Developer Spotlight: Claystone Inc’s CEO Christian Lassonde Talks Claystone Launcher ICS And Android Development
Christian Lassonde (entrepreneur, software engineer, and veteran of the social media and virtual world industry), Chief Executive Officer of Claystone Inc. sat down and had a chat with me regarding the Claystone Launcher an elegant 3-D launcher alternative for the Android Operating System. This is our second chat and the first can be found here. This time around we talked more about what the release of Ice Cream Sandwich means for Android development and launcher alternatives in general and the bright future of Claystone Launcher. Claystone Inc. would like to bring more users the feature set of ICS regardless of what version of Android you might be using, even Honeycomb. Details below. For more information on Claystone Inc. and they Claystone Launcher you can hit their home page here and ofcourse there is a market link and a video showing you just what Claystone Launcher can do below. Enjoy!
Special Thanks to Christian Lassonde and the Claystone team for giving us more of their time!
Me: There were so many things I wanted to ask last time that i left out so just so folks arent lost lets be redundant and talk about Claystone Inc. briefly.
Chris: Sure thing.
Me: Tell me a little more about your background and how you apply that to the development of Claystone, also tell us a little about the company and some of the people that make the project awesome.
Chris: Sure thing, let me start quickly with Claystone, just to recap what we are doing. Claystone is a home screen for Android. A launcher in more technical terms. Our ultimate goal is “One swipe to everything on your phone”. We are aiming to be so much more than a launcher; to be the gateway to your Photos, Videos, RSS Feeds, Bookmarks, Movies, etc…All wrapped in a easy to use and fast experience. My background is 10 years in San Francisco, the first half working on MMORPGs games (lead programmer of Ultima Online and time also at LucasArts). The second half I moved from the online universe into Services and Advertising in the Virtual than social Media space running the Social Media agency Millions of Us. It was there that I got really interested in what was going on in the mobile space. I really got intrigued by what Google was doing for Android. What I felt was missing in the space was a digital hub of everything that was on these incredible powerful phones. There was no real way to see everything on your phone and in the cloud at once. You could launch all your apps one by one, but you were missing the overall “everything” experience. So I got together with a few other guys who had already developed a really interesting interface for tablets. Eventually we moved it over to phones and thus Claystone was born.
Me: So coming to the present a little bit, last we talked there were some big features in the works for the launcher. We chatted about ICS as well landscape was a huge to do. Tell us about the progress.
Chris: We picked up some ICS phones before the holidays and fell in love. We especially love the whole concept of simplifying the buttons at the bottom of the phones to Back, Home, and Recent Activity. Recent activity becomes a really compelling case for our “everything view” (stack view in technical terms) We are actively working on the ICS version now of Claystone. We just started so it’s still a few weeks out, but it will be a really compelling experience. One of the bonus side effects is that we we’ll be able to bring a few of the ICS features to the folks still running 2.x. So that will be a nice upgrade for them.
Me: That is great news !
Chris: As for landscape, it’s out now! (released yesterday, Feb 9th) The caveat being is that it doesn’t auto-rotate. But it’s a huge improvement over no landscape at all.
Me: yep version 1.19 right? I’m running it now.
Chris: We will be revisiting auto-rotate in the future. It was just a 3+ week fix to get it to work, and we really felt like getting going on the ICS version first.
Me: Well let me tell you, I actually hate auto rotate and prefer the button.
Chris: Great! 1.19 also has a few other really important features. RSS Feeds now have pull down to refresh and more performance and stability improvements. When we do put in Auto rotate enabled version, we’ll be sure to put it in as an option, auto rotate doesn’t always work!
Me: So lets talk Ice Cream. It’s cool talking to you because you have unique perspective as a first class developer.
Chris: Thanks, appreciate the compliment!
Me: you mentioned bringing ICS features to a broader audience. The newer versions of Claystone will be useable for the vast majority of Android users stuck on 2.3.4 etc ?
Chris: #1 of those features is the recent activities. We really like the quick snapshot of what you’ve been running, and in 1.2 we will auto-fill a stack in everything view with all our recent activities.
Me: For e.g. HTC announced disappointing news yesterday for a lot of us we still will be on ginger (Gingerbread) for some months yet.
Chris: This will be whether you are running ICS or 2.x. Yea I saw the news about HTC and kind of smiled inside. Another compelling reason to move to Claystone.
Me: Exactly. So Claystone will remain universal but also make use of some of the new API’s ?
Chris: The other major ICS feature is the simplified interface, moving away from menu buttons. We agree with that philosophy. So we will be doing a full audit of our menus’ and simplifying and removing them where possible. Everything will be accessible via either a shortcut on your home screen or a panel in your home stack. So will be making use of the new API’s but still provide compatible features for those not running ICS. It may not be as visually stunning, (i.e. you will get a thumbnail instead of a richer panel) but at least it will be there!
Me: i think thats fabulous. So widgets, I have to ask. Got anything up your sleeve regarding new widgets?
Chris: I have to admit we are on the fence with widgets. There so many compelling widgets already out there that, yes while we can develop more widgets, why not use the kick ass one already out there. Id rather focus the guys on the core experience for the near term. If we see a void in widgets that is not being filled we will jump at it. But for now, happy to promote other teams kick ass widgets.
Me: sounds smart
Chris: One thing that we will be doing is moving more of our experience into “Everything View”. The featured movies experience we have now is a good road map for where we are going. I.e. imagine your RSS feeds in there, all open and quickly reachable. No need for a widget at all!
Me: Generally speaking what are your thoughts on ics and the future of Android and how does Claystone and other developers in the custom launcher business fit? How does that influence or effect developers of launchers?
Chris: The most exciting thing about ICS in my mind is that we should be seeing ICS Tablets in the near future. Very few people are using the Honeycomb tablets. There are very few apps for them! Google’s biggest mistake was splitting Android between phones and tablets. About time they all come together. When that happens I see Claystone making a comeback on the original platform it was conceived for, tablets. So ICS is huge for developers. Only one development target! It’s bad enough that we have phone exclusive issues with phones all running 2.3.x. The more versions we have out there, the worse it is for developers. What I would like to see from the next versions of ICS is more open APIs. Google is still hiding some of their stuff from us. Frankly, I would be happy with more complete documentation from them on what they have already released! I’ve been using the Google Chrome beta. It’s a great example of what you can do with ICS. Google should put more effort into writing clear documentation and indexing it.
Me: So conversely, will I be able to run the newer versions of Claystone on my Honeycomb tab? Has Google gone far enough with the API’s ?
Chris: Great question. Yes!
Me: Now thats is just amazing.
Chris: I’m not saying we are going to optimize for Honeycomb, but ICS definitely shares some of the APIs so we will make it work, and with landscape mode enabled now it should be a good experience.
Me: Still on ICS Claystone features graphics rendering that is quite expansive. Will the newer versions be aided by the ICS API’s in this regard? Are there opportunities for further optimization that were not there before?
Chris: Another great question. Out of the gate for this next build we will be continuing to use our graphics engine developed for 2.x It runs very nicely on ICS. However, I can say we haven’t ignored graphics altogether. In fact, we may have a team looking into that for the longer term…
Me: Wow thats more great news!
Chris: The key with ICS is the new hardware accelerated 2d drawing. We’ve typically found our 3d views are FASTER then the 2d views for that exact reasons, the 2d views weren’t accelerated. So ICS introduces some much needed stuff for 2d (and for 3d as well).
Me: Wow i look forward to the new 1.2x versions for sure
Chris: Well that stuff won’t be in 1.2 I wish it was, but we have to keep the updates within reason
Me: Finally last but not least, certainly not least. Last time we discussed theming, both as a priority for you guys and a way to help fund the project since Claystone Launcher is FREE. How are we coming with theming both 1st and 3rd party?
Chris: We launched two new premiums themes last month. The much requested transparent theme and a cool “Serenity” theme. The trick with these themes is actually we are much more excited about people sharing Claystone than paying us a dollar. So we added the feature “Tweet/Post” for themes. You just tweet or post on Facebook via Claystone and we give you $2 worth of themes. It’s been a great success. We see traffic everyday from people sharing Claystone so it really feels like a win/win. We’ll continue to put out new themes every couple of months. no plans yet to enable 3rd party themes. Mostly because we don’t have the manpower to do it, not because we don’t like the idea.
Me: Also a side note our games writer loves Ultima Online die hard, had his own server etc.
Chris: I hear that a lot I truly miss those years. It was awesome running UO. I was a hard core player from the beta and finally just one day applied for programmer job.
Me: Ever considered games for the future or are you done? I play every mmo on mobile. Something is missing Chris.
Chris: Never say never. I still have tons of friends in the games business. In fact one of the leader designers at UO ended up becoming Lead Designer on WoW. I’m with you, something is missing, when I see something that’s interesting I may get back into the game. But until then I’m going to follow my passion.
Me: your passion being claystone launcher ?
Chris: yup. I love doing this thing. I really feel we can change the way people are using their phones for the better.
Me: oh trust we are passionate about it too. Its a darn good product. Well Ty for your time once again Chris
Chris: Thanks very much. We just want to get the word out so people can experience it for themselves. We rely on blogs and word of mouth to spread the word so we very much appreciate everything you guys do.
Marvin Ferrell El