Though it is still classified as a prototype, when it was revealed two weeks ago, the Intelligent Home Screen from Larva Labs really caught our collective eye here at Android and Me HQ. It’s retro-futuristic styling looks like the love-child of HAL (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the Starship Enterprise (from the original Star Trek) updated for the 21st century. Once you get past the unique style and design though you realize that you have all your data available to you on one screen. No need to open separate apps to check your email, appointments, Twitter, etc. Could this be the idea that pushes the Android platform to the forefront? I talked to John Watkinson of Larva Labs to find out more.
Android and Me: Can you give a little info on Larva Labs?
John Watkinson: Larva Labs is a privately-held company based in New York. It was founded by me (John Watkinson) and Matt Hall in 2005. We both have backgrounds in computer science and programming, especially in Java. Initially we focused on the Sidekick platform but have since moved in to iPhone and Android. Our company is small, Matt and I are the only full-timers, but we employ contract talent as needed.
AAM: What was the thinking behind the Intelligent Home Screen prototype? What criticisms do you have with the Android home screen setup now that you want to fix/change?
John: The default Android home screen seems, in our view, to be based in spirit on a desktop computer. There are icons and widgets that can be spread around it, and customizability is the top priority. That’s fine for some users, particularly those that are tech-savvy. However, there are other approaches to the home screen possible and Android is the first platform that allows 3rd party developers to easily replace this core component of the system. We wanted to take advantage of that opportunity. We went for something that had a professional, understated design and put the user’s most vital information right up front. Rather than launching applications, the user takes actions on various messages, appointments, news items, tweets, etc. right from the home screen.
AAM: Is it just mock up images and video at this point or is there
actual development going into it?
John: Yes, it is a fully-functional prototype. It works on all existing Android hardware (that we are aware of) but as a prototype it still lacks a lot of polish. So, it isn’t ready for release, and still needs some effort to make it a finished product. We are hoping to get an opportunity to finish it, but we have other obligations in the near term. In short, we can’t say for sure when we will finish the project, but we sure hope that it will be soon.
AAM: Is it something that would have to be a Home replacement or could it be modified as an app or even a 4×4 widget?
John: It is definitely a homes screen replacement– it would not be feasible as an app or a 4×4 widget, in our opinion.
AAM: Where did the clean modern look of the Intelligent Home Screen come from?
John: The credit for the style goes to our design partner, Ideas on Purpose. They took our terrible sketches and turned them in to a really beautiful, clean design; especially considering the amount of information that is packed in to it.
AAM: As a company that makes apps for iPhone, Sidekick and Android, can you run down the pluses and minuses for each platform in terms of development?
John: Android is definitely our favorite platform for development. The SDK is very powerful and straightforward. That said, Sidekick is a solid platform as well, especially considering how much longer it has been around than the others. It has some commonalities with Android, as some of the Android developers worked previously on the Sidekick OS. The Sidekick is probably the best at enforcing user interface conventions across apps, making the apps feel very “native” to the phone and comfortable for the users. The iPhone is a very different kind of development experience. It is much more challenging and “to the metal”. The developer has a lot of low-level power, but can easily get in to trouble with cryptic errors and memory leak issues. However, that low-level power (combined with fairly uniform hardware) is what results in console-like performance. Unfortunately, Apple’s SDK for the iPhone sandboxes the developer, preventing apps such as home screen replacements. So, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, but Android is our favorite.
We are all very excited to see this prototype come to fruition and want to thank John Watkinson for taking the time to talk to us.