Locale App for Android Phones “Wouldn’t Even Be Possible on the iPhone,” Says Winner of $275K Developer Challenge

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the changes from version to version of the SDK. But that’s to be expected with any beta platform. From Google’s standpoint, it’s better to have developers working on the platform while it’s still in its early stages, finding the rough spots.

X: Now that you’ve created this application for Android, have you thought about building something similar for other devices, like the iPhone?

CJ: We feel like Android is the first operating system to bring everything together that would make our application possible. Our application wouldn’t even be possible on the iPhone right now—not for technical reasons but because of the restrictions Apple places in their SDK, where you can’t run third-party applications in the background. Other platforms have their own limitations. The openness of Android creates an environment for applications that just aren’t possible on other platforms.

X: That gets at an interesting issue. Right now, if you are a developer of third-party mobile applications and you want to earn some money, the iPhone and the iTunes App Store is really the only game in town. And the iPhone is a powerful device that developers can do a lot with. But now, here comes Android, which has the attraction of being open. Do you think that means that some of the people who are working on iPhone apps right now will eventually switch horses?

CJ: There are two sides to that question. One is that Google has gone on the record stating that from a user interface perspective, it’s not trying to make Android as slick as the iPhone. Part of that is due to the desire to make Android work for different devices—not just touch-screen phones but phones with keypads and trackballs or other interfaces. Because it supports all these less sophisticated devices, Android may actually turn out to be more powerful and more widespread.

The other side of it is that there is going to be a more symbiotic relationship between Google and third-party developers. That relationship is based on Android being an open platform, which makes it possible to create applications that couldn’t be done elsewhere. That benefits Google, because as developers create more external applications it makes the platform itself more powerful.

X: Speaking of platforms—what inspired you to make Locale itself into a platform that other developers could tap into? Do you think that helped you to win the developer challenge?

CJ: That was really Jasper’s idea, and it ended up being a great one. One reason we created it is that if you have a location-enabled phone, you don’t want to have to define your frequently-visited locations over and over again for each location-aware program, like your to-do list. It would be nice if you could do that just once. So when you arrive at one of your locations, Locale sends out a message that we call an “intent,” and applications that are listening for this intent can see that you’ve entered that location, wake up, and do something, like send out a tweet, in the case of the Twitter client. I think it did give us an advantage in the challenge, because it showed how creating a development platform is relatively easy in Android, compared with other operating systems.

X: So, bottom line: will Locale be available for download on October 22, when the T-Mobile G1 comes out, and how much will it cost?

CJ: We are interested in having our application available on phones at launch, and there will be a version available at launch. The specifics aren’t entirely clear, because Google hasn’t announced them. But Google has already said that the Android Market will launch only with support for free applications; paid downloads will not be supported.

X: So it will be free, at least at first. But given how useful Locale sounds—and looking at how many people seem to be willing to pay a buck or two for apps at the iPhone App Store—I imagine you could get people to pay something, when support for paid downloads comes along.

CJ: Our application certainly has a lot of value to users. A lot of people have said “I wish my phone did that.” So we are excited about getting it out there, and we’re still evaluating some of the retail specifics.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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