Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2012

Don’t Call Our Social Network a Social Network

“Google+ is just an upgrade to Google,” says [Vic] Gundotra. “People have a hard time understanding that. I think they like to compare us with other social competitors, and they see us through that lens instead of really seeing what’s happening: Google is taking its amazing products, and by bringing them together, they just become more awesome.”

Then why is it on feature parity with Facebook? If it’s just an update to Google’s other services, why is it its own service?

To Elon Musk and the Model S: Congratulations

Dan Neil was so skeptical of the Tesla Model S that he made a bet with Elon Musk that it wouldn’t be in production by the end of 2012:

Mr. Musk then bet me $1 million that he would do it and, graciously acknowledging our rather different financial situations – he’s wealthy and I’m not – said the bet would be only $1,000 to me. In either case, he wrote, the winnings would go to the charity Doctors Without Borders. Seeing this as a rare opportunity to facilitate a $1 million donation to a worthy cause, I accepted.

This article will probably disappear behind the Wall Street Journal‘s paywall by tomorrow, so grab it while it’s hot.

Oh, Netflix Is Down? I’ll Just Update My Pinterest Then. Wait, What?

Sean Ludwig for VentureBeat:

An outage of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud in North Virginia has taken down Netflix, Pinterest, Instagram, and other services. According to numerous Twitter updates and our own checks, all three services are unavailable as of Friday evening at 9:10 p.m. PT.

Amazon’s service health dashboard indicates that there are power issues in its North Virginia data center, most likely caused by severe storms in the region. The outage underscores the vulnerabilities of depending on the public cloud versus using your own data centers.

I bet most people don’t realize that these services are all connected. I’m surprised that Amazon doesn’t have redundant data farms.

The Luxury Bauble Turns Five

Jim Dalrymple has a selection of quotes from around the time the iPhone was introduced. This is possibly my favourite one, from Matthew Lynn at Bloomberg:

“The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant… Apple is unlikely to make much of an impact on this market… Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.”

Will Google’s Personal Assistant Be Creepy or Cool?

Jenna Wortham:

In robotics and computer graphics, there is a concept known as the uncanny valley. Humans tend to find robots and animated characters that look vaguely human-ish charming and cute. But as those bots and figures take on more and more human characteristics, particularly movement, that empathy disappears and is replaced by revulsion — unless the simulation is nearly perfect. It’s one of the theories behind why moviegoers hated the jerky humans in the film “The Polar Express” but loved the bumbling, junk-collecting machine in “Wall-E.”

Is there also an uncanny valley that applies to our level of comfort and discomfort around what companies, services, virtual helpers and machines know about us and how they use that information?

Good question. When does Google, or indeed any company, cross the creepy line? This seems to be a very personal question. Some people don’t care about Google’s silos of personal data, while others avoid that at any cost. That Google Now knows when I commute and for how long feels like it crosses that line.

Activating 5.6 Million Units Per Day

Horace Dediu:

Defined as “activations” device and computers are being adopted at the rate of about 5.6 million units per day.

64 new tech products are purchased every second all around the world. Woah.

An Update on Flash Player and Android

Devices that don’t have the Flash Player provided by the manufacturer typically are uncertified, meaning the manufacturer has not completed the certification testing requirements. In many cases users of uncertified devices have been able to download the Flash Player from the Google Play Store, and in most cases it worked. However, with Android 4.1 this is no longer going to be the case, as we have not continued developing and testing Flash Player for this new version of Android and its available browser options.  There will be no certified implementations of Flash Player for Android 4.1.

Confusing PR-speak to English translation: Android 4.1 will not have Flash support. If only iOS also had Flash, then this announcement might pertain to it, too.

Bob Mansfield to Retire

Apple PR:

“Bob has been an instrumental part of our executive team, leading the hardware engineering organization and overseeing the team that has delivered dozens of breakthrough products over the years,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We are very sad to have him leave and hope he enjoys every day of his retirement.”

Mansfield’s bit in many of Apple’s hardware videos has always been a highlight. The guy leaves a hell of a legacy:

As senior vice president of Hardware Engineering, Mansfield has led Mac hardware engineering since 2005, iPhone and iPod hardware engineering since 2010, and iPad hardware engineering since its inception.

Incredible.

gRIM

T.C. Sottek for The Verge:

As part of its financial earnings report for Q1 2013, RIM has revealed that BlackBerry 10 has been delayed until the first quarter of 2013. RIM officially revealed the new OS back in May at BlackBerry World, and CEO Thorsten Heins said that the project had been underway for a year and a half — but it looks like the company will need even more time to deliver.

I’m linking to another iteration of this just to use the cheesy headline pun.

In all seriousness, it must be rough for the 5,000 employees they need to let go. I feel for them, as their departure ultimately isn’t their fault.

Kicking Oneself in the Nuts

RIM reported their Q1 2013 results (they have a weird fiscal/calendar year relationship), and it doesn’t look good:

Revenue of $2.8 billion in Q1, down 33% from $4.2 billion in the prior quarter

The year-over-year loss is even greater (PDF), and things aren’t looking up in the future:

BlackBerry 10 smartphone launch now scheduled for Q1 of calendar 2013

Google Announces Chrome for iOS

Bookmark syncing is something longtime Chrome users are going to love. Since iOS doesn’t let users set a default browser (or default app for anything), it’s going to be an awkward experience on iOS. This will probably increase the number of requests for this feature. Why not let Sparrow be the default email app, if the user so chooses, or Chrome be the default browser?

Update: The best feature of Chrome for iOS, by far, is a menu option to request the desktop site, rather than a crappy mobile site. Nice.

Google Now

A very smart combination of some Siri-like functionality with Passbook elements, and a few things all Google’s own. I particularly like the transit card, which shows the next trains and buses nearby. Very clever.

What’s That Smell?

Jake Smith has a report for 9to5 Mac this evening wherein he reiterates an long-rumoured upcoming interface overhaul for iTunes 11. He links to a new report from Bloomberg:

Apple will unveil the changes by year’s end, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. The company will more closely integrate its iCloud file- storage service with iTunes so users can more seamlessly access and manage their music, videos and downloaded software apps across different Apple gadgets, the people said.

This doesn’t surprise me. Many of the recent feature additions to iTunes have felt grafted on, rather than built-in. What is curious is the way Jake Smith doubles down on this:

As for the iCloud integration, it is said to make it easier for users to manage their files. We showed you a screenshot of the iCloud integration within an early build of iTunes 11 back in April.

If you follow that link, you will see this screenshot of an info box, a version string, and nothing more. In what way is this a “screenshot of the iCloud integration”?

Nexus Q

The voiceover:

Meet Nexus Q, the first social streaming media player. […] It’s the first device that lets you create social playlists with your friends.

Your friends can add songs to the queue, and sort them by preference. That sounds familiar:

If you have iTunes DJ enabled, anyone with the newest version of Remote on their iPhone can vote on songs that are coming up in your playlist, or browse through your entire collection to request a song. Whatever songs get the most votes will be played next.

Apple steals a notifications concept from Android circa 2009. Google steals an iTunes concept from 2009. It all comes out in the wash, doesn’t it?

On the Nexus 7

Stephen Hackett:

Both Amazon and Google are pitching these devices not as computer-replacements, but content hubs. Apple, on the other hand, wants users to think of the iPad in both ways.

Apple, and recently, Microsoft.

Google Tries Something Retro

John Markoff, for the New York Times:

Etched into the base of Google’s new wireless home media player that was introduced on Wednesday, is its most intriguing feature.

On the underside there is a simple laser-etched inscription: “Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A.”

With the raising prices of labour at manufacturing partners in China, this is becoming a viable option for some products. But it has drawbacks, as is pointed out in the article:

The biggest challenge in bringing manufacturing home has been finding component suppliers nearby. Industry executives note that the decision to stay in China is often determined by the web of parts suppliers that surround giant assembly operations, like the one that Foxconn, the manufacturing partner of Apple and many other big electronics companies, operates in Shenzhen. The advantages can be striking. A design change made in a product might be executed in a few hours.

Google I/O

Lots of new stuff to unpack from Google’s I/O keynote today. First, Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean”, which contains a powerful new “Google Now” feature:

Google Now tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team’s score while they’re playing.

The underlying data for this is your Google products activity history. On the one hand, it’s disconcerting that Google has all this information, but on the other, it’s incredible to see its contributions to new products.. The promo page for Now isn’t up yet, but it should be worth waiting for.

There are some nice improvements to notifications and widgets, and they’ve fine-tuned some of the animations throughout the OS. Joseph J. Schmitt was amused by that:

So it looks like the Java VM can yield buttery smooth animations… it just need a 4-core processor and 12-core GPU to do it.

The update will apparently be available next month to three devices. I guess some things don’t, or can’t, change.

Google released a 7-inch Nexus tablet, to be made by ASUS, and you’ve already heard everything about it. It looks like a solid Kindle Fire competitor. Of note, it only has a front-facing camera, and that camera is only for video chat. Good to see Google has the balls to admit that taking pictures with a tablet is stupid.

There was also a long presentation to announce the availability of a developer-only version of Project Glass. Not cheap, though:

A pair of beta Google Glasses costs $1,500 and will start shipping to I/O attendees next year.

Next year, and only for US developers. It’s a piece of technology I’m not sure I get. It’s exciting, but it feels premature to even announce it, let alone ship a developer preview.

The Newsroom: Critic’s Notebook

Mary McNamara, for the Los Angeles Times:

What HBO and creator Aaron Sorkin hoped would be a smart, provocative drama has become an unintentional piece of performance art.

That’s the only way to explain the strangely vitriolic response to his new show,”The Newsroom,”which premiered Sunday night to a round of mixed to splutteringly negative reviews. Many critics, including this one, objected to Sorkin’s decision to sacrifice the quality of the narrative in order to hit certain talking points — mostly about the state of journalism, the state of politics and the vicious dumbing down of American culture.

Much of this controversy seems to be a rushed defence out of denial. People in the news don’t like to see their medium get such a damning presentation. People in any profession that has fallen from grace wouldn’t like to see that. For what it’s worth, I found the first episode to be a phenomenal piece of television, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Great Idea

Cabel Sasser:

Coda 2.0.1 remains “In Review”, so here a sneak peek at a license migrator we’re tinkering with. Good idea?

Smart move on Panic’s part, though it’s a shame it’s come to this.