Lessons learned from the Feedly for Android beta 1

We released on Wednesday the first beta of feedly for android – for both phones and 10″ tablets. Here are some of the lessons we learned during the last 5 days.

The good

Android has an open app distribution model so we started by pushing the app to our website, invited 50 users and tried it for 12 hours to see if they were any major show stoppers – very valuable given that there are a lot of different types of phones and we only tested feedly on a Nexus ONE and Nexus S. After 12 hours of testing, we moved the app to the Market and invited more people. This incremental release worked well.

The Android community seems to be a lot more engaging than the iOS community. After 24 hours, we had 100s of comments/reviews on our blog post, in the market and on facebook. Although it is never fun to hear that your baby is ugly, it was very helpful in terms of helping us understand where the rough edges were and what we could do to better integrate with Android (see the bad).

The bad

We have spent a lot of engineering effort to create feedly as what we call an “ultra universal application” – a single code base which runs on iPhone, iPad, Android phones and Android tablets (while mutating it experience to the device form factor). The challenge is to do so while being able to deeply integrate the application with the underlying user experience and operating system. To do so, we are using a homegrown framework called streets.

We learned a lot over the last few days regarding what is important to Android users when evaluating app (and improved streets and feedly for Android beta 2) to address this.

1) Account Management. Instead of asking users for their user names and passwords (which has the added issue of not working well with the new 2-factor authentication used by Google), the app should integrate with the Android Account Management framework. [The Account Management API is well abstracted out and it was fairly easy/non intrusive to plug it in].

2) The back button. iOS devices do not have a back button (and under the cover feedly uses a URL addressing for navigation) so when we started to look at making feedly available on Android, we did not spend a lot of time thinking about the back button. That was a mistake. The back button and the concept of “activities” are a very important element of the Android user experience – and something users seem to use a lot and expect to work. In beta 2, we spent a couple of days analyzing the feedly mobile UI and breaking logically it out into activities and making sure that the back button did the right thing in terms of allowing users to transition back to the previous logical activity. It helps make the experience feel a lot more fluid.

3) Intents Android includes a pretty sophisticated app integration framework called intents. Although the data passing between intents is still a little too opaque, Android users expect apps to work nicely together. In beta 2, we spent some time to better understand intents and see how we could better integrate with the system wide sharing mechanism they enable. Something a lot of users asked for in the comments.

4) Look and feel A side effect of the ultra-universal app approach was that some of the icons and styles we used in Beta 1 were a little too iOS-ish. Beta 2 does a much better job integrating into the Android look and feel and visual language.

5) Widgets One of the key benefit of Android is the sophisticated home experience and the ecosystem of widgets it can host. This is something users seem to care a lot about. So if you are designing an Android App, you should make sure that it includes a widget. Something we are looking into for beta 3.

Feedback for Google

Feedly for Android is our first Android application. It was interesting to go through the design, implementation and release of the application. Here is some feedback for Google on some of the things they could improve.

1) Documentation/Example. The Android APIs are well documented at the Java Doc level but finding examples for the most common things developers need to do is still hard (and when you find an example on someone else blog, it is not always clear if that is “the best practice”, if it is still valid in the latest version etc…). StackOverflow helps fill some of the gaps here but there is still a lot more which could be done.

2) Market. Allow apps to include screenshots for 10″ tablets. Allow devs to reply to reviews and engage with users.

3) UI. This one is a little more fundamental but as a web developer, I find it hard to have to learn a new layout language and styling language…specially given that they end up being more constraining than HTML and CSS. Why not take HTML and tell developers: if you use this subset, your app is going to be highly optimized….and let devs port their knowledge over.

4) Intent – URL mapping. It would be nice to create a way to map intents into URLs so that the integration points between applications are just links (or REST+JSON interactions). More fluid inter app interactions is where Android is a few years ahead of iOS. There are a few things Android can learn from Chrome and the Web and continue to widen that gap.

5) Hardware acceleration/GPU. This is one area iOS and Apple Hardware working together really shine. It results in both a smoother experience and better batterie life. Android 3.0 is starting to talk about this. It would be really great if Google could invest in this and make sure that Android 4.x is really in par with iOS when it comes to CSS transformations and Hardware acceleration.

We have grown to become big fans of Android and look forward to many more releases of feedly for Android powered devices.

Author: @feedly

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58 thoughts on “Lessons learned from the Feedly for Android beta 1”

  1. you have covered everything that I was thinking about. I found myself out of the app whenever I tried the back button, and it kicked me out to app. And it kept on asking me to enter my password, so, making it part of the android account management, will make it a lot better.

    Now, when I am reading something, I hit the home ( the word home inside the app ) and I was expecting it to take me to the equal to “cover” on the web feedly. But it was listing he sources with unread items. Also, total number of unread items will also help.

    btw, I used LG Optimus One … thanks for this amazing product !!!

    1. Thanks Dinu. We pushed out last night a beta 2 update. When you have a chance, please upgrade. As mentioned by the post, the account management, look and feel and back button support issues have been addressed in that update.

      1. hey, thanks ! I downloaded it from the link on ur facebook fan page, after reading this post, I found the market link and updated , good job there with the updates :)

        btw, I loved the green line that you had earlier on top and bottom of articles, may be I will get used to the new one too !

      2. I precisely had to thank you so much once more. I am not sure what I would’ve crteead without the entire pointers provided by you directly on such topic. It has been a real distressing circumstance in my position, however , finding out the specialised approach you handled that forced me to weep over happiness. I am happy for the help and then pray you realize what a great job you’re carrying out educating the rest by way of your web blog. Most probably you’ve never come across any of us.

  2. and also, when there is a list of unread items on the page ( and I am not inside any particular article ) there should be an option to mark all read ( it was there at some places, but not everywhere )

    and, when I mark an item “saved” if there is some color change to that word or the icon will help to know if its marked as saved or not.

  3. Nice update, the back button is working fine now.

    The only thing I dont want, is if I have read a compleet feed, it skips into the next feed, but I cant loop back, please make ik work both ways.

  4. I really like your initiative creating an Android app, thank you.

    One thing that confuses me is the “Menu” button, you should really not open the “Featured” window, it is really difference that Android users are accustomed to. It would be better to use the built in Android Settings UI. And leave the”Featured” window on click (bottom left as it is now).

    Some other UX stuff such as Landscape mode, and hover buttons. Currently buttons don’t have a hover state, it is confusing me to realize if I clicked on it or not.

    Those small changes will make the experience a lot better and natural.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Hover is an issue. I am not sure I agree 100% on the menu: the source selector is something users use a lot and it feels really good to be able to use a hardware button to be able to access it. Re: lanscape. Yes. On the list for 2.0. Thanks again for taking the time to submit this feedback. Much appreciated.

      1. While I do understand your concerns (I’ve got similar with my app), Mohamed is right. The user excpects the menu button to offer additional options, not to open directly some dialog/activity. IMHO it would be a good compromise to offer a “menu button opens source selection” preference but to show a real menu by default. (Though the preference activity is usually invoked by a menu entry…)

  5. What i need is a « mark as unread » everywhere. I use this a lot when reading RSS in subway (on 3G).
    I can’t find a way to do this in « full view ».

  6. Really great job, guys.
    I already love Feedly for Android just as much as the Chrome version.

    But there’s one bug, that is a real show-stopper for me right now:
    Clicking the “like”-thumb just likes the article in Google Reader. In Chrome it likes and shares it.

    Because I share a lot and use that feed on other sites, this bug causes some trouble.
    Right now, after liking an article in Feedly, I have to open Google Reader in a browser, navigate to my liked articles and share them one by one.

    If you can address this bug, all the other feedreaders I tried will be gone from my phone in an instant. ;)

    1. Hi b_i_d. Yes. In the next update, we will honor the preference knob which allows the user to define if feedly recommend = like only or (like + share). Thanks for the feedback.

  7. I’m intrigued by the comment about differences between the Android community and iOS community as I saw a lot more comments on twitter about the iOS release than I did about the Android release.
    Do you think the price of the app on iOS made a difference as to the sort of people using it?
    Whilst I use feedly in Chrome, I use Reeder on my iPhone and am pretty happy with it, so was reluctant to pay for an app that was still in beta and didn’t seem to add much for the sort of feeds I’m subscribed to (most of them are text based).

  8. I don’t really get what you mean by URL intents but you can already treat Intents as URLs if you which, you can make your activity catch urls like scheme//host/query or even http://host/query if you’d like. If you try to intercept http user will get a question to use your app or the browser though.

    1. This page is nice, as is the Developer Blog and the chapters in the “Dev Guide”. But those only cover a small fragment of what devs would like to know. There even are some pretty good source examples (“Sources”-“Sample code”), but sometimes it’s hard to tell which sample covers what you might need.
      The heaps of information (somewhat) hidden in the blog, StackOverflow and Google Groups should become proper documentation pages (i.e. “Dev Guide”, sample code, or JavaDoc), and there should be more links. All too often I find a class that looks promising, but the JavaDoc isn’t any help. Then, using Google (the search engine part ;)) I might find something helpful (often even by Android devs) after lots of copies of the original JavaDoc and unanswered forum posts…

    2. Yes. We ran into that page a couple of weeks ago and found that type of format very useful – adds a lot of value to the pure JavaDoc layer. More pages like these and more samples would be awesome!

  9. You shouldn’t put buttons at the top of the screen. It is aquard to reach them with the thumb. One hand usage is important.

    1. Agreed. The done button is already redundant given that the back button performs the done. In the feedly mobile 2.0 design, the “next” button will be replaced by a swipe transition and at that point, we will consider removing the top bar for Android users. Thanks for the feedback!

  10. What about non-google.com accounts. I use my domain google account to access reader, it works on feedly in Chrome, but I just downloaded the Android version (0.9.4) and when I login with my domain account feedly tells me there are no sources…

    1. That used to work until the update. Now it is broken for me too. Bring back the option to give user name/pass please!

  11. I didn’t read any other comments, I’m sure I’ll be making some of the same suggestions. Hope that’s taken as a +1 for a suggestion rather than laziness for not reading, even though it is mostly laziness.

    What I love: It’s finally released. It’s gorgeous. I haven’t encountered any bugs.

    What I don’t love: Menu brings up featured list instead of a menu (like preferences maybe?). When selecting a feed from featured list it shows me 1 featured article and I have to scroll to get to a list (I can get used to this as I know it mimics the browser version, but I’d really just prefer the list). After being able to scroll through a list of a feed’s articles by swiping, I have to scroll through individual articles by hitting the “Next” key (this just doesn’t seem/feel natural). The next key is at the top of the screen.

    Looking forward to the next beta.

    1. Hi Chris,

      We are looking into the menu key optioning the selector. We will experiment with having it open the preference pane and see what people think of that approach.

      We are working hard on allowing users to swipe to the next article (instead of having to tap on next) in the in-app browser. This should be part of the next update.

      Finally, the use of the feature card is to have a visual language which defines the beginning of a set. The usability tests we ran showed that the swiping is a little new at first but 85% of people got used to it pretty quickly. The use of swipe+card allows us to easily introduce new types of visualizations going forward.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  12. When I first purchased my new Droid (DroidX), one of the first apps I looked for in the market was Feedly because I use it on my computer and really like it. I was thrilled when it finally became available, but I have to admit that there are a couple of things with it that really bug me.

    (1) When I open Feedly, it goes to “home”. I’d like it to go to “latest”. Why not include an option in the settings that allows users to chose where they want to start when they open Feedly?

    (2) Sharing. The share button in the lower right brings up “tweet, mail article, copy url, open in browser, mobilize or share using.” Give users the chance to dump the tweet option for “post to Facebook” right there. It’s really annoying to have to click through to “share using” in order to share anything on Facebook, especially if you don’t care for twitter or emailing articles. Actually, it’s really annoying having to click through a bunch of times to share to begin with. Why not have “share” links UNDER the articles, like in the Feedly for Firefox version, where it’s underneath each article?

    (3) And on the subject of sharing, Feedly for Android does not allow me to share anything on Facebook at all. It will go to Facebook, even give me an option to put in a comment, but not actually transfer the link to be shared over to Facebook. Meaning I can’t share at all because it isn’t working.

    I am a huge fan of Feedly but half the reason I like it so much is to be able to share directly to Facebook. Feedly for Android falls seriously short in this. Enough so to make me use NewsRob as my primary feed reader until these issues are worked out. Which, hopefully, will be soon.

    1. Hi Chris,

      (1) yes. It is one of the features we are working on for 2.0.

      (2) In 2.0, we will also have a built-in facebook sharing tool, which will allow users to share articles to their main facebook timeline and any facebook page or group they manage. We are also going to fix the integration with the facebook intent for users preferring to use their existing facebook android app (currently, we are not passing the right metadata).

      Thanks for the great feedback!

  13. I’ll second the comments on menu button behavior and I’m glad you’re thinking about it. Opening the master list would be perfect for a gesture of some sort. (How else do you get to it on the iPhone?) And it should be one of the options in the forthcoming menu-button menu, too.

    The only thing that really jumps out at me so far, as un-Android-like behavior is that when I click on a link in a story within the application, I expect that page to open in the default browser. Maybe that’s what the URL intents discussion is about; I’m no developer.

  14. How do I add a news item to ‘Read it later’ on the Android version. The reading pane displays only the like, instapaper and share buttons. This despite the fact that ‘read it later’ being integrated in the ‘preferences’ menu.

    Also the bit.ly integration doesn’t seem to work for me..is it just me or???

    1. Hi Mahe, The current UI limits the integration to either instapaper or read it later. If you remove your instapaper credentials and add your read it later credentials, you should see the instapaper icon morph into a read-it-later icon.

  15. Edwin,

    Thanks for the heads-up! It works perfect now.

    Not only do you deliver an amazing product, but you also listen to feedback and respond to user queries. Great going!!

    Good luck with the 2.0.

  16. Hi,

    I’ve been using feedly on firefox and chrome for some time and I was very excited to have my hands on the new Android version.

    I tried Feedly on 2 Android devices and I have mixed feelings so far because I do not get the same sensation on the 2 devices: one is a Samsung Galaxy S (official Android 2.2.1) the other one is an Archos Tablet 101 (official Android 2.2.1).
    I must say the experience is much better on the Archos even though performance should, in theory, not be so good.
    On the Samsung Galaxy S Feedly is very laggy, crashes sometimes and Tasker reports low memory almost immediately after I launch Feedly, it’s close to a show stopper for me on the SGS and I’m very sad about that ;-)

    About the app itself, here are my 3 wishes:
    1 – offer the option to “mobilize” all the time – it’s usually a waste of time for me to start loading the regular page before switching to the mobilized version,
    2 – allow to swipe between cards (this swipe option should also be available on the “mobilized” version of the article, I
    see no added value in having to come back to the standard view before moving to the next card)
    3 – Add “Keep it unread”

    + send by email always crashes Feedly on the Archos and missing labels on “Done” and “Next” buttons but I understood these buttons would disappear in the next beta version

    Cheers,

    Yves.

  17. I was, at first, very skeptical of using Feedly on my handhelds. I was also complacent because with my Nexus S – Google had a very good Google Reader App. And I used that a lot until I finally installed Feedly.
    I first tried it on my iPhone + iTouch, next was to try my Android Nexus S. Seriously I was blown away. Incredible experience … I find consuming and reading more often then before.

    I have one feedback – which is a mistake most aggregators or Readers do on smartphones and tablets. They, I think, assume that everybody wants to share or “Instapaper”. I love the Save function of Google Reader that Feedly supports. And I use it a lot. I use that feature for all articles that I have read BUT are saved for future reference or coming back to. I don’t think of Instapaper as a back up for all of my references. BUT the Feedly app, once I enabled Instapaper login, disabled the Save fo Later feature. That was sad … I am going to go and delete my Instapaper credentials. I use Instapaper when I want uncluttered reading which kind of, sort of Feedly already does in the apps.

  18. I’ve like to be able to search for new feeds from within Feedly (for Android). As I can with various news readers on my iPad. I don’t want to necessarily use Google Reader as my only way of adding and removing feeds.

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