Monday, July 11, 2011

Android and Blogaway - not ready for Prime Time as a mobile blogging platform

I moved away from the iPhone because the insane DRM became intrusive, and actually stopped me from blogging with the Blogpress app.  I annoyed me that I moved to Android on my shiny new Samsung Galaxy Android phone, using the Blogaway app.


It's simply not ready for blogging, and an abortive post last night illustrates why: not only was it filled with embarrassing misspellings, but the Blogaway ate half of the post, so that what was left was incoherent.  It's plenty easy enough for me to do incoherent all by myself; I don't need any help from the phone, thanks very much.

This experience no doubt was exacerbated by the fact that I was posting near the end of a 14+ hour drive from Austin to Atlanta, and was pretty tired out.  But this is actually worse for Android - rather than being an excuse for its crappy performance, this is the test case for use.  If someone can use the system tired, it's ready for Prime Time.  If they can't, then the crummy system will perform precisely how it did last night, and the user's confidence in the system as a robust blogging platform will plummet.

Here are the shortcomings that kill Android as a mobile blogging platform:

1. The soft keyboard

It blows chunks.  This isn't really surprising, because all soft keyboards blow chunks.  The keys are of necessity too small (we're talking about a 4 or 5 inch screen, of course they're too small), and all the tactile feedback mechanisms are wrong, because they don't address the killer problem soft keyboards have:

You hit the key next to the one that you want to, all the time.
The iPhone actually has a mechanism to deal with this.  While it's not exactly a real-time spell checker, it's close enough that we can pretend it is.  While this autocomplete can have sometimes hilarious or unfortunate unintended results, mostly it works pretty well.  To solve the "I hit the key next to the one I wanted because the keys are too damn small" problem, it's very close to an ideal solution.

Android doesn't have anything here.  Nothing that compares to the iPhone, nothing like a spell checker that highlights misspelled words.  Nothing.  The user is left to manually spell check his text, and manually edit it to fix it.  Which leads us to the next killer problem:

2. Text Editing

It blows chunks.  And quite frankly, there's no excuse for this, because the iPhone has decent enough text editing.  Everything has decent enough text editing, and has ever since vi replaced Teco as the editor of choice for power geeks everywhere.

It seems that Google hired the Teco engineering team to write the text editing routines.  Note to Google: this isn't a compliment.

And you have to edit all the damn time, because the soft keyboard blows chunks and Android leaves that as a problem for the user to fix.  Go ahead - try to make the cursor hop around to random spots in your text (exactly as you would when spell checking a blog post).  Which leads us to the final killer problem that makes Android a trifecta of fail:

3. Random commands that unexpectedly do things are bad, mkay?

Blogaway somehow managed to eat half of my post, while I was trying to edit the text to fix the misspellings.  I'm not quite sure how it did this, but this is my point - if the menu options aren't clear about what they're going to do, then the user is going to be surprised.  It's hard to see how any of the surprises will be pleasant ones.

One of the jokes people used to make about the Teco editor was that you could enter any command into it at all, and it would do something.  You could escape to command mode, type your name, and it would do something.  Power geeks used to compete for extra crazy 1337 cred by predicting what that would be in advance.

Note to Google and Blogaway: that isn't a compliment.

And so the trifecta: a horrible keyboard guaranteeing many "off by one" misspellings, lousy text editing capabilities, and an arcane and "exciting" menu system that can do all sorts of unexpected transforms on your post.


The Android architecture may be better (I have no real opinion here), the Open Source aspect is attractive, but overall nobody's running the shop on how tired users will actually use the system.  And so Android takes the blame.  It's not ready.  The phone is OK, the email is acceptable* but the apps mostly stink and are only usable as toys.  Google needs to put some serious effort into the user experience.  They can start by firing the Teco team.

* But I see emails saying "I apologize for any misspellings, as this is sent from my Android phone" which translates to "My crappy phone can't spellcheck to save its life and has a keyboard that blows chunks, but IT makes me use it.  Please don't think that I'm an idiot."


Anonymous said...

I don't really want to write you off as a spittle flecked nutball, but you seem to be ranting from a severely uninformed position. Blogaway is in no way related to google other than it runs on their platform, and I have no idea what version of android you are running, but it does have a spellcheck and text selection that was much improved in the 2.3 "gingerbread" os update. What phone and version of android are you running, and are you sure that blogaway is not just a terribly written app unable to utilize android properly?

Lissa said...

Wow. I know people swear by their Androids but it sounds like a seriously painful blog process.

bluesun said...

I wonder if you've tried the Swype keyboard? I find it helps immeasurably with spelling and speeds up touch screen typing.

Unknown said...

Hey Partrick

I am the man behind Blogaway. :) Well, I think it's time for me to pull down blogaway from the market, since I am not actively developing it any more.

I just got a Google Alert for this post. Anyway, I don't exactly know if I should apologize on behalf of Blogaway, but anyway, I am really sorry for this. By the way, even I don't use Blogaway myself, since I realized that blogging on a phone is a pain, especially when you are writing a long long blog. Since then, I have abandoned this project.

Sorry again. :)

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I'll second the suggestion for Swype - it's a good system for phone-based touch screen typing. It does have a bit of a learning curve, however.

I use the SwiftKey keyboard, which has a good error correction and suggestion system, and is designed to actually learn from how you type. You actually get three suggestions for a word as you type.

I can't say how well it compares with the iPhone's keyboard, and it sucks that it's an add-on and not built in, but one of the good things about Android is the number of customizations that are available.

Swiftkey X is currently in beta, but that's what I'm using and it's been perfectly stable and fully functional for me, and I believe it's free while it's still in beta. The older version is only about $1.97 (it can vary a little due to exchange rates because the company is based in Britain).

I can't tell you much about Blogger apps, since I'm on Wordpress (which has a pretty good Android app), but I see Blogger does have their own free official app on the market as well.

genedunn said...

Is "Chunks" your dog? If so, he must really, really like Blogaway. ;)

Weer'd Beard said...

I do all my mobile blogging through the web browser, and that works fairly well.

Tho I use wordpress and not blogger.

Also Soft Keyboards SUCK, that's why I always buy phones with QWERTYs

The wife was sending text messages on the road from my phone yesterday and she said "WOW, I didn't think I'd like a QWERTY phone this much!"


Borepatch said...

Kumar, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for creating the app. I really shouldn't complain about the free stuff.

I've had good luck in the past posting from Blogaway, but yesterday was obviously a frustrating experience.

Anonymous said...

Use my Garminfone and Wordpress for my mobile chattering errr blogging....Works fairly well...

The Czar of Muscovy said...

I think you're looking at it from the iPhone perspective, which is a fairly controlled interface.

On a 'Droid, anybody could have written your keyboard interface. I have an HTC under Sprint, and it functions very differently from the HTC under AT&T that the Mandarin has. His default keyboard is quite different.

So I wouldn't blame the app or the OS... I'd look to the soft keyboard your system defaults to, which as others have indicated above is quite changeable.

Hunter said...

Interesting. I am using an Android v.2 and the Swype technology is one of the biggest sales points for me. Spell check is automatic and gives me several choices, with the most likely being the top one. Just keep typing and it chooses that first choice.
And I also have a Samsung Galaxy.
This was the 'droid I was looking for.

MedicMatthew said...

I will freely admit to being an Android fanboy (Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant from T-Mobile). If you can, you may want to try enabling the Swype keyboard in your Galaxy phone. It makes text editing mad simple and you can easily add words to the Swype dictionary simply by typing them out & putting a space after the word. The only drawback of this is that it is very easy to put misspelled words into the dictionary, but fortunately it is also very simple to remove the words- simply double tap on the word then tap the Swype help button.