Author Archives: Jay Ohms

The Indie Developer Side of the Nexus Program

The Verge published an article today titled The Moto X proves Google still needs the Nexus program. Go read that – it’s a good article and it discusses the history and purpose of the Nexus program in depth. Android Director of Engineering, Dave Burke, had this to say on the purpose of the program:

Basically what Nexus allows us to do is set the standard … [we can] demonstrate how Android runs and hopefully influence other device manufacturers to take what we’ve done and do even better.

There’s another part of the story I think is just as important, though, and it often isn’t discussed: the indie developer side of the story and its relationship with Nexus. We launched Press last December, and from the beginning, Nexus has been a huge part of our success in the Play Store. Not only were the Nexus devices a large inspiration for us to create a thoughtful and well-designed app, it’s also been a big chunk of our sales. We’ve seen that the types of people that are attracted to a Nexus device are also more likely to pay for an app that’s well designed. The Nexus program also allowed us to create a forward-looking 4.0+ only app much sooner than would have otherwise been possible. This is a win-win scenario from a developer’s perspective.

Stock Android is a fantastic, clean experience compared to other OEMs’ take on the platform, and Google is able to update the devices quickly over-the-air, ensuring the latest version of the OS on Nexus devices. In fact, Android 4.3 was released just over a week ago, and we already have 33% of our customers running this latest version of the operating system. That’s a HUGE advantage for any Android developer wishing to push their app forward in the ecosystem.

Here’s a full breakdown of our current customer stats:

Android 4.3: 33%
Android 4.2: 35%
Android 4.1: 26%
Android 4.0: 6%

We genuinely hope Google continues the Nexus program far into the future. It helps drive the quality and economy of the Play Store ecosystem more than meets the eye.

The Missing Ingredient

We started this blog to document our processes, failures, successes, and beliefs as a company to help share our story. But, we also want to share more personal experiences as well. We’ve had a journey and we want to share it with those who may find it interesting. This is a post about the latter.

A few years ago I held a belief that I now know to be incorrect. I had just started a new job with a startup company that offered software and services for the healthcare industry. But that wasn’t the thing that attracted me to the position. It was the people. So many talented people worked there, several of which were my close friends. On top of that, it was going to be challenging work with a good salary. It was my first career job where I truly liked and respected the people I worked with. I believed that working with great people would keep me happy.

I stretched myself as a developer and gained many new skills. I learned new ways to deal with performance issues and work around framework constraints. I learned the value and importance of code reviews and having continuous integration testing. Most importantly, though, I learned how to work with really smart people to develop a large product. All of this new learning was very exciting.

But with time, that excitement faded. I would wake up each morning wondering how I was going to muster up the energy to work on a product I ultimately didn’t care much about. I would wonder if someone would find out that I wasn’t working hard enough. That lead to guilt. Lots of guilt. I felt guilty that I didn’t care about my work as much as I should, and felt guilty because I wasn’t investing enough of myself into the company. Additionally, I was being paid well and complaining about my job, while some of my friends were just trying to scrape by. I wasn’t even willing to be honest with myself about why I was feeling this way. I thought there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be happy with a great job making a good salary? Can’t I just suck it up, play it safe, and live comfortably? I was miserable, and probably pretty miserable to be around.

But as Jordan and I worked many long nights and weekends on what would eventually become Press, I began to understand exactly what I was missing in my day job. Passion. It seems obvious now, but I’d never had the opportunity before to create something that I truly cared about. I didn’t realize that passion was the missing piece that would give me energy and spark the creativity that I’d been hoping for.

Working with great people satisfied my hunger to work hard on a good product for a couple years. But eventually that faded, and my personal desire for something more had been suppressed too long. I still believe working with great and talented people is a key component of doing something successful. Without passion, though, it took me down a dead-end road. In fact, I allowed the presence of guilt and complete absence of passion in my 9-to-5 to affect other areas of my life in negative ways. And I’m still trying to pick up some of those pieces.

I have a massive amount of respect for Jordan, I trust his opinion, and we work extremely well together. But, it’s our love for creating great products that people will enjoy that elevates our focus and energy to a much higher level. We’re not afraid to challenge each other and strive for something better, and we have fun doing it.

Now, waking up in the morning with a clear conscience and the excitement to tackle the day is an amazing feeling. I feel really lucky to be doing something that I love, especially knowing that a lot of people never get the chance. This past year I’ve learned a lot. I have a better idea of who I am and what I want to be doing. I’m sure I will reach more difficult crossroads in time, and when I do, I want to acknowledge them and be more honest with myself. I want to learn and grow. And I bet I’ll end up a better person for it. That sounds pretty great to me.

Why We Chose Android

Android is an interesting beast. There are lots of myths, stereotypes, and assumptions surrounding Android and it’s community, but that’s not what this post is about. This is about design, quality, expectations, and looking forward.

I’ll just come right out and say it: Google really failed at it’s early attempts to build a thriving ecosystem of high quality apps. There are several reasons, but I think the lack of focus on design and experience had a large impact. Prior to version 4.0, Android wasn’t very thoughtfully designed, and it wasn’t an inspiring canvas to design creative and beautiful interfaces. In addition, Google never created sufficient design guidelines for its developers. The combination of these factors gave developers implicit permission to design apps without much thought or care. But that’s the past, and things have been changing quickly.

There’s an obvious turning point in Android’s timeline, and in our opinion, one of it’s most important. It was the hire of Matius Duarte in May 2010, who previously led the design efforts of Palm WebOS. It took some time for his influence to fully spread throughout the veins of Android, but the rate of improvements in the last 12 months has been nothing short of impressive. There are still visible consistency issues, but from the lock screen, to the home screen, to Google’s own apps, there’s an obvious trend going on in Mountain View, and Android is, in many ways, a playground and inspiration for new areas of design.

As we worked on Press this past year, we knew our focus would be newer devices, but it wasn’t until September, 2012 that we made the difficult decision to only target 4.0+ devices. At first it seemed like a risky move, leaving behind a huge market. But, once the choice was made, it freed us to cut ties with the past and look forward to what we truly wanted to create. And we don’t have a single regret about that. Sure, we probably missed out on some potential revenue, but we’re a small team and focusing our efforts on the newest technologies and design initiatives by Google allowed us to concentrate on the things that were most important to us.

We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of positive feedback we’ve heard for some of our design decisions. We still have a lot of work left to fully create what we’ve envisioned, but it’s time that’s our limiting factor, not the platform. And here’s the cool thing that we found: what was obvious to us, when putting lots of care into the small details, is also what many Android users have been craving for a long time. Design is important, and people are willing to pay for it.

Maybe it’s not apparent to everyone yet, especially those on the outside, but there’s something exciting that’s stirring in the Android community. Google’s top-down design initiative is starting to take root, and new apps are starting to turn heads every week. So why did we choose Android? Because there’s a huge opportunity that’s still untapped, and we wanted to be a part of it. We think 2013 is going to be an exciting year for Android as new, creative designs push away the old cruft. And we’ll be working hard towards that goal. We’re excited about the developers who are doing amazing work and taking Google’s design guidelines seriously. Thanks for inspiring us!