Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Android lesson

My startup company, Invantory, launched its free Craigslist app in the Apple App Store less than a week ago. It was an insanely busy week as I pushed to market the app, deal with other company issues, and prepare for the next version of Invantory.

How will we decide what to implement in the app? Both my partner and I are very much attuned to feedback loops, and besides taking notes on the type of problems that people brought up, I couldn't help but notice a complaint that came up with about 30% of the people I talked with:

"I don't have an iOS device"

When I queried further, almost everyone from this group said they had an Android phone (there were a few BlackBerry users, plus one Symbian holdout). Now, I know Android is popular and rivals the iPhone in sales in this country. But what surprised me was most of these people were from my circle, which is heavily weighted toward the tech-savvy, early adopter crowd. I see friends whipping out iPhones all of the time, and in a quick poll of people from my MIT business school program, everyone single one of them raised their hands when I asked who had an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

But I discovered another group of friends, including some hard-core technologists (current MIT undergrad and her classmates, the CEO of a cutting-edge technology firm, a CS PhD candidate) who quietly depend on Android for their mobile phone needs, and often don't have any other iOS device in the house, such as an iPad or iPod.

Android Samsung Exhibit II screenshot
And guess what? I'm in this group, too. I have a Samsung Android phone on a TMobile monthly 4G plan. But I always thought I was a bit of an outlier amongst my peers. I've always been a technology cheapskate, and owing to the challenges of starting up a company have cut down many expenses to the bone.

Apparently, I'm not that unusual. Some of my friends, like me, may be attracted to the price of Android. Others may have an issue with Apple. In some parts of MIT (not the business school!) there is a very strong anti-establishment undercurrent, which is often turned against closed software platforms.

Whatever the reasons, the feedback about Android was a wake-up call. We know that people like the app (as one iPhone user said, "it's now my Craigslist browser of choice"). But a whole segment of mobile users can't even experience it. We have to change that.

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