Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Android app quality: Time for a change, and here's how.

Have you ever heard the line that iOS apps currently rock the crap out of Android apps. Well what the people have spoken is true. So today as a good citizen and user of Android I'm putting forward my idea on how Google should change the working of its app market to increase the quality of the applications submitted to it. You see, today Google announced that Android was getting a rating system for its apps. This is the article I read on Mashable. The sentence that actually interested me the most was this,
The mandatory rating system represents the maturation of the market
What interested me even more was a comment left behind by tom dahm.
now all they need to do is filter out all the crap in the market and we'll be set. I know its 'open', but theres a lot of just plain garbage apps in it. having quality standards in the app market would be a great move imo.
I’ve responded to several comments already left behind on this post on how Google should actually set about improving their app market quality which is what I need to put down here in proper point format.

Since I’m going to be taking into consideration only the quality of apps here I’m not going to head into problem areas like searching within the app market which everyone knows is clunky at best. Looking at the comment left behind on the post, I thought to myself, should Google actually embrace Apple’s model? Sure the app market is filling up a lot faster but with what? I can actually search for “Hello world” apps out there. Seriously? Those are all included in the final tally of apps which Google so proudly pronounces every quarter. Let’s get serious here. Android can no longer be regarded as a maturing platform. It is mature and it is big time. The developers can’t be regarded as new comers. There’s been plenty of time for seasoned developers to be around now. Developers new to the platform can’t complain of not knowing how to develop a good quality app. Android has in fact released a very well documented guidelines platform on how to develop applications for it. From performance to icon design it has it all. The recent move of adding ratings proves even more that Google is actually making that shift towards making their app market more accessible, more professional and overall a lot healthier. Maybe this is to do with the advent of tablet form factors about to burst out from the Droid side. They certainly don’t want people using absolute layouts when that comes after all right?

On to business then. What does Google do? Embrace the Apple philosophy? Continue to show their support of open? Spend more months dreaming up ways to help people identify which apps out there on the market are crap and which aren’t? A bit of all of that actually. Fear not Google! I can haz your solution! Take the following steps and call me in the morning. You can thank me then too.

Warning. This solution is human resource intensive, but there is always a price to pay to beat Apple at their own game. No pain, no gain.

Following Apple’s philosophy?

“We don’t like it so there’s no way your app can make it into our app store. Kindly redo this before attempting to join the ranks of the upper elite”
– Apple (with my own salt and pepper chucked in liberally)

Ok so maybe that is a little unfair to say they are totally snobbish since they give feedback too but you get the idea. It’s a closed world and it can be discouraging for aspiring developers to spend 99 bucks while knowing there’s a fair chance that they can be rejected with whatever they come up with for some time. Yes it is good in a way since it instantly sets a bar for even the new developer to aspire to reach. But fact remains, it is Closed. C.L.O.S.E.D!

Google should NEVER follow this sort of thing. It isn’t in their philosophy and the amount of backlash they would face not to mention the fact that it doesn’t even feel right just makes the Apple philosophy a no no. But if Google does want to up the look and feel of the apps out there on the market, how about introducing,

App developer feedback program

Introduce this concept to the app market. Every app submitted to the app market goes through the same process that an app would go through if submitted to Apple. Check for bugs, check for performance, check for conformance to standards set for Android developers. Rate each factor. Put down recommendations. For a better experience have app developers submit a small document with what the functionality of the app is. Check what percentage of that functionality actually exists.

We still haven’t really stepped outside of what Apple does by the way. You can ask Apple for recommendations if they reject your app you know. Once all of this is done, send a full feedback report to the app developer. DON’T block the app if it doesn’t perform well. Let it go online but every app that goes online will go online with the Google ratings attached to it.

So why should developers be worried about this if their app goes to the market anyway? Well for one I’m fairly sure a lot of developers out there would love to have reviews straight from the Google staff. Second those ratings will still go with the app onto the app market and that means a lot since a high rating will have users downloading the app knowing that its quality is good and that the app does what it’s meant to do.

Oh and finally. This all matters because Google’s next step should be,

Bring on the Top Apps zone

Well fine that’s a crappy name. But bring in a new area for the Android Market which carries only the apps which have passed all the tests. To put it simply, if Apple were in charge of the app market, the apps that get through Apple’s checks, put those apps into this special zone. Now picture the enthusiasm. Users would go straight there knowing they would find the best of the best applications within it. Developers would instantly get it into their heads that if they really want to be there they need to be better. So there, happy day scenario. People can still develop their hello world apps and upload them while the more serious developers would actually be working hard to get their apps into the elite zone.

Ok this brings up a problem. What if there’s a hello world app that does what it should and conforms to the user guidelines. Well. Introduce one more rule that the app should actually do something useful. Yes unfortunate step there but no way around it really. More importantly however, give a choice for opting in to the program

So it might be a mistake to say go through all apps. After all how do you make recommendations to the infinite list of “Hot girls” apps you see out there. Give people a chance to opt in to get their apps on the list.

Summing it up

Essentially the plan here in its simplest form is, create one more category in the App market where if people want their apps in it they have to apply for it while uploading the app. And basically whether or not you get in would be governed by a set of rules very similar to what Apple has set.

There you have it. Best of both worlds in one simple easy package and no one gets hurt.

Yes you’re welcome.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where is Facebook headed next?

Or rather where I think they should head. Just one place that’s all. This is not going to be some exhaustive list that spans 10 points of what Facebook should do next to be the next big thing on the net and to make sure they stay relevant forever. No. As much as people can hate Facebook for some of the things they’ve done you still have to respect them in the way they play their cards which keeps them juggernauting over the competition.

So take a step back. I just want to take a look at Facebook’s timeline and watch how it has evolved to become what it is; a one stop eco system for your entire life. Don’t quite believe me? Fine I don’t support the whole deal of people living their lives out there on Facebook. People need to get out more yes. What I do mean by a one stop eco system is this,

In the past do you remember how you would plan out a trip with a group of friends? Even if it was just to the theme park a few blocks away. Or how about planning an outing even to a simple movie and a concert a little while after? Painful call after call, texting, checking, rechecking, planning and more planning and shifting plans. Today it’s a message on Facebook to the friends and there. Everything is on that thread.

You go on the trip and then you and your friends all take photos of each other. Back in the day it was an album uploaded on the ridiculously <sarcasm: “fast” /> Kodak photo service. Then there was Picasa and oh yes, Flikr. Now? Facebook. They even introduced support for high res photo uploads. Tag people, set visibility settings to just them. It actually does work that way. One stop.

You just got into university. Time to set up a group for the people of your batch. Oh and your sports teams, and yes that club you are involved in. You could use Google groups. Sure it’s good no doubt about that. You could use Groove. Still handy. But you know what was wrong with those services? Well not much was wrong with the service as there was with who used it. Rather, who DIDN’T use it. Personal experience has shown me that trying to get people onto Google groups will involve the steps of finding out their email addresses, mailing them, getting the ones who don’t have a Google account to setup a Google account. Of course there’s the pain of dealing with the less tech savvy ones (which is a given thing one HAS to account for. Geeks don’t usually do this with their technical snobbery). So they actually try and sign up for gmail accounts to get Google accounts and overall it’s a glorious mess. Now with the revamped interface for Facebook groups the choice should be pretty obvious. 500 million users, searchable by name for the most part, and you can add them without waiting for them to get online so that they don’t miss the update.

What about geo location? Used Foursquare? Used Latitude? Had to get your friends to sign on for those services as well? Sure those services could get people to sign in with their Facebook accounts but then why bother. Eventually every Facebook user will have their own Places account activated by default. By the way, just another example that Facebook is the one stop eco system, “sign in using your Facebook account”. But let’s leave that aside. Fact is, geo location which ties in with their groups, their comments, your friends (who don’t even have to be active users of Places), photo albums and everything else is now inside of Facebook. Yes. One stop.

Does the list stop there? I don’t think so. Facebook recently acquired the service What’s that? A file sharing service? Well gee. Whadya know. No more sharing rapidshare, megaupload, 4shared links. No more signing up for all of that. No more visiting different pages. There you are, sign in to Facebook and you can upload and share straight from that. To put it in the words of Steve J. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

So what’s next? Well do you recall how buddy Facebook has become with Microsoft? Even the recent Bing partnership. There is something there beyond a casual relationship. So how about this? Google docs would be a norm for online document collaboration (Yes I know there are other services but just to keep the examples consistent). Yes again as with Google accounts, the moment you say Google accounts/docs, the non tech savvy guy goes “What’s that?” and “How?”. But what if there was document integration in Facebook itself. What if I could create and edit and share AND collaborate on documents within Facebook?

What IF I could upload a document to a group or store a file using the file sharing stuff I hope they do implement and edit it and share it within Facebook? What IF I could connect to Office live apps and work directly on that from my Facebook account? Sure the idea sounds a little strange. Is this the crowd that comes to Facebook? Is this what people want to do on Facebook? My answer… With 500 million users. Damn right they do.

As for the consequences. Well, for Facebook what it means is that it takes another step towards becoming your one stop corner for everything. For Microsoft. I think Steve Ballmer can tell you what 500 million users would do for him. As for me. I just think it’s a really exciting possibility. There could be even freemium services offered if this happened. Even more importantly, There’d be no headache of takeovers that Facebook would have to worry about. No headache of creating their own service. Nothing. It’s all there. Ready, and waiting.
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update : Few hours later when I checked tweets in the night looks like that prediction might have hit jackpot. Mary Jo Foley who breaks the Microsoft rumors as they come on zdnet posted this . Ah well. Like she said. Wait for Monday to see. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trademarking “Twitter”


Twitter released a new post to their blog sometime yesterday regarding a fresh look in terms of logos, buttons and a few guidelines on how to get yourself associated with Twitter. When reading through their list of requirements it feels very much like a lot of them are ensuring that they don’t lose exclusive control of their trademarks. Then again I can’t help but feel it serves them right for leaving the definition of a tweet out on the side of one’s homepage as if it belongs in the Oxford dictionary. I suppose that they do wish to control the use of the word “Tweet” so that social networking sites and IM clients can’t refer to status updates as a “Tweet” eventually but whatever impact these guidelines might have on that, only time will tell.

What is more concerning is the way these guidelines have been put across. It isn’t like something you might read when you browse through the Apple App Store guidelines (PDF format). To Apple’s credit, as restricted as they may feel in many cases, it is a concrete guide that doesn’t feel like there are any doubts that could really be found. Looking at the “Twitter” resource guide however, I find some strange guidelines that have been put forward without any real specification on how it’s supposed to be defined.

For example their point

Using Twitter Screenshots

  • Use screenshots of other people’s profiles or Tweets without their permission.

One reading this would immediately think of the number of Tweets have been screen capped and used in new stories. Specially the breaking news sorts where someone has slipped up on Twitter, but before they can realise it and take it off, it’s already being posted around the internet. So a question that springs to mind is first up, how does Twitter plan on implementing all of this? Would they go throughout the internet searching for people who have used screen captures? Public flikr albums, blog posts etc etc? Thankfully Tech Crunch being a news blog that constantly uses screenies of Tweets to break news was kind enough to call on twitter for a few explanations. The fact that Twitter had to be contacted just to explain the rule at this level indicates the grey area they have left for everyone to misconstrue. Their response to this does very little to remove the questions.

This isn’t a new part of the policy and was stated in the guidelines before. This serves primarily to protect users from their tweets being used as endorsements without their knowledge. Public tweets are public. But if you’re going to use tweets in static form (e.g. in a publication), you should have permission from the author/user. For instance, if someone famous were to tweet about liking something and then it was used on a billboard.

This doesn’t apply to broadcast — there are separate display guidelines about that. Our policies also don’t attempt to control the appropriate use of tweets in news reporting.

For news, whether online or print, it’s okay to use screenshots of Tweets. The permission applies more to merchandise, billboards, etc. Users’ rights are key.

In today’s world what exactly do you define as the process of advertising to say that a Tweet cannot be used in it. What if there was a news article that hinted at the fact that someone’s Tweet endorsed something in particular? What if there was a Tweet that was used in a news article to say that a politician endorsed Anti gay movements? Isn’t this the sort of thing that Twitter wishes to protect its users from?

Question is, where do they draw the line.

If that wasn’t bad enough,

Naming your Application or Product, Applying for a Domain

Do: Use Tweet in the name of your application only if it is designed to be used exclusively with the Twitter platform.

Don’t: Use Tweet in the name of your application if used with any other platform.

So what happens to Tweetdeck, a point which was brought out, again, by Tech Crunch who were kind enough again to provide the official answer from Twitter.

Twitter responds briefly: “case by case basis”, suggesting Tweetdeck has nothing to worry about. The startup’s founder, Iain Dodsworth, echoed that sentiment on Twitter.

Wait, “case-by-case-basis”? Leaving aside Tech Crunch’s assumption let’s just look at the gray area caused over here already. That guideline is clear enough here. Why distort it at all? Somehow something about this set of guidelines just feels very incomplete. Sure hope Twitter makes an effort to clear this set of points that could be easily misunderstood.

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