This morning, an update for the Google Search application on iOS was released by Google and along with it came Google Now. The predictive search feature has been available on Android for just under a year, but in that time, it's only been able to reach a peak of 25% of all Android devices.
Unfortunately for Google they've had a fragmentation problem since the beginning of time with Android, making it hard to reach users when a new service is only available for Jellybean (4.1+). By releasing on iOS, they've effectively made the service available for up to 500 Million devices on day one.
Comparing that to Android shows a sad state of affairs. Eric Schmidt said late last year that there were around 480 Million Android devices out there at the time, meaning that if we assumed those numbers were current and Jellybean made up 25% of that install base, Google Now only had potential to reach 120 Million customers. It's still a high number, but Google's managed to potentially quadruple that install base in a single day.
It's sad that Android is still plagued by issues with fragmentation and I'm not sure it'll ever be fixed, which makes iOS much more appealing than their own mobile OS to a company like Google who needs as many eyeballs as it can get.
I tweeted earlier today that I've been finding it hard to find things to write about lately because the blogging scene seems to be saturated with so much great content. I've been stuck on the thought that just adding to the noise is pointless, so why do it?
Then it hit me. Matt put it eloquently in reply to my grumbling:
I'm sure many that are reading this have experienced writers block at some point in their career. With so many great content creators online and such simple ways to surface killer content it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that the thought/opinion that you have has already been voiced (or perhaps that it's not worth voicing in the first place).
It's easy to discard a completely valid opinion that could result in a well orchestrated piece when content creators like Marco, Gruber and MG have the platform to propel their opinions faster and further. It's even easier to discard an opinion and just carry on.
The simplicity of discovery websites like StumbleUpon, Reddit and Hacker News make it easier to continually consume content without ever becoming a creator. Flicking between bits of good content endlessly can make one feel like their voice isn't good enough to be heard.
The thought process can go something like “someone's already said it” or “I'm just adding to the noise.” Even more strangely, it can sometimes vary into “if I don't say it someone else will.” I'm sure if you read around for long enough you might find an opinion that's similar to yours, but their opinion isn't yours and the way that you articulate your opinion is unique to you.
Yes, there are probably a few thousand other content creators out there airing their own opinions on whatever topic you're talking about, but if your opinion is sound, quality and unique then a community will eventually gather around you.
The big guys started out somewhere, but they're still people. I'm sure at some point, John Gruber or Marco Arment wondered why they were blogging when it was getting them nowhere. Or if it was worth contributing to the discussion when one of the others already had. Hey, maybe they they never thought that. But the fact is that the way that they've grown massive communities around them speaks to how incredible just giving a simple opinion is.
Websites designed to surface content across the internet have turned many of us into mindless zombies who only consume and never create. I find it so easy to get stuck in the trap of browsing instead of creating. It's an endless loop that feeds itself.
Consumption is still important (after all, it would be hard to stay relevant in the fast moving technology world without it) but it's important to restrict reading time and allow (or sometimes, force) writing time.
If we look at this from the perspective of the Android community then yes, Facebook Home is a stupid idea because it dumbs down Android. But, for everyone else out there that doesn't care about tinkering with their phone it's perfect. There's nothing to it, just scroll through your feed and interact or send a text. You've got the capability to install Android applications if you want and that's a bonus, but the two big parts of many potential buyer's life is front and center.
Those potential buyers? Teenagers. Young adults. The Facebook generation that is stuck interacting 24/7. They're sharing as soon as they wake up and go to sleep. This market doesn't like making phone calls. One of the biggest criticisms of Facebook Home is that it makes other apps hard to reach. I agree, but the teenagers I know really only use Facebook and SMS anyway.
Facebook Home isn't targeted at those who go and manually download it from the Play Store. The application has bad reviews because it's never It's not destined for any member of the Android community or even those who currently use a smartphone. It's targeted at a new generation of young people who don't actually use their phone as a phone anymore. It's intended as a preinstalled experience that some will intentionally seek to buy.
Instead of declaring Facebook Home “dead” by our standards, let's wait to see how the HTC First does in the market. That'll speak much louder than existing Android users.
A $99 phone that does 100% of what teenagers need is better for parents who might have otherwise been buying them an iPhone.
Microsoft has a bad habit of releasing an OS to the world – like Windows Vista – that's rushed and not polished, just to meet deadlines. Vista would be the prime example of a “half-done” operating system that was directly improved on by a later iteration, Windows 7.
When Windows 8 was released, it was met with harsh criticism from those in the news business as well as the technology industry. Early reviews of Windows 8 slated the OS for having many missing features, inconsistencies and general “odd” usability issues. Here's a handful of examples:
It’s easy to find things that are wrong with Modern (which was called Metro in developer and early versions). For example, there are no overlapping windows, and there’s simply no way to put three or four applications on a single screen at the same time—even if your work space has a screen that’s 27 inches across. Windows 8 largely eliminates menus—the product of more than 40 years of usability research—and introduces a new system of touch-based text labels and controls that are frequently hidden and obscure. The interface is sparse—applications like e-mail and the address book now present far too little information on the screen, resulting in the need to frequently pan and scroll.
Windows 8’s Snap lets you position two apps — desktop or Windows 8-style — alongside each other. Unfortunately, the Snap view is rather limited, with one app occupying a small amount of screen real estate (320 px) and the other taking the majority of the pixels available.
The sad, somewhat predictable truth is that the fundamental act of moving a file from one folder to another—the drag-and-drop action that was probably one of the first three things you learned to do on a computer—is kind of terrible in Metro.
These are just a handful of examples that talk to some of the issues Windows 8 faced at launch. There's a bunch of other ones I haven't quoted here either: the lack of a Modern-style control panel, no Modern-style Office suite (I still can't believe this one), the total disconnect between desktop and Modern UI, generic share commands and the over-simplification of basic system tasks.
It bewilders me as to why Microsoft would dumb down fundamental features like Bluetooth or even completely ignore adding functionality for dealing with system settings in the gold release of Windows 8, but it seems that it simply comes down to a lack of time. Windows 8 needed to be out by the holiday season of 2012. They cut functionality and dumbed down features to deliver it on time.
Now that we've got our first glimpse of Windows Blue, it's telling that Microsoft knew what was missing from day one and that they've taken on the criticism from the world. Keeping in mind that Blue is a very early preview (and is very unofficial) of whatever we're going to see later this year, the leak that we've got gives us a glimpse at how Microsoft is going to proceed with what they started.
The first thing that's been addressed is the odd disconnect between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 that happened at launch, despite the fact that the Windows Phone team's designs were public for some time before Windows 8 came out. Windows Phone had the ability to have large, medium and small tiles. Windows 8 had large and medium. Despite the plans being public, the Windows 8 team didn't seem to pick up on this before release.
You can now align tile sizes with those on a Windows Phone. Maybe not a big deal, but a consistent experience across platforms is key here and it's important that Microsoft gives a consistent interface across their offerings. Microsoft was never good with consistency previously, perhaps they've turned over a new leaf.
Secondly, Microsoft has dealt with the watered down Modern control panel. You can finally delve into the settings of your Bluetooth devices and configure them (amongst other things). Those who live in tablet world no longer have to deal with dropping out of their dream into the desktop to change settings in the old control panel. Almost every system setting imaginable is now configurable from here.
Next, a file manager has been added for the Modern interface (something that users moaned about a lot) so that it's possible to actually deal with files from the Modern UI rather than having to switch back to the desktop mode and poke at tiny controls to manage.
Microsoft even dealt with complaints from users about being unable to run applications at any ratio other than 20%/80% of the screen per app. It's possible to resize an application to any ratio a user likes in Windows Blue. It's actually taken one step further, though, allowing users to add a third and even fourth application to the Modern interface split view without issue (on a big screen, you can add as many as you like).
From the developers I talked to about this, the consensus was that this could create mayhem for those that chose to wrote XAML applications instead of HTML5 applications, as the HTML5 applications tend to be able to handle display scaling better. It could be interesting to see how this is handled by the community once it's official.
Office isn't included in the leaked build, but I desperately hope that Microsoft has a Modern UI version of it ready by the time Blue hits the street. It needs it, and this rounding out of the OS actually just shows how desperately the company needs to complete that part of the picture.
The Modern UI is the path forward; it's clear from Windows Blue's leak (so far) that there's little focus on the desktop experience. There's a few small changes that are barely observable by the user, such as the “libraries” now showing up in My Computer.
Otherwise, the desktop has been ignored (as far as we've seen), and the void between the Modern-UI touch future and the desktop that Microsoft is forging ahead with is growing larger. It's not necessarily bad, it's just obvious where the company is betting we'll be wanting to spend all of our time. The disconnect between the touch interface and the desktop is growing and I fear that PC users are going to be left behind as the company moves on.
Windows Blue shows that Microsoft is sticking with their guns and that Windows 8 needed improvement. It was the basic form of what's to come and this functionality should have been there from the start but wasn't. Perhaps if the company had waited to release the product and baked these features in from the beginning it might have won consumers over even faster. Apple is renowned for taking as long as it takes for their features to become fully baked, even if it means delivering late. Microsoft still hasn't learnt that trick, but it doesn't matter anymore.
Blue is coming and it completes the picture of where we're going with Windows. I hope this upgrade doesn't have a price tag attached.
That's right, 4G LTE is now available in one New Zealand city with a few more to follow this year. It's crazy fast, supporting throughputs of up to 90mbps and already supports LTE advanced devices (for whenever they're released) with a total throughput of 140mbps. The above screenshot - taken by @johnreader last night on a Samsung Galaxy SIII should be enough to blow your pants off.
Disappointingly, there's no Voice over LTE yet, but hopefully we might see that eventually. Amazing that Vodafone can release this a full year ahead of Telecom NZ who are only just starting trials.
Vodafone seems to think that the current data caps are more than enough (which are on average around 1GB) for 4G, which isn't good news. Additionally, the company is charging an additional $10/month for access to 4G. That said, the company is launching with a decent few handsets including the iPhone 5, Windows Phone 8X by HTC and Samsung GALAXY Note II 4G variant.
A press release that hit my inbox this morning caught my eye. Visa and Samsung have announced that they are going to partner, and that Visa will preload their Mobile Provisioning Service on all Samsung mobile phones so that they are able to use Visa's PayWave NFC technology.
The company says that they will load the PayWave applet onto “any phone with NFC functionality” and this will allow them to make “wave and pay” payments on existing contact-less payment systems.
As far as I know, this is the first mobile provider to come to this sort of agreement - I've been wondering for a while now how this would pan out, and it looks like Samsung might have exclusive access to it for now. In the press release, they state something particularly interesting:
The Visa payWave mobile applet will be preloaded onto selected next-generation Samsung mobile devices featuring NFC technology and an embedded secure element.
Today Google announced the Chromebook Pixel, the first Google-branded laptop to feature a massively pixel-dense display. There has been much backlash to the launch, mostly around the price and design that is somewhat reminiscent of the HP Elitebook.
The device is very expensive, I won't disagree, but that's because parts like this are not mainstream or even used much outside of Apple's hardware. Despite the price, the Chromebook Pixel is important because it shows that Google understands the direction that things should be going in.
It amazes me that we're now in 2013, Microsoft has recently released a new version of Windows and we still don't have high pixel density hardware hitting the market for PC's, nor does Windows 8 even support it properly.
Yes, Windows 8 “supports” these kinds of screens, but no, it doesn't do it very well on the desktop. More pixels means sharper images/text, making using screens for a long time much easier on the eyes and more comfortable to use. Not only that, they're very visually pleasing.
The technology might be only emerging now, as Apple put it into the first Retina notebook last year, but Microsoft still lacked the vision to actually do something about it, as did others in the PC hardware market. It was completely ignored, it seems. Microsoft has three hard-coded scaling methods for pixel dense displays, but it doesn't work too well in practice. In fact, it pretty much makes everything unusably tiny.
Paul Thurott published a picture of what said scaling would look like on the iPad some time back (below), which was somewhat amusing.
Despite the crazy price, the Chromebook Pixel is progress. Movement towards newer types of screens is important, especially from vendors other than Apple. Hopefully, one day, screens with high pixel density will be the norm, and once it does, hardware like this comes down to a realistic price point. There are countless good reasons as to why users would prefer these kinds of displays, they likely just don't know it yet.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, wearable technology like this is going to be the next thing to take the world by storm. This video is evidence enough that if the actual “technology” layer of the device doesn't get in the way of living life, and is actually natural enough to integrate into every day movements then it is killer.
It may take half a decade for it to catch on, but I expect this kind of innovation to become both socially acceptable and the norm within the next decade. Sure, it might look goofy to have us all talking to ourselves, but it's also incredibly useful and transparent to the user.
We're also not specifically talking about Google Glass here. I expect a wave of innovations from smart watches to electronic clothing to become “mainstream” at some point in the foreseeable future.
As with self-driving cars, there will be a period where the market will probably reject it saying that it will “never” happen, but it will. It's obvious that our lives could be somewhat enhanced by peripheral devices that show us information without needing to pull a slab out of our pockets to catch up.
These innovations are likely to feature minimal interfaces and beautiful natural user interaction to make them stick. The key to their success is making them so simple to use that they're instantly integrated into the consumers' life.
All of this, though has some pretty interesting ramifications. Always-on cameras on everyone's faces are a bit concerning. The Hacker News thread for Google Glass has some amazing discussion, and I was reminded of this video of a futuristic world where technology not dissimilar to this exists. It's somewhat haunting, but the positive opportunities are also endless. Imagine broadcasting your wedding, live to your friends from your perspective. Special, indeed.
Telecom, Vodafone and Telstra have signed a “non-binding” memorandum of understanding to invest in a new submarine cable between Auckland and Sydney.
Telecom chief executive Simon Moutter and Vodafone New Zealand CEO Russell Stanners jointly said:
“The Tasman Global Access cable will also enable New Zealand to better leverage the four additional international cable systems currently serving Australia (with several more proposed or in development), providing important redundancy for New Zealand. Australia also enjoys good connectivity with Asia, which is achieving strong internet traffic growth in line with global economic shifts.”
According to the release, the tentatively named “Tasman Global Access” (TGA) cable will cost less than $60 million and will have a design capacity of 30 terabits/second when completed. This is around 300 times “current” throughput of the country.
This is great news for both the New Zealand economy and internet industry, but it's disappointing the same group of people who own the Southern Cross Cable are investing in this one too. We need competition, and it's clear from the reaction on Twitter this morning that many feel the same way.
This week, the Surface Pro has hit the street and promptly 'sold out'. It's an impressive device, one that I'm very excited about. Not only does it have the best screen on a PC to date (it's hard to believe we still don't have anything retina quality), it's also got the best industrial design we've seen to date in the PC market.
Despite this, the Surface Pro shows a lack of understanding from Microsoft of the market as it currently stands. They've figured out that industrial design is important, but have forgotten that the software is just as important.
Two years ago, when the iPad was new, people cried out for a tablet from Microsoft. People wanted to work and play on the go with a full Windows PC, and the Surface now 'answers' that need, but it doesn't address (or even try to address) the world as it is now.
It's not clear if it is through sheer ignorance or just having missed the point, but Microsoft touted the Surface Pro's “connected standby” extensively through the development of Windows 8. If you're not aware what connected standby is, it's like your smartphone. You turn the screen off, but the device is still receiving notifications and emails and will make noises to tell you about them.
Somehow, in thinking up this Microsoft forgot that you actually need an internet connection all the time to make this useful. They didn't include a 3G modem. Sure, notifications around the house are useful, but there's a whole new level of connected users now who want to get these on the go. One could argue that it's easy enough to pull out your smartphone, make a WiFi hotspot and then grab the tablet and check them, but that negates the point. You'd have checked the notifications on your phone already in that time.
This functionality has been around for some time on the iPad 3G and is well loved by people who want to receive their emails and other notifications on the fly, on a device that is much larger than their phone. I don't understand how Microsoft could miss it. At all. Many have said that it might come in the second generation Surface, but for now, it's simply not there and that is inexcusable.
Now, this leads us straight into the second problem. The half-baked version of Office that's on Surface devices as well as other tablets. Peter Bright wrote on Ars Technica late last week:
What I cannot fathom, however, is why Office 2013 exists. Or rather, why it exists in its current form. Just what Microsoft has been doing in that two and a half years, I couldn't tell you, because Office 2013 doesn't feel like it's had two and a half years of work on it.
This bewilders me, and I've mentioned it often on Twitter. For the company touting a PC that has the “full Office experience” on a tablet, it's a pretty terrible experience. The “touch” functionality is a joke, and it does not make any sense as to why in the space of the three years that Windows 8 was developed that the Office team were only able to come up with one Metro app (Onenote MX).
Microsoft seems to be delivering the message that for a great tablet Office experience it's best to just ditch the touch and use the keyboard and mouse that they nicely included for you, but it's the wrong message to be giving to users.
The actual way that Office still seems to work again seems to ignore the always connected reality of the world as it is today. Office faces a tough challenge now, as when it previously existed there weren't any alternatives, but now, as online alternatives rapidly become popular it's clear that they might not be moving fast enough.
Google understands the connected world of 2013 better than everyone else. They have had their online document editing software – Drive – for a few years now. What I don't understand is how Microsoft didn't see this and think “oh, that makes sense.” Yes, Google Drive is very basic, but it's also very good at what it does.
Saving a document to Skydrive is an exercise in stupidity compared to Google Drive (in which you click create and it's saved instantly) and is actually not a straightforward process. Look at the file dialog below. This could have been done a thousand times better and doesn't make any obvious sense to the user as to what this actually is, or how they would be to find it at a later date.
Am I saving in my Skydrive? Who knows. It looks to me like I'm saving to a website.
Not only this, even when set up to save to Skydrive it doesn't act like a “cloud” solution still. Word still saves sporadically (not as you type) and the sharing features still insist that you should have Outlook installed. They also don't seem to work in real time with other users, despite it being three years since Google introduced the world to that. Why not make saving to Skydrive default now? Isn't it time we saved all our documents in the cloud anyway? Corporate customers can always disable that functionality.
The frustrating thing here, is that Microsoft does have their version of a cloud editing suite (Office 365/Skydrive web apps) but you're unlikely to use this in the real world unless you decide to go to Skydrive in a web browser.
It's this combination of issues as well as others that I believe have added to the challenges the device faces and has caused many media outlets to state things such as The Verge who said that “it tries to do everything but misses doing anything really well.”
It's even more amazing to me that while the Surface Pro is the “do it all PC” and is targeted at the office worker who wants to get their spreadsheets done (I think?), it cannot even make it through a 5 hour flight on battery. You're tethered to that charger. I don't care if it's a “full PC” - the Surface Pro is joining a tablet lineup of which many members can get through a whole day on a charge. That's important, especially considering that there are alternatives out there to Office now.
Apologists have said that Intel may have dropped the ball as we wait for their Haswel chips, but that's no excuse, and there are already customers to be lost by going to market with this now.
There are many compromises and just as many excuses, and the issues seem to come down to a lack of understanding of the market and a rush to get something on sale by Microsoft. Many will say that it's “good enough” but who wants to buy a “good enough” device now when you can get a great one from someone else right now? It just doesn't make sense.
I wanted to love the Surface Pro, but just can't. It's an answer to something I wanted two years ago, not something that fills my needs today.