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Bounties: A Look at the Wild West of Android Development

Posted by wicked November - 25 - 2015 - Wednesday Comments Off


Bounties are a popular way for users to put their money where their mouth is when asking developers to tackle some problem. Usually, bounties are aimed towards acquiring root access, but some bounties have been set up to get T-Mobile WiFi calling to work on the Nexus 4 while others have been set up to port Android Wear to Samsung Gear smartwatches.

As long as there is enough community interest in achieving some device-specific goal, you can expect to see people banding together to pledge their money in hopes of attracting developers to reach the bounty’s goal. If you’ve ever participated in a bounty on XDA, then you’re probably aware that the entire effort is completely handled by volunteers. Users are free to create bounty threads for whatever goal they want to achieve, but there are many potential issues that arise from how the bounty is organized to how the payment is distributed that leaves a gray area too murky to handle. Considering how many logistical hurdles and scam possibilities there are when setting up a bounty, it’s incredible that so many have been successful.

Wanted: Root Exploit

It’s up to the users to decide whether or not they want to invest in a bounty prize pool. The financial incentive users create can help drive developers to invest their time and effort into reaching the goal, and gives users a direct way to contribute to developer efforts rather than merely begging. Looking at the outcomes of many high-profile bounties makes it easy to assume that supporting the use of bounties is a no brainer.

Bounty Chart

Table of Successful Bounties with Pledges Over $1,000

But when you take a look at the full data (at least, for all the bounties I could find on XDA) things get a bit more complicated. For starters, you’ll notice that many bounties have been left unclaimed and that most fulfilled bounties are for popular flagship devices. Neither of these observations should be surprising, though, given that most development efforts are already disproportionately seen on the most popular devices anyways. The most striking thing about the data is the fact that there is so much missing data! Proper logistics is the single biggest hurdle that any community-led bounty effort must overcome, without which many potential issues can arise.

Lawless Territory

Just about every player in the bounty process can introduce a headache for any bounty efforts. I’ll start by describing the most common issues stemming from the regular users.

First of all, a pledge does not in any way guarantee that they will actually pay the developer once the bounty has been claimed. Some users can back out of paying the developer for whatever reason. Now, there are, understandably, some legitimate reasons one might need to pull out of the bounty fund, but if many users do so, the effects on the prize pool can be dramatic. For example, less than half of the bounty pledged for root access on the LG G4 was actually paid out to the developer. Some might say that developers were never guaranteed payment for their work, and they’re right — however, developers are less likely to take the effort seriously if the users themselves aren’t going to. If you’re not putting your money where your mouth is, why should the developers listen to your request?

Another issue with pledges is that we have no way of determining whether or not a pledge was ever sincere. In many of the high-profile bounty threads, you’ll see pledges that are hundreds of dollars! It makes you wonder why someone would pledge to shell out so much money when their device is barely worth more than the actual pledge. High pledges do not necessarily mean the user isn’t sincere, however, which can cause a whole heap of issues when users start a flame-war in the XDA thread accusing others of inflating the bounty. Speaking of inflating the bounty, many users in bounty threads bring up a potential issue with developers.

A developer has discovered an exploit that meets the terms set forth by the bounty, but should he claim it immediately? Why not keep it secret to build up the prize pool? Although there is no evidence that this has yet occurred, the possibility should not be tossed aside. As unethical as it might seem, this move does carry with it some risk since another developer can beat them to the punch and claim the bounty before them. Even if a developer holds back on claiming the bounty, as mentioned earlier there’s no guarantee they’ll receive all that’s promised, or that the promised amount is even accurate! Which brings me to my next point, who maintains the bounty?

Bounty threads are an absolute nightmare to keep up with (so kudos to certain community members who have kindly provided templates that we can use). You’ll be searching through posts, PMs, e-mails, or whatever other method you chose to update the bounty list, but sometimes the effort is just too much work to handle for a single person. How do you properly maintain a bounty list while also ensuring every user is a legitimate member of the community that is actually willing to pledge their money?

Let’s say you’re able to keep up with it all, how do you then ensure the developer gets paid? Do you delegate the funds to a single person to distribute? Who can you trust to handle those funds? Even if you do manage to find a trustworthy person willing to manage the bounty funds, you’ll still have to deal with every other problem mentioned earlier. Plus, you may even run into some scammers attempting to claim the bounty for someone else’s work.

Nearly every flagship is sold in international markets, to people of many different countries around the world. Not every developer who uses your favorite flagship phone browses XDA, so some developers working out of China or India might not even be aware of a bounty’s existence. A scammer might try to claim the bounty in these cases by pretending to be the person who found the exploit, and the average user will be none the wiser. It’s up to the community to do their due diligence and ensure that the right person claims credit for their work.

Wild West of Development

To conclude, there’s good evidence to suggest the efficacy of bounties in achieving the goals of an XDA device community based on past experiences. However, the many logistical hurdles that can arise from getting users to cough up the pledges they promised to ensure that the bounty falls into the right hands make bounties difficult to maintain. The community must come together to ensure that the bounty runs smoothly for all involved parties. Thus, we recognize their importance in the community and the developments of various phones.

Have you contributed to a bounty before? Were you satisfied with the results? Let us know in the comments below!

Korean Samsung Gear S2 Receives Firmware Update

Posted by wicked November - 23 - 2015 - Monday Comments Off

Gear S2 Android Wear Watch

Samsung Gear S2 owners anticipating an update for their smartwatch should not expect to have to wait much longer, since the Korean model recently received a firmware update. XDA Senior Member supersoulfly describes the changes that they saw on their Gear S2 smartwatch, most of which include usability updates. Check out the XDA thread for a list of new features and accompanying screenshots if you’re a Gear S2 owner!

Google Unveils Preview of Android Studio 2.0

Posted by wicked November - 23 - 2015 - Monday Comments Off


Today is the first day of Google’s Android Developer Summit and with the conference come many updates to core developer utilities. At the summit, Google unveiled a preview of Android Studio 2.0. One new feature that promises to speed up app deployment is “Instant Run” which allows you to quickly test your updated code on your device or emulator. Another new feature is the “GPU profiler” which will help optimize Open GL ES Android code for games.

Exploring the Android Ecosystem in China — Interview with Greenify’s OasisFeng

Posted by wicked November - 20 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off

Google Developers China

Smartphone OS Market Share

Android By the Numbers

Android has dominated the mobile landscape for several years now, and it doesn’t look like that dominance will disappear anytime soon. At Google I/O, Sundar Pichai revealed that there are 1 billion Android users. With the explosive developmental growth in places such as the African continent, India, and China, it’s hard to predict Android’s numbers going anywhere but up.

China is an especially interesting market for Android given the difficulties Google has had in the past dealing with the Chinese government. Even today, the Play Store remains blocked by the Great Firewall in mainland China. What does this mean for Google and Android? Of the nearly 900 million smartphone users in China, approximately 77.4% of those users are operating an Android device. That means there are about 700 million active Android users in China – more than double the population of the United States – and none of them have official access to the Google Play Store!

Android in China

The lack of the Google Play Store in China has led to an interesting situation. In the void left behind by Google’s exit from China, third-party app stores rushed in to compete for dominance. To say that China’s app store marketplace is fragmented would be an understatement. Handset manufacturers, carriers, and independent companies have all ventured into this business to create their own app store, resulting in a confusing mess that turns away many Western developers. Yet, this is one market that developers absolutely cannot ignore, especially now that talented Chinese developers can now market their own apps outside of China, driving up the level of competition.

Consider the current state of the Android ecosystem in China. As mobile app markets continue to consolidate into larger consortiums, a few markets will eventually rise to the top. Indeed, according to a report by NewZoo, the top 10 marketplaces each reach tens of millions of Chinese consumers. Myapp, an app store owned by Tencent, is installed on 25% of Android devices in China, meaning that approximately 175 million people are using this app store. Thus, even the highly fragmented Chinese Android marketplace provides easy access to huge audiences.

Not only are you missing out on a lot of potential revenue by not targeting the Chinese market, you may already be suffering a loss of revenue thanks to copy-cats. The solution is not to sit back and accept that this is how China works, it’s to be pro-active and preempt it before it happens. Piracy of Western apps is only an issue because of how neglected the market has been for so long. Understanding the Chinese market, from the perspective of the average consumer and developer, is therefore a necessary first step when attempting to penetrate the market. To that end, I spoke to XDA Senior Member OasisFeng, developer of the popular battery saving app Greenify, to learn more about Android users in China.

An Interview with OasisFeng

XDA: How would you describe the developer scene in China? Is it thriving? Are there a lot of active communities like XDA/reddit?

OasisFeng: “In China, there’re a huge number of developers, probably far beyond your imagination, since software developer is one of the hottest career choice among college graduates. But due to many factors, the overwhelming majority of them are employed by large companies and working over-time, thus not forming a healthy developer community. Due to the fragmented app markets in China, almost all app-markets promote apps purely by ads, causing apps from independent developers are far less visible to users. This in turn suppresses the growth of developer communities. The only and highly active communities are formed by super users and ROM modders, such as and App developers are hardly seen there.”

XDA: Is open-source development popular in the Chinese scene? Why/Why not?

OasisFeng: “Not quite but improving fast. In the past decade, a series of bad examples of huge success by “copy-and-evolve” (QQ and WeChat for instance) drove the whole IT industry to believe that sharing your software may lead to instant threat from huge companies (well-known for copy-cat) to copy your product easier and faster. Things got changed a lot in the recent years, since more and more companies use open-source projects (contribution or new) to advertise their software technologies and attract talented developers. My ex-employer, for example, became the top contributor to Linux kernel among all Chinese companies. My team also open-sourced “Dexposed”, a derived project based on Xposed, and it gains near 2k stars and 500+ forks in a few months.”

XDA: Compared to the West, would you say developers in China are more competitive, collaborative, or generally similar?

OasisFeng: “In my observation, Chinese developers are obviously more collaborative and thus more competitive only as large team, because they’re used to obedience and work as group, which deeply roots in the culture of east. Do you know, most of the popular Android apps in China are made by large company with hundreds of developers. Take Taobao for example, its Android app is developed by more than 200 developers, across 10+ business units in the company. On the opposite, Chinese developers are unlikely to succeed as independent developers or in small teams. I’m an exception actually.”

XDA: How do developers in China usually make money off of their apps?

OasisFeng: “From salary, or in much better case, acquisition by large company. Most independent developers (though rare) cannot go far with their apps, since “pay-for-apps” is not popular among Chinese users. Forget about Ads too, they’re too cheap in China too. For successful ones, the developer behind is most probably contacted by large companies with offer to acquisition or threaten to be copied. Not all of them could resist the threatening offer. Still I’m an exception again.”

XDA: In general, how would you describe the attitude of Chinese consumers towards developers (and applications)? If you can, compare it with your experiences developing for users on XDA.

OasisFeng: “Most Chinese users never visit online communities, they just download the apps recommended by friends and app-markets. Due to the fragmentation of app-markets mentioned above, the apps for daily life are basically seized by large companies and highly-funded startups. Since the apps from large companies always copy competitor’s features, most users even can’t tell the differences from popular apps in the same category, so they just pick one blindly. They don’t care about the developers behind, because most are large companies which seldom respond to users. As a result, only a small number of geek users are willing to communicate with developers. Since China has the largest population in the world, that “small number” is already big enough for developers.

XDA: Is app piracy a big problem in China?

OasisFeng: “App piracy is not a big problem in China, since you can hardly find a paid app here. Talking about foreign (or world-wide-oriented) apps, it’s also no longer a problem in China in the recent years. Though pirated apps are floating around the online forums, they declined fast as users are used to app markets. You can always find a free alternative (probably copied by large company) to most common apps, why bothering seeking for the pirated one?”

XDA: What are people’s attitudes towards privacy in China? Are people more or less concerned about their private data?

OasisFeng: “Most people believed privacy is important at first, but are losing hope these days. As most apps here are developed by large companies, you could never wish for privacy from their hands. Even the companies whose products are aiming for privacy protection are stealing privacy, revealed by many security teams again and again. Most friends of mine feel helpless on privacy since government also takes no responsibility in this area.”

Given the recent move by Google to allow Chinese developers to publish their apps on the Play Store outside of China, I decided to also ask OasisFeng about his thoughts on the reputation of Chinese developers and Westerners. After all, we’ve seen some shady attacks on Android users originating from some Chinese companies. This and other attacks have resulted in a reputational hit strong enough to cause fake viruses to scapegoat random “Chinese hackers” in order to scare you into a scam.

XDA: Why do you believe some outsiders have a low opinion of Chinese developers?

OasisFeng: “Chinese developers are among the most diligent workers in the world, most of them work more than 60 hours a week. Also they are creative, but unfortunately their talents are usually directed to the dark side of commercial interests due to lack of supervision and distorted profit model of mobile apps in China. These are both the invisible side of Chinese developers.”

XDA: Do you agree with any of the criticism? If so, which and why?

OasisFeng: “Some users world-wide give criticism of the nasty things behind Chinese apps. These are obviously driven by the brutal commerce environment in China, and should not be judged the same for all of them. If a developer is economically supported by users, then developer will surely give users the best. But in the real world, developers are employed by large companies which are funded by capital. Just like Google and Facebook, Chinese large companies attempt to take hands on more and more user data, but in an immature way … They will learn how to do those things in a more elegant and concealed way when exploring beyond the China market.”

XDA: What can Chinese developers do to combat these ideas about them?

OasisFeng: “The sticking point of the whole issue is the profit model of mobile apps. Western developers are lucky because of paid apps are already accepted by most users. But in China, users are spoiled by free apps made by large companies.

We all like free apps, but developers need to earn their life. In my opinion, “pay for apps” is definitely not the answer (not only in China but also for the world). We need to build a whole new model exclusive for digital goods, to give users the rights to use apps freely (for free and free from ads) while still supporting the creators in profit. [I’ve been looking for] such a new model for years and will hopefully have a chance to make it real in the near future, with the whole developer community. Looking forward to that day, all developers could live a life in proud and honor by themselves, without the employment in a large company.”

I also asked OasisFeng about his personal experiences as an Android developer. If you’re interested in learning more about him and his future development plans, you can see the rest of the interview by following this link. 

Do you use any apps made from Chinese developers? Are you a developer who currently sells their app to Chinese markets? Tell us about your experiences below!

More Reading:

Google releases Sample Game “Zooshi” to Demonstrate New C++ Game Libraries

Posted by wicked November - 20 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off

Open-Source Game Zooshi

Fun Propulsion Labs, a Google team dedicated to advancing the Android gaming ecosystem, has released an open-source, cross-platform game called “Zooshi.” The game is written in C++ and is meant to serve as a demonstration of some new open-source game technologies released by Google. The team hopes that game developers will use Zooshi to learn how to implement these new libraries into their own games.

Google Releases Brillo Source Code

Posted by wicked November - 20 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off


At Google I/O, the company announced Brillo, the Android based-OS for the “Internet of Things” designed to run on embedded systems such as home appliances. Google promised developers more information about the OS, and previously posted a video explaining how the new OS works. Now, the company has released the source code for Brillo, so any developer looking to eventually create for this new platform should keep a close eye.

Using Play Services SDK May Flag Your App As “Ad-Supported” On Play Store

Posted by wicked November - 19 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off

Google is Reducing the Minimum Price for apps and In-App Purchases on Google Play

Google had recently announced that it will require all apps to disclose if they use advertisements. Some developers are claiming that their app is incorrectly being flagged as having ads. In a blog-post at Commonsware, the author points out that any apps depending on the Play Services SDK may inadvertently include the AdMob SDK, which could erroneously trigger the Play Store to flag your app as “ad-supported”.

Trojanized Adware Abuses Accessibility Service to Secretly Install Apps

Posted by wicked November - 19 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off


Recently, we covered the existence of trojanized adware that could secretly acquire root access. Of the three adware families discovered by mobile security firm Lookout, it seems that ‘Shedun‘ has capabilities that go beyond the other adware families. In a blog-post, Lookout describes how apps under the Shedun adware family prompt a user to grant it accessibility privileges, which then allow the app to bypass user interaction when installing an app.

Google will Soon Require Developers to Disclose if their App has Advertisements

Posted by wicked November - 19 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off

Play Store APK Teardown Hints at Upcoming Family Sharing And Gifting Features

The Google Play Store team is apparently sending out e-mails to every developer with an app on the Play Store announcing their expansion of the “ad-supported” label originally required only for apps in the “Designed for Families” program. By January 11, 2016, each developer must sign in to their Play Developer Console and declare whether or not their app contains advertisements of any kind if they wish to continue distributing updates.

Google search

In a Google Search blog post, the team has announced some exciting new capabilities rolling out to your device soon. First, Google Search will now be able to pull internal search results within certain apps and display them within the Google Search app itself – without having to open the third-party app! Even better, certain apps can now be “streamed” to your device so you can use their search results without installing the app!

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