That Facebook button hanging out on the bottom like a beauty mark? You can use it for quick wall posts and check ins, but it’s also contextually aware, glowing whenever you’re doing something on your phone that can be shared on Facebook. The phone also has Facebook chat built-in with an HTC-designed widget showing your friends’ statuses.
Apparently the “Facebook phone” is here. In unrelated news, living in a cabin off the grid in Big Sur seems just a little more attractive this morning.
I’ve been watching the rollout of “Google+”, the new don’t-call-it-a-social-network from everyone’s favorite advocate of open. Since I’m not involved in the beta I can’t make direct comments, but thanks to longtime user interface designer Andy Hertzfeld (Apple fans know him as one of the original Mac OS guys), it really does look good. That’s not something I customarily say about Google products. The nerd comic XKCD made a more trenchant point, though: Google+ is “like Facebook but not Facebook,” and for some of the audience that would be enough.
This isn’t Google’s first attempt to move into the “social” space, of course; they recently rolled out the peculiar “+1” button that lets you indicate a search result or a web page that’s added the button is, um, one arbitrary unit better than other results or web pages. (I presume this came from the habit of people showing agreement in comments by replying “+1.” We can be glad Google didn’t name the service “This.”) And “social” in various guises has run through a lot of Google products: not just Buzz and Wave and Orkut before it, but the haphazardly integrated Mail and Talk and Voice.
Google is clearly trying to take on Facebook, but they’ve been trying to take on everyone. At various points they’ve been trying to compete with AIM, Wikipedia, PayPal, desktop email clients, Microsoft Office, PriceGrabber, YouTube (until they bought them), hosted blogging services, Flickr, MapQuest, desktop RSS readers, web portals (remember those?), and oh yes, search engines.
All these attempts are, of course, built on the back of the last. In terms of web search, there’s Google and there’s everybody else; their market share, at 65%, is more than four times that of their closest competitor. Google is basically making the bet that by putting everything you need in front of your face, you’re going to stick with them rather than use their competitors.
This isn’t, on its face, much different from what Microsoft did a little over a decade ago to promote Internet Explorer. This gets described as Microsoft trying to “kill” Netscape by “locking them out,” but what Gates & Company did was devious mostly in its simplicity. They just started to ship Internet Explorer as part of Windows, making its icon appear on the desktop by default. Nothing prevented users from installing Netscape Communicator or another competing browser, and it was easy to make the IE icon go away.¹ Microsoft’s bet was simply that You, the General Public, were mostly too damn lazy to do that and would use what they set in front of you if it was good enough. It worked. Never bet against lazy. IE’s share of the browser market went from 20% to 75% in three years, and kept climbing.
Yet the way this tale is typically told neglects the inconvenient truth that Microsoft deviously tricked us all into using what was, at least until Firefox 1.0, a genuinely better product. Netscape Navigator 4’s rendering engine was slow in general, even worse on tables (which were being used for page layout, not just little charts, at that point), and as Cascading Style Sheets started to take off, Navigator just completely went to shit: pages rendered incorrectly, sometimes to the point of being unreadable. We all tend to focus on the things Microsoft screws up—the security bug of the week, how much we hate the ribbon UI—but most of their software, most of the time, at least rises to that all-important “good enough” level. In more than a few cases, their software was better than the competition in the ways that ended up mattering.
Likewise, being better than the competition is how Google got where they are now. They were better than the search engines that came before them. People moved to Gmail because it’s better than other free email systems.
I’ve said before that I don’t think Apple wants to be the next Microsoft, they want to be the next Sony. Google wants to be the next Microsoft. In Google’s vision—and I think they’re correct in this—the focus of computing has moved from the personal computer to the network, and they want to be the glue that ties it all together. They want to be where you not only search but communicate and plan and share and work. Like Microsoft, they’d rather you be there by choice—but they’ll be perfectly happy if you’re there because you’re too lazy to go anywhere else.
The problem is that so far Google just hasn’t been very good at it. They’re always fast followers and sometimes genuinely innovative, but with rare exceptions they just don’t make good products.
So far, I think they’ve believed, not that they’d ever put it this way, that they didn’t really need to make good products. Most of what they do is released under the principle that it’s bringing some amazing new thing to the task at hand—something that could only be done by shoving the task in question into the browser—and that all the old functionality you’re losing in the shift is largely incidental. Gmail’s big innovation was giving you lots of free storage and telling you to “archive” instead of delete. (Some would argue that replacing folders with topic keywords is a great innovation, but I see them as two separate things.) Google Docs is great for collaboration, but little else. Google Reader is more useful as a syncing service for RSS readers than it is for actually reading RSS feeds. And for some of their other services, there’s little innovation other than, well, just happening to be on Google. “You’ll use this because you’re already using our search site and mail program and it’s just one more click. You can leverage your Google Contacts to get up and running on this new thing quick. And we’re not evil, by which we mean ‘not Facebook.’”
While I’ll cop to being cynical about Google+, it has a good chance of taking off. Whether it has a good chance of dethroning Facebook is another question entirely. Just like Google search is sufficiently “good enough” that it’s really damn hard for Microsoft to make inroads with Bing, for the kinds of people who use Facebook—over ten percent of the world’s population²—Facebook is clearly “good enough.” Never bet against lazy—but unless it becomes easier to get to Google+ than it is to get to Facebook, lazy still favors Facebook.
The elephant in the room? Google may get progressively more competent at being a monopolist. An awful lot of users actually get to Facebook through Google. While I can’t find a citation, anecdotal evidence suggests that bookmarks—like FTP, desktop email clients and punctuation—are increasingly only used by old-school nerds, and a lot of users “navigate” by just typing what they’re looking for, even domain names, into a search bar. In theory, just like Microsoft, shall we say, encouraged us all to just use IE by putting it prominently before us and making it a little more work to go get a competing browser, Google could make sure that Google Plus shows up prominently in search results for Facebook. That’s easy. The hard part would be avoiding a shitstorm that would make the Microsoft case look like something from Judge Judy.
Of course, “making the icon go away” didn’t actually remove Internet Explorer, which became a key point of contention in the antitrust trial.
Seriously. Facebook has around 750 million users—and that’s defined as someone who’s logged in within the last 30 days, so it minimizes inactive accounts—and the world has just under 7 billion people.
In a note issued early Monday, Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore is telling clients to expect both — an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 4S. As Whitmore sees it, an iPhone 4S that is unlocked, priced around $349, and comes with a pre-paid voice plan would “drive significantly greater penetration” into an addressable market that has grown to include 1.5 billion potential customers in 98 countries, two thirds of whom prefer pre-paid plans.
I think it’s pretty likely that Apple will move, sooner or later, to having a small line of iPhone models—not as much for the specific reason Whitmore cites above as to be able to have a “new item” way to move a little downmarket, rather than relying solely on selling the last generation. But “this is what I would do” doesn’t equate to “this is what my sources tell me Apple will do.” Whitmore is describing what he would do if he ran the zoo—fine enough, but that’s not the best basis for client advice, is it?
Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber wonders about the N9 and Meego:
It could be that in practice, the N9 and MeeGo are nowhere near as polished or useful as these demos make it seem. And maybe the problem is with the MeeGo APIs and developer tools — that they’re just not up to snuff with iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. I.e., it could be that the N9 will be a good phone out of the box — as compared to, say, an out-of-the-box iPhone or Android phone — but that MeeGo is not a competitive software platform. The whole point of these app phones is that you can add software to them.
This is mostly my take on this, too—Nokia’s development tools have historically been, well, a little wonky. (Anyone who’s used the Symbian tool chain understands that I am being very diplomatic, although Qt’s system is considerably nicer.) There’s one thing that’s been glossed over in the reporting, though—including my tidbit a few days ago when I dutifully relayed the same wrong bit everybody else is relaying.
From what I gather now, the Nokia N9 does not run MeeGo.
It’s being described as running “MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan,” but this was described at the MeeGo Conference last month a little differently:
Nokia is working on the release of a product this year, expected to raise the interest of the MeeGo community. It comes with an OS codenamed Harmattan that is API compatible with MeeGo 1.2. Let’s have a look at the peculiarities of Harmattan, and how to overcome them for the benefit of the MeeGo community.
From all appearances, Harmattan is essentially Maemo 6 with a MeeGo API compatibility layer. Maemo is the OS that Nokia was ostensibly replacing with MeeGo—we last saw it on the Nokia N900, a smartphone that’s the spiritual descendant of the old Nokia Communicator line.
Gruber wonders if Nokia’s CEO “determined that MeeGo would never have a competitive third-party library of apps.” I suspect he did determine that, but I think he also determined that MeeGo as it existed at the end of last year just wasn’t capable of moving the company forward. As a really fabulous article in Businessweek’s June 2nd issue called Stephen Elop’s Nokia Adventure pointed out, at the beginning of this year MeeGo was a shambles. That the N9 really isn’t a “pure MeeGo” device suggests that it’s, well, still kind of a shambles.
This still leaves Gruber’s last question—“why are they bothering to finish the N9 and ship this”—unanswered. Here’s a thought, though. We know the N9 is a testbed for the hardware design of their Windows Phone handsets. But it may also be a testbed for new user experience design.
Watchers all seem to be asking, “Why would Nokia put all that effort into making a cool-looking new user experience paradigm that they’re never going to use again?” The logical answer is: they wouldn’t. Will it be in Windows Phone Mango (or Papaya, or whatever)? The Businessweek article makes the point that Nokia’s deal with Microsoft lets them customize Windows Phone in ways other handset manufacturers can’t. Or maybe a successor to both MeeGo and Maemo from the “New Disruptions” skunkworks project? Who knows. But even though the N9’s OS is effectively a one-off, the genetics of its UX may be farther-reaching than we’re assuming right now.
A new “sci-fi action” comic by a friendly acquaintance of mine, drawn in Adobe Illustrator with a limited color palette to dazzling effect. A little retro-future, a little cyberpunk, and vibrantly weird. (And deliberately sized to be iPad-friendly, apparently.)
Ok, this one’s odd. In fact, we didn’t believe the images until a video just surfaced showing Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, foolishly asking a crowd of people to “put away their cameras” for the unveiling of something “super confidential,” codenamed “Sea Ray.” Naturally, a few people ignored the plea for “no pictures please” and, indeed, someone leaked what appears to be a Nokia-produced video of the unveiling to the blogosphere. What is it? Why, it’s Nokia’s first Windows Phone.
The one word in the preceding paragraph I would argue with is “foolishly.” I would bet my N8† that Elop was thinking Somebody better still have their phone out.
Edit: After looking at the video, this was very clearly not shot on somebody’s phone camera. Unless this was sent around internally to everyone at the company, it’s hard not to wonder if this isn’t a very orchestrated “leak.” (In pre-Elop days I’d assume that it was sent around to everyone in the company, but I wouldn’t make that assumption now.)
An upcoming HTML5 animation tool from Adobe. I don’t know how it compares to the recently-released (and Mac only) Hype, but the Edge demo on YouTube repeatedly makes the point about how standards-compliant it is.
Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM) has lost so much value that an acquirer could pay a 50 percent premium and still buy the BlackBerry maker for a lower multiple than any company in the industry.
Make sense so far.
Given how significant the deterioration of the stock price has been, that alone will cause interest,” said Paul Taylor, who oversees $14.5 billion, including RIM shares, as chief investment officer at BMO Harris in Toronto. “RIM still has meaningful market share in the U.S. and meaningful market share internationally, and RIM has an iconic brand.”
Okay, I guess.
Among potential acquirers, Microsoft could build its share in smartphones and gain a device to complement its Windows Phone 7 mobile-phone platform, said BMO Harris’s Taylor.
Microsoft has made it quite clear they’re betting on Nokia to save Windows Phone, and—over the objection of the loud wailing of the Symbian fans who are convinced this is a horrible, horrible mistake—vice versa. What the hell does Taylor think Microsoft would do? Put Windows Phone 7 on RIM hardware? For that to make any sense they’d have to tie it into the whole BlackBerry Email Server, and wait, that still doesn’t make any sense. Nokia is going to have Windows Phone hardware out considerably sooner than any Microsoft/RIM alliance† could—and say what you will about the N9’s odd swipe-to-switch UI, Nokia really does have some of the best industrial designers in the business. Think about an N9 running Windows Phone “Mango,” then think about a BlackBerry Torch running it, and think about which one you see people actually leaving the store with.
Dell is less crazy to the degree that they don’t have an existing phone business to overturn. I mean, yes, technically, they sell phones, but nobody uses them. I’m not sure anyone who doesn’t work for Dell or a gadget site even knows they sell phones. I could possibly—possibly—see that happening. But Microsoft?
To be fair, not all analysts are idiots. Walter Todd at Greenwood Capital, quoted in the same Bloomberg piece:
“It’s easy to say the stock is cheap and somebody should buy it,” said Todd. “In reality, the options are a lot less than people think. You see them missing the boat and being killed by Apple and Google’s Android. It’s hard to catch up when you miss the boat.”
I’d actually use a different nautical metaphor for RIM—I’d go with Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s “burning platform.” Whether or not one agrees with the way Elop jumped, it’s at least understandable. RIM’s response has been to break out the marshmallows.
†I really wanted to say “job” here. Don’t hate me.
Ben Brooks linked to this Business Insider piece by Jay Yarow claiming that RIM’s PlayBook didn’t ship with native email support “because its architecture can’t support two devices with one person’s account.” What’s not obvious unless you follow the link is that it’s not the PlayBook’s architecture that’s lacking, it’s the server-based BlackBerry email system itself.
Here’s how our source explains it: “The BlackBerry Email System server has the concept of one user = one device.” When RIM built its system it didn’t see ahead to realize there would be a time when a user could have a smartphone and a tablet.
I don’t blame RIM for not foreseeing a time when a user could have both a smartphone and a tablet, but this is not foreseeing a time when a user might have any reason at all to access their email through BlackBerry’s secure mail system other than one and only one registered device. I understand that this (theoretically) makes the system more secure—the BlackBerry becomes, in effect, its own hardware dongle—but I have to wonder: is this really the first time that this issue has come up for RIM, or just the first time that they couldn’t blow it off?
Mobile news site PocketNow reports on Nokia’s first MeeGo-based phone, which is said to be set for a formal unveiling in a few hours. It’s extremely similar in appearance to the Nokia N8. I’ve heard that it’s going to be the only MeeGo-based device from Nokia announced this year—and since we can expect Nokia hardware running Windows Phone by the end of this year, I imagine that means there’s a non-zero chance this will be the only MeeGo-based device from Nokia announced, period.
If you follow the link to PocketNow, helpful hint: the article is the big box with the picture of the phone in it. No, not that box, the other box. No, the other other box. Go down. Down a little more. See the box to the left? Yes, that’s it. Seriously, I’m not sure they could make their layout more difficult without making their body font Zapf Dingbats.
Free Software pundit Eric Raymond, preaching on the report that Apple “has filed for a patent on a system for disabling the video camera on an iPhone or iPad when its user attempts to film a concert or other interdicted live event”:
On their past record, can there be any doubt of Apple’s willingness to quietly slipstream this technology into a future release of iOS, leaving its victims unaware that their ability to record a police action or a political demonstration is now conditional on whether the authorities have deployed the right sort of IR flasher to invisibly censor the event?
Um, yes. Yes, Eric, there can be doubt.
Raymond’s argument about Apple’s past record is buried in the comments:
DRM. Their whole corporate history indicates a willingness to design iPhones and iPads so they are instruments of RIAA/MPAA control rather than the purchaser’s.
Sigh. Okay, let’s actually look at their whole corporate history. Apple’s CEO has stated in the past that the reason Apple doesn’t do subscription services like Spotify is that he believes people want to own their music. Is the fact that they started out offering DRM-encumbered music at odds with that? In part, yes—but at the time, the choice was offering music with DRM or not offering music at all. The iTunes Music Store was successful where others had failed because iTunes’ DRM was far and away the least onerous: music was keyed to an iTunes account, up to five computers could be linked to that account and an unlimited number of devices could be linked to it through the computers. Neither iTunes nor any Apple device had to “re-authorize” playback; the media you’d bought couldn’t be “de-authorized” by Apple, and they couldn’t mysteriously go back onto your device to delete it (hello, Amazon).
And from very early on, Apple was apparently campaigning behind the scenes to get rid of DRM. They weren’t the first DRM-free music store, but they were certainly instrumental in getting major record companies to back off DRM, first by getting EMI to agree to the iTunes Plus format—higher bitrate and no DRM—which in turn set the stage for Amazon’s DRM-free music store.
There’s something important to note here: I saw arguments at the time that Apple had no compelling business interest in supporting DRM, but by the time the Amazon MP3 store opened, Apple had such a commanding lead in both the MP3 player and digital download markets that arguably Apple had a very compelling business interest in supporting DRM: vendor lock-in. By getting rid of DRM, they would make it possible for you to take your music to any software/hardware combination that could play AAC files.
And they did it anyway. This strongly suggests that Jobs was not blowing smoke out his ass when he said that he felt people wanted to own their own music.
Apple still sells DRM-encumbered media, to be sure—movies and TV shows. But again, this is due to the content providers: it’s either sell (or rent) them with DRM or not sell them at all. The Eric Raymonds of the world argue that this is proof positive that Apple is evil. I’d argue that this is proof positive that Apple is pragmatic. If people like Raymond ran Apple, there would never have been an iTunes Store. If there had never been an iTunes Store, there wouldn’t be an Amazon MP3 Store, either. Raymond is a radical of a certain stripe, and in some ways that’s a good thing—but nearly all radicals of nearly all stripes tend to regard compromise as pure evil. With all respect to the radicals of the world, this is why you guys tend to never actually get shit done.
So what aboutApple’s patent here? What’s actually being addressed in the patent is using a phone’s camera to
…determine whether each image detected by the camera includes an infrared signal with encoded data. If the image processing circuitry determines that an image includes an infrared signal with encoded data, the circuitry may route at least a portion of the image (e.g., the infrared signal) to circuitry operative to decode the encoded data.
This could be used in museums, for instance, to trigger a display of information about what the camera’s pointed at, or to get tourist information from a display stand in a town square or a theme park. And, yes, the patent does suggest the signal could be used to “disable the recording functions of devices.” The examples actually listed in the patent are all about museums, which gives us some insight into what the inventors were actually thinking—they’re imagining “photography prohibited” signs at MOMA.
Naturally, that doesn’t mean that the nefarious uses Raymond imagines for this technology aren’t possible. (If this were deployed, they would almost certainly happen, in fact—that’s simply the way of technology.) However, using the methods in this patent to restrict device functionality are less practical than using them to enhance device functionality. In the latter case, it’s an added bonus you get for having an iThing; it’s the former case, it’s a penalty for having an iThing, at least to the exclusion of other portable cameras. As a company which is primarily interested in selling you iThings, which of those do you think Apple would have a stronger interest in promoting?
Lastly, Raymond is, of course, setting up Google as “less evil” than Apple. Again from the comments:
Google—so far—doesn’t have a history that indicates a willingness to seize control of Android handsets in order to protect someone’s DRM. So, even though Apple and Google both have products that are DRMed, Google is objectively less evil about it.
What exactly has Apple done to “seize control” of my iPhone? Raymond’s argument seems to be, as expressed still later in comments, that “Apple’s closed source means I never had control of my handset in the first place”: in other words, it’s the same specious reasoning used by Richard Stallman to argue that running Microsoft Windows is slavery. Right then. It doesn’t matter that Google has actually remotely deleted Android apps, and somehow Google’s business model—in which users like Raymond are manifestly not Google’s customer, and are arguably part of what Google is actually selling to their real customers—is seen as more conducive to liberty. I think that’s extremely short-sighted—but Google has mastered the language of open, and for people like ESR, so far that’s enough.
There’s a lot of anecdotal “iOS vs. Android for developers” stories out there, but this might be the best one I’ve seen because you don’t get the impression the author is rooting for one side to “win.” This is a textbook definition of a backhanded compliment, though:
Battleheart for Android has become a meaningful source of revenue, and has proven that the platform isn’t a waste of time. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that a polished, high quality product is more likely to be embraced on Android than on iOS because the quality bar on the android market is so pathetically low.
His main criticism of the Android Market actually has to do with the mechanics of selling and support. In exchange for Draconian Control™ Apple handles all the billing issues for you, but Google makes you responsible for those. And apparently the AM has “innate technical problems” which cause installation issues for one or two percent of the buyers. (I do wonder how much of that is user error, mind you—reading reviews on Apple’s app store makes one suspect that some people have the innate technical problem of being idiots, which not even Google and Apple working together could address.)
They do make some interesting observations about “fragmentation” which are in line with what I’ve suspected about it for a while—namely, that it’s mostly a matter of adjusting application displays to differing screen resolutions. That may be a challenge at times, but it’s not like it’s a brand new dilemma in the computing field that nobody’s developed strategies for dealing with before. (I actually suspect what critics describe as fragmentation among Android devices is a purposeful strategy, but that’s a separate topic.)
Daring Fireball links somewhat offhandedly to Sepia Labs as “Brent Simmons’ new gig.” Following the link reveals that it’s not only Brent Simmons’ new gig, it’s Nick Bradbury’s new gig, too.
Mac users know—or should know—Simmons’ work as the creator of NetNewsWire and MarsEdit, for a long time the best RSS reader and blog editor, respectively, on the platform. (I’d say MarsEdit, now developed by Daniel Jalkut, is still the best at what it does; for me, NetNewsWire has been eclipsed by Reeder, but that may yet change back.) Bradbury created the best RSS reader on Windows, FeedDemon—and before that, authored HomeSite and its spiritual successor TopStyle. HomeSite was far and away the best “code-centric” HTML editor that I’ve ever used, and for years it was the thing that I missed the most when I switched back from Windows to the Mac in the late 90s. It’s hard to describe how cool HomeSite was, but the best way I can describe it to Mac nerds: take Panic’s Coda with its live previews and built in reference documentation, then give it BBEdit’s text editing engine. It’s only a mild exaggeration to say I owe my career to HomeSite.
At any rate, I can’t wait to see just what it is they’re working on; they describe their forthcoming app, “Glassboard,” as a social sharing app that takes privacy seriously (the tagline is “know who you’re sharing with”).
(Factoid: when I got my first Mac I wrote to Allaire and asked them if there was any chance that they could port HomeSite to the Mac. They wrote back and explained that HomeSite was written in Borland Delphi and was thus completely unportable—and suggested I should check out BBEdit instead.)
It’s remarkable how long it’s taking the industry to get its collective act together in seriously challenging the iPad. I’ve come to tentatively conclude that it’s simply because nobody took the iPad seriously at first: from its initial press conference up until the day it started shipping, we were treated to a nonstop series of articles from pundits and industry bigwigs telling us how useless it was and how Apple had finally gone entirely off the rails. Anyone who even thought it would be mildly successful—let alone who suggested the iPad was a harbinger of casual computing’s future—was clearly a fanboy. As it turned out, though, the fanboys were right, and everyone else seems to still be scrambling to play catchup.
(“Casual computing.” Is that actually a thing? If it isn’t, I think it should be.)
DC and Marvel’s flagship titles don’t have narrative arcs anymore. If you believe the two biggest comic publishers on Earth, the life of a superhero is incident after nightmarish incident, with no logical progression. And not even death can end the eternal parade of horrors, because dead heroes get only get a few precious months of rest before their hideously contrived resurrections.
What Resnikoff gets at is that building a publishing business around characters who must ultimately be tied to a given set of behaviors and places and themes requires that nothing that happens to the characters has consequence over the long run. Batman and Spiderman not only can’t ever stay dead, they can’t ever fundamentally change. They’re little different from most newspaper comic strips or the “Archie” titles in that regard, but they don’t want to be seen that way—so instead they put their characters through elaborately torturous mega-plots every decade or so: "After Ultimate Crisis War, nothing will ever be the same again!" But the entire point is to make sure everything is the same again. And again. And again.
I tend to come down in favor of reboots but DC does them every five years. Part of the answer, to me at least, is not junking up your marquee titles by having 8 versions running at any given time with no discernible story arc and countless cross-title runs that are just shameless attempts to try to get people to buy titles they wouldn’t normally.
I agree with the latter part, but I suspect this only gets “fixed” by doing something way too radical to be considered. If Grant Morrison wants to tell an eight-issue story with Batman, he writes an eight-issue story with Batman which stands alone. Instead of handling the multiverse like a soap opera, handle it like a shared world. The only continuity you have to worry about is when stories flatly contradict one another, but issues #100–#103 of a title might tell a story that comes before the one in issues #97–#99 and the two have nothing to do with one another.
At any rate, Resnikoff asks the bottom line question that kept me from ever being a superhero comics collector, even though I was prime collecting age right around the time of some of the most vaunted titles like Watchmen and The Sandman (both of which, one should note, avoid these problems):
If you live forever and nothing fundamental in your circumstances can ever permanently change, how can anything mean anything? And if there’s no room for meaning, then why is your story worth telling?
Analyst Gene Munster reported the surprising-or-is-it tidbit that only 7% of iOS developers are also Mac developers, “down from 50% in 2008.” The first comment on The Loop is typical of the comments you get on this sort of survey:
The fact that the study was done on 45 people discredits it completely.
Also, percentages do not make any sense giving that the sample was inferior to 100. These numbers might be right (though highly imprecise), but they could also be totally wrong.
Let’s find out, shall we?
A lot of people—and I include myself—don’t understand statistical sampling very well. (Neither does Munster, as we’ll see in a moment.) This is one of those places where Wikipedia does a good job in presenting a high-level overview of the concept. The takeaway point is that for a given population size, desired level of confidence, and desired margin of error, you can compute a necessary sample size. You can solve for one of the other figures—say, you have the population size and the sample size, so you can determine the margin of error if you assume a 95% confidence rate (which seems to be pretty standard).
The formulas make my head spin, but fortunately a nice group called the Research Advisors has made a table for us, with a downloadable spreadsheet. You usually want a margin of error to be within a few percent—what “margin of error” means, after all, is that if you say something is 10% likely with a 2% margin of error, it’s actually 8% to 12% likely. (There are some interesting things about statistical sampling you can notice from the chart, the most fascinating one being that the bigger the population the less percentage you need to sample for a statistically valid result.)
Plug in Munster’s sample size of 45 for a population of 5,000, and you determine that for a 95% confidence level, he has a rather remarkable 14.5% margin of error. So—yes, this is close to statistically meaningless.
But wait—actually, it’s not quite that accurate.
The figures above are for probability sampling, in which (quoting our friend Wikipedia) “every unit in the population has a chance (greater than zero) of being selected in the sample, and this probability can be accurately determined.” If you want to survey a million people, you can talk to just sixteen thousand of them and get a margin of error around 1% at 99% confidence if your sample is systematically selected. But if you just wander out into the street and talk to the first 16,000 people you meet, you’re doing convenience sampling, not systematic sampling. You’ve only learned about those sixteen thousand people.
Guess which of these Munster was doing. That’s right, you win a statistically random jelly bean! (It’s purple, within a 5% margin of error.)
It’s not that his extremely damn anecdotal data isn’t interesting, but don’t let anyone spin it as if it were a sign of the decline of the Mac. It may be a sign that at this point there are a lot of mobile developers who are only developing for mobile platforms, and a couple years ago iOS developers were often Mac developers moving into the mobile space.
If you fondly remember the old IBM “Model M" keyboards from the early PC days—with the loud "buckling spring" mechanical switches—you should know that the keyboards are still being made by a tiny company in Kentucky called Unicomp. They’ve changed the designs as little as possible over the years, beyond adding Windows keys and a USB connection.
Recently, though, they’ve made one more change—they’ve introduced a version of the keyboard for the Mac. This doesn’t look like it’s just relabeling a few keys—it has the same keys as the new Apple keyboards, including the “Function” modifier key to access multimedia and Exposé/Dashboard keys.
I have an older Unicomp keyboard, which works just fine, but I may save up for this model. While the Matias Tactile Pro 3, a reincarnation of the Apple Extended Keyboard (which used mechanical switches from Alps Electronics), has its fans, Matias seems to have a reputation for somewhat spotty build quality and the TP3 is 50% more expensive. Also, if you drop the SpaceSaver M on the Tactile Pro 3, it’s clear who’d win.
“The story of L.A. Noire concerns a psychopathic cop named Cole Phelps, a man who inappropriately commandeers cars from civilians, steals outright any car that is left unattended, frequently destroys private property, and enjoys running over civilians. Despite his recklessness, Phelps becomes the most speedily promoted police officer in constabulary history.”—Tom Bissell, Grantland
MacRumors reports that Apple has “borrowed” iOS 5’s wi-fi syncing ability from an app rejected in April 2010. I’m going out on a limb here, Apple apologist and all that, but I’m betting that (1) the app was simply a wireless equivalent to the USB syncing that iTunes already did, and didn’t involve syncing with a remote data center and keeping multiple devices synced (hopefully) seamlessly, which is what Apple’s new system is all about; and (2) Apple was working on iCloud and associated paraphernalia back then and ultimately rejected the app because they didn’t want to deal with the possible headaches created when users tried to use both the third-party solution and the new native solution simultaneously. You know that would happen and when it turned people’s data stores into new “Will It Blend!” videos, they’d blame Apple.
Is it a coincidence that the Apple Wi-Fi Sync icon is almost identical to the one that Hughes had a designer create for him last year? Check out Hughes’ icon below at left, and Apple’s new icon at right.
Okay—again, this is wild speculation—but this is not a coincidence. See, the icon Apple has always been using for wi-fi is the little wedge with the wavy lines, and the icon Apple has always been using for syncing is the two arrows in a circle. Darned if you won’t see the former in the icon for “AirPort Utility” and the latter in the icon for “iSync.”
Now, I suppose you could argue that Apple should have looked at the other program’s icon and said, “Damn, they’ve already appropriated our existing icons for this, so we’d better come up with something entirely different so that way nobody accuses us of appropriating this guy’s icon.”
Nokia’s CEO gets a lot of flak—particularly from Nokia partisans who hate hate hate him—but I have to admit that I like him. He’s a surprisingly great speaker, and he’s not afraid to take big risks that, well, get a lot of people hating him. His critics predicting that he’ll take Nokia down in flames may well prove to be right, but they refuse to understand that Nokia was already going down.
(Okay, I like Elop with one caveat: he’s the reason I was laid off. As far as I’m concerned he at least owes me a drink.)
A lot of the net is already buzzing about MacRumors’ piece on this—the new App Store guidelines have dropped the stipulation that media content for iOS apps has to be made available through Apple’s IAP, and that it has to be offered at the same price or less through IAP than it is offered outside. The only restriction left is that links to external stores are prohibited. The Kindle app is still technically out of compliance, but it can be fixed by removing the “go to store” link in the Kindle app. (We will have to remember Amazon’s URL all on our own.)
This answers the questions I had last week about the Kno reader, when I observed that it appeared to be in violation of Apple’s IAP guidelines—yet it was a new app that had just been approved. As for iFlow, the book reader app which announced as loudly as they possibly could that they were shutting down because Apple was putting them out of business, I’m mildly conflicted. Apple can be extremely poor at communicating with their developers and they certainly were in this case—iFlow shut down their business based on what’s now revealed to be a false premise. On the flip side, nobody actually forced iFlow to shut down at the end of May, or forced them to shout “Fuck You Apple!” at the top of their lungs while doing so. (Or forced them to try to build a business which was so entirely dependent on business models they had no control over: they were selling DRM-locked books using Adobe’s DRM scheme, and the real problem they faced under the IAP guidelines was the “agency” model where publishers get 70% of the list price. They never even suggested renegotiating with them; did iFlow actually deal with publishers at all, or was their store just a wrapper around someone else’s business model the same way their reader was?)
There are some comments on MacRumors that suggest this turnaround happened because publishers are starting to eye Android. That’s certainly possible—that’s part of what market competition is for, ideally, right?
Apple’s announcements yesterday about OS X 10.7 pricing (cheap), upgrading (easy), iOS 5, and iCloud storage, syncing, and media service can all be viewed as increasing ease of use, but from the perspective of Apple CEO Steve Jobs they perform an even more vital function — killing Microsoft.
Uh huh. And why is this a vital function?
The incumbent platform today is Windows because it is in Windows machines that nearly all of our data and our ability to use that data have been trapped. But the Apple announcement changes all that. Suddenly the competition isn’t about platforms at all, but about data, with that data being crunched on a variety of platforms through the use of cheap downloaded apps. What this requires from Apple is a bold move that Microsoft would never make: Jobs is going to sacrifice the Macintosh in order to kill Windows.
And why would he possibly want to do that, Bob?
What happens once all our data is in that iCloud, is there any easy way to get it back out? Nope. It’s in there forever and we are captive customers — trapped more completely than Microsoft ever imagined.
Oh, for fuck’s sake, Bob.
This entire notion—parroted around the web in sometimes stupider form like Roy Tanck's cry, “It's all about the user alright, about boxing them in!”—rests on muddling up the notions of sync and storage. Or more fundamentally, copy and move.
If I save data into Apple’s current “iDisk” or Amazon’s S3, I am storing the data there. That’s it. That’s the one place that data is—off on somebody else’s server. If I want another copy of it under my control, that’s my responsibility.
However, if I put data into a Dropbox folder on my computer, the data is being synced between my machine, Dropbox’s server, and any other machines I have syncing to Dropbox. Dropbox has a copy of my data. I also have copies of my data.
See the difference, Bob? If S3 disappears, all the data I have in S3 goes away. If Dropbox disappears, I still have all my data.
Tanck makes the gloriously bizarre claim that iTunes Match, iMessage and Reminders are all there to lock you in. The elephant in the room Tanck’s ignoring? If you’re using Google Apps or Spotify or Remember the Milk, there is a switching cost—in time, if not money—to move from that to Apple’s equivalents. The assumption underlying his argument—and much of Cringely’s—is that we’ll all decide that the switching cost from what we have now to Apple’s equivalents is worth it, but that we’ll never decide the switching cost to move away from Apple’s equivalents to something else is worth it. But that assumption doesn’t make any sense. I use Postbox instead of Apple Mail, friends use Firefox instead of Safari, and you can bet I’m not switching to Reminders from OmniFocus.
Given my current understanding of iCloud, you don’t actually access it like a drive at all—it “pushes” the data you store in it to your iCloud-enabled devices. In other words, it’s more like Dropbox than it is like Amazon Cloud Drive.¹ Amazon’s approach makes it possible to have your data only in the Cloud. With all respect to Amazon’s studly server farm, I really prefer Apple’s approach here.
Ultimately, Bob Cringely’s big error isn’t about clouds and lock-in. It’s about believing that Apple actually cares about killing Windows. Apple’s aiming to be the next Sony, not the next Microsoft, and any pundit who hasn’t figured that out by now has to have been sleeping through the last decade.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Dropbox just appears as a folder on desktop machines; iCloud doesn’t by design, so they’re not really replacements for one another. The open question for me about “Documents in the Cloud” is how accessible local copies of documents will be on your Mac/PC.
While iMessage is clearly aimed at being the iOS version of BlackBerry Messenger, there’s an important tidbit I think some of the critics “meh”-ing at it are missing: it’s not a separate app from the existing “Messages” (SMS) app. The reports I’ve read on it suggest it’s basically passive: if you send a message to somebody who’s using an iOS device, you’ll use iMessage; otherwise, you’ll use SMS.
Assuming that is the way it works, it doesn’t matter that GTalk already exists and that there are other apps which do more or less what iMessage does. It doesn’t matter that it’s a proprietary protocol that only works with Apple products. Everyone who has an iOS device and texts with at least one other person who also has an iOS device is going to be using iMessage.
A lot of the focus is on iOS 5 right now, and that’s understandable. Post-PC era and all that, yes. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced the real bold leaps Apple announced yesterday aren’t on your iThing. They’re back on OS X.
See, iOS 5 is largely about crossing off more bullet points on the “my phone can do something your iPhone can’t!” list. And it does a pretty good job of that. But no matter how many individual components of Lion you can find antecedents for elsewhere, they form a whole that we haven’t seen before. Some of these antecedents—silent file auto0save, saving and restoring the whole application state on relaunch, an OS-level full screen API—are clearly from iOS. Some of them—automatic versioning of all files!—are from much geekier places. Some of them, like Mission Control, remind you of other things, but in an almost abstract fashion.
But when I put them together, I get the impression that the doomsayers crying that iOS means the death of OS X are simultaneously right and profoundly missing the point. OS X isn’t being dumbed down, it’s being radically reshaped. A recurring comment about the iPad was that the UI “disappears” when you’re using it—Apple is working at bringing that to OS X.
To put it another way: iOS 5 is about making your friend with the Droid mumble, “Yeah, but you still don’t have widgets.” Lion is about upending a quarter-century of expectations about how PCs behave.
There’s more than enough coverage on the web about various things Apple announced today, so I won’t belabor all those points. But I’ve been seeing a lot of comments that are all sniping at various things in iOS that we’ve seen elsewhere. Functionality similar to Instapaper or Dropbox, or, “Apple steals from their own developers!” A notification system that looks pretty similar to Android’s, or “Apple steals from Google!” A new messaging system similar to BBM, or “Apple steals from RIM!”
Okay, look: a true argument is not necessarily a strong argument. Being the first mover on a given feature only makes a big difference if it’s a feature that a significant number of customers consider a make-or-break feature. It doesn’t matter that Android had a sane notification system before iOS did. If you’re presented with three phone models with three different operating systems that all do notifications in about the same way, is your decision going to come down to “that one had a notification center before the other two?” If so, I wish you and your Nokia N95 well. Godspeed.
But the history of personal computing is a history of functional consolidation. Tasks that start out as standalone third-party applications and end up truly being “must-haves” eventually get addressed by new features in other applications or the operating system.
Before Spotlight, you’d need somebody else’s search utility to find files quickly on a Mac. (Older Mac users would remember Sherlock 3—which effectively knifed the third-party program Watson, with similar fevered outrage.) Before Spaces, there were other virtual desktop programs. Email programs certainly didn’t come with your operating system fifteen years ago. Three decades ago, “spellchecker” was its own application category—then it moved into the word processor, and today has moved into the operating system itself. And lest we forget, the crux of the antitrust suit filed against Microsoft in 1998 was their decision to ship Internet Explorer with Windows.
Does iCloud mean less business for Dropbox? Sure, but is that an argument against Apple creating a document syncing API? People have been rightfully complaining since the iPad was released that moving documents on and off the device through iTunes was a tremendous pain in the ass. A lot of people find iTunes to be a tremendous pain in the ass, period. Look, folks: the only way to get iTunes out of the picture is for the operating system to do something like what Dropbox does. What’s being argued—that Apple should have bought Dropbox as some kind of acknowledgement they were there first? That’s nuts. My suspicion is that iCloud won’t be able to do everything that Dropbox does (and vice-versa).
Does Safari’s “Reading List” mean the death of Instapaper? Probably not; Marco Arment makes that case pretty well.
The only thing I can guarantee you, though: this is going to keep happening, on all platforms, on all devices. Because it’s been happening for about three decades.
Last night, Kno quietly released its first digital textbook app for the iPad. It includes its own store of “over 70,000 titles at 30% to 50% off list” price. And the app is a full textbook reader.
The app looks great from the screen shots, but TechCrunch’s blurb fails to ask about the elephant in the room. Is Kno’s “own store” going through Apple’s In-App Purchase API or not?
From a little bit of playing around with the app, you have to have an account with Kno as well to purchase. And the tutorial that the app plays when you launch it tells you that if you go to Kno’s web store, you’ll have a bigger selection and greater savings. As a test, I searched on the web store for books by Greg Mankiw (in addition to being a blogger, Mankiw’s economics textbooks are college standards). His Principles of Economics 5th Edition shows up there, saying you can rent it—yes, rent—for six months for $119. (The hardcover on Amazon goes for $171 and the Kindle edition is $153; the full list price is a staggering $256.)
Trying to buy a book from O’Reilly in the Kno Textbooks app lets you buy it directly, and it definitely looks like it’s using Apple’s IAP. However, searching for the Mankiw book tells you “this book is available by request” and gives you a “Request Book” button; clicking that prompts you for an email address, with the notice “We’ll send you an email in 5 minutes to let you know when your book is ready.”
This appears to blatantly violate Apple’s guidelines:
All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app.
Yet it seems unlikely that Apple would approve an entirely new-to-the-store app that violates this policy less than a month away from the “shape up or ship out” deadline they gave developers earlier in the year. Either this somehow slipped under the radar—Apple’s reviewers didn’t even bother to launch the app before approving it—or whatever Kno is doing is okay with Apple.
Microsoft touts its upcoming OS as a jack of both trades: you can touch and swipe through books, news, and videos while carrying your tablet around the house or the park, then sit down at your desk and plug the tablet into a USB keyboard, external disk, or perhaps a dock or hub so you can really start cooking through some Excel or other demanding work.
[But] how thick and heavy must a Windows 8 tablet be to empower the touch computing of the future and yet shoulder the burden of the past 30 years of traditional computing? Where do we draw the tablet usability line when it comes to design, weight, and the very portability that defines the category?
I’ve noticed more than a few comments around the web about how insane the new concept from Flip founder Jonathan Kaplan is—a chain of grilled cheese restaurants called “The Melt,” starting in (surprise) San Francisco. I’m not sure that’s quite so crazy, though—Quizno’s entire empire is built on the premise of running sub-par subs through a conveyor toaster oven.
The more insane fact: there are at least two other restaurants in San Francisco already doing this, the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and the Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick. (And I’ll admit I’ve been to the latter a couple times, as they were right across the street from where I used to work.)
The cover story from this week’s Businessweek. Even if you’re not a Nokia fan, it’s pretty interesting stuff, getting into why they decided MeeGo was a no go (“Nokia was on track to introduce only three MeeGo-driven models before 2014”), why Windows Phone over Android, and the problems with Nokia’s very ossified internal culture and Symbian. It also reveals something that’s been hinted at but never stated so plainly before: Windows Phone is a stopgap, and former Symbian and MeeGo engineers are working to “find that next big thing that blows away Apple, Android, and everything we’re doing with Microsoft right now and makes it irrelevant—all of it.”
That particular attitude is why I thought at the end of last year that Nokia would never adopt anybody else’s OS. I’m glad to see I was wrong—but I’m also glad to see their end game is to not be dependent on someone else for innovation. (Especially when that someone else is Microsoft.)
I suspect the myriads of Nokia fanboys outside the U.S. will always hate Elop for knifing their creaky but beloved standard operating system and making a deal with the Redmond devil, but y’know, I seem to recall another company doing that around 1997. How’d that work out?
I didn’t predict the Apache Foundation specifically, but I figured Oracle would be likely to do this—they didn’t buy Sun for its free desktop software. MySQL’s fate is the bigger question.
I’m mildly puzzled by the LibreOffice folks essentially vowing to continue their own fork because Apache “has very different expectations and norms”; they forked the project when Oracle bought Sun. This implies that Sun’s “expectations and norms” about licensing were more to their liking than Apache’s. Eh?
The application is finally out of beta. I think many people thought it had been abandoned. It also has over-the-air sync as a paid service.
I loved THL for a while; while it only did a subset of what OmniFocus does, it did the things it did very elegantly. But I was one of the many people who figured it was abandoned, and stuck it out with the Zen-like TaskPaper until finally buckling down and learning enough about the OmniFocus Way to start making it useful.
David Chartier quoted a quip from Merlin Mann on the “Back to Work" podcast ("What about self-righteousness? Does that have gluten in it?"), and made this observation:
Related: I have essentially replaced the TWiT network with Dan Benjamin’s 5by5. I barely get to listen to half the shows I want, but Dan’s put together a great lineup with some killer co-hosts. There’s no pre-roll fluff and Dan’s sparse home-made sponsorship spots don’t need to get gonged off the stage.
I have a lot of admiration for what Leo Laporte has done with the “This Week in Tech” network—it’s professionally-produced and looks just as good as its inspiration, the original TechTV from years gone by. But Laporte’s willingness to exercise editorial control seems to be inversely related to how successful he’s gotten. Sure, the personalities on the show are important, but the fluff isn’t just in the pre-roll. The number of times during each show when I found myself wanting to scream “Shut up!” at a co-host blathering on over someone else who’s actually trying to stay on topic got to be greater than one per episode.
And indeed, I’m listening a lot more to 5by5 podcasts myself now. They all tend to be the same basic format: Dan Benjamin and a cohost who drives the show’s topics. Even when the shows are running upwards of 90 minutes they don’t seem like they’re spending half the time off in the weeds, and Benjamin does an excellent job of guiding conversation without coming across like he’s steering. (The only exception is “The Talk Show,” with Benjamin and Daring Fireball’s John Gruber—which is actually a lot of fun, as long as you’re up for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Pundits.”)
PBS officials told member stations at its recent annual meeting in Orlando that beginning this fall, the Wednesday science series “Nature” and “Nova” would contain corporate and foundation sponsor spots, promotional messages and branding within four breaks inside the shows, instead of at the very beginning and end.
While there’s incredibly fertile ground for cynical jokes here, there is a good point being made:
The change is meant to address a serious problem. Currently, the messages that a PBS station broadcasts are packed into a block at the end of each show, which, for hourlong programs, sometimes stretches to nearly eight minutes. Not surprisingly, viewers routinely flee.
I know this described me with PBS. Eight minutes of sponsorship messages and promotional material is just too much for one uninterrupted block; unless you know what’s coming next is something you want to see, you’re not going to stick around to find out. (However, I hate the now-standard commercial network practice of no break at all between shows. Sometimes I even see the end of one and the beginning of another be overlapped, with the end credits running in squished format at the bottom or side as the next show starts.) PBS shows like “Nova” and “Frontline” are likely to remain unmatched by commercial networks even with commercial breaks—and, of course, public radio stations have had quick breaks within programs for years without anyone kvetching. Even so, I expect some interesting backlash ahead.
For the record, eight minutes of commercials is about half what commercial networks show—a typical “hour-long” show on a commercial station is 44 minutes. I’ve been watching “The Rockford Files” from the mid-’70s on Netflix recently and noticed that an “hour” then meant about 50 minutes.
Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt writes an article that asks why it’s harder to make money with Android apps than iOS apps, providing a few “answers” along the lines of:
There are three times as many paid apps on the iOS App Store as there are on the Android Market
Android downloads for paid apps are significantly lower than for free apps
Paid applications on iOS tend to be downloaded many more times
Elmer-DeWitt has several bullet points that, to my eye, more or less restate those last two in slightly different ways. The keen observer may note, however, that none of these actually answer the question—they’re bits of evidence to support the contention that iOS apps make more money, but they’re not explanations why.
For that explanation, Elmer-DeWitt makes the horrible mistake of turning to Exploding Head Guy himself, Daniel Eran Dilger. Danny Boy wrote a piece back in April demonstrating his typical taste and restraint in the title, “Distimo Polishes the Android Market Turd" (referring to an earlier report about how Android was "catching up" to iOS in terms of applications). What’s Dilger’s explanation? Why, it’s that Apple’s App Store is curated and the Android Market isn’t. "All one has to do is pay a fee and shovel junk into [Google’s] online listings," Dilger sniffs. "It’s obvious why Google is ‘beating’ Apple in free titles: they’re only comparing fart apps, ringtones and wallpapers."
Now, it only requires a few minutes of work to go the Android Market on the web and determine that there is no category for ringtones; that while typing in fart as a search keyword in Android Market returns “about 320 results,” the same result on iTunes gives you over 800; and that calling the animated and interactive “live” wallpaper Android supports just “wallpaper” is disingenuous. (Personally I find the concept of live wallpaper profoundly silly, but each to their own.) I should go easy on Dilger here, I guess, since I know he doesn’t have time for actual research. He’s too busy producing charts by doing things to OmniGraffle that contravene the Geneva Convention.
Here’s an alternative explanation. It’s just my musings based on observation of the market, and of friends and acquaintances who are Android partisans. (This is distinct from merely Android users.)
It’s historically been hard to make money on Android for the same reason that it’s been hard to make money on Linux.
There are companies making money by selling Linux itself, but there are very few companies which have found a sustainable business by selling Linux applications. The Linux market has a very strong bias toward capital-F Free Software—and also toward little-f free software. If there’s an open source equivalent to what you’re selling on Linux, you can pretty much forget selling a commercial product—even if your application is demonstrably better in important areas, you’re going to lose.¹
This is not a “flaw” in Linux’s world as much as a set of different priorities. I would rather pay for Acorn than use GIMP even though GIMP is not only free but demonstrably more powerful. To me, dealing with GIMP’s UI is only slightly less painful than shoving a fondue fork up my nose and twisting. (That’s GIMP’s “change layer visibility” toggle, by the way.) To most Linux users, the idea of paying money—for closed-source software, no less—just because you don’t want to take the time to learn a UI sounds absolutely nuts; if the UI lets you do what you need to do, it’s good enough, even if there’s room for improvement.
The people who leapt on Android for its own sake, as opposed to reasons that don’t relate to OS preference (cost, availability on their network, insistence on hardware keyboard), have a noticeable correlation with the people who leapt onto Linux. Android developers have an even higher correlation. That creates a very different culture in the Android Market. It’s more hobbyist-focused, less polished—and not so focused on things that make money.
But heading into the second half of 2011, that’s not as true. Android has pushed beyond geek space and software publishers who didn’t care about it until very recently are starting to show up. As publishers like Gameloft and Electronic Arts start shoveling stuff out for Android, do the paid apps take off? Right now I think they’re held back, paradoxically, by one of the things that drives Android adoption—very aggressive carrier pricing. While I have no data I can back this up with, it’s my gut feeling that somebody who spends $299 on a phone is going to be more likely to buy applications than somebody who spends $99 or less. (My extremely anecdotal data set on this suggests this is true for those $99 iPhone deals, too.)
Going forward, though, does this keep holding? As of right now, the top paid apps for Android are “Beautiful Widgets,” ports of WeatherBug Elite and Fruit Ninja, and more than a few nerd-centric utilities like “ROM Manager Premium” and “Root Explorer.”² The top paid apps on iOS include Pages, GarageBand, Infinity Blade and Sim City Deluxe, along with the inevitable Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds. A lot of Android phones aren’t $99 and less; I don’t see any reason why someone spending $249+ on a ThunderBolt or Droid Charge is going to hesitate to spend $3 or $4 on an app.
But right now, they’re waiting on apps that are going to get non-nerds excited enough to pay.
(N.B.: It’s at least worth noting that for many developers, the iOS App Store is no goldmine. The vast majority of applications are along the long tail of the demand curve, and it’s the store that benefits from the long tail’s aggregate volume. I would be surprised if the majority of developers in that tail earn more than coffee money each month.)
There are Linux applications that are sold commercially, of course, but in my experience many of them are cross-platform (like Komodo IDE) or server-focused (like Oracle).
Again, we see a cultural difference: Android fans would point out that you couldn’t even have those apps on iOS, but iOS fans would wonder just why you’d want them. One interesting thing to note, though—the stuff on Android does sell for a few bucks tends to be the stuff that appeals to the nerd contingent. I’d be curious how much, in terms of units, those are actually selling.
With Memorial Day weekend coming up, it’s time to think about summer cocktails. What makes a cocktail “summer?” I don’t know, but I think it means the drink is so light and refreshing that you think it has less alcohol in it than it does.
When you think of tequila, the chances are you think either of the margarita or some night back in college that made you swear off tequila forever. (You think I’m joking, but it’s astounding how many people actually tell me that when I mention tequila to them.) But another classic tequila drink that’s much more of a “summer cooler” style highball is the Paloma.
The quick-and-easy way to make a Paloma is a shot of tequila, the juice of a lime, and grapefruit soda. (Ideally a sugar-using Mexican brand like Jarritos.) The less quick-and-easy but very rewarding way to make it is with fresh ingredients. I first encountered a “fresh Paloma” not at a swank cocktail bar but at, of all places, Chili’s, which also added the neat twist of using ruby red grapefruit juice—then screwed the pooch by using Sprite instead of club soda. So close, Chili’s, so close!
Ruby Red Paloma
2 oz. tequila blanco (100% agave, if you please)
2 oz. red grapefruit juice, not from concentrate
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Shake all the ingredients with ice cubes and pour unstrained into a Collins glass. Add more ice cubes to the top of the glass, top off with club soda, and give it a little stir.
This is an article about the Samsung Galaxy S outselling the iPhone in Japan in the last quarter, which is interesting—but that’s not what actually interests me about it. For years, we Westerners have been told that the Japanese cell phone market is so different from—and in some ways so far ahead of—our cell phones that there’s no way “outsiders” can make any inroad there. But:
For all the mind bending spec sheets that grace our inboxes twice a year when all the major operators unveil their new Spring and Fall collections, most of those devices are feature phones, albeit feature phones that can do things such as near field based mobile commerce and tuning into over the air television.
I keep reading analysts—usually outside America, and admittedly usually of the armchair variety—talking about the importance of feature phones and how not everyone can have a smartphone. But I’m increasingly convinced that this simply isn’t the case. Cheap smartphones are going to push feature phones into a niche—specifically, the “I don’t want any of those smart features, dammit, even if I can get them for free” niche—all over the world. (Even where it means giving up over the air TV on your phone.)
10.1″ display, Honeycomb, and a Qualcomm MSM8660—a dual-core “Snapdragon”—1.5GHz CPU. This seems standard issue for “non-iPad tablet” currently; two questions:
The touch panel supports both resistive and capacitive sensing, so it can work with a stylus more precisely. What’s the use case they’re going for?
Is that use case going to be enough to differentiate it? From what I’ve gleaned the best-selling non-iPad tablet is Samsung’s, and I can’t help but suspect that’s because the 7″ form factor makes it distinctive. (I still think it’d be better off at a 3:4 aspect ratio, though.)
At least, so claims a slide shown on Joshua Topolsky’s report:
Today the company announced two new services, Google Wallet and Google Offers, both aimed to serve retail shoppers everywhere. MasterCard and other high-level partners will be involved with Google Wallet, including 20,000 retail merchants at launch. It looks as though Google will snap up those businesses quickly because of the service’s compatibility with MasterCard’s PayPass. Citibank, Sprint, and First Data are also signing up. It looks like Footlocker, Subway, Toys R Us, American Eagle, Walgreens, and Macys will get into the mix as well.
This is very impressive, although it occurs to me that PayPass was supposed to be the evolution of payments, right? How’s that been working out? (Honest question.)
(You’ll even eventually be able to put your driver’s license in Wallet eventually, which is both amazing and terrifying.)
I’m pretty much sticking with the “terrifying” part, Josh.
Facebook has partnered with Spotify on a music-streaming service that could be launched in as little as two weeks, sources close to the deal have told Forbes.
There are two interesting things about this.
First, Spotify still isn’t in the United States due to legal restrictions, which means this service won’t be in the US, either. Which might mean that Facebook is going to start throwing its weight around to get deals in place for Spotify.
Second: as much as I hate Facebook, it’s remarkable how successful they’re being at constructing an AOL for the new millennia. I don’t mean that as a slight, either—people who weren’t online twenty years ago likely don’t grasp how great AOL was at being your one stop online everything. It took the creation of the World Wide Web and the rise of “big independent” ISPs like Netcom and Earthlink to finally topple them. The idea of “one stop online everything” seemed to have died out—but Facebook is pretty clearly trying to build it back up. The only thing I think they’re missing is direct competition with Amazon as an “online supermall”—and just based on my hunch about Facebook’s ultimate goal, expect that to be announced within a year.
And, for the record, I genuinely hate Facebook. Their contempt for their users harkens back to the days of the Bell System and pre-satellite/data cable companies. Normally, you’d need a government-protected monopoly to cultivate the same “Seriously, where else are you going to go?” attitude.
You made a deal with someone to build you a website. Best of all: you agreed on a flat fee! That’s great, because you know you have a fixed budget. And you’re getting everything you want, because that’s what your vendor promised you. Guess what? It’s not going to happen.
I’ve been on the other side of this, and while I built a pretty respectable web site, I ended up making slightly less money than I would have if I’d taken unemployment benefits during the same time period.
You’ve likely already seen that news if you care, and if you don’t care, well, you don’t care. Ben Brooks muses:
I saw this last night and didn’t post about it because I couldn’t figure it out — I am still scratching my head here. Either Twitter knows something I don’t about TweetDeck, or their management is far worse than I think. Typically I would go with the former, but lately that is getting hard to believe (given their penchant for pissing away VC funds…).
Wait. Wasn’t “pissing away VC funds” always Twitter’s business model?
Of the “also ran” mobile operating systems, I’m increasingly thinking Windows Phone is the one to watch. For all of the heat Microsoft takes (mostly deservedly), Windows Phone doesn’t come across like it’s trying to be “iPhone++” — it doesn’t look like anything else on the market, and they’re clearly putting a lot of effort into user experience. I’m not 100% sure I like all of their ideas, but it’s fantastic that they’re trying to compete by being so markedly different—and it’s interesting how “non-Microsoft” that is.
“Chrome’s version number has been changing so rapidly lately that every time someone opens a Chrome bug on a Stack Exchange site, I have to check my version against theirs just to make sure we’re still talking about the same software. And once—I swear I am not making this up—the version incremented while I was checking the version.”—Jeff Atwood
The real threat [to OS-specific app stores] are web apps. The kind that will download to your device the moment you open them, allowing you offline access, whether they’re news, games, email or some other utility. If you don’t believe they’ll work — and eliminate dependencies on plugins outside of open web standards, like flash — go download a free copy of Angry Birds for Google Chrome and try disconnecting from your local network.
Having said that, though, does anyone think that Apple and Google aren’t both preparing for this possibility?
Only one company plays in both the consumer and business world. We tend to talk about technologies. But the way the user is going to look at tablets means it’s about experience.
While I suspect Cador is going to be in for a lot of ribbing—particularly among Apple fans—he’s right on that point: it is all about experience. And while the first claim is a touch overblown, while there are companies that are more successful in the consumer space and companies that are more successful in the enterprise space, I can’t think of a company that’s been as successful as HP in both. Also, as the more clear-headed Apple fans point out when Android’s growth is brought up, this market isn’t necessarily Highlander: there can be multiple winners. WebOS could do very well in the tablet space without “vanquishing” iOS (or Android).
Having said that, the commenter who asked if “better than number one” meant “a big fat zero” did make me chuckle. While there can certainly be more than one, it remains to be seen whether there’s a practical cap on the number of competitors who can be profitable.
On his site “Business Insider,” analyst Henry Blodget wrote “LinkedIn: The Truth About What It’s Worth,” to explain, effectively, that LinkedIn might be worth more than $100 a share, but it might be worth less, too.
As a former roommate of mine used to say when confronted with this kind of say-nothing thinking (let’s called it “Blodgic”): “Some days I feel one way, and other days I feel differently.”
No one knows what LinkedIn’s worth. Why not? Because the theoretical value of a share of LinkedIn’s stock (and any other stock) is the “present value of future cash flows.”
The present value of future cash flows.
Not today’s cash flows. Not yesterday’s cash flows. Future cash flows. Future cash flows discounted back to the present at a rate that takes into account the risk that the cash flows won’t materialize.
With all the respect to Blodget that he’s due, while I’m sure this is a textbook definition of how to value a company, does he really think that LinkedIn’s apparent valuation “takes into account the risk that the cash flows won’t materialize?” If the cash flows don’t materialize, how is the company possibly worth the $4B their original IPO price valued them at, let alone $10B? Blodget dismisses LinkedIn’s past cash flows as “only relevant insofar as they tell you what LinkedIn’s future cash flows might be”—but given that he’s arguing that their present value is based on estimating those future cash flows, that makes the past cash flow pretty damn important.
And before you join the chorus of folks screaming about bubbles and insanity, remember one more thing: From the day tiny startups called “Google” and “Facebook” and “Zynga” and “Twitter” and “Groupon” first raised capital, people dismissed their valuations as “bubbles” and “insanity.” And, so far anyway, these people couldn’t have been more wrong.
And what are the past and present cash flows of those companies, and what do they tell us about the likely future cash flows of them all? It strikes me that those companies all have very, very different business models. Google is an advertising company. Groupon gets money by actually selling stuff. Zynga gets money by taking advantage of stupid people. Twitter gets money by convincing venture capitalists that they’re going to pay back what they owe any day now but they just need a little more right now to get to pay day won’t you spare some change mister. And Facebook? They’re trying to be Google without paying lip service to not being evil—but as Ben Brooks asked, “If Facebook is profitable, then why does it still need to raise capital through private investing?” Interesting question. In any case, it doesn’t seem to me that the Blodgic holds water here, either.
As to the respect Henry Blodget is due: he is, as his bio reads, “a former top-ranked Wall Street analyst” who’s no longer one because, in his telling, he was “keelhauled by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over conflicts of interest between research and banking.” While “keelhaul” fits in nicely with the telling of Spitzer’s tale that paints him as a hubris-filled grandstander, this downplays that the “conflicts of interest” involved things like publicly calling a stock “an attractive investment” while describing the same stock on the same dayin private emails as “a piece of shit.” The SEC press release on his permanent ban from the industry doesn’t mention banking or “conflicts of interest” at all—it charges him with giving fraudulent investment advice.
This does not mean that his advice now is bad, and of course he’s not now in a position where he could commit similar fraudulent acts even if he wanted to. But he does have a track record of not telling you what he really thinks about a company’s stock, and to my reading, he’s engaging in sleight of phrasing about his past, hoping his readers will take the implication that he’s a victim of Big Government at face value. A good con man may be second to none at spotting other people’s con games—but that doesn’t mean he’s not running a game of his own.
In an Ars Technica article, iOS developer Mike Lee makes an argument for developers flooding Apple with “bug reports” about Lodsys’ patent trolling by saying that it was developer pressure that got Apple to release an iOS SDK rather than keep claiming web-based apps were enough. John C. Welsh calls bullshit on this:
I really think Mike is VASTLY overstating the influence devs had with this. The idea that without dev noise, Apple might not have released the SDK passes neither Occam’s nor any other test. Apple does things to further company aims and make money.
(Update: it was pointed out to me both in comments and on Twitter that, of course, some native apps used the accelerometer for determining the phone’s orientation. I didn’t express my thought above particularly well—those apps originally only determined portrait or landscape; there wasn’t any indication early on that the iPhone could detect its position in as sophisticated a way as it turned out it could. I think. Right?)
Have we not learned yet that patents don’t “confirm” anything? Sigh. It’s an interesting approach, though, and not quite what anybody else is doing. (Whether it should be a patentable approach is another matter, of course.)