Jul, 21 2013

Android_Rainbow_AllFigures

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.