I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 for a while, in addition to the iPad 2 that I regularly use. It’s a nice little piece of hardware – lighter than the iPad (as you’d expect from the smaller size), and with enough battery life and power to do plenty of stuff.
In common with almost all Android tablets, it runs Honeycomb rather than the latest Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) version of Android. And, although Samsung have stated that it will be getting an update, it’s likely to be later rather than sooner – perhaps a few months. Of course, Android being Android, a bunch of hackers have already started on an “unofficial” port, and the beta of that has been enough to persuade me that ICS, while still behind iOS 5 in many ways, is a big step forward.
But the fact remains that Android tablets remain a long way behind the iPad in many other ways. There’s a lack of “showcase” applications, for one thing: the likes of GarageBand, which can sell an iPad in five minutes, simply don’t exist for Android. Then there’s the failure of tablet vendors to actually use ICS – amazingly, there are tablets which are still shipping using Android 2.3, which is as absurd an idea as Apple shipping a tablet with iOS 3.0.
So what should Google do? I have three suggestions.
Now, a source tells us that CEO Larry Page, who seems to be hell-bent on competing with Mark Zuckerberg whether it’s the right thing for Google or not, had this to say to employees at a Friday staff event after the Search Plus Your World launch: “This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything. If you don’t get that, then you should probably work somewhere else.”
Page, for better or worse, has realised the lesson that Apple has been teaching: an integrated, focused, well-designed product will always stand a better chance of success than a product which is looser, less focused, but more “open”.
What I’m fascinated about is how this new direction will impact on Android – does that “across everything” include mobile devices?
I think it does. I fully expect the Galaxy Nexus to be the last “Google Experience” phone produced by anyone other than Motorola. I also expect Google to start having its own range of pure Google Experience phones, rather than just a single device.
In other words, Google is going to start controlling Android more tightly by stealth: it will sell the best phones, with rapid, regular updates that its erstwhile-partners can’t match. Within a few years, I fully expect Motorola to have overtaken Samsung as the number one Android vendor. And, what’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung hadn’t forked Android and ended up producing its own Samsung-only variant, with its own App Store.
One notable thing about the new beta release of Chrome for Android: There’s no Flash installed. And what’s more, because of Adobe’s decision not to develop Flash for mobile further, there isn’t going to be any.
So much for those ads claiming Android ran “the whole web”.
Having said that, I’ve been playing with Chrome for Android this evening, and it’s really good. It’s finally brought the Android browsing experience up to the level of Safari on iOS, and in some areas surpassed it. The ability to instantly move from desktop browser to Android browser and get the same open tabs is really useful, too.
And one final thought: The appearance of Chrome on ARM makes it much more likely that ChromeOS will be moving that way too. And that means cheaper devices with longer battery life.
Page Rage: Why Twitter Doesn’t Work Better on Android:
A well-placed source tells us that Google’s Android team was supposed to meet with Twitter at CES about how to make Twitter work better on Android. Then, the Search Plus Your World controversy began. Eric Schmidt claimedthat Google couldn’t index Twitter and Facebook properly because those companies don’t allow Twitter to access their data. Twitter openly refuted this: The reality is Google’s bots hit Twitter hundreds of millions of times per day, sending 1,500 queries per second. Google has those Tweets, whether Twitter likes it or not.
The Google brain trust was so irritated with Twitter’s statements that the Android meeting was abruptly called off, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. There’s still no sign of the meeting being rescheduled.
I’m not even going to think about quoting “Don’t be evil” here. Nope, no, no.
(The ironic thing is that I actually like Google’s new direction. I think it makes total sense for the company and will probably, in the long run, lead to better products for users. I just wish they’d never gone down the fluffy-bunny-open-hyperama in the first place.)
It is that the consumer is Google’s product. Android is a delivery system to serve the consumer to Google’s target market — the advertisers. So Google’s customer for Android is not the consumer (with the arguable exception of the Nexus phones), but rather the carriers.
He’s right, and he’s wrong. It’s a bit like saying “magazines are the delivery system to serve the consumer to advertisers” – it’s true, in a literal sense, but it makes absolutely no difference to the qualities of the product itself. Why? Because, like magazines, if the product isn’t attractive to consumers, it won’t attract them enough for it to also be a viable “delivery system” for advertisers. The moment you stop thinking that your customer is the consumer, you’ll fail to make a product that works for your real customer (the advertiser).
Just like magazines, in order for it to be attractive to consumers, Google has to forget that Android is a delivery system for advertisers. Just as magazines developed the “Chinese wall” system that kept advertising and editorial apart, so Google has to have a Chinese wall between the people who develop Android and advertising. Google, like Apple, has to solely focus on the needs of consumers.
I’ve recently been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, one of the newest generation of Android tablets running Honeycomb (an Ice Cream Sandwich update is in the pipeline. Even though it’s not significantly cheaper than the 10.1in Tab, I got it because of the different form factor: it’s significantly lighter and easier to carry around than the iPad I already use, and makes a nice contrast to the bigger tablets.
However, it also illustrates the issues with using an interface which is designed for larger screens on a smaller touch screen. Some of the applications which are designed specifically for Honeycomb have controls and buttons which are perfect for touching on a 10.1in screen, but which are just a shade too small to accurately hit on something a couple of inches smaller.
This is a point that Harry McCracken makes very well in his post on how it must be possible to build a good 7in tablet. As Harry puts it:
No, the reason that a 7″ iPad seems unlikely in the short term is because it would only have a shot at greatness if it had an interface and apps designed with a 7″ display in mind. A 7″ tablet isn’t just a big smartphone, and it’s not a tinier 9.7″ tablet. Building a 7″ iPad by essentially making the iPhone’s pixels larger or the iPad’s pixels smaller would be the wrong way to go about it.
Part of the problem that Android tablets face is that the free-form nature of Android development means that any vendor can decide on sizes and simply hack its own version of the operating system on to the tablet. If Android applications then don’t fit properly, it’s not the vendor’s problem. It’s just the user’s
I’ve been promising that I’d give an update on the Chromebook challenge that I undertook a while ago, but one thing and another have meant that I haven’t really had enough time to do it. But, finally, here it is. Continue reading
It looks like Logitech is out of the Google TV market:
The mistake, plus “operational miscues in EMEA” cost the company “well over $100M in operating profits.” De Luca did throw Google a bone by saying that he believes Google TV will have a chance sometime in the future, but it would be a “grandchild of Google TV” that would do it. Logitech clearly has no plans to help make that happen, opting instead to sit “on the bench” (as De Luca had put it in an earlier call) until Google can find success.
The real problem, though is that “Internet on the TV” is not where TV watchers are going. Instead, most TV watching is trending towards being a two-screen experience: you watch the show on the big screen, and chat about it on Twitter or Facebook using a mobile, laptop or tablet. The idea that you do everything on the same screen is just too ’90s.
A while ago, I wrote a column for Tap on the differences between Apple and Google’s vision of “the cloud”, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) came down hard on the side of Apple’s. iCloud, as I saw it, was very much the more user-centred version.
The iPad and Chromebook represent two different views of the future of cloud computing. In one – the Chromebook – the applications as well as the data live in the cloud. In the other – the iPad – applications remain firmly on the desktop (or mobile), while the data floats wherever it needs to go.