Android 2.2, Engravings and the Google Nexus One

Android 2.2

Android 2.2 was announced at Google I/O just over a week ago. It is the highly anticipated update to the Android platform that brings a slew of very important improvements and refinements, including a reduced memory footprint, the addition of a JIT compiler to both the Dalvik Java-esque virtual machine and the V8 Javascript engine in the browser, push-messaging for any 2.2 or above targeting apps (with the reliable and powerful Google ecosystem to back it), streaming media, comprehensive ActiveSync support, among many other new features and functions.

Lots of refinements have taken place. It levels the ground with the iPhone, and provides some ammo against the soon-to-be-announced iPhone 4.

The Android platform is a very exciting place to be. Competition is excellent. Hopefully the iPhone 4 is a stunner as well.

A Terrible Roll Out

The (non-)roll-out of 2.2 could have been done better.

A pre-release of 2.2 got pushed to a subset of devices — those given to press or as handouts at Google I/O — shortly after I/O concluded, with no one seemingly knowing that it wasn’t the real deal, or that it was only going to a subset of devices.

The tech sites proclaimed that the roll out was underway. Purportedly there was a confirmation by a Google rep that the new version was being pushed.

Google had indicated, at the conclusion of I/O, that they planned on getting 2.2 out for the Nexus One in a “couple of weeks”, so this seemed like a case of setting expectations low and then wowing them. Everyone was eagerly checking their phones, suddenly convinced that it wasn’t worth using until Froyo was installed. Soon they could impress their friends with Linpack results.

But it wasn’t a real roll out. Nor was it the actual release version. Google didn’t seem to correct anyone until days later, after lots of people had downloaded and installed a covertly discovered pre-release version of it.

Android already suffers enough criticism for the purported need for “task management” (you don’t need to manage tasks! It is often simply a placebo), it doesn’t need people thinking that you need to root your phone, rollback to a prior version, and then roll forward, all to avoid being picked last for the team.

The pre-release clearly has some issues. There are observations about apps crashing, with commentators opining that those app devs need to “update their app for 2.2”, providing more misinformation to add to the talking points of Android detractors

Communicate better, Google. And stop treating the press (or evenpeople sent to I/O by their employers) as your closest allies. Theyaren’t.

Android has succeeded despite sites like Gizmodo and Engadget and their brethren, a strong community and grassroots effort keeping it aloft in the face of a lot of effluence and misinformation.

This tarnished what should have been a stunning release of a stellar upgrade.

The Android Platform Today

It still is a bit rough for mainstream consumers. I own an HTC Dream, an HTC Magic+, and most recently added a Google (née HTC) Nexus One, and I love all three of them (and it is far and away the best platform for me and my needs), but there are still warts and issues.

Scrolling on the Nexus One, for instance, is often rough, like the device is over-extended. This includes scrolling down pages, between home screens, and so on. It seems like a trivial thing, and it doesn’t impede actual functionality at all, but it is one of those minor things that really favor the iPhone, where scrolling and transitions are brilliantly smooth.

The Sense UI added by HTC offers a much more iPhone-like smoothness, but the base OS shouldn’t falter on such powerful hardware (and Sense UI is why HTC lags behind the Google release cycle at such a distance).

If you add animations to interactions, they must be smooth or they become a detriment. I’d rather pages just instantly flipped rather than being poorly animated. Android does it well compared to devices that came before, but it’s the unparalleled smooth elegance of the iPhone that makes it pale in comparison.

The Android Market

The Android market is a mess. There are 50,000 apps, around 49,000 of them being horrendous make-money-fast junk apps (thousands of compasses, levels, and after a “success story” led to a gold rush, parked-car-finder apps).

The “Just In” section is simply depressing.

This is very similar to the Apple market, for those who might be gloating, where there are companies spamming the directory full of thousands of repackaged web pages and regurgitated filler. Apple might have strong opinions about what Adobe’s Flash-to-native compiler would do to quality, but they certainly have no qualms letting low quality junk saturate the app market.

Of the remaining 1,000 apps, many still have a pretty big “need work” sign hanging on them. As a contemporary example, Epicurious just pushed out an Android app to join their existing iPhone app,and while the iPhone app is lauded, the Android version is seriously deficient, almost to the point of being unusable.

Make it easier for us to separate the wheat from the chaff. The current rating system is broken, and seems to be primarily used by spammers trying to earn gems in garbage games.

Allow me to pick my own trusted rating authority to browse and sort the app market. This should be similar to looking at a movie listing and choosing whether you want to rate based upon Metacritic, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster, the community at large or just personally trusted reviewers and their network of trusts.

I don’t care what a million spammers have rated an app at, nor do I care to waste my time with apps that people whose opinion I value have given the thumbs-down.

The market is improving (the new system that will be coming after 2.2 is apparently going to be very similar to Xbox Live, where I can pick movies and games on their web interface from a desktop and they’ll instantly start pushing down to my powered on Xbox 360), but people need appropriate expectations going in.

It doesn’t matter how many apps there are in the Android market. Or the iPhone market, for that matter. It only matters how many satisfy your needs.

Taking on the Snaptic Challenge and Then Making it Personal

Snaptic launched an interesting challenge recently – the Move Your App! Developer Challenge – and it inspired me to get serious about Android development. More so than the cursory surface skimming I did previously.

It was mostly a nice external motivation and a bit of a deadline to get me taking the initial steps. Yet in the end I decided against submitting for the contest.

I didn’t submit for two reasons.

Firstly because I started two weeks before the contest ended, and the odd evening or weekend just isn’t enough time to polish something in that amount of time. I don’t want to contribute to the pollution of the market.

Secondly because I couldn’t reasonably fulfill a basic requirement of the contest, which is that you have to integrate with their note/photo cloud service (the contest isn’t entirely selfless on their part). It didn’t lend itself to my app without seeming like a completely superficial tacked on requirement-filler.

I hugely applaud them for creating the contest, encouraging Android development and getting people to get on the move. Their prizes are incredibly generous and unique as well.

Alas, I’m going to keep on plugging away and will have a version 1.0 in the market in the coming weeks, and I will openly say that it was inspired by the Snaptic challenge.

Google and the Nexus One Channel “Failure”

A lot has been written about Google purportedly abandoning the Nexus One. In reality the market simply isn’t ready for unsubsidized phones, people much more willing to pay $199 for an iPhone, and then thousands in service fees, than to pay $500+ for an unsubsidized device.

It’s similar to bandwidth where people are more accepting of“unlimited” data plans, with onerous throttling and usage restrictions, vendors trying to game it to ensure that you use as little as possible, than to pay for actual consumption. It’s destructive for everyone, but it’s the Big Lie that we all live with.

It’s also true that Google is a terrible retailer.

When my Nexus One was ordered I quickly realized I should have joined two orders (the phone and the car dock) to pay a single shipping charge, but more importantly a single customs brokerage charge. Despite contacting them almost immediately I instantly got a stock reply saying that it couldn’t be done due to their ultra-expedient fulfillment process. The fulfillment wasn’t ultra-quick, and strangely I can make such changes to trivial, low-margin computer orders with no issues at all, but that’s the operation of Google where the earnings per employee is maximized, and saying no is easier(and cheaper) than being accommodating.

I also ordered an engraving (see below) on my phone and the phone came sans engraving. I filled out their support form to say “What happened with the engraving I asked for?” to instantly get an obviously mechanical Bayesian response that I needed to contact HTC for any order problems.

Google isn’t great at retailing directly to the public. I love the phone, but the experience was far from pleasant.

On Engraving One’s Phone

Engraved Phone

Several times prior I had almost completed an order but backed out once presented with the engraving options.

It seemed like something I should take advantage of.

But what to engrave My name My email address?

What if I transferred the phone to someone else once the next killer Android device came along Surely they wouldn’t like having my name permanently engraved on a non-removable part of the phone.

What if I dropped the phone on a covert mission and wanted deniability?

At the same time I’d like for someone to be able to contact me if they find the phone, and maybe edge someone who is on the fence about whether to keep the found goods to doing the right thing.

So I went and registered a domain – mylost.mobi – and set my engraving to be yyz@mylost.mobi.

I “think bigger” in almost all that I do, and the idea was that such a site would offer a control panel and the ability to transfer the forwarding address, so if I transferred the phone I would simply transfer the email address.

Alas, my phone didn’t come engraved so I didn’t bother building it out. Neat idea, I think.