If imitation is flattery, then CatLog has a secret admirer

When I first released CatLog last summer, my goal was to create a replacement for the dominant Logcat app, aLogcat. (“Logcat,” if you don’t know, is the somewhat cryptic name for Android’s system log, which is invoked by typing adb logcat in a shell. In a delicious pun, the Android team also lets you invoke it with adb lolcat.)

Around that time, I was on vacation in France, and I didn’t have access to a computer with an Android development environment. So when a problem came up in one of my apps, I tried using aLogcat instead. But aLogcat just wasn’t cutting it for me. It was clunky, difficult to read, and lacking in decent search/filter functionality. Just scrolling through the logs to try to pick out my own app from the others was a classic victory of the haystack over the needle.

When I got back to Seattle I was still unemployed, which meant I had a lot of time to burn. So I sat down at my laptop, and less than 24 hours of frenzied coding later, I had busted out my first version of CatLog. It didn’t have a lot of the cool features I ended up adding in future updates, but it would still beat aLogcat in a beauty contest:

aLogcat

CatLog

CatLog’s look and feel is inspired by Jeff Sharkey’s Colored Logcat script, which is a great way to view logs because the tags are color-coded, and because everything is organized into neat columns. CatLog is also easier to search than aLogcat, because the search bar is right on top of the screen, and it filters automatically as you type.

As far as additional features go, CatLog also records logs in the background, sends logs as text or attachments, and auto-scrolls when you’re at the bottom of the screen. aLogcat, by contrast, only lets you search through a cumbersome dialog box, it can only send logs as text, and it forces you to pause and unpause if you want to control the scrolling. It does the job, but in terms of usability, it leaves a lot to be desired. (Edit: aLogcat now supports auto-scrolling.)

Despite these shortcomings, aLogcat is still more popular than CatLog, and it comes up first in a search for “logcat”. That doesn’t bother me much, though, because I know I’ve written the best Logcat app for Android. You only have to play with each app for a few seconds to see the huge difference in presentation, features, and usability. aLogcat was first on the Android Market, and that’s probably what it owes much of its success to. But given enough time, I’m sure CatLog will pull ahead.

I got a little surprise a few weeks ago, though, when I noticed a new Logcat app on the market: LogViewer. I wondered if someone had finally improved upon CatLog – I love a good challenge! But as I played around with the app, I became more and more puzzled. LogViewer has far fewer features than CatLog, but the presentation is a dead-on imitation. Like CatLog, it has a cat in the icon. Like CatLog, it arranges everything in columns. And like CatLog, the search bar is on top of the screen, with “expand” and “clear” buttons to the side.

CatLog

LogViewer

I’m not angry at the developer for taking design cues from CatLog. After all, I modeled CatLog after Jeff Sharkey’s script, and the two look very similar (although his is a Python script and mine is an app). Also, I don’t really believe there’s anything wrong with borrowing someone else’s ideas to improve on them – human civilization is built off of this practice.

But what confuses me about LogViewer is that it doesn’t even improve upon CatLog in any way. It has far fewer features – no process id, no color-coded tags, no widget, no ability to delete saved logs, no ability to send logs as attachments, etc. And the only thing it adds is a big ad banner at the bottom, along with some text saying “Copyright 2011 ukzzang. All Rights Reserved.” (Nice use of the screen real estate, by the way. Heaven forbid someone should try to copy his app!)

I guess I just don’t see the point. Why would you go to the trouble of writing a Logcat app if it doesn’t improve on the competition? I suppose you can slap an ad banner on it and make a couple of cents that way, but having written an ad-supported app myself (Chord Reader), I can attest that ad revenue tends to be chump change unless your app is on par with Angry Birds in terms of popularity. (Chord Reader has over 11,000 active users, but it’s only earned about $60 since I released it 9 months ago. I’m thinking of just taking the ads out, since it’s not really worth it to ugly up the app.)

CatLog with menus

LogViewer with menus

My only hunch is that, since the author of LogViewer has written an “App Lock”-style app, he’s already had to deal with reading Logcat output (which is the way these sorts of apps work), so he figured he might as well write a Logcat app as well. And if that’s his reasoning, then fine. CatLog is still the best Logcat app on the Market, but if any of my users think to themselves, “Gee, I like CatLog, but I wish it had more ads,” well, they now have another option. I can’t argue against consumer choice, even though this particular choice seems a little silly to me.

There is one area, though, where I have to give LogViewer credit: its performance is pretty damn good. When I first tested it out, I noticed that its scrolling was much faster and smoother than CatLog’s. This made me realize that CatLog had some room for improvement in the speed department. So, spurred by this upstart new rival, I went back to the CatLog codebase and made some long-overdue optimizations that brought it up to roughly the same speed as its competitor. These changes are available starting in version 1.1.6.

So in this small way, at least, I tip my hat to CatLog’s secret admirer.

One response to this post.

  1. Good write-up.
    I tried the other app and it sucks!
    I’ll stick with CatLog.

    Reply

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