iOS Maps Reconsidered
May 6th, 2013 by ravi

iOS Maps Reconsidered

Scott Forstall had to go. It was owed to Apple users who had to suffer the onslaught of skeumorphism brought on by Forstall, that turned the OS X UI into a riot of over-the-top textures and tortured selection of fonts and colours. But when Forstall refused to sign on to the apology for Apple Maps (in iOS 6) he had a small point.

And that point was that for the majority use cases the new application did a pretty decent job. Stories of stranded motorists in the Australian outback, while true and horrifying, were misrepresented as the general case, to unfavourably compare the new iOS Maps to the latest Google Maps, the latter a product that has undergone years of updates and corrections — many of those corrections coming from users like me.

When Google released their own maps app for iOS, Apple, having shed Forstall from its ranks and bent over backwards in apology, went so far as to recommend it as an alternative to their own product. Media pundits giggled in delight at the opportunity to speculate wildly on the effect of the release of the Google Maps app on the adoption rate of iOS6, before reversing themselves once the data came in.

Today, Apple released a list of the 25 all-time highest downloaded apps, and right at the bottom, at #25 sits Google Maps, many slots below Facebook Messenger and the app that got in first among 500 peers and thus managed to claim the name Flashlight. Google Maps is relatively new, even in comparison to Facebook Messenger, and it is possible that the relationship of download count to a human being or device may be many to one (a device passes hands and someone reinstalls an app but using a different and new Apple ID), which would inflate the download counts of older apps in contrast to new ones. But one thing this does say, in my opinion, is that download counts for free apps do not tell us anything concrete beyond the fact that people like free stuff especially if it might be useful. You might disagree… perhaps you know a user or two that actually uses Facebook Messenger on their iPhone?

Safety in numbers?
April 17th, 2013 by ravi

Safety in numbers?

I see the point of this bit from John Gruber (quoting Harry McCracken) about iOS vs Android and what the numbers say:

Great work, and his conclusion seems perfect:

Android if you’re talking about market share; iOS if you mean financial success. So far, this is a strikingly different market than the PC business back in the 1990s, when market share translated directly into financial success.

This is true. So far. But consider the IT hardware/software business back in the 90s:

In the late 80s and all through most of the 90s, the Unix vendors (Sun, in particular, but also HP, SGI, others) boasted margins in the server market that underwrote their intentional shunning of the brutal Wintel marketplace and the pennies it yielded (to hardware vendors). In the mid-90s, AT&T was putting Sun workstations that cost upward of $10,000 on the desks of employees and spending a multiple of that amount in the server room for the same hardware. What sane CEO would leave this paradise for price warfare on PCs?

Today, Unix has won (in the form of GNU/Linux and, ironically, OS X/iOS/Android) but the Unix vendors with those fat margins are near gone. They are gone because computing was becoming commonplace and processor performance was sufficiently advanced that Wintel’s price advantage and user friendliness made it ubiquitous.

I am not implying that this holds a clear message for Apple, that they should, as the pundits have been baying for, introduce low cost models of iPhones and Macs to gain marketshare. Rather, I think that simply as a matter of correlation, the Apple vs Android situation today is not dissimilar from Unix vendors vs Wintel in the 90s.

The future is now
December 28th, 2012 by ravi

Here’s a puff piece on the New Scientist about how the mouse is on its way out:

If the Leap is anything to go by, the days of the mouse are numbered. The 3D-gesture-sensing device lets you control your computer with a wave of your hand – and it could be yours early next year.

[…]

Pointing and clicking has been a mainstay of our interactions with personal computers for nearly 30 years, and old habits die hard. But if the Leap is as good as the pre-release hype suggests, the mouse could soon be ousted, with little more than a wave goodbye.

This sort of thing in the media (especially science/technology journalism) is hardly worth noting, except that it serves as a clear example of the bipolar approach (wilful ignorance or hyperbole) the media defaults to when it comes to Apple. On the one hand Apple is projected as a revolutionary and inventive company despite scant evidence of any great inventiveness (in a technical sense) on the part of Apple. On the other hand, well, there is the above piece.

The days of the mouse are numbered, yes. Time to wave goodbye, true. Thing is, we do not have to wait for some futuristic technology from an unknown tech startup. Pointing and clicking, the mainstay of our interaction with computers, is being ousted today, and being done so by a technology so subtle that, apparently, science journalists have failed to notice. That technology is the touch interface made ubiquitous by the iPhone and iPad, the implementation of which has put paid to “pointing and clicking”.

Unhappiness over the new iPad 4
October 25th, 2012 by ravi

John Gruber quotes Fraser Speirs on the iPad 4, which came in a mere six months after the “new iPad” (iPad3):

As for the iPad 4, I’m not at all upset that Apple ‘obsoleted’ my 6-month-old iPad 3. You’re asking me would I rather the pace of innovation slowed down just so I could feel like the king of the hill for a bit longer? That’s crazy. If there’s one thing you’ll never hear me ask for, it would be that Apple slow down the rate at which iPads get better.

This is disingenuous.

Consider this scenario: Apple releases a new iPad on day X and Speirs buys it three days later. On day X+7 later Apple releases a newer version at the same price with a much faster processor… twice as fast, they claim. What would Speirs say? Viva rapid innovation? Or: “man, that’s unfair!”. I am guessing the latter.

The question that Speirs raises is not the one being asked. It’s puzzling why Speirs and Gruber cannot understand the real question without constructing a hypothetical. What is being asked is: why could Apple not have combined the two into a single product that went on sale sometime this year?

The reason why a “new iPad” buyer might ask that question should also be obvious. Someone who bought an iPhone 4 or earlier knows that Siri is not an option for them. Nor are flyover maps. The truth is that Apple does not offer some new iOS features for older models. A user can expect that his model will start falling behind the feature curve once it gets two model behind. That used to mean 2 years. Now it means a year and half or less. That’s a fair reason for dissatisfaction.

Apple vs Samsung: It’s Not Innovation or Choice
September 2nd, 2012 by ravi

The feud between Apple and Samsung reached a milestone this week with a jury delivering a verdict favouring Apple in one major lawsuit. The response from both parties was quick and predictable. Samsung called the verdict a “loss for the American consumer”, while Apple’s Tim Cook heralded it as “an important day … for innovators everywhere”. I am pretty sure they are both exactly wrong.

Here in short are the standard arguments:

On the side of patents and copyright is the claim that without such protections the creators of new technologies and designs will be denied the reward for their work. Knock-offs with zero “innovation” cost will swamp the market, ultimately killing off the innovators.

On the other side is the claim that what has been lost is consumer choice, the selection agent in product evolution. Without the crucible of competition customers lose out in the long run.

I do not think either of them applies. The real issue is that old question — cui bono? — but applied in the opposite sense. Stay with me and we’‘ll get to that, but first a look at the proffered justifications.

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iPad Creationism
June 26th, 2012 by ravi

Every now and then someone makes a claim that the iPad is great and all but really not intended for “creation”. Within the hour a host of Apple aficionados respond with incredulity, pointing to various acts of creativity achieved on the iPad. Here is an example from John Gruber in response to Nick Bilton of the New York Times (edited for relevance):

Nick Bilton:

The iPad, for all its glory, suffers from one very distinct flaw: It’s very difficult to use for creation. The keyboard on the screen, although pretty to look at, is abysmal for typing anything over 140 characters. There isn’t a built-in pen for note-taking, either. Of course all of this is intentional by Apple. Although there are hundreds of third party products available, Apple doesn’t seem to want the iPad to be a creator, but more of a consumer.

Bilton is smarter than this. I really thought we’d retired the whole “iPad is only for consumption” thing.

The idea that a dedicated hardware keyboard or a stylus is necessary for creation is ludicrous. […] I’ve seen people who type faster on an iPad than I type on a hardware keyboard. Watch a teenager type on an iPad.

Arguing that the iPad is only for consumption today is like arguing that the Macintosh was a toy back in the ’80s.

In the above, Gruber links to a post by Dan Frommer titled “10 Ways People Are Using The iPad to Create Content, Not Just Consume it”. He then follows up with a post pointing to Patrick Rhone who has written an “entire draft manuscript” of a book using software on the iPad.

So, who is right?

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Open vs Free, the Android vs iPhone edition
April 2nd, 2012 by ravi

Over on GigaOm, Tom Krazit spins an old argument as a new one by characterising as silly the many recent blog posts on how little money Google makes on Android, in fact much lesser than what it makes on iOS (I have made such posts myself). Look beyond the dollars, he says, as if that’s a fresh and non-obvious point:

Not all investments are made with the expectation that a big payoff is around the corner. Google’s decision to bankroll the development of Android was just such an investment, which makes the past week’s back and forth over just how much money Google has garnered from that investment quite silly.

[...]

The mistake is assuming that Google views this as a big problem, as if Android has been a waste of money because Google makes more money from its competitor. Would Google like to make more revenue from Android? Sure. Money is nice. But Android was a defensive move on Google’s part, and one that wasn’t primarily motivated by desire for revenue or profit.

The mistake in Krazit’s own thesis is that he sees discussion of Google’s revenue as an independent and sole criticism of what Google is doing with Android. That is not the case. The fact that Google does not derive profit from Android but gives it away for free to handset makers and telcos (not users, less than 2% of whom can upgrade to the latest version of Android released many months ago) is part of a larger argument or analysis of the nature of Android vs iOS. Since Krazit wants to rehash these points as if new, I will repeat my criticism which is a bit different from that of famous iOS defenders like John Gruber.
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Google and Apple
March 29th, 2012 by ravi

There was a time when Google and Apple were sitting on the forbidden tree… or something like that. Google CEO Eric Schmidt appeared on stage at Apple events and sat behind the scene on Apple’s board. Together they drove Microsoft out of our lives. Then Google decided to enter the mobile OS market out of fear of losing access to mobile phone users. And what better way to challenge Apple’s iPhone and its alliance with AT&T than to offer up the Google mobile OS Android for free to Verizon (and other telcos including AT&T)? This Google defined as “open”. Predictably Android provoked the ire of Steve Jobs who took to the company town hall to decry the terrible evil that had been done. The relationship turned sour and today the two giants are slinging lawyers at each other through intermediaries and proxies (heck, Google went out and bought an entire company, Motorola — a small step for Google but a giant leap for the science of lawyering up — while Apple coupled up with friends like Microsoft to buy patents from the defunct Nortel and others).

Building the Google-telco-user relationship around the free Android OS has led to a high level of fragmentation, lack of access to new features/updates for users (less than 2% of Android devices run the latest version of Android) and strangest of all: Microsoft makes more money than Google on Android (thanks to patents) and Google makes more money on iOS than it does on Android (thanks to Apple’s use of Google services).

There was another way this could have played out. As John Gruber writes today, “Google made a mistake by deciding to oppose rather than ally with Apple on mobile”. This is all the more the case given their complementary strengths and weaknesses. Google’s good at big data and infrastructure and poor at user experience. Apple’s infrastructure capabilities are only now being tested (iCloud) but they continue to write the book on user experience. Google it appears is unwilling to yield the user to others, lest it be cut out of the loop at a later date. It is not an illegitimate concern from a business perspective. From a user perspective, however, the rivalry is a net loss. Oh well.

The real Steve Jobs
August 25th, 2011 by ravi

Yesterday, Steve Jobs announced his resignation from Apple. This has prompted an outpouring of touchingly sentimental stories from those who have interacted with the man. John Gruber has been collecting a bunch of them at his blog, from which I have reproduced a few links:

Alongside these personal anecdotes have emerged the usual superlative-laden hagiographies that, however well-intentioned, force Jobs into the standard mould – visionary, innovator, tireless leader, so on. In my opinion this is all wrong, and dangerously wrong. Jobs is interesting because his style flies against these impressive but ill-defined terms. He is unabashedly common-sensical and bullshit-free.

Consider this conversation reported by Rob Walker writing in the New York Times in 2003:

After half an hour of this, my inquiries really did start to fall apart, so I didn’t expect much when I resorted to asking, in so many words, whether he thinks consciously about innovation.

“No,” he said, peevishly. “We consciously think about making great products. We don’t think, ‘Let’s be innovative!’” He waved his hands for effect. “Let’s take a class! Here are the five rules of innovation, let’s put them up all over the company!”

The emperor has no clothes. That is his great value. Resist the urge to gussy him up!

And while we are at it, let’s try to stop writing about him in the past tense.

What is MobileMe supposed to do?
May 30th, 2011 by ravi

Via MacApper:

“In Fortune’s story, Lashinsky says Steve Jobs summoned the entire MobileMe team for a meeting at the company’s on-campus Town Hall, accusing everyone of “tarnishing Apple’s reputation.” He told the members of the team they “should hate each other for having let each other down”, and went on to name new executives on the spot to run the MobileMe team. A few excerpts from the article.

“Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continues, “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?”

The question that follows naturally: after replacing MobileMe executives in retaliation for launch time SNAFUs, did Jobs find that the service attracted more customers or net greater love from existing users? I do not have the data, but I suspect not. If I am correct, this might be a rare case where Apple and Steve Jobs serve as a negative example: it’s easy to play the tough guy (ask Steve Ballmer) than try to identify the root causes of failure.

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