Stepping back from public Android work

Today is a sad day for me as I’ve decided to greatly reduce my involvement in the Android community, and I thought it best to explain why rather than leave the rumour mill to run its’ course.

For those who don’t know my background my involvement with Android started when Dan Morrill demoed Android at the London Google Developer Day in 2008. During his session my brain started ticking and came up with a method of using cryptographic signatures to show approvals and create trust brands so users could tell who thought which apps were “safe”, I mentioned it to him, he seemed interested, and so I expanded on the idea in a blog post, and from there on I was hooked.

In the time that followed I set up a company which made AndAppStore available which gave developers who couldn’t list paid apps on Market somewhere to sell their apps and users on devices without Market has somewhere to get apps. I know AndAppStore isn’t the only alternative in town, but with nearly 1,000 apps and tens of thousands of users I like to think it’s a popular one.

During the first year or so of the company we made things available which developers seemed to want and need including releases of the Android SDK built from the open source repository, a cryptographically secured licensing system, and a payments system which passed 100% of sales on to developers (instead of the more normal 70%). More recently I’ve highlighted an issue tablets may produce for developers and produced build instructions for getting the open source code for Froyo onto a Nexus One.

Whilst all this was happening I tried to be a good member of the community and engage on discussions in the Android mailing lists and web sites to promote Android where I could and help other Android developers and users.

So why, might you ask, have things changed?

Well, in short, it’s what I’m seeing from Google.

Firstly there was a statement by Andy Rubin (VP of Engineer at Google and a lead on Android) about private APIs. I’ve already covered this in a previously blog post, but in a nutshell, what he said was, in my view, deeply misleading, and the credibility of the statement was further undermined by the recent release of a new version of Market which includes more private API use than previous versions in order to do automatic updates to apps.

Secondly, there was the job application.

I have no illusions; I live a comfortable life. I work from home most of the time, I have a fairly relaxed lifestyle, and I earn enough to pay the bills, so my stress level is quite low, so for me to apply for a job with a 1hr 30min commute each way it has to be something special, and the job I applied for was, it was as a Google Developer Advocate.

I applied, was contacted by a Google recruiter, and a few days later was told I wasn’t suitable.

I’m sure most of you have applied for a job and know that if you don’t get past the recruiter it’s a good sign you’re wasting your time, so I started to doubt how useful I was to the Android community. I talked to a few friends and the general consensus was to question why I’d spend the amount of time I do on unpaid community based work when Google are hiring and paying people to promote and support Android. It was a fair point, and one I didn’t really have an answer to.

And then came yesterdays announcement of Googles “new” Android licensing system.

As I’ve previously mentioned I developed a cryptographically secure licensing system as part of AndAppStore. The exact date of the release escapes me, but you can see one of the earliest messages where I refer to it on Google Groups. In late March 2009, shortly after developing it, I, acting on behalf of my company, offered it to Google as the basis for secure licensing solution for Market and other application directories and I was quickly told that the Market team were “looking at a slightly different route”, so it’s pretty annoying to see exactly the same ideas and design used as the basis of their “new” solution.

I’ll openly admit they’ve added some useful things on the client side through the LVL, but they’ve also added a requirement for Market to be installed (making it unusable on the tens or hundreds of thousands of devices which don’t come with Market), as well as making their implementation useless to alternative markets such as AndAppStore, which is frustrating. If you’re interested in the history of the situation there is a blog post on my companies site.

So there we have it; In the last few months I’ve seen what, to me, appears to be misleading statements about Android which appear to be made purely to trash the competition, I’ve had a quick knock back which made me doubt the value of my contributions to the community, and then seen Google release something which uses techniques I pointed them towards, and offered them an implementation of, well over a year ago, all of which have made me re-evaluate my involvement in the Android ecosystem, and I’ve decided to step back from the publicly visibile side of the Android world.

This doesn’t, however, mean I’m leaving the Android world all together.

My company will still run and develop AndAppStore and it’s other products as well as working on private custom work. I will attend the occasional conference and give the occasional talks based on the devices and systems I’ve seen through my companies work, but what I’ll be doing will be a lot less public and my involvement in community discussions and sites will be greatly reduced, so if you don’t see many public posts and messages from me in future I hope you’ll now be able to understand why.

5 thoughts on “Stepping back from public Android work

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  1. I can certainly understand your frustration. I’m sure a lot of people would make the same decision you’ve made.

    I don’t expect you to elaborate, but when you were informed that you are unsuitable, is that forever or just based on your current experience and qualifications? What is it going to take to put you in a more favorable light or is that never going to happen?

    The other thing too, and please don’t take this the wrong way, is that everyone has great ideas – including people at Google. Just because you presented something to them, doesn’t necessarily mean that some genius on their side wasn’t thinking along the same lines. Yes, they could have very well taken some of your best ideas and run with them – but that’s how this game works. You showed them your hand in an all-stakes software poker game. Even I’ve had ideas taken from me without any compensation or credit, but I always knew that it was a possibility as soon as I opened my big mouth.

    Android has only been up and running for about 18-20 months. Things change. People change. Directions change. So may someone’s view of hiring you. You never know.

    I say stay engaged with the community, give it all you got and chalk it up to experience. If I stayed down every time someone knocked me down, I would never be where I am today. Yes, stuff like this sucks and it’s going to bother you, but you can show that you are the better person – strong in mind and purpose – not easily defeated by setbacks.

    BTW, Don’t you think guys at Google haven’t had their setbacks too? I’m sure everyone has a story.

    Take care and I wish you all the best that life has to offer. A day will come when all your efforts will be rewarded.


    1. Believe me, if these were the first knock backs I’d had I’d still be in the game, but most of this year seems to have been spent pushing against google, not only because of the things I’ve already mentioned, but for things like; getting SDKs released for Android versions before consumers have devices running it in their hands (which they started doing again for Froyo), and getting a buildable open source version of Android which can be deployed to a device (again, something they started doing again in Froyo).

      If I was seeing some financial gain from this which would pay bills & cover the costs of equipment I’ve bought then my tolerance would be higher, but I’m not. Google are running this as part of a business, I have to do this from my spare time, and if I’m not getting paid, and it’s causing me as much stress as joy, then I see it as time to move on as there are far more enjoyable was to spend what precious time we all have.

      On the licensing issue, it was well over a year between me offering the solution to them and them announcing the idea. During that time they took an open solution which could offer cross platform licensing (which developers want), and create a closed solution which doesn’t work on all devices (which is far less useful), which to me seems like a big slap in the face to the community, especially alternate application directories, such as the one my company runs, who are currently doing most of the innovation in relation to app discovery and anti-piracy.

      On the job front the impression I got was that it was unlikely to ever happen. I was told there was no suitable vacancy, but to stay in touch, and given the only jobs I’ve been interested in are currently advertised as vacancies, and there was no information as to why I was unsuitable, I’ve really go no way of knowing how to make myself more suitable for the role.

  2. I keep wondering if Andy Rubin dragged something infectious from Apple into Google when Google grabbed his startup to get Android.

  3. I guess this answers my question as to why lately you have not been very active in the android forums. I get what you mean, all work and no compensation is demoralizing. At least you have other sources of revenue. Good luck.


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