Why I’m not sold on Bloapp

Sometimes I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

There’s been a lot of excitement on librarian blogs and twitter accounts today about Bloapp. The service converts your blog into an app… sort of. Now excuse me while I put on my cranky old man hat:

I understand that apps are cool, and mobile websites don’t grab the public eye as much. But there’s one question I always try to ask myself when looking at a new technology service or product: What purpose does it serve? In the case of Bloapp, I’m not sure there’s a payoff beyond getting to say “I have an app!”. And even that statement turns out to be not entirely true.

What does a blog as app accomplish that a blog as mobile-formatted website doesn’t? Apps only make sense when they provide something above and beyond what a webapp can do. Do you need to use a device’s camera or accelerometer? Do you need offline access? Then an app is your thing. A blog doesn’t benefit from any of those doodads.

If Bloapp gave you an actual installable app distributed via Apple’s app store, that real estate grab alone might be worthwhile. But it doesn’t. Instead, users must first install the Bloapp app. They then scan your blog’s QR barcode, which adds your blog to their list of blogs that they follow inside the Bloapp app. That sounds an awful lot like the process of subscribing to a blog in an RSS reader to me, or even just saving a bookmark to an app.

I’m all for playing with new products and services to see what works. I just don’t think Bloapp is one that makes sense. Apps are shiny! But libraries shouldn’t jump into them without a real use case in mind. We don’t want to turn our users off of the concept too early.

Review: Droid Charge

While my original Droid will always by my first smartphone love, last month it was finally time to move on to greener pastures. After agonizing over the choices for far too long, I picked up a Samsung Droid Charge.

First a look at some other current options, and why I dismissed them:
-Droid 3: A beautiful phone with beefy specs, but sadly it has no 4G.
-Droid Bionic: Perhaps most obviously, it isn’t available yet. And while I would be happy to be wrong about this I have concerns about what 4G plus a dual core processor will do to battery life.
-iPhone: I’m not a hater, the iPhone is indeed a very nice device. But Android just works for me, and I’m pretty firmly embedded in that ecosystem now.

I’ve been very happy with the Charge (despite it having a semi-difficult name to search for online – every Droid phone out there has questions about getting it to charge).

The good:

-Verizon’s 4G speeds are amazing. They don’t enhance regular web browsing that much, but I stream a lot of music on the bus and it makes a huge difference there. Speed tests put it better than my home broadband connection, which is both exciting and sad at the same time.

-Battery life, while not spectacular, is still a big improvement over my old Droid. I can get through an average workday without plugging it in and be down to 10% by bedtime. With heavier use (like our recent trip to San Francisco where I used maps all the time) I still need to carry around some sort of extra battery. But at least on most days I’m not constantly searching for outlets anymore. And I still have to wonder – will smartphones ever get the multi-day charges that my dumbphones did? I miss that.

-The HDMI mirroring is really fun to play with on a big screen. Never has Angry Birds been so amazing!

-It works with Netflix streaming, unlike a lot of Android devices.

-Also unlike most Android devices, I can take screenshots via a simple button press instead of involving the SDK. I’m still baffled that this isn’t a standard Android feature, but at least I have it on the Charge.

-The 8MP camera is the best I’ve seen on a mobile device. Outdoor shots in sunlight are almost on par with my Canon point & shoot, and indoor or dimmer shots aren’t too shabby either. The 720p video camera is similarly impressive.

-Android in general has matured as an OS a lot over the last 2 years. Much smoother around the edges.

The bad:

-The Charge is running Android 2.2, when 2.3 has been on other phones for many months now. That’s sort of embarrassing. 2.3 enables a lot of video chatting features, so the front-facing camera is pretty useless without it.

-Samsung’s customizations to the Android UI seem questionable at best to me. The home screen is a mess, and of the dozen or so pre-installed apps (which I can’t uninstall!!) I don’t want any of them. Most of the home screen customizations can be undone by installing an alternate Launcher (yay Android!), but I still wonder why Samsung would go to so much trouble to make things worse. Apple is currently suing Samsung for supposedly copying the iPhone UI in their Android phones. If that’s true… well they did a really terrible copy/paste job.

Thankfully both of these negative points can be negated – the alternate Launcher gets rid of the UI junk, and the Charge will supposedly get an OS upgrade soon(ish). Crossing my fingers on that one.

I recommend the Droid Charge without major reservation. It feels much more future-proof that my original Droid did – I was ready to throw it out the window by the end as it ground to a slow halt – and I’m confident it’ll get me through till my next upgrade cycle.

Spotify vs. Rdio

Now that Spotify finally launched in the US I’m happy to recommend it to people. (I admit I’ll miss the British ads – it was somehow charming to hear all the pleasantly accented shills for products I’d never heard of and cannot buy.)

Sarah gave an excellent overview of the pros & cons of Spotify and Rdio. I won’t bother reinventing the wheel here, but do want to toss my $.02 into consideration.

I like Rdio a lot, especially now that they have useful desktop apps which respond to keyboard controls. I love the potential of it’s social features, recommending music back and forth among friends. But social on Rdio has turned out to be a largely unfulfilled fantasy for me – almost nobody I know uses it. I think I have two friends on the service, and only one is actively using it.

Here’s where Spotify’s free version comes into play. Sure, it’s only 10 hours per month of music. But that’s 10 hours per month more than my friends are using Rdio, and a real chance to send songs back and forth. I already have 21 friends there, most of whom seem to be active users. So Spotify wins the network effect for me. Which is a shame, because I think Rdio’s overall interface is much better. I find it astonishing that Spotify doesn’t have a better way to organize a collection of albums.

Another strike against Rdio is their recent removal of music. Laura Marling and Placebo, two of the bands I’ve listened to most on the service, suddenly had much of their catalog pulled with no explanation. Placebo has been gone for months, and Laura Marling for weeks. I’m assuming a rights issue is involved somewhere along the line, but ultimately I dont’ care – I just want to listen to the music I subscribed to. Right now Spotify still has Laura Marling’s catalog intact, and some of Placebo’s songs.

Summary: I can boil it down to a struggle of Rdio’s interface vs Spotify’s selection and social features. While I’d like to say that UI is important, ultimately the catalog available to me is even more important. The music is what I’m paying for, after all. I’ve cancelled Rdio and will give Spotify a turn this month. I’m not entirely sold on it long term, but it deserves a shot.