Android Influencer: Former Android software engineer Jean-Baptiste Quéru

jbq headshot

The Android community adores the former technical lead for the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), Jean-Baptiste Queru—or “JBQ,” as many lovingly refer to him.

It helps that he's so active on Twitter and Google+. Queru can be found opining on most things related to Google’s mobile operating system, though he also devotes some of his time to showing off his latest projects at Yahoo, where he works as an architect and senior principal engineer. Queru helped make AOSP (Android Open Source Project) what it is today, and has now shifted his focus to making Yahoo’s apps more Android-friendly.

We talked to Queru on the phone earlier this week. He had a bit to say on the current state of Android, where it’s going with Android L, and why he stays devoted to the platform. Here’s our candid interview with one of Android's greatest influencers.

Greenbot: Can you talk about some of the Android-specific projects you've worked on, for those that might not be entirely familiar with your work?

JBQ: When it comes to Android specifically, I’ve been involved since late 2007, when I was hired by Google to work on Android.

In the Android world, I did quite a few things working at Google. I actually worked on the Download Manager for Android, which is the piece of code everyone uses when you download something…After that, I spent some time working more on [stabilizing] the Android system.

The bulk of my time working on Android at Google—about four and a half years—was about maintaining the Android Open Source Project (AOSP)

Greenbot: What are you up to at Yahoo these days?

JBQ: My official title is software architect; more specifically, I am working in Yahoo's mobile organization. Yahoo focuses primarily on iOS and Android, but given my experience in Android and lack of experience in iOS, it makes more sense for me to focus on the Android side of the world.

What that means is that on a day-to-day basis, within the Android portfolio of Yahoo applications—which is literally in the dozens at this point—I get involved in some of the more important applications. I’m going to help develop new applications, adding new features to existing applications, and making major revisions.

At the same time, any time these applications have specific needs, I tend to drop in and actually work with those who are working on the applications.On a typical day I’ll be working on three to five different applications for Yahoo.

Greenbot: What are some of the Yahoo apps you’ve worked on?

JBQ: I worked a little more in-depth on Yahoo News Digest. I worked specifically on the team that developed this application, advising the team on proper UI paradigms for Android and proper ways to actually use the UI so that the application would be a good fit on the Android ecosystem.

Greenbot: Speaking of design paradigms, what do you think about Android L's new look?

JBQ: Android started the first three years really setting up the technical foundation of the Android we know today. But the UI approach on top of it obviously needed a lot of other enhancements. The Android UI all the way to Gingerbread is not a great reference in the world of UI design.

Starting with Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich about three years ago, the Android UI became a lot more functional…but the visual design and the interaction design was still fairly harsh. The announcement and design guidelines for Material Design that they showed at Google I/O a few weeks are really a major step forward in terms of having a beautiful visual design, and having a beautiful interaction design, without changing the actual information model that has been [around] for the last few years. Applications will really be able to move forward with a new fresh visual design without confusing users about having to learn a new way to navigate around an Android device.

On the Yahoo side of things, Yahoo is in a very interesting position. Obviously it’s important for Yahoo applications to be familiar to any Android user, but at the same time Yahoo applications also need to be familiar to long time Yahoo users. Sometimes…these two things conflict with one another, so we’re constantly iterating, refining...that way we can recognizable and familiar as Android applications, but also to be the Yahoo that Yahoo users are used to playing with it.

Greenbot: Are you still sporting an Android phone these days?

JBQ: Oh, I'm using a lot of Android devices everyday. My primary small phone— the one that is literally always in my pocket is a Moto G. It is small, it is cheap, it is always SIM unlocked—and that’s a critical feature—and it’s got a really great battery life. So I can actually forget to charge it one night and still be able to use it the next day. It’s the one I really rely on any time.

Greenbot: You’re not bothered by the fact that it doesn’t have 4G?

JBQ: No, that doesn’t bother me, but we’ll discuss the reasons why:

I also carry a second phone, the Google Play Edition of the Sony Z Ultra. It’s very big…usually I need to carry it in my jacket. This one also has a very good battery life. It has 4G—that’s the one I use for bigger applications. When I’m traveling, it’s the biggest device I carry with me. I don’t carry any tablets or laptops with me—that is the way to go. It is also SIM unlocked.

I actually have two Android tablets. I have the Dell Venue 7. I like it because it’s a sturdy piece of hardware and it’s very reasonably priced, I like that it has 32GB of storage, and it does have KitKat—it’s a very good, very sturdy tablet for me.

For content consumption, I actually have a Kindle Fire, the high-end 8.9-inch HDX. This one is really good at playing in the Amazon ecosystem—obviously, it’s an Amazon device...It’s a really fun device, the screen is really amazing.

Greenbot: Do you prefer it over the second-generation Nexus 7? 

JBQ: I don’t have personally a second-generation Nexus 7, but I think it’s a better screen. It’s got the same display quality, in terms of pixel quality…but it’s extremely comfortable when reading books.

Finally, last but not least, I just bought an HP Slatebook, which is an Android-based laptop. It’s a very, very interesting experience. It really shows me that Android as an OS is able to scale all the way up to that form-factor.

Using a laptop with touch-screen is in some ways life changing and because I’m such a long time Android user, I actually feel very familiar using the Google products on Android. They have the same UI from my Moto G to my laptop.

Greenbot: Do you own any smartwatches?

JBQ: I have one. I don’t always wear it every day. The biggest challenge for me is that because I’m carrying two phones, I can’t really decide which phone to pair it with. If I carry it with the small phone, I don’t have all the applications there. If I carry it with the big phone, I don’t always have that in my pocket…so it becomes less useful.

Greenbot: I haven’t used one myself yet, the smartwatches are still a little too big for my wrists.

JBQ: There is a lot of work to do to actually make them look pretty, as opposed to making them look like big slabs on your wrist. I’m sure we’ll get there.

Greenbot: Okay, last question: what is the one app you absolutely cannot live without?

JBQ: I’m going to say Google+. I would have a hard time living without the app. I like Google+ a lot as a service—I think it leads to some very interesting conversations—but comparing the Google+ implementation in the Android app and Google+ implementation in the browser...this to me is the poster child of why Android can have an edge in terms of platforms, in terms of smoothness, in terms of user experience. I like it much better; I like that notifications work even when my devices are off, I like that Google+ can keep track of how much the stream loads over time…I really like it.

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