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[JUNE 2014] Facebook recently rolled out an update for Android devices that’s supposed to speed things up for users. If that update delivered on its promise, then you’ve got the company’s trip to Africa to thank – that’s how Facebook’s engineers got a taste of how slow the app can be on low-end phones with developing nations’ internet speeds. One of the social network’s engineers, Alex Sourov, detailed in a blog post how they bought several low-end Android phones in Africa to test out their app, which didn’t only crash repeatedly, but also loaded really slowly. Even worse, they ended up consuming a month’s worth of data plan within 40 just minutes trying to use the app. It became apparent that they needed to give their Android app an overhaul if the social network wants to reach even more people around the globe – so they did.

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Part of the problem is that many news organizations, seeing this new generation of devices, made a bad bet. They decided that tablets, not smartphones, were the place to invest. Magazines, in particular, spent many millions building interactive iPad apps that promised to transfer the magazine-reading experience to a flat piece of glass about the same size. These apps were often lovely. They were also often slow to download, clunky to use, and papered over with only the thinnest layer of interactivity. Publishers thought tablets would be a chance to retake control of the publishing channel. Anyone can publish on the web, they thought, but not everyone can create an experience like this; it’ll be a recreation of the old evening newspaper, a lean-back read that they’re uniquely able to provide. That tablet boom never came. Most of those fancy magazine apps sunk into disuse, never attracting the kind of subscription numbers publishers hoped. Sales of the iPad, the most popular tablet and the one most publishers targeted, fell this spring, year-over-year. Cheaper Android tablets keep selling, but there’s little evidence people are paying for news on them en masse. Research from Ball State University found that, among college students, the percentage owning a tablet actually declined between 2012 and 2014.