[Opinion] 19 apps in, a look back at Uniquely Android

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It’s been just over a year since I first began the Uniquely Android series, and in the time I have written about 19 apps that, as the series description said, “take advantage of the unique capabilities of the platform and provide an experience that you wouldn’t find in most other phones”.

Writing about apps has always been extremely satisfying. In fact, I would often head over to the app’s page a few days later hoping to see a spike in downloads, and every time there was one (which was, fortunately, almost always) I’d feel good about having helped out someone who deserved it. And of all the series I have started, Uniquely Android was probably the one I enjoyed the most. Alas, I think it’s time to bring it to an end.

To be clear, I might write Uniquely Android posts once in a while if I find an app that really fits the series. I wanted to refocus my weekend coverage onto something different. There have been too many apps that I haven’t written about in the last couple of weeks that really deserve the coverage.

I do want to take this opportunity to share my thoughts about the Android platform that I have learnt writing this series. These are just some thoughts that I have been having for quite some time that I really wanted to share with you all.

When Google+ launched two years ago, I remember having an interesting conversation with my sister about Google’s significant improvement in design, accomplished in a rather short span of time. At the risk of being panned over here*, I admit that I quite seriously suggested Google’s decision to equip every employee with a Macbook as a major reason. My belief was that simply using an operating system that was significantly more polished than its competitors, in addition to having the likes of Matias Duarte and Andy Hertzfeld, developed a culture which demanded perfection.

This culture, coupled with the openness of the Android platform, is why today I often recommend product designers and managers that I meet to switch to Android. Thanks to the work of apps covered in Uniquely Android, many of whom have seen their features being copied to the manufacturer ROMs, I believe that the User Experience we now get is far beyond anything possible anywhere else. Heck, even most iPhone fans seem to agree.

As an indie-developer, I often find myself thinking of experiences that I would never have even considered a year or so ago. Apps shouldn’t “just function”, as I thought before, but go deeper and really amaze the user. Every time I need a user to perform a click to do something, I feel like I might be letting myself down. Quite clearly, the culture developed within Google is now seeping through to everyone working on their platform, and this means that over the next couple of years I expect to see a lot of great, uniquely Android apps.

Now, for one last time, I’d like to list each and every app that made the series. Which are your favorites?

Plug In Launcher: 

The app allows you to set up actions to be performed when either the USB, headset or power cord are connected, and (in the pro version only) also for bluetooth and WiFi connections.

AirDroid:

AirDroid is an app that allows the user to control several aspects of their Android device from another device, via the browser and a common WiFi connection. Just switch on the app on your phone or tablet, launch web.airdroid.com, and type in the pass code displayed on your Android device or (my personal choice) scan the QR code displayed in the browser.

After that, you’re displayed with a “desktop” within the browser through which you can perform several actions such as sending and receiving messages, transfer files over WiFi, view the media on your device and transfer it if you desire, install apps, browse through contacts, push URLs and even add text to the clipboard.

Shush:

The app does just one little simple task, but it does so extremely well: when you silence your phone’s ringtone, it offers you with a dialog (screenshot attached) with which you can choose for how long you want your phone on silent. After that, it puts the volume back on for you.

Llama:

A great way to automate your phone, particularly on location-based triggers.

Swiftkey:

The best touchscreen keyboard, without a doubt (sorry Swype fans, the fact that Swiftkey has a “Hinglish” dictionary, a combination of English and Hindi, wins it for me, Swype might also have a “Hinglish” dictionary, but I am too stubborn to look past Swiftkey).

SwipePad:

The app allows you to create a drawer of sorts, containing any app, shortcut and, with another plugin, even widgets. This drawer can be launched by swiping from any specified region on the edge of the screen while any app is opened. In short, if there’s any app or contact that you use frequently, you could simply add it to the drawer, and launch it from within another app by swiping and releasing at the location you have set for it.

Widgetsoid 2.X:

Does your phone lack settings toggles in the notification bar? I use them a lot, especially the screen brightness, auto-rotate and GPS ones. Fortunately, though, there’s an app for that.

Unified Remote:

So, what does Unified Remote do? Short version, it allows your phone or tablet to act as an input device for your PC, while also acting as a remote for various programs. But there’s a great deal of customizability possible especially with the pro version with which you also unlock additional features such as voice control and NFC.

AirCalc:

Too often for my liking I’ve encountered a situation where I need to jump between the calculator app and another app from where I’m pulling the numbers for the equation. It’s irritating to the point that at times I’ve just given up and decided I’ll get to it later when I have my tablet or laptop around me. AirCalc fixed that for me.

WiFi Keyboard:

Type on your Android device using any PC’s keyboard using this app and a browser.

Puzzle Alarm Clock:

Trouble getting up on time? This app will fix that for you, particularly if you have some NFC tags lying around. Or it’ll get your friends to help you out. Still struggling? Sorry, you can’t be saved.

Notif:

Notif is an Android app that allows the user to add custom entries to his/her notification tray, in the form of a normal text entry, an image (useful for the Jelly Bean+ rich notifications) or lists, hence turning it into a to-do list of sorts.

Mac Remote:

For those who read about Unified Remote above, and were hoping there’s something similar available for Mac.

Everything.me Launcher:

The most unique Android launcher experience out there.

ReadItToMe:

ReadItToMe essentially reads out texts that you receive, or the name of the person calling you and, in the pro version, also notifications from any app as well as the ability to respond to texts by voice. It also allows you to customize the experience for yourself in almost excruciating detail. You need to open the app to see all possible permutations, but some highlights are whether it should notify you every time, or only when you headphones plugged in or are connected to your bluetooth headset. This can also be broken down per contact.

AutomateIt:

Similar to Llama above, but better designed.

Friday:

Tracks everything you do, like the NSA, but actually tries to do something good in return. Like form a base on which more personalized experiences can be created by other app developers.

Wave Control:

Use the force, Luke. Or at least your phone’s proximity sensor to control some actions on it.

Helium:

Backup and sync app data across multiple Android devices.

 

*Yes, some of you have been annoyed at me for being a Mac user. I still believe the Mac is the best laptop you can buy (particularly the new Macbook Air), but personally, I’m now using my Chromebook Pixel and have even listed my Macbook Pro for sale.

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  • feztheforeigner

    Is learnt a real word?

    • Raveesh Bhalla
      • feztheforeigner

        Huh, never actually heard someone use that over learned. Oh well, English is a weird language with all kinds of unusual things in it.

        As a comment of actual relevance I really like the Uniquely Android series and am sad to see it go but I am also very excited to see what series us so awesome it’s able to replace it!

        • Raveesh Bhalla

          I hate putting it aside too, but I found myself on a few occasions not writing about something I found generally cool because it didn’t quite fit into the Uniquely Android theme. Hence the idea is to remove the “need” to have a weekly post on it, instead use it when I find something that fits into the model.

    • Android Telegraph

      It’s kind of become an archaic word that not many use anymore, but still correct. It often happens that I type learnt then change it to learned, just because someone might point out that’s a wrong word even though it exists. :D

      • Raveesh Bhalla

        I wonder if it’s got a bit to do with regions, too. I don’t think “learnt” is outdated here in India, though I never paid attention.

        • Android Telegraph

          Yeah, I think learned is commonly used in the U.S., I’ve personally always written learnt until I started regularly reading websites and blogs, saw people leaning towards using “learned,” starting doing the same. :P

  • http://www.dsaif.com/ Saif

    Where’s Tasker? :o

    • Raveesh Bhalla

      I skipped Tasker in favor of Llama (as mentioned in Llama’s post)

  • Android Telegraph

    “sorry Swype fans, the fact that Swiftkey has a “Hinglish” dictionary, a combination of English and Hindi, wins it for me.”

    Er, Swype has Hinglish too. Never used it, but it does have the option. But while I love Swype and can’t use anything else, I have to agree that overall SwiftKey is better, as normal non-swipe typing is also awesome on it.

    • Raveesh Bhalla

      Ouch, I never spotted it when I used it. Updated

      • Android Telegraph

        Yes, there was kind of a boom when everyone started adding support for Hinglish, haha.

        • Raveesh Bhalla

          It’s amazingly useful. I particularly enjoy writing some first name and getting a Bollywood actor’s surname as the suggestion. Swiftkey at least has paid a lot of attention to it.

  • louched1

    Thanks for the recap of this great series (It’s one of my favorites on Phandroid). I just grabbed Shush as I was looking for a replacement program just like it! Small, lightweight, and works great.

  • Seth Forbus

    I hadn’t realized that I’ve been reading phandroid over a year.

    • CerealFTW

      been reading this site for over 4 years… I didn’t really think about it until now

  • Keith Young

    I did not like “Wave Control” or should I say ,I did not like how invasive the advertisements where in the app. I went ahead and purchased the Pro version but I still uninstalled the app as a matter of principal. They are not just banner ads, the ad upon opening the app takes over the whole screen and it does the same on closing the app.
    I think this should have been mentioned in the review. However, the functionality of the app is brilliant!!

    • Raveesh Bhalla

      I didn’t mention it because once the app is setup, you rarely need to go back into it. As a developer, I can understand the decision to use a monetization technique that puts a decent value to each user. I know it’s irritating, but at least he didn’t go with AirPush (which, as everyone knows, I hate with a passion)

  • victorvics

    I agree that mac is the best laptop like Android the best OS in mobile devices. I will never buy an iphone or ipad same way i will never buy an windows machine ever. used it for very long

  • Yorik

    Swiftkey, Airdroid and Widgetsoid are on my list. I think that Tasker should be in there too..

    Shush unfortunately got too annoying for me and I don’t use it anymore.

    Since going to Paranoid Android 3.6 with Halo+, I have a lot less need for a lot of applications that I did otherwise to get around things. I’ve almost completely got rid of Widgetsoid now too..

  • Simon Gallouët

    Swipad win for me, because use it every day.

  • fredphoesh

    Raveesh, the article seems to be missing, only comments visible here (on my desktop win8 computer!!?)
    yeah, and Tasker is the obvious #1 uniquely android app… needs to be 20 apps now, with tasker at the top ;)

    • Raveesh Bhalla

      Some people seem to be having this issue, I’m not sure why. If you have an AdBlock on, try switching it off, because that’s what seems to have caused an issue for most people on Reddit. Possibly a bug in their latest version.

  • bmagicspot

    Really enjoyed this series. Airdroid and unified remote were my favorites, both get used almost daily.

  • Joseph Newman

    I use quick settings and my reasons can be stated exactly the same way you did for Widgetsoid. Here’s the link https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bwx.bequick

  • Raveesh Bhalla

    Of you’re having problems reading the article, and have AdBlock installed, someone on Reddit gave the following explanation. TL;DR: it really isn’t the site’s fault.

    For all the complaints about Adblock:

    They DID NOT remove the article.

    What happens is, they use a network that adds advertisment for images width > 200px && height > 200px that either have “ggnoads” in the src, as class or are a descendant of a div having “ggnoads” as class name.

    Now adblock just blocks everything with a class “ggnoads” which seems like a frakking horrible decision. They might as well fully block any page containing the google adscript.

    Now if anyone could explain to me how to whiteliste the “.ggnoads” I’d be grateful.

  • Albin

    Thanks for heads up on Widgetsoid – saves me some home screen real estate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708741524 Robb Nunya

    Swiftkey’s swyping still hasn’t caught up with Swype, so no… Not ready for prime time for us swypers yet!

  • theain628

    tinyurl.com/nc6x6hg