Response to Twig 37 - Why users want apps.

I just finished listening to this week's TWIG. They were talking about how users prefer apps over web based applications.  It seems fairly obvious to me why this is but they didn't talk about it at all.  I think there are a few reasons that web based apps didn't take off.  

First is discoverability.  Apps in a marketplace or iTunes store are easy to find.  Sure, you could use "the Google" to find web based apps but finding web based applications that were specifically designed for a mobile phone was not an easy task against the background of the entire internet.   If google or apple had made an interface to help discover web based tools that worked well for mobile phones, then those apps would get discovered and used.  Even now, I know there are plenty of websites that use smart phone styles that would look good on my phone but finding them and knowing what they are is still difficult.

The next reason is that the network still sucks. I can't be in my office now without dropping off of 3g down to the edge network.  Leaving the city is a disaster for my data connection.  I think users would rather start an app, have limited functionality without network, or at least a friendlier error message indicating that the app can't connect to the server.  In many cases, the app doesn't need to be internet connected and so having a reliance on a terrible network would be bad for that app.   If the US had some decent wireless internet infrastructure, then web based apps would always be available and the need to be offline wouldn't exist as much.

One final reason I will talk about that apps became more popular than web pages is that the functionality of HTML5 was not as well known 2 years ago and even now I don't know how much access there is to phone based hardware systems.  Certainly any app that deals with local hardware would always be more preferable as an app than a web page.  Anything dealing with the camera, video, audio, file systems (ring tones, etc.) will need to be an app on the phone.  That being said, it would be nice to see some good functionality and libraries available for common tasks dealing with phone multimedia on the web server side.   Some common things like cropping a photo to a face, uploading pictures and video, should be very easy and hopefully as HTML 5 develops, this sort of thing will be more prevalent.  The phone browser can already detect location and use that.  The Gowalla web app is really very good, but without a presence in the marketplace, they ended up getting missed.

All this being said, although Google has certainly jumped on the app bandwagon, I don't think they are moving away from web based stuff.  They tend to have some of the better web interfaces for their applications such as gmail, google reader, calendar, etc.   I think they should get some sort of optimized search for phone web apps so that people searching for apps will see these web based options in the list.  In the long term, I do think it is better for developers and users to have web based applications available.  It brings instant interoperability making development easier across multiple platforms.  But until there is fast internet everywhere, decent toolsets for making web based apps, and a good search for them, this development will languish.


MotoRokr T505 + T-Mobile G1 = meh

I recently purchased a Motorola MOTOROKR T505 to enable bluetooth in my car (Honda Civic Hybrid).  I previously used a connector for my phone that let me connect power and a headphone jack to the car.  The audio went to an auxillary jack that was built  in to the car.  There are a couple of downsides for this.  There are a bunch of wires all over the place making the care look a little messy and when I talked to people with the power plugged in, they heard loud static and "screaching".

So when my Android phone got the new cupcake update that had stereo bluetooth, I wanted one of these fancy blue toot car sets that would let me just hop in my car, hit play on my phone, and head off down the road.  If only it had worked so well.  The first issue is that one of the things it says in the manual is that the T505 was not designed to stay in a hot car all day.  I don't know who didn't put that requirement in, but I already carry a big phone around, I'm not going carry around this garage door opener sized thing with me too.  It also ran on battery so that would eventually run out and I'd have to plug it in to the provided charger.  I just left the thing plugged in so I wouldn't have to worry about it running out of battery at some unfortunate time.  This mean that I really couldn't have it on my sunvisor though without having a power cord dangling around.   The next downside was pretty annoying, when I got in the car, it was a lot more than just hitting play on my phone and driving down the road.  I had to get in, turn on the T505, wait for it to turn on, hit the FM button, (meanwhile listening to my car spew static from the station the T505 is supposed to broadcast to), hope that I didn't accidently hit the FM button twice because then the T505 would go find another station to broadcast on, wait for the blue tooth to sync with my phone, then finally hit play and go.

This was all really too much for me.  I brought the T505 back to Best Buy and got a refund.  I will try out some other connectors for my wired solution that hopefully don't require me to unplug the power when I talk on the phone.

Podcatching with Android

One of the things I love best about my T-Mobile G1 and Android is the application called DoggCatcher.  Doggcatcher is a podcatcher which means that it is able to subscibe to podcasts.   Podcasts are like radio shows but on the internet.  They can be about anything that anyone wants to put up.  In fact, some of the podcasts I listen to ARE radio shows.  Doggcatcher lets me set up podcasts in such a way that they basically are my own personal radio station... with Tivo.

Now I may not come from a background of a lot of knowledge of other ways that people listen to podcasts as this phone is really my first smart phone, but I am pretty happy with the results.

Doggcatcher gets set up with RSS feeds of podcasts.  I put the different feeds in order I like to hear them first.  My current feed list looks like this:

I have several more, but I rarely get down through the others to listen to them. I could pick any one of them randomly but I have a routine I am pretty happy with for my 45 minute commute to work.  I have a connector for my G1 that lets me charge it and hook the audio output into the auxilary input of my car.  So I listen to my podcasts with my car's speakers.  Each morning I connect the phone and download the hourly NPR news, this usually takes about 30-60 seconds.  Once I start listening, DoggCatcher will go down my list and any podcasts that have downloaded will play in the order  have them set.   So I get to listen to the ones I like the best first and  then down the line.   If I get a call, the podcast pauses and I can talk hands free, with my caller's voice on my speakers.  The podcast will pick up where it left off when I hang up.   Another feature Doggcatcher has (one that I asked for) is that when the phone no longer is under power, the podcast will pause.  This allows me to turn off my car and not worry that I am missing some of my podcast with the speakers off.  Its paused and ready to go again when I plug back in for the ride home.


Saving MMS files in Android

So my friend Will chats me up asking me how to save a MMS file on the Android.  Hmm- good question, no one ever sent me one so I never had that problem, seems odd that it wouldn't be obvious.  I ask Will to send me an MMS so I can check it out.

The first thing I figure is that Will is probably not using anything out of the ordinary as far as SMS applications go but when I get the message, my ChompSMS tells me that I need to turn on AutoDownload in the default messaging app.  So I bring up the default messaging app (from the application tray), download the attachment he sent, and also enable AutoDownload from the settings screen.

While I am in the default Messaging App, I try to save the MMS attachment or get info about it or anything.  The default app gives you nothing.  I go to ChompSMS and long press it, viola, "Save attached to SD card".  This works perfectly.

Other suggestions I found suggested that you could forward the message to an email account or if you have root access you can find the file on your sim card and copy it.  There was also a suggestion about an app called SaveSMS.

I think ChompSMS is the easiest way to go, its a really nice app as far as making the SMS messages look nice.  They offer a different carrier for sending SMS if you need to send some cheap messages and obviously they can save the attachments you get sent to your SD card.