Fostering the Future

So let’s talk about the ability of the watch to be the center of a personal universe. Apple recently introduced the ability for their products to talk to one another using a technology they call “Continuity”, which is really a bundle of different types of communications that work together under this umbrella of “Continuity” to provide a seamless experience across devices.

Let’s imagine for a moment that a person is using phone, and moves to their computer. Continuity allows this person to pick up writing an email, for instance, in exactly the same place they were at on the phone. The same goes for other continuity-enabled apps. With the recent introduction of the Apple watch, however, I believe continuity has a much larger role to play in Apple’s future plans.

The Apple Watch (technically, WATCH) as introduced recently, requires an iPhone in order to function. As Ben Thompson and James Allworth discussed recently on their Exponent podcast, however, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a product that does not require an iPhone to function. A stand-alone, wrist-worn computer that becomes the center of a person’s digital life. With intelligence provided by Siri, back-end functionality provided by iCloud, and Continuity-enabled interconnectivity, it becomes very easy to see how Apple can leverage its current and emerging technologies to great effect.

The scenario go something like this: a person is walking through town and receives a message. In the current state of things, the message is “received” on their iPhone, but displayed on both iPhone and watch due to the persistent connection between the two. currently, this connection is an explicit part of the watch’s functionality. Again, with very little imagination, it would not be hard to envision a version of this product displays the same message not because of an explicit connection between the two devices, but because the watch itself has its own suite of network connections. Once this version of the future becomes reality, we could also envision many of these interactions moving from the pocket device to the wrist device, with the input and interface facilitated by Siri. Then, in the event that a person would like to delve more deeply into a specific task, or if the task requires a different type of input/interface (writing a document comes to mind), they can seamlessly transition to another device with a different input/interface model using the continuity technologies that Apple has developed.

The “wrist-worn” computer then becomes a reality in a way that other companies simply haven’t been able to apprehend yet. Up to this point, the wearable category has largely been occupied by “companion” devices that serve as an auxiliary display for notifications and/or offer up limited functionality beyond being a window to a person’s primary computing device (the computer in their pocket). What Apple has developed, almost invisibly, is a device that they see as the future center of a person’s life.

Beyond being an incredible vision of the future, this new device category is going to enable people to be more human. I believe that Tim Cook envisions a future in which people are able to live their lives more fully through the assistive capabilities of wearable technology. Currently, communication and machine interaction is achieved despite interfaces that are abstract and opaque.

The future that Tim Cook’s Apple is fostering is one that allows us to be better humans because of it.

The State of “Openness”

Benedict Evans once talked about a sort of “openness Tourette’s Syndrome” that occurs whenever people discuss Apple’s platforms vs. competitors. Basically, it goes like this: someone mentions how good an Apple platform is, and then someone else says, “Yeah, but Android is open.”

There’s a pleasant sort of fiction that is promised with “open” that simply isn’t a viable reality for most people. I’ve heard salespeople use this in retail stores, and I’ve heard IT professionals use this when offering Android to their clients. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what Android’s various meanings of “open” are. The type of “open” that people are typically referring to when they use that word is actually conflated with “extensible” or perhaps “has relaxed security”, which are very different things than the “open” that Android was conceived with.

Android’s initial form as a project was open-source, and the Android of today is still technically “open-source” but, due to its reliance on Google’s services and cloud features, the current version of Android that comes loaded on many phones is not nearly as “open” as many would have you believe. Would you like to use another mapping service? How about something other than Google Now? Can you use the features of the home screen without being tied to Google services? Sadly, no.

That doesn’t mean that one couldn’t install the Android Open-Source Project’s fork of the operating system, but it means that the marquee features of the operating system, the things that Google and Android fans like to wave in the air, are inherently tied to Google and make it very difficult to use non-Google-developed operating systems.

Instead of this word “open”, then, let’s use the word “extensible”, since that more accurately reflects the Android OS’s ability to facilitate communication between apps, and to allow developers to build software that adds functionality to the OS or preexisting apps.

The problem with Android up to this point has been that security has not been (or at least hasn’t appeared to have been) a priority for developers or users. While I could try to offer up what I see as reasons for this type of behavior (laziness, “Accept” fatigue). I may be wrong on this, but from what I’ve seen, Android are more than willing to download apps and grant them almost completely exclusive access to their mobile device without really thinking through the ramifications.

Apple has avoided this for many years by sandboxing their apps and keeping inter-app communication on the back burner until they developed a way to allow apps to communicate effectively without sacrificing a user’s privacy or requiring them to grant unnecessary privileges to an app that really shouldn’t require it. Naturally, this came at a cost. For years, iOS users have not been able to install 3rd-party keyboards or send information between apps in a way that was “easy” (to be fair, the iOS “Open In…” functionality has allowed users to send documents and files between applications for some time, but required a degree of savviness from users that was sometimes lacking).

Now that Apple has introduced the ability for developers to create “Extensions”, however, that gap has very quickly been bridged, and iOS 8 will allow developers to create new ways for their apps to interact. Some may argue that Apple’s approach may differ from Google’s, but the end-user result is basically the same: a person will be allowed to install and use third party keyboards, send information between apps, and interact more directly with the data in other apps.

What I’m interested in seeing now, however, is what the conversation will center around now. For many years, Android users have told me that Android has been superior because of its customizability. When I would press these users to provide me with more information about what “customizability” means, they would often say two things: support for third party keyboards and home screen widgets.

These two “features” of the operating system, in my opinion, are not very important, and would often open a user’s device up to instability and/or unnecessary resource usage. I have used Android devices, and I have seen the home screen widgets for the apps that I use the most, and there is no version of reality in which the widgets provide a superior experience to using the app. Again, this is my experience, and maybe there are some people who really enjoy looking at two lines of their mail on their home screen underneath a line and a half of their upcoming calendar events, and not really being able to meaningfully interact with either until they open the app anyway.

Third party keyboard support has also perplexed me, but I can understand the utility for people living outside the United States, for whom third party keyboards can offer substantially improved text entry. That being said, none of the Android users that I discussed this with lived outside the United States, so it seems that their argument is a moot point, or at least purely subjective.

Thus, it seems to me that the discussion of Android as an “open” system (again, in the way that most people understand the term “open”) has lost much of its value. Android as an “extensible” operating system has also lost much of its value, as well (at least as a marketing ploy) in light of the new functionality of iOS 8. How, then, should we be defining “open”?

When we look on the post-PC landscape and see two operating systems that allow their users to interact with their data similarly, and enter information into their devices similarly, and allow applications built upon their platforms to communicate similarly, how should a person decide which device to use? Perhaps the discussion shouldn’t be centered around questions like “Which device lets me tinker with system files?” or “Which device will allow me to inadvertently break things if I wanted to?”, but should really be “Which device is better for humans?”

Whither Unified Accounts?

For quite some time, people have been clamoring for unified iTunes Accounts/Apple IDs. It seems like apple is taking a step in the right direction with its “Family Sharing” feature announced today at WWDC. Let’s hope they keep walking.

We Live In the Future – Garmin Heads-Up Display (HUD)


Heads-Up Display HUD | Garmin.

This is the future we were promised, folks. Well…it’s getting there, at least. Check back in a couple years when this is beamed right into our eyeballs with connected contact lenses.

Standing In Line for Loukoumades

Found Poetry

I’m at the Greek Fest at lake cook rd
In line for loukoumades

Well this place is packed with people young and old
Good food dancing
And the famous Mavrodafni wine tasting.
Which I had to taste so now
I think I start singing
That’s all for now
Kind of light headed
I love you and wish you where here

We Live In the Future – Fos

Something that I’m very aware of at all times these days is the idea that, in many ways, we live in the future. Not necessarily the future envisioned by all Sci-Fi writers of the 20th century, but one that combines bits and pieces from many visions and predictions.

As such, I’d like to dedicate one post per week to something I consider absolutely amazing – an example of “the future” that many of us have been given over the years.

Here, then, is the first of such posts.

Fo̱s – A truly wearable, Bluetooth LED display system by Anders Nelson — Kickstarter.

How to Get Pageviews

Clearly, CNN and MSN know how it’s done:

  1. Include the words “Miley”, “Cyrus”, and “twerk” in a headline.
  2. Lean back.
  3. Count your money.

I know it’s the oldest story ever told, but stuff like this always makes me sad.