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Some thoughts on what Google has bought Nest for

Some smart points about Google’s acquisition of Nest from John Gruber, who notes that in Tony Fadell Google has got someone who knows how to do hardware capable of scaling to tens of millions of units.

However, one minor point about John’s story, from this paragraph:

One of Alan Kay’s numerous oft-cited quotations is, “People who are really serious about software should partner with an OEM in Asia.” No, wait, that’s not what he said. What he said is, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” That’s never been true of Google, putting aside Motorola (which they seemingly acquired more for its patent portfolio than for its phone hardware acumen) and the niche Google Search Appliance.

In fact, Google has independently designed two pieces of hardware: The Chromebook Pixel and Nexus Q. But that, I think, makes John’s point stronger. Both the Pixel and Q were expensive, high-end pieces of hardware which could never have scaled to selling tens of millions of units. The Pixel was (and is) effectively a flagship demonstrator the potential for Chromebooks; and the Nexus Q was a unique media device which, because of its design, cost about four times as much as its competition.

With the Pixel and Q, Google proved it could design high-end hardware on its own. What it hasn’t been able to do is create high-quality hardware capable of being mass produced at low cost. Of all the tech hardware companies, only Apple and Nest have really nailed that one. And Apple wasn’t available for sale.

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Apple “not in the bidding” for Nest

Liz Gannes, for Re/Code:

Nest had been close to completing a funding round of upward of $150 million that would have valued it at more than $2 billion, Re/codereported earlier this month. That round never closed, because Google swept in with its huge offer. Sources familiar with details of the acquisition said that Google was the only serious bidder and Apple was not in the mix.

I get the feeling from the extremely sarcastic comments on Twitter that Google just pushed themselves way beyond the creepy line. Being on your phone gathering data is one thing: being in your home gathering data is quite another.

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What’s The iPad advantage?

Ben Bajarin gives a brilliant account of the advantage that the iPad has over other PCs, in “The iPad Advantage” ($). In particular, this paragraph absolutely hits the nail on the head:

The PC is for certain a general purpose computer. Yet its form factor limits all its general computing capabilities to only be taken advantage while in a fixed position either at a desk, or with the device sitting on your lap. The iPad, and the slate form factor take this idea of mobile general purpose computing to an entirely new level. The iPad enables its general purpose computing power to be used in both stationary and mobile situations. The iPad liberates general purpose computing from the lap or desk and enables it in contexts where computing was absent before.

The iPad is usable pretty much everywhere, and that on its own increases its power compared to other PC types. I’ve used my iPad to write hundreds of words on the London Underground, something I’d never do with a laptop (mostly for fear of impaling people either side with my elbows).

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The proliferation of new desktops

Billy MacInnes, writing for MicroScope on the announcement of a couple of new Android-based computers:

PC vendors are starting to ask whether there might be something to be gained from finding a place for Android in their desktop product roadmaps. Some have even announced products. This is aside from Chromebooks based on Google’s Chrome OS, which are already available from the likes of Samsung, Acer and HP, products which have started to gain some traction in commercial organisations in the US, especially schools.

The proliferation of “new” desktop types is one of the most interesting current trends. Ten years ago, the choice was Windows, Mac or – if you wore your beard around your neck with pride – Linux. Now you can get yourself a laptop running Windows, Mac, Linux, ChromeOS, Android, and more.

The reason for the proliferation is simple: the cloud. Cloud-based data means you can access the same data on multiple platforms with ease. The pain of switching between Android and Mac, for example, isn’t great because the stuff of value – the data – all lives in the cloud.

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Gmail and Google+ sitting in a tree…

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch about a new feature that Google is implementing to link Google+ with Gmail:

Google is today making a change to Gmail that will further bake in Google+ to its webmail product in a way that’s actually somewhat practical, though also potentially invasive. Going forward, you’ll now be able to directly email your Google+ contacts from Gmail, even if you don’t know their email address. And by default, anyone on Google+ will be able to email you as well, thanks to this new option, if you don’t adjust your settings.

Yes, of course the default for this feature is on: Google wants more social data to flow into its data centres, because it needs to know more about you to deliver more “relevant” search results (and, by the way, ads).

While I’m comfortable with this kind of thing, the assumption that it should be default-on is exactly the reason I’m gradually weening myself off Google’s services.

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Chromebooks are like iPads

Ben Thompson gets the Chromebook better than any one else, possibly because he uses a Chromebook Pixel himself:

In fact, the best comparison for a Chromebook is not a Windows PC, but an iPad. Both are appliance-like devices that are easy-to-use, impossible-to-break, and designed first and foremost for the experience, not the feature list. And, if you write like Dr. Drang and need multiple windows, a Chromebook is in fact superior to the iPad.

Spot on. Both Chromebook and iPad are examples of what I call “friction-free computing” – devices which remove the cruft and hassle of an old operating system, requiring little to no maintenance. What this class of device allows you to do is live in the applications you use to get stuff done, with the operating system getting out of the way.

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At last, someone who understands Apple Retail

Great article for by Jeff Chu for Fast Company on new Apple Retail head Angela Ahrendts:

Sikka praises Ahrendts for “reimagining the Burberry store experience.” When she showed him around the “massive” Regent Street store last year, he was particularly impressed at the store's use of RFID technology. “Every piece has a tag in it. You walk to a mirror and a video comes up of a model wearing the coat that is in your hand! You can actually see it! And when you walk into the fitting rooms …”

As he gushes for a few minutes, I realize that Ahrendts has transformed Vishal Sikka–an übergeek whose Stanford computer science PhD thesis was entitled “Integrating Specialized Procedures Into Proof Systems”–into a Burberry brand ambassador too.

Sounds like a great fit for Apple.

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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. 

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App store sales top $10 billion

Apple – Press Info – App Store Sales Top $10 Billion in 2013

Apple® today announced that customers spent over $10 billion on the App Store℠ in 2013, including over $1 billion in December alone. App Store customers downloaded almost three billion apps in December making it the most successful month in App Store history. Apple’s incredible developers have now earned $15 billion on the App Store.

That's an awful lot of happy developers. In completely unrelated news, is this the only place Apple uses the trademark symbol?

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Where next for Microsoft?

Paul Thurrott – yes, that Paul Thurrott – has written an interesting post on the quandary Microsoft finds itself in:

Windows is in trouble because people simply don’t care about it anymore. It’s not outright hostility; there’s far less of that than the anti-Microsoft crowd would like to believe. It’s ambivalence. It’s ambivalence driven by the nature of “good enough” mobile and web apps. It’s ambivalence driven by the allure of anytime/anywhere computing on tiny devices that are more cool to use and even cooler to be seen using.

Where Paul gets things right is in identifying an attack on two fronts on Windows’ relevance to developers and users. On the one hand, for most people, web apps used on a desktop browser are more than good enough: they’re often better than the huge, complicated behemoth that is Office. Yes, there are cases when only Office will do (usually when only Excel will do). But users who need Excel are now few and far between.

On the other side of the attack are tablet and phone apps. This is where all the action is. Developers are not only excited by the possibilities of newer, more interesting APIs and platforms in iOS and Android, they also sit up and take notice every time Apple puts out a press release about a new revenue record for the App Store. Yes, the overall Windows software market is a lot bigger than $10 billion; but a large chunk of that Windows software market goes to Microsoft, and Adobe, and other top-tier vendors. The chances of a break-out hit Windows app are small, unless it’s a big-budget game.

However, this raises a question: If developers are attracted to fresh APIs and to the glamour and commercial possibilities of iOS and Android, why are new applications arriving in the Mac App Store every day?

There’s several reasons. First, Apple has continued to develop and innovate in its APIs. Every recent release of OS X has seen pretty cool stuff added to it. Even “bug fix and performance” improvements like Mountain Lion added new features for developers to take advantage of.

Second, there’s the halo effect of the iPhone. Many applications are “companion apps” to releases on iOS. The text editor I’m using to write this (Writer Pro) has a Mac version which I’ll probably use to edit, polish and post. I doubt that iA would have developed it if iOS hadn’t existed.

Third, and finally, there’s the Mac App Store itself. Its existence means that if you’re developing a new application you instantly have a place you can sell your product. Yes, it’s not perfect (and the decision by some companies to remove their products from the Store shows that) but it means that companies have a shop window that a new product can be sold from.

I would go a little bit further than Paul. Devices like the iPad (and the Chromebook) have shown people that getting stuff done on a computer doesn’t have to be complicated and messy, a constant battle with the machine to not get crafted to hell. You don’t need to have to “maintain” your computer anymore – we have moved beyond that.

Except with Windows, where we haven’t moved too far beyond that. You still have to install anti-malware software, you still have to make a conscious effort to keep things up to date, every now and then you still have to nuke the machine from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). The same is true of the Mac, but (as it’s always been), to a lesser extent.

Can Microsoft fight back against this? Yes, it can: but it has to be brave, and bold and prepared to dump compatibility with the dull Windows of old. It has to invent its own simplified operating system, capable of exciting developers in the same way that iOS and Android have, while also being easy and reliable enough to attract customers who’ve come to expect iPad/Chromebook-level ease of maintenance.

Windows RT could have been that operating system, but it seems that Microsoft would rather kill that off. There’s still time, though: but not much more time.

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