Marco Arment has long been typecast as a one of the most ardent Apple fanboys, someone quick to point out every flaw in the Android operating system, while keeping his beloved Instapaper app safe and sound inside the iPhone's walled garden. With the release of Instapaper for Android today, that all changes, and Arment says he hopes it will clear the air for a more nuanced discussion of what's possible in the rapidly evolving mobile ecosystem. Below is an interview we conducted with Mr. Arment about Instapaper's debut on Android.
So you've finally decided Android isn't all bad?
Marco Arment: I've gotten numerous emails from people who are personally offended because I wasn't bringing Instapaper to Android. The truth is that it was never about my personal preference as a user, which is iOS. For a long time I just didn't believe that there was a market on Android that justified building a paid Instapaper app.
What changed your mind?
I think it was the success of the Kindle Fire and the Nook that tipped my hand. They sold millions of units. I am not a fan of the 7-inch form factor, I mean what is that, a padfone, a phablet? But for me personally, Instapaper is now a tablet app first, and smartphone second. It wasn't always that way, but these days, I design for the iPad first and then figure out how to fit those changes onto the iPhone. And most of my customers come from the iPad, something like fifty percent, which is staggering when you think about how many smartphones there are compared to tablets. So when I saw Android tablets really selling, I thought the market was for real.
Why did you choose Mobelux to develop the Android app?
There were not a lot of developers who I would have trusted with Instapaper, but I knew them from working together on the Tumblr app and really respected and admired their work. I think they did some really smart things mixing the grid and the column layout from the iPad and iPhone and bringing that to all the different form factors on Android.
What was the experience of seeing Instapaper built in Android like?
Instapaper is now a tablet app first, and smartphone second
As a user I still prefer iOS, but there are definitely things in Android that I appreciate as a developer. You can easily enable Instapaper in the share menu of the browser without having to use some kind of terrible bookmarklet like you would in iOS. I turned on background update locations for Instapaper last night. That is very cool, but really it's a convoluted hack to get around the fact that you can't have iOS apps download content in the background on a regular basis, unless they are in the Newstand. So there is a flexibility and openness to Android I can see the value in.
Android's openness and flexibility are a double-edged sword. Android app developers can issue updates quickly and have lower-level API access in many areas, but that comes with a lot of costs in fragmentation, support, and customer payment issues. It's very different from the iOS world that I know, and it's easier in some ways and harder in others.