First look at Aro: another example of why chaos on Android is good

There’s been a lot of chatter lately from Apple about why Android’s platform chaos is bad. What is chaos? Well, it’s the fact that every Android phone isn’t the same.

My Samsung, for instance, has tons of icons and apps and even a different look and feel than other devices from other manufacturers. That’s chaos. It’s generally bad to someone who sees a device as art, like Steve Jobs does, and it makes it harder to support. After all, if someone is having a problem, if all devices are the same, it’s easier to figure out. But if every device is different, it’s harder to figure out what’s causing the problem.

Underneath there’s chaos too as developers have to handle different devices and make sure their code still works on all of them.

Looked at it these ways, chaos is bad!

But where is chaos good? Well, two companies demonstrate how chaos is good: The first is Swype, which makes a much better keyboard for some Android devices. When I visited them a few months ago they had it working on iPhone and iPad, but they couldn’t get approved by Apple. You should watch that video to get an idea of how it works (you swipe your finger over the keyboard rather than poking at it and trying to hit small targets with your fingers) and why it’s so much faster than other virtual keyboards.

You can just hear Steve Jobs yelling in pain as he watches that video “what do you mean there would be two different keyboards on my devices? Hell no!”

But today we have another example of why chaos is good on Android: Aro. What is Aro? It’s a new personal information manager. Basically it takes over your email, your contacts, your calendar, and makes them all better and easier to use. How does it work?

It stores all that data in a new database that analyses all that info semantically. Do you see the chaos yet? Lots of chaos. First it replaces all those pieces of the cell phone, and can even hook into the phone dialer. Steve Jobs would +never+ allow that, would he? Second, it stores your data in a new cloud-based database. That brings into focus new privacy and backup concerns (they answer those on the video, but they are new concerns that don’t exist on the iPhone). More chaos.

Anyway, the video with Aro’s CEO, Jonathan D. Lazarus, is long (46 minutes) but Aro is the most innovative thing I’ve seen done for mobile phones lately, so I think it deserves a long look. If you only have a few minutes, pop over to about 5:55 into the video where you’ll see a demo of Aro.

What does Aro do? If, say, Bill Gates sends Steve Jobs an email, copies me, and is talking about Larry Ellison, Larry’s name will have a little square around it. Click on that square and a new UI fans out, letting me see other info. It’s like Rapportive or Xobni, but done much better and for the mobile interface. It makes your phone much more productive than it would be otherwise and that’s why I feel it’s so important.

One aside, this video is the first I did with Apple’s iMovie 11, so it’s in high-def. One problem. It took dozens of hours to import, edit, process, and upload, so I doubt I will use HD for these longer videos.


  1. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am still not 100% sure why Jobs/Apple should have problems with Swype. Swype is not replacing the keyboard, it just replaces how the OS reads the keyboard. So, in some sense it adds a layer of service between the keyboard and the OS.

    Let’s accept it, the keyboard as we know (and has been used in iOS) is a dated concept and is need of a revamp. Keyboard entry is the most frustrating part of a mobile phone, at least for me. The rapid development in the Human Computer Interface (HCI) needs to be integrated in mobile space to make it less painful.

    Android is making that sort of innovation a possibility whereas Apple is discouraging such innovation. Given that most basic features are available across the mobile OS, it is these small features that will tilt the balance in favor of one OS vs. others.

    BTW, the video is wonderful, but 46 min is a very long video. It will be good to have some kind of markup or index so that people can directly go to the relevant portion, if they are starved of time :)

    1. I agree with you, but I can just see the rules that Steve Jobs puts down and why he wants everyone to follow them. That attitude will eventually push me to Android to get a better system. Now I have two reasons to move away from Apple. When will the pressure get to be enough to get over the app lockin that I’m under? But for new users? They aren’t locked in the way I am. Oh, and these two examples are also a good example of why other manufacturers are gonna have a tough time in this market (Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, etc).

      1. Steve Jobs/Apple has done well to keep the iOS herd together up until now. But, things will get increasingly difficult going forward. The key thing in my mind is that mobile OS is not an end, it is a means to an end. Consumers will not buy phones because it has a certain OS, they will buy phones which address their needs.

        With that in mind, manufacturers should think about creating conditions that enable innovation so as to address consumer needs and not stifle innovation.

    2. I agree with you, but I can just see the rules that Steve Jobs puts down and why he wants everyone to follow them. That attitude will eventually push me to Android to get a better system. Now I have two reasons to move away from Apple. When will the pressure get to be enough to get over the app lockin that I’m under? But for new users? They aren’t locked in the way I am. Oh, and these two examples are also a good example of why other manufacturers are gonna have a tough time in this market (Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, etc).

  2. Dude, this is *terrible* chaos. It shows the holes in the platform that google *may or may not* fix, leaving developers spinning their wheels with unpredictable payouts.

    For reference: ask Android Task Killer how they’re doing these days.

    Lastly, the reality check you are missing is that most product teams aren’t as good as the ones at Apple. And that doesn’t seem to improve with “openness”.

    1. Oh, I know the downside of platform chaos well. But I remember when the Macintosh was way better than Windows was, too. Turned out that chaos is better for marketplaces. As to Android Task Killer, well, yes, that’s one reason I’m still on iPhone, but Android’s chaos is definitely pulling on me.

    2. Aro seems to be addressing chaos inherent to our daily activity schedules by binding common information from disparate sources, rather than any shortcomings apparent in Android – although I don’t fault Robert for his attention-getting headline :) It also brings to mobile platform what we have had on the desktop for some time. I doubt Google would address these problems within their individual applications or OS, and even if they did, would the marketplace trust them?

  3. Very interesting, maybe a great tie in with the People tile in windows 7 phone. I like my iPhone right now but the lack of intergration and the limited information display drives me nuts. Will be watching for their application in the future.

    1. This goes way beyond what I’ve seen on Windows Phone 7. That’s actually a good example of how deep a hole Microsoft is in. They need to prove that they can sell phones before they get developers like Aro interested (you hear that at one point in the interview).

      1. Aro has disaster written all over it. Do people really want some annoying Visio-like diagram blasting out of their phone when you click a contact/name? Fails the “Keep it simple, Stupid!” test. I won’t even mention any possible performance or data security issues.

  4. Chaos and fragmentation is never a good thing, from development, corporate roll-out and training standpoints, logistical nightmares for developers actually, Windows 7 phone might just take some of that market, but none of the carriers, like or trust Microsoft, so there is that. But as an OS, Microsoft finally got Mobile right, tho I still liked Pocket PCs, you could do so much more real work over iPhone insta-apps, but the UI and ease-of-use was never there, not a mass market device. Android, hot now as the carriers like to custom craft, but still early in the game, the lack of standardization will dent. And there is the iPhone on Verizon issue, that will tip the balance, hordes of people that like iPhone but literally hate AT&T. Had Apple not been cultic exclusive and gone carrier independent, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. And WebOS is hitting 2.0 and HPized, still in game, imho. And RIM is all biz, it’s a chained-to-work device, people tend to hate them after awhile, if RIM would go better cleaner UI and more fun, might help. The only thing that is certain is that Symbian OS is DOA.

    1. don’t overestimate verizon effect and underestimate the world , the world is getting better and the US is getting smaller relative to the world. Both Apple and Google are making more money from rest of the world than the US and that will only increase in the future not decrease.

  5. Aro Mobile was developed by Kiha Software. Kiha is located in Seattle and is hiring great people who love to develop on Android devices. All the innovative progress AND chaos you are all discussing now are a developers dream: client interfaces and user experiences with scalable cloud services and powerful data analytics semantic analysis with search applications. It’s the motherload for developers!

    1. wrong analogy correct analogy chaos is inbuilt in nature. Nature is chaotic but life manages to survive and pretty well at that(bio-mass is increasing not decreasing all the time)

  6. I am familiar with Swype, since it is preinstalled on my Droid X. I use Swype in portrait mode, but prefer the native multi-touch keyboard or Swiftkey in landscape. My wife swears by Swype since getting her Droid X.

    As for Aro…I must confess that my interest is piqued; particularly for my wife who runs a business and manages several different email accounts and calendars. I put my name down for Beta testing. I am interested to learn more about protection of data. That may be the biggest hurdle they will have to overcome. It’s one thing to give access to an email or Twitter account, but the idea that Aro is “reading” all our data will freak some people out. (Ironically, probably the same people who use Gmail.)

  7. I like the altuistic flavour of the project. Certainly in the founders, the backers are a heavyweight too. Nokia have always been on the forefront of innovation. I agree on the apple comments I think perhaps they have stolen some of the flavour of Microsoft in the 90s. The whole market could be freed up abit to allow for innovation. Not sure Nokia can do it.

    Perhaps smaller companies and start-ups like Swpe can shake up the market.

    I like the demo looks fast. I hate the typing speed on these especially blackberry. One thing that really annoys me is putting in signatures and addresses on email. You often see it left out andI can take away authority in communications especially if your a CEO.