Liz Gannes

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Former Googlers’ Cover App Makes Android Lock Screens More Useful (Video)

We smartphone users have all developed our own tricks for quickly swiping through pages and folders of apps to find what we need. But the reality is, even if Waze has home-screen placement, you have little reason to use it while not driving. And you’re unlikely to watch Netflix at work. Or to check the weather after you get dressed in the morning.

Cover co-founders

Cover co-founders Edward Ho, Todd Jackson and Gordon Luk

An Android app called Cover has developed a new version of the Android lock screen that adjusts based on each user’s habits around time, place and other factors.

With permission, Cover monitors users’ daily activity. Then it picks the six apps it thinks users are most likely to want at any one moment, and lines them up on the left side of the phone.

If you plug in your headphones, for example, the six will likely include your favorite music-streaming apps.

Cover also loads the apps in the background, so users can swipe each icon to enter directly into the app — to see the latest photo in your Instagram feed, perhaps, or the current entry on your calendar.

At the moment, there’s no way to edit Cover’s choices manually, so, if there’s some app you use all the time but don’t want people to see, or some app you really should use all the time but forget to, you’re out of luck.

Cover establishes three different modes — home, work, driving — with their own associated wallpaper and ring volume, which users can set themselves.

There’s also a quick way to multitask by swiping down a drawer of most frequently used apps from the top right.

When you go through all its gestures and adaptations, Cover sounds like a whole new UI for Android, and in some ways it is. But, from what I saw in a demo, this doesn’t seem to be new feature overload, just a few carefully selected tweaks.

You’ll have to try it for yourself to see — but that likely won’t be today. Cover is accepting signups on its website, and will gradually invite new users. It should be available to everyone “within a couple months,” said CEO and co-founder Todd Jackson.

horizontal_graphicJackson and his two co-founders have the kind of resumes that seed investors love. Jackson was the lead product manager of Gmail, and also did a stint at Facebook; co-founder Edward Ho was an engineer at Google for five years, and before that, he worked on a small but influential tool called Yahoo Pipes; Gordon Luk worked on Yahoo’s Upcoming and Brickhouse back when those were hip, and had his own game studio. (Jackson and Ho worked together on the ill-fated and much-maligned Google Buzz … but that’s bygones in tech time.)

As such, they’ve raised $1.7 million from First Round Capital, Harrison Metal, Max Levchin, Scott Banister, Charlie Cheever, Keith Rabois, Dave Girouard and Alex Franz.

The question is, what is the opportunity for an independent app maker to change the core user interface of the phone in a way that mobile operating systems should probably be doing themselves?

And another thing: While the Android opportunity is clearly huge, it’s not always the cleanest — given the mess of older versions, and the often-clunky preloaded apps and interfaces from different handset makers. That seems problematic for a UI overhaul.

For starters, Jackson said, Cover is made to work all the way back to Android 2.3, a.k.a. Gingerbread. He shrugged off compatibility problems, saying they just take a little work.

Jackson defined success for Cover as “if we can sprint over the next year or two, and get a million people, or five million people to love Cover. If when you switch from HTC to Samsung, the first app you add is Cover, and the phone knows you immediately. Like SwiftKey. They’re doing great, have millions of users in their own right, and deals where they ship with the device.”

For a tour of the app and more on Jackson’s perspective, here’s a video interview with AllThingsD’s Ina Fried:


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