Much of this previous week saw me curled behind my desk, dutifully typing and revising the arguments to finish two objections to summary judgment. As we prepare for some upcoming trials, I’m reflecting on how far the Google-Android sphere has come, and yet how far we still have to venture. In particular, I’m looking at the trial apps and lamenting the fact that we’re not any closer to having an Android-based trial presentation app, like TrialPad. And, because developers, especially those focused on lawyer apps, seem to hate developing for Android, I would expect to see fewer and fewer revolutionary apps.
It’s not all about the apps
Of course, my biggest “you can do it” phrase has always been, “lawyer apps don’t matter.” That’s because the number of actual lawyer apps you use each day is fairly limited. Perhaps you’ll delve into Fastcase for some research, or iJuror to “pick” your jury, but generally, you’ll read a PDF, browse a website, or watch a movie with little or no difficulties.
The truth is though, lawyer apps do matter; at least to lawyers. Twice in this past week lawyers told me that they choose an iPad over an Android because of the lawyer apps. And this Tweet from Clio’s, Joshua Lenon, confirms the problem:
— Joshua Lenon (@JoshuaLenon) March 18, 2014
Joshua’s referring to the new report from Law Firm Mobile — I’ll have more comments later — showing that almost 100% of BigLaw firms created apps for iOS, while Android lagged sorely in the distance — only 35% of firms.
BigLaw’s aversion pretty well sums up the state of law firm apps — or maybe they got the memo — for Android. The same could be said about lawyer apps for Android.
“There’s sunlight on the horizon”
Yes, I’ve steadfastly waited for that bright day — Viva la revolucion! — I even wrote about the grand things coming. But alas, those things never materialized. At least not yet.
Stewart Boling, the genius behind the Depose app, tells me that his two main constraints to developing Android apps are time and difficulty. Stewart’s working full-time to support his mobile developer addiction, which obviously takes priority over other aspect. Similarly, there are so may pitfalls to Android development that few developers want to get involved, thus preferring to stick with iOS.
Check out this comment on a Lifehacker post about developing iOS apps as an example:
If you’ve tried developing an Android app, you’ll know that sounds about right.
Android coding’s getting better, especially since Google recently released Android Studio, but we’re still lagging behind. Moreover, when you consider some of the difficulties in developing Android applications, you’ll understand why companies won’t touch this with a “39 and a half-foot pole.” Here are some of the major challenges:
Fragmentation – this is getting better, but there are still a significant number of Android users on non-Jelly Bean devices. Here’s the platform distribution from March 3, 2014:
Hardware fragmentation — this problem is improving also, but there are still enough devices the perform different functions.
Intellectual property problems — even though the Candy Swipe app was first to market, it still had to deal with some enormous pressure from mega giant, Candy Crush over trademark rights in the US.
Google’s not helping — despite our anticipations, there isn’t a new Nexus 10 tablet, nor is there one, single “iPad killer” available on the market
iPad domination — iPad continues to be the number one choice for lawyers, so developers opt to not to create apps for a small segment of the legal mobile community.
Must be the money
Return on investment for Android app development is significantly low, regardless of whether you offer ads. Most developers (games mostly) make money on their applications because of in-app purchases (expansion packs to continue using the product) or significant price increases to recoup R&D costs. Unfortunately, mobile users have an aversion to applications that go over a particular threshold, usually about $4.99, so applications that cost significantly more than the median price might generate less revenue. It’s a principle of basic economics: increase the price, demand goes down.
However, the demand for Android legal apps just isn’t there. Sure, you can say that’s not true, especially since Android leads the global mobile sales market in phones and tablet. But the evidence doesn’t lie. Just look at the Law Firm Mobile report or the ILTA’s survey on mobile devices, and you’ll see that Android devices for lawyers aren’t in high demand.
I’m seeing something similar with the Google Docs California pleading. Despite the overwhelming number of California attorneys — about 181,000 — I’ve only had about a dozen requests. I’m sure the number of folks who actually use the document on a regular basis is even less. The perceived demand is less than the actual need.
So ultimately, the limited number of Android lawyer apps really is about the money. Developers don’t see value expending time and resources to create apps to accommodate a small number of lawyers.
Admittedly, the trend toward a greater acceptance of Android as a viable and powerful productivity tool. The ILTA’s survey reveals that a greater number of law firms are using Android tablets.
This is some pleasant news in a world previously devoid of Android discussions. I’m certain that we’ll see similar improvements and gains in 2014, especially if we also see a more powerful Nexus 10 tablet. Android 4.4 also significantly improves the user experience, though Google and the Android team still have some cleaning to do.
The greatest way to spawn development of Android apps for lawyers is to support those developers financially. You should also encourage providers, such as your practice management software provider to develop an Android mobile app. Right now, Rocket Matter is the only provider with an Android mobile app, though I’ve heard rumors of other providers developing their own.
I also anticipate announcing a new project that has been sitting in the wings waiting for someone else to take the reins. That doesn’t look possible, so I’ll be seeking your support, Kickstarter style, to get the project moving.