“We are look­ing to hire peo­ple with core An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence”

OpenSource For You - - FOR U & ME INTERVIEW -

Be­fore Xiaomi was to en­ter the In­dian mar­ket, many as­sumed that this was just another Chi­nese smart­phone com­ing their way. But per­cep­tions changed after the brand en­tered the sub-con­ti­nent. Flip­kart

got bom­barded with or­ders and Xiaomi even­tu­ally could not meet the In­dian de­mand. There are quite a few rea­sons for this ex­plo­sive

de­mand, but one of the most im­por­tant fac­tors is the unique user ex­pe­ri­ence that the de­vice of­fers. It

runs on An­droid, but on a dif­fer­ent ver­sion–one that orig­i­nates from the

brain of Hugo Barra, vice pres­i­dent,

Xiaomi. When he was at Google, he was pretty much in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing the An­droid OS what it is. Cur­rently, he is fo­cused on

of­fer­ing a dif­fer­ent taste of it at a unique price point. He has launched MIUI, an An­droid-based

OS that he wants to be ported to de­vices other than Xiaomi. For this,

he needs a lot of help from the de­vel­op­ers’ com­mu­nity. Dik­sha P

Gupta from Open Source For You caught up with him to dis­cuss his plans for In­dia and how he wants

to con­trib­ute to and lever­age the de­vel­op­ers’ ecosys­tem in the

coun­try. Read on...

QWhat

are the top fea­tures of Xiaomi MIUI that you think are lack­ing in other de­vices? First of all, we have a dra­mat­i­cally sim­pli­fied UI for the av­er­age per­son; so it feels sim­pler than any­thing else in the mar­ket right now.

Sec­ond, it is very cus­tomis­able and is re­ally ap­peal­ing to our cus­tomers. We have thou­sands of themes that can com­pletely change the ex­pe­ri­ence, not just the wall pa­per or the lock screen. From very de­tailed to very min­i­mal­is­tic de­signs, from car­toon­ist styles to cul­tural state­ments and on to other things, there is a huge list of op­tions to choose from.

Third, I would say that there’s cus­tomi­sa­tion for power users as well. You can change a lot of things in the sys­tem. You can con­trol per­mis­sions on apps, and you can de­cide which apps are al­lowed to run in the back­ground. There is a lot you can do to fine tune the per­for­mance of your de­vice if you choose to. For ex­am­ple, you can de­cide which apps are al­lowed to ac­cess the 3G net­work. So I can say that out of the 45 apps that I have run­ning on my phone, the only ones that are al­lowed to use 3G are What­sApp, Hike, my email and my browser. I don’t want any of the other apps that are run­ning on this phone to be al­lowed to ac­cess 3G at all, which I won’t know about and which may use band­width that I am pay­ing for. It is a very sim­ple menu. Like check­boxes, it lets you choose the apps that you want to al­low 3G ac­cess to. So if you care about how much band­width you are con­sum­ing and presently con­trol that by turn­ing 3G on and off (which peo­ple do all the time), now you can al­low 3G ac­cess only to mes­sag­ing apps like What­sApp or Hike that use almost no band­width at all. Those are the apps that you’re all the time con­nected to be­cause if some­one sends you a mes­sage, you want to get it as soon as pos­si­ble.

Fourth, we have added a num­ber of fea­tures to the core apps that make them more in­ter­est­ing. Th­ese in­clude in– call fea­tures that al­low users to take notes dur­ing a phone call, the abil­ity to record a phone call and a bunch of other things. So it is not the di­aller app alone, but also dozens of fea­tures all around the OS like turn­ing on the flash light from the lock screen, hav­ing a pri­vate mes­sag­ing in­box and a whole lot of other fea­tures.

Fifth, on your text in­box, you can pin a per­son to the top—if there is re­ally some­one who mat­ters to you and you al­ways want to have their mes­sages on the top. You can de­cide at what time an SMS needs to be sent out. You can com­pose a mes­sage say­ing, “I want this mes­sage to go out at 7 p.m.,” be­cause maybe you’re go­ing to be asleep, for ex­am­ple, but still want that mes­sage to go out.

Then there are lit­tle things like, if you fire up the cam­era app and point the cam­era to­wards the QR code, it just au­to­mat­i­cally recog­nises it. You don’t have to down­load a spe­cial app just to recog­nise the QR codes. If you are con­nected to a Wi-Fi net­work with your Mi phone, you may want to share this Wi-Fi net­work with some­one else. So, you just go into the Wi-Fi wing and say, “Share this con­nec­tion,” and the phone will then share a QR code. The per­son you want to share your Wi-Fi con­nec­tion with can just scan this QR code and im­me­di­ately get con­nected to the net­work with­out hav­ing to en­ter a pass­word. So lots and lots of lit­tle things like that add up to a pretty de­light­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. QAfter

MIUI from Xiaomi, Pana­sonic has launched its own UI and Xolo has launched HIVE. So do you think the war has now shifted to the UI level? I think it would be an in­jus­tice to say that our op­er­at­ing sys­tem MIUI is just another UI like An­droid be­cause it is so much more than that. We have had a team of 500 en­gi­neers work­ing on our op­er­at­ing sys­tems for the last four years, so it is not just a re-skin­ning of An­droid. It is much, much more sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort. I can spend five hours with you just ex­plain­ing the fea­tures of MIUI. I don’t think there are many com­pa­nies out there that have as sig­nif­i­cant a soft­ware ef­fort that has been on for as long a time, as we have. So while I haven’t looked at th­ese op­er­at­ing sys­tems that you are talk­ing about closely, my in­stinct is that they are not as pro­foundly dif­fer­ent and well founded as MIUI. QWhat

are your plans to reach out to the de­vel­op­ers? From a de­vel­op­ment per­spec­tive, first and fore­most, we are very An­droid com­pli­ant. All of our builds, be­fore OTA, go to Google for ap­proval, like ev­ery other OEM out there. We are fo­cused on An­droid APIs. We are not build­ing new APIs. We be­lieve that do­ing so would cre­ate frag­men­ta­tion. It’s kind of not ideal and goes against the ecosys­tem. So, from our point of view, we see de­vel­op­ers as our early adopters. They are the peo­ple who we think are best equipped to try our prod­ucts. We see de­vel­op­ers as the first peo­ple that we take our de­vices to try out. That’s pri­mar­ily how we view the de­vel­oper com­mu­nity.

There are some in­ter­est­ing twists out there as well. For in­stance, we are the first company to make a Te­gra K1 tablet. So, al­ready, MiPad is be­ing used by game de­vel­op­ers as the ref­er­ence de­vel­op­ment plat­form for K1 game tabs. This is one of the few ways in which we get in touch with the de­vel­op­ers and work with them. QHow

do you want to in­volve the In­dian de­vel­oper com­mu­nity, con­sid­er­ing the fact that it is one of the largest in the world? First of all, we are look­ing to hire de­vel­op­ers here. We are look­ing to build a soft­ware en­gi­neer­ing team in In­dia, and in Ben­galuru, to be pre­cise—where we are head­quar­tered. So that is the first and the most im­por­tant step for us. The sec­ond an­gle is MIUI. It’s not an open source op­er­at­ing sys­tem, but it is an open op­er­at­ing sys­tem that is based on An­droid. A lot of the ac­tual code is closed, but it’s open

and is con­fig­urable. A re­ally in­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tive with the de­vel­oper com­mu­nity, where we would love to get some help with, is port­ing MIUI to all of the lo­cal de­vices. If some­one with a Micromax or a Kar­bonn de­vice wants to run MIUI on it, let them do it. So, we would like the help of the de­vel­oper com­mu­nity for things like that.

We do have some de­vel­op­ers in the coun­try port­ing our builds on dif­fer­ent de­vices. So, that’s some­thing we would love the de­vel­oper com­mu­nity to help us with. QWhat

would be the size of the en­gi­neer­ing team and by when can we ex­pect that team to come up? We will start hir­ing peo­ple pretty much right away. As for the size, I don’t know yet. I sus­pect that we would only be limited by our abil­ity to hire quickly, as we need a re­ally high count of en­gi­neers. The Ben­galuru tech tal­ent scene is in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive, and there is a short­age of tal­ented peo­ple. So we will be work­ing hard to re­cruit as fast as we can but I don’t think we will be limited by any par­tic­u­lar quota or bud­get—it’s how quickly we can take this up. QWhat

kind of de­vel­op­ers are you look­ing to hire in In­dia? Mainly, An­droid de­vel­op­ers. We are look­ing to hire peo­ple with core An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence—soft­ware en­gi­neers who have writ­ten code be­low the ap­pli­ca­tion level. Java de­vel­op­ers and An­droid de­vel­op­ers are to­tally fine. QYou

are orig­i­nally from An­droid, but you chose to do some­thing that is not open source, but closed-source. Any rea­sons for this choice? This is some­thing the company has thought about a lot. Man­ag­ing an open source project is a very dif­fer­ent thing, from what we do to­day. So we thought that what we would rather do is con­trib­ute back. So, while our core UI is not open, we ac­tu­ally con­trib­ute a lot back, not only to An­droid, but to other ini­tia­tives as well. HBASE is one data­base ini­tia­tive for which our team is the No. 1 contributor. QWhat

are your thoughts on the An­droid One plat­form? I think it’s a phe­nom­e­nal ef­fort from Google. It’s a very clever pro­gram. It is de­signed to em­power mem­bers of the ecosys­tem, who you might la­bel as chal­lengers, and to help them reap real in­cen­tives. So I think it is a very, very clev­erly de­signed pro­gram. I am very ex­cited to see it tak­ing off in In­dia. QIs

it true that Xiaomi pro­vides weekly up­dates for its de­vices? We pro­vide weekly up­dates for our Mi de­vice fam­ily. We have two fam­i­lies – the Redmi fam­ily and the Mi fam­ily. We pro­vide weekly up­dates for the de­vices of the Mi fam­ily on what we call the beta chan­nel. So when you buy a Mi 3, for ex­am­ple, it’s on what we call the sta­ble chan­nel, which gets up­dates ev­ery one or two months. But if you want to be on the beta chan­nel and get up­dates ev­ery week, to be the one to try out fea­tures first, all you have to do is go to the MIUI fo­rum and down­load the beta chan­nel ROM to flash it to your de­vice. It is a very sim­ple thing to do, and then you are on the beta chan­nel and will get weekly up­dates. QSo

what is the idea be­hind such weekly up­dates? Are they not too fre­quent for even power users to adopt? The power users take them all the time. Their take rate is in­cred­i­bly high. Th­ese are peo­ple who have cho­sen to take th­ese over-the-air up­dates. They have ac­tively said: “I want to be on the beta chan­nel be­cause I want weekly up­dates.” And the rea­son they do it is be­cause they want to get ac­cess to fea­tures early, they want to pro­vide feed­back, they like hav­ing the lat­est and great­est soft­ware on their de­vices. They want to par­tic­i­pate and that is why peo­ple want to join in. QGoogle

pro­motes stock An­droid us­age. You also did the same when you were with Google, so fork­ing An­droid is not hap­pily ac­cepted by Google. Given that, where do you see An­droid reach­ing even­tu­ally in this game? From Google’s per­spec­tive and from my per­spec­tive as well, the most im­por­tant thing in the An­droid ecosys­tem is for the de­vices to re­main com­pat­i­ble. To me, the two most im­por­tant things are: first, ev­ery An­droid de­vice must be 100 per cent com­pat­i­ble, and sec­ond, all of Google’s in­no­va­tions must reach ev­ery An­droid user. In the ap­proach that we have taken as an OS de­vel­oper, we are check­ing both th­ese boxes one hun­dred per cent.

Our de­vices, even those sell­ing in China, with­out any of Google’s apps, are 100 per cent com­pat­i­ble and have al­ways been so, which means that all of the An­droid APIs work per­fectly. They pass all the com­pat­i­bil­ity apps, which means that you will never have apps crash­ing. Sec­ond, be­cause we are pre-load­ing all of Google’s apps (out­side of China of course, where we are al­lowed to preload Google’s apps), we are en­abling all of the in­no­va­tion that Google has to reach ev­ery MIUI user. So we are check­ing all the boxes.

I think you need to be care­ful when us­ing the word ‘ fork­ing’ be­cause you may be con­fus­ing your­self and your users with forks that are not com­pat­i­ble— forks that break away from the An­droid ecosys­tem, if you will. I’m not go­ing to men­tion names but that is un­healthy for the ecosys­tem. That is almost a sin, be­cause it is go­ing to lead to user frus­tra­tion at some point, sooner or later. Apps are go­ing to start crash­ing or not work­ing. That is a bad thing to do. It’s just not a good idea and ob­vi­ously we will not do that. We are 100 per cent An­droid com­pat­i­ble, we are 100 per cent be­hind An­droid, and we love what the An­droid teams do.

Hugo Barra, vice pres­i­dent, Xiaomi

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