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The Man on the Bus and the Android Duplicate Apps Problem

On my bus home tonight a man approached many of the passengers and asked them if they knew how to use WhatsApp. It seemed to me that he had learning difficulties, and I asked if I could help. He passed me his phone, and I saw that he was trying to install WhatsApp, so I opened the Play Store, found it, and clicked the button to install it. But it wouldn’t install; the process started, then stopped, without explanation.

I jumped into the settings, and worked out that there wasn’t enough storage space on the phone. It was a mid-range Samsung device, with 8GB of storage, but it came preinstalled with two of everything: browsers, office suites (Google and Microsoft), email clients, photo management… everything. And none of it could be uninstalled.

This is a consequence of Google’s conditions for getting the best from Android: if you want to use Google Play Services—which now brings many core features of Android that are no longer included in the Android Open Source Project—you have to install Google’s core apps. And as Samsung make no money from Google’s core apps, they also install their own alternatives and presumably take payment from companies like Microsoft to also preinstall their software.

What this meant was that, after the core system files and all the preinstalled apps, the phone was left with about 1GB of free storage. And pretty much all of that was taken by Facebook and Messenger.

In the end, I deleted a load of data from Google Maps, which cleared up just enough to install WhatsApp (but may cause him some future problems, for all I know). I only hope he doesn’t want to take any pictures or download music, because there’s literally no storage available to do that.

What a sad, silly, user-hostile situation. Competing business models end up screwing the person that owns the phone, and many people—like Muhammad, the man on the bus—are left with no idea why, or how to fix it.

It was a stark reminder to me of how much is taken for granted when the needs of business are put above the needs of people.

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Ten Years In: Finding Balance to Enjoy Twitter

Last week saw my 10th anniversary of being on Twitter (as @stopsatgreen). That’s a long time, but I’m still there and still active because I still get huge value from it. I don’t want to downplay that, for some people, Twitter became very toxic and compelled them to leave; but for me, no other network has come close to matching the experience it provides.

Over the course of my ten years I’ve developed a few rules that help me continue getting the most from Twitter; keeping my timeline fresh,  interesting, and valuable. I’ve shared them here on the off-chance that they’re useful to you too, dear reader.

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Thinking Out Loud: Understanding Voice UI, and How To Build for It

At work, we talk a lot about ‘voice’; what is it good for? Is it the post-mobile platform? And our clients ask us a lot about ‘voice’, and how to build a branded app. But I’m not sure everyone is talking about the same thing; and I’m just as unsure that anyone knows what makes a really good branded ‘voice’ app. I mean, I’m fairly sure I don’t.

This article is my attempt at defining what we’re talking about when we talk about ‘voice’; and, based on my experience as a user and developer of ‘voice’, trying to nail down some of the opportunities for branded third-party apps.

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Staring At Their Screens

One common phrase that’s guaranteed to rile me is when people are accused of ‘staring at their screens’. It’s usually prefixed by ‘mindlessly’. This accusation is especially often made of people on public transport or in coffee shops, not interacting with each other but instead ‘staring at their screens’.

This morning I did a quick stealthy survey (OK, I looked over their shoulders) of my carriage on the train to see what people were doing with their phones. Here’s the list—bear in mind that some people did more than one activity: