AirDroid is one of the most popular applications in the Google Play Store, and for good reason. This free app lets you tether your phone or tablet wirelessly to your desktop computer through a browser. It lets you transfer files back and forth between your device, sideload apps, and even send text messages without picking up your phone.
It's one of those apps that reminds us why we use the platform we do, and why we wanted to get to know Anson Xiong, the CEO behind AirDroid. We asked him things like how he’s managed to keep AirDroid free for so long and how the app could possibly get any better.
Greenbot: How have you guys managed to keep AirDroid free for so long? Is it important that it remains so?
Anson: For an app that is distributed to users all around the world, to be really impactful, scale is critical. And by remaining free, we have a better chance to reach as many users as possible.
In November 2011, we released the first version as a totally free app. Then, three months later, we reached our first milestone: one million users on Google Play. Today, AirDroid is still available as a free app, and we’ve already crossed the 30 million users milestone. It seems a large number, but if you look at the larger picture, there are already more than one billion Android devices on earth. You can easily get the conclusion that more than 95 percent of Android users may have never heard of us.
What will happen if we change AirDroid to a paid app on Google Play? We anticipate it’ll probably slow down our growth largely, and we may never be able to grow our share of Android users. We’ll instantly stop receiving feedback from those free users. Without that feedback, there’s no way for us to improve the product to meet and exceed their expectations. And thus, no chance for us to grow.
The AirDroid team is still relatively small, and the cost is not our major concern. Our other businesses are contributing a very healthy revenue stream to support the ongoing development of AirDroid. We’re very patient with AirDroid. There are still many exciting ideas that we want to explore.
Greenbot: What are some of the challenges you've faced in developing AirDroid? Technical constraints?
Anson: Our dream is making information flow freely between various devices. To realize that, the number one challenge is compatibility, [which means taking in account] different operating systems, browsers, hardware, and networks. These problems require a large investment of time and manpower to optimize. Along the way, our users give us great support. Many enthusiastic users help us test thoroughly and provide valuable feedback.
Another challenge is that Android is not as open as people think. There are still some system constraints that make some exciting ideas not feasible, at least for now. For example, interacting remotely with an app. It’s a very popular feature request, but Google has not provided an API for it. All the hacking implementations we’ve seen are far from ideal. There’s no shortcut to this. We still have a long way to go.
Where can AirDroid go from here? How will it maintain its status as one of the apps to have on Android?
Anson: AirDroid’s mission is quite simple: get devices connected [and] make life convenient. We’ve only accomplished only a very small part of it. People are using Android devices, iPads, wearables, smart home [devices], and many other devices. And they want those devices to talk with each other [and] better. There’s still a lot more to do.
To us, it’s very fortunate to have enthusiastic users who give us feedback and comments that help us improve. One difference for us is that we also need support from mobile device vendors for deeper integration and to provide a more streamlined user experience.
Greenbot: How long have you been an Android user?
Anson: I’m a programmer, and I’m obsessed with new technology. I bought an iPhone as soon as the first iPhone launched in 2007, and then bought an HTC G1 in 2008. At that time, the user experience of Android was far behind the iPhone’s. However, the development of Android ecosystem has impressive, both software and hardware. That’s why we continue to increase investment on Android.
Greenbot: What's the phone you're currently sporting and why?
Anson: I use the Nexus 5 in daily life. My former Android phones were mostly Nexus series. The Nexus 5 is simple, fast, and easy to use. It’s quite reliable. We always test the new AirDroid on the Nexus series first.
Greenbot: What's one app you can't live without?
Anson: I love the apps that make Android more human.
The most frequently used one probably is Gravity Screen by PLEXNOR. It turns the screen on and off automatically using gravity and proximity sensors, just when I need it. No need for me to touch the power button again. When I drop it into my pocket, the screen goes off instantly. It remains so whether I walk or run. And the moment I pull it out, it turns on the screen.
Another one is Sleep as Android by Urbandroid Team. It’s the first app that I use every morning. It’s an alarm app, but obviously it knows better than my wife about when to wake me up, at least sometimes. It works by monitoring the body movements through built-in sensor to find an optimal moment to wake me up. Fantastically, the optimal moment usually turns out to be really optimal and brings me a pleasant morning.
Apps like these make Android more like a human. It’s also our hope with AirDroid.