Tag Archives: Android

iOS 6 Maps is a mess

In common with everyone else, I spent Wednesday night attempting to DDoS Apple’s servers by hammering them with update requests for all my iOS devices, plus all the applications, plus the odd Mac system update too. iOS 6 is, by and large, brilliant. I love shared Photo Streams. iMessage finally works how I expected it would. Panoramas are great.

But there’s one little problem: Maps. In short, it’s the most half-cooked piece of software that Apple has released in my memory, which goes back far longer than I’d care to admit. Worse than Ping? I think so: Ping was, after all, easy to ignore. Maps, on the other hand, is one of the core features of any mobile phone, and Apple has completely fluffed it.

Putting it bluntly, the maps on iOS are now so second rate that they’re a key advantage for Android, and one that I would expect Google to exploit as ruthlessly as possible. If you live in a major US city, I’m sure Apple’s maps are OK. You now get turn-by-turn navigation, which is great, and while Flyover looks like a novelty at first, it’s actually a pretty smart way of orienting yourself.

Outside the US, though, things are a little different. In London, the satellite images are decent enough, but weirdly the names of places are often slightly archaic. Step outside the M25, and the satellite images become blurry, pixellated, useless nonsense. The place names get worse (calling Daventry “Leamington” won’t win many friends in the Midlands). Businesses placed on the map seem to have been drawn from out of date data, in some cases fifteen years out of date.

Weirdly, it even incorporates trap streets that Google got rid of years ago. Search for Woodland Way in Canterbury. See Newark Street at the end? Doesn’t exist. If the satellite images were any good, you could see it going through two houses.

iOS Maps looks like what it is: something cobbled together fast from multiple sources of variable quality. And the problem is that for a core part of a mobile operating system, that’s nowhere near good enough.

The putative 7in iPad versus the Nexus 7

I'm not one for comparing products which don't exist yet to products which are already on the market, but James Kendrick has written what I think are a good set of reasons why he'll be first in line for a 7in iPad, despite liking the Nexus 7:

Using an iPad is so much more pleasant compared to the Nexus 7 that I am confident that the rumored iPad Mini (or as I prefer to call it the iBook) will capture the small tablet market and quickly. The pricing Apple puts on the smaller tablet will certainly be a factor, but knowing the company I believe they will get it right.

James is right. I own both the N7 and the latest iPad, and while I like both a lot there's a big difference between the two in terms of experience. Even though the N7 is much smoother than previous Android devices (thanks to Jelly Bean) it's still not as responsive as the iPad.

More importantly Android's still lacking in quality applications built for tablet sized screens. There's still no killer Twitter client, although a couple come close. There's a few decent games, but not many. There's no writing app as good as Pages, or presentation app as good as Keynote. Android has occasional quality tablet apps; iOS has depth in quality.

Apple’s move into maps may not be plain sailing

MG Siegler on Google’s Maps announcement and Apple’s forthcoming map tech:

I say that with the biggest caveat possible: again, no one knows much about the Apple maps product yet — it could very well suck. Mapping is not easy. And Google has been at it for years. Pulling off a product that can reliably replace Google Maps seems almost impossible — it’s that good — and maybe it will prove to be.

This is one of the things that worries me about Apple creating its own mapping technology, rather than using Google Maps. Maps are core to Google’s business, because location data is incredibly value for increasing the relevance of ads, and without ever-increasing relevance, the click-through rates on ads will go consistently down.

On the other hand, maps are not core to Apple’s business. Having a good map experience on mobile is, of course, but that’s something that doesn’t require owning the technology – it requires dealing with Google. And “dealing with Google” is the bit that Apple is obviously having problems with.

Owning technology is great for Apple if it makes the user experience better. If it doesn’t, it’s just ownership-for-ownership’s-sake, or ownership to make Apple’s bottom line better. Neither of those are bad reasons, but it’s worth bearing in mind if it proves that Apple’s maps experience gets worse, not better.

And, as MG points out, mapping is something that Google has huge experience in, and pours vast resources into. Is Apple going to be sending people up mountains with backpacks to get visual data? I doubt it.

The other thing that bothers me is that this is yet another thing to consider if you’re creating a cross-platform service, rather than a one-platform app. Suppose you have a web service which also has an iOS app, both of which incorporate mapping. Is Apple’s map service going to allow access to it from web apps, or just iOS (and presumably OS X)? It not, you now have to incorporate support for two different mapping APIs, and – more importantly – spend time and resources understanding how everything’s supposed to work.

Of course, Apple could ace it, and clearly they’ve been buying high-quality mapping talent for a very long time. We’ll see next week.

2012 could be a dangerous year for Android

Google exec hints Android 5.0 will launch in the autumn:

Speaking to Computerworld, Hiroshi Lockheimer, vice president of engineering for mobile at Google, suggested Android 5.0 will launch in the fall. He stated “In general, the Android release cadence is one major release a year with some maintenance releases that are substantial still.”

Since its launch, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) has got just one percent of the overall Android market. It’s currently shipping on a handful of phones, with a few tablets also announced. Few existing phones or tablets have got upgrades, beyond the “Pure Google” Nexus devices (and if you have the Nexus One, you’re out of luck).

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That’s some leaky firewall, Mr Rubin

Andy Rubin on the “firewall” between Motorola and Google.

Rubin said he was “painfully aware” of concerns, but stressed that Google has “literally built a firewall” between the Android team and Motorola. “I don’t even know anything about their products, I haven’t seen anything,” he said.

Given that Motorola needed Google’s explicit permission to launch its patent attack on Apple, that’s some leaky firewall, Andy.

(via Google building ‘firewall’ between Android and Motorola after acquisition | The Verge)

Is Andy Rubin playing a clever bluffing game, or is he stupid? My bet’s on the former

Andy Rubin of Google on the issues facing Android tablets:

Of course, one of Android’s biggest challenges in the tablet market is the lack of high-quality apps designed for the larger screen, but Rubin was somewhat dismissive of those concerns. “Android’s unique in that it’s a single platform that spans device types,” including tablets and TVs, Rubin told me. “Fundamentally you shouldn’t have to have a third-party developer build his app twice.” Pushed about the different interface requirements for tablet apps versus phone apps, Rubin admitted that “there has to be an education process and developers have to do the work” of making their apps tablet-aware on Android. “They’re already doing that work for other platforms.

I’m not sure if Rubin is bluffing, and just trying to gloss over one of the biggest weaknesses in the Android tablet eco-system (the lack of proper tablet-dedicated apps), or he’s simply blind to the problem. I suspect that it has to be the former, because to assume the latter would mean Rubin is dumb, and that’s something I’m pretty sure he’s not.

Of course, the other problem Android faces related to tablet apps is that even when a developer puts the effort into creating a tablet-optimised interface, there’s a plethora of size screens to deal with, and what works well on a 10.1 inch screen won’t work on an 8.9in. And, as long as Android vendors like Samsung keep adopting the “throw enough stuff at the wall and see what sticks” approach to creating hardware, developers are going to have a nasty moving target for their interface designs.

(via Google to ‘double down’ on Android tablets in 2012, says Andy Rubin | The Verge)

Chrome for Android updated

 

Chrome for Android’s been updated: full details available here. There’s a couple of nice features introduced (including the ability to use Android’s Beam feature on NFC-equipped devices to send URLs) but otherwise this is mostly a bug-fix release.

I’ve been using Chrome for Android since its release on my Galaxy Tab, and it’s a massive improvement over the stock Android browser. I would say that if you have an Android device, you should upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich just to get it – but unfortunately, most Android device manufacturers haven’t released ICS, and some of them just won’t.

Google HUD glasses have no revenue stream? Yeah, right

Nick Bilton of the NYT on Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year’s End – NYTimes.com:

Everyone I spoke with who was familiar with the project repeatedly said that Google was not thinking about potential business models with the new glasses. Instead, they said, Google sees the project as an experiment that anyone will be able to join. If consumers take to the glasses when they are released later this year, then Google will explore possible revenue streams.

If they’re not thinking of the revenue streams, they must be extremely dense. This is the advertising industry’s wet dream: a billboard on every building, an offer from every restaurant you walk past – all direct into your eyes. This is the ultimate advertising channel, and advertisers will pay massive amounts of money to get right into it.

Why the Android ecosystem isn’t like Windows

One of the most often-repeated statements about the competition between iOS and Android in mobile phones is that Android is bound to win because it’s following the same model as Windows did in “winning” the PC market. An operating system, licensed to all-comers, with a range of hardware makers all competing should (the theory goes) drive down costs and increase innovation, just as happened in the PC market.

There’s only one problem: The way the Android ecosystem works is nothing like the Windows market.

In the PC market, Dell didn’t get to build its own customised version of Windows, then make its customers wait to get an update – if it supplied one at all.

When a new version of Windows came out, you didn’t have to rely on Dell to get it – you just bought it, direct from Microsoft. You might have to download some drivers, if they weren’t included (for generic PCs, they often were). But that was often from the maker of the particular affected components, not Dell.

In the Android world, if you have (say) an HTC phone you can’t get an update from Google. You have to wait for HTC to provide it – and they have little incentive to create it in a timely manner. Neither do they have the resources: they’re operating on slimmer margins than Google, and don’t have the software chops. They didn’t make Android, they just tinkered with it. And working out what breaks their tinkering in a stock Android update isn’t always trivial.

What Google has created is in danger of ending up far more like the world of Linux: disparate, fractured “distributions” which are semi-compatible as long as a volunteer geek has taken the time and trouble to port, test and package whatever software you want.

It’s not too late to change this, but Google has to take more responsibility if it wants Android to be a long-term success.

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