Android Expert Profiles

How I Use Android: Franco.Kernel and Focus creator Francisco Franco

One of Android's most eclectic developers walks us through his own personal smartphone setup -- including a surprising admission about his primary device.

How I Use Android: Francisco Franco

These days, most Android devices work pretty well out of the box -- but that doesn't mean you can't get under the hood and do some serious tinkering if your inner geek demands it.

From the get-go, Android's been a virtual playground for power users, with a fully accessible file system and the ability to take complete control over a device. Just like other Linux-based operating systems, Android allows you to gain root access and do some insanely advanced customizations (assuming, of course, you know what you're doing and don't mind taking the associated risks; remember, that which is prodded can easily be punctured).

If you're among those who enjoy heading into Android's engine room and doing a little fine-tuning, Francisco Franco is probably a name you know. Franco is the developer behind the beloved Franco.Kernel, a custom kernel that makes it possible to boost a device's performance while also optimizing its power consumption. (A kernel, in the simplest layman's terms, is a core part of the operating system that handles memory management and other performance-related areas.)

Franco doesn't just create tools for the power user crowd, though: In recent months, he's branched out into more general purpose apps -- like Focus, a custom gallery app with advanced features and a lovely design, and 5217, a simple app intended to help increase your productivity and mental well-being. (Both apps are joint efforts with designer Liam Spradlin, the creative mind behind the visuals of Nova Launcher as well as a certain stunning logo you might recognize.)

Between his power-user utilities and his carefully considered mainstream apps, Franco is quickly becoming a developer worth watching. So naturally, I thought it'd be interesting to see how a guy with his hands in so many parts of Android uses the platform himself.

Turns out there are a few surprises.

In his own words, this is how Francisco Franco uses Android.

The basics

Your current primary phone: You had to start with the hardest question! You realize this'll put a mark on my back...but here goes: It's an iPhone 6S. Yeah, an Android developer using an iPhone as the primary device is almost unheard of (or so you'd think -- there are other iShills around the indie development community). :)

Seriously, though, I use it for four reasons: I use OS X (I guess macOS now?) as my primary machine, and I like to be able to use Messages to send and receive SMS/iMessages while working without having to be bothered to pick up my device. I know, I know: Pushbullet offers something similar -- and trust me, I used it for a while when I had Androids as primary devices -- but with all its qualities, it's never been as reliable as the OS X-iOS integration.

The next reason is really simple: When I'm out of my apartment, I don't want to be constantly "working" and evaluating apps or finding bugs here and there. I just want to leave and have a clear head.

My last two reasons are the camera and touch responsiveness/latency. The iPhone's camera is a no-brainer. It's not the best camera in the market, but it's one of the most reliable ones. I can just take it out, point, shoot, and it'll look awesome. Even the 6P with its amazing camera is not nearly as reliable.

With touch responsiveness and latency, it's hard to measure, but the time the controller takes to react to touch inputs feels faster on the iPhone than on any Android device I've ever tried, and that's really important to me.

What case is on your phone (if any): Yes, I use a big bulky case -- NASA-grade aluminum in the outside...

Okay, seriously -- I hate cases. I don't use any on any device. I'm very, very careful with everything I own (I'm a big paranoid, I admit), so everything is in pristine condition even though there are no cases anywhere.

Your current tablet (if any): I have all Nexus tablets, but I honestly don't use any as much as I should. I used the N10 for a while after it was introduced because, dayum, that display -- but the lack of proper content or a dedicated UI always turned me off.

I use the Nexus 9 for testing apps and sometimes reading, but even after installing the Android N preview, I don't have any motivation to use the tablet. The multi-window thing doesn't solve the problem; it just adds a Band-Aid (though I do think it's a great feature nonetheless). Chrome being so laggish on Android is a major turn off as well.

Your current smartwatch (if any): I use the Apple Watch because I need it for a project I'm currently in, and I think it's important to have a whole picture of the ecosystem. I like it but don't think it's very pretty, and it still has a lot of software problems.

Design-wise, I think the Moto 360 is the watch I like the most, and the Huawei Watch comes right next (I have one, too, and love it). But I don't think we need smartwatches. It's just a novelty and to show off. Though I have to admit, I always wanted to be like Inspector Gadget and answer calls on my wrist!

What face you're using on your watch right now: Apple Watch's faces are really boring. I think I'm using the stock one with a couple complications.

On the Huawei Watch, I use the Google Fit watch face. I like how it looks. But I'm really boring -- I mostly stick to low-profile watch faces if I can.

The home screen

A quick walk-through of your phone's home screen setup: I'll walk through both iPhone and Android home screens since I use both platforms.

My iPhone screen is very basic: I tend to use the same arrangement that Apple does on their product shots. I only changed the Music app icon to Spotify. I'm a very, very boring user and a bit OCD about using the devices as close as possible to what the companies intended them to look like in their promo shots.

Francisco Franco Home Screen (1)

My Nexus 6P screen (my main development device) also uses the same icon positions as stock. I only remove the "Create" folder (I hate the productivity apps on Android), move the "Play" folder to a new location, put the Play Store icon inside "Play," and put a Settings shortcut on the home screen (because I go to Settings a lot).

Francisco Franco Home Screen (2)

I have a dedicated folder with my some of my apps, too, because I access them all the time. I hate widgets and random icons flying around. I also only have one page. Yes, I'm very OCD about these things. :)

Francisco Franco Home Screen (3)

What launcher you're using: Focusing on Android -- drumroll -- I use the Google Now Launcher! Yes, very frickin' original. I love it. I don't need any custom feature present on any custom launcher; I really like the idea of "keeping it simple stupid."

What wallpaper you're using: On my 6P, I use a wallpaper from the app Plastexo. On my iPhone, I use a wallpaper called "Jet in Carina" from InterfaceLift. I really enjoy abstract/nature/space pictures for wallpapers; I can't stand people or faces (especially a picture of myself).

Anything else of note (interesting customizations, special icons, etc): There are absolutely no groundbreaking changes on how I customize my Android phones. Since I'm an app developer (and build custom kernels, too), I need to have a stable and "un-derped" ROM, and I don't have the patience to apply icon packs or themes.

Stock is the best ROM in the world: It never gets in the way, and I trust the Android team more than any other developer in the world.

You can see a trend here: I'm the most boring user in the world. I dare you to find someone more boring than me in this regard. :)

The experience and the apps

What's one of your favorite Android-related tips or tricks?

Now we're talking! This isn't for everyone, and it may sound obvious, but I wouldn't be able to live without ADB and Fastboot.

For folks who don't know what it is, ADB is the Android Debug Bridge. It's a very powerful binary that lets you access your phone from your computer's terminal to do all sorts of magical commands.

It's very powerful, and you should use it with responsibility. You can do basically everything with it: installing APKs, disabling services, modifying permissions, remounting partitions. It even makes it possible to develop apps wirelessly with some simple commands. I think you get the point. It's heaven for a developer, and it can be a lifesaver for a normal user (always using it responsibly).

Fastboot makes flashing system images so much frickin' easier than using custom recoveries with flashable ZIPs. Owning phones without unlockable bootloaders should be forbidden, and I've sent phones back that don't have the ability for me to use Fastboot reliably to do whatever I want, such as flashing a custom boot.img (kernel + ramdisk) or flashing another baseband. The list goes on. It's again a very powerful tool and it should not be used lightly.

Beyond the obvious stock Google programs, a few apps you can't live without right now (and a quick word about why):

I really like to use the apps I build. For example, my Franco.Kernel Updater really helps me change kernel settings on my devices without the need to use a terminal or to flash new kernels on the go.

My latest app, 5217, really helped me get a grip of my work-break periods. I've used it ever since I launched it.

I absolutely love Plaid, an app by Nick Butcher which inspires me to build better Material Design on my apps.

I think my job as an app developer would be much harder without Pixolor and Keyline Pushing. Pixolor lets me figure out the color code of any pixel in the screen, and Keyline Pushing helps me make sure my layouts are properly aligned to the material grids.

For media management, I use both Google Photos (which has the best cloud service for media) and Focus, an app that Liam Spradin and I built from the ground up for local-store management of pictures, GIFs, videos, etc.

I wouldn't live without these apps, and they make my Android experience so much better!

Check out more Android expert profiles below or in the official Google+ collection -- and stay tuned for even more entries in the weeks to come!

Icons in title image courtesy of Freepik at flaticon.com.

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