Category Archives: Mobile

Roboto and the open source red herring

I largely agree with John Gruber and many others than Roboto is a bit of an ungainly beast of a font, although it’s much better than the hideous thing it replaces. But I think that John is missing the mark in this statement:

This idea that designers who favor iOS criticize Android for being poorly designed just because it’s from an Apple competitor is nonsense — a bogeyman construct dreamed up by open source zealots who refuse to believe over a decade of evidence that open source UIs tend to be ugly, and that ugly UIs tend to be unpopular.

Being open source has nothing to do with it. Like almost everything in Android, Roboto is designed, used and built at the instigation of Google: it’s not like Roboto was created by an amateur font creator sat in a basement who wanted to contribute to a project.

Android’s design deficiencies have nothing to do with the source being open. Android’s design deficiencies are down to Google not being great at designing consumer products. Android could be completely closed, and it would still look the same.

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Come on Lenovo, you can do better than this

Lenovo IdeaPad K1.jpg It’s not even out yet, and already the Lenovo IdeaPad — the Chinese manufacturer’s attempt to crack the tablet market — is getting something of a savaging:

The IdeaPad K1 has been in development in one form or another for a year and a half, yet it still isn’t ready. And even if it had hit the market a year ago, it wouldn’t have been good enough (at least in its current form) to go head-to-head with the original iPad. The K1′s hardware is chunky and cheap-feeling, its screen is washed out, and the software is unstable to the point of being unusable at times. It sounds harsh, but when you can pick up the iPad 2 or the Galaxy Tab 2 for just $499, the $50 you save by getting a K1 doesn’t seem close to worth it — unless, of course, you think there’s some value in buggy software.

So it’s shitty hardware, buggy software, and not even comparable to the iPad of a year ago?

It certainly isn’t getting anywhere near the point that Lenovo’s CEO, Yang Yuanquing, is after:

Apple only covers the top tier. With a $500 price you cannot go to the small cities, townships, low salary class, low income class. I don’t want to say we want to significantly lower the price, rather our strategy is to provide more categories, to cover different market segments.

So much for that. If Lenovo can make an expensive tablet this bad, just how bad will one be if they push the price down?

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Just how good a defence are those Motorola patents, again?

Susan Decker for Bloomberg:

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world’s largest software maker, began arguing its U.S. trade case that Android- based smartphones made by Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. use technology derived from Microsoft inventions.

In a trial that began today before the International Trade Commission in Washington, Microsoft accused Motorola Mobility of infringing seven of its patents and requested a halt to imports of certain Motorola phones. The ITC has the power to stop imports of products that violate U.S. patent rights.

Lots of people seem to have missed this in the discussion of why Google bought Motorola: Motorola’s patent pool hasn’t protected it from being sued. There’s no reason to suppose that it will protect Google (or any of its other licensees) now.

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Windows 8, iOS and that weird post by Aaron Holsgrove

[Other](http://daringfireball.net/2011/06/windows_8_fundamentally_flawed) [people](http://curiousrat.com/home/2011/6/12/holesgrove-on-gruber-and-windows-8-a-public-trainwreck.html) have picked apart Aaron Holsgrove’s post on “[Why Windows 8 is not fundamentally flawed as a response to the iPad](http://www.businessinsider.com/why-windows-8-is-not-fundamentally-flawed-as-a-response-to-the-ipad-2011-6)”, but I think it’s worth going over more. It’s a catalogue of mistakes, which would keep the average commentator going for days. Take this, for example:

>If Apple never released the iPhone, we’d be sitting here today talking about how if it weren’t for Android, those three companies wouldn’t be making all of those same changes or something like that – the crippling of those companies was always inevitable. Or perhaps in your case John, you’d be saying it was the Mac and Mac OS X that proudly toppled those giants instead because Android wasn’t made by Apple and therefore doesn’t warrant the same amount of credit or boasting on your part.

I can only imagine that Aaron never saw the early demos of Android, which showed off a [phone much more akin to a BlackBerry](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoyoUpawfgU&feature=player_embedded), but with less features and a wonkier interface. Or perhaps he missed out on the later [demo of the HTC Dream](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arXolJrLVEg&feature=player_embedded) (which became the T-Mobile G1), which had an interface which was just about on a par with a decent Nokia phone of the era.

Had the iPhone not existed, would Android have been released and done reasonably well? Yes. Had the iPhone not existed, would Android have been as good as it is today? Not a chance. Would Nokia have been able to respond to Android, had Android’s development not been pushed on by the existence of the iPhone? Yes.

In fact, Aaron’s entire piece rewrites history. Take this:

>[Microsoft's] biggest goal with Windows 7 was to develop an OS that was touch friendly and as we all found out, it was a good operating system for using computers with a keyboard and mouse but it wasn’t touch friendly at all.

“Touch friendliness” was a long way from being the biggest goal of Windows 7. Steve Ballmer put it [like this](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/microsoft/4176373/CES-2009-Microsoft-CEO-positive-after-Windows-7-launch.html):

> “We’ve been putting in all the right ingredients – simplicity, reliability and speed. We’re working hard to get it right, and get it ready.”

Or perhaps Aaron should remember Ballmer’s [remarks from Windows 7's launch](http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/steve/2009/10-22win7launch.mspx):

>What were we really most trying to do? We were trying to make the everyday usage of the PC better in the ways our customers wanted: Simpler, faster, more responsive.

To be fair, Ballmer does mention touch. It comes in the “third bucket” of Windows 7 (where does he get this stuff?):

>And then No. 3, let’s enable a world of new things, new possibilities for software developers and hardware developers and for end users. So you get a technology like multi-touch, which enables people to build new computers and new software. You get literally, I would say, from an end user perspective, dozens or hundreds of new features.

There you go: touch, far from being, “the biggest goal” was one of “hundreds of new features”. And judging by the [image gallery for Windows 7's launch](http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/gallery/screenshots/windows7.mspx), when it talked about touch, Microsoft was focusing much more heavily on touch-screen PC desktops than tablets.

I could forgive Aaron some of this if he’d actually bothered to do any research. But he hasn’t.

Take this statement about the relationship between OS X and iOS:
>Actually John, iOS IS built on top of Mac OS X and its core principles. It is common knowledge that it is a modified version of OS X with a touch centric shell on top. From the Wikipedia page about Mac OS X:
>Apple also produces specialized versions of Mac OS X for use on its consumer devices. iOS, which is based on Mac OS X, runs on the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and the 2nd generation Apple TV.
>Guess what Windows 8 for tablets is? You guessed it – the core of Windows – MinWin – with an alternate shell to Win32 on top that is touch friendly – the ‘Metro’ immersive shell we saw today.

Calling the bits which differentiate iOS from OS X “a touch centric [sic] shell is a bit like calling Android “Linux with a phone-centric shell”. iOS and OS X share core elements, notably the XNU kernel. Beyond that, Cocoa Touch (the API for building iOS programmes) is based on Cocoa, the API for building OS X programmes. But you can’t take a Cocoa-built application and run it on Cocoa Touch, unmodified.

And that’s the aim for Windows 8: Run current-generation Windows apps, unmodified, on touch-based Windows 8 tablets[^2]. The equivalent would be if Apple had aimed to create iOS and let OS X apps run, unmodified, on it. That Aaron doesn’t understand this fundamental difference is surprising. It’s a shame that, instead of relying on a single line in the Wikipedia entry on OS X to “prove” that iOS is just OS X-with-a-shell, he didn’t read the entry on [iOS](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS_(Apple)), which has a good description of the layers of the operating system. You’d think that lack of multitasking available to developers prior to iOS 4 might have been a clue.

More evidence of Aaron’s lack of research comes when he starts talking about iWork for iPad:

>Now, the deal with iWork for iPad is that it’s a skinny rip-off of iWork for Mac because Apple’s original pitch for the iPad is that [it’s a consumption device](http://andheblogs.andyrush.net/ipad-its-a-consumption-device/), not a creation device[^1].

Odd that Apple should introduce iWork for iPad — something that’s all about creation — at the same time as the original iPad. You’d think they wouldn’t bother if it was a “consumption device”.

Also odd that the only evidence that Aaron can find of Apple saying this is a blog post from Andy Rush, who does not work for Apple. No quotes from Steve Jobs. No quotes from Scott Forstall. No quotes from *anyone* from Apple.

Because, of course, Apple’s original pitch for the iPad *wasn’t* that it was a consumption device. Aaron has just made that up.

Now I’m less bearish than either John or Harry about Windows 8. Windows 7 was such a vast improvement over Vista, and in such a short period of time, that it showed Microsoft can raise its game when it needs to. Microsoft also showed the right stuff when it ditched its previous mobile efforts in favour of Windows Phone 7, which has a genuinely innovative interface and some really nice touches — again, developed fast.

On those grounds, I think it’s foolish to write Microsoft off. But pretending that iPhone didn’t matter, rewriting the history of Windows and attributing stuff to Apple which Apple never said isn’t arguing the case for Windows 8 — it’s arguing the case that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

[^1]: I suspect the reason Aaron has chosen this link is pretty simple: Andy Rush’s blog post is top result if you Google “iPad is a consumption device”. Obviously, that’s good enough for Aaron.

[^2]: Or is it? It looks from some of the things that Microsoft [has said since](http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2011/06/html5-centric-windows-8-leaves-microsoft-developers-horrified.ars) that in fact, you’ll need to completely redevelop apps, possibly even in a different language, to use the touch-based “Metro” experience.

Dell’s latest laptop borrows from Apple designs

Engadget reviews the Dell XPS 15z, which is supposedly a competitor for the MacBook Pro series.

Alt text

The short version: it’s cheaper, not as powerful, but does at least look a bit better than the old chunky XPS series.

When Dell tells you that the XPS 15z has no compromises, that’s not quite the case — it’s a solid choice at this price point, but corners were cut to get here.

(via Dell XPS 15z review — Engadget)

Why Microsoft bought Skype

Cringely thinks it’s simply to stop Google getting it:

“Were Google to buy Skype they’d convert those 663 million Skype subscriptions to Google Voice and Gmail and in a swoop make parts of Yahoo and MSN irrelevant. They’d build a brilliant Skype client right into the DNA of Android, draining telco revenue and maybe killing smaller players like Windows Phone. They’d cut deals with equipment makers like Cisco (Linksys) and NetGear and steal voice revenue from telcos and cable companies alike.  That’s all Redmondesque behavior and if anyone is going to be behaving that way, Ballmer feels, it had darned well better be Redmond.”

That sounds like a perfectly Redmondian argument to me.

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Apple is dead in the water, redux

Charles Arthur, reporting for The Guardian on an IDC/Appcelerator survey of developers:

“App developer interest is shifting back toward Apple as fragmentation and “tepid” interest in current Android tablets chips away at Google’s recent gains in momentum, according to a new survey of more than 2,700 developers around the world.

In the survey, 91% of developers said they were “very interested” in iPhone development, and 86% said the same for the iPad. For Google, interest in Android phone add development fell 2 points to 85%, and for tablets – particularly Honeycomb – down three points to 71%, after having risen 12 points in the first quarter. The figures are within error margins for the survey, but don’t match the growing interest that has been seen in Android over the past year.”

Seems like developers didn’t get Fred Wilson’s memo, or heed the advice that iPhone was “dead in the water” from Henry “Screw the SEC” Blodget.

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So what does that location database on your phone really do?

Jim Smith, who knows a thing or two about mobile, pokes around in the controversial consolidated.db database on the iPhone and comes up with this:

“I’m pretty certain that consolidated.db is used to seed the assisted GPS used for iOS location servers. If you open the map, or check in via FourSquare, it will look to see if the cell you’re in is one it knows about. If it is, then that greatly reduces the need to look for satellites. This also explains why it doesn’t store the older  (or less accurate?) locations. My guess is that the algorithm says something like: have I been here before? If yes, is my accuracy better than last time? If yes, replace the old entry with a new one.”

Which answers the question that’s been bugging me, which is why that database wasn’t purged regularly. For this purpose, it’s important to keep it on your phone, where it can be queried fast.

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