dogfight, Google’s big concern at the time was Microsoft. It made sense at the time: They seemed to be making the right moves. If you remember those days, Windows Mobile 5.0 was the third revision of their mobile operating system, and true to the general rule about Microsoft revs, it was finally good enough. They’d lined up an impressive array of nearly 50 hardware partners, including HTC, who’d end up shipping the most WinMo phones, and the big coup: Palm, whom they’d convinced to build phones that ran WinMo. Their OS featured mobile versions of Office. The industry rumblings were that Microsoft would end up eating away at the dominant phone OS player at the time, Symbian. “Microsoft comes out fighting when threatened,” the conventional wisdom said. “Remember what happened in the browser wars?”

Here’s what was considered to be the game-changer that would make Microsoft a serious mobile threat: the Palm Treo 700w

Palm Treo 700w phone

The Palm Treo 700w.

The best smartphones of the era followed a design template that had been defined years earlier by the Blackberry: screen at the top, physical keyboard at the bottom, augmented by some kind of device to move the cursor (first a scroll wheel, then a D-pad, and optionally, a stylus).

Then this happened:

(If you haven’t seen it before or in a while, watch it again. You can almost feel the audience’s excitement in the opening moments, as Steve teases them with hints of what he’s about to announce. You can also feel the envy when Google’s Eric Schmidt comes onstage at the 51-minute mark — remember that he was on Apple’s board then.)

From the article:

On the day Jobs announced the iPhone, the director of the Android team, Andy Rubin, was six hundred miles away in Las Vegas, on his way to a meeting with one of the myriad handset makers and carriers that descend on the city for the Consumer Electronics Show. He reacted exactly as DeSalvo predicted. Rubin was so astonished by what Jobs was unveiling that, on his way to a meeting, he had his driver pull over so that he could finish watching the webcast.

“Holy crap,” he said to one of his colleagues in the car. “I guess we’re not going to ship that phone.”

Another key quote, this time from Ethan Beard, one of Android’s early biz dev people:

“We knew that Apple was going to announce a phone. Everyone knew that. We just didn’t think it would be that good.

With the announcement of the iPhone, the Android project, whose members had been working “sixty-tp-eighty-hour weeks for fifteen months — some for more than two years” made a pivot whose effects we’re still feeling today. The BlackBerry-like phone that they’d been working on — codename “Sooner”, with a physical keyboard, no touchscreen, and a general “me-too” design — was pushed aside. They filed mobile phone-related patents galore in September 2007. The iPhone forced them to rethink the OS and phone design, and from that came a new design, codenamed “Dream”. This pivot would require them to delay their first release by a year, and the end result was the HTC Dream, released in October 2008.

HTC Dream phone, shown in landscape mode with the sliding keyboard extended.

The HTC Dream.

As you can see, the Android weren’t so sure about all of Apple’s design decisions, hence the physical keyboard and trackball. Today’s phone designs tell you how those choices by the Android team worked out.

I’ll close with an observation based on the article by John “Daring Fireball” Gruber. He may be Apple’s freelance PR guy, but he’s often right, including in this case:

Remember a few years ago, at the height of the “Android is a ripoff of the iPhone” controversy, when Android supporters claimed that the similarities were just some sort of amazing coincidence, like Newton and Leibniz discovering calculus concurrently, because Android had started life a few years before the iPhone was introduced? Good times.

I’m going to get my paws on a copy of Dogfight and read it over the holidays. Expect a review of it in the coming weeks.

 

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RubyMotion Tutorial

Clay Allsop’s RubyMotion Tutorial appears to be the most complete tutorial on the topic online. If you don’t relish the idea of programming in Objective-C but want to write native iPhone apps, you should check out this tutorial and see if coding apps in Ruby with RubyMotion is for you.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can fork the tutorial on GitHub and rewrite or expand upon your own version.

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AIDE: Android Java IDE

AIDE, the Android Java IDE, lets you code apps for Android devices on an Android device. It’s fully compatible with Eclipse projects, supports the full edit-compile-run cycle and has an editor with desktop IDE features like code completion, real-time error checking, refactoring and smart code navigation. According to the description, AIDE will “turn your Android tablet with keyboard into a real development box” and will “turn your Android Phone into a small development computer to browse and touch your code on the go.”

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iOS Image Tricks

Adam from Dwellable, the app for finding and reviewing vacation rental homes, shares some iOS image tricks that he used while taking the iPad version of the app and converting it into an iPhone app. These tricks we necessary the app, while it ran acceptably on the iPhone 4, was unacceptable slow on older units like the iPhone 3. The tricks he discusses are:

  • Using an image pipeline to serve the right image for older iPhones, retina iPhones and iPads
  • Using spriting — instead of sending a number of images, send a single large image made up of a bunch of images
  • Using 16-bit images with older devices to conserve memory

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Designing for Android: Tips and Techniques

Here’s a guide for designers to help them design for Android, whose ecosystem has many combinations of OS, screen size, aspect ratio and pixel density. In combination with the design guidelines on the Android Design site, this guide will help you make beautiful, usable Android apps.

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A Mobile Privacy Policy You Can Use and Customize

Here’s a set of open source mobile privacy policies that you can copy, modify and use for your own mobile apps. Created by Docracy, an online store of open legal documents, you can use them as-is, or use them as a starting point for your app’s privacy policy. Most users consider the mobile device to be more personal than their desktops or laptops (even though they’re called personal computers), and it’s expected that privacy policies will eventually be required for apps; grab these and get a head start! Best of all, Docracy lets you fork their documents GitHub-style.

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ManiacDev’s Catalog of Open Source iPhone and iPad Apps

ManiacDev has updated their list of iOS apps for which the source code is available — there are now 85! 67 are currently available in the App Store, and while the remainder aren’t, they were at one time and you can still get the source for all of them. There’s nothing like learning from source code for complete, released applications, and I haven’t seen a bigger collection of such for iOS. If you’re interested in the source for games only, ManiacDev has a “just the games” list.

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TheNewBoston.com’s 200-Episode Android Tutorial Video Series

TheNewBoston.com has a video series made up of 200 videos covering Android development. The series starts with downloading and installing the JDK, Eclipse and the Android SDK, covers a lot of ground on writing Android apps, and ends with putting an app on the market and updating it. The presentation style is extremely casual and even made me chuckle a couple of times. I think it’s a pretty good launching point: use these videos as your launching point, back them up with the Android docs, and you’ll be on your way.

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Making Money in the App Store in “The Next 19%”

Dave Addey does some back-of-the-envelope calculations and says that while it’s increasingly unlikely for you to get your app in the top 1% of Apple’s App Store, you’ve got decent odds for getting your app into the sweet spot of what he calls “The Next 19%”.  He says that if the numbers he’s using are representative, the iOS App Store breaks down this way:

Tier How many apps? %age of Revenue Average income per app
Top 1% 6,500 36%, or $1.75 billion $269,230
The “Next 19%” 123,500 61%, or $3.05 billion $24,696
Bottom 80% 520,000 3%, or $150 million $288

 

He writes:

With the App Store maturing, hitting that top 1% increasingly requires sizeable investment and marketing in addition to app development skills. Successfully launching a 1% app (even with sizeable investment) isn’t something you’d bet your mortgage on, and I’d go as far as to say that this top end of the store is no longer a market that’s available to small independent developers.

The next 19%, however, is definitely a viable aspiration. Most of the paid apps we’ve released have fitted comfortably within the upper bounds of this part of the graph (beating the 19% average mentioned above), and these kinds of apps are definitely within reach of small development teams or sole developers.

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