WWDC and Apple Developments

WWDC 2015
WWDC logo sourced from: WWDC Conference site.

WWDC 15 kicks off with the rather dubious tagline: “The Epicenter of Change.”  The logo looks like a bunch of Apple Watch bodies and some circles splooshed together to make a colorful flower, and it’s all very friendly.  Apple fans are super mondo excited about the conference, as we’ll all be getting details on iOS 9 and OS X 10.11.  (That is, unless Apple decides not to do what they do every year during WWDC, and instead decides to go less generational this year.)

I’m, of course, intrigued about what will be announced today, but it’s not because I love Apple products.  I obviously have spent a lot of time talking about Windows 10 on this blog, and with good reason, in my opinion–it’s genuinely exciting! I like how it’s coming along, though I have no idea how Microsoft is actually going to ship something that doesn’t look like a cludgy mess by July 29.  Admittedly, it’s by and large much better to use than Windows 8.x (which is exhausting to use because you have to pay so much attention to what you’re doing and remembering where to swipe, and which settings to use in which context…).  But we’ll see!

Rather, I’m intrigued by what will be announced today because I hate my iPhone, and desperately want things to improve.  I hate my iPhone not because it’s nearing three years of age.  I hate it because it’s boring, frustrating, inconsistent, mediocre, and uninspiring.  I hate the way Messages works, where it’s difficult to tell when you’re sending a message to an individual or a group (yes, the 6+ has convenient icons which ameliorate that, but I see no reason why that can’t be applied to less-than-huge form factors).  I hate how Messages sometimes associates my messages with my phone number, and sometimes with my email address.  For no apparent reason.  I hate how sometimes that back button is on the bottom of the screen, and how it’s sometimes at the top of the screen, and how the close-window button isn’t in the same place across apps. I hate how this supposedly premium hardware had a power button stop working within less than a year of owning it, and while, yes, it’s subject to recall, it requires going to an Apple Store and giving up my phone for a while.  I hate how taking screenshots is wedded to that stupid power button.  I hate how the home screen is just a bunch of boring icons in a grid and that I can’t move them about the screen freely.  I hate how the icons don’t tell me anything about why there’s a little red circle with a number in it.  I hate how the notifications don’t really do anything useful, and how they persist even after the email that triggered the notification has long since been dealt with.  I hate how Siri’s voice dictation is a garbled mess if I’m connected to a BlueTooth device, and I hate how there’s a 3-second delay streaming audio from my phone to my car’s stereo (that may be a car problem, though, as my BlueTooth speakers don’t seem to have the same delay). I hate having to use iTunes to backup my phone, and iTunes is an abysmal experience.  I hate how difficult it is to put something as simple as a PDF on the device to show it to someone later.  I could keep going, but this post is terrible enough as it is.  But that’s just a sampling of how little I like using the iPhone.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s the least worst choice among smartphone platforms.  I had an Evo 4G about 5 years ago, back when Android was on Gingerbread.  It. Was. Terrible. I detested that thing, and regretted getting it.  I recognize that Android has vastly improved since then, now that it’s on Lollipop and soon to be on Macadamia Nut Cookie.  Unfortunately for Android users, though, good luck getting an update to your operating system through your carrier!!! According to Android’s own developer portal, only 11.6% of Android users are currently using an OS that was released a year ago; almost half as many are still on Gingerbread, which was four generations ago.

Android Adoption Chart
Chart Showing Android Adoption, sourced from developer.android.com.

Nearly 80% of devices are not running the most current software.  And then there’s the whole Google thing that you have to deal with when using an Android device, and despite having its tentacles wrapped around everything that passes through my various Google accounts, Google services still thinks I’m currently in Dallas for some reason, even though I haven’t passed through there since I went to Oklahoma City 18 months ago. Despite having hardware makers which are pushing out some legitimately interesting devices with aggressive specs, at the end of the day, Android is a battery-guzzling hog (much like the Chrome browser).  At Google I/O this year, noises were made that a lot of hard work was going to happen which would fix that in Android M(acadamia Nut Cookie).  We’ll see.

I’d love to use a Windows Phone. Absolutely, I would. I love the live tile functionality.  I like that they can be resized.  I like the cameras in last year’s flagship Lumias.  I like the way things flow.  I get the operating system, and now that Microsoft realizes that it entirely missed the boat by ignoring business customers in Windows Phone 7.x and had to catch up to reintegrate something as vital as Exchange, the phones can be legitimately be used for my job.  I’m excited what Windows 10 can mean with Continuum and having a phone that can produce a desktop environment when docked to a keyboard and mouse.  I like Cortana and how useful it can be. Using Cortana on Windows 10 has been really interesting, and surprisingly useful.

 

Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 10 (mobile)” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

But, man, there is no way I can get a Windows Phone.  The App situation is a joke, and developers have been abandoning ship for months.  Shoot, when even banks start pulling their apps from your store, you don’t have platform adoption at a rate that signals long-term success.  Maybe that’ll change with Windows 10, but let’s be honest: probably not.  I also don’t think I could convince my wife to switch over to a Lumia or something similar because she’s too familiar with the iPhone ecosystem. Also, see: lack of Apps.  I mean, Skype could stand in for FaceTime and Messages, but… there’s a lot of other things she does with her phone than call and chat with me.  Additionally, if there was a flagship Lumia worth buying right now that would be intriguing, but there isn’t.  They’re all running last year’s technology, and the new phones coming out are all mid-range with subpar cameras; excellent picture quality is an essential part of my buying decision when it comes to a phone.

And so I’m stuck using an iPhone, and I’m not happy about it. Maybe today’s keynote will introduce something truly interesting, but it sounds like not much truly groundbreaking is expected.  iTunes may get revamped and/or replaced by “Music.” Apple may announce a Snow Leopard-esque cooling off to retool and polish iOS and OS X. But, unless they announce that the grid-of-snapped-icons look is going away and being replaced by an interactive interface, it’s really just more of the same.  Epicenter of Change?  Eh, we’ll see.

Law Office Technology–It’s Tough Relying on Google (or anyone else)

The fact that GMail and Google Maps are still existent technologies is a somewhat surprising thing given Google’s propensity to kill products.  Google’s Wave (lifespan: May 2009 to approximately August 2010) and Buzz (February 2010 to approximately December 2011) barely got off the ground before they were terminated, with bits and pieces of those technologies merging into other projects.  Not many people lamented the end of those projects, as they never really had much of a user base. But Google has killed off relatively popular services like Orkut (2004-2014) Google Reader (2005-2013), and iGoogle (2005-2013).

Other platforms, like Google Talk / Google Chat, get shoehorned into newer projects such as Google Hangouts. (The url https://www.google.com/talk gets redirected to https://www.google.com/hangouts, for example.) And Google’s quixotic attempt at establishing a social networking platform (Google+), is now being split into two services, Photos and Streams.  Not that this latest rearranging of the deck chairs really matters, since, I mean, c’mon: almost no one uses Google+ even though it’s very pretty and its features were really compelling.

This constant churn makes things difficult for businesses looking to establish long-term stability on a suite of products that can be relied on for the foreseeable future. One could be forgiven for thinking that ChromeOS will be next, especially since Microsoft is giving away licenses for certain form-factors for essentially nothing?

Microsoft, for what it’s worth, is not immune to this concern. A few years ago, there was a piece of software that showed a lot of promise: Live Mesh. It was a little clunky, and it was a little unreliable, but the concept was great. You could designate certain folders on your various devices, and the contents in those folders would be synchronized across the devices. I think it used SkyDrive as the backbone, but it didn’t necessarily require that things be stored on SkyDrive. Live Mesh is dead, though.

Admittedly, distributed synchronization is less efficient than a centralized repository and it makes sense that a free tool would be deprecated or discontinued by the provider of the free tool. But for those of us who have real qualms (or outright prohibitions) about storing sensitive documents on a third-party’s website, a centralized host like OneDrive just isn’t a viable solution for data synchronization. Which is why, in the future, I’ll be talking about personal cloud offerings.

Google Maps Navigation on Android 2.0

It was only a matter of time, really, before Google Maps became a turn-by-turn mobile application.  And now it has.  Gizmodo has a good write-up on its features and abilities, and of course it looks polished even in beta form.  (What isn’t beta in Google-land, besides GMail?  Oh.  Google Apps, actually, and a few other things.  Drat.  It was always fun to joke about how long things stayed in beta with Google.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to fall back on making jokes about how no one knows you’re a dog on the internet.)  For right now, the application is available only to Android 2.0 users, but there are plans afoot to get it on the iPhone.

Anyway, what surprised me about the Gizmodo review of the application is this:

My fears on zero pricing, for the long term: If Google sells this in the App Store for zero dollars, those millions of bucks Apple makes off of GPS app sales will likely disappear. It’s not for us to worry about until there’s no more GPS competition except Google, and we’re dependent on their pace of progress, but no competition is a bad thing. And it’s a little strange that Google’s search money is going to pay for a free map app that is competitive with stuff that costs $100 a year from full-time GPS makers like TomTom. Unfair is the word that comes to mind. But I can’t say I don’t want this app.

I’ve written about my concerns regarding the freeconomy before, and this Engadget link essentially proves the point.  TomTom’s shares are down about 20% as of the time of this writing, and Garmin isn’t faring much better, down about 15%.  Free is nice and all, but it does have a cost.

(Sure, yeah, fine, in the long run all the buggy-whip manufacturers eventually ended up making something else, right?)

New Life for Old Books, but a Question Arises…

As the parties in the Google Books case get back to the drafting table (this time with very special guest, the United States Department of Justice), one of the stated benefits of Google’s massive scanning undertaking seems to be taking root.  According to the AP (via the Daily Journal Online), Google has allowed 2 million of the out-of-copyright books to be published by On Demand Books.  Before I get to the somewhat boggling bits, the report states that On Demand, the maker of the Espresso Book Machine can print a 300-page book in about five minutes, and the prices will be around $8.00 per book, with On Demand keeping $1.00 and Google getting $1.00.  Presumably the balance is comprised of materials cost? (Apparently Google will be donating it’s share to charity…)

Okay, here’s the part where it gets a little weird:  “Neller of On Demand Books is thrilled just to have the right to publish selections from Google’s digital library of public domain books.”  If the books are in the public domain, it would seem that On Demand would not need permission to print them.  And yet Google has placed restrictions on what one can do with the PDFs:

  • Don’t engage in large scale redistribution or rehosting of the files
  • Don’t sell digital or physical copies, or help other people buy and sell them
  • Don’t send automated queries to Google’s system
  • Don’t remove the Google “watermark” you see on each file
  • Respect the Google Terms of Service

Well, they’re guidelines more than requirements:  each of those bullets is preceded by “Please,” which is a really fudgy word, and the whole entry is prefaced with a “we ask that you follow some basic guidelines.”  I get that Google is probably trying to be approachable and not a content tyrant, which is appreciated.  And I get that there are transaction costs that are avoided by On Demand using Google as its storehouse of content, but doesn’t it seem odd that someone is getting the “right” to make copies of works that are no longer in copyright?  And isn’t that, in some way, already the concern about Google doing all this in the first place?

Anyway, I’ll admit that copyright is a thorny, complicated issue that is probably better suited to an article or book (hey, there’s an idea!) but I just wanted to point out that not all is crystal-clear in Google Books land.  This isn’t to say that there is necessarily anything inherently wrong in what On Demand and Google have agreed to do, but something about it strikes me as odd.

More on the Google Books Settlement

The Google Books settlement is generating a lot of ink over the past few days, with Microsoft wading into the waters.  According to PC Magazine, Microsoft filed objections with the Southern District of New York, arguing that Google had no right to “restructure copyright,” and that any changes should be handled by Congress.  (Microsoft posted a copy of its brief on its “Microsoft on the Issues” blog.)

Microsoft joins a fairly heavy-hitting group which objects to the settlement, including the American Law Institute (which is responsible for the various Restatements), Amazon, DC Comics, and the American Society of Media Photographers, just to name a few.

Yeah, it’s ironic that Microsoft is complaining about competition given its track record, but don’t discount its sway.  (And also don’t discount it’s probably ticked that Google is stirring things up in Europe.  Speaking of Europe, Europe isn’t so thrilled with the settlement, either…)  As Wired magazine pointed out a few months ago, Microsoft has the DOJ’s ear to a certain degree.  And given that the DOJ is investigating the settlement for competitive harm, I’m not so certain that the settlement is completely safe.

(As for whether Congress should be the ones deciding this topic, perhaps Microsoft and the others are right, but it’s not like I trust Congress to keep consumer interests in mind.  The DMCA should be proof enough of that….)

Google Books Settlement and Privacy Concerns

Google has always been a problematic company for me.  On one hand, its search engine has become the de facto starting point for the vast majority of internet users, so much so that when Google goes down (as it will from time to time), people say that the internet is broken.  (See this Ars Technica article.)  Its clean, uncluttered search interface revolutionized searching, and its results were usually spot-on, with its “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature almost always taking you where you wanted to go.  In recent years, however, my experience with Google’s ability to find what I’m looking for has dwindled as SEO services have cluttered up search results, which is why I often use Bing or Yahoo! in addition to or instead of Google.

I’ve complained before of Google’s data-mining and -tracking, as well as its emphasis on “Cloud” computing. And now, there’s a new bug in my craw: Google Books.
Read more “Google Books Settlement and Privacy Concerns”

Hiring Practices and Antitrust Concerns

It may not be as sexy as hearing that corporations have colluded with eachother to keep prices high (say in the TFT or DRAM markets), but I see in the NY Times this morning that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice has quietly opened an antitrust investigation into tech companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Apple, and others.  According to the Times, the direction of the inquiry is unclear, but seems to be focused on “whether the companies involved agreed to not actively recruit employees from each other.”  See?  Not very sexy.  The Washington Post apparently was the first one to mention the investigation.

Bing!

I’m not entirely sure I like the name of Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t.  But, whatever, it’s new and shiny, and everyone‘s playing with it.

My first impression is that it’s fine, generally no worse than Yahoo!, but probably not quite as “accurate” as Google.  (For what it’s worth, I’m beginning to feel that Google’s accuracy is leaving a lot to be desired.)

However, there’s one thing that I think really needs a little tweaking.  The interface is really pretty, with lots of pictures and interactive features (which makes it all the more impressive that it loads so quickly), but the froufrou aspects do have the potential to get in the way of the stated function, which is searching.  For example, using Firefox, if you go to bing.com, and just click on Images, you get a list of things that are similar to the background image.  All well and good.  But say you don’t want your results filtered, so you click on the safe search moderate “change” link, and this is what you get:

bingff

It seems to work properly, however, in IE7:

bingie

Will Bing become my search engine of choice?  I doubt it, but not because of its functionality.  Indeed, I very strongly want there to be search competition against Google, because of what that monolith has done to the advertising market.  No, I’ll be sticking with Yahoo! for my searches because I have been feeling ill at ease about using Google so much, what with their data retention policies.  According to this Lifehacker post, it looks like Yahoo! is the clear winner, retaining data for only 90 days, while Google holds on to it for 9 months, and Microsoft holds on to it for 18 months(!!).  (I should note, that the 18 months figure comes from MS’s statements vis-a-vis Live.com, which Bing replaces.  I doubt that MS will change that policy just because they’re launching a rebranded search engine.)