The Samsung Galaxy S3 launched with much fanfare at London’s Earls Court last week, and for perhaps the first time with a Samsung flagship, the real story was with the software, not the hardware.
Running a modified version of Android 4.0, “designed for humans”, the Galaxy S3 boasts some smart features including S-Voice speech recognition, eyeball tracking and Pop-up Play, which lets you shove any video clip into a small window so you can multitask with other apps. As we touched on last week, we think it’s the future for smartphones.
You might be surprised to know, however, that an almost identical app is already on sale on the Google Play store, and it works on any recent Android phone. It’s called Stick It!, and the developer behind it has seen a staggering sevenfold sales boost since the announcement last week.
It may not be baked into the OS, but for £1.19, Stick It! does a remarkable job of emulating Pop-up Play: when you start playing a clip, you can immediately turn it into a floating window you can place anywhere on your screen, so you can carry on watching while you browse the web or chat.
It works on any Android 2.2 or up phone, supports a variety of video formats as well as YouTube clips, and best of all, it doesn’t need a quad-core to run: we’ve found it runs just fine on single-core Android phones. Really though, it comes into its own on a tablet-sized screen.
The app was developed by Cerrato Renaud, a French RFID (Radio-frequency identification) engineer from Aix en Provence near Marseilles. He’s dabbled in Android developing over the last year, releasing several apps on the Google Play store, including Video Catcher – an app for ripping internet videos – and Got Ya! Face Trap!, which silently takes pictures with your phone’s front camera in case of theft.
But his most interesting work has been in split-screen apps, bringing a standard paradigm of desktop computing to the phone in your pocket.
In September last year, “while digging into the Android source code, I found a way to make floating apps,” Renaud explains to Electricpig.
“Android wasn’t made for such apps, I had to struggle with a lot of limitations, but the results were acceptable…while on the train and watching my favorite series on my tablet, I felt the need to read and compose emails at the same time. Stick it! was born.”
Renaud says that sales were relatively slow at first, but when the Samsung Galaxy S3 was announced, they shot up an astonishing 600 percent compared to the previous daily average.
“Sure, it’s a competitor, but this feature, thanks to the press coverage, will help people to get to my others apps,” he says.
A high tide lifts all boats, eh? One week on, and sales are still 300 percent higher than before: Stick It! has now been downloaded 7,500 times, a number corroborated by the estimated sales figures Google Play store provides publicly.
But Renaud’s done one better than Samsung though, providing pop-up web browsing panes to all Android customers, as well as video screens. OverSkreen, released in March, works in exactly the same way as Stick It! but with individual browser panes – a revelation in a mobile dogma where we’ve grown accustomed to switching between fullscreen tabs. Renaud says this is his biggest hit so far, with 15,000 downloads in the space of two months, and the number steadily climbing.
Surprisingly, the hack underlying both apps has been around since Android first launched in 2008, says Renaud:
“I’m using a not-so-well documented public feature, that was lying around in the API since the beginning of Android. By exploiting this feature, we can arrange to overlay things over the entire screen. Making an entire application like that was difficult, because it was not made for that: we can’t display pop-ups, dialogs, nor [a] menu for example.”
And it’s obvious that Google didn’t intend for Android apps to be used this way. Though both apps allow for multiple windows, you can’t choose which order they overlap each other in: the last opened is the one highest in the Z axis.
That’s a minor bind, but then, why should Google bother? When Android first launched phone screens were tiny and tablet computers a laughing stock. Jump to 2012, however, and Renaud thinks that Google will soon see the light.
“With screens becoming larger, there’s a need for windowed applications. It [makes] no sense to not be able to [watch] my favourite YouTube video while composing my emails or browsing.
But, he adds, “things should be done smarter than in the desktop world”. There’s no point just mimicking desktops on smaller phones and tablets. Renaud remembers back to a time before the iPad when Microsoft tried to do just that with UMPCs.
“The Tablet PC failed.” Still, things change. Maybe Microsoft finally has the answer with Windows 8?
Thanks for the tip, bubblesmoney!