Thursday, February 18, 2010

eBay Mobile for Android

I have been working on mobile at eBay since the fall of 2008. Almost immediately upon joining the team, I started running my mouth about how we needed to create an Android application. At the time, the G1 had just come out, and let's be honest. It was definitely a cut below the iPhone -- the standard that all phones are measured against whether they like it or not. The development environment was attractive, but we had to be pragmatic about things. eBay Mobile for iPhone was a big hit, and we had tons of ides for improving it. So Android had to wait. Yesterday, the wait was over and eBay Mobile for Android became available for download from the Android Market. It requires Android 1.6, and we have not rolled it out in all of the countries that our iPhone app is available in, so depending on your device and your location, it may not yet show up in the Market. If you're on 1.6, just be patient, hopefully we'll be in your country soon. If you're on 1.0/1.1/1.5... well your carrier needs to upgrade you to 1.6 :-)

The app was the result of a lot of hard work by some very talented engineers. If you have an Android phone, then of course I am hoping you will go try it out. One of the cool features of the Android platform that we took advantage of is integration with the system level QuickSearch. This makes it possible for popular search terms on eBay to be automatically suggested to you as type in the QuickSearch box on the home screen of your phone. However, this is one of those kind of curious features in Android. It is relatively easy to do (though making it fast, for something dynamic like popular search terms on eBay, can be tricky -- our engineers did an awesome job on this), but it is not something that you can "enable" by default. What I mean is that any application can become a provider for the QuickSearch box, but the applications cannot get their suggestions to automatically appear. Instead the user must manually enable add the provider, and this is not the most obvious thing to do. To give you an idea, I did a short video that shows you how to do this:

See what I mean? It's hard to expect that most users will figure this out on their own. Maybe we could put some kind of message in the app instructing them how to do this, but it is not something you can really describe succinctly. Anyways, as you see in the video, one you add eBay to your list of search providers, the results from eBay will only appear at the bottom of the list of suggestions. Once again, it would be very easy for a user to not even know that they are there. If they scroll down and find them, and do this a few times, then supposedly Android is smart and starts putting the eBay results closer to the top of the list...

I think this is something that Android could definitely improve on, since I think it is a great idea to allow other apps to hook into the "global" search if you will. I can definitely imagine the Facebook app and various Twitter apps doing this too. However, one could understand if apps did not do this, given how difficult it is for an apps' contributions to surface in the search suggestions.

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