How New Versions of Android Work

I see a lot of confusion, and to be honest ridicule, from iOS Developers when it comes to new Android versions. In iOS when Apple release v8, all the supported devices get it on day 1. In most cases this is great for developers, because sales go up thanks to people looking for apps that support all the new whiz-bang features.

Android is different. When version 5.0 of Android comes out, it’s the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) version, that manufacturers use as a base for building their own custom versions of it. HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola et al need to add their own drivers & firmware as well as supporting all the various functions they’ve built on top of Android. Google is always the first to ship a version of it, for its Nexus Devices. This is why I recommend all developers buy Nexus phones for testing. You’ll get the new releases first, and sometimes pre-release builds as well.

The above is why you look silly when you poke fun at Android adoption numbers. For the majority of phones, big new versions of Android ship roughly 3 months after the AOSP release. Here for example are the numbers from early January:

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 10.25.14 am

People are often quick to mis-interpret these numbers. “iOS 8 adoption is at 64%, but Android 4.4, a version that’s years old isn’t even at that!”. There’s two things wrong with these kinds of comments. Firstly there are roughly 6-8x more Android devices than iOS devices in the world, depending on which market share numbers you use. This means that if a version of Android achieves 39% adoption, that’s a huge deal, and you could develop just for that platform and address a larger user base than targeting iOS 8 with its 64%. Secondly people confuse overall numbers, with actual numbers of people who buy apps. Here for example are the version breakdowns of people who buy Pocket Casts on Android:

PC_Numbers

So while Android 5.0 has less than 1% adoption in the overall Android eco-system, 23% of our customers already run it. This makes sense when you put a bit of thought into these numbers. People that have the money to buy apps, and are passionate about Android, have up to date phones. While some users who run Android 2.3 on their 5 year old phone might be perfectly happy, they probably weren’t ever going to buy Pocket Casts. It’s also worth noting that Pocket Casts sells in much larger volumes (and makes more revenue) than any numbers I’ve seen for an equivalent iOS app. We’ve slowly moved our minimum version from 2.3, to 4.0, to 4.1 and it hasn’t hurt sales at all.

My last point is one very few iOS Developers actually know about. In iOS if your users want to take an advantage of a feature in iOS 8, they have to have iOS 8 installed. In Android this isn’t always the case. Google bundles features into two libraries: ‘Support’ and ‘Google Play Services’. Google Play Services is updated through the store, so it’s not tied to the version of the OS you have installed. The Support library is shipped by app developers inside their apps, and is updated regularly by Google. When a new version of Android ships, you’ll often find a lot of the new APIs appear in one of these two libraries, and not the core of Android itself. This isn’t the case for every API, but more often than not you can give your users on older platforms access to newer features, without waiting for them to update. Even when newer features can’t be brought to older versions, Google will often place ‘compatibility APIs’ into the Support library, so you don’t have to litter your app with runtime checks of which version you’re running on. It’s not a silver bullet, but backwards compatibility is far less of a headache on Android than it is on iOS.

TL;DR:

  • There is no ‘day’ a major new version of Android comes out. Each set of phones have their own launch day. Nexus devices, then Motorola/LG devices, then HTC and Samsung devices. So it’s only useful to think about adoption numbers for a new version of Android after the last of those manufacturers ships their updates.
  • Overall Android adoption numbers should be ignored by most developers, look up the ones for the category you plan to launch in. They are available in the Google Play Developer Console.
  • Ongoing revenue on Android tends to be a lot higher and steadier than iOS, and you don’t get spikes caused by new Android versions being released.
  • If you’re making a new app, targeting Android 4.1 and above will get you the most users. Targeting 5.0 only is probably not wise as of today, but will be in a few months time. 4.4 is also a perfectly acceptable minimum for an app you plan to release regular updates for.

Getting Started With Android Development

You’d be surprised by how many iOS developers contact me, often privately, about the ‘best’ way to get started in Android development. As I often tell them, there probably is no best way, but here’s what I’d do if I were starting out today:

  1. Download Android Studio. It’s a smaller initial download than Xcode, but it will download more things when you run it, so have lots of Internet Tubes handy.
  2. Buy a Nexus 5 from Google. It’s not the best Android phone, but it is one of the cheapest, and you know it will get OS updates on day 1 for a while. In the cheap department the Moto G is also a great second choice.
  3. Embrace the difference. Android looks different. The language used to write apps on the platform is different. The frameworks are different. Embrace that difference. Take the time to just dive in and learn it. Don’t be fooled by any frameworks that let you use the tools you already know and love to develop Android apps. They are all dead ends.
  4. Bookmark the heck out of this site.
  5. Set Android 4.1 (or above) as your minimum target. Trust me on this one.
  6. Installing sample apps in Android Studio is really easy, start there: Screen_Shot_2015-01-30_at_10_59_35_am

It’s really not that hard to get started, but you have to be realistic. If you want to get somewhere, you’re going to have to invest some time. If you want to build a viable business on Android like we have, that might end up being a lot of time. I really feel like 2015 might be the only window you’re going to get though, before Google Play becomes as hard to succeed in as the iOS App Store. So get cracking!

Claim Chowdering The Claim Chowderer

Two years later, I don’t think “Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services” feels true any more. John Gruber, Tuesday 13 January, 2015

Today: Apple releases a bug that logs developers into other people’s accounts.

As a user of it, I can tell you definitively that iTunes Connect is still a buggy mess. These days it’s a very pretty mess though. To me that’s more telling than anything else. Apple chose to make the interface look good, before it fixed all the bugs.

So I raise my glass to you John, enjoy the chowder.

Ideas Are Like Onions…They Make Me Cry

Ideas. I receive emails from people wanting to pitch me ideas all the time. I’ve decided that the potential educational and market-research benefits to others of me adding my opinion to the mix will be greater than the risk of people thinking I’m an asshole for doing so. So here’s the latest one:

Hi [name redacted],

The first thing and most uncomfortable realisation about an idea is that it’s completely and utterly worthless. The second thing to realise is that there doesn’t exist a set of conditions where only a single person, in the entire world, has a unique idea. Allow me to elaborate on both of these points.

Firstly: why is an idea worthless? Simply because you can’t make money with ideas. You can’t sell ideas, and until your ideas become products they are by definition without worth. People who have ideas, no matter how grand or how much they value them must eventually come to that realisation on their own.

Secondly: why is there no such thing as a unique idea? Well without getting all philosophical on you ideas don’t occur in a vacuum. The conditions that led to you having an idea (your surrounds, the geo-politcal events of the day, heck even the weather) occur for thousands of other people. Out of those thousands, hundreds will ponder it further. A few dozen will attempt to bring it to life and in my experience at least 3-4 actually will.

Lastly: anyone seeking to protect an idea more than developing their idea is wasting their time. If you’re not working on actually bringing your idea to life, other people already are, and they will most certainly beat you to it.

I’m sure you don’t agree with most of what I said, but it doesn’t really matter since we don’t do client work anyway. And if you don’t agree, that’s great, here’s your chance to prove me completely and utterly wrong! I look forward to reading about your success story in a few years time should that be the case. Please, by all means call me out in your article.

Russell
Developer and Co-founder

http://www.shiftyjelly.com.au/

Inside Baseball Jokes? Never heard of them.

2015: The Year of Android

I don’t often make predictions, but I’m willing to make this one: 2015 is going to be a huge year for Android. I’m not talking about the Market Share Wars, I never cared for them and Android won them long ago. I have little interest in the Who Makes The Most Money Wars either, I’m often baffled as to why people even care. As a developer and user of mobile platforms I’m more interested in app profitability, quality and diversity. I think 2015 is going to be a huge one for Android in this regard. Don’t believe me, ok, allow me to walk you through why.

Let’s start off with a myth: “No one makes money on Android”. I hear that all the time. The irony of the fact that we make 80% of our daily income on Android doesn’t escape me as these people wax eloquent about how this is a well established fact. Let’s start with facts:

In fact, since last year’s I/O, we have paid out over $5 billion to developers on top of Google Play. It’s not just the volume of this number, but the rate at which this number is growing. It’s increased two and a half times, from $2 billion the year before. So we are seeing tremendous momentum. We are very excited, because it directly translates to developers building their livelihood on top of our platforms.

– Sundar Pichai – SVP, Android, Chrome, and Apps, Google. Google I/O 2014

In other words in 2013 Google payed out $2 billion to developers on Google Play. In 2014, $5 billion. This is a growth rate of 2.5x since last year. The lazy way to analyse this would be to point out that Apple announced that they’d paid out $15 billion to developers in December of 2013. 15 = 5 x 3, case closed. We could argue all day about growth rates, profitability and which platform is ‘winning’ right now. The real thing I pay attention to as a developer is this: can you be profitable on Android? To me the clear answer, with many years of actual revenue flowing into our company is an emphatic ‘Yes’. The next question would be: “Is the platform growing or shrinking? Where will it be in a years time? 2 years?”. The answer to that is obvious too: “It’s growing explosively, Google are paying out more money, selling more phones and improving things at an exponential rate”. Long story short, if you make a great app on Android you stand a good chance of being rewarded for your efforts.

The next thing people often throw out is “Oh but it’s so fragmented, I could never bring myself to buy 300 phones and test on 1000 screen sizes!”. This too as it turns out is a mostly a myth based on a lack of understanding. Firstly screen sizes on Android are actually less fragmented on Android than iOS. If you don’t understand why, or don’t believe me then you need to read this, followed by this. Secondly platform fragmentation is largely not a concern anymore. If you launch an app today you can target Android 4.1 and above, and have access to far more users than the entirety of the iOS platform. If you really want to go Android 5.0 only, you can do that too. All of the Nexus devices, as well as high profile ones from LG, Motorola and many others are currently seeing Android 5.0 being rolled out to them.

So if I can convince you that there’s money to be made, that fragmentation is not as bad as people think it is, what’s left? To me the next most important thing is how the App Store on the platform works. On iOS we’re starting to see things like this on a daily basis:

And that’s just the high profile developers. I shudder to think of how many small developers, with no contacts in the media are just being crushed on a daily basis. Do I see those things on Android? Nope. The only place I’ve seen Google crack down is on apps that download from YouTube and apps that do nefarious things. The first is against YouTube’s TOS, clearly so, and the second is obvious. I can’t tell you just how refreshing it is to push ‘publish’ on a brand new app or update, and see it in the store an hour later.

As 2014 draws to a close I’m rocking the gorgeous 2014 Moto X (Black front, orange accents, leather back), there’s a Moto 360 on my wrist and a Chromecast stick in my bag. I may be completely wrong about 2015, but something tells me I’m not. Come to the dark side fellow developers, we have cake.

History Is Written By Storytellers

Have you ever listened to a podcast where someone interviews a founder of a company, and asks them their origin story? More often than not they are really interesting, full of quirky little details and unexpected events. If you haven’t, well you’d best get started with a podcast like Inquisitive by the British King of Podcasting, Myke Hurley (that’s his official title by the way). If you have though, I have some bad news for you: they are mostly lies and half-truths.

When you ask someone to recall a past event, it is invariably, and invisibly shaped by things that happened long after that event. A company wrote an app that was wildly successful in a category? Well clearly every decision they made going into that process was the right one. Events that happen later were foreshadowed, and predicted as part of the decision making process. Most likely they thought these decisions through and debated them. Perhaps they spent an agonising amount of time choosing between two completely different paths. So their reasoned, debated and heavily pondered decisions led them to the success they now enjoy right? The most likely answer in my experience is: not really. There were probably hundreds of other companies that made similar decisions, maybe even ones that on paper were smarter ones, and most of them failed. The painful truth is if you have a successful origin story, a lot of things went right for you. While you might like to attribute them all to careful planning and a keen eye for strategy, in the world of indie development, you probably just got lucky.

Then there’s the details that change over time. All great stories become better each time they are told. Sometimes you tell the same story enough times and it becomes indistinguishable from the real events. Most scientific research shows our human memories to be much less reliable than we might imagine them to be. We often add things to them based on what we think happened, and things people tell us. How many of us have memories of what we did as children that are nine times out of ten actually just invented memories based on a relatives telling of a story? Probably more than we’d ever know, or care to admit. In our own Shifty Jelly story I often get asked “Why the name Shifty Jelly?”. My usual answer goes along the lines of “Philip and I were working full time corporate jobs when we started this, and we wanted to make sure we picked a quirky name that would look out of place in a board room. No one should ever be able to say ‘we outsourced our security to Shifty Jelly’ and maintain a straight face. We also wanted to make sure our employers felt comfortable with the fact that we weren’t going to even attempt to compete in the same field that they were in”. Is that 100% true? In all honesty I have no idea. I’d like it to be, and I think I have memories of us having discussions about it, but I’m not sure whether that was our thinking at the time or not. It seems logical that it would have been, but that doesn’t mean much. “I have no idea to be honest” makes for a pretty sucky origin story though, which is where I think the story of our name came from. I didn’t make it up in order for it to sound impressive, it’s just how I remembered it at the time.

Now imagine you want to tell your origin story with 100% accuracy. The issue becomes, you actually can’t. Your human memory is not even close to 100% accurate. If you believe some studies, you’re lucky if even 50% of your memories actually represent exactly what happened. Even if you documented in painstaking detail what you did each and every day, you’d have to interpret what you wrote many years ago without using the lens of your current knowledge. Maybe you’re a better person than I, but I’m convinced that’s about as impossible as convincing Australia’s current Prime Minister to roll out fibre to my house and fix global warming.

Long story short: almost every origin story is just that, a story. There are a lot of truths in there, but often they are embellished with the facts of the present. Most successful people attribute their success to planning and determination, and thus every origin story skews that way. That’s why books, posts and podcasts about successful people are rarely good sources of information for those starting out. You can copy how 37 Signals run their business, but you won’t magically become as successful as them. You can read all the Donald Trump books in the world, but you still won’t be Donald Trump. The oddest part of this to me though, is this: I love origin stories. I learn so many things from them. They don’t have to be 100% accurate to be informative or entertaining. Perhaps, just perhaps, story telling is built into our DNA for a reason.

Brief Apple Watch Thoughts

It’s very interesting watching the Apple developer community and press thinking through and speculating about how the Apple Watch launch will go. I personally think it will be a hit, simply because there’s enough demand for something like this, made by Apple. As a long time Android Wear user though, I think Apple are going to make a few key mistakes that no one will pick up until after it launches.

The first, and least obvious of these is that a watch should always be on. Pebble got this right, Android Wear watches like the LG G Watch R I reviewed get this right as well. I’ve worn watches that turn off and wake up when you look at them, it’s an awkward experience at best. At its worst, it’s just plain annoying. As far as I know, Apple haven’t explicitly said what there’s will do, but with an LCD display and concerns around battery life I’d bet my left leg it turns off the display to save power. Don’t kid yourself, no amount of software polish will make a watch that needs to wake itself up based on your wrist movements an amazing experience.

The second is a bit more nuanced, but the SDK that Apple gave developers revealed something unexpected for me. Almost all the processing for watch apps will be done on your phone. Open a watch app, it launches a companion extension on your phone that runs all the code required. Glance at your watch? Ditto. I suspect that means my iPhone is going to take a decent battery life hit just for being connected to my watch. As a former Pebble owner I know that an always on bluetooth connection tends to take about 5-10% of your battery all by itself. Add to that processing and networking requests being made by your watch to your phone, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that go up even more. iPhone 6 Plus users probably won’t mind, but if you have a 5S or 6, then you can kiss even more of your precious battery life goodbye.

I don’t think either of these things will stop people from buying the first Apple Watch, and as I said, it will still be a hit. It will annoy me personally though, since I’ve seen watches ship with both those flaws already solved.