writing about tech

Month: June 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Community renewed for sixth season on…Yahoo?! Also, apparently Yahoo has a streaming video service

The Verge writes:

Community is getting its sixth season. This fall, it’ll head to Yahoo Screen for a 13-episode run, saving the show after it was canceled by NBC in May. “I am very pleased that Community will be returning for its predestined sixth season on Yahoo,” series creator Dan Harmon says in a statement. “I look forward to bringing our beloved NBC sitcom to a larger audience by moving it online.” It appears as though the show will retain its half-hour format, and stars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Ken Jeong, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Jim Rash will all return.

I’m not sure what’s more unbelievable; that this is happening, or that Yahoo has a streaming video service that I’ve never heard of.

Ouya announces all-access game subscription, burns bridges with developers

Polygon writes:

According to its listing on the Ouya Shop, the All-Access Pass covers more than 800 Ouya games and represents a value over $2,000. The pass is not an annual subscription — the $59.99 price is a nonrefundable one-time payment. Once a customer buys it and redeems the code, relevant content in the Shop will show up at the price of $0.00.

Some of Ouya’s developers, who apparently were not told about this plan, are…not happy:

Ouya just can’t catch a break, though it’d probably help if the product itself wasn’t terrible.

Android Wear: A Great Foundation

The Verge writes:

Google’s take on the smartwatch isn’t too different from what the people behind the Pebble figured out last year: it should be all about notifications. At its core, Android Wear is a little remote for your Android phone’s notification shade. Everything that appears there also appears on your watch, and when you dismiss notifications on the watch they also disappear on the phone.

There are basically two kinds of people in this world: those who check their phone immediately when it buzzes and those who don’t. If you’re the sort that does, you’re going to enjoy having your inbox on your wrist. When something comes in, you can quickly glance down to see what it is without completely ignoring whatever you’re doing. You can act on some of them too, thanks to Android’s rich notification actions. That means that you will be able to play and pause music from apps that put those controls in the notification center, for example.

So, as expected, Android Wear seems like a really solid foundation for some truly great stuff going forward. It’s already handling native Android notifications far, far better than Pebble, and once better third-party stuff comes along, like RunKeeper, then I’m afraid Pebble’s just going to be left in the dust, unfortunately. Pebble has done a fantastic job so far, but it’s really, really hard to compete with native, officially-supported solutions.

All I’ve really wanted out of Pebble is better notification support, a microphone, and fitness tracking functionality, and Android Wear is going to give me two out of three of these out of the gate.

Now, where do I get that Moto 360?

Comcast may be raising your electric bill. Wait, what?

Ars writes:

Unlike the guest networks that Internet customers set up for visitors, for which the homeowner can choose a password, the Comcast hotspots can be logged into by anyone with a Comcast subscription or anyone who buys temporary Wi-Fi access passes from Comcast. That means random people passing by your home could use the hotspot to get on the Internet.

It may be unlikely that a hotspot will be used by passersby constantly, but if it were, it would cost the Comcast subscriber “up to $22.80 per year for those of us here in Philadelphia, or $1.90 per month,” according to Speedify.

It’s not really amount the money, but about the principle of the thing.  Also, as one wise Ars commenter put is:

If Comcast’s network can handle the extra load on it by having 1 million public WiFi hot spots on it — someone remind me why they need to have data caps again?

Just another reason to buy your own equipment rather than using the equipment Comcast and other ISPs rent out to you. When possible, I’m always an advocate for owning your tech – one of the reasons my daily driver is a Nexus 5.  The less control these shameless companies have over our devices, the better.

Deprecated Post: 13 Days with the Pebble Smartwatch

Deprecated posts are where I revisit popular posts I made on other sites.  Depending on the amount of time that’s passed, some of what is written may no longer be relevant, but I believe much of what is covered in these posts is still worthy of discussion.

Now that Google has officially released Android Wear devices (and my Pebble may not be long for this world), I figured it’d be appropriate to share 13 Days with the Pebble Smartwatch, which is both a review of the Pebble hardware but also a defense of the smartwatch as a useful concept.

The following was originally posted on The Verge’s forums on August 8th, 2013.

 

Let’s get something clear right away:

The Pebble Smartwatch is very much a first-world solution to first-world problems.

It’s a device that’s almost entirely about small conveniences, rather than big, world-changing ideas, and I think that’s fine. Not every smart device needs to change the world – and enough small conveniences in a single package can add up to something special.

I’m not even entirely sure why I bought one, to be honest. I was always a bit upset that I missed out on the initial Kickstarter campaign, so went to Best Buy a couple of times and asked about them. Each time, the salespeople basically laughed me away each time – not maliciously, but simply because they rarely got shipments of more than a couple in at a time, so getting one was almost impossible.

Logically, because it was impossible to get one, I had to have one.

As luck would have it, thirteen days ago I found myself in Best Buy picking up a Chromecast, when, almost-entirely-facetiously, I asked if they had any Pebbles in, too.

“Uh…I think we do, actually. One of them is claimed, but I don’t think the red one is.”

He went to check, while I racked my brain (and quickly looked up reviews on my phone) to decide if I really needed this thing. By the time he returned, and confirmed that the Pebble was mine if I wanted it, I’d decided.

Pebbleinbag_medium

...crap.

I double-checked the return policy (fourteen days) before leaving, just in case I decided the added convenience wasn’t worth the cost. So the question I’m answering now, thirteen days later, is: am I keeping this thing?

As usual, I’ll give you the tl;dr first: Yes, I’m keeping it – read on for why.

 

Life with Pebble

People often ask me what the Pebble does, and my answer – “send notifications from my phone to my watch” – and that’s true; at its core, the Pebble is simply a notification triage device. Sure, it can do more if you want it to and put the effort in, but notification triage is undoubtedly its primary function. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound terribly impressive or game-changing. There’s certainly more cool stuff I can do with it, and I’ll get to that later, but even that basic functionality has enriched my life in noticeable and, at times even surprising, ways.

First, a confession: I check my phone too damn much. It’s part nervous tick, and part Notification Anxiety (a term I just invented that means fear of missing an important notification –did I mention this is a first world problem?), but it’s also simply rude. One of Motorola’s big lines when announcing the Moto X is that people check their phones an average of 60 times a day, just to get the time and look for missed messages, and I can totally believe that.

In fact, when I read about the benefits of the Moto X’s Active Display, I can’t help but think that it’s the same idea as the Pebble – notification triage – but done somewhat differently. These quotes about Active Display, from Brent Rose (Gizmodo), Joshua Topolsky (The Verge), and Joanna Stern (ABC News) respectively, could just as easily be about Pebble:

“Active Display will also light up whenever you turn the phone over or when you remove it from your pocket. This saves you from having to hit the power button every time you just want to see what time it is. It’s a little thing, but it actually makes a big difference in the way you relate to your phone.

“It took a little while to get used to how this concept works, but once I “got” the expected behavior, it was wildly useful. I like to know when I get an email so I have a notification sound every time one comes in — but they’re not all of equal value. Being able to preview the information before unlocking the phone has definitely saved me time.

The Active Notifications feature in particular was made to solve the problem of people hitting the power button on their phones up to 100 times a day just to glance at the time and or notifications — something I know a lot about.

The Pebble has, more or less, solved this same problem for me, but in a way that isn’t tied to any specific phone. You might argue that I’m treating the symptom and not the cause, and you wouldn’t be wrong – but even so, it still helps. My phone comes out much less now – only when I need to actually do something with it – and I think that’s a great thing.

I’ve heard the argument made that glancing at your wrist is just as rude as pulling your phone out to check on it – the person you’re talking to might assume you’re bored and checking the time – but I’ve not found that to be the case. For me, the value comes from the slight vibration on your wrist, which comes with the knowledge that I definitely have a notification. That way, even if I can’t check my watch right away, I’ll know that when I pull my phone out, I’ll have something to look at – as opposed to pulling it out just because. It sounds silly, and perhaps it is, but I’ve found it makes a big difference in how I use my phone. There’s also a certain beauty in receiving a notification, even when your phone is otherwise on silent. I’m also, happily, no longer one of those people that puts their phone on the table while eating and constantly glances over to see if I have any notifications.

There’s also the added convenience that comes with being able to glance at notifications in situations that otherwise wouldn’t be possible – when you’re carrying things or when driving, for example.

Pebblecarrying_medium

Getting an email with my hands full is now less of an issue...

Pebbledriving_medium

...and it's awesome to see notifications right on my wrist as I'm driving.

Obviously, first world solutions to first world problems, but hey, useful is useful. Speaking of useful – notification triage may be the Pebble’s primary purpose, but I’ve found a few others so far.

 

What else can this thing do?

Beyond forwarding of notifications, I have found several other uses for the Pebble, though they vary in their degree of, well, usefulness. It’s important to note that I only have experience using the Pebble with an Android phone – the HTC One in particular – so I can’t really speak for how the experience is on an iPhone.

  1. Pebble Notifier is perhaps the single-most-useful Android app for Pebble, as it allows you to send all notifications from your phone to the Pebble. You can define exactly what you want to send notifications, and exactly what don’t want to send notifications. It increases the functionality and power of Pebble several times over.
  2. Glance for Pebble is another tool that, even though it’s still in beta, makes Pebble substantially more useful. It’s essentially an app you run in place of a watch face that gives you time, weather, and date information – but also gives you views of your calendars, and allows you to perform basic functions on your phone, such as sending pre-defined SMS messages and executing up to three Tasker functions. So far I’ve set up Tasker to toggle WiFi, turn on Google Now (very useful), and bring up the Recent App list. Setting up these Tasker tasks isn’t as easy as I’d like, and it’d be great to see this functionality supported more-directly by the Pebble API.
  3. Stopwatch and Timer are Pebble apps that…do exactly what you’d expect.
  4. Pebble Phone Ringer Switcher is another app that does exactly what you’d expect – it lets me toggle my phone’s sound profiles between Normal, Vibrate, and Silent. Surprisingly useful.
  5. Pebble Locker is similar to Trusted Devices on the Moto X – basically, when my Pebble is connected, there’s no PIN lock on my phone. As soon as my Pebble is disconnected, the phone locks itself and enables the PIN lock. Reconnecting the Pebble will once again disable the PIN lock. This is a nice way of adding convenience without sacrificing security.
  6. Pebble Rocker is a great little app, mentioned in the comments by drewstiff. It lets me check in on Foursquare from my watch (something I’d actually been actively looking for), take a picture with my phone from my watch, and “ping” my phone if it’s somewhere nearby, amongst a ton of other things I’m not actually using yet, like Facebook and Twitter browsing. The only issue I see is that Pebble can only hold a limited number of Watch Apps, and a lot of these are bundled separately, so you may have to choose what is most important to you.
  7. RunKeeper ties into the Pebble to display Time, Distance, and Pace information – nothing ground-breaking, but definitely a nice-to-have for someone like me who has used RunKeeper for years. Runkeeperpebble_medium

I have, of course, installed a few silly watch faces, like Mario and Star Trek-inspired LCARS, but generally, I use the default watch face, as I like the style and font. It’s always nice to have options, though.

I use the music controls more than I thought I would, mostly in the car to play/pause music and podcasts on the stereo, as my watch is generally closer, more convenient, and (surprisingly) more-reliable than the built-in stereo controls. It’s also easier to use without taking my eyes off the road – whether by providence or by design, when you leave the watch face, the first option is “Music”, so touching the same button three times will start or pause the radio. By default, you have to choose a single music app that Pebble controls, but I’ve installed a third-party app called Music Boss for Pebble that allows me to toggle between Google Play Music and the standard Music app by double-pressing the play/pause button. Quite handy.

The argument could be made that, between music controls and notification triage, the car is one of the most useful places for a Pebble – no more digging my phone out at a red light to see who sent me a message, or to see if that e-mail from work is something important. Fortunately, the Bluetooth connection from my phone to the Pebble does not appear to interfere with the Bluetooth connection from my phone to my car stereo.

Not directly related to any specific feature, but an unexpected convenience I discovered – the Pebble is great for two-step authentication with my credit union, as you can just glance at your wrist to get the login code. It’s also incredibly convenient to get my Google Now reminders directly on my wrist, as for some unknown psychological reason, it makes me more likely to do whatever task I’ve set for myself.

That’s not to say it does everything I want it to do, though. Over the last couple of weeks, some things I wish it did that it doesn’t:

  1. Dictation, through a hardware microphone that doesn’t currently exist (see the next section for more rambling on that)
  2. Direct Google Now integration. It’s cool that I can launch it with Tasker, but it’d be even better if it was somehow a native feature.
  3. Notification Sync. Getting notifications on my wrist is great, but I wish there was some way to mark the corresponding notification as “viewed” on my phone.
  4. A better included watch strap would be nice. I might get something like this, eventually.
  5. Better Pebble apps for viewing my calendar and viewing the weather forecast would be awesome.

So, that’s what it does (and doesn’t) do – but how about the device itself? Is it any good?

 

The Hardware

I’m not going to linger on the hardware of the Pebble too much, as I could really just say “good enough”, and call it a day. The display is good enough – it has an inky/oily view in certain, rare lighting conditions and from certain angles, but it’s clearly viewable in bright daylight, and the backlight works well enough to make the screen visible. My biggest complaint is that the glass on the display itself is beginning to scratch after only a couple of weeks, so I can’t imagine how it will look in a year.

Pebbleinkyscreen_medium

The oily screen looks kind-of gross, but doesn't happen often, and doesn't impact usability all that much.

Several people have asked me if the red faceplate is interchangeable and, sadly, the answer is no. Given its tendency to scratch, and the fickle nature of many consumers (myself included), I think it would be a great addition for the next version – and hey, from a business perspective, it’s another way for Pebble to make money.

The buttons are good enough – they felt a little cheap at first, but they work reliably. The interface is good enough for now – I would say it’s a bit like the classic iPod’s interface – simple and effective, but it feels like the form factor is waiting for a UX revamp akin to the first time we saw the iPhone’s interface. Installing new watch faces and new apps is good enough – it’s not the most intuitive experience, but I haven’t had much trouble. For the most part, stuff Just Works(tm). Until recently, there were some accessibility bugs on the HTC One that caused issues with the lock screen when the Pebble was active, but this appears to have been resolved with a recent OTA from HTC. Originally, I thought the OTA was just an update to carrier settings, so the fact it fixed the accessibility bug was a nice surprise.

Battery life is also good enough – it’ll last for 4-6 days, in my experience, but I’m the kind-of person who charges all of my devices every night anyway. My annoyance that the charger is proprietary is balanced by the convenience of the fact it’s magnetic. I just put the charger in the same place I leave my keys and wallet every day, and the watch is always ready to go in the morning.

Pebblecharging_medium

Magnetic chargers are cooooooool.

The alarm function is…mostly useless. It vibrates 20 times, which is a hilariously inept way of convincing me to get out of bed. I have enough trouble with an alarm I can reach from my bed, much less a slight vibration I can just ignore. The one time I tried to use it, I’m pretty sure I fell back asleep before it stopped vibrating.

Perhaps the most major hardware flaw, in that it potentially limits the target audience: the device itself is, in my experience, not really designed for women. A friend of mine was interested in getting a Pebble, until she put it on, and realized it was simply too big for her. Her own words, paraphrased, are that “she has big wrists for a woman, and this still doesn’t fit” and “this is definitely designed for a man’s wrist.”

Beyond that, there are some things I’d still like to see added. A microphone, to help with dictation and reminders, would be great, especially considering you can use the Pebble in the shower – I don’t know about you guys, but many of my great ideas are born and die in the shower, as I currently have no way of recording them as they occur to me – a Pebble with a microphone could change that.

I’d also love to see fitness tracking, as it seems odd to have to wear both a FitBit and somethingelse on my wrist, especially when that something else already has an accelerometer in it. Basically:

Pebbleequation_medium

 

Final Thoughts

A friend asked me if I thought the Pebble was the device that would “bring back the watch” – my answer was quite simply “no”. It’s not that it’s not good enough of a product (that’s a different debate), but rather than it only serves a particular subset of the population. It’s definitely something that appeals exclusively to nerds – and even then, it’s a subset of nerds that it appeals to. For now, though, it’s too expensive and too niche.

However, what surprised me is that my time with Pebble has shown me ways it was useful that even didn’t predict, and when the right smartwatch comes along, it might just have the same mainstream acceptance and market-transforming impact that the original iPhone and iPad did. It will take the right convergence of design, price, marketing, and easy-to-use features – and it may also take the right phone combined with the right watch. I think the Moto X, for example, paired with a Google smartwatch, could be a game-changer.

I imagine owning a Pebble is much like how owning the first-generation iPhone must have felt. That’s not to say that the Pebble should be compared to the iPhone – the smartwatch “revolution”, if and when it occurs, can never have the same impact as the smartphone revolution, and the Pebble is simply not on the same level as the iPhone, design or build quality-wise. Smartphones improve most people’s lives in obvious ways, while smartwatches are – by their very nature – a luxury that will serve a niche subset of that. But, there are notable similarities – the Pebble, like the original iPhone, is an overpriced device with obvious, obvious flaws and missing features that have to be fixed in the next generation – but the core concept of a companion device is solid and hints at greatness just around the corner. I don’t know if it will be Pebble, Microsoft, Google, Apple, or someone else entirely who finally nails it, but I’m more confident than ever that someone will nail it – and that it will happen soon.

The Pebble, in its current form, isn’t that device – but for now, and for me, it’s a great placeholder – it’s a bookmark on my wrist, holding down the fort until a real revolution comes along. I recognize that it’s definitely not a device for everyone, and honestly, perhaps not even a device I’d recommend to many people. Most people think it’s silly and useless, and for them, they’re probably right. Some people still think smartphones are silly and useless, and again, for theirlives, they may very well be right.

Really, though, that’s kind-of what being a tech fan is about – finding the devices that fit our lives – and I’ve found, based on how I live my life and use my devices, that the Pebble is a great companion, and makes my life just a bit more pleasant.

My 10 Second Review of Shovel Knight

If you’re a fan of old-school games like Castlevania, Mega Man, and DuckTales, you should probably be playing Shovel Knight right now.

What’s next for Microsoft in a world where Android is everywhere?

Yesterday, Google showed us a vision of a world where Android touches every area of your life.

Going for a run? Android on your wrist.

Going for a drive? Android in your car.

Having a party? Android on your TV.

What’s the hub for your smart life?  Android on your phone.

This is the world Microsoft has been aiming for, in some respects, since the introduction of their Metro design language.  Windows Phones look like Windows Tablets look like Windows Laptops look like the Xbox One – and that’s great.  Thanks to Microsoft’s cloud services, much of it plays nicely together, too – the problem is, right now, it doesn’t play nice enough together.  I can’t view or respond to my phone’s notifications on my tablet or PC, I can’t download the same app on my tablet and my phone and my TV, and there’s absolutely no sign of Windows on my wrist with only hints of Windows in my car.  Microsoft was perhaps the first to imagine a world where their products, services, and design give you a single, continuous experience regardless of your device and location (three screens and a cloud!), but at the current rate of iteration, Google is going to be first to realize that dream.

Microsoft didn’t have to let this happen; they’ve had all the puzzle pieces for awhile, they’ve just been too slow about putting them together.  Windows RT has been available since late October 2012, but I still can’t run Windows Phone apps on my tablet.  That feature is coming, but features are always coming – and this won’t be a new, unique feature to the platform, but another example of Microsoft reaching feature parity with its competitors.  They haven’t been been fast to iterate on Windows Phone, either; as great as the Windows Phone 8.1 update is, there was a year and a half between release of WP8 and WP8.1, which is an eternity in tech years.  Even then, WP8.1 is mostly about bringing feature parity, rather than bringing something new to the mobile world.  The execution on some ideas may be better (Cortana), but those ideas are all still things we’ve seen before.  Microsoft is busy playing catch-up with its phone OS, while Google is getting ready to put their “phone” OS everywhere.

Android’s development pace, in comparison, has been breakneck; look at how much Android changed in any given year and a half period since its release.  Now, some of that was out of necessity; for the first few years, Android needed drastic improvements to its design and performance, whereas Windows Phone 8 came out the door fast and stable.  Regardless of the reasons, though, it creates a mobile landscape in which Microsoft appears to be standing still next to Google’s dead-sprint, and Apple’s steady, relentless jog.

The only place Microsoft has the definitive advantage is in laptops and hybrids; Google can trumpet the success of Chrome OS all they want by pointing at the Amazon sales rankings, but Microsoft can point to actual sales figures.  There’s a long, long way to go before Chrome OS is a serious threat to Microsoft’s desktop world – but that desktop world is where Google has its trojan horse in the form of the Chrome browser.  Much of what Chrome OS is doing with Android can be done almost as well by the browser – just look at MightyText, which already lets me see and respond to text messages, or PushBullet, which already mirrors my phone and tablet’s notifications.  Google may never own the desktop, but with their strategy, they don’t really have to.  Their vision of Android being everywhere doesn’t require you buy a Chrome OS machine; it just requires you download the Chrome browser.

Apple, for what its worth, seems to have seen much of this coming, and have countered Google’s strength of open software and cloud services with their own strength – vertical platform integration.  iOS in the car was announced before Android Auto.  iOS8 and OS X 10.10 will bring iOS and OS X closer together with Continuity.  The iWatch has been rumored to exist by basically every tech site in existence, and something is almost certainly coming, hopefully this year.  Apple has been on the TV for years, and the only real missing piece of the puzzle for them now is to get the App Store on their TV solution.

So, we know Google’s next moves, and we know Apple’s, but what are Microsoft’s?  Satya Nadella seems to be saying all the right things; mobile first, cloud first certainly the direction the world is moving in.  We’ve already seen moves of a more open Microsoft, as Office has finally made its way to iOS and Android, and though the seeds for that were almost certainly planted in Ballmer’s days, it’s possible Nadella was the one who finally decided to push it out the door.

The coming year or two will hopefully see the Xbox One running the same apps as their Windows tablets and PCs, and those same tablets and PCs running many of the same apps as Windows Phone.  Microsoft has demonstrated Windows in the car, but questions remain about when it will be available and who will support it when it is available.  It also relies, at least partially, on developers updating their apps for the car – and given how much trouble Microsoft has historically had getting developers to make apps for Windows Phone, I have to wonder how much support Windows in the car will get.  Finally, though there have been rumors of a multi-platform Microsoft smartwatch, but no further information has materialized.  Microsoft will certainly move into the wearable space, in some form, but no one really knows what form it will be in and how long it will take.

So what should Microsoft do next?  As I see it, they have several options, not all of which are mutually exclusive:

  • Stay the course.  Keep pushing Windows Phone, Windows RT, Windows 8, and Xbox One closer and closer together.  This may actually work, they just need to start pushing faster.  Microsoft can’t afford iterate as slowly from 2014 to 2016 as they did from 2012 to 2014.  Hopefully, with Nadella at the helm, the next two years will be very exciting.  The biggest problem with all of this may be customer’s perception of Windows 8, which seems to be mixed at best.
  • Continue to make their software more available.  Office is basically everywhere now – why not do the same for IE?  I use Chrome on my laptop because it syncs with my phone; if IE was on my phone, then I’d have one less reason to use Chrome.  Push for a world where using Microsoft doesn’t necessarily mean using Windows, just like using Google doesn’t necessarily mean using Android.  Google wants to put Android everywhere, but its open nature means Microsoft can put all of their software and services on Android and ride that same wave. If Google is the open cloud company, and Apple is the vertically-integrated hardware company, the place for Microsoft might be somewhere comfortably in the middle.
  • Drop Windows Phone and shift their phone strategy to Android.  Now that Microsoft has their own in-house phone team, they could develop first-party Android phones.  This is probably the least likely strategy in the short-term, but you never know what will happen in the next few years.  There was a time when the idea of Apple hardware running Windows was laughable, too.  This would allow them to leverage things like Android Wear and Android in the car without having to invest in those strategies internally. Still, this is my least-preferred option; as much as I’d love to see Nokia’s old hardware design team make a fantastic Android device, I’d rather see a more competitive mobile landscape with at least three major players.
  • Stay the course with Windows Phone and develop a first-party Android phone.  Continue developing Windows Phone and great Windows Phone hardware, but spin-off a piece of Nokia’s old design team to push out an Android-running, Microsoft-developed smartphone – like the Nokia X line, but without the customized build of Android.  This may come across as unfocused, but if anyone has the resources to hedge their bets like this, its a company the size of Microsoft.  If they start this project now – even if they don’t release it – they’d be ready for a worst-case scenario where Windows Phone, Windows in the car, and their wearables don’t get the kind of traction they want.
  • Figure out what the next big tech shift is, and beat everyone there.  Apple beat everyone else to the first modern smartphone, and now it looks like Google will beat everyone else when it comes to a single experience on all platforms.  Rather than chasing Apple and Google, ideally Microsoft will forge their own path to…whatever it is we haven’t thought of yet.  This may lead back to the idea of yielding the mobile space to Android and developing their own Android hardware, so that they can at least have a strong mobile presence while they work on whatever is coming next.

Regardless of what Microsoft does going forward, I desperately want them to succeed.  A mobile world dominated primarily by Android and, to a lesser extent, Apple, might be good in the short-term for consumers, but in the long-run, innovation will stagnate without enough competition.  Google was forced to sprint with Android for so long because Apple had such a big head-start; for them, it was iterate-quickly-or-die.  I don’t know what Microsoft will do next, but I hope for their sake and ours that they do it much, much faster than they have been.  The time for caution is over.

Material Design = Google Now + Timely?

Someone reminded me that Google bought Timely, and now I think we know why. If you look at some of their sample animations for Material Design, they greatly resemble some of the super-slick animations from Timely.

If Android L is going to be Google Now’s aesthetic + Timely’s animations, I am all aboard.

Did Google poison its own well?

Another I/O keynote with little-to-no mention of Google Glass.  Is the project dead?  Well, maybe.  If so, it’s very likely Google’s own fault, as this fantastic Daily Show segment helps illustrate.

Because I’m such a gadget nerd, people often ask me if I’m going to buy Google Glass, and they seem legitimately shocked when I tell them no, no, God, no, why, no and then starting protectively cradling my wallet.

As much as I love gadgets, I don’t buy a gadget unless I see enough valid use-cases for that gadget in my life – and there are certainly legitimate uses I see for Glass-like technology; mostly as a heads-up display for activities where your hands are distracted, notably biking and running. I’d love to have a real-time RunKeeper display of my speed, pace, distance, and especially a map overlay. Another great use would be real-time translation of both written and spoken word while traveling. But, as expensive as Glass is, it still can’t DO those things yet – and even if it did, that’s not really $1500 worth of functionality.

I really see no value in this technology until it can be seamlessly integrated into existing items we’re wearing; smartwatches work because people already wear watches. Fitness wearables work because people already wear wristbands – or they’re so small you can easily hide them. Glass won’t work until I can put on a regular-looking pair of glasses, and those glasses immediately enrich my experience by providing me with real-time information about the world around me. Glass needs to adapt to the world; the world doesn’t need to adapt to Glass, despite with Glass-advocates might tell you.

While I understand that Glass is a far-from-finished product, I think Google showed off their ideas too early. This isn’t even an alpha-level product; it’s basically a prototype for something that won’t really be viable for at least 5-10 years, and by introducing it in such a raw fashion, I worry that Google pre-emptively poisoned the well when it comes to society’s acceptance of sort of technology. As the Glass wearer in the video states, it’s basically a cell phone strapped to your head at this point – and that’s not something anyone really asked for or society really wants.

 

Thoughtstream: Google I/O 2014 Keynote

The following are my (most unedited, very-rambling) stream of consciousness thoughts on the Google I/O 2014 Keynote.  

  • Numbers, numbers, numbers.  Numbers, numbers. Numbers.  Android continues to own the phone world and starting to conquer the tablet world.
  • Android One seems like a great initiative, though not particularly relevant to my market.
  • Android L-release preview!  Duarte-time.
  • Looks like Google is going to kick design up a notch again.  It’s been said before and it’s worth saying again; Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at services, though hopefully iOS8 and OS X 10.10 will bring some parity there.
  • Mattias, er, Material Design!  Love the way it looks in motion.  Also glad to see Google is finally unifying design between all their platforms.
  • Curious to see how all these “virtual light sources and real-time shadows” impact performance.  Hopefully Google won’t stumble here.
  • Interesting to see software design take on a resemblance to a “paper” surface as device screen PPI slowly climbs closer and closer to the PPI of print.
  • The updated Gmail all looks a lot like the latest Google+ app on Android.
  • Material Design coming to the web. Solid.
  • A lot of these new developer tools to improve design are great, but I’m curious to see how many companies will leverage these tools and how many will just continue to update their legacy, shitty Android app.
  • The more I see of Material Design, the more I feel like it’s basically Google Now Everywhere.  This isn’t a bad thing.
  • Oh hey, it’s lockscreen notifications from iOS.
  • Notification updates seem iterative, but solid.  Android was already great at notifications, so it didn’t need a full revamp.
  • Oh man, Trusted Devices (with some bonuses) is finally coming to stock Android.  Makes sense with Android Wear, but still good to see.
  • Multitasking UI is interesting; reminds me of how WebOS listed browser cards along with active app cards.  Hopefully you can still swipe them away.
  • Google, unsurprisingly, marries web content and apps with native apps better than anyone.
  • Dammit!  Lots of interesting sounding stuff – “New keyboard, UI, do not disturb, and new quick settings.” was just…skipped.
  • Goodbye, Dalvik.  No one will really miss you.  Excited to see how ART’s performance boosts impact day-to-day usage.
  • Hopefully this GPU improvements will help compensate for the “automatic” effects Google is adding to UI animations
  • PC gaming graphics.  In your pocket.  Said some guy on the stage for the 5,000th time.  “PC gaming” is such a ridiculously vague term that I guess you can get away with it every time.
  • Oh man, built-in battery improvements, finally.  Hopefully developers will bother to leverage these new APIs to actually take advantage of the battery savings.  Still nothing to stop a shitty app from doing shitty things to your battery, like Greenify.  Interested to see how it plays out.
  • Burst mode camera APIs oh God finally thank you.
  • Must…resist…urge…to…download…Nexus…5…image.
  • Not sure that iOS burn was really necessary, Google.
  • Security patches coming from Google Play instead of OS updates.  This is a great way to fix a major issue with Android version fragmentation.
  • “It shouldn’t matter which device you’re using, you want to pick up where you left off.” – shades of Apple’s continuity.
  • Always-on display for the G-watch. Nice.
  • My poor Pebble is crying quietly to itself.  I love basically everything about Android Wear.
  • Oof. Live demo fails are always painful.
  • As someone who occasionally gets frustrated when I get swamped with Pebble notifications, I adore the “single swipe to Do Not Disturb” option.
  • Android Wear might finally make my dream “Pebble + FitBit” device possible.
  • It’s going to be very, very hard for Pebble to compete with first-party wearable solutions that are able to leverage OS-level features like notification interaction and automatic watch app updates, not to mention developer support.
  • Moto 360…later this summer.  I think the audience is even more depressed than I am.  The next few months are going to be a battle to resist buying a G Watch or a Galaxy Live.
  • Nice that Android Auto is “cast” from the phone to the device.  This means you don’t have to do some sort of awkward “car dashboard software updates” just to get the latest Android Auto features.
  • Way more excited by this Android Auto stuff than I thought I’d be.  Seems like a great solution to “using” your phone safely in your car.
  • Today really is about “Android Everywhere”, so I can see why they started the presentation off by talking about their new unified design language across platform.
  • Awesome to see a relatively small app like Pocket Casts get a shout-out on the I/O stage, and even more awesome that they’re already ready for Android Auto.
  • Question: Can I buy an after-market in-car system with Android Auto support?
  • Yet another expected form factor: Android TV.
  • Google is taking on Xbox One’s HDMI-in functionality.  Should’ve seen that coming, but didn’t.
  • I already have approximately seven billion media consumption boxes, so Android TV is going to have to really impress me to earn an HDMI port on my TV.
  • Google just leap-frogged when Apple when it comes to getting apps and games on their set-top box.  Now it’s just a matter of getting people to actually buy them.
  • Nice to see multiple types of devices used as gaming controllers.  If Android supports any Bluetooth controllers, can I use my DualShock 4s?  Because that would the best.
  • As expected, Google TV has Chromecast support…but it basically had to.
  • Lots of TVs running Android TV by default, but I don’t want a Smart TV.  I want a streaming box.
  • “Nearby Device” Google Cast support is good stuff.  A bit of a bump over AirPlay.  Wonder how far the range is, though.  Can you mess with people in nearby apartments or houses?
  • The “Personalized Ambient Feed” feature is going to be great for my TV-as-a-cloud-based-digital-frame project.
  • Android Device Mirroring.  Not really a surprise given the ghost “Cast Screen” tile that keeps randomly popping up in my Quick Settings panel.
  • That proximity unlock thing with Chromebooks would be great, if I ever had any intention of buying a Chromebook.
  • Phone notifications on the Chromebook is solid.  I love this feature of Pushbullet, but native support would be even better.  Hoping this will show up as a Chrome browser extension.
  • Android apps in Chrome OS.  Finally.  This has the potential to make them so much more useful.  Hopefully, as more and more Android and Chrome apps adopt “Material Design”, this will appear more and more seamless.
  • I use my personal phone at work, but I’m not sure I’ll use any of this personal/work separation stuff.  Still, I’m sure it matters to someone.
  • Oh hey look, a bunch of tech journalists complaining that Google is talking about programming at a developer’s conference.
  • Google Fit is nice to see.  I’m a fan of anything that helps users build their own fitness ecosystems from a variety of apps and devices.
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