Posts tagged Google

iPhone OS 4.0 – How close was I?

A few months ago, I made a post about what changes I would love to see in iPhone OS 4.0 when it rolled around, if it ever rolled around. Flash forward to today, where iPhone OS 4.0 is an officially announced, almost ready for release platform update. In the spirit of conclusion, let’s see how much I wanted that actually made it into the update:

1 – Google Voice Integration: No Go

This still remains a no-show. Apple and Google relations have only continued to sour, despite the Steve-Eric coffee shop PR stunt meeting that was hugely popularized a few weeks ago. In fact, because Apple has repeatedly demonstrated no motivation to popularize any Google services anymore, it’ll likely never happen. This is yet another unfortunate artifact of the ongoing Google and Apple divorce process, and it just ends up stifling innovation. Apple and Google both give end-user focused experience an awful lot of lip service, up to the point where they have to integrate with other competitors offerings.

Google Voice is just one such example, but there are others. Mail on the iPhone still lacks support for Google’s unique organizational methods, and for the same token, Google refuses to this day to make their own iPhone OS gmail client. It works both ways, and both are equally guilty.

Back to that lip service I was talking about, you can really see just how far that philosophy goes from both companies actions – they still speak louder than words. As an end user, I don’t care about corporate bickering or what the political reasons are for Google not making a Gmail app for the iPhone, or Apple not integrating Google Voice – I just want the best experience.

2 – Google Latitude: Maybe

I’m not sure how to mark this one down. On one hand, there is indeed multitasking present in the operating system, as well as the ability to have certain applications periodically get location through location services. Thus, it’s finally possible for some enterprising third party developer to make their own google latitude updater, or for Google themselves to do it. We’ll probably see the former much earlier than the latter for the reasons I mentioned in part 1.

Of course, the software to do continual scheduled Google latitude position updating already exists through the Cydia store. It’s called Longitude, and it work fabulously. I’m relatively puzzled by Apple’s claims that getting a full GPS fix requires too much battery, since I already run Longitude on a 15 minute update interval and have experienced negligible battery degradation. In fact, even with updating set on a 10 minute schedule, there was no perceptable difference in battery life.

Longitude - You know, opposite of Latitude

Longitude - You know, opposite of Latitude

I really have to wonder whether location services through Skyhook without using AGPS (eg only WiFi triliteration augmented with cellular positioning data) will be accurate enough for services like Foursquare. Time will tell, and arguably GPS won’t solve everything since users that are already inside those locations can’t get a GPS fix anyways.

3 – Better Gmail Integration: Sort of

So the Mail application is getting a definite overhaul in this new revision of iPhone OS – more than one exchange account, faster switching between each inbox, unified inbox, and support for threaded conversations. These are long overdue features that the competition has had almost forever. WebOS has had it, BlackBerry is famous for it, Android has it alongside even a Gmail-specific version, and even Windows Mobile had multiple exchange account and fast switching integration.

So it’s nice to see everything finally getting revamped. Apple’s interface still is minimalist though; there’s no font settings or style options to be found.

4 – Notification Overhaul: Nope

This is probably the most sorely lacking area, and simultaneously the most inexplicably neglected. Every single other mobile platform has better notifications than iPhone OS. Every one of them, even old and exiled Windows Mobile. In fact, during the Stevenote today Apple showed off some local application notifications (from applications running in the background) that still resulted in annoying centered blue bubbles – and touted them as being a good thing!

I don’t know what more there is to say here other than that with a more robust multitasking framework needs to come a better notification framework. The two go hand in hand completely: if you lack the screen real estate to show more than one thing at a time, but can still run it on the hardware, get information to the user effectively. That shouldn’t still equate to pausing and interrupting the current interaction with a gigantic blue popup that needs to be dismissed before interaction can continue.

5- Background apps done right: Yes

Apple needed to nail this one, and they did. There’s no arguing that the multitasking framework they’ve demoed is the way things should be. I’ve argued a few times with developers that the best way to deliver multitasking without sacrificing performance is to open APIs for the most common use scenarios. Apple enumerated all of them: music in the background, task completion, location-specific scenarios (turn by turn GPS, Google Latitude, e.t.c.), and a few others. This is effectively what I’ve heard described as a secondary “lite” binary running the core services in the background, using fewer resources and a few background specific APIs the OS can manage. That way, the background experience is consistent across use scenarios.

I think that this will work really well in the long run. In fact, Apple really did have little choice but to adapt a scheme employing lite binaries; they’re limited to 256 MB of RAM on the 3GS and iPad. Steve Jobs gets it – giving the user a task manager might appeal in the short term for how much control it offers, but it’s just too much. If the user is honestly expected to micromanage application launches and closes, they’ll eventually forget and nuke the battery. It just happens.

6- Better App organization: Yes

Thank goodness this is finally being addressed. I’ve almost reached the 180 application limit for the iPhone 3.x’s page specific interaction schema, and getting to applications on pages at the very end is as frustrating as it is time consuming. Finally getting some high level organization in the picture, even if it isn’t forward thinking, revolutionary, or something new, still is valuable.

Folders - Kind of ad-hoc, but better than nothing

7- Better power management: Nope

Definite no, in fact, we’ll probably never see this, at least on the iPhone OS. This particular platform is all about lowest common denominator usability – it’s simultaneously what makes the platform so alluring and magical, and the subject of so much griping. You can’t build something a baby can use, and then expect them to understand how to manage their power.

At the same time however, the option should be there for those of us that are knowledgeable about it. I realize I’m asking too much, but it’d be amazingly cool to see hardware reports on projected battery longevity, current draw from individual hardware components, and a trend of power use.

Conclusions: 4/7 ~ 57% Nailed

So Apple implemented 4 out of the 7 things I outlined, if we’re pretty generous about our criteria. You know, on the whole, 57% isn’t bad, but it simultaneously isn’t a slam dunk on my part.

In fact, that’s what makes this industry so interesting. Unlike the desktop, we haven’t yet settled on a paradigm user interaction model – each major platform is actively innovating and evolving, and it’s happening rapidly. Even in the last two years, we’ve seen Android go from being an iPhone OS wannabe to a seriously polished, worthy competitor. We’ve seen that cross carrier availability is hugely important for success (people just don’t want to switch, and they’ll convince themselves that their network is best). We’ve seen that none of the platforms have it all worked out. Apple’s iPhone OS platform is too closed, while Android’s might be just too open (a-la Windows Mobile). It’s a rapidly evolving market out there folks; I’m enjoying scrutinizing every bit of it.

Even Google doesn’t use “I’m Feeling Lucky”

Big News Today!

Whether you like it or not, the big news today wasn’t the outcome of “The Big Game,” the 2010 Toyota Prius Recall, or the fact that Verizon is “deliberately” blocking 4Chan for wireless customers (though those last two are admonishable attempts by the respective companies to submarine news).

It was the fact that today, Google advertised its core search product on TV in a $2.6 million Super Bowl ad. Wait, did I just say Super Bowl? I meant “Big Game.”

Hell proverbially froze over, by CEO Eric Schmidt’s own admission.

But if you actually watch the video, and watch closely, you’ll notice that very little of the advertisement focuses on the search experience itself. In fact, it spends so much effort building trite emotional appeal that it completely neglects at least half of the front-facing search experience. In fact, what it disregards is a feature so neglected, even I didn’t realize it was completely passed over until I watched a parody.

First, watch the “Parisian Love” ad itself:

Now watch the brilliant parody “Is Tiger Feeling Lucky Today” by slate:

Disregarding completely the message, the search terms, what the so-called “story” was, did you notice how differently Google advertised their own product compared to how well Slate did? Slate used “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Google? Not once. In fact, doing so could have been absolutely brilliant in the context of the ad’s cheezy romance theme. Imagine “will she marry me” -> I’m feeling lucky.

So what?

So what that communicates is that even Google doesn’t know what the heck “I’m Feeling Lucky” is doing there. Ask yourself, when is the last time you actually used it? Is it easily accessible? Is it part of that seamless, effortless Google experience they talk about? Is it so essential a part of the search experience that if it was missing, some part of your being would be inexorably changed forever?

You get the point. It isn’t.

No love for I'm Feeling Lucky

There’s nothing easy about using “I’m Feeling Lucky;” you can’t get to it with shift-enter or any other keyboard shortcut. It isn’t natural; everyone’s so used to just hitting enter or using the browser search bar. I ask then what purpose it’s serving.

For my answer, I googled. I didn’t use “I’m Feeling Lucky” :

The “I’m Feeling Lucky™” button on the Google search page takes you directly to the first webpage that returns for your query. When you click this button, you won’t see the other search results at all. An “I’m Feeling Lucky” search means you spend less time searching for web pages and more time looking at them. -Link

Oh really? That’s, you know, awesome, but isn’t diving head first into the first result of some search query just as dangerous as using link shorteners? As opening links in email blindly? As bad as everything we’ve always taught people not to do? Moreover, isn’t randomly guessing kind of a bad algorithm for mentally sorting through search results? I mean, if you use “I’m Feeling Lucky,” you’re going to have to come all the way back out to the front to re-submit your query. What’s elegant, beautiful, or simple about that?

Take a step back and think about the name of that button as well. What does “I’m Feeling Lucky” imply? Why the need for obscurity? Why not just call it “First Result” or “Dive In Blindly!™” or something else that’s approachable and friendly?

Years ago, the first time I clicked this, I half expected to be taken to some sort of contest entry form.

Of Simplicity and Sacred Cows

We’ve all read a lot, and I mean a lot about how much time, effort and money Google pours into keeping their famously-lightweight homepage simple. They’ve evolved the design. They’ve removed things. They make it fade in slowly so those of us challenged by reading aren’t scared or overwhelmed. They count and have sleepless nights over the number of words on it!

Oh, I know what you’ll say, it’s part of their “corporate identity,” part of their “product,” part of what makes Google, Google. Nonsense; that’s the kind of talk that turns innovation into stagnation for the sake of consistency. My high school English teacher would be proud, because two of his favorite quotes apply directly to the kind of idiotic allegiance they have to that worthless button:

  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. -Oscar Wilde

For all of Google’s engineering talent, all that time, all those fancy positions, titles, and critical thought, they don’t realize that their biggest Sacred Cow is staring them in the face. That “Sacred Cow” is ‘I’m Feeling Lucky.”

C’mon Google, even you don’t use it or know why it’s there.

Google’s Nexus One – Thoughts

Today, Google finally announced the much-hyped, finally-official googlephone at their Mountain View office. Admittedly, there wasn’t much about the actual announcement that wasn’t previously known; specs, photos, and even an entire review had already leaked out before the official announcement. But the announcement marks google’s first real step into distributing google-branded hardware directly to consumers, the entry of another google-blessed flagship for the Android platform, and a different, long-needed business model for selling phones and wireless contracts.

It’s been a year, 2 months, and 14 days since the launch of the T-Mobile G1, and Android has matured into a serious contender since its beginnings as an aspiring platform in a market dominated by Windows Mobile, Symbian, and the iPhone OS. While the G1 seemed awkward in a kind of adolescent manner, it’s chin a strange design ‘feature,’ its storage ultimately limited, and design-by-committee UI/navigation (anyone remember “how many clocks does it take for google engineers to tell time?”)  the Nexus One is finally enough to make it a real iPhone contender alongside the Droid.

That said, the platform does still suffer from a number of notable shortcomings:

  • Application storage limited to 512 MB partition
    • (Which google says it will fix by allowing applications to reside on an encrypted partition on removable storage, soon)
  • No multitouch within official applications
    • (This strange choice likely stems from legal and patent concerns between Google using Apple IP/prior artwork. Google likely doesn’t want the whole board-member-sharing fiasco to undergo any more scrutiny than it already has)
  • Slower web browsing
    • (Flash? more on that in a second)
  • No support for CDMA (Verizon) until spring, AT&T 3G band support unclear
    • (Rumors abound that Google is working on an AT&T version, but only a “dozen or so employees have access to this hardware”)

I’m going to expand on numbers 2 and 3, since personally I find these the most interesting immediately.

Mobile Flash

Engadget did a rather thorough of the Nexus One, pre-empting it’s announcement (karma for the same way Google tried to pre-empt CES?), and notably included a quick and dirty comparison of the loading speed of browsers on the iPhone 3GS, Nexus One, and Droid. Qualitatively, the winners and losers are painfully obvious from the video, but I took down some times and came up with the following:

  1. iPhone 3GS – 17 seconds
  2. Nexus One – 71 seconds
  3. Motorola Droid – 82 seconds

What immediately sticks out is that it took both of the Android 2.x platforms roughly 4 times longer to load the same website as it did the 3GS.

Initially, this doesn’t make sense. The 3GS is sporting a relatively recent ARM Cortex A8 underclocked from 800 MHz to 600 MHz, while the Nexus One is running the latest (also much-hyped) Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC running at 1GHz (Qualcomm QSD 8250 according to Google). The Snapdragon SoC is extremely similar architecturally to the Cortex A8, so comparing clock speeds is roughly applicable. Then, why the heck is a newer, faster generation chipset clocked 66% faster 4 times slower? Heck, the Android browser even runs lean and mean WebKit at its core, same as Mobile Safari on the iPhone, and Chrome and Safari on the desktop. Why then is it so much slower?

My theory? Flash.

The same multimedia platform hogging resources on the desktop is now hogging resources and slowing down browsing on mobile devices. Excellent. Sure, there’s a lot of content out there that’s driven by Flash that’s useful: videos, games, navigation, photo websites, fancy UI. But what’s the biggest reason? Advertising. Adobe knows it, I mean, just watch their video on mobile flash and notice what they highlight. Advertising.

Up until now, browsing just about everything on all the modern smartphone browsers I’ve used (mobile safari, opera mobile, opera mini, IE mobile) has been usable without adblock primarily because they didn’t have support for flash. Unless mobile browsers begin allowing plugins such as adblock or similar (similar to how mobile firefox, aka Fennec has begun doing), Flash is something I’d rather see disabled than enabled. How much of a feature is it to waste not just performance, but ever-critical battery on a mobile device primarily to show animated and intrusive advertising?

No AT&T 3G, Just T-Mobile

A lot of what Google was really trying to do with the Open Handset Alliance, launching a phone that customers can buy almost directly from HTC (the Nexus One OEM) and introducing essentially a new mobile business model at the same time was abstracting the carrier away from the device.

That is, handsets are increasingly moving towards being carrier-agnostic. In reality, this is the way it was intended to be (and moreover, should have been, at least in GSM-land). In fact, while this business model is entirely new to the US, the portability of handsets using SIMs is nothing new to customers in Europe, who frequently purchase handsets unlocked and bring plans (and SIMs) with them. (As an aside, much of the reason CDMA became dominant in the US was because this same flexibility wasn’t part of the specification; the unique identifier is built into the phone itself in the form of an ESN/MEID.)

It follows, then, that if Google truly wanted to create a splash in the industry and achieve its goal of creating and directly selling the ultimate flagship device that’s totally carrier agnostic, they would have made absolutely certain that HTC built in either multiple radios for UMTS and CDMA, or some modern, hybrid UMTS/CDMA chipset similar to the Qualcomm MSM6200 (PDF link) rumored to be at the core of the next-gen iPhone.

Whatever the case, the decision to launch hardware that at present restricts it to T-Mobile for 3G, EDGE on AT&T, and no CDMA functionality at all, extremely limits the device and ultimate impact. Moreover, it means that HTC and Google are going to have to support 3 sets of unique hardware for the “Nexus One” name. One with a CDMA-stack version for Verizon/Sprint, the current incarnation for T-Mobile, and a final version supporting AT&T’s 3G frequencies. Perhaps even more if they eventually move to support additional carriers in Europe and Asia.

Personally, I find it heartily ironic that rumors abound Apple is using a hybrid UMTS/CDMA chipset in the next gen iPhone. If so, that would make the same iPhone so many complain about because of its exclusivity with AT&T, the most open.

More open, in fact, than the Nexus One.