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’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.
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.
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.
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.