O Android…

As you read this blog, keep in mind that I have a slightly different perspective than most. I’ve worked almost exclusively on platforms for the last 17 years, both in gaming (Xbox) and smartphones (HTC, Cyanogen) and I’ve been lucky enough to work on the flagship products that I’ve always wanted to own. So I have the unique advantage (and disadvantage) of some insider knowledge and opinions.

A couple weeks ago was Google IO. And while there are many fascinating things to debate, I figured i’d start with something near and dear to my heart. Android.

Android has crossed 2 billion monthly ACTIVE users in smartphones and tablet. That’s a lot — that’s more than a lot — that’s a metric butt-ton. We’re talking Facebook scale on a device that is getting 5 hours of daily use as compared to Facebook’s 50min (*in USA).

Despite that amazing figure, the total revenue from Android is still staggeringly low compared to iOS. The last data I read showed that the average iphone user spends 9–10x what the average android users spends on apps/games. So, even though Android sells 2:1 (depending on who’s numbers you believe), iOS software still pulls in 4.5x more money than Android.

Disappointing. App store revenue isn’t important to just Google, it’s important to the whole ecosystem; every company who makes applications or games and needs to make money. The more money app developers can bring in, the more they can spend on building up their teams and providing better content.

So Google, I have a serious question for you. When are you going to give me project FULL THROTTLE? Project KICK ASS? Project ASH WILLIAMS?

If you put the effort into an amazing, high end platform and put together the content deals to match it, you might be able to get that ARPU higher than $5.70 that you’ve been stuck at for so long. But instead you’re going for quantity over quality. You’ve got all that intellectual horsepower (not to mention money) and you’re using it to get the “next billion users” by making OS changes that target cheaper and cheaper phones. Projects like “Android Go” and “Vitals” and “Fluidity” all help make it possible to get to that $50 smartphone with 512MB RAM to the mass smartphone market that is less technology literate.

I have news for you — those “next billion” users are going to spend EVEN LESS on content than the current users. Not good for you. Not good for me. Not good for the ecosystem.

Because the highest percentage of mobile revenue is from gaming, I think we can look at the Nintendo switch as close cousin. Regardless of whether you think the switch is selling purely because of Zelda or from the promise of a new portable platform — what it DOES show us is that there can be good quality content on mobile processors that people are willing to spend money on. What we need is someone with the ability to go and get that content onto the platform. And let me be perfectly clear:

I WILL PAY YOU MORE MONEY IF YOU PROVIDE ME WITH BETTER CONTENT

I get it. You’re features will help everyone. Not just the low end market. Right? Well let’s take a look at how your keynote features stack up for the tech nerds like me.

Android Fluid Experiences

  • Picture in picture: There is pretty much one use case here. Video. Haven’t I seen this in apps like VLC and Galaxy Note III for years now? Not a bad feature, but I’m just not sure that should be one of the keynote mentions.
  • Notification Dots: I suppose taking the features from Nova launcher and iphone and getting them into the standard OS is a good thing. Again, this is keynote worthy?
  • Autofill: I’m starting to get suspicious here. Password autofill in LastPass has been a great feature. I guess you’re going to do this better than the password manager apps? You’ll put the time and focus and make it so nobody needs those apps anymore? Ok.
  • Auto select: Thanks to the magic of AI, you can select a multiword business name automatically. Thanks! I can’t tell you how big of a problem selecting the extra two words has been in the 4 times a year I do it. Glad we’re going “AI first”.

The watered down conclusion

The baseline recap here is that Google’s taking features from other apps and making them part of the OS. To be fair, that’s what most platforms do. Hell, it’s been the key to Apple’s success; finding features others have already done and do them a bit better. The problem with these is that I’m not totally sure that Android is doing these features better just yet.

Android Vitals

  • Play Protect: Even on stage, they basically said that they’ve had virus scanning for quite a while but they needed to put an app together so people realize it’s there and still functioning.
  • OS Optimization: I can’t complain about optimization of the platform. 2x faster boot times and other platform optimizations are great. Boot time is a bit of a vanity metric on mobile since we don’t ever reboot our phones, but it’s possible we could see impact in other experiences.
  • Wise Limits: Some limits are going to be put in place for app developers for both querying location (battery impact) and running background processes (memory/performance impact). This is a decent idea. It will work at an OS level and (hopefully) give some noticeable battery improvements.
  • Play Console Dashboard: Providing a dashboard for app developers to see crash logs, ANRs, frame rate and battery issues happening in the real world. Gotta admit — I love this. Bringing all app developers into a data driven world and doing the work for them is really helpful. If you work at a big software company then you probably do a lot of this already. But it’s so easily overlooked when new products are getting off the ground.
  • Android Studio Profiler Tools: Adding CPU, Memory and network profiling in a unified experience is also a great. A lot of the functionality we’ve already had, but if they backup this new experience with lots of tech talks, articles and videos to ensure developers know how to use them then we might see some impact.
  • Kotlin Support: Android has added Kotlin as a fully supported development language. Again, nothing but goodness here. Presumably Jetbrains did most of the work for IDE since Android Studio is based off their IntelliJ platform. And since it boils down to java bytecode it makes for some good low hanging fruit.

The heart of android vitals

Basically android had some real PR problems that they needed to fix. In 2016, one of the shadiest apps out there (Cheetah Mobile Clean Master:1 2 3) made it to #6 in top free apps because it promised performance improvements and virus protection. Google is publicizing the work they already do and are adding some performance tweaks to the device (which are always a great addition). 2x faster boot time and limits on battery & memory hogging apps are great , but we’ll see whether there is noticeable difference in feel once we all get our hands on it.

One more little rant here Google: These PR issues and performance problems are only going to get worse for you in the pursuit of your “next billion” users running cheap-o devices.

In truth, I have nothing against the work that is going into emerging markets. There are underserved markets that appreciate entry level devices at an entry level price. But Google is big enough that they should be going after BOTH sides of the market; the high and the low.

My phone is the single product that is within arms reach 24/7/365 and that’s not going to change anytime soon. My phone is part of me and I take pride in it. I should not feel bored with the device or the OS. I should not feel like my phone is a place for skin deep experiences and games. I should not feel like paying for new hardware is a waste of money because the ecosystem is not pushing the boundaries.

Give me less Android Go and more project John Wick.

Next Blog: Trouble With Treble

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