Chris Haseman, the Lead Android Developer at Tumblr, spoke at last month’s AndroidTO conference to offer advice to developers.
He believes that building, understanding, and following a set of core principles can mean the difference between building a good app and a great one. Haseman offers his advice based on a decade of experience in the mobile industry, where Android software is hard and there is no other way to learn than through mistakes.
The first core principle is simplicity and responsibility, which is essential to designing successful mobile software. Secondly, efficiency and preparation are vitally important in development. Thirdly, trust and listening is critical when building and then eventually selling an application to your community of users.
One of the major issues facing Android developers is operating system fragmentation. Haseman says that many users are still running Gingerbread, which is two versions behind Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich. Worse, Jellybean, the next operating system, is expected to be released on November 13.
Despite fragmentation issues, Haseman says that Android developers can build anything that individuals and organizations dream up. Therefore, nobody should be taking “no for an answer” from developers. App builders can avoid the default settings and use ActionBarSherlock to facilitate the use of action bar design patterns across all versions of Android.
With simplicity and responsibility in mind, developers should be making things clean, making sure the apps are used in motion, and taking into consideration that people have short attention spans. Haseman says he’s done app development wrong by providing too many choices and features. Killing clutter, unused features, making settings a bonus, and using analytics to help you make good decisions are all recommendations he makes.
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In considering efficiency and preparation, Haseman says that your smartphone lies in telling you that it is always online. It is the developer’s job to make getting data easy from within an application. Consumers really hate waiting so Haseman recommends that developers hide the complexity of an app and at all costs prevent the drainage of battery life. If users realize the connection is unreliable, they will catch you.
Therefore, as an app builder, you need to make your data transaction look instant without notifying the user, use sync adapters to pre-fetch data, avoid progress bars and spinners, use a persistent data cache, and have separate presentation and sync layers.
Lastly, with trust and listening, Haseman says it is up to you whether you want to listen to your vocal minority—who are often angry and loud. He says clearheadedness is hard in the face of rage, but contented users will remain quiet and are hard to track, so you as an app builder can find solace in that.
You can appease the loudest, but helpful error messages and friendly support can help your rating a lot too. App builders should respond in any way they can to build and maintain trust, investigate a competitor if it is mentioned, be free with returns, give out rewards, ignore the trolls, and fight for the majority.
Haseman ended off in saying that Google does not control Android, nor do the carriers, and nor do the operating equipment manufacturers. It is the developers and the community who shape the future of Android.
The Tumblr exec has written a book called Creating Android Applications.