Locale App for Android Phones “Wouldn’t Even Be Possible on the iPhone,” Says Winner of $275K Developer Challenge

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the changes from version to version of the SDK. But that’s to be expected with any beta platform. From Google’s standpoint, it’s better to have developers working on the platform while it’s still in its early stages, finding the rough spots.

X: Now that you’ve created this application for Android, have you thought about building something similar for other devices, like the iPhone?

CJ: We feel like Android is the first operating system to bring everything together that would make our application possible. Our application wouldn’t even be possible on the iPhone right now—not for technical reasons but because of the restrictions Apple places in their SDK, where you can’t run third-party applications in the background. Other platforms have their own limitations. The openness of Android creates an environment for applications that just aren’t possible on other platforms.

X: That gets at an interesting issue. Right now, if you are a developer of third-party mobile applications and you want to earn some money, the iPhone and the iTunes App Store is really the only game in town. And the iPhone is a powerful device that developers can do a lot with. But now, here comes Android, which has the attraction of being open. Do you think that means that some of the people who are working on iPhone apps right now will eventually switch horses?

CJ: There are two sides to that question. One is that Google has gone on the record stating that from a user interface perspective, it’s not trying to make Android as slick as the iPhone. Part of that is due to the desire to make Android work for different devices—not just touch-screen phones but phones with keypads and trackballs or other interfaces. Because it supports all these less sophisticated devices, Android may actually turn out to be more powerful and more widespread.

The other side of it is that there is going to be a more symbiotic relationship between Google and third-party developers. That relationship is based on Android being an open platform, which makes it possible to create applications that couldn’t be done elsewhere. That benefits Google, because as developers create more external applications it makes the platform itself more powerful.

X: Speaking of platforms—what inspired you to make Locale itself into a platform that other developers could tap into? Do you think that helped you to win the developer challenge?

CJ: That was really Jasper’s idea, and it ended up being a great one. One reason we created it is that if you have a location-enabled phone, you don’t want to have to define your frequently-visited locations over and over again for each location-aware program, like your to-do list. It would be nice if you could do that just once. So when you arrive at one of your locations, Locale sends out a message that we call an “intent,” and applications that are listening for this intent can see that you’ve entered that location, wake up, and do something, like send out a tweet, in the case of the Twitter client. I think it did give us an advantage in the challenge, because it showed how creating a development platform is relatively easy in Android, compared with other operating systems.

X: So, bottom line: will Locale be available for download on October 22, when the T-Mobile G1 comes out, and how much will it cost?

CJ: We are interested in having our application available on phones at launch, and there will be a version available at launch. The specifics aren’t entirely clear, because Google hasn’t announced them. But Google has already said that the Android Market will launch only with support for free applications; paid downloads will not be supported.

X: So it will be free, at least at first. But given how useful Locale sounds—and looking at how many people seem to be willing to pay a buck or two for apps at the iPhone App Store—I imagine you could get people to pay something, when support for paid downloads comes along.

CJ: Our application certainly has a lot of value to users. A lot of people have said “I wish my phone did that.” So we are excited about getting it out there, and we’re still evaluating some of the retail specifics.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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23 responses to “Locale App for Android Phones “Wouldn’t Even Be Possible on the iPhone,” Says Winner of $275K Developer Challenge”

  1. Dean says:

    I call FUD. There are location based apps that turn settings off and on for the Mac, and there have been for years. This is certainly possible on the iPhone.

  2. Wade Roush says:

    @Dean: Yes, the iPhone could run such an app, in principle. Jernigan’s point was that Apple’s ban on third-party apps running in the background prevents the kind of inter-app communication needed to make a service like Locale usable on the iPhone.

  3. Bravia says:

    Not Possible? what are they smoking?? A regular phone has “profiles” and you normally enable it via a single key, if a regular phone had GPS/LBS it’s a matter of setting a variable to kick in via auto update.

  4. Carlos says:


    – The iPhone SDK doesn’t allow third party developers to modify phone settings.

    – The iPhone SDK doesn’t allow third party developers to run background applications.

    – The Android platform allows third party developers to modify phone settings with user permissions.

    – The Android platform allows third party developers to run background tasks.


    – You can develop an application like Locale for the iPhone if your name is “Apple”. Otherwise you can’t.

    – Everybody can develop an application like Locale for Android phones.

  5. Saying that it “wouldn’t” be possible implies that it is never going to be possible. I think that the answer is more along the lines of:

    It is not currently possible, when following Apple’s rules.

    Certainly it is possible on something like a jailbroken iPhone.

    So there’s nothing inherent about the iPhone that prevents this sort of app from ever being developed. Last year someone could have written a tip calculator for Android and said that it “wouldn’t even be possible on the iPhone”.

  6. mokomoko says:

    “Other platforms have their own limitations. The openness of Android creates an environment for applications that just aren’t possible on other platforms.”

    OpenMoko has fewer limitations than Android — none, in fact. You aren’t even forced to use Java.

    In fact, it’s kind of hilarious (if it wasn’t so sad) to see people talking about the power of Java, which Alan Kay called “the most distressing thing to happen to computing since MS-DOS”.

  7. justme says:

    @Bravia – Yes normal phones COULD do all that, but currently no phone does that automatically till this app came along for Android. Were talking a fully automatic setting change. Not some remember to change profile when I get to somewere.

    You miss the point, COULD doesn’t mean it will be done! Apple COULD allow Mac X to be installed on dell hardware, but they haven’t and wont at stage.

  8. jake says:

    Yes, I think that is the important point. So far my phone couldn’t do that. You have to select the profile yourself.

    Openmoko would have been a better platform if they had made their phones appeal to mainstream customers and polished their work. It still has fragmentation & portability problems so far. Yes, Android loses lots of flexibility compared to Openmoko (ie. your java comment), but I think Google is trying to strike a good balance so that Android can survive commercially & still is flexible enough for most developers.

    For people leaving the comments about the “not possible” bit, they were talking specifically about the iPhone. I know WinMo had a similar program called phoneAlarm. Don’t have to read too much into it, it is obvious they are referring to the limitations of the current iPhone SDK.

  9. Spinlock says:


    – The unofficial iPhone SDK allows modification of all phone settings.

    – The unofficial iPhone SDK allows background applications.

    – The unofficial iPhone SDK allows kernel extensions.

    – The official and unoffical iPhone SDKs allow (even force) native code execution.

    – The Android platform forces developers to use Java.


    – To those willing to jailbreak, the iPhone will be the more responsive, more capable system.

    I was worried myself when I heard about Android – a google attempt at a linux based phone platform? But then I heard it was all Java, and my buyers remorse was replaced with bitter sweet relief. No emulators? No easy porting of any existing non Java nix apps? What a total waste :[ Guess I’m still holding out for the linux multi-touch EVDO Tegra platform.

  10. sleebus.jones says:

    Sad little whiny iPhone fanbois. You just don’t get it do you?

    G1 = it just works (tee hee)
    iPhone = works if you hack it (if the app is out there) and after you put your warranty at risk.

    Obvious winner: G1, the iPhone if you’re blind, stupid and ignorant.

  11. justme says:

    @Spinlock = What are you on about?

    So to do what the Android can do out of the box, you have to go jailbreak your phone so you can run ‘unoffical’ software? Cause apple won’t allow you to out of the box?

    Why are you even reading this? go read apple.com

  12. Mike says:

    Carlos still waiting for Linux to take over the desktop too? Ha! Java and Linux are still not primetime tools. And have they come up with a biz model yet? O wait, I remember: give away crappy software for free, charge through the nose for support, close up shop and go back to teaching students (they are the only naïve ones who will listen to you).

  13. gman says:

    Mike, please, shut your mouth and don’t embarrass yourself. Linux is not some company or corporation that COULD have a business model. It is a free foundation, and most applications are free because their developers want them to be free, not because it is their “business model”.

    Linux is not trying to take over anything, when are you lamos going to understand that? It is already dominating on servers and even getting bigger in desktops, but it is not the same as windows or mac, and has never tried to be.

    And hearing about your complaints about java just makes me laugh at your ignorance and incompetence. Java IS NOT THE SAME THING as C++, delphi or any other compilable language. Just like assembler is not the same as php. YES, assembler is like 500 times faster than php and perhaps 10 times faster than java, but that’s not the point. There is a reason for creation of high level languages and speed is not the only thing that is important in development of applications.

    And android’s choice for using java for its apps is just perfect. It is the only feasible way to make all of the applications directly (without porting) compatible with ANY device running android, whether it is running a qualcomm or intel processor, whether it has any special processor features or not, and so on and so on.

    So go buy some another overpriced and overhyped piece of garbage with a picture of an apple on it and don’t consider yourself with things your cannot comprehend.
    Apple’s bitch…