This Isn’t a Thing

This won’t work. I’m not saying that it never will, but I don’t believe that this is something that Apple’s framework actually even allows; Apple doesn’t allow this by design. The whole idea of a phone that does the “bidding” of another company, or simply becomes a platform for another company’s ideas, values, and way of thinking is absurd. Google might allow it because they’d find a way to monetize it, but can you imagine that? I mean actually take a minute to imagine a Google Ads-ridden Facebook interface shoehorned onto an Android phone running some forked version of the OS. Jesus, it hurts to even think about. What a horrible, mind-destroying user experience that would be.

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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.


Singing in the Rain

When the MacBook Air came out last year with its super-sexy new design and blazing fast SSD, I knew I was in trouble. It’s hard for me to resist the siren call of a new Apple product, but it’s even harder when the thing looks and performs as well as that li’l guy. I was even looking to upgrade my Mac Mini, and saw that as the perfect opportunity to dive into something portable. Since that day, I’ve had to fight off the urge to buy one nearly every single day.

Then I realize that I have an amazing iPad 2, and I the conversation with myself ends. I don’t need a laptop, I already have an incredible machine. Sure, there are shortcomings, and there are certain incompatibilities here and there that make it difficult and/or frustrating, but by and large the experience is incredible, and very freeing. I have something with me at all times that I can use for *gasp* serious work (almost every blog post I’ve ever written has been with the help of an iPad, and all of my Grad school papers come from this tiny beast) as well as having fun and playing games. Truth be told, this is the best computer I’ve ever owned, and the reason is baked into the OS.

What a glorious feeling!

A while back, I went to the Apple store to ask some questions to the friendly folks there about the MacBook Air, to see if I should choose that over the Mac Mini. I came away with this realization: if you already have an iPad, skip the MacBook Air, and if you already have a MacBook Air, skip the iPad. They’re pretty close in form and function, anyway (despite one being a “laptop” and one being a tablet). The reason I say that is because of the use-case. People buy a MacBook Air because they need a computer that is:

  1. Portable
  2. Fast
  3. Long-lasting
  4. Simple
  5. With a full keyboard

The MacBook Air is that machine, among other things. So is the iPad, however, and I’ve found that the pseudo-multitasking of the iPad is far more preferable to me when I’m working because I know that the apps won’t crash, won’t interfere with anything else, and won’t start to bog down. The’re lean, simple, and engage me physically, why I need when I’m writing. The MacBook Air is essentially redundant…except that it runs the full MacOS, instead of iOS. This seems great, until you start trying to manage multiple media libraries, apps, save files, etc. Then it gets to be more of a pain to work with MacOS than an iOS device. But wait…the new version of MacOS, Lion, looks and behaves a LOT like iOS, doesn’t it? I mean…Apple expressly talked about the similarities in their “Back to the Mac” event. So then there’s this:

Most people had dismissed that rumor due to the compatibility issues that would be introduced with such a transition. Another major issue is that while ARM processors are more power efficient, they presently offer significantly lower performance than their Intel counterparts.

Sure, an ARM-based A5 wouldn’t make sense running MacOS…but what about iOS? Let’s even blow it up a bit and look further down the road a year or two. Let’s focus on a time in the not-too-distant future when iOS and MacOS start to merge, when the distinctions between the various Apple OSs start to become blurry. Then, ARM chips would make sense. They sip power, and (currently) iOS sings on those chips. It’s built for exactly that type of chipset. The two work in perfect synergy, and you can bet that Apple is spending a lot of time making sure that, when it’s time to make that jump, that they’ve gotten the whole machine tuned and tweaked so the transition is beautiful. If you look at it that way, it makes a whole lot more sense to be using ARM-based chips for your supermodel MacBook Air, while the MacBook Pros would still run Intel chips due to their more “Pro” nature. I’m willing to be dollars to donuts that most people are going to start shifting away from MacOS “Classic” and will absolutely love the new look and feel of Lion. Who knows, maybe the Mac OS “Classic” look and feel will persist, while everything else will run some new version of iOS that is fully scalable across any hardware, much like HP is planning to do with their new version of WebOS.

There’s also this little nugget:

Although not mentioned in the most recent rumor, one of the largest features may be over-the-air updates that would finally make iOS independent of a computer for all but backup and local media syncing.

So…like a “real” computer? Can you see it? Can you see how the walls are disintegrating? The distinction between a “mobile” OS and a “desktop” OS is not as clear now, and I think the lines will continue to blur.
And this, too:

Talk of Apple using Nuance voice commands in iOS was already supported recently by code mentions in Lion. Most also presume that Apple’s cloud music service may play an integral role in the new mobile software.

So we can infer here that iOS and Lion are very closely related (doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, Apple said so), but that they share code is telling of Apple’s long-term strategy, and the strategies of several major players out there (Google, Microsoft, natch).

The jump from what we see in our hands and on our laps and desks and what we will be seeing over the next few years will be immense, and will change what every single person recognizes as a computer.

Mind the gap.


In Like a Lion

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One of the most powerful developments in recent years has been the creation of “cloud computing.” Folks familiar with the technology know that it’s essentially doing for your computer what email services like Gmail and Yahoo! have done for your communication–they’ve taken your messages, contacts, and other personal information and stored it on secure servers across the nation to make it easily retrievable in the case of an emergency or hardware failure. Instead of relying on a single storage point (your home PC, for example) to store all of your communication, Google, Yahoo, and dozens of other websites offer to handle of those tasks in exchange for showing you advertising or using some non-identifiable information to craft better algorithms.

For most people, the immediate benefit of these systems was apparent. Access your mail anywhere, store contacts somewhere that won’t be affected in the case of a system crash or loss of a single device (like a phone), and integrate these services with your web browsing. Easy, and powerful. The systems that provided these services long ago have evolved significantly, now allowing entire operating systems to essentially run through your broadband connection, piping only the data necessary for input and allowing massive supercomputers to handle all of the processing.

That all sounds fine and good, but what does it mean for you?

Cloud computing, so named because of its pseudo-omnipresence, changes the role of computers significantly. They no longer exist as a single point of storage for all your information. Instead, the computer is more of a gateway, a portal to your data that is stored in massive servers. One analogy I can draw is that of a dry cleaner. With the old model of computing, it was as though you were standing at the front of a dry cleaning factory trying to look for a specific shirt. You might not even know where the shirt was located, but you’d still have to find it yourself. With the advent of search, that process was trimmed a bit- you tell someone else what to look for and where to look, and they find the shirt.

Now, with cloud computing, we see that yet another layer of interaction is slowly melting away. We’re doing away with the fetching entirely. You don’t even really need to know where you’ve stored your data, you just need to run a search, and you can pull down results from the stuff you have stored locally on your computer as well as the files floating up with the sun and moon. We are no longer limited by how much space is on our devices, how much storage we can buy. The only limiting factor is the infrastructure that connects all these devices together. Some people have asked me, almost accusingly, “Well what happens if the network goes down? What then, huh?”

If the entire United States suddenly experiences a simultaneous and catastrophic shutdown of all of its network infrastructure, we will have much bigger things to worry about than listening to our music or accessing the documents on our cloud folder. That’s akin to asking what would happen if all paper in the United States suddenly caught fire. I don’t want to hypothesize about the events or circumstances that would need to exist in order to facilitate such a terrible reality, but, assuming it was both spontaneous and total, I doubt anyone would be worried about their fourth grade diary.

Digression. Apologies.

In recent news, we’ve heard rumblings of Apple’s new iOS 5 being cloud-based, a total overhaul of the OS. I can’t even begin to fathom what that means. The OS seems just fine as it is, but the cloud is where it’s at these days, and that darn data center that’s been occupying so many of my thoughts and predictions seems like the perfect use of all those massive petaflops (or whatever they use to measure data centers of that magnitude). It all seems to be coming together now.

What we will start to see is more unity across Apple’s various OS products. Remember back in 2005, when Steve was asked what kind of OS the iPhone was running? Does anyone remember his response? Let’s recap, shall we?

Jobs admitted that Apple is a new player in the cell phone business, saying “We’re newcomers. People have forgotten more than we know about this.” Jobs noted that the operating system to run the iPhone — Mac OS X itself — has been in develop for more than a decade (its roots like in NeXT’s Nextstep operating system). Mossberg suggested that the iPhone doesn’t have the entire operating system on it, but Jobs protested.

“Yes it does. The entire OS is gigabytes, but it’s data. We don’t need desktop patterns, sound files. If you take out the data, the OS isn’t that huge. It’s got real OS X, real Safari, real desktop e-mail. And we can take Safari and put a different user interface on it, to work with the multitouch screen. And if you don’t own a browser, you can’t do that,” said Jobs.

This shift is not overnight, and it is not a new direction for Mac OS. Once Apple began work on the iPad, they started planning for this shift, possibly even before that. I seem to remember some folks discussing the origins of the iPhone, how it was actually rooted in an experimental side project that Steve Jobs somehow got a look at and recognized as brilliant, and that said side project was actually more akin to the iPad than the iPhone. At any rate, it looks to me as though Apple has been planning this shift for years, possibly even the better part of a decade. I believe that Apple designed iOS with unification in mind all along, seeing a desire to create a powerful OS for new mobile devices that hadn’t even been developed yet. It seems fairly obvious when you look at their last “Back to the Mac” event, and even more glaringly obvious when you see something like this coming out of Gizmodo.

Adobe demonstrated Photoshop for iPad yesterday. Not a sub-product like Photoshop Express, but the real Photoshop, with a new skin. Sure, it doesn’t have some of the advanced print and web publishing oriented features of the desktop behemoth. But it has everything you need, from layers compositing—including a 3D mode to show people how they work—to what appeared to be non-destructive adjust layers, levels, color controls, and all the features I use every day in the desktop Photoshop. From the little we have seen, the application was fast and smooth.

I believe Apple has succeeded in ushering in a new age already; I can’t wait to see them throw the doors wide open to a future we’ve only dreamed of.


Despicable

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First off, don’t ever use WordPress for iOS. I just lost 1,000 words of article I was writing because WordPress decided it was going to just delete the whole thing instead of actually saving it like it usually does. No big deal, right? Just a half dozen hours of research and writing. Hey WordPress, give me three hours of my life back and we’ll call it even.

Here’s what I was going to say, in a nutshell.

Google is one of the most hypocritical companies ever. My disdain for their Android operating system and what it has potentially done to the mobile landscape is now amplified by the fact that I have to write this all over again.

The FCC ruled against net neutrality for wireless carriers in part because Android is open. Don’t get me started on how that doesn’t make sense. I’d make Andrew Jackson look tame.

Now there’s this. After all of the ads, propaganda, superbowl commercials, lobbying, and lies, Google is holding their Android OS back from release to work on the user experience. To most people, this won’t matter, but this is and always has been what Apple has done. Apple has always put the user first. They’ve always had the user experience in mind. Google, on the other hand, has always had the handset makers and manufacturers in mind. Not you or me, not your mom, not the average consumer on the street. Suddenly, they’re eating crow.

Still, device makers took the code and dished out subpar tablets. This time around, Google appears to be reining in openness in favor of a highly controlled release of Honeycomb.
Rubin says that if Google were to open-source the Honeycomb code now, as it has with other versions of Android at similar periods in their development, it couldn’t prevent developers from putting the software on phones “and creating a really bad user experience. We have no idea if it will even work on phones.”

Oh really? You think that maybe you should make an operating system that people can actually use? Madness.

Furthermore, I’ve always felt that Google’s whole “We’re open and friendly” thing was BS. I think they’re using Android as a low-quality push into the mobile space and they’re banking on widespread manufacturer adoption at the expense of the consumer. I also think they’re using Android to push their agenda in the larger scheme of things (government, Net Neutrality).

Nevertheless, the open-ended delay will likely generate unease among device makers, application developers, and members of the open-source community, many of whom are financially and philosophically invested in Android. Some critics have long questioned Google’s commitment to openness, and this latest news will give them added ammunition.

It just seems like a veiled and subtle move to shift away from “openness” now that the FCC has given mobile carriers free reign to do whatever they want to the mobile Internet space.

What a crock. This is awful for everyone.

Pic attribution


Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

A few days ago, I discussed the idea of the future smartphone/connected device as a companion to an active and mobile lifestyle. One of the topics I also broached was that of online privacy, and people’s need for it (or at least the illusion thereof). While I maintain that the majority of folks who have any sort of online presence are sacrificing their anonymity and a great deal of their privacy, I also agree that this situation should not be the only available option. People should have the right to privacy. It’s a terrible thing when folks simply have little to no knowledge of a) how they are divulging their private knowledge, and b) how to protect themselves from divulging too much. Recent developments in this space have made it much easier for people to protect their identities and ensure at least some degree of privacy in their lives.

The first development which has the potential to set a precedent for further privacy advocates to build off of is a recent ruling in European courts that requires any site desiring to track online behaviors obtain explicit consent from site visitors to track them using cookies.

As part of its work to comply with the directive, the IAB – an industry body that represents web ad firms – created a site that explains how behavioural advertising works and lets people opt out of it.

From 25 May, European laws dictate that “explicit consent” must be gathered from web users who are being tracked via text files called “cookies”.

This is great news for anyone who is looking to push for greater laws or regulations protecting individual privacy online. The efforts for privacy protection in the desktop browsing space are making significant headway, as well. Both Google and Mozilla have released extensions for their respective browsers that keep users protected from websites desiring to track their behaviors.

The two approaches are part of a larger move resisting the efforts of web advertisers to profile people’s online activities in ever more detail. Typically this tracking is accomplished through cookies, small text files many sites use to customise sites for regular visitors.

It’s important to note that websites that track your behavior aren’t necessarily evil. The overwhelming majority of the websites that feed your browser some sort of behavior tracking cookies aren’t looking to ruin your life. They’re not malware, phishing, or scam sites, they’re the same sites that you visit every day looking for your news, videos, media, and shopping. Many cookies are designed just to make your life easier. The same cookies that tell Facebook that you were active yesterday, or your online email site to keep you logged in for a week instead of logging you out after each session, or tell your banking site that your computer is trusted as opposed to foreign.

All these cookies perform functions that most people rely on every day. The problem is that there are people wishing to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) in order to push their agenda. Sometimes these people are anti-technology, sometimes they’re just untrusting, but their message is typically uninformed. They hear the word “tracking” and envision cloak-and-dagger operations going on in your cable modem or cell phone, when the reality is more akin to your local big-box retailer reviewing their security camera footage and attempting to developable better marketing plans for a specific demographic. These folks most likely wouldn’t like the camera idea, either, but it’s something they have turned a blind eye to in order to feel more in control of their buying habits.

Mozilla is really working hard to try to provide people with options when it comes to tracking their online presence. A recent proposal by Mozilla (referenced in the link above) will change the way that future browsers work with tracking cookies. Basically, instead of having cookies to disable tracking (which, despite telling websites that you don’t want to be tracked, can still be deleted when a person closes his or her browser), the browser will include a built-in switch that allows customers to opt-out of tracking (theoretically) with one button press.

Some important things to note about this proposal:

There is no “list” that consumers need to sign up for. Early discussion of Do Not Track included proposals about a list-based registry of users, similar to the Do Not Call Registry. This proposal does not collect data on consumers in a central list. (Security and privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian has more about the history of Do Not Track.)

Consumers won’t need to update software for Do Not Track regularly. Early versions of Do Not Track proposed installing software on an individual’s computer that listed all the known tracking companies. As more companies were identified, the list would need to be updated. The current proposal does not store a list of companies on your computer and so does not need to be repeatedly updated.

You can still clear your cookies without fear of disrupting the header-based Do Not Track.
The header-based Do Not Track model won’t threaten ad-supported businesses.

The final battle over online privacy has yet to be fought, but as people begin spending more and more time online, they will begin to demand greater control over their privacy. Our governments haven’t always made the best decisions regarding technology, but a more informed population will demand greater rights over the evolving online landscape.


the bottleneck

so i had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day regarding all this hullabaloo with google’s forays into the fiber market and how they’d like to bring superfast 1000 Mbit/s data into the home.  i think that’s a great idea…but there are some shortcomings to that plan (which i’m sure google is thinking about).

even if they’re thinking about it, i’m still gonna talk about it.

so google said something recently about how it wants to make the web faster.  i think that’s a great idea.  now, they’ve moved beyond the theoretical “let’s try real hard to make stuff more efficient” into the “let’s just GO FAST” realm.  i’m not sure if i think that’s the best way for them to be using their might.

the internet is a vast sea of stuff, right?  getting access to this stuff takes bandwidth, and having all this data served up to your eyeballs and earholes is what so many telcos make their money off of.  doing the same thing is what makes google a ton of money, as well.  this leads them to the interesting position of having a distinct interest in making sure lots and lots and lots of data gets into your head as quickly as possible.  basically every time you use the internet, you’re making google some money, so it makes sense that they’d want you to use it MOAR.

they also have the right idea in serving up data instead of creating more programs and applications.  we’ve had fast computers for a while, and they keep getting faster.  the problem is that they always feel slow, since the code that is being written to run on them is trying to take advantage of the new horsepower.  you get more complex code, more operations occurring per second, and the overall experience doesn’t change, despite shelling out tons of cash for a new rig to browse the internet.  this is really bad.  we get locked into this cycle of buying new stuff, just so we can run an upgraded version of the same program we had last week, only now it does more, so it needs more power.

at what point do we hit saturation?

google says now.

really, we don’t need more powerful programs and applications, we need more data.  this is important, since the applications we have now can do everything we need them to do if we can just get them the data fast enough.  you can also leverage the power of supercomputing clusters around the country to take care of calculations and operations that would make your dream machine at home cry since you can pass them huge chunks of raw data and tell them “here do something with this,” and they’ll say, “ok!”

all that is so awesome!  but…it’s sorta limited in the same way the current internet is sorta limited.  currently, the state of the internet (true broadband) is basically limited to phone booth-style execution.  you go home, or to work, or to a coffee shop, and your internet is fast in these places because they have landline connections to the ISPs.  if you want mobile internet, you need to suffer through “3g” service provided by your mobile provider, or go with someone like clear or sprint for 4g.  in most cases, both of these “solutions” are really stopgap measures, since they don’t provide the sort of coverage that a truly mobile solution does.  sure, i could walk into a clear store and walk out with the ability to log onto my gmail from anywhere in chicago…but what if i wanted to visit some friends in wisconsin?  what if i had to drive to southern illinois for work?  i’d be out of luck.  not truly mobile, and not truly broadband, but somewhere in between, really.

this is where google should be focusing.  the current state of this data fetching is unreliable because our infrastructure lacks consistency.  i may be able to get great reception when i’m at home, but i’d rather have great reception when i go to my doctor’s office on the fourth floor of a small office building.  is that too much to ask?  how about if i’m on the subway?  at a mall?

this is where the future needs to be.  it’s one thing to have a person at home, browsing at lightning fast speeds, but it’s another to be able to have a similar experience while walking down the street checking stocks or watching a movie.  at some point, a person hits their limit of how much data they can absorb simultaneously.  even right now, i’m not trying to load 20+ pages simultaneously.  loading one or two as i think of new ideas is pretty common, but by the time i’m done typing in the query for the second page, the first has already loaded.  granted, my usage may not be typical, but it’s not so far out of left field that one could call me a “power user.”

so google, if you’re listening, focus on the mobile space (like you said you would).  forget fiber, give me the ability to access your pages from everywhere, and i think we’ll have a mutually beneficial relationship.