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Neil Gaiman, in a remarkably cogent piece about the Jonathan Ross/Hugos Twitterstorm:

Twitterstorms are no fun when people are making up things about you or insulting you for things you didn’t do or think or say. When scores of people from a group that you consider yourself a part of are shouting at you, it’s incredibly upsetting, no matter who you are. And these things spill over and get bigger – I was saddened to learn that Jane Goldman, Jonathan’s wife, one of the gentlest, kindest people I know (and the person who, with Jonathan, got me onto Twitter, back in December 2009) had deleted her Twitter account because of all this.

This is the point, and one of the reasons why of late I’ve come to disengage a bit from Twitter. Some of the concerns about Ross were cogent, real, and well-put. But a lot of stuff was bullshit, repeated by people who never watch Ross’ work, based on something someone else had said he’d said.

Twitter is a massive echo chamber and it is not always self-correcting. In fact, it is the opposite: it reinforces your own world view, your own prejudice, and reduces your exposure to material which challenges your view.

What business is Google really in?

What business is Google actually in? Benedict Evens thinks he knows – and it’s not "advertising" as most people would answer. Instead, Google is a company which is looking to exploit the potential of machine learning, in the same way that GE was all about taking advantage of the age of electrification:

Hence, one could argue that Nest or self-driving cars (and the next big hardware move that Google does) are not really about understanding ‘information’ in any sense, and certainly not about advertising, but about finding ways to deploy being very good at machine learning and, say, connected systems, just as GE’s business is to be very good at making big complicated precision-engineered pieces of capital equipment. In that sense, Tony Fadell’s vision is very apt – to ‘take unloved things’ and connect them to the software revolution than my new boss Marc Andreessen talks about. If software is eating the world, then much of what is eaten is probably running software that’s at least partly in the cloud (especially if it doesn’t really have a screen), and that can benefit from machine intelligence and big data, and isn’t that what Google does?

This is a brilliant insight, and for me starts to put all of Google’s technology moves into perspective.

The 500

There are lots of reasons to write.

Sometimes, you write because you have an important point you want to get across. Blogging allowed all of us to do this, to publish our perspective on the world in a way which hasn’t been possible before.

Sometimes you write because you’re responding to someone. Maybe you’re outraged by someone’s simply ridiculous views on the world. Perhaps you’re trying to pick holes in someone else’s argument. Maybe, you’re just practicing the fine art of snark. Lord knows, there’s a worldwide shortage of snark. The snark, after all, is an endangered species.

Sometimes, you write because you think it might be a career, something you can do to earn a living. And there’s no doubt that if you can make a living at it, writing is a fun occupation. I’ve been lucky enough, at various times of my life, to be paid to write.

But there’s another reason to write, and I think for most people it’s the most important reason of all. Writing helps you understand yourself. It forces you to focus your thoughts and move them from the massively-parallel way that your mind works into a kind of linear order. The process of writing something down turns it from a fleeting thought into something much more concrete.

When you write for this reason, it doesn’t really matter if anyone else reads. What matters is that you have written something that’s more than a single thought.

Over the past few years, mostly because of the emergence into my life of services like Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been neglecting writing to any length other than that of a single though. I’ve become good at paring back what I write to just 140 characters, sometimes less (sometimes much less).

But 140 characters leaves no room for nuance, for anything except the most crystal clear of statements. There’s no room for argument (in the positive, rationalist sense) or for anything other than a single thought, a single witticism.

And I think that I’ve begun to feel this a little in the way that I think. My thinking, which used to be all about focus, has felt… fuzzy. Frayed around the edges. Jumping around like the proverbial Mexican jumping bean. Oooh look! Another tweet has arrived! Must… write… pithy… epigram…

So, rather than carry on in the same way, I’m going to try and break a habit to make a habit: and the habit that I want to get into, like MG Siegler, is to write 500 words a day. I’ve no idea what it will be about. Mostly, I’d guess, technology and publishing, the two things that I spend most of my waking hours thinking about. Probably stuff which lies at the intersection between the two. But some days it might be politics, or the attention span of cats, or how incredible the weather is.

Who knows? But it will be no less than 500 words. Sometimes a little more. But never less. And this post needs to be finished, now.

Repeat after me: Chrome is the platform, Android (and iOS) is just the host

I’ve been saying for some time that Google’s longer-term plans for application development all hinged around Chrome. Native Android apps are silos: although Google has built tools which allow developers to make Android apps searchable (and thus a target for ad sales, and tracking) it’s much harder than with a native HTML web app. 

Building an app using native tools is also a dead-end: developers have to work harder to create a web-native equivalent. And web-native equivalents can be easily supported by advertising, supplied by… you guessed it… Google. 

Chrome Packaged Apps, on the other hand, are “native” web apps – and the web is Google’s true focus. So it’s no surprise that Google has released an early release which lets you bring Packaged Apps to iOS and Android. 

Chome is the development platform, not Android: Android is just the host, just like iOS is. 

The iPhone 5c is not doing worse than the iPHone 4S… probably

Ina Fried, reporting on a survey of iPhone users which apparently shows the iPhone 5c doing worse than the equivalent model in the range did last year, the iPhone 4S:

The iPhone 5s accounted for 59 percent of October through December U.S. sales, according to a study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. This compares to the iPhone 5′s 50 percent of sales when it was the high-end model a year ago.

The iPhone 5c, meanwhile, represented 27 percent of sales, less than the 32 percent that the iPhone 4s had a year ago when it was the mid-range model. CIRP’s findings are based on a survey of 500 buyers of Apple gear during the survey period.

How accurate a survey is depends on the sample size. And while 500 is a valid sample size considering the overall “population”[1] of around 50m iPhone buyers, it isn’t enough to reduce the margin of error to the kind of point which would justify the claims being made.

With a sample this size, unless they’d taken a lot of precautions, the margin of error would be around +/–4–5%. This means, potentially, the models could have the reversed share: 32% for the 5c (27% + margin of error upwards of 5%) and 27% for the 4S (32% – margin of error down of 5%).

All that you can say based on these numbers is the iPhone 5c is performing about as well as the iPhone 4S did in the same role. However, a conclusion like that isn’t enough for CIRP. According to CIRP analyst Josh Lowitz:

“If the old iPhone 5 had been the mid-priced phone, we expect that it would have sold a higher percentage of iPhones than the 5c did, as previous mid-priced legacy iPhones have,” Lowitz said. “The 5c seems to have been designed to force certain buyers to the 5s.”

I’m not sure how you can “force” buyers into buying something more expensive if they haven’t got the money. Sure, it probably does well at “upselling” customers: those who would never consider buying the top-end phone and so walk into an Apple Store to get the 5c, but then play around with a 5S and get a case of profound gadget-lust. But I can’t imagine that more of those kinds of customers took at a look at last year’s top of the line phone and didn’t feel equally lustful.

  1. A “population” in survey terms is the number of people who fall into the group you’re trying to sample: in this case, the roughly 50m people in the US who bought iPhones that year. The bigger the population, the bigger the sample size you need.  ↩

The Information on Apple’s iWatch

Jessica Lessin has a nice little scoop on the putative Apple iWatch

Apple appears to have run into some challenges with the screen technology, according to two people close to the company. Toward the end of last year, Apple considered going in a different direction with the screen due to some battery issues, one of these people said.

Jessica is one of those people who have really good sources, so this story is almost certainly legit. But what it means is something a little different: Apple will release its much-talked about (but completely unseen) wrist-based device1 when it's ready, not before. Too much rides on this one for it to be the kind of buggy dud that other companies would hurl out.

  1. No really – don't call it a watch. 

John Gruber on the relish with which tech journalism pours scorn on stuff:

There’s a nihilistic streak in tech journalism that I just don’t see in other fields. Sports, movies, cars, wristwatches, cameras, food — writers who cover these fields tend to celebrate, to relish, the best their fields have to offer. Technology, on the other hand, seems to attract enthusiasts with no actual enthusiasm.

John’s right – tech journalism rarely celebrate just how amazing technology is. We’re all too fast to pour scorn, to critique, to condemn. I’m hoping that in 2014, we’ll see less of this and more celebration. And that’s a good thought with which to start the eleventh year of this blog.

On the demise of “Angry Mac Bastards”

I’m not surprised that Angry Mac Bastards ended the way it did. Sooner or later, the show was bound to pick on the wrong target and ratchet things up to way beyond the point of no return.

I should say up front that I have a certain amount of skin in the game over this. Not only did I guest on one episode, I’ve known Peter and John for many years. While I know Darby and Kelly less, I enjoyed their online presence a fair amount too.

But there are also friends who got on the other side of AMB’s vitriol and really didn’t enjoy the experience.

The point of show, as I understood it, was always pretty simple: take apart the utter stupidity written about Apple and its products in as vitriolic and funny fashion as possible. And oh boy, is there a lot of stupidity out there to take apart. The flow of effluent about Apple has never been bigger or stronger, and a lot of people pick up a lot of page views from deliberate, provocative stupidity about it. Those guys know what they’re doing.

But this is why picking on Aaron Vegh was a step too far. Vegh is, basically, a “civilian”: he’s just some ordinary guy. Taking apart his website and his appearance was pointless and unfair.

I think some of the focus of AMB went when Peter left. That’s no disrespect to Kelly, who combined some erudite observations with a lot of wit and personality, but Peter was kind of the fulcrum for me, managing to both rage at stupidity while keeping things on track.
I’ll miss AMB, but I think it had probably run its course. And I’m sorry it ended this way.

Your New Quote Title

“Had Microsoft brought out a version of MS Office for iOS 7 within a year of the iPad being on the market, it would have been a big success and serious money maker for them. Now it is too late. You also can’t count out more and more people moving to Google’s productivity tools. I recently found out that a major national newspaper just moved everyone over to Google Docs and away from Office. I have heard that same thing happening at other big firms and big government accounts too.” – Tim Bajarin, “Why Microsoft will regret not doing MS Office for iOS

Apple’s obsession with thin and light

Jason Perlow doesn't understand Apple's “obsession” with thin and light:

It's not like the iPad 4 was a heavy device to begin with. The previous generation weighed 662 grams, the iPad Air weighs just 478 grams.

The reason why Apple is doing this is because as a culture, America and most of the western world is obsessed with the idea of “thin” and “light” to an almost unhealthy degree. They are producing precisely what the buying public wants, even if it compromises the overall durability of the design.

I'd quibble with Jason's assertion that Apple is obsessed with thinness and lightness to the detriment of other aspects of the device. I'm sure the company could have made a device as thin as the iPad Air in the past, but it didn't because that would have compromised on things which Apple holds much higher in the scale of importance than mere millimeters: battery life and thermal performance.

But to the extent that lightness is a factor Apple focuses on (thinness is just a method of removing weight and achieving the right balance), it's down to it being something which allows the device to disappear from view. Apple has consistently aimed to make the technology get out of the way, to let people do things without having to focus on the device. The bigger and heavier something is, the more the device distracts from what the person is trying to achieve.