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February 11, 2013

Introducing the new Plex for Android

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post introducing Plex for Windows Phone. In that post, I had some harsh words for Android. Turns out a lot has changed since then.

One of my biggest gripes against Android was how unresponsive the user interface was, even after four major iterations of the platform. Little did I know, the geniuses at Google were hard at work on Project Butter, and I have to say, butter tastes good.

What Android has going for it, more than any other mobile platform, is a supreme lack of complacency. Besides silky smoothness, Jelly Bean also introduces large improvements in the notification system. And Google Cloud Messaging (which completely replaced Cloud to Device Messaging), is far superior than iOS push notifications.

When the iPhone came out, it was 5 years ahead of anything else in the space. Indubitably. But one would be hard-pressed to argue that the platform has progressed with anything close to the speed at which Android has. Let’s be frank: when it first came out, Android was crap. But when you have two cars racing on a long straight highway, over time, velocity is everything. So 5 years later, Apple is no longer 5 years ahead. And more dangerously, their speed is unimpressive as of late. Their hardware is outstanding, best in the world. But iOS itself, honestly, feels like it’s languishing.

The other big complaint I had against Android was its development ecosystem. This is something Microsoft understood, and got right with its Metro [sic] toolset. It is very easy to make a nice “modern” Windows app (or whatever they’re calling it this week).

When we first started with Plex for Android, the edit/build/deploy cycle was glacial. So bad that when the app finally ran, you literally forgot what change you were deploying to test. That bad. Google should have focused earlier and with more passion on tooling. Empower the developers, and you’ll reap the rewards when they empower your platform. Annoy your developers, and you’ll have a software ecosystem problem.

Today, that problem is mostly solved. I can edit and deploy to my Nexus 7 in a few seconds. The x86 emulator is much faster than the emulator of yesteryear, running inside a Linux VM, on top of an emulated ARM processor (apparently nobody watched Inception). There are still annoyances, and IntelliJ’s UI designer for layouts is sadly primitive compared to Visual Studio, but it’s much, much better.

So where does that leave Android, and perhaps more importantly, Android users? In a good place, and getting better. For the first time ever, you can actually find Android software which is comparable (and sometimes ever better) than the iOS versions. As an example, I love the Lantern Campfire app. It runs in the background, notifies me of new messages, and looks infinitely better than 37 Signals’ pathetic excuse for an official app. I could go on, but our friend Aayush Arya wrote a brilliant article which I highly recommend you read.

I realize, you’re here for Plex news, not a 500 word meandering diatribe on mobile operating systems, so I apologize. I felt the need to update my previous thoughts on the matter, and, as a fellow Plexian said, eat some crow. Nom nom nom.

I’ll make the actual news short and sweet: we’ve rewritten Plex for Android from scratch. Frankly, we learned a lot of lessons from the old app, and it served us well. But we’ve been reading and re-reading the Android Design Guidelines, and we thought we could do better, especially if we dropped support for older versions of Android.

We targeted Android 3.2 or newer, used some great platform features (Google Cloud Messaging, lock-screen music controls, global search integration), and you’re going to love it. It also supports PlexSync. To everyone who has been patiently waiting, I apologize for the delay, but it will have been worth it. The app is fast, smooth, and beautiful. It uses paging and infinite scrolling and network data compression, which means access to giant libraries is super fast. It supports the same rich filters you’ve gotten to know and love from Plex/Web. And most importantly, it’s a great platform to build on.

We’ve prepared a little video which shows off the new Plex for Android (codenamed Kepler, in case you cared). You’ll want to watch it all the way through, because in the video you’ll see unveiled a surprise MAJOR feature (never seen before) that will literally, blow your minds.

We didn’t just set out to make a great Plex Android app.

We set out to make the most beautiful Android app, period.


When will it be released? This week. On Google Play. As a separate app, so you can run both side by side.

Will it be PlexPass only? Yes. Until it’s out of beta, at which point it will be available as a free upgrade for existing Plex for Android users. (Note that it does not, and will not, support Android versions earlier than 3.2). Also note that the PlexSync feature will always require a PlexPass.

Why 3.2? Because the Google TV runs 3.2, and we like the Google TV.

I have an Android 2.x device. Why do you hate me? At this point almost 90% of our users are running 4.0 or newer. We felt that requiring a modern version of Android was the best move for the app, and the vast majority of our user base.

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