Laryngitis

Google is updating their search page for iOS (and presumably Android) devices.

The new iOS-optimized search page will feature tabbed browsing and large app icons to allow the user to better distinguish between search results.

That’s great! I’m glad Google is doing that. Now where the hell is their update for Google Voice for iOS? That craptastic app needs a major fix. Sad times for Google Voice, indeed.

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The Living Room Takeover

A tiny black monolith of wonder.A long time ago, in a convention hall not so very far away, Apple introduced a product intended to revolutionize the living room viewing experience. It was one of the neatest things that most people had seen happen to the TV in a while, and there were a lot of people who were impressed by what it was capable of. It was loaded with all sorts of storage (a lot for the time, at least), and offered a novel way to get your media from your computer onto your TV. The sad thing is, it didn’t really take off the way other Apple products did. People liked it well enough, and it sold decently, but it wasn’t the hot ticket item that people were scrambling to pick up. That honor generally belongs to the iPhone, and now, iPad. It was a little too pricey for what it offered, and most people probably felt like the Apple TV was a sideline player.

Fast forward to September 2010, and we see a renewed focus to Apple’s efforts; their so-called “hobby” suddenly has a brand-new face, has lost a ton of weight, and can do basically the same stuff without all the baggage. More, actually. Some people still asked “Why?” but for $99, it was hard to argue against it. Those people (myself included), just went ahead and picked one up to find out what all the fuss was about.

I can tell you right off the bat that I love my Apple TV, but not for the reasons one might expect. I don’t love it because it makes watching movies really enjoyable (it does) or because my family can see all the new pictures I just imported from my camera on the TV, or because I can stream that awesome YouTube video I’m watching right to the TV seamlessly. All those things are great, sure, but what really got me excited is what the little black box represents.

Some folks have already jury-rigged a console experience into the iPad/iPhone/Apple TV. Even before that, however, before the 2nd generation Apple TV rolled out, there were reports that it would run some version of iOS. Ultimately, iOS under the hood really only exists in order to open the door to apps. With apps come developers, innovation (and, depending on the level of the APIs, usually some griping), and new software ecosystems. With iOS under the hood, we will eventually enjoy apps that talk to each other seamlessly, network invisibly, and build off of each other in synergy. That’s what got me excited.

John Gruber has a great take on the whole thing:

I think I see what Apple is trying to do with the App Store, and the potential upside for the company is tremendous. They’re carving out a new territory between the game consoles (tight control over content and experience) and computers (large number of titles, open to development from anyone). Think of the iPhone and iPad as app consoles. (Consider too, the possibility of an all-new iPhone OS-based Apple TV. TV apps! Using iPhones and iPads as controllers.)

So, basically what I just said.

The key here is that Apple would be competing against veritable giants in this space, companies that have years and years of experience creating behemoth machines that are designed for lifespans that fill the better part of a decade.  These consoles are powerful, multi-role devices that have also taken on increasing cultural significance as gaming moves more and more into mainstream culture.  Contrast that to Apple’s predictable and consistent release cycle, which, on the one hand, allows them to react quickly to shifts in the marketplace but, on the other hand, sometimes leaves customers feeling alienated.

While I tend to side more with the stability and development cycle that is characteristic of current-gen consoles, Apple’s move into this space may also spur more innovation and force the current trifecta (Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft) to think of things that Apple hasn’t.  Sony’s current offerings (PS3, PSP) are great, but lack synergy.  If there’s anything that Apple can nail, it’s synergy, and those big three will have to work hard to integrate their home consoles with other services and devices if they want to offer the consumer some more value.  Developers’ successes in the phone space have translated smoothly from the mobile  to living room space (see Angry Birds and Dungeon Hunter), and Apple sees itself uniquely positioned to make use of that transition.

Think about it: if a developer crafts a successful, top-selling title for iOS, Apple wants to make sure that the player who wants to enjoy that same experience in their living room with three of their friends can do just that.  Apple doesn’t want that developer transitioning to another platform.  Apple doesn’t want people spending their money on other people’s hardware, either.  Why buy the PS4 or XBox 720, four controllers, and whatever other magic peripherals they have for the primary purpose of playing games when instead a person can purchase an Apple TV and iOS devices for the whole family, and be simultaneously purchasing a game console and input devices?  Let’s take it a step further.  Ever heard of OnLive?  Ever seen their game console?  Does that seem familiar to you?  OnLive’s servers stream games from the cloud to your TV.  You can play super high-quality games over a broadband connection.  Apple just built a mammoth data center, purportedly for iTunes and MobileMe.  Let’s think a little further, here.  Apple is also focused more on social now than they ever were, and it also wouldn’t seem too far-fetched to use Apple’s newly-introduced Game Center to pull all their iOS users together into a platform not unlike PSN or XBox Live.  Add to that all the success that more casual titles have seen, and it seems elementary that Apple would take steps in this direction.

I don’t know what gaming in Apple’s ecosystem will look or feel like, but I have a strong suspicion that the war for the living room is just heating up.


Here to Stay

This is exactly what so many people are afraid of with subscriptions. Let’s pause for a moment and look at some other examples of where people thought Apple’s App Store was going to be some sort of godawful den of iniquity (granted, with the initial onslaught of fart apps, that was a distinct possibility).

We’ve got this example about the 99 cent apps that people are so afraid of. Articulate and accurate, if I don’t say so, myself.

Then there’s some of this fear-mongering that hit the interwebs right after the opening of the app store.

Can we see a pattern here? Everyone panicked when apps were selling for $0.99, and now the dollar apps are the way to financial independence. Develop an amazing app, sell it for a dollar to a million people, and you’re set for the next few years. Sell it to five million, and you can buy a house. Subscriptions don’t need to be expensive, folks.

What will start to happen is a dramatic shift in how people actually start to read, how they get their media. The current model is, well, free. RSS dominated for a while, and Twitter started stealing some of RSS’ thunder. Some folks (like me) still like RSS, but I recognize that it’s not the only way of getting news out there. There’s a whole wide world of content that is waiting to be discovered and digested, and people who (up until now) had no way of feeling comfortable breaking into that world can suddenly have access to it in a very easily accessible manner.

Here’s the clincher. Ready?

Publishers are upset by their sudden restrictions. Just last month it was OK for all these subscription-based or -focused publishers to make all sorts of money off of their customers. There were no transportation fees, no raw material fees, none of that. Just what they paid their developers and writers, but they were already doing that. They had a low-overhead way of distributing their product to lots of people. There were, however, two problems with this model a) the previous subscription process was cumbersome at best and user-hostile, at worst; b) very few publications actually had subscriptions, and people were confused by them (Go to the site? Register? What happens when I’m on my iPad? Do I have to go through Safari?). Again, not optimal. Furthermore, there were (and are) lots of people who want to get paid for what they write, and carving out a place for oneself in the world of publishing demands a not-insignificant amount of research, hard work, and do-overs. The world of writing is a tough one to make it in, mostly because the signal-to-noise ratio is getting lower every day (as I wrote about in this post), and publishers want to make sure they’re paying for quality.

What if, however, it were easy to publish, build a subscriber base, and make a name for yourself? What if there was a system in place that exposed your work to millions of people who are already invested in a thriving digital ecosystem? People who are used to and demand curated, well-researched news sources? Perhaps people with a little more green in their wallets? Or perhaps people who are moving up in the world?

This model is not for the established and entrenched giants of publishing, who will attempt to nickel and dime their subscribers and who are too anachronistic to develop truly compelling and groundbreaking digital publications. This model is for the new media, for the folks who want to reach as many subscribers as they can with their good ideas; for the new media consumers, the folks who want those same good ideas but don’t want to load their minds down with ads about “weird belly fat tips” and think that maybe a dollar is a good price to pay for a month’s worth of strong-voiced columns. This is throwing open the gates to the publishing world and finally making it accessible to all the guys and gals with the good ideas but not enough time to eat or sleep and for SURE not look for an agent.

This is what disruption looks like.


The Circle of Life

Came across this article on the (admittedly grotesque) Gizmodo this morning, and thought I’d chime in.

Hipstamatic generates an atmosphere, an aesthetic that ostensibly doesn’t exist in reality. Our vision only tends to resemble 1970s photography when our minds are lubricated with pharmaceutical enhancements, after all. Is it photojournalism when an image is deliberately changed to heighten or affect mood that we literally can’t see with our eyes for the sake of aesthetics and emotion? Is the definition of reality here merely confined to the collection of objects depicted in the photograph?

Staring at the photo in question, “A Grunt’s Life,” I can see how the photographer—the person who was there, documenting a moment in a time—can reasonably argue that his Hipstamatic print more accurately depicts the feeling of what it was like to be there than if he had simply taken a conventional, straightforward photograph. A photo that, from a certain point of view, is perhaps more truthful.

Here’s the deal: as technology advances, what once required a highly developed and specialized skill set will eventually have assistive software/hardware developed for it that mimics and/or replaces the majority of the skills in that set. Shooting, processing, developing, and printing a photo like this now would take a lot of knowledge and access to resources that most people are unaware even exist. Hipstamatic removes most of these obstacles and enables “average” people without these skills to create in a manner similar to a person with said skills.

I have this discussion with people all the time. There’s a sort of nostalgia that creeps around whenever technology starts to change the way people create. When writing and publishing something was a long, difficult, and laborious process, only people who were willing to invest a great deal of time into that process had their work published. The same goes for photography, painting, filmmaking…basically almost any type of creation had a “price of entry,” if you will. A long time ago, anything that was created was vetted to make sure that it was something that was worth creating.

As I said above, the evolution and widespread adoption of previously all-but-unattainable (due to cost prohibition, licensing, etc.) technology by mainstream culture has placed tools for creation in the hands of folks who do not possess the highly specialized and developed skill set that their “artist” counterparts possess (artist being a term to denote anyone who has devoted a significant amount of time to the development and refinement of a set of skills). Despite this discrepancy in investments of time and energy, there are a not insignificant number of people who have a high degree of innate artistic talent and are able to create a “product” that is similar to the “product” created by the “artists.”

This is usually where all hell breaks loose. Lots of folks decry the use of these new technologies as “cheating,” in a way. “If anyone can do it, it isn’t art anymore!” they cry, “and they have no training!” The death knell of photography has been sounded!

Please.

I’ve had this exact same discussion on the topic of writing and the impact that the internet has had on “good” writing. Many people are of the opinion that people are “getting dumber” or that our literature is “in decline,” when the reality is there is simply more of everything. There are more people taking pictures, writing, making movies, and creating than ever before. The fact that a phone can take a picture today that looks better than pictures looked thirty years ago is just a testament to the progressive iteration that takes place in technology. Nobody ever hung a photographer because he or she didn’t know how to build a camera.

What we’re getting at is that the creation of anything is getting easier, and more people are doing it than ever before. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a wonderful, beautiful thing. People get their ideas out there. I’d like to say that all those ideas are gems of knowledge and insight, but not all of them are, and that’s OK. What we have is a much larger body of knowledge to draw from, and the tools we’re using to pull data are evolving rapidly. Sure, the “overall” quality of the work is declining, but that’s only because there’s so much more out there. That says nothing about the unrelenting and constant creation of high-quality stuff. If more people have access to good technology, then more good stuff gets out into the world. That’s where tech is supposed to fit in, it’s supposed to remove barriers to that sort of engagement with the world that usually only comes with, again, those highly developed, highly specialized skill sets.

Whew.

So, when I see something that says “OH NO HE USED HIPSTAMATIC” I usually put the earmuffs on. There’s simply no place for that anymore. If people say that the photography isn’t real because the app adds things to the frame that weren’t there, then you’re going to have to chase after all the filters, all the lensbabies, all the grease-smeared lenses that are out there. Those aren’t “real” in the same way that the virtual lenses in Hipstamatic aren’t real. Or are they? In the first scenario, someone is taking a physical object and changing the light before it hits the film; in the latter, a person is applying a modification to the image after it has already been taken, but the end result is basically the same.

The most important line in the blockquote above is the one about feeling. In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, one of the main points of the novel is to illustrate the importance of the “story truth” vs. the “real” truth. Ultimately, it is how we experience things that is important, and how we convey that experience to others is critical.

As technology improves and our ability to convey our thoughts and feelings moves beyond having a specialized set of skills, we will find that the number of brilliant people will skyrocket. It may seem small, but Hipstamatic is just one of the first steps along that path.


It’s like speeding

When people speed down highways and sidestreets, they’re often banking on the kindness of the local law enforcement to look the other way, letting the folks driving five to ten miles-per-hour over the limit squeak by.  People are thankful for that, in a way, but they also come to expect that sort of leniency everywhere.  Small towns that rely on speed traps for revenue won’t be so forgiving of the lead-footed among us, and some folks get mad about that.  They have no right, of course; they were speeding, but that doesn’t stop them from being upset.

Enter Apple, who made news once again this morning with their apparent “rejection” of Sony’s Reader app.  People were all up in arms about this move earlier (prematurely, if you ask me), and only slightly changed their tone as more details began to emerge.  Then, we were treated to this tasty morsel:

“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines,” Apple spokesperson, Trudy Muller, told The Loop. “We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

Now it’s getting tasty.  Apple is now reeling it in.  They created their “walled garden” and, despite all the protests and ballyhoo about the whole kit and kaboodle being “closed,” people absolutely loved to play in it.  Everyone wants in on a piece of the iOS pie; now that they’ve bitten, Apple is bringing them in to play by the rules that were so clearly laid down at the outset.  Basically, this:

Except now it’s apparently choosing a different way to actually enforce those terms, which makes the report seem accurate after all.

So now we have an interesting predicament.  Apple is effectively charging other companies for the content that these other companies’ customers have enjoyed on Apple’s hardware using Apple’s operating system, marketed through Apple’s App Store.  Seems almost fair, doesn’t it?  It seems as though Sony is more than a little upset about the whole thing, but I think John Gruber has a good take on it:

My guess is that Sony is getting hurt because they were late to the game. Amazon’s Kindle app precedes the existence of Apple’s in-app purchasing API. I thoroughly doubt Apple is going to pull the Kindle (or Nook) app from the App Store, but I’ll bet they’re already in discussions with Amazon (and Barnes & Noble) about how these apps need to change going forward. It’s easier to reject Sony’s app as a first step toward the application of new rules because Sony’s app is brand-new — Apple isn’t taking anything away from users that was previously available to them.

Sour grapes, indeed.  But there’s more here, as usual.  This could spark a price war in the ongoing  struggle between Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and (to a lesser degree) Borders.  If Amazon wants to keep its margins, it’s going to have to jack up the prices (still one of the aces that Amazon holds) or end up losing profits to Apple.  If Amazon exercises this option, people will undoubtedly be upset because that competitive pricing that Kindle owners are so famous for flaunting will have disappeared.  If Amazon does nothing and allows in-app purchasing at the current price points, Apple still gets a cut of each book sold and suddenly has a whole lot more money to throw at publishers to get their books into the iBookstore (if they even want to do that).

Ultimately, theres a lot of interesting stuff that this is beginning to imply in Apple’s future posturing and the continued role publishing will play in hardware sales and long-term sales strategies.


Superfluous code

In owning an iPad or iPhone, you may have heard of these things called “apps.”

They’re pretty nifty. I, however, am starting to pare down my app collection (as I have done with many things in recent weeks), and have found the experience to be incredibly cathartic.

I scrolled through the pages upon pages of apps that I have in my collection, most of which leave me asking myself “When was the last time I used this?”

Games, productivity, social networking, etc. These are all categories of apps that we see and think, “Wow, I’m going to use this all the time, and it’s a buck (or two, or three). I’m buying it.”

Then there’s schlock on your phone, and you never use it. The icon is pretty, it looks useful…but it’s really not.

It takes up space, saps your attention. You can’t get to the things you really need because you’re mired in a bunch of things that you thought you wanted at one point. Maybe thought you needed.

Maybe you don’t need an iPad or iPhone, or whatever whiz-bang razzle-dazzle doohickey that just came out. Maybe you don’t own one. Good for you and knowing what you want.

Let’s say you already have one, however. Let it be a reminder to you, a reminder to try to simplify the rest of your life. Every time you go to use your phone, netbook, iPad, blackberry, or other neato device, remember how lucky you are, and try to simplify something else in your life.

It’s like Lent, only in reverse.


these ain’t your momma’s comics

so i read a couple things recently from cory doctorow. it sounds like he’s whining about a really great product that everyone likes just to whine about it. here are some of the choice bits.

“I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup…”

and

“I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone spelunking in the used comic-bins at a great and musty store to find back issues that I’d missed, or sample new titles on the cheap.”

this means nothing to me. i was never a “comic-book kid” and have no intention to be. this app means that i can get comic books now, which is something i may never have done in the past. instead of being alone with just a handful of people, now you have the ability to connect with people who may have never gotten into comic books to begin with. this is important. your world has just gotten potentially way larger. if you still want to collect the physical manifestations of your childhood memories, do that. apple or marvel or whoever you’re whining about hasn’t taken that away from you. they’ve given other people something to do as well.

“And as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create.”

it’s called THE INTERNET. look it up. it’s open, free, and you can make whatever you’d like for it. the funny thing is, you experience this same sort of lockdown every single day when you buy your groceries, purchase shoes, or even go online to shop for your iPad alternatives. apple has created a marketplace for products, and they get to pick what’s sold there.

let’s say you owned a store, cory. maybe a grocery store, maybe a shoe store. maybe it’s a website that sells computer accessories. now let’s say, cory, that i go to that store (real or virtual) and i want to buy some human organs. what’s that, cory? you don’t sell human organs at your store? WHAT?! this is an OUTRAGE. i cannot believe that you would open a store and then choose what gets sold there. you must be some kind of egomaniac dictator. fine then, i’m going to take my business ELSEWHERE.

and i can.

i can go through shady, black market channels and get me a whole box of spleens if i wanted.

the iPad, iPhone, etc. are no different. there is a store, and it sells things. if i want other things that the store doesn’t sell, there’s a market for that, too. i simply have to put a little more work into finding it.

just like you and your comics. i want to buy a comic and have it delivered to my hand. you want to go out and find a comic. more power to you.