The Innovation of Loneliness

Everything about this seems true. More, it seems True.


3-D Mapping, the Next Frontier

I/O 2012, Google’s annual tech conference, is scheduled to begin June 27 at the Moscone West Convention Center.

WWDC 2012, Apple’s annual tech conference, is scheduled to begin June 11 at the Moscone West Convention Center.

If Apple announces, as rumored, a new 3-D mapping initiative that ends the company’s reliance on the Google Maps API, that leaves 16 days for people to speculate, or for Google to respond in apparent haste.

On June 6, five days from today’s annoucement and five days before the beginning of WWDC 2012, Google is holding a special event about 3-D mapping. The event is not yet listed on Google’s Developer Events page, but presumably will be soon.

Presumably Google believes their June 6 demonstration will be more impressive than whatever Apple might demonstrate the following week.

Me, I’ll be happy if Apple delivers turn-by-turn directions on par with the free and excellent MapQuest 4 Mobile

Android : MySpace :: iOS : Facebook

The argument is pretty simple, and some people feel very strongly that one side or the other is so amazingly clearly obviously correct that there shouldn’t even be an argument.

On the one hand, Apple is incredibly restrictive about what it allows iOS devices to do.

(Of course, iOS is vastly, mind-bogglingly less restrictive in many ways than anything that came before it, and still is in many ways less restrictive than many of the devices now available, but in one sense, it’s certainly more restrictive than it could be, as jailbroken devices demonstrate.)

On the other hand, Android devices are completely open, allowing owners to do anything they wish.

(Of course, much of that openness is taken by manufacturers and carriers, who lock down some things for end users, but from one narrow perspective, one need not jailbreak to run arbitrary apps, so the perception remains, and is true to a point.)

Are there perhaps similar situations we can use as a lens though which to view this one? It’s possible that issues involve Google and Apple are skewing our views of Android and iPhone unfairly. It’s possible that we’re considering concepts in the abstract rather than thinking about the practical implications, or vice-versa.

As a devoted iPhone user, what leaps to my mind as a parallel is MySpace versus Facebook.

There are obvious differences: MySpace preceded Facebook, while Android didn’t hit the market until after iPhone, for one. Still, the difference in philosophy is not so far different, and I think the results tend to be similar as well. 

MySpace allowed users to customize nearly every aspect of the experience. You want your own colors, your own styles, your own buttons and widgets? Go right ahead! The result, as you may remember, was generally ugliness and chaos. There were (and probably still are) certainly MySpace pages that didn’t look like dog vomit, but they became more rare with time. It turns out that most MySpace users had no sense of reasonable style, and the result was truly ugly. 

Facebook allows far less customization, and in the years I’ve had a Facebook account, has actually allowed for less customization several times, removing features on which users once depended. The end result is that one Facebook profile looks much like another, and while they don’t look as stylish as they could, they also don’t look as nasty as the average MySpace page.

Facebook has chosen the middle, and we all end up with above-average but not great pages, rather than some of us ending up with great pages and most of us with crap. Clearly we have collectively chosen the orderliness of Facebook over the Chaos of MySpace.

Obviously social network effects play a part, but let’s be real: your grandmother was never going to use MySpace daily the way she uses Facebook.

The post is illustrated with some examples of what happens when the MySpace philosophy is applied to smartphones, courtesy of Fugly Android. When people complain that iPhone doesn’t allow for enough customization, this is the sort of thing they mean. 

Perhaps the people complaining have a little more style than this. Perhaps not. If the choices are as stark as this, between the “monotony” of similar or identical iOS devices on the one hand and the freedom to make your expensive phone look like garbage on the other, well, I know my limitations, and I’ll stick with the Facebook of smartphones.

(thanks to John Gruber for the Fugly Android link)

Google’s New Subscriptions

I’m trying not to think of Google as anxiously trying to do everything just like Apple, desperately hoping to earn Apple’s approval, like a little child trying to please a parent. I’m trying not to, but Google is making it hard when they make announcements within a day of Apple making announcements, or when they hold stage events in a poor imitation of Apple’s stage events. 

Still, there’s substance today, as Google has their answer to Apple’s new subscription policies. Let’s pretend, as Google has, that this isn’t just a new feature for Google Checkout.

Overall, it seems that Google is taking the same approach with subscriptions that they’ve taken with Android and with Google TV, with mixed results. Namely, they’ve focused on working with the publishers (carriers, networks) rather than users. At first blush, that would seem to be the wise approach, since the publishers (carriers, networks) have the power. In practice, though, the ring of power answers to Sauron only, and he does not easily share his power. So Google TV is blocked by the networks, and the carriers are making money with Android while Google mostly isn’t. And into this we go again.

One big source of revenue for publishers is their mailing lists. Subscribe to most magazines and you’ll find yourself the target of an amazing amount of junk mail. Publishers are very aggressive about subscriber information, and Google is playing ball: your name, zipcode, and email address will be supplied to publishers if you use Google’s OnePass. None of that information is supplied to publishers by Apple. You can opt-out with OnePass, and you can opt-in with iTunes, so it might seem like a small thing, but I think the defaults reveal much.

The other big piece of news is that Google is “only” taking 10% for their share, one-third of Apple’s 30% share.

In many cases, that’s because Google is doing much less work for their 10%, but it does add a new wrinkle. With Apple’s subscription option, there seems to be more value Apple is providing than just the payment and user management. There seems to be the idea that publishers can provide their content to Apple, and Apple will manage delivering that content to subscribers, bearing the storage and bandwidth costs involved in the delivery. Google leaves delivering the content completely up to the publishers, providing only payment options.

Of course, Apple won’t be providing that service for everyone, so perhaps that’s a point of future compromise? Netflix will presumably continue to host their own video content, so maybe Apple will take a smaller percentage in exchange for providing fewer services? Amazon is unlikely to need or want any help from Apple, so perhaps a much lower percentage would work for them?

There’s much more that’s different about OnePass. Perhaps most importantly, Google’s offering applies to much more than just in-app purchasing. They only got in-app purchasing working for Android within the last few weeks, so their focus is still on web transactions. On the one hand, that makes OnePass seem far more complicated, but that’s the nature of Google products: If it makes sense to software engineers in Mountain View, it goes in the product.

Practically speaking, what does this mean for users and for publishers? Publishers will have to choose which product to use, or whether to use both. If they want to release an iPad version of their publication, it’s Apple’s 30%. For something like The Daily, an iPad-only publication, there’s no decision to make. If The Daily decides to expand to future Android tablets, Apple’s solution won’t work for them. But Google’s solution won’t work for them on iPad, either. So to be available on both, a publisher has to sign up for both.

Unless Google’s solution doesn’t specify no weblinks, as Apple’s does. If Android tablet apps are still allowed to use alternate payment methods, why would a publisher choose Google’s? Existing publishers surely have their own payment methods that given them the full customer details they want, and will be forced to use Apple’s method for iPad, but the only reason I can see for using Google’s is if Google forces them to, as Apple does.

It’s tempting to think it’s as simple as “10% beats 30%,” but it isn’t that simple at all, because 3% beats 10%, and Paypal’s subscription option only charges 1.9% to 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction. This is the problem Google Checkout has faced from the beginning: why would anyone use Google Checkout instead of Paypal? There are a couple of small technical advantages, but are they worth more than triple the cost?

Perhaps Apple is to Google as Google is to Paypal. Apple has simple stated that publishers must use their service, and that’s that. Paypal appeals to the budget-minded. To whom does Google appeal? They have neither the installed base of 160 million devices (all linked to an account with a credit card!) that Apple has, nor the several hundred million accounts that eBay has, and I don’t believe Google Checkout is trusted as much as either Apple or eBay.

Own the Platform

To develop for iOS devices, developers must use Apple-controlled Xcode and Objective C. There may be ways to sneak around the Objective C requirement through use of cross-compilers, but there’s no way to avoid using Xcode. Apple exercises complete control over what apps can run on iOS, and goes to great lengths to keep other entry points unavailable. No Java, no Flash, nothing that Apple can’t control. I think that this is a wise decision on Apple’s part, though it obviously upsets some.

To develop for Android devices, developers must use Java, but a Google-controlled Java. While it’s possible to run apps developed in Flash on some recent Android devices, I think Google’s control over their “Dalvik” environment is a wise decision on their part, though it’s earned them an enemy in Oracle.

To develop for Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 devices, developers must use Silverlight. Originally intended as a “Flash-killer,” Microsoft has repurposed Silverlight to be an environment they control for WP7 development. Again, I think this is wise.

The odd man out? RIM. The Blackberry Playbook will rely not on anything under RIM’s control, but on Adobe’s AIR.

While Google and Microsoft will allow apps using Adobe’s Flash, those apps are so far treated as secondary. The primary approach for application development will remain under Google and Microsoft’s control.

A lot of people are looking to the Blackberry Playbook as the strongest hope for countering Apple’s iPad. I suspect that partnering so closely with Adobe will eventually hurt RIM—and the Playbook—badly.

[A tip of the hat to John Gruber!]