Interview with Goutham Sukumar: Developer of the TouchDown Exchange client for Android

November 29, 2008
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Goutham Sukumar of NitroDesk

Goutham Sukumar of NitroDesk

Today, we were able to get an interview with Goutham Sukumar from NitroDesk, the developer of TouchDown.

As many of our viewers already know, TouchDown is one of the first Exchange clients for Android, a necessity for many smartphone users today.  In this interview Goutham talks a bit about his history as a developer and his thoughts on Android development.  You can see our initial report on TouchDown here.

You can read the interview after the jump.

AA: What platforms have you written for?

GS: I have primarily been working on the Windows/PC platform, but have done some work on other platforms such as Sun and Linux. I have also worked on the Windows CE devices off and on, mostly demo type projects. Commercially, it has been Windows almost all the time, with a fair amount of WPF development recently.

AA: How does Android compare to other platforms in terms of difficulty to  program for?  How did the SDK compare to other platforms that you have written for (if any)?

GS: Programming could not get any simpler than this. There are several reasons to this. One is the simplicity of the platform’s paradigms despite the power. I use the eclipse plug-in to develop and test TouchDown. All the initial testing was performed on the emulator, and everything worked on the G1 exactly as it looked on the emulator. The only drawback in our case was the lack of resources for creating web service client-side functionality, which I am sure will come soon. The ability to modularize functionality into nicely separated compartments is fantastic. Simplicity on the device is all about enabling the developer to start a phone call from the click of a button or navigate to an address at the flick of a finger in a couple of lines of code. I think the Android engineers have nailed it on this one.

AA: What gave you the idea to write the TouchDown Exchange client?

GS: The story that runs at home is that I started TouchDown to have an excuse to get a G1 – so not true.

Having written applications that integrate web-based services with desktop presentation, and having seen the pain in the forums about the lack of an Exchange client on the G1, this seemed like a challenging project. It seemed like one that would make many users happy if we did a good job. It had elements of integration, presentation, as well as the potential to make a difference. It also helped that Google did indicate that they would allow third party developers to play here, which is very important.

AA: How long (in hours) did it take for you to write the TouchDown Exchange client?

GS: Kind of lost track of time here, but less than a thousand, and more than a couple hundred :-).

AA: Do you have any plans for any other Android apps?

GS: Absolutely, but those plans will come to the front burner only after we have ensured that our TouchDown customers/prospects have had every one of their (viable) feature wishes granted. At this time, we are heads-down on doing what they want, and they want a lot :-).

AA: How has the interest in your TouchDown app been?

GS: It has been extremely encouraging. We have already gotten enough evidence that there is pain in this area, and that it can be solved. As with any product, there is and will be some amount of polarization – be it about how the UI should look, or whether to use push or pull. However, we do get calls on our support line and emails actually “thanking” us for developing TouchDown. Now *that* is real customer love, which not every product enjoys.

AA: What advantages do you see in the Android OS as opposed to other phone operating systems (Symbian, Windows Mobile, Mac OS X)?

GS: I believe that every OS  has its pros and cons, and every one of them have potential to grow *if* the people behind them made all the right moves. And let’s hope Google makes all the right moves.

I see the following being strong indicators of Android’s potential.

1. Being an open platform, and being very much adaptable, I would not be surprised to see Android pop up in unexpected places such as in my car, my GPS or in my DVD player. So it may not be just a phone OS after all.

2. Developers have to love the simplicity of putting things together quickly on Android, especially once you get the hang of things. This is evidenced by the plethora of apps on the market just one month after launch.

3. The SDK is developed in such a way that anyone can get started in a few minutes. You don’t have to have a Mac (sigh) to develop on Android. And of course for the thousands of C#/.Net developers out there, it probably would take a couple of days to transition to developing Android apps. But once you get there, trust me – it is hard to want to do anything else.

4. While commercial developers did get a solid blow when paid apps or trials were prohibited on the market, hopefully when that changes, there will be a flood of new apps there.

5. While i have heard both good and bad comments about the UI, I secretly believe that the UI is designed to draw feedback, which is probably the best way to shape any UI in a viral-adoption type of environment. Like TouchDown, it probably will be shaped by what the user wants to use and not what the developer wants to build.

AA: What phone do you use personally?

GS: I used to have a BlackJack II (WM) and an expensive ATT family contract. But when TouchDown was released I got myself a G1. So now the ATT number is forwarded to the G1, and I have the ability to read and respond to support questions 24 hours a day.

AA: What do you think of the distribution methods of Android applications? As compared to the Apple model (strict control over the iTunes store) or the Windows Mobile model (no store at all).

GS: I think Google has struck a good balance. Having the Market provides a trusted source (although the amount of trustworthiness is questionable) and an easy to use mechanism for getting new products. Legitimate developers can still provide applications through other sources like Handango (you can find TouchDown there), this increases the options that developers have rather than being held hostage to a single marketplace’s terms. TouchDown will be listed in the market when it opens up for paid applications, but currently it can be purchased either from the NitroDesk site or from Handango.

AA: What do you think of your G1 as opposed to the BlackJack II?

I love the G1, navigating the BlackJack has given me a sore joint on my thumb. G1 with its better tactile keyboard and touch makes it the right platform to send moderately long emails or even to browse (of course, there is the iPhone, but the keyboard kills the deal for me). The G1 keyboard has one drawback though – mine is a light silver color, with the backlighting completely useless on the keys, especially in relatively light environments.

We’d like to thank Goutham Sukumar for taking the time to chat with us about his application and thoughts on Android.  You can purchase NitroDesk’s TouchDown Exchange client here.

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