pyehouse
11Oct/110

Genius

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. -Albert Einstein

Apple - iPod nano with Multi-Touch

12 Key Features Apple iPad Lacks

Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities. - Oscar Wilde

Apple Releases iPod

Genius always finds itself a century too early. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Apple Predicted Siri 24 Years Ago

The man of genius inspires us with a boundless confidence in our own powers. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Apple - iLife - iMovie

To see things in the seed, that is genius. - Lao Tzu

Apple - OS X

Apple - Safari


Steve Jobs was a genius. No, he did not personally invent everything Apple produced during his tenure. No, he did not even push Apple engineers to directly invent everything they produced. Rather, he was inspire what he saw around him and he used his vision to create products that simply worked and worked simply. Apple products have a reputation, be they hardware or software. To the naysayers and detractors, it centers around form over function, imitation and naive simplicity. To the proponents and fans, it centers around form fitting function, inspiration and naive simplicity. The art is in making what was once complex, simple. Part of making products that appeal to people, not merely to consumers, is making them appealing. The design of Apple products is not simply a marketing ploy, it is one of the defining characteristics. The simplicity of design is not a dumbing down but a purification. That is the genius that Steve Jobs brought to Apple.

7Oct/111

Richard Stallman is a Jerk.. and Wrong

The title of this post is pretty indicative of the tone and content of this post. If you worship at the altar of Richard Stallman and promote all things Stallmanesque then I contend you are not likely to enjoy the rest of this post.

How to be a Jerk in Just 102 Words

First, I'll let you read what Richard Stallman decided needed to be said in response to the death of Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, "I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone." Nobody deserves to have to die - not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs' malign influence on people's computing.

Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

Where to begin? Mr. Stallman, you clearly have strong feelings about the free software movement, I get that. Clearly you can get a lot more mileage by being caustic than sweet, particularly when you still feel you need to generate traction in the mainstream. But your attempt at riding one man's popularity into his grave in order to promote an agenda while maligning his contributions seems designed solely to backfire and alienate you from anyone aside from your most devoted fans.

I am not alone in finding your statement repugnant and disrespectful, no matter how you might attempt to soften your stance (i.e. "Nobody deserves to have to die"). Even those who might agree with your stance on free software appear to be taken aback by your (call it what it is) callous, opportunistic abuse of another man's death. You seem to oppose corporate entities making hay off the work of others, yet even some of Apple's biggest competitors refrained from stepping on this moment. Whatever goal you might have hoped for, you have only shown yourself to be petty and bitter and unwilling to grant that another person's life might have offered worth to the world in spite of your opposition to their principles.

And How to be Wrong, Too

And let's take a look at those principles, shall we? You dislike that Jobs promoted a device which is "designed to sever fools from their freedom". So glad to see you take a shot at the living. I think you miss the point. If Mr. Jobs were still alive and asked if he designed the iPhone or any other Apple device to be in some way less free, I imagine he would have said that wasn't the point, that in fact most people do not care. His goals were simply orthogonal to freedom, in the sense of which you speak. It wasn't on his radar. The freedom Mr. Jobs espoused was the freedom not to be bound by the limitations of poor design. Of complexities which distract the user from creating. Of dealing with tools which never saw the word "No".

I find myself forced to admit you have made positive contributions in your efforts to push the free software agenda. But I find it shocking that you can be so oblivious to the positive influence Steve Jobs had on the world. I am not the type to build someone up beyond where they deserve to be, but you have to admit that inasmuch as your drive and determination has pushed a movement, Mr. Jobs' drive and determination has pushed industries (plural), and has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to do more to create and produce and communicate.

And my final point on the matter... put up or shut up, Mr. Stallman. The mass appeal of Apple products does not lie purely in marketing muscle. They are appealing specifically because they are well designed, highly polished and focused on what consumers need. They simply work. More importantly they get out of the way to do so. While there are well designed free software products which can make a similar claim, the most common refrain of casual users is that when compared to non-free solutions, functionality is either missing, poorly designed or difficult to understand. In short, the tool gets in the way of the worker. Perhaps if the movement which you champion so vehemently (and yet are serving so poorly with this sort of vitriol) was more capable of producing software that serves the user more effectively, you might gain some leverage. Until then, deal with the fact that most people are not interested in what you are pushing. And try to learn what it means to actually respect another's accomplishments rather than attempting to tarnish someone's image in order to further your own cause.

5Oct/113

Is Apple Aiming for the Enterprise Now?

Shiny glass like image of an appleOne of the things that comes up from time to time is the dominance of Windows and dearth of OS X in the Enterprise. It is no less true now than it has been in the past... OS X is not a major presence in business and in particular big business. In the past, Apple made overtures toward the business market with their Xserver and Xsan products, but those have been discontinued, leaving only the Mac Pro as the high horsepower OS X server of choice and the Mac Mini as the budget oriented OS X server platform. What does this mean for Apple in the Enterprise? Not much, or at least nothing different than what they have always been. Still, a few interesting tidbits came up during Tim Cook's presentation that makes one wonder if Cupertino hasn't kept business market share plans somewhere in their back pocket.

We Want More

In previous keynotes, there hasn't typically been a global interest in discussing overall install base for the Mac. There has been discussion of laptop install base because that has historically been a strong point for Mac sales relative to the rest of the industry. But desktop sales have typically not been mentioned prominently. To be fair, Tim Cook didn't really go into desktop sales specifically but he did discuss overall install base very prominently during the opening of the keynote. And more importantly, he stated "there are still 70% of people buying something else. We still have a lot to do."

Now, no CEO is ever going to state "We have plenty of customers, we don't need any more." They would be kicked out of their posh office and deservedly so. They might even have to forego their golden parachute. But looking backwards, this sort of aggressive discussion of expanding the overall user base has been atypical of Apple. Surely they have always wanted to expand their hardware sales but it hasn't been discussed so matter of factly before. That makes it interesting, but that alone isn't what got me to thinking about business sales.

We Have More

During the discussion of iPad statistics, they pointed out 92% of Fortune 500 companies are looking at the iPad for internal use. I have to agree with Mr. Cook, that is remarkable. Of course, they're naturally going to mention things which put the iPad in a positive light, and the fact that the iPad is the dominant tablet at the moment means there is plenty to talk about. Still, it is striking to me that there is such an emphasis on business uptake of the iPad.

Combine this with the other factoids, uptake in the medical industry, the recent adoption by some airline pilots to reduce the number of physical books they have to carry with them, the 95% overall satisfaction rate with iPad users, and you have a serious reason to think that the iPad, and Apple by extension, is going to end up firmly entrenched within the business sector.

But Wait, There's Still More

Finally, there is another interesting piece of information that was shown; satisfaction rates for smartphone users. At the top of the heap was Apple with the iPhone. Noticeably missing from anywhere near the top of the heap? RIM's BlackBerry. Personally, I have seen a large number of our clients shift from BlackBerry to iPhone or Android phones, with a bias toward the iPhone. RIM's BlackBerry phones are, of course, known for being the phone for business professionals with presumably superior communication technologies. But with that low a satisfaction rate among RIM customers, at least some of them have to be switching. And what are they switching to? No doubt some of them are heading to iPhones. Toss in the fact that RIM entered the tablet war with disastrous consequences and you have a recipe for many dissastified business professionals turning toward Apple products.

So where does that leave things? Apple has been using the halo effect to push sales of each item of hardware through popular usage of other pieces of hardware. While the iPhone has been popular, the iPad is taking it to a whole new level, especially in the business sector. The fact that Apple is taking note of their overall market share, both in mobile and on the desktop, suggests they are aware of the overall position and that they can have a place in business. They haven't given up on OS X Server as a product and might yet reintroduce server hardware but in the meantime can continue to work toward presence on the desktop at the small and enterprise business levels. I don't purport to know what Apple is planning but it certainly seems like they have an eye on what could be.

4Oct/110

iPhone 4S – Did You Expect a 5?

Shiny glass like image of an appleThe Wall Street Journal, and others, seem to be bummed that Apple announced the iPhone 4S without the expected hoverboard and dishwashing upgrades. Apparently, having a faster processer, faster graphics chip, support for both GSM and CDMA on the same device, more capacity, sharper camera, incredible voice control capability, support for faster downloads via HSPA+ along with an extra letter 'S' wasn't enough.

The fact is that for any other device, the hardware bump from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S would represent sufficient advances as to warrant a version bump, no sweat. But because of the expectations which Apple has built up around their devices, it is almost inevitable that they can't keep up with expectations. In the weeks leading up to today's announcement, blogs and news sites trotted out lede after lede baiting users with tantalizing might-be's and possible could-have's. Some were spot on, some missed the mark. Regardless, there was precisely one voice missing from the hype machine. Yep, Apple. Apple made no grand pronouncements other than that it would be about iPhones. There were bits and pieces which we could glean from their activities and from various leaks (perhaps some more astroturfy than others but still) but nothing that set expectations terribly high. Some even surmised that some of the news leaks just prior to today's Apple announcement were intentionally leaked by Apple in order to lower expectations that were running rampant leading up to the iPhone 4S unveiling. And given how many Debbie Downers are disappointed in the hardware bump, I can hardly blame Apple for wanting to set expectations lower.

Jazzed About the iPhone 4S

To be honest, while I'm appreciative of all of the enhancements, it's the GSM/CDMA on a single device on top of availability on Sprint that I'm most jazzed about. Because of the support for both cell protocols, the iPhone is being called a world phone, which is now a fair statement. It now means that I can take my phone to whichever carrier I desire to take it to, without having to worry about the hardware inside which tied it to one set of carriers or another. It adds the element of freedom that has been missing with the iPhone since it was first released. And while I haven't had an opportunity to check for myself, Sprint is known for having lower data and voice plan rates. I don't know if that will translate to lower rates for iPhone users, but if so, that might apply a little additional downward pressure on fees that have only gone up since the iPhone's debut. I wasn't considering myself to be in the market for a phone upgrade but I might take a look at what Sprint will offer and, if it makes sense to do so, make the switch.

Really, there is a lot to love with this upgrade. If you can't find something that at least piques your interest, you aren't trying very hard. It seems strange to hear people complaining that they didn't get the toy they weren't promised in the first place and instead have to settle for the toy that is still clearly better than what they already have. I suppose, though, that it speaks volumes about the popularity of Apple and what people expect from their design team.

29Sep/110

When the Tail Wags the Dog

Java Duke image imposed on Firefox logo, pointing at the fox

The Register is reporting that the Firefox team is considering blocking Java in response to the BEAST attack, which allows the attacker to intercept data from an otherwise secured connection. The move would be contentious given the impact it could have on anyone using Java in their Firefox browser, including users of Facebook's video chat as well as Java applets deployed internally at companies who depend on the Java functionality for their business. Without getting into the details of the problem, it seems that the Java plugin, developed now by Oracle, is causing a big headache for Firefox and their options are both limited and unappealing given possible user backlash. It's just another example of why company's are increasingly tempted to not work with other software projects to obtain new functionality, instead opting to fork existing projects, create their own solutions or just go without the new tech altogether.

A recent example involves Amazon's fork of Gingerbread (aka Android 2.3) to power their new Kindle Fire. Many decried the decision, particularly since Honeycom (Android 3.0) was available and targeted specifically at tablets and the newer Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) was going to be available just around the corner to unify the handset and tablet focused Android versions. More than just forking the code though, Amazon opted to create their own Android App Store meaning users may find themselves needing to repurchase Android apps already purchased elsewhere to get them onto their Kindle Fire or at least having to jump through additional hoops to use all available Android apps. Regardless, the fork means that Amazon is not beholden to anyone else for updates or features and given the open source nature of Android, will be able to pull any choice bits in from newer Android releases without having to work on anyone else's schedule.

We also saw this with Apple's decision to create Safari. Prior to OS X, Internet Explorer dominated the Apple browser market. Given that as connectivity became more widespread, browsing the web became a more prominent activity, Apple was moved to provide a more Apple-esque experience for browsing. The WebKit project provided the core of the browser which resulted in Apple boasting a well known browser of their own on several platforms and no longer relying on another company to provide that key experience.

Apple also showed their desire not to be reliant upon other company's technology in how they have handled Adobe's Flash. Flash has never seen the light of day on an iOS device and is no longer shipping pre-installed on Macs. There were clear performance issues (the 2009 Apple keynote mentions plugins at 10:23 but in retrospect it seems clear the reference was mostly to Flash) but more important were the control concerns. Apple has retained tight control over the user experience of their platforms, control which would only have decreased had Flash become more pervasive on Apple devices. Apple has put considerable effort into providing technologies which developers would have a hard time making use of on a meta platform like Flash, so the less dependence upon Flash by Apple, the more control they retain over their own platform.

Historically we have also seen what happens when companies attempt to coexist with competitor technologies. Witness OS/2's slow death (or lack of uptake) because developers could just develop for Windows and let the OS/2 Windows layer handle running the non-native application. Users never got a taste of what a real OS/2 app could accomplish. And while RIM's PlayBook was practically stillborn, the last gasp effort to renew life by declaring that Android apps would be allowed to run on the device was generally considered a bad idea by pundits since that, as with other similar decisions, would result in less push for developers to target the platform natively.

The lesson here is simple. Only trust third party components to the extent that you can do without them entirely. The more your own platform or project becomes dependent upon the functionality of other plugins or platforms, the more beholden you are to their schedules and priorities. It can be difficult to predict when a shift like that is going to happen (or already has), but it can be crucial.

28Sep/110

Kindle Fire vs RIM PlayBook

John Gruber, at DaringFireball.net, in a post about a comparison between the Kindle Fire and RIM's PlayBook, quoted Ryan Block regarding the Kindle Fire's resemblance to the PlayBook:

From there, Amazon’s team determined they could build a tablet without the help and experience of Lab 126, so they turned to Quanta, which helped them “shortcut” the development process by using the PlayBook as their hardware template. Of course, it’s never quite that simple, and as I’m told Amazon ran into trouble, and eventually sacrifices were made (like using a slower processor).

Although Amazon did refresh the ID of their PlayBook derivative, I’m told that this first tablet of theirs is “supposed to be pretty poor” and is a “stopgap” in order to get a tablet out the door for the 2011 holiday season — which doesn’t exactly leave the best taste in my mouth.

John then follows up by asking:

My question, though: if it’s based on or even just very much similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook, why is the Kindle Fire only $199 and the PlayBook started at $499?

My response: Amazon is hoping for a halo effect, subsidizing a reduced cost tablet, perhaps sold at or even below cost, with the expectation of additional revenue from services provided by the tight integration of the Kindle Fire with Amazon products and services. This halo effect, which is something Apple has counted on with their hardware products, selling Macs and Macbooks because users purchase iPods and iPhones, is also something RIM never counted on. RIM never had services they could push toward PlayBook users which would grow revenue beyond the simple sale of the hardware.

I actually mentioned the idea of Amazon subsidizing Kindle Fire through service revenue a few weeks ago. What makes sense for Amazon didn't for RIM, and I think for anyone trying to break into the tablet market against the iPad, they're going to have to provide a clear improvement on price because the quality and content aren't likely to be matched or beaten well enough to make a difference. And for that to hold true, someone's going to have to take a loss on the hardware and make it up elsewhere. Amazon is one of the few who can do so at this point.

27Sep/110

The State of NFC

Stylized white N on a blue gradient background

The State of NFC

Stylized white N on a blue gradient background

The “N-Mark” logo is a trademark or registered trademark of NFC Forum, Inc.

No, I'm not here to discuss the fact that the Detroit Lions have their first 3-0 start since 1980, though kudos to them. I'm talking about Near Field Communications and particularly how it is used to make purchases. If you've ever swiped a badge to enter a building, had your pet injected with an electronic tag, or swiped your ticket to get onto public transportation, then you have used NFC. In essence, it involves two devices communicating information over a very short ranged radio signal. The smarter the devices, the more interesting the exchanges that can take place. With something like a badge, ticket or card, the communication is going to be, by necessity, rather simple, typically one way and typically simple bits of information. With something like a smartphone or computer, the possibilities are endless, a whole host of information being available and both devices being capable of altering what is sent based on changing needs.

Google and PayPal are squared off against one another in the NFC space  and those are two big players, to be sure. Google is going to launch a phone with NFC payment options but and it has some major players lined up to help, but it's still going to be starting off with some limits like only being in a single new model, only being on the Sprint network, only being usable at certain retailers, etc. But it's still a serious bid by Google to get into the game in the US, where the uptake of NFC hasn't been nearly as pervasive as in other countries like Japan.

Meanwhile, PayPal and owner eBay have been involved with a number of acquisitions and partnerships which, while not being as close to actually going live, have the capability of being more far-reaching and touching on more payment processing possibilities (say that five times, fast) than Google's Wallet would out of the box.

Either company would seem to have a large leg up on anyone else entering the field (pardon the pun). For any other company to stand a chance at playing in the same arena for NFC mobile payments (i.e. paying with your phone), they would have to have equal name brand recognition, the ability to widely deploy large numbers of devices with NFC, capacity to handle purchases securely and an ability to establish relationships with merchants for rapid uptake of their payment processing system. Hmm...

Apple. Yeah, you saw that coming. First off, there have been rumors for awhile now that Apple was going to be dallying in NFC. First the iPhone 4 was rumored to be introducing NFC and now rumors are flying about iPhone 5, though admittedly tuned down  . But consider, the iPhone is in widespread use and has the highest retention rates of any smartphone in the industry so it would seem that the smart money would be on pretty widespread adoption of the iPhone 5 out of the gate. Additionally, we're seeing the iPhone move into more carriers in the US which is only going to increase its reach. Plus they've been processing payments as small as $0.99 for quite awhile now, albeit through their relatively controlled App Stores. And the process for signing up for what is essentially a merchant account to handle payment processing on the App Store is relatively pain free.

That said, a 30% cut of sales won't fly and it might be hard to explain why I can sell you a Doubleplusgood Meal for only a 10% surcharge to Apple but end up with a 30% chunk gone for selling you the latest Lady Gaga track. That's not to mention the hardware that would need to be in each location to handle that processing. Of course, the answer to that might be more iPhones or iPads. After all, Apple is already using them in their own retail stores, so why couldn't a similar system be made available for merchants in their own stores? Set up an iPod Touch on the store's wireless connection, secured of course. Run the merchant iOS app, loaded with the store's inventory plus an ad-hoc item option to ring up random sales that might not be present in standard inventory. Walk around and let your patrons make purchases anywhere on the sales floor or at the main register, whatever you prefer.

Not Part of Apple's Core

The catch to all of this is... this isn't what Apple has been about. The App Store has typically been considered an avenue to encourage sales of Apple hardware, not as a revenue center in its own right. Perhaps that principle was Jobs-specific but I find it hard to imagine that his recent departure would result in a fairly big shift in focus. Still, Apple does seem to have a lot of the tools necessary. Or at least enough of them to give it a go.

Personally, I would like to see it happen through Apple. I already deal with them on multiple levels financially and don't want to have to add to the panoply of companies who have my financial information. Then again, I suppose the same could be said of PayPal. Google... not so much. Wallet is new and Checkout has never really taken off. Regardless, here's to an interesting online battle. May the best tech win.

20Sep/110

Metro and iOS – One Goal, Two Approaches

I want to touch on this subject once more, because I think it deserves some more attention. I imagine Metro is getting overplayed a bit, but as almost anyone will point out, Metro is essentially Windows Phone 7's interface writ large. Or put another way, where WP7 was a revolution for Microsoft, Metro is the next evolutionary step from WP7, putting it onto the desktop in addition to mobile devices. Yet this isn't so very different from what Apple has been moving toward with various UI elements bouncing back and forth between iOS and OS X and then, earlier this year, the 'Back to the Mac' themed WWDC conference. The fact is both Microsoft and Apple are pushing toward a unified UI strategy. They're just taking different tacks getting there.

The Red Queen - Metro's New Look

I've mentioned elsewhere that I don't dislike Metro. I can't say I like it all that much either. It's definitely different, definitely featureful. I'm not looking forward to some of the support sessions I am no doubt going to be involved with when some of my clients end up with a new computer with Windows 8 installed and no clue how to operate the new UI. Still, I think there are a number of things Microsoft is doing right with Windows 8. One thing I've already mentioned that I think they're doing wrong is making too big a change in the UI too quickly. The shift from Windows XP to Vista and on to Windows 7 didn't involve large paradigm shifts in UI usage and even so there were some complaints for users who were used to the "way things were". But by and large, things have gotten better, folks got used to the new look and layout and things were more or less okay. Windows 8 looks to upend all of that by introducing what is, for all intents and purposes, a completely new way of doing things. Technically anyone who has a Windows Phone 7 device now is already exposed to the core principles. But that's a very small number of people really. I'm not trying to rehash my previous article, but I do want to point out that this whole hog approach is very purposeful. It's not an accident that Microsoft is doing this. I think they realize just how much risk this gambit involves and I think they are going about it with eyes wide open. The question is, why? I'll get to that in a bit.

The White Queen - iOS's Slow Play

Apple on the other hand is taking a slow approach. They introduced iOS, with UI elements similar to those on OS X. The expanded on those elements. Then over time, things have slowly begun to merge. With Lion, we now have the Launchpad to mimic iOS home screen functionality, the scrolling and scroll bars are behaving like they do on iOS, swipes are beginning to work similarly, full screen mode is being rolled out, though not pushed out... slowly we are seeing the iOSification of OS X which itself was the basis for iOS. The emphasis here is slow. OS X is still fundamentally OS X. Take someone who's only familiar with OS X 10.0 and sit them down in front of Lion and they'll still be able to do anything. The reversed scrolling will confuse the hell out of them at first, granted, but once you get them past that hurdle, they'll be fine. Put someone on an iOS device and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the gestures and usage seem relatively intuitive. People pick it up easily and things work as you would expect them to. Yet as dissimilar as the two environments are, they are being brought together. How much further we have yet to go, I can't say. What I can say is that on the current course, it's going to be a subtle shift and I if the scrolling "controversy" is any indication, it will involve little fuss.

King's Gambit

So why then would Microsoft jump so quickly to unify their UI with a fast play that may involve more pain and more screaming from consumers? Simple. The iPad. If it weren't for the fact that the iPad is trouncing all comers in the tablet space, Microsoft would not feel the need to renovate their very non-touch-oriented OS for tablet use. Yes, Windows Phone 7 is already out and seems to be a precursor to anything in the Metro interface, intimating it was in the development pipeline before Windows 8. I'd be willing to bet that Windows Phone 7 was, in fact, a product of the effort to get Windows 8 out and available for desktop and tablet use. Moreover, I think they bet on the phone strategy because at least in the phone space there has been some indication of room to grow, with Android devices challenging the iPhone's dominance and leaving hope that Microsoft might be able to push some of these devices out rapidly. Of course, I can't know for sure. But tell me... if Microsoft really wanted to, couldn't they have simply held off on finalizing Windows 8 and making it operate on smartphones and done a simultaneous release? Surely the WP7 team knew about Windows 8 development. It seems they clearly wanted WP7 out in the real world for users to play with and get used to the interface before Windows 8 was out and available. And they wanted that momentum to carry them forward into deploying Windows 8 on desktops (a lesser concern) as well as new tablet devices now based on Windows 8 and standing a chance in hell against the iPad.

Microsoft is rushing their UI unification in order to take on Apple in the tablet space, with Windows Phone 7 as the vanguard of the UI makeover. I don't know how successful their gambit will be, but as I look it over, I think it's the only move they could make.

15Sep/110

Android Malware, Life Outside the Walled Garden

 

Android figure with malware critter embedded

Android malware is on the rise

There's a new instance of Android malware on the loose, targeting your SMS messages, intercepting them and attempting to use them for profit. It isn't the first instance of malware on the Android platform; there have been a number of apps posing as other innocuous, even useful, tools that harvested your data for less than honorable purposes. In fact, this latest incarnation of Android malware, named SpyEye, follows on the footsteps of Zeus, an Android version of desktop malware. TheRegister reports that Android malware exploits are set to rise precipitously over the next six months. In that same article, it is surmised that Google dare not "lock down" its applications for fear of developer reprisal, intimating that the problem won't be rectified with a "walled garden".

One Android Malware To Go Please

In contrast with Apple's "walled garden", Google has adopted what could be termed an "untamed jungle" approach. While there are multiple app stores with varying levels of vetting by the operator, there are ample methods for Android owners to download apps from any location fully on their own recognizance to determine the genuineness and safety of the app in question. This has several positive effects. First, the barrier to entry for developers is lowered as they can offer applications directly from their website without having to register and receive approval from a third party operator. Second, the user has a potentially larger pool of applications to draw from since apps that otherwise might have been rejected are now available (I'm looking at you PhoneStory).

There are downsides, too, though, as Android owners are finding out. When an app store operator vets an app, there is a much lower chance that it will be approved if it will adversely affect a user's device. There are quality checks made which wouldn't be outside of an app store environment. Of course, it helps if the app store operator has reasonable standards and a habit of enforcing them but any app store operator worth their salt is going to make the effort in order to preserve their reputation, else customers will bring their money to another app store that serves them better. Outside of these app stores though, anything goes. Without a formal vetting process in place, the bar is lowered for malware authors to infect users' devices.

Of course, not even Apple requires you to enter through their gates for all of their devices. End users can just as easily install apps from a developer's website on their iMac as any Windows user could on their PC. There is an App Store for OS X users, but it isn't required. It offers a degree of comfort, of safety, but isn't the only way. Users are left to fend for themselves. But the argument that Google would necessarily lose developers if they chose to lock down Android is without merit. Apple took some heat for what was perceived to be a strong handed approach in terms of what apps were allowed to do but seems to be doing quite well in spite of this. Even when Android first arrived and all of the comparisons of openness vs not-so-openness were cropping up, Apple has still done very well. Developers did not leave the platform in droves. Apple's world did not end. So it's not the openness, per se, that Google fears. Rather it's that they have hyped it so much they can't back down now. They've worked to convince everyone that they champion openness, and the free distribution of Android apps outside of an app store is a major part of that campaign, that any backing down now would seem like a retreat of sorts. And that, Google can't have.

14Sep/110

Google Dart Misses the Mark

Google has revealed they are working on a new programming language, Google Dart, which one can surmise will be targeted at web development, likely on both the back end and front end. The first indication was the release of the speaking schedule for the Goto Conference in October, where two speakers will be presenting the keynote concerning this new language. If it turns out that Dart is in fact targeted at replacing Javascript on the front end, regardless of any other platform targets it might have, it is not going to transform the client side development experience without more support than just Google's Chrome.

What is Google Dart Targeting, Really?

Based on an alleged leaked memo discussing a project codenamed "Dash", it seems that Google is trying to supplant Javascript in the browser in order to fight the "encroachment of other, less open platforms". This appears to be referring to native apps and in the case of mobile, iOS apps in particular. According to the "Dash memo", the plan will be to have Dash cross compile to Javascript in order to continue to support Javascript centric browsers until such clients are capable of natively running Dash. The intent, then, is to create a new environment, entice developers to jump in and use it, and use that momentum to move vendors like Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera to incorporate Dart VMs in their browsers. There are some problems with this approach though.

A Twenty Mule Team

Google is going to be pulling against several different, very powerful forces if they make an attempt such as they seem to be undergoing. To begin with one of the problems they cite as a reason to consider Dart, a multitude of frameworks and libraries to perform various functions, is also one of the reasons many developers will want to stick with the language as they have already invested time and effort in learning and deploying these frameworks. Moreover, Google points to the use of myriad incompatible design patterns. Based on this statement, it suggests they want to perform some sort of enforcement over which patterns might be used or perhaps create alternative frameworks which use a common pattern and provide them as a means to allow developers to use a consistent set of frameworks. This suggests Google is looking to create "the One True Way" for web development by fiat rather than by allowing for the development of a standard which other entities might have a say in. If they were truly concerned about asserting the homogeneity of the Javascript ecosystem they would proffer their own such frameworks using compatible design patterns.

Then there are the other browsers. If you take a look at the speakers list as well as the list of sponsors, you will notice some absences. Namely any other browser vendor. Barring a last minute surprise, it doesn't seem as though Dart has the backing of anyone but Google which means that the best we could hope for would be for Chrome to have Google Dart support out of the gate. Chrome is doing well, but Chrome alone will not be sufficient to convince the majority of developers to switch to its environment. What about the other vendors?

Microsoft has continued to release additional details about development on their upcoming platforms and it seems that it is going to focus on .NET and WinRS on the backend and for native code and use of HTML5/CSS/JS for UI development. It seems unlikely that Microsoft would have a great deal of concern for moving toward adoption of yet another VM for their front end functionality. Not to mention Microsoft has their own development toolchain which they want to see in use as opposed to a Google Dart based toolchain which would allow for more cross platform oriented development.

Apple, too, is focusing on HTML5/CSS/JS for support in their browsers and given the competition between iOS and Android, I wouldn't imagine they would want to provide a leg up for developers to create apps using Google Dart that would function equally well on either platform. On top of that, Apple has already dealt with another company who owned a toolchain which focused on cross platform development. Adobe still has yet to compel Apple to release a Flash compatible update on iOS and in fact has started making overtures to the HTML5/CS/JS crowd through their announcement of Edge as well as the recent changes to their Flash Media Server to deliver alternative content to iOS devices on the fly. Apple isn't going to let their major mobile competitor install a competing VM platform on iOS devices when that means that competitor will have a distinct edge in keeping support for it more featureful and up to date on Android.

Mozilla could possibly accept Google Dart as a native VM in their browsers, simply because they have the least to lose in such an arrangement. Unlike Microsoft and Apple, Mozilla as an organization is not pushing a competing development environment or toolchain, isn't competing in the mobile space and in fact is really only going head to head with Google with regard to browser market share. Still, that may yet be reason enough not to jump in bed with Google. Plus unless Google Dart is made part of a standard of some kind, it's possible that there will be even less traction in this space.

The same argument goes for Opera, perhaps even more so. Opera has a reputation for being one of the most standards compliant browsers available and again, unless Google Dart is made a standard, Opera may not wish to incorporate this VM into their product.

What's the End Game?

Google isn't stupid, so if it seems so obvious that uptake of Google Dart is going to be difficult to achieve, why bother? As the "Dash memo" points out, this is a high risk/high reward option. Given how many different projects Google has going at one time, creating a new VM to include in their browser and to make available for back end development isn't asking much in terms of time and money. The risk is in the reputation. Google is going to put their name behind this and try to get developer muscle to push it into other browsers. In essence it is going to test how much weight they actually have to throw around. If it succeeds, they will have grabbed a commanding position, providing a toolchain which can target apps on their platforms to their liking and which other vendors would need to tailor their systems around. If it fails, it will be a sign that while they are big, they can't yet force the other big players to play their game. High risk, high reward. I don't see a bullseye in the making.

Image by renjith krishnan