Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Android vs. the World (of Cellphones)

Sorry that this post is kind of late, but when I'm on vacation I pretty much let out my inner laziness, which is what I ordinarily fight on a daily basis to get things done. There is a lot to talk about from the past couple of weeks though so let's get down to it.

Nexus One

The rumors of a Googlephone is probably as old as the initial rumors of an iPhone, but they have finally come to fruition. It started out as a confirmed report of Google "dogfooding" a mobile device, and then Engadget got pictures of it:

It looks to be running Android 2.1 (which includes Google Navigation for free turn-by-turn directions) and looks like it's running on T-Mobile but supports WiFi from the pictures Engadget has. Other than that, all we know is that it has a trackball and is called the Nexus One. Speculation tells us that Google will sell it unlocked, which traditionally haven't done very well because people don't want to spend $400-$600 on a cell phone anymore and the people at the wireless carriers' stores are going to sell the subsidized phones harder. I don't think this phone is really much to get excited about, to be honest. Making a cell phone is not easy if you haven't done one before. Apple had plenty of hardware experience before the iPhone and spent years working on it. I still think the Nexus One is going to be intended more as a developer Phone than a consumer device.

Why do we need a developer phone on Android? Because Android is facing the same problem as WinMo: too many devices. Developing web applications is already a nightmare for small web dev shops because now you have to design websites supported by IE8, IE7, IE6, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, in addition to mobile devices. Even here though you can push out patches and updates with ease, whereas with mobile applications you're relying on users picking up your update if you make a change that doesn't look right on a particular flavor of Android on a specific piece of hardware. The more Android phones there are, the more configurations big mobile application teams have to keep in stock for testing, which ultimately just makes it less appealing. I think this is unavoidable in a market where you're trying to get on multiple carriers to compete with Apple and RIM and I personally thing there should be a different app store for different Android versions and configurations where it's up to the developers to mark their application as guaranteed to work on certain configurations so that they can limit their quality assurance as needed and provide a better experience overall.

It's too early to tell if this is, in fact, a problem (at least I think it is), but so far Android isn't doing all that hot on market share. It's funny how a lot of my friends downplay webOS and think Android is the future, and yet it's still behind in market share to RIM, Apple, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian (Nokia). To be fair, of course, Nokia, RIM, WinMo, and Palm (via Palm OS) have had cell phones years before Apple or Android, but the original iPhone came out little over a year before the first Android phone and we've had Android phones on multiple carriers for over a year now. While it's clear that RIM and Apple have had stellar growth in recent months with Microsoft taking a tumble, and the US has never been a big market for Symbian, Palm and Android have a more uncertain future. I'm rooting for webOS and Android, but I think Palm's brand recognition/loyalty from consumers gives them a leg up. Hopefully, we can also crack down on ridiculous contract cancellation fees so that people get the chance to try out more phones and find the one that right for them.

Harry Potter and the Mythical Bandwidth Hogs

This has nothing to do with Harry Potter except that I finally popped in my Prisoner of Azkaban Blu-ray last night for the first time so it's still on my mind a bit.

Anyway, one of the arguments for bandwidth caps from the very beginning of the hub-bub about bandwidth caps (how much data you're allowed to consume on your Internet connection before you're cut off) is that there are people out there hogging the bandwidth so it'd be a lot more fair to everyone else to cap that. It turns out that this may not be quite true though. We don't have any proof that the networks aren't already configured to handle these so-called hogs such that other subscribers don't have their usage impacted. In all likelihood, the ISPs are drumming up this nonsense to convince people to fork over more money to them at an amount that's far from commensurate with the expense of the extra bandwidth.

One analyst offered to look at their usage statistics pro bono to prove/disprove the myth of the bandwidth hogs if he's allowed to publish his results, but I doubt that any ISP has responded to that. Maybe we should write in to Mythbusters and see if they have better luck.

The Apple Gestapo

It's fitting that I cover a story about the Apple Gestapo having seen a guy portraying a Gestapo officer get stabbed in the neck last night in Inglourious Basterds (vacation is the perfect time to to break out your new Blu-rays).

Many of us have heard a lot of stories about the culture at Apple and the management style of Steve Jobs, but not everyone knows how Apple has gotten so good at keeping secrets. It turns out that when a leak is suspected in a certain office, a special forces team is sent in for a lockdown operation. People's phones and computers are searched for evidence that they leaked something. In the case that they have, I'm guessing that a lawsuit is in order shortly after prompt termination (from their employment, that is).

It just shows the more extreme side of Apple and the privacy that employees have to give up to work there. Can you imagine some random guy finding drunk texts to friends on phones, or pictures of your wife in a bikini from your recent vacation? It's funny how at Amazon we just sign an NDA and we're trusted to not reveal company secrets - what a concept. Lo and behold, people generally stick to that. I haven't heard of any such gestapo in Redmond either over at Microsoft.

Apple Acquires Lala

In light of that fun-filled article, it's probably not the best news that Apple has acquired Lala. If Apple doesn't care about its own employees then it's scary to think about what they'll do to an acquisition that defies the iTunes business model. Lala allows you to back up your entire music library on their site for streaming through your web browser, and you can also buy tracks from them. Just a dime to stream a specific song forever or another 70-89 cents to be able to download them. They may leverage Lala to let people stream their entire music collections from where ever through Lala, although it uses Flash so it won't yet work on the iPhone. More people are speculating that they'll gut the company for talent and dismantle the service itself. Given that Lala hasn't proven profitable, that wouldn't be surprising. Still, I use Lala on an almost daily basis so I'd be very disappointed if it went away, to the point that I'd be willing to pay an annual or maybe a monthly fee just to use it to stream my existing music collection.

Twitter Gets Hacked

Late last week, the Twitter website was replaced by some text from the "Iranian Cyber Army" for what I believe was an hour or two. Twitter hasn't had the best track record when it comes to general security and this definitely doesn't help their case.

Back during Iran's elections, the US government intervened to keep Twitter available to Iranians to voice their opinions as well as join the world conversation on the elections (at least as best they can on Twitter) and it looks like this group of hackers was not too pleased by this. What they did here was definitely pretty childish and didn't do much other than to show that they can outsmart the ragtag security of the Twitter website. Well, I guess they also got press coverage from it. I'll give them credit for corrupting the DNS tables for to point to their site instead, which isn't the easiest thing in the world, but attacking Twitter doesn't really solve anything. Saying that the availability of Twitter was an interference in their election is like saying that Livejournal being available is an interference because then people can blog their thoughts on the election. It shows a deep lack of understanding of technology and an untargeted take-action mentality that's as stupid as it can be dangerous.

Facebook's Privacy Settings Change

This was a pretty big deal recently: Facebook forced all Facebook users to audit their privacy settings upon logging in to which the defaults were set to everyone or friends of friends. Even I have to admit, this is pretty smarmy. They did this knowing that a lot of people will hit 'Ok' without paying attention and assuming that the defaults are whatever they had set them to. Not only did they do this, but they removed the finer grain control you had over privacy of certain pieces of your Profile. If I was on the team that carried this out I probably would've quit, to be honest. It's unethical. I'm not one of these guys who's really high and might about privacy, but this is clearly not in the best interest of your users and only serves to advance the interests of Facebook.

Facebook and Google have both taken an increasingly privacy-agnostic view of the world, with Facebook being a far worse offender. My personal opinion of why is that the more information they can make publicly available the more they have the index, which means the more time you'll spend time on their sites. This means they'll have more content to target ads around and more page views for eyeballs on ads. No one would admit this if it were true, but I don't see any other good reason for trying to actively take people's privacy away. I'm one of these people who doesn't post super private stuff online because I know that the Internet is inherently insecure and only trust a few very specific sites, which does not include Facebook, so I don't personally find this to be a big deal but I understand the big picture of why it is.

I'll give Facebook one thing though, Mark Zuckerberg's profile and pictures are largely available for anyone to see and he claims this was on purpose. At least they're not being wholly hypocritical, just deceptive.


Alright, it's time to wrap up. Here's what I didn't have time to talk about more:

Google acquired DocVerse, which allows users to collaborate over Microsoft Office documents. Looks like they're trying to take on Office 2010's online services head-on, but I am skeptical that they'll succeed.

Google also launched Google Goggles, a visual search application for Android. It looks cool, but computer vision has only come so far that I imagine it's not super accurate. Still, it's pretty cool.

Congress is coming down on a huge Internet scam that many online retailers are complicit in: post-transaction deals that end up scamming you out of a lot of money. You should check out what retailers are doing this and boycott them, but I'm proud to say that Amazon is not one of them.

This is a hilarious graphic on how different OS users see other operating systems.

If you're looking for inspiration on transforming your office, this is a really fun look at some of the best ones of the year.

Google launched Vevo, a YouTube spinoff for music videos. I had a lot of technical issues with it at launch so I haven't played with it much, but it's linked to from any legal music videos on YouTube.

Java 7 is slated to be available next year and it has several cool features to boot including first-class language support for collections and automatic resource management as the most impressive improvements. I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

If you have Chrome or IE envy in your Firefox browser, this is a pretty impressive list of add-ons to simulate the high points of competing browers.

I laughed so much while reading this list of hilarious WiFi SSIDs that I couldn't help but plug it. Some of them are really quite creative.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone! I'll try to get something else up before the new year!


Jose A. said...

Hey Elton,

I was running through my facebook friends trying to see if anyone endured the bursting of the "blog bubble" and it seems that you did. Congrats! I actually find your posts pretty informative and insightful, even after following maybe half a dozen tech blogs on my own.

Your comments on facebook's privacy issues remind me of the "good vs. evil" debate (over which a lot of web ink has been spilled) and how a lot of apostles have emerged on the net for a "new age" of business where online companies avoid the apparently 'evil' business tactics of traditional 20th century economics. The whole "free culture" against any copyright protection has been an offshoot of this. I think it's a lot of hogwash.

Google recently released a little manifesto about their so-called "openness" philosophy, and yet apparently they're not open enough to share their search algorithms; the excuse being that doing so would somehow hurt users in the long run. As much as things change, they also stay the same, and I prefer viewing online companies as being just as money-hungry as their non-digital counterparts. There's no good or evil online, just business and reputation costs.

Elton said...

Hey, man! How's it going?!

Thanks for stopping by - it's good to know that I'm not blogging to only myself :) I don't have the resources of the big boys but I aim to highlight the big stories, maybe some you've missed on the other blogs you follow.

The good company model is kind of a funny concept because it's totally contradictory to the purpose of a corporation. I think there's a fine line between being not necessarily being the good guy and being unethical - I think Facebook crossed the line into being unethical in this case. I'd like to think that Amazon is one of the few online companies that truly aims to do what's best for the customer. Obviously, we're not perfect, but I haven't seen Amazon actively and consciously do anything unethical ever.

Open source and openness in general is a really hard pill for companies to swallow. It's easier to consume open source software than it is to contribute to it yourself. There's also legal issues that go way above my head. I agree though, it's just business.