In the Android world there are a number of developers who help make the user experience even better. They’re the magicians that sit in dark corners and tinker with Google source code to provide users with free to use software, whether it be a kernel, or an entire ROM. If you’ve ever owned a Nexus handset you will know that the development community for these devices is bustling and constantly expanding, and you will also know the name Trinity.
I took a shot in the dark by asking Morfic (Trinity kernel developer), Simms22 (Trinity kernel tester) and Rascarlo (RasBeanJelly developer) if they’d like to do a short interview for the ‘Burn, and I’m really stoked they responded so positively. Custom Android developers don’t get the recognition they deserve, so this series (yes, I have more devs involved) will be to do just that, spread the word. I enjoy using their work, and they enjoy providing it to the willing masses, for free, and I think that deserves a little more love, so I will endeavor to interview some of my favourite devs for you, and that way we can all learn a little bit more about the thinking that goes on in the mind of these Android gurus.
Rick: You’re kind of a “dream team” of developer and tester. Are you friends in real life (have you met face to face) or how did the Morfic and Simms partnership start?
Morfic: Like so often, we are not 100% sure, but seeing how Semeon (Simms) is everywhere, he must have stumbled over Trinity, tried it, liked it, and decided to stick around.
Simms: Yeah, we are friends in real life, even though we have never actually met, Morfic(Daniel) being in Texas and me in New York. One day it’ll make for a great meeting! It started with testing some Trinity Nexus S kernels. It became obvious that Morfic and I share many similar ideas, beliefs, and even humour. Spending late nights testing trinity kernels, instead of sleeping, we naturally evolved our developer/tester relationship into a friendship, and in a way a “family” to nourish and take care of Trinity as she grows.
Rick: As developer of the rather renowned Trinity kernels, what is the vision for Trinity kernels? What do you want to achieve through your work?
Morfic: “This is how my phone/tablet (device) should have felt out of the box!”, user experience, no one likes to use a $600+ device and go “ugh, I hate this lag.”
I build “release kernels”, seeing how they often don’t function with debugging turned off out of the box, I am not surprised they ship as is instead of being tuned as release kernels. I try to fix what makes me enjoy my device more.
Rick: Trinity is derived from the Manhattan Project, I assume, and it’s a rad reference at that, but if you could summarise Trinity (and RasBeanJelly in Rascarlo’s case) in a single caption, what would it be?
Morfic: The power of fission in your hand.
Rick: So as the benchmarking king, do you think they really matter, or is it more for the heck of it?
Simms: That’s almost like asking ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ There are too many answers and they are all relative to the user. Since the question is so broad, I’ll answer yes. But, not in the sense that most people would think they matter. For the everyday user, they don’t matter one bit. It’s the end product, the user experience that matters here, that is what is all important to the developer in the end. This brings us to why they do matter.
Benchmarks are tools that help the developer get to the end user experience. They are tools that help the developer “see” what effect little changes or tweaks had on their product. And this is not achieved with one benchmark; it’s achieved through a full spectrum of benchmarks to get a better idea of the big picture. For example, many times we have caught changes that affected trinity kernel negatively this way. Or sometimes we see big positive effects, than we choose to keep going that same direction for overall improvement. So, in this way, they are valuable tools in a broader toolbox for developers.
That said about benchmarks, there is another side to them. There exists a sub group of Android fans, a group that enjoys benchmarks for recreation. They benchmark for the fun/thrill of it. I’m going to stretch it by comparing them to people that buy average cars then modify them into street racers. Do their street racers mean anything to the big picture of racing? No, probably not. But it does matter to them because it brings them enjoyment, makes them happy. To them that matters. And who would disagree that their happiness doesn’t matter? So you see, the question ‘do benchmarks matter’ is all relative to the person doing the benchmarking. But in the end, some might disagree with me, to a certain point benchmarks do matter to all of us even if indirectly.
Rick: What is your current daily Android device?
Morfic: Right now the US SGS3, I love what Samsung did there, we didn’t get the fancy quad core of the international version, but for once I don’t feel cheated, the screen is not too bad out of the box (but I still prefer it a little cooler, so I made it so). The 2GB of RAM is bad, it makes it hard to accept less on other devices, but I carried around the Nexus Prime until going back to the SGS3 this Monday, I admit, at this point, the Nexus Prime gets the SIM only to give it some prolonged testing, the SGS3 has my attention (yet users might wonder why there are more NP than SGS3 kernels) I guess it’s because I truly spend most time on the Nexus 7, and I don’t want to get too far on the SGS3 before adding VZW (Verizon) support.
Simms: Nexus Prime.
Rascarlo: Nexus Prime.
Rick: Which is your favourite Android device up to now?
Morfic: I don’t think I have a favourite; each device amazed me at its time. The Magic32B probably got as much hate as love, since I hated that TMO (T-Mobile) gave me only half the RAM it needed, but back then Cyanogen was in his prime, and my Magic32B was actually a lot more usable than with the TMO firmware on it. The Vibrant (Galaxy S) amazed me and it was not until the Vibrant that I actually shared my kernels. While the Nexus S is thought of as similar to the Vibrant, it was a whole lot more fun to use and work on.
It was the screen that really thrilled me on the Nexus Prime at first, but once I started using it exclusively, the difference in user experience was just as obvious. I could say similar things about the Acer Iconia A500 which only fault was its size was more than I needed, or the Nexus 7 which once again takes user experiences to new heights, yet you find the rough edges if you use stock long enough.
Simms: My favourite Android that I’ve owned: all of them. I have loved (love still) each and every one that I used daily, the g1, Nexus One, Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, and Nexus 7. Oh, almost forgot, I was disappointed in the WIMM and the locked down attitude of the company. That’s the black sheep in my Android family.
Rascarlo: Maguro – Nexus Prime.
Rick: Is there a specific reason why you don’t develop ROMs as well? If so, why?
Morfic: Time, taking on the SGS3 and Nexus 7 recently while still working on the Nexus Prime and even Nexus S (through simms22 as proxy), working 10 hour days with 1.5-2 hours commute and having a family wouldn’t allow me to squeeze out a quality product without sacrificing something else.
Aside with Rascarlo managing to release a ROM with the bare necessities added without losing the AOSP speed or experience, what do I need to come out with another ROM for? I build kernels to fill a void and Rascarlo does not leave a void I could fill.
Rick: What do you think of the improvements that have been made to the OS over the past two years, because I have used Android since 2.2 on my HTC Desire, then I had a Nexus S and now I’ve got a Nexus Prime, I think that Android has got to a point where what Google is releasing is actually so polished that we don’t need custom ROMs to try improve our devices anymore, it’s more for fun. Would you call that a fair comment?
Morfic: Yeah, you made a fair statement. All Android versions felt incremental but the 3.2, 4.0 and 4.1 releases I enjoyed the most, of course, 4.1 made 4.0 feel like Vista vs Windows 7.
“We ran out of time and gave you something, while finishing the product”, but who is going to be mad if JellyBean ramps up user experience so much? JB is so polished, if Rascarlo stopped making RasBeanJelly, I would miss the non-gradient backgrounds and a few toggles here or there, but while the old Android versions were pretty barren, 4.1 is a near complete product, it is very enjoyable.
That’s why it’s important to me that ROMs are not overdone with stuff added just for the sake of having the most stuff crammed in. There are nice exceptions like RasBeanJelly on the Nexus Prime, or on Nexus 7 I like what Team EOS did. It is way more than what RasBeanJelly is, but it’s still on the “works for me” side.
Rick: You’re basically the moderator and maintainer of the Trinity thread and you’ve managed to create a welcoming “corner” in the XDA world, which is a really great change from the norm. Was this a conscious decision — to create a rad community within the XDA community — or is it just the way you are in real life?
Simms: That’s both a conscious decision and the way I am in real life. All the negativity in all forums is a waste of time, web space, and generally brings an unwelcoming mood to a forum. It distracts from what Morfic and I, are trying to achieve. What I want, and what Morfic wants, is a healthy space that nourishes education and growth. And we are not just talking Trinity’s growth. But the growth of everybody that reads or hangs out in our thread. As you see, we welcome discussion of many things besides for trinity also. Remember that many, if not most, of the people on XDA are children. How we treat them or deal with them is how they will reflect themselves in real life. I personally see too much negativity in real life (living in NYC), if I can influence at least one of these kids (or adults) and bring about positivity, and pass along some knowledge, then I am a happy person.
Rick: What do you make of all the current patent lawsuits involving Android and iOS? Do you think it’s hampering the development of these two incredibly popular technologies?
Morfic: What Apple does is frivolous. Being forced to work around those patents, I hope will bring new innovation, much like war times bring new inventions to one-up the enemy. I hope this does as well.
Rick: Which 3 Android apps could you not live without?
Morfic: Apex, Root Explorer, Terminal Emulator (Jack Palevich’s). (Only three, really? That’s not fair! There are too many great apps I couldn’t live without, like Tapatalk, andftp, connectbot, and most importantly SuperSU and Busybox installer.)
Rascarlo: Terminal Emulator, Root Explorer, Titanium Backup.
Rick: What would you like to see in the next Nexus device?
Morfic: Firstly, improved battery life, more performance is great, but do I really need enough power to compile AOSP in my pocket? (Ok, that thought is sort of intriguing), but really, see what you can do with battery life, so we can enjoy our devices longer.
Secondly, SAMOLED with factory contrast/gamma/tint adjustments. Sure Trinity is fast, sips battery and adds features, but the one thing most people are after lately is its colours. You can’t tune a screen in the lab and make it enjoyable for everyone’s eye under any ambient colour (Hey you manufacturers with RGB light meters, leverage that measurable colour to react to ambient light, ever think of that?) And finally, better DAC chips with better OS access to their hardware features.
Rascarlo: I like to be surprised, and in Google I trust.
Simms: Back button to kill, one of my most used extra features on the Nexus Prime.
A while ago CyanogenMod had a feature, gestures on the lockscreen, I could see that as an awesome feature on stock Android, kinda like Google’s gestures app, but on the lockscreen. Also, a wake with volume buttons option. Having two devices (Nexus One and Nexus S) where the power button died, making an alternative method of waking the phone essential.
Right now you can use this in Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, but only if you disable the lockscreen, which of course isn’t ideal, adding to that a widget to turn off the screen.
So there you have it, the first in my series of Android developer interviews, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Look out next week for volume two. In the meantime, head over to the Trinity thread in on the XDA-Developer forums for the Galaxy Nexus and say hello, you’ll definitely receive a warm welcome.
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