At MobileMonday London earlier this week we launched version 2.0 of The Guardian Anywhere, our free newsreader for the Guardian newspaper for Android phones. It's a big step forward for the product, in three ways:
- We've addressed the main complaint that our customers had with the product, so content now downloads much faster. A full collection of all articles and photos now takes about 10 minutes, where previously we were seeing download times between 15 minutes and an hour. A refresh of the news can now take less than a minute.
- You'll find two new significant features: Surprise Me, which (in a nod to the strangely compelling Guardian Roulette web-app) takes you to a random article; and Picks, which learns which articles you enjoy reading and makes suggestions for news you might like. You won't notice either of these features at first - Picks kicks in after you've read enough stories for it to start making useful recommendations, and Surprise Me is in the menu of the Picks tab. I'm particularly excited about Picks, because as far as I can see it's not available anywhere else: you can only get it with our app.
- We've refreshed the whole user interface, thanks to the keen eye of Trevor "Pixel Hose" May. You should notice a much cleaner, more consistent look and feel across the whole product nowadays.
James Hugman, who wrote The Guardian Anywhere, gave a presentation at MoMo summarising the product and what we've learned building it. The full slides for his talk are online here, and there are a few points he made that I'd like to emphasise:
- We dog-fooded this app at FP more than most other products we've worked on. This has made a difference; we've identified bugs, caught UI annoyances and missing features before the public has had a chance to.
- The Android marketplace makes it easy for us to launch new versions of the app. The lack of an approval process cuts our time-to-launch from days or weeks down to minutes. This means we can get bug-fixes or features deployed fast, and react quickly to suggestions from our customers. This has changed the way we've worked on the product; we tend to launch small pieces often instead of large releases.
- Fragmentation exists with Android, but just like iPhone, it's much less of a problem than it has been with J2ME. Guardian Anywhere currently support 4 different versions of the Android operating system and over 12 different devices. We have experienced some pain in doing this: the Hero, which uses Android 1.5, seems to give us a disproportionate number of problems and we've seen a small number of quite odd device-specific bugs elsewhere. For instance, our Nexus seems to have much worse network performance on certain wi-fi channels, and SQLite performance for indexing differs significantly between the Nexus and the Magic. These sorts of issues are quite rare, but they exist.
The application is free to download from the Android Marketplace. We'd love to hear what you think of it.
And if you're a publisher and you're looking for a fantastic reader application, do please get in touch. We're actively licensing this product at the moment.
Update: A few factual corrections: it was the Nexus causing problems with wireless channels, not the Magic; we've ported to more than 12 devices (23 according to Google Analytics).