Category Archives: Web/Tech

Original content is hard

“Some will say this is just a small site bitching about a big site. Maybe. I believe there’s a larger issue here. The online publishing game is all about volume right now. It’s not about quality and originality. When volume is your organizing principle, you take shortcuts. Ripping off others’ work is simply the norm now. It is absolutely effective, and it is absolutely depressing.”

Sad but true. However, there are sites out there trying to do something different. It’s up to us to support them.

Google may be bidding for Waze

Bloomberg:

Google Inc. (GOOG), maker of the Android operating system, is considering buying map-software provider Waze Inc., setting up a possible bidding war with Facebook Inc. (FB), people familiar with the matter said.

Waze is a really great service, and it would be a shame to see it go to Google. For Google, Waze would be an “acqui-hire” aimed at securing some great mapping engineering talent: it’s unlikely that the service would be kept running separately to (and competing with) Google Maps. At Facebook, on the other hand, Waze would be more likely to end up like Instagram: a semi-autonomous, but linked, service.

Apple is winning. Google is winning. Can we shut up now please?

Ben Thompson on the Google we always wanted

Android did its job: Google’s signals have unfettered access to users on every mobile platform. Microsoft is in no position to block them, and Apple, for all its bluster, isn’t interested.

Chrome is doing its job: Google’s signals sit on top of an increasing number of PCs, slowly making the underlying OS irrelevant.

Google+ is doing its job: Every Google service is now tied together by a single identity, and identity is the key to data collection on mobile.

This is the thing that people often don’t get: while Google and Apple appear to be competing with each other, because both companies sell a mobile platform, in fact they have entirely different aims and objectives. This means that it’s perfectly possible for both to “win” by their own criteria.

Apple wins by selling the best devices, ensuring no one can stop them delivering the best user experience and making a profit from them. Google wins by improving its advertising products and ensuring that no other company can lock it out, depriving it of potential audience. 

This is why the occasional talk of Google pulling or handicapping its iOS products (see the comments here) is laughable. Google doesn’t care if you’re using an iPhone or an Android phone. It cares if you’re using Google services or not. And the best way to get iOS users to use more Google services is to produce better products for iOS, rather than expect them to buy a new mobile phone. 

Cheap tablets and baked beans

Jared Newman reviews the Hisense Sero LT 7in tablet, currently selling for $99 in Walmart:

But there’s one big caveat with the Sero 7 LT, not listed on Walmart’s product page: According to Engadget, TechRadar and others, this tablet will only last for about four hours on a charge. Most other tablets last at least twice as long. Even if you’re not planning on hours of consecutive use, a big battery allows you to keep your tablet lying around for days at a time, using it on and off throughout. With a four-hour battery, you’ll need to be extra mindful about plugging the tablet in when it’s not in use.

Also, keep in mind that while the Sero 7 LT’s microSD slot compensates somewhat for the measly 4 GB of built-in storage, it’s not a cure-all. Some Android apps and widgets can’t be installed to a microSD card, and juggling two sources of storage can be a hassle.

So in other words, it’s a tablet which has a battery which makes it certain not to last through the day, tiny amounts of storage, and a dual core processor which is likely to make it feel sluggish. It has no roadmap for future software upgrades. Essentially, it’s barely useable for the kinds of purposes that any family would want to use a tablet for. 

Yes, it’s cheap, but in the way that 10p tins of beans used to be cheap: you’d open them up, and find a third of the can was thin watery sauce, with some tough, tasteless beans nestled at the bottom. You’d eat them, because they were the only thing you could afford: but if you could afford anything better you’d buy that instead.

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Blink and you’ll miss it

Blink and you'll miss them

There’s a part of me which wonders, as a massive Doctor Who nerd, if someone in Google’s web platforms team isn’t a big fan. In “Blink”, one of the best episodes ever, the enemy is a group of aliens who take the form of statues which can only move when you’re not looking at them. They’re the ultimate stealth attacker: blink, and they’ve got you.

Likewise, Google’s decision to split with WebKit and instead create its own browser engine – called, Who-style, Blink – looks at first like a stealthy move to control more of the Internet than the search giant already does. Like the statues in Doctor Who, if you don’t keep an eye on them, they’re going to control everything.

That’s certainly the angle that many Mac fans have taken with Blink. I’m actually not so sure. I think that Blink might turn out to be the best thing that’s happened to the web – and, indirectly, a really good thing for Apple too. Continue reading

Why the Windows brand has been extended a step too far

Harry McCracken thinks that, despite the potential confusion, Windows is still the best name for Windows:

“But here’s the thing: Moving away from the Windows name, either swiftly or slowly, won’t fix any of these issues. Windows Phone has had the Windows name for three generations now; calling it something else would just muddle matters. (It would also ensure that every mention of the product for years to come would include a note that it was formerly known as Windows Phone, which would eliminate any theoretical benefit of a fresh new brand.)

Windows RT, meanwhile, has too much in common with Windows 8 to have an unrelated name. And Windows 8? Well, it is Windows.”

Up to a point, I agree with Harry regarding Windows CE/Mobile/Phone. But Windows RT? That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Unlike Windows Phone, Windows RT actually looks like Windows. It even runs some (but not most) Windows 8 applications. It’s enough like Windows 8 to make a casual user believe they’re the same thing – and that means capable of running all the same apps.

But it doesn’t. Not even close, in fact. 

I sometimes wonder if Steve Ballmer’s experience as a marketer at Proctor & Gamble hasn’t ended up making him singularly ill-equipped to run a technology company. The classic marketing idea of brand extension – taking the name and core of a brand into different new products – doesn’t work so well with technology. Something called “Windows” ought to run Windows software. Windows RT, largely, doesn’t. 

Using reversible user options for interface design

One of the general principles of user interface design should be that when a user has to choose an option, it should be easily reversible – and it should be obvious how to do so.

Take a look at this grab, from Apple’s Keynote on iOS.

When I tapped on the button to insert an image, the iPad gave me the standard privacy control asking if I wanted to grant Keynote access to my photos. I accidentally hit “no”.

Now, whenever I open up the Photos control, I don’t see any images – but I do see an explanation of why I don’t see anything, and instructions on how to change that option if I wish.

That’s good design. It’s reversible, and it tells me how.

Mike Lynch tells HP to go screw themselves

Mike Lynch certainly isn’t taking HP’s accusations lying down. And he has a point: the idea that it’s taken HP this long to spot the supposed issues is frankly ludicrous, as what it’s accusing Autonomy of is the kind of blatant fiddling that would have been spotted in days.

It would also represent possibly the biggest failure of due diligence in history, both for HP itself and for the banks and accountants that went through Autonomy’s books. I don’t believe that this would have been missed.

My gut feeling: Whitman realised she needed to take a massive writedown on Autonomy (it was overpriced, but that’s not the seller’s fault). Given that HP had a very bad quarter across the board for sales, she’s thrown out the possibility of shady dealings as a way of distracting attention.

Saying “We had bad sales, but the big losses are because we were the victims of fraud” sounds a whole lot better than “We had bad sales, AND made one of the worst deals in technology history.”

Christine Assange and Ecuador – The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Christine “Mother of Julian” Assange:

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Human Rights Watch:

Ecuador’s laws restrict freedom of expression, and government officials, including [President] Correa, use these laws against his critics. Those involved in protests marred by violence may be prosecuted on inflated and inappropriate ‘terrorism’ charges.

Impunity for police abuses is widespread and perpetrators of murders often attributed to a “settling of accounts” between criminal gangs are rarely prosecuted and convicted.

Assange:

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Amnesty International:

Spurious criminal charges were brought against human rights defenders, including Indigenous leaders. Human rights violations committed by security forces remained unresolved. Women living in poverty continued to lack access to good quality and culturally appropriate health services.

The willingness of radicals on both left and right to embrace vile regimes when it suits them continually sickens me.