Since Telefonica is member of the Open Handset Alliance we were asked by Google to participate in the Android Developer Challenge as a judge. Initially they required two judges but shortly after due to the success of the challenge and the amount of submissions two more were requested. People from different areas of Telefonica (handsets, technology innovation, mobile services and R&D) were asked to participate and I took the judge role for Telefonica R&D. The laptop with the applications to score arrived several days late so we had to evaluate 74 applications in just four days counting the weekend (many thanks to Juan, Andreu y Josep Maria for their help!!). We have signed an NDA but the names of the judges and their companies will be made public and the first question in the FAQ of Google reads "Can an ADC judge blog/twitter about being a judge?" and according to Google, as far as I do not disclose anything about the apps, do not disclose how the process works beyond what is publicly available here http://code.google.com/android/adc.html and I ignore requests from the entrants after I disclose my role as judge, I am fine doing this. So this blog post will not be disclosing anything that you can find somewhere else (this is not entirely true as some blogs are reaching the fine line between what is publicly available and what only judges see) but my intent was to at least provide some first insights about Android. Btw, they fact that they mention Twitter in their FAQ also reflects how popular the service has become and how strong the brand is, at least within this community.
Everything related to the judging process is available with Google apps and services, a Google site dedicated to it, Google docs and the list with the scores comes in Google Spreadsheets. Even though I am not a big fun of Google apps (see a previous post here) doing this I realize how far has Google come in terms of providing a complete suite of Web apps for pretty much everything an office worker needs. Usability and funcionality is still not there but since Google since to be crusing along and not being impacted by the poor state of the world economy, I guess that they will continue investing on it and eventually catching up. No wonder Ballmer was saying this past week in Madrid that Google is one of their three main competitors (along side with Apple and Open Source).
The challenge is being judged using an application designed for it that comes preloaded in a IBM Thinkpad (and old one as it is not branded Lenovo) with Ubuntu as the OS. The app is simple but well designed and it links with the Google Spreadsheet that contains the list of apps assigned to every judge. Once you have login into the app, you are taken to an Android phone emulator that looks a bit like and HTC phone, large, high res screen that contains a carrousel in the bottom of it to access the main apps (one of them being the applications folder where everything else gets installed) and just five buttons (call, hang, home, back and menu) with a volume controller on the side. The look and feel is similar to some of the prototypes that I saw in the Mobile World Congress back in February. You then go app by app, showing its documentation, installing it in the phone and score it according to the following criteria:
- Originality of Concept: Does the application introduce a great new idea; for example, a new angle on social applications?
- Effective Use of the Android Platform: Does the application take advantage of Android's unique and compelling features, such as built-in location-based services, accelerometer, and always-on networking?
- Polish and Appeal: Is the application easy to use and aesthetically appealing?
- Indispensability: Is the application compelling and essential, such as a game the user just can't put down or a utility she can't live without?
Since point number 2 is effective use of the Android platform and Android comes with Google Maps integration among others, many applications are actually using Google maps and location based services as well as Wen integration via the always-on-networking which makes me think that if Android phones are successful, they will finally make location based services and usage of contextual information for mobile phones a reality and a big differentiator from PC based Web apps.
The main challenge to evaluate the apps is that for many applications is hard to see its real usage without actually having a phone and use it in your day to day basis so you end up evaluating it based on the documentation and how you think it will work in a real live situation.I think that this is as far as I can disclose without breaking the NDA so just add that while some apps are the obvious ones that you can think of it for a phone, there are some surprises (and also some very silly ones). In general, the level of the apps is very mixed, I am judging the first round so my apps have been selected from a total of 1,700+ initially submitted (see details about the submissions here). I understand that Google has not done any prior filtering to keep things fair but some applications really do not do anything useful and are very poor while others are very polished with a lot of functionality and good documentation. I was initially not planning on getting into round two but I am thinking about emailing Google to see whether I can also do so since I might get to see a better set of apps. Given the level of submissions, the challenged has been a success and it will go a long way to start popularizing Android with developers (the $10MM in prices certainly helped).
This challenge has also allowed me to play around with the Android phone emulator. It is painfully slow. The browser is not very good, has similar issues as the one in the N95 when visiting regular web sites, it does not resize pages to fit the screen and it is very slow, I guess that because of the emulator so I wouldn't draw any conclusions on speed yet. Mobile sites like m.twitter.com or m.facebook.com look good but lack the graphical sophistication and interactivity of iPhone mobile sites. Perhaps this will get fixed when actual Android phones come to market and people customize their mobile sites for them. Google maps is pretty cool and for the basic phone apps (call, SMS, agenda, etc.) are hard to actually see the real level of usability since you are doing it from the computer with the mouse but they are very simple, they are way behind in terms of usability from an iPhone although I am assuming that this is not intended to be a demo of the phone itself but just for testing the apps. Interestingly, how the phone apps are displayed on the emulator is different from how it is shown on the documentation provided, apparently there are two versions of the emulator around.