Marco’s Love of Android

I have been following an interesting discussion between the Shifty Jelly folks and Marco Arment of Instapaper regarding the merits of developing for iOS versus Android and whether it’s worth the developer’s time (read money) creating for the platform.

Eric Schmidt spoke recently at Le Web where he said developers, like it or not, will target Android.  As someone who writes iOS applications, it seemed like an arrogant statement and Marco had his thoughts, which seem reasonable to me:

Android devices have been selling in large quantities for a long time. That’s not new. Yet today, compared to iOS, Android is much less profitable for developers (especially for paid apps), its users are less influential for expanding new services, and its app development is much more painful and expensive. And in the rapidly growing and increasingly influential tablet market, Android has an extremely low marketshare.

Shify Jelly creators of applications for both iOS and Android took offense to Marco statements and wrote some elegant dialog as to the contrary:

First some background. We’ve been in the iOS app store since August of 2008, which for those that are counting is only a month or so after it first launched. We’ve been on Android now for about a year. We make serious apps like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather AU, things that take a lot of development effort and involve serious server back-ends. We’ve made enough money since then to support 2 full time staff, and 2 part time designers. Yes we’re the guys who had the run in with Amazon, the email from Steve Jobs, and we’re not millionaires.

Finally, since neither of these developers allow comments on their blog, Marco’s rebuttal to the challenge by Shifty Jelly:

If you make the first great Android Instapaper client that:

  • uses the official API
  • contains a significant portion of the iOS app’s features, the details of which we’d work out privately
  • runs on a wide variety of Android devices and OS versions including modern smartphones, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and whichever 10” tablet matters at the time of completion
  • is priced at $2.99 or higher in the U.S. with approximately equivalent pricing elsewhere, and satisfies requirements to be sold in the Google Marketplace, Amazon Appstore, and whatever B&N uses for the Nook Tablet

I’ll call it the official Instapaper app for Android, I’ll promote it on the Instapaper site, I’ll drop the subscription requirement for its API access, you’ll answer all support email that comes from it, and we’ll split the net revenue 50/50.

As you may know, I write iOS applications but have not given Android much thought primarily for Marco’s reasons.  I like to keep an open mind and would target Android if there was money to be made in any of the apps stores.  I just don’t see it.  Certainly there are tons of Android phones flying out of the stores but are those people spending the money like the users in Apple’s App Store?  I fear not, at least not today.  If users aren’t spending their hard earned dollars on applications how can we be expected to spend our hours on developing for a platform with almost no return.

Who is making money selling their Android applications today?  Please leave a comment.

The dialog is worth the read and is food for thought.  It’s interesting how, since neither allows comments on their blogs, they are forced to trade shots in this way.


Dear Android, More is not Necessarily Better

Marco Arment had a great and timely post about the future of Android over the weekend.  It’s timely because I had just gone through the whole iPhone on AT&T to Android on Verizon to iPhone on Verizon journey and his words rang true.  I had just wrote about the experience last week.

I had experienced the exact pain points Marco mentions:

We’re talking about Android… which has terrible development economics hindered by severe frag mentation and poor payment integration, and is not generally used by most of the influential people needed to spread the word on new services.

Google reports fantastic adoption of Android devices across all the major carriers, which is great but where are the influential tech people cheering for Android from the rooftops?  Well, nobody I can recall but iOS on the other hand…

Marco’s post was a response to Fred Wilson’s post of last week about Android:

It looks like the Verizon iPhone launch is helping iOS hold its own with 25% of the market. I expect (and hope) that iOS will remain a strong competitor to Android. But as I’ve been saying for several years now, I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows. And so if you want to be in front of the largest number of users, you need to be on Android.

He points out the Verizon iPhone launch is helping iOS hold its own.  I think we won’t see the impact of the Verizon launch for a while since people (like myself) moved to Verizon for a smartphone and Android because AT&T has such lousy coverage.  I forced the issue and bought an iPhone off of contract, because I could, but I am sure most can’t or won’t go this route until their contract is up.   I predict a wave of users move to iPhones from Android on contract renewal.

Marco thinks as I do:

We don’t really know, of course. But it’s worth considering. Were they choosing to buy an Android phone, or were they choosing to buy the most iPhone-like option in the Verizon store? If the latter, what are they likely to choose next time?

If Android phones were delighting its customers and building loyalty after the purchase, it would be reasonable to conclude that a lot of its existing customers were likely to continue buying Android phones in the future. So how is that after-purchase experience? How much do mainstream buyers like their Android phones?

I am one of those buyers and I did not like the Android phone one bit.  Battery life alone was enough for me to take issue with it.

Google seems to recognize fragmentation is an issue with Android because they have decided to hold back the source to Honeycomb.  Wait, I thought Android was open?  Well, not so fast all you developer out’s only open as long as Google says it is.

So, who can champion Android to real success? Amazon maybe? They have the infrastructure and ability to make it happen and the opening of their Android app store is probably a good sign they have intentions.  Amazon has a great device in the Kindle, so how hard would it be for them to produce a tablet with great hardware like the Kindle?  They certainly have the distribution channel, lots of books, MP3s and now apps.

Marco warns:

So while Android’s currently doing well, investing heavily in it for anything with long-term costs and obligations should be carefully considered. If you’re not in a rush to make such predictions, I’d wait and see what the market looks like 18 months from now.

I won’t be putting any resources into Android development.  iOS holds so much more opportunity at this point and with limited resources you have to go where the money is.

The Android Hubbub


I wrote a few months back about dumping the iPhone in favor of an Android phone running on Verizon, not because I didn’t like the iPhone but because I despised AT&T.

We hear a lot about how fast the adoption of Android is and how it is taking over as the #1 mobile operating system.  Sure, when carriers are signing up to sell as many Android handsets as possible it’s no wonder Google claims the adoption rate is so high.  One thing the numbers don’t take into account is quality, we need to remember that quantity does not equate to quality.

Since October 2010 I have been using a Droid X and having come from an iPhone 3GS, I think I have a fair amount of experience using both platforms.  Comparing the experience of using both, I arrive at the following conclusions:

  • The Droid X is nice hardware, very comparable to the iPhone
  • The Droid X running Android is quite a bit slower than the 3GS.  Remember, the 3GS hardware is pretty old.  Applications are not nearly as responsive as the iPhone.
  • The Android applications I used crash quite often.  I don’t want to name any but suffice to say, very similar applications with some being from the same company, crash more often than is acceptable.
  • The aesthetics of the iOS applications are far and above any Android application.  I struggle to find an acceptable beauty in any, with the slight exception of the official Twitter application.
  • Applications on Android have an inconsistent user interface, maybe because of the lack of quality control going into the process of putting something in the app store.

After using the Droid X for these months I can safely say it was a suffering experience.  I grew to a real dislike for the device and often times hoped I would lose the phone or have it fall to an untimely death just so I had an excuse to replace it.

I am happy to report that I have come to my last ounce of patients with Android and am returning to the iPhone.  Oh how I have missed you.  I had hoped to wait until the iPhone 5 was available but resolved that life is too short to have to have a sub-par mobile experience.

I ran into an article recently titled, “Android Isn’t About Building a Mobile Platform“, which really explains a lot about Google’s drive behind creating Android:

Google is building Android not so they can make great mobile devices and sell them to consumers. Rather, they are making them for these two simple reasons: (1) to disrupt Apple’s growing dominance of mobile devices, both so Google doesn’t have to rely on Apple for access to their users and to eliminate their paid-for application model; and (2) so Google can control the mobile industry and thus secure advertising from it.

It makes a lot of sense and is brilliantly clear but a shame.  I believe if the goal is not to create a great mobile platform but rather just a conduit for advertising then it will always be sub-par.

So to my readers, I am not writing this post to complain, but to warn.  I write this from the standpoint of someone who has given two popular mobile platforms a fair shake and come to the realization how different they are.  Different can be good but it can also be a step backwards, Android is certainly a step in the backwards direction.  The grass is not greener on the other side of this fence, there are just seeds on this other side.  It’s young and will likely evolve but it has a long way to go.  Appreciate your iPhone as I will, which is out for delivery and will arrive today.

Making Money on Mobile Applications

Tim Bray had an interesting and timely post recently regarding his view on a developer’s ability to make money creating mobile applications.

As a developer who is in the process of publishing my first application to the App Store, I have spent some time examining the various mobile platforms and looking at paid vs. ad supported applications.  I am in no-way suggesting Tim is wrong nor am I supporting his view.  He brings up great points and I wanted to give a bit of my own feedback from the perspective of a developer who did a bit of research to choose a platform to support.

Tim does bring up some good points and his view is probably reflective of many mobile application developers.  Keep in mind, Tim works for Google so his Google Goggles may be on and he is not seeing very many developers making money selling Android applications.

One point which keeps sticking in my mind is, at least in the Apple App Store is when selling an application, you get the sale once and that’s it:

…I deeply believe that the app-sales business sucks. Selling anything on a one-time basis at a price below $10 is historically the kind of business that’s been owned by companies like Walmart. I acknowledge that it’s working for some people, but it’s just not where I’d want to be.

So, which platform makes the most sense to start with?  I really don’t know but can make a best guess and say Apple.

iOS vs. Android

The intent is not to start a flame war here but just calling it like I see it from a very high level as well as from a user level, owning both an iPhone and a Motorola Droid X:

Android has a ton of handsets out there so the market is very attractive for developers.  The barrier to entry is also extremely low and the process of submitting applications virtually non-existant.  This leads to a lot of really low-quality apps, which people are not interested in paying for.

iOS whose barrier is considerably higher here, with a $99 annual fee and fairly stringent review process before an application can see the light of day in the App Store, this leads at least to a lower number of bad apps getting to market.   The early days of the fart app are gone and now we are seeing good quality.

Ad Sales

I think it would be interesting to be able to have two identical apps, one is paid and the other is ad-supported, in order to find out which is better.  The question could become, do I charge $0.99 for my app or give it away and put ads in the application.  It seems many Android developers are going down the ad-supported path.

Tim says:

I work for Google, and this is obviously one of our strengths. I don’t have the strong positive vibe about ads that I get about the relationship selling, as in upgrades and in-app. Having said that, I know for a fact from talking to developers that ads are starting to work pretty well for some of them.

Since he is employed by Google so I will therefore assume he has been speaking to Android developers, I have to think ads are what works best for them.

Upgrades and In-App Purchase

I think there are folks who are very successful with in-app purchases but I’m not sure to what extent.  Do developers turn on features in applications based on a purchase?  I can see this being very effective way for additional revenue beyond the initial $4.99 sale.

Looking at the history of the Apple App Store paid upgrades seem to be non-existant.  I have bought a lot of apps for either the iPhone and iPad and have never once been asked to pay for an upgrade from version to version.  This seems like something developers have secretly agreed on and nobody does it.  I can’t say it happens on Android, since I have never paid for an Android app, all the ones on my Droid X were free.

I wonder what would happen if charging for an upgrade was attempted?  In the Apple App Store it would have to be a totally new version and it would not be an upgrade at all but totally new.  Didn’t Tweetie try this?  I bet it doesn’t work.

In-app purchases does seem like an attractive option.  Produce new versions of the application which can only be accessed by spending more money.  I like it from a developer perspective, but probably not from a consumer one.  If the features were big then may they would be worthy of paying a fee but a clear distinction would have to be made between an upgrade and something considered a new purchased feature.

Rich Client on a Web Service

My intention is simply this; create a headless (no UI) web applications, all web service, where I can create any client I want to access and consume the web service(s).  This way the client could be an iOS device, Android tablet or maybe even a Windows Mobile Phone 7.

The web service would be a SaaS model which charges monthly for the privilege.  The client application would be given away and with recurring monthly revenue the problem of making money on mobile solved.  Another variation worth considering is selling the application for a small amount which is fully functional standalone but adds functionality when used in conjunction with the web service.

One aspect of this model which bothers me is what happens when the user doesn’t have good service or the web service was down for maintenance?  I think the ability for applications to store data locally to later be synced back to the cloud gives the user the best of both worlds.


I am interested in learning more.  I know very little about being a successful mobile developer but I have been marketing software for a long time.

How can one make a living differently from what I am suggesting?  Are app sales dead and only limited a few developers?  I don’t think so but these are hard numbers to acquire.


2010 Year in Review and Looking Ahead

I don’t always do these types of posts and I almost didn’t this year but I figured it would help keep my thoughts together to reflect on later.

2010 was a really busy year and there was very little rest.


It has been just over a year since I acquired Expens’d from Atlantic Dominion Solutions.  The past year has really been about understanding the application, how people are using it and fixing some obvious bugs that plagued my users.  We added several new features requested by users but did not add the features I am dying to tell you about.  Unfortunately, I can’t say just yet what is being added but it will be great for our users.

Subscribers are continuing to increase, both paid and free accounts.  Advertising consisted of Bing, Google Ads and Facebook Ads.  I was surprised to find Bing brought in the most new users.  I don’t have exact numbers just yet.

Running a Software-as-a-service (SaaS) project is interesting and exciting, I have learned a lot in the past year and plan to share the details as we move forward.

Ruby on Rails

My complete move to Ruby on Rails and especially Rails 3 is almost complete.  I have one client remaining who I still provide consulting services to who is a .NET shop.  Once this project completes in 2011, my .NET career will come to a final end.

Rails 3 has really been a joy to work with, not in a single aspect but in the areas the team improved.  The areas which annoyed me in Rails 2.x are mostly rewritten and the pleasure continues.

I think Rails 3 is going to be a huge turning point for the Rails community.  This version could lead to better adoption in the enterprise and other organizations unsure of the platform.

An Epiphany

I would say about halfway through the year I came to realization that no matter how great it was to work with Ruby on Rails or any programming language and framework is, client work is not the joy it once was to me.

Since that time in the summer, I have been diligently working toward becoming 100% reliant on products.  These products include both web applications and mobile applications mainly targeting small businesses.  I continue to look for products to acquire which fit in with my plans.  If you know someone looking to sell, send them my way.

The transitions to 100% products is not as simple as flipping a switch, it takes time and planning.  My goal is transition complete by the end of the year.

All of my current products and projects are now Rails, future products will also Rails.  As consulting work winds down I will set some time aside to work on selected consulting projects that are particularly interesting.

Mobile Exploration

After purchasing a Motorola Droid X earlier this year and hearing how Android is gaining such market share I had to see what the hype was about.  I rejoined the Apple iPhone developer program and the Android Marketplace to make sure I had the latest information and tools.

Spending several weeks with both platforms to expose myself to iOS 4 and Android development I came back with an initial gut feel where my tolerance for risk versus the state of each platform and determined Android was not ready for prime time yet.  It is not as polished, tools are weak and making a reasonable living is a lot harder than with iOS.

This set my course from a mobile standpoint that I would focus on Objective-C on iOS and leave Android for another time, a more mature time.

The Year Ahead

I attended only one conference in 2010, which was RailsConf in the first half of the year.  I hope to change that in 2011.  I will be attending RailsConf again but want to take in some smaller, regional technical conferences as well as some business-related ones as well.  Maybe the Business of Software Conference this year.

2011 will be a year of transition from consulting to a products company.  I plan to blog more here about running a software company, some technical stuff but mainly about the factors behind technical decisions.  Some will be code, some will be me blathering on.

I have some ideas for other products to develop this year and some significant plans for Expens’d.  The journey will likely not be taken alone as one person cannot do it all, cannot know it all.

I am looking forward to this journey, things will certainly get exciting.

How-To Tether with Android and PDAnet

One of the annoying things with a non-jailbroken iPhone is the lack of tethering.  Tethering is the ability to use your 3G-enabled phone and its Internet connection with a computer.  When I am on the road I find times it would be helpful to be able to tether my Droid X to my laptop but not for the $20/month Verizon changes.

I was put onto the application known as PdaNet.  The application consists of a piece of software that runs on the Android phone and a client which runs on the computer you want to make use of tethering, both Mac and Windows clients.

The directions from the June Fabrics web site are pretty good but were missing a few details I stumbled over the first time I tried to set this up.  Maybe if I was a long-time Android user I might have not had any issues.


So, the steps I used to setup tethering of my Motorola Droid X to my MacBook Pro.

1. Install the Desktop Client – visit the June Fabrics web site and download the Mac client.   I am on a Mac, as I said, but a client is available for Windows as well.  The installation was fairy straight forward, requiring a reboot to complete the installation.

2. Install the Android Client – install on the phone, grab the app from the Android Marketplace.


3. Enable Tethering – run the PdaNet application on the phone and select “Enable USB Tether”.


Turning it off later is pretty simple, just run the software on the phone again and you get only one option.


4. Enable USB Debugging – on the phone, go to Settings->Applications->Development and check "USB Debugging".

5. Configure USB Connection – this is the step that had me scratching my head.  As you should be able to see, the selection here says “USB Mass Storage”.  This is key since the default “PC Mode” does not work to tether the phone.


6. Connect the Phone – armed with your phone to USB cable, plug into the USB port of the Mac.  Now, if all goes well, visiting the PdaNet menu on the Mac now finds the phone.


Per the June Fabrics web site:

Now when you connect your phone to the computer, you should see the menu icon changes state, click on it to connect. When the icon stops blinking and turns blue, your computer should be online.

Network traffics on the Mac will go through PdaNet only if your system does not have other connectivities.

So, if you are testing this out and are connected via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, it will still go through these connections.  Disable them to test.


The bottom line is, it works.  It isn’t exactly fast but gets the job done and does it well.  You can see the results of the speed test from of my tethered Droid X.


I would like to know what folks are getting for speed from their Verizon Mi-Fi.  This will certainly work and for most things like email, Twitter, blogging and less bandwidth-intensive jobs, it will work well.

Android Fragmentation is Disturbing

A recent blog post over on the TweetDeck blog shows just how fragmented the Android phone market is already, and we have just begun.

As we bring our initial Android TweetDeck beta period to a close, we wanted to quickly reflect on the Android ecosystem and what might be considered extreme fragmentation. To date we’ve had 36,427 active beta testers and below you can see the massive variety of phones and Android OS versions everyone is running. We were really shocked to see the number of custom roms, crazy phones and general level of customization/hackalicious nature of Android. From our perspective it’s pretty cool to have our app work on such a wide variety of devices and Android OS variations.

Taken from their post, you can see how many different devices they saw in their beta.  This is different devices with many potentially versions of Android.  By my precise calculations, that’s 244 different phones and 108 different versions of the operation system and ROMs.  This is pretty staggering and quite a task to try to support.

Google says this is not an issue, but I wonder.  As a software developer and have heard Android developers explaining their issues with supporting different versions of the Android operating system, I think there is more than meets the eye and more issues to come.  An article from ZDNet this summer supports my thoughts:

But is this a problem? Well, I think that six major releases in the space of 19 months has been a problem. That pace of change speaks of Android’s geeky origins. For Joe Average, this created an ultra-confusing marketplace where operating system versions changed every few months. It also meant that compatibility issues were inevitable.

I will personally not pursue developing for Android because of fragmentation alone.  Stepping into a market which has so many different devices and operating system versions wreaks of support nightmares for developers.  The sad part is, I don’t have a solution to the problem.  Apple get chastised for its closeness, but controller the hardware and the operating system seems to work well.

There is even a web site dedicated to the problem,

Droid X Replaces My Apple iPhone

This blog post was a lot harder to write than I initially expected.  I wanted to not come off biased against either platform but offer just a view of my hands-on experience with both devices.

droidxI have been using the Apple iPhone since the first generation release and have been very happy with it.  Apple has done a great job with the iOS mobile platform making their phones a pleasure to use.  Apple has failed (for me anyway) in a big way, by partnering with AT&T which makes the iPhone virtually unusable as a phone in the places I need it most.

I have lived a long time with the iPhone, buying the 2G first and then later the 3GS, hoping the weak signal issues I faced would be resolved, but this was not the case.

I also waited a long time for the rumors of iPhone on Verizon to appear but they have yet to materialize.

So, I have bid a farewell to the iPhone for the time being and moved to a Google Android-based Motorola Droid X on Verizon.

Some Initial Comparisons

When the Motorola Droid X finally arrived  (3 weeks after ordering), I spent a lot of time comparing the new phone to the iPhone. It concerned me what I might be giving up or maybe what I had gained with a new phone.  After 3+ years with the iPhone one becomes used to things.


I was told how large the Droid X was and listening to podcasts from Android Central, I had definite doubts that I was getting into a phone too big to be useful.  I often carry my iPhone in my pants pocket and this was something I still wanted to be able to do.

I took a trip to my local Best Buy so I could compare the Droid X to my iPhone.  I was surprised to discover the Droid X was only slightly longer, maybe 3/8”.  This is a big phone, no doubt but the 4.3" screen makes it worth it.


The thickness of the Droid X is less than the iPhone 3GS, so it is a bit easier to manage.  This is a nice feature of the Droid X.  The iPhone with case is a bit bulky.


The iPhone 3GS has a beautiful screen and watching videos on it are really clear, but small.  The 4.3" screen on the Droid X is big and beautiful and watching movies is a pleasure.  I find the colors to be vivid with good contrast.  I can’t compare to the iPhone 4 retina display.

Battery Life

iOS does a great job of managing switching between applications and battery life benefits from this.  I can go all day of average use on the iPhone and still have 40% battery life left.

The story is not so bright with the Droid X.  It takes a lot more management of running applications as well as management of enabled features to be able to last well into the day with a single charge.  If features such as GPS, Wifi, bluetooth or 3G are all enabled, battery life is only a few hours at best.  Disabling all or some of these features helps the battery go a long way.

Battery life is greatly effected by the running applications and how often they access things like data or graphics.  It is easy to have email, Twitter client, Facebook, etc. running all at the same time.


The main applications I use on my iPhone is Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp.  All of these application are available for Android.

There are many more applications available for the iPhone as I would expect with such a big lead in getting to market.  Android is catching up though and developers are busy creating great stuff.  It seems many of the non-mainstream applications for Android appeal to geek in me.

Functionality of software is the number one priority for a good application but the user interface makes it a great application.  iOS does have a distinct advantage here with a much richer set of controls for developers to use and the applications they create show it.  I think the market is young and Android will look better as time goes by.


The Droid X arrived with Android 2.1 where other phones were shipping with 2.2.  The interesting fact about Android phones is each vendor is responsible for their own operating system updates for each handset they offer.  I had to witness 3 different Motorola phones getting 2.2 before I could upgrade mine.  Apple on the other hand rolls out a single upgrade for their phones and everyone gets it.

Updates are done over-the-air, which means there is no iTunes-like piece of software to have to run to install an update.  The update comes over Wi-Fi or 3G.

Android phones do have a sort of jail breaking that we see on the iPhone except it is called “rooting”, which allows for installing an OS update before the vendor has it ready.  This skirts the process and allows advanced users, geeks, to upgrade more often.

Android Phone Market

There are a ton of Android-based phones in existence and more coming out all the time.  Each handset manufacturer ships their own version and flavor of Android.  Each manufacturer is responsible for upgrading each handset model to the next version of Android..or not.  This doesn’t seem very sustainable to me.  I think phone buyers who are signing into a 2-year contract will be left with a phone which is no longer being upgraded by the end of their contract.

Fragmentation seems like a very real possibility and a problem for Android.  In the short time I have been an Android user I have seen many versions of Froyo (Android 2.2) be released for a large number of different handsets.  My installation of Android on my Droid X will not work on your HTC handset.

How will these manufacturers keep up and support all these phones?  It would be akin to Microsoft having a different version of Windows for each PC manufacturer.  It is a support nightmare waiting to happen.


After having had the Droid X for a couple months now and have given the phone a pretty fair test.  One thing I can say the Droid X does better over the iPhone is well…operate as a phone.  This is the number one feature I require in a, you know, phone.  It is the one feature I could not count on with AT&T and the iPhone.

I live in rural CT and the AT&T service was never good at my house, if I was lucky I could go outside on a clear day and make a call.  Verizon service just works every where in the house, even 3G.

On a recent vacation in northern New Hampshire AT&T service was dismal and virtually non-existent.  A later trip to the same location for some backpacking with the Droid X resulted in fantastic service.

I spent a lot of time comparing applications and the user experience between the two operating systems and I have to say, iOS is much more polished than Android.  Android looks much less integrated and thought out than iOS.  Android gives me the impression a collection of separate teams worked on the operating system, not a single cohesive team.

Battery life is a pretty serious problem with Android whose battery management is not as sophisticated as that under iOS.  This means the user has to know what they are running for applications or what services they have enabled.  This is not something an average user can or should do.  The iPhone easily wins here.

Android is nice but it is not iOS.  I am waiting for the day Apple finally puts the iPhone on Verizon, I will be the first in line to order the Verizon iPhone.