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06 Jun 12 Microsoft gives back to Android, but users say ‘no thanks’


Thanks to some smart lawyering or perhaps fears CEO Steve Ballmer will show up unannounced, Microsoft has negotiated envious patent fee payments from nearly all major Android licensees. So there’s something fitting about the software giant giving a little something back to Android, by way of an exclusive app — well for now — on{X}. Or perhaps it’s a Trojan Horse to undo Android phones, chopping up performance or draining battery life. Or maybe Microsoft sees Android users as easy beta testers, considering the more rigorous standards for getting into Apple’s App Store than Google Play.

One thing is certain: Early on{X} users despise the app, which has some of the worst reviews you’ll see at Google Play. As I post, the app has average rating of 1.8 stars out of five. Among the 244 reviewers, 178 give the app a single star. Ouch! I had planned to grab this one, which is available in beta, but skipped after seeing the scathing response.

Microsoft quietly announced on{X} on June 3, but apparently not loudly enough to be noticed. The app and companion website got a second debut late yesterday, on the Bing blog. So Eran Yariv, principal development manager, had the pleasure of blogging twice about on{X}, which does look cool in concept. Perhaps the app will grow rapidly better.

Yariv describes on{X} as a “developer-oriented service that enables us, the developers and technological enthusiasts, to easily program our mobile device to dynamically react to the continuously changing environment”. Now there’s another good reason for Microsoft making the app an Android affair for now. The enthusiast community of jailbreakers and custom ROMs is active, and many of its members are developers.

For the end user, on{X} is an automation system, for programming the phone to respond to activities or actions, some of which can be trigged by time, tasks or the phone’s motion. For developers, Microsoft is building out an automation platform.

Yariv explains: “For each such triggering event, we can easily create reactions. Instead of limiting the reaction to a simple list of actions, we are offering the full power of JavaScript. That’s right, you can push any arbitrary JavaScript code, remotely, down to your mobile device and hook it up to a continuous signals sensing framework that you only need to download and install once. The possibilities are wide open — you no longer need to worry about the target platform”.

Think of on{X} like applying email rules to the Android phone. The app runs JavaScript rules that respond to triggers that lead to some action. The triggers range from the phone’s sensors to information it collects — anything from motion to changes in the weather. Example: Phone is programmed to detect when you’re done work — perhaps by time, motion or both — and texts someone you’re heading home.

“One of the most useful APIs that we offer is “modeOfTransport”, says Saar Yahalom, Microsoft senior developer. This allows apps to “detect whether the user is walking, running or driving a car”. Developers can incorporate the API, and others, into their apps.

Microsoft provides a selection of what it calls “Recipes” that on{X} users can apply to their Androids right now. Too bad early users are dissatisfied.

Among the biggest complaints: Microsoft requires Facebook login to use on{X}. The first seven reviews (as I write) all give one star, complaining about the Facebook requirement. The FB complaints go on and on and on. Eoin, who uses HTC, is typical: “Facebook? App sounds great, but forced Facebook ruins it”. Brandon: “First ever app comment. Everybody’s life doesn’t revolve around Facebook! So since I can’t log in using a normal email address I can’t use the app. FAIL”. Scoot: “Who uses fb these days? Why do i have to in order to use this app? Lame”.

Some of the few people who actually have used the app, find it beneficial. Carlos Niebla, who gives on{X} four stars, calls it “a very good idea and a nice implementation. Is working perfectly on my SGS2, excep for it doesn’t respect the ‘back’ button to exit the app (got to hit “home”). If you already use Facebook I see no problem to ‘login with Facebook’, as it is not a Google app ;-) Going to experiment with the Javascript interface :-) ”.

Glenn calls Facebook-only a “deal breaker”, adding:

Why? Every Android phone has a Google Account, and with the auth API’s built into Andoroid it’s simply stupid that this is not an option. Google Auth done properly is a very seemless and pleasent experiance on an Android phone, and trivial to add to any web site. For ease of use Google Auth should be included, and the default, on any such Android App. Also, having MS Live auth would be a good idea as well, allowing integration later with OneNote and Hotmail. While having a Facebook option is also a good idea, it is incredibly stupid to have it as the only option.

Nicole, who has the Motorola Photon 4G and gives the app one star, wonders: “Only make new rules from a computer?” That’s a good point.

Microsoft could have saved itself from most of these negative reviews, which give an awfully bad impression of the app, simply by offering a different or another authentication system.

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