Tag Archives: Android

Goodbye Sparrow

Goodbye Sparrow.

Sparrow was, and still is, the best email app I have ever used. It’s user interface is clean, simple and very intuitive. It makes email faster and me enjoyable.

It’s everything that you could want in a desktop or mobile email app. Sadly, Sparrow was just acquired by Google. This was more of a acqui-hire than a real acquisition.

Google just wants the talented Sparrow team; it doesn’t really want the wonderful iPhone and Mac App that the company has created. Google has never really cared that much about putting out really strong products on anything other than Android.

I have some hope for this acquisition. The Sparrow team has clearly been thinking hard about how to make email more efficient, particularly on mobile platforms. The knowledge and design that went into Sparrow could be brought over to Gmail.com and mobile Gmail clients.

The best case scenario is that Sparrow gets renamed Gmail and that the Sparrow experience gets brought to more platforms. Worst case scenario would be Google just using the new team to help make Gmail.com better, while continuing to ignore native desktop and mobile experiences, particularly on iOS.

Google has put more thought and care into the Android Gmail experience than the iOS one and doesn’t have an app on any other mobile platform. I’d hate for them to acquire the best iOS Gmail client and then just kill it and go back to delivering a sub-par Gmail experience for iOS users.

Sparrow will still be available and minor updates will continue to roll out. But don’t expect new features for Sparrow clients, and that long-anticipated iPad client will never see the light of day. The Verge reports that this acquisition was largely about making the Gmail experience better and more attractive for everyone:

Our sources also noted that Google isn’t ruling out native Gmail clients for platforms beyond iOS and Android, and emphasized that Google wants to bring polish, “beauty,” and ease of use to all of its Gmail experiences across platforms (a suggestion that a native client for Mac and PC might be in the offing). Sparrow, apparently, is a way to get there.

I’m all for that. I’ve been a Gmail user for seven years, and while the underlying service and engineering keep getting better, the user interface has stagnated and is too keyboard focused. Sparrow for iOS really brought a big touch focus and had a lot of great gestures and UI flourishes that made tearing through email really fast.

Every Gmail experience from the website to native apps could benefit from the work that Sparrow has done. The Gmail team’s engineering work combined with the Sparrow team’s UI/UX work could be a beautiful thing. It’s an incredible marriage of tech and art.

I hope, however, this doesn’t mean the end of high quality native Gmail experiences. While gmail.com does provide a good email solution that works across platforms (and that is better than Outlook, Apple’s Mail app and Thunderbird), it’s not nearly as good as a really forward thinking native app like Sparrow.

Sparrow came about because Google neglected the desktop experience and the iOS experience. I hope they don’t take this new talent and continue down that path. Google needs to take native app experiences more seriously.

The Web is great, but it’s not the end all, be all, especially something like mobile email. Sparrow’s legacy deserves more than just the Web. Sparrow should be about making gmail.com better and making more and better native apps.

Sparrow, you will be missed. Hopefully this will not have all been in vain.

Episode 42: Computer face

We kick off the show by talking about Google I/O, and specifically the Nexus 7.

Could this be the first Android tablet to really make it big?

And what to make of Google Glass? Would you wear a computer on your eyes?

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Comscore: Kindle Fire is the majority of Android tablet market

The latest Comscore numbers show that people are embracing proprietary Android tablets much more than stock ones:

The Kindle Fire, introduced to the market in November 2011, has seen rapid adoption among buyers of tablets. Within the Android tablet market, Kindle Fire has almost doubled its share in the past two months from 29.4 percent share in December 2011 to 54.4 percent share in February 2012, already establishing itself as the leading Android tablet by a wide margin. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab family followed with a market share of 15.4 percent in February, followed by the Motorola Xoom with 7.0 percent share. The Asus Transformer and Toshiba AT100 rounded out the top five with 6.3 percent and 5.7 percent market share, respectively.

The mobile phone market is not the same as the tablet market. These numbers make that clear. While the Kindle Fire is Android based, it’s a proprietary fork of Android. I think we’ll see more forks like this in the future.

Android is having trouble getting traction in the tablet market, and the one Android-based tablet that is gaining traction is following the Apple tight-vertical model where one company controls hardware, software and digital media content. It makes for a seamless experience.

Tablets are becoming much more than consumption devices (I’m writing this on an iPad), and it appears that users want a tight experience that works well. Stock Android is certainly more flexible than a stock iPad or Kindle Fire, but it offers a vastly inferior user experience for the average user.

What is good design? It’s how something functions. I can hand an iPad to a lot of people who never really got how to use a PC and they’ll be better able to get the most out of the device.

Many people never really enjoyed the PC era. Those devices were too complex with good software, services and content too hard to get. These new post-PC devices are easier to use for the average person.

That’s exciting. It really is.

Episode 22: Happy Holidays!

christmas 2007

Yes, we’re a few days late with posting our holiday episode. You can blame me and all my travel for that. But it’s a good episode.

First we talk about tech gifts. We’re both into the Kindle and think it will have sold well this holiday season.

Jeremy also discusses how his father somehow ended up with a not-that-new-model Android phone because Jeremy’s father took the advice of his barber over Jeremy.

There is a lot more in this episode, like the new Twitter War and other interesting topics. We hope your holidays went well.

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The cost of third-tier Android phones

17/365 - Phoning it in.

So Android has great market share, but much of that market share was achieved by selling low-cost, second- and third-rate Android experiences.

These bad experiences have consquenties, however. Android handset markers consistently receive much lower scores on consumer satisfaction surveys than Apple does with the iPhone, the profit-share leader in the mobile handset market. While it is hard to tease out the data fully, I suspect much of this is due to non-top-tier Android phones.

I’ve already seen several family members and friends switch from Android to the iPhone and others will be doing so when their current contracts are up. None of these people owned top-tier Android phones, like the Nexus S or the forthcoming Galaxy Nexus (consider this a hint as to which Android phones I would go with). What many people received was a really poor experience that turned them off from the platform. These people are itching to switch to a better experience, and are often not willing to consider another Android phone, even if that Android phone could provide them with the experience they desire.

I have to wonder what the long-term effect of these low cost, low quality phones will be on the perception of Android in the minds of consumers. Is Google gaining marketshare today at the expense of market share and profits tomorrow?

Apple has finally gotten into the low-cost smartphone game with the free-with-contract iPhone 3GS. The 3Gs may be more than two years old, but it’s still a good smartphone and not a third-rate phone like many of the cheap or free Android phones. AT&T has already said that they are seeing very strong demand for the new 3GS, and I expect this new price point to cut into Android sales.

Eventually Apple will have to sell a pre-paid iPhone to be able to compete with Android in emerging markets. That day will come in a few years, but for now Android will continue to gain more marketshare by selling more phones at lower prices points. But more phone sales now won’t necessarily translate to more phone sales tomorrow.

I do not believe the mobile market will play out like the the desktop PC one did. No one will truly own the market. Thus, I don’t put that much stock in strong market share today if that market share is coming from selling products that users are unhappy with.

Netbook sales were once the darling of the PC industry, but these devices were largely poor user experiences. The delight that users felt by the low price point of netbooks was quickly soured by the poor user experience. It’s not a surprise that the netbook market is cratering after Apple released the iPad, because the iPad is a much better user experience at these lower price points.

Does Google really want its good phones to be tainted by phones that aren’t anywhere near the quality that an Android phone can be? I recognize that the open source nature of Android can lead to these issues, but the satisfaction rate of Android users isn’t near the level of iPhone users.

While 89 percent of iPhone users said they were likely to buy another iPhone, only 39 percent said the same of HTC, one of the major makers of Android phones. And HTC was second in the rankings to Apple.

The people that I know who really like there Android phones almost universally got one of the top-tier Android devices that cost $199, $299 or more with a two-year contract. These phones are real iPhone competitors. Those who purchased Android phones because they were cheap or free are considerably less happy with their purchases.

When it comes to free-with-contract phones, the iPhone 3GS is probably the best of the bunch. It’s not as fast as the latest iPhone and doesn’t have as good of a camera, Siri and some other features, but it does many things quite well. It runs the latest version of iOS, provides a good experience, runs a lot of apps and in general is a great phone for first-time smartphone buyers.

An entry-level smartphone should provide a good, user-friendly user interface and a good email, Web browsing and text messaging experience, complete with a good third-party ecosystem. The bells and whistles beyond that — high resolution displays, video conferencing, fast CPUs/GPUs for games, high-end cameras, digital assistants, LTE, etc. — don’t need to be there for entry-level users. But the basics do.

Maybe Google needs to make a spec for lower-end phones that focuses on the basics. Maybe it will be a less open experience (from the user’s point of view). Maybe it will be tighter controlled and have less functionality.

The people who buy cheap or free smartphones don’t care about “open” or power user features. That’s for the geeks who buy the latest and greatest. If Google doesn’t find a way to solve this entry-level issue, I fear they may find themselves receiving more bad results from user surveys, and ultimately lost users, particularly at the high, profitable end.

Many entry-level users will one day become buyers of top-of-the-line smartphones. If their experience with Android is a cut-rate experience, they won’t be looking to Android when they upgrade.


On Android finding its soul

Joshua Topolsky has a fantastic interview with Matias Duarte, Android’s head of user experience. Matias is trying to give Android soul:

“With Android, people were not responding emotionally, they weren’t forming emotional relationships with the product. They needed it, but they didn’t necessarily love it.”

Matias says that the studies showed that users felt empowered by their devices, but often found Android phones overly complex. That they needed to invest more time in learning the phones, more time in becoming an expert. The phones also made users feel more aware of their limitations — they knew there was more they could do with the device, but couldn’t figure out how to unlock that power.

It was a wakeup call at Google.

We want to create wonder. We wanted to simplify people’s lives. Right now, there’s a common trap that can happen when you load up too much power into a piece of software that’s not that intelligent.

App developers withdrawing from US app stores because of patent troll fears

Our messed up patent system is reaching a tipping point, where we are seeing developers avoid the US market and its patent trolls:

The growth of patent lawsuits over apps raises serious issues for all the emerging smartphone platforms, because none of the principal companies involved – Apple, Google or Microsoft – can guarantee to protect developers from them. Even when the mobile OS developer has signed a patent licence – as Apple has with at least one company currently pursuing patent lawsuits – it is not clear that it has any legal standing to defend developers.

Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory, developer of Twitterrific, remarked that “Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they do and tweeted that “I became an independent developer to control my own destiny. I no longer do”. Iconfactory is among those being targeted by Lodsys, but earlier this week was granted a 30-day extension to reply to Lodsys’s claim.

What do patents protect? They protect us from excess innovation it seems.

35% of US adults own a smartphone, more than half of new sales are smartphones

More than half of new cell phone sales are smartphones, with 35% of all US adults having a smartphone now. The trend toward everyone carrying around pocket computers continues. Pew just released new data today with some fascinating tidbits:

  • 35% of US adults own a smartphone of some kind. The financially well-off, college graduates, those under the age of 45, and non-whites are especially likely to be smartphone owners.
  • 25% of smartphone owners say that they do most of their online browsing on their smartphone, and around one third of this group lacks traditional broadband access at home.
  • 35% of smartphone owners have an Android phone, while iPhones and Blackberry devices are each owned by 24% of smartphone adopters. Android phones are especially prevalent among young adults and African-Americans, while iPhone and Blackberry adopters skew towards those with relatively high levels of income and education.

Mobile computing is the next big frontier of computing. And I mean BIG.