Tag Archives: dropbox

Mailbox for Android: Will Anyone Care?

Popular iPhone mail client Mailbox is now available on iPad. An Android version appears to be on the horizon, too. Via Droid-Life:

“In a sitdown with Read Write, Mailbox’s founder Gentry Underwood said that a presence on Android is next on their list of things to do. He wouldn’t specify a time frame, only that it’s on their radar now that the iPad app is out. “

Mailbox flourishes on iOS for two reasons:

1. It’s Gmail-centric. It’s arguably a great Trojan horse for Google on iOS, despite not being made by Google. It gives users a way to prefer Gmail and override iOS’s own agnosticism to the relative merits of different email providers.

2. Its swipe gestures differentiate it from the iOS Mail app.

3. It’s more functional and stable than the Gmail iOS app, plus the latter is not preinstalled and hence doesn’t have much of an advantage or headstart.

These advantages do not exist on Android. To wit:

1. The Gmail app for Android not only supports swipe gestures, but it also supports quick replies and quick archiving directly from its drag-down notifications. Not enough? It also offers a shortcut via the essential Dashclock Widget, too. Mailbox would have to, at the very least, match all of these features that are already offered by an Android system app (Gmail.)

2. While the stock Android mail client does not support swipe gestures, its design language is clearly influenced by Gmail’s Holo aesthetic, such that I’m not sure that most users will notice/care that it doesn’t allow power-user workflows. Android users are not the same as iOS users: the number that spends money and operates as power-users is likely quite low.

3. In case you haven’t noticed, Google is interested in basically everything now. The entire second half of the endless I/O keynote was about Google’s increasingly walled garden, with Google+ at its center. Google’s aggregative services in Google Now and the complex identity service that it is building with Google+ all but require you to use as many of Google’s own services as possible, to the detriment of any third-party alternatives/developers. For Mailbox, which is an email service owned by cloud service provider Dropbox, this means taking on not only Gmail, but also Google Drive.

Despite the array of developer tools that Google unveiled at I/O, I still regard Android as increasingly hostile ground for third-party developers, due to Google’s unlimited ambition. This isn’t a critical problem yet, or at least for as long as Google makes quality apps and services that it doesn’t kill-off abruptly, but it will make life hard for the likes of Mailbox and Dropbox.

-The ScreenGrab Team


Google Keep is a Keeper

Quick – name a 1st-party native iOS app that has no Android equivalent! GameCenter? Ok, you got me on that one. But let’s talk about apps that users actually use. The answer is actually Notes, Apple’s plain-Jane notes app. Despite its simplicity and skeuomorphic design, Notes is a useful tool, with the kind of raw reliability and speed that you expect from pen and paper. Plus, it syncs to iCloud and lets you continue working on your Mac. Android has no similar system app. Luckily for us, however, Google has just released Keep, its own Holo answer to Notes and (to a lesser extent, I think) Evernote and Dropbox.

You can download Keep right here. And you should download it, if you’re running Android 4.0+ (and you should be!). Keep is a notes-taking app that lets you create text and lists, or save photos and webpages. It lets you color-code notes for differentiation, which is a surprisingly novel and neat touch. To tie it all together, it has an excellent widget that lets you scroll thru your notes or quickly add new ones. Here are some screengrabs:


Making a note in Google Keep.


The Google Keep widget.

But most importantly, it syncs automatically to your Google Drive. Before now, I had been using the excellent Simple Notepad, which syncs to Dropbox (where I have only a basic account), but I’ll probably switch now, since I’m a fan of consolidation and not having to juggle between various incompatible services/apps. There’s some truth to the claim that Keep could be an “Evernote killer.” I had found myself using Evernote less and less recently, not only because I had less storage there than on Google Drive, but because I had begun using the Save to Google Drive extension in Chrome to save almost anything remotely interesting that I came across on the Web.

What’s overlooked in all the hoopla about Keep v. Evernote, however, is how Keep further pushes diehard Android users away from Dropbox, and how it shows off Google’s new cross-platform strategy against Apple. Since Google already matched Dropbox’s Camera Upload feature with its own Instant Upload feature in Google+ (and attendant photo sync with G+/Picasa in the stock Gallery app for Android), it now has in Drive/Keep some of the note taking features that a host of 3rd-party apps have already hooked-in to Dropbox, too. And since your Keep notes can be accessed from Google Drive, Google now has an answer to, of all things, Apple’s stock note-taking app, which is an important front in the battle for a smooth cross-device experience.

iCloud and Metaphors

Web services are one of the only competencies in which Apple clearly lags its fellow superpowers (Amazon, Google, Microsoft). MobileMe was overpriced and under-featured to the point that it drove Steve Jobs insane. Ping was DOA. Siri is an even rarer bird: an explicitly “beta” Apple product. But those failures have been inconsequential, as all of them occurred in the context of Apple having to ramp-up and evolve rapidly in light of explosive growth in sales. Siri’s clumsiness in comparison to latecomer Google Now, for example, didn’t matter since it still helped differentiate the mostly iterative iPhone 4S from a sea of specced-out Android devices.

iCloud is a different matter. What is OS X Mountain Lion if not one giant iCloud client?Apple is betting the farm North Carolina on iCloud’s centrality to the Apple ecosystem, such that its shiny silver logo is emblazoned on every iPhone and iPad box. About that logo: isn’t it, well, odd? It looks like the neatly trimmed, rounded-off icon that we’ve come to associate with iOS (or OS X, increasingly) apps, which are discrete, sandboxed creations that are supposed to excel at specific tasks. iCloud is the total opposite of that – it isn’t an “app” at all, really, but a largely clandestine service that runs behind the scenes and allegedly ties all of your compliant apps together. Still, it’s cute that OS X superapp Alfred thinks that iCloud is actually something targetable and discrete on my Mac:

As much flak as Apple has gotten for its attachment to skeuomorphs, sandboxes and app-centric desktop metaphors, I’m wondering if they made a mistake in making iCloud so intangible. Certainly, some corners of Twitter have had difficulties grasping Cupertino’s cumulonimbus. Myself, I don’t find myself thinking much about iCloud, which is what I suspect Apple intended, that is, for iCloud to be unobtrusive yet something that “just worked.” Its unobtrusiveness, however, begins to be a drawback when it doesn’t just work.

iCloud is a relatively tough concept to explain to a normal person, especially when compared to Dropbox or Google Drive. It helps that the latter two have been presented as a submission box and a hard drive in the sky. Users can accordingly feel that they are actually controlling their data and putting it in a knowable place. This is invaluable mental peace of mind when it comes to common tasks like making backups or putting your class notes in a place in which you can reliably access them (the latter was the original inspiration behind Dropbox). Google’s fusion of Google Docs into the new Google Drive brand helped to reinforce this notion that its cloud service in particular was a place in which you let all of your work breathe and reside. Furthermore, Dropbox and Google Drive, although complex services on the backend, can still exist as simple standalone apps on some mobile devices. They’ve mastered the art of the metaphor, and they make sense on multiple levels to the savvy and unsavvy alike.

So what can be done to make iCloud better? On mobile, it likely needs its own configuration space, not unlike the iOS Settings app, which is a good example of how Apple transformed one of the worst nightmares of PC users (control panels, settings, configurations) into a simple one-stop, intuitive interface. It might not hurt to have this iCloud center on the Mac, too.

Also, iCloud email accounts need to be messaged better. When I answered user support tickets for a startup, I would sometimes suggest that users who were having problems sending out messages from their Yahoo or GMail accounts instead try to send one from their likely unused iCloud ( email accounts. Bad move: they would then ask if iCloud were required to use the app at all, and why they couldn’t find any of the app’s data in iCloud (at the time, it didn’t support iCloud integration, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference for them). In general, these same users also almost never requested more iCloud-compliant features or compatability, and they certainly did not take an interest in its refinement like they did with any of our compatible cloud services (even SkyDrive and Box!).

I expect that Apple wanted to have it two ways with iCloud – a major, easily metaphorical selling point for iOS and cross-device functionality (hence the logo on every box), yet also an invisible hand allegedly guiding us through that very same attempt at establishing a working ecosystem. This aim might have worked if iCloud were truly a supercompetent invisible steward, but it isn’t, at least not yet.