Android: what I really think

September 12, 2008

A few weeks ago, just after the iPhone 3G launch, I was invited to join a mobile round table put together by the folks at TechCrunch. They’d brought together a relatively large group of people with the goal of engaging in a dialog about the future of mobile and the implications of new solutions like the iPhone AppStore and the upcoming launch of Android.

As is often the case, once the discussion got going, folks on the panel tended to take extreme positions — in part to illustrate points and in part to keep the dialog lively and entertaining. Periodically the conversation would turn to Android and when that happened Mike Arrington would typically chime in with enthusiastic comments about Android’s open stance and potential. Others on the panel were more guarded in their enthusiasm and advocated a kind of wait-and-see approach. In the heat of the discussion I said something pretty inflammatory (“I need Android like I need a hole in the head”). It was a stupid thing to say, and I immediately regretted it.

My thoughts on Android are rather uncomplicated and are not in any way well summarized by my comments that day. Here’s what I really think

- It’s being built by a great company with a great team.

- Their SDK is evolving nicely and it’s getting easier and easier to develop really compelling applications for Android. The SDK released on August 18 (a few weeks after the TechCrunch panel) in particular is a great step forward.

- We want Pandora to be available everywhere there are listeners. On the web, on your phone, in your car, in your home. Everywhere. If that means investing in dozens of mobile platforms, so be it. Once Android is released and starts to gain traction with users (and I’m sure it will), I’m certain we’ll develop and release a version of Pandora for Android. We’ve of course been prototyping already and it’s clear that we can build a great version of Pandora for Android.

- I think that there are real challenges to the notion of Android as completely open when placed at least in the context of the US cellular market. For example, the US consumer is addicted to carrier subsidies on phone hardware. Even Apple was forced to reverse its stance with the iPhone 3G and go to a carrier subsidized model. Carrier subsidies mean one thing: network lock in. So I think that means there are two options for Android: phones that are truly open, but that are largely not price competitive for the mass market, or subsidized models that sell at scale but lose some of their open appeal. I guess my main point is that at the end of the day, at least in the US, it’s the carriers that control access to the spectrum which means that they’re typically the final arbiter of how “open” the devices accessing the network will be.

- Our experience with BREW, J2ME, and Windows Mobile — all software platforms that are at least somewhat device agnostic — has been that device firmware level issues often make porting very, very time consuming. When viewed through that frame, and combined with the fact that there are already 7 major phone OS’s that are viable in the US, the introduction of yet another mobile OS isn’t entirely exciting news in and of itself. Having said that, I’m sure my enthusiasms will shift once I’ve been able to lay hands on a real live Android device. Certainly the latest demos and emulators are very compelling.

- I think Google and RIM both have a very formidable competitor in Apple with respect to the maturity of their mobile development tools. In some ways, Apple has been working on the iPhone tools and SDK for something like 15 years since the basic mechanisms and tools have their roots in the NeXTStep platform. Having said that, I’m really encouraged by what we’re seeing in the latest Android SDK drops and it should be fun to watch this competition play out. Certainly the industry would benefit from these players each trying to outdo each other with respect to development tools and technologies.

So that’s the my real point of view on all of this. As much as anything, this entire back-and-forth was a good reminder for me that it’s just not smart, not to mention nice, to say anything that seems to openly disparage the hard work that other smark folks are doing in the industry. So to the Google Android team: sorry guys.

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50 Responses to “Android: what I really think”


  1. [...] Android: what I really think « Tom Conrad the Pandora devs view of Android. verdict? there are challenges (tags: tomconrad pandora iphone android google) [...]

  2. Ryan Says:

    Nice post.

    As someone who locked into a Tmobile contract and really looking forward to the G1 launch Tuesday I’m glad to hear there are plans to have Pandora on android.

    My hope is that android will become the dominant platform in the mobile world. Thanks to Steve Jobs phones are going to start to suck a lot less. And while the iphone seems great I have my doubts about whether Apple can run the old software-shackled-to-hardware playbook to market dominance in the mobile phone world. Too many other companies make phones and too few carriers are willing to share profits with Apple for the privilege of carrying the iphone. With any luck Android will be the 80% to Apples 20% and you will have your multiplatform development problem simplified.

    I think things are going to get better. Think positive.

  3. Brad DeWindt Says:

    Tom,

    I’m really really glad to hear this. I’m a long time Pandora user and I absolutely love it. Having the ability to take it with me would make it all the better. If/when you start developing for it I would jump for joy if you consider me for beta testing. I have a background in software testing and troubleshooting and feel I could be an asset to the process. You have my email address now and I look forward to hearing from you.

  4. Matthew Kris Says:

    I also am looking forward to an Android Pandora client. It is almost a deal breaker in my internal iPhone vs. G1 debate. Here is hoping we will see something soon. Thanks for the input.

  5. Drew Says:

    As a current G1 user stuck using Imeem at the moment, please develop a Pandora app for Android on the double. Having Pandora everywhere would be a life-changer.

  6. Luke Says:

    A Pandora client for Android would be absolutely amazing! I had my reservations at first, but after using the T-Mobile G1 and putting Android through its paces (I am an experienced software developer, although not yet for mobile platforms), I’d have to say I think it’s got some serious potential.

    Pandora would make it just that much better.

  7. pedrobeltrao Says:

    It would be great to have pandora for android. I just got a g1 and I wold love to have my stations on the go. Thank you for a great product btw.

  8. barry Says:

    Yes for Pandora for Android. I wanna rock while I roll!!


  9. Your post outlines the struggles with developing cross device apps very well.

    One of the great things with Android’s openness is that even if the handsets don’t take off, the OS is free and open source and will likely been seen in a variety of devises.

    Currently I’m developing a car entertainment system to replace my radio with a touch screen music player & navigation system built on the Android platform. In fact, Pandora was the reason behind this idea because I hate the radio and can’t keep my iPod music fresh. As you pointed out, I want to take Pandora with me everywhere I go.

    There should be enough room on the touch screen to fit the Pandora banner ads, navigation and station list. I can almost use the web version of the player, except the buttons need to be bigger so they’re easy to press while driving.

    After it’s built I’m going to release it open source and even provide some pre-built kits.

    That said, I would love to help port Pandora to Android, if you need.


  10. Any update if you will in fact port Pandora to Android?

    ,Michael Martin

    http://www.googleandblog.com/

  11. Adam Says:

    Hey, I just got a G1 for the holidays, and I’m really looking forward to Pandora for Android, too! Looks like you got lots of willing beta testers here… ;)

  12. Nick Says:

    I absolutely hate imeem and I am stuck with it without your help! We need an Android Pandora App on the double~

  13. justin Says:

    Last.fm has just been released on the G1. Best music app on the G1 hands down. I’ve been listening to it everyday. Awesome selection and playlists. Download it for free and give it a try.

  14. David A Says:

    Just wondering how the progress on Pandora for the G1 is coming along? I have been using Imeem for a while since I got my G1 and I must admit I am a bit addicted to music apps on my cell. I have thus far convinced 4 co-workers to buy a G1 and download Imeem.

    Why do I mention this? Because I use Imeem on my phone… but pandora on my computer. But as I sit here at work everyday using my phone as my radio more and more I find myself using Pandora in my off time less and less because while I am at work I am customizing my stations. This means when I get home the music I want to hear AND download will pop up faster on the Imeem player on my comp that has been customized while I was at work than say the Pandora player who I spend an hour with at home customizing.

    Long story short if you don’t get a move on Imeem is going to have a new loyal customer who buys LOTS of music from their partners.

  15. Mary Ann Says:

    This is interesting and thoughtfully written. Here were my thoughts after the same event:

    http://www.cookingcapsules.com/2008/07/techcrunch-mobile-wars-roundtable.html

  16. peregrine Says:

    Hey Tom I love Pandora. It’s helped me ensure that I won’t be stuck in a ‘generation’ of music. My taste has grown exponentially.

    I am also a G1 owner and would love to see it ported to Android. I’m sure you need no help coding or testing but, I would love to help.

  17. Gary Says:

    Hey,
    Good read. I know you say developing for a new OS is time consuming and undoubtedly drains resources. What do you think about making Pandora open source? You’d basically be hiring a bunch of free workers and WIRED magazine has laid out very compelling arguments for taking stuff the open source route.

    Heck, without taking that radical step I’m sure you could find people willing to port Pandora to Android for basically nothing. Reach out to the Android dev community and watch them respond.

  18. Noah Says:

    This would be perfect. Pandora on my browser, Pandora on my Squeezebox(es), and finally Pandora on my G1.

  19. CaseyB Says:

    I too am a software developer and I have Android development experience. I would be willing to help develop an Android Pandora client completely free of charge! It would not be difficult at all given the tools available in the sdk.

  20. Brandon Says:

    The fact that Pandora could run in the background on Android automatically makes it superior to the iphone app. LastFM and imeem are total junk compared to Pandora. Make it happen already!


  21. It appears Android is about to take off. T-Mobile has sold over 1 million G1s, and will have at least a couple more Android-running devices by the end of the year. I understand Sprint will have a device as well.

    Pandora is fantastic. At this point I’m just going to assume that there will be an Android version soon.

  22. innerspace Says:

    Hi Tom,

    Just wanted to say that I’m a Pandora subscriber, I listen to your streams nearly every day as do many of my peers and I absolutely love the service. I must say I was a bit taken aback by your initial comments regarding the Android OS and am glad to see you’ve changed your public stance on Android quickly. For all the hard working developers on the android team I say thank you for your well written article and heartfelt apology.

    I’m not an android developer, I’m an end user. Let me simply state that Pandora is the best streaming music app out there and it would be a shame if you didn’t take advantage of the Android market. We are the geeks that will drive the mobile market away from the carrier-centric scams that are commonplace today.

    I look forward to installing your app on my G1 the minute it becomes available in the market. And I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your battles against the ridiculous licensing expectations of the music industry. The RIAA and the network providers have a hard lesson to learn over the next decade. There are no free rides in this world and they’ve taken advantage of us all for way too long.

    Good luck!

    J


  23. [...] mobile operating systems to support and when to support them. I brought some of that on myself, and I deserved to be criticized. Because we’re a relatively small team we’ve decided to focus on one mobile OS at time [...]


  24. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  25. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  26. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  27. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  28. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  29. [...] is coming to Android! Tom Conrad himself (the same guy that a couple of months ago said that Android was just not worth it) confirms that “Pandora for Android is under development now”. This is good news [...]


  30. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  31. [...] upon Android as good as were tender when he contacted us to confess he went overboard as good as clarify his standpoint upon Android. Almost a year later, it is lovely not usually to see Pandora operative upon their Android focus [...]


  32. [...] standpoint on Android and were impressed when he contacted us to acknowledge he went overboard and clarify his standpoint on Android. Almost a year later, it is refreshing not only to see Pandora working on their Android application [...]


  33. [...] once upon a time that he “needs Android like a hole in the head”, though he has since repented. No word on a timeline, but certainly keep an eye on the Android Market for [...]


  34. [...] once upon a time that he “needs Android like a hole in the head”, though he has since repented. No word on a timeline, but certainly keep an eye on the Android Market for [...]


  35. [...] once upon a time that he “needs Android like a hole in the head”, though he has since repented. No word on a timeline, but certainly keep an eye on the Android Market for [...]


  36. [...] yes, for those that have been following the story since the beginning, I do in fact need a “hole in the [...]


  37. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time. Conrad later clarified his position. [...]


  38. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. [...]


  39. [...] when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. Anyway, back to reality, Pandora has now launched an Android application, and it’s pretty [...]


  40. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. [...]


  41. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. [...]


  42. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. [...]


  43. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. [...]


  44. [...] sick feeling was strong enough for him to clarify his statement.  Sure he did not mean what he said, passion at times clouds judgement and people can be forgiven [...]


  45. [...] “We’re going to put your face next to that quote when you launch an Android app,” I said at the time (check!). Conrad later clarified his position. [...]

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