“Web” Category

Project Spartan and Commoditizing iOS

MG Siegler says that Facebook is working on an HTML5-based mobile platform, and are targeting Apple:

Imagine loading up the mobile web version of Facebook and finding a drop-down for a new type of app. Clicking on one of the apps loads it (from whatever server it’s on depending on the app-maker), and immediately a Facebook wrapper is brought in to surround the app. This wrapper will give the app some basic Facebook functionality, as well as the ability to use key Facebook elements — like Credits.

One thing the App Store has nailed is an easy payment system. Facebook has been attempting to build the same thing with Credits, but so far hasn’t done much in the mobile space. With Project Spartan, they intend to have Credits built-in to alloy developers to sell apps and offer in-app purchases. This will be vital for a partner like Zynga, for example.

Siegler’s sources say that Facebook’s intention is to disrupt Apple’s control over application distribution on iOS. If they can pull it off, it’s rather brilliant.

Up until now, if you’ve wanted to make money through mobile applications, you had two choices: native applications for iOS and Android. These were your only two real choices because (1) they’re the two largest platforms, and (2) their app stores allow for mass-market distribution (which is helpful if you’re using advertising) and especially on iOS, make purchasing applications or in-app purchases ridiculously easy.

The reason we haven’t seen a successful web-based app distribution scheme yet is for those same two reasons: they don’t make mass-market distribution easy and there’s no built-in way of making payments. If this is what Facebook is building, they’d change that completely.

Facebook has hundreds of millions of users, so it has the distribution part covered, and because their system would be web-based, it could conceivably work on almost any mobile platform. And if they can make credits a widespread thing, they’ll have payments covered, too.

The right way to think about this is that Facebook is attempting to commoditize Apple’s platform. At the moment, people buy iOS devices so they can use applications from the App Store. That’s good for Apple because they control both parts—the devices people purchase and the App Store they purchase the devices for. Not only can Apple make money on both the hardware and software sales, but their customers are also tied-in to their platform; native iOS applications only work on Apple devices, and thus once someone purchases a number of applications, they are much less likely to leave the platform for another one.

If web-based applications become popular, though, that won’t matter. The physical device will only be the screen you view the application on. If all of your applications are from Facebook, you could switch to Android today and you wouldn’t notice much difference—all of your applications could still be used. Apple, then, would become just another hardware manufacturer, like Samsung or HTC. Facebook would be the platform that matters.

And that’s what Facebook desperately wants. They not only want to be the most important social network on the web. They want to be the web. Look at what they’re doing: they want a person’s identity to be stored in Facebook, so when people log in to other services, they use their Facebook account; they want to be where games and other applications go for social integration; and now they want to be an application platform that spans across all mobile devices.

That’s what Facebook is trying to do. Apple might be building a walled garden, as some have decried, but if Facebook succeeds, there’ll be no need for a wall. You won’t be able to leave even if you want to.

June 17th, 2011

We’re all mathematicians

Tim Van Damme:

If art is about talking and expressing yourself, interface design is about listening and disappearing into the background. You listen to the content and its context, and take it from there, one step at a time.

June 16th, 2011

Ideas Are Lasting

Kyle Neath:

The easiest way to build something incredible is to base your business around an idea. Products are just the manifestation of the idea.

One other way to say this is that you should know what you’re trying to do, both with an individual product and in the overarching, long-term sense. Unless you have a goal you’re trying to accomplish, some primary motivation besides having a successful product, you’ll have no direction.

June 15th, 2011

Patrick Rhone On iCloud

Patrick Rhone thinks we may be on the verge of great change in computing:

When the device does not matter, when it’s always as you left it, if it opens where you need it, and it is always backed up, we can concentrate on making, creating, doing, being.

June 10th, 2011

2007 and 2011

I hesitated when I wrote the title, because comparing a new product announcement to 2007′s iPhone introduction runs a big risk of being hyperbolic. I think, though, that iCloud will end up being as important a product for the evolution of computers as the original iPhone.

In April, I argued that Apple isn’t attempting to make computers mobile. Instead, they are trying to make the technology behind these devices so transparent that users will forget they are even using a computer, and only see whatever it is they are doing. If you are reading a book, all you see is the book; if you are writing, all you see is your text; if you are watching a movie, all you see is the movie. In effect, the device becomes whatever application is being used at the moment, and the technology behind it is only there to make it work. You don’t need to think about the technology. You just use it.

That’s the evolution in computers that is important. Apple’s perspective is that whether we are moving toward all web applications and thin clients isn’t really the point—those are technical considerations. For how we use computers, this is the shift that matters. “Cloud-based” isn’t the story. That’s just the technical implementation that makes the vision reality.

The iPhone’s touch interface eliminated the PC’s layers of abstractions between the user and their content. Before, users worked through the mouse, keyboard and application interface elements to manipulate their content; now, they just touch it, like physical objects.

iCloud’s intent is to eliminate another point of confusion on the PC—the file system.

The file system still exists, of course. But what iCloud does is make the file system almost completely something developers, not users, worry about. Instead of keeping their files organized and in the right place, users just need to use the application for whatever content they want. There is no need to worry about whether you have that document or presentation or song with you. It is always there, in the appropriate application, because iCloud does the work for you.

Let’s step back and remember what using PCs is like. If you are building a presentation, you create it in PowerPoint or Keynote, and you make sure you are saving it as you go along, so you don’t lose your progress. If you need to work on it from another computer, you save the file, locate it in your computer’s file system, and either email it or stick it on a flash drive to bring with you. And you need to do the same thing whenever you need to work on a different computer, which for a lot of people is quite often.

iCloud means you don’t do any of that. There is no saving, because it saves as you work. There is no looking through your file system for the file, because iCloud handles storage for you. And there is no moving files back and forth between devices, sending emails and carrying flash drives, because that presentation will be on whatever device you use.

That is Apple’s vision: don’t think about the technology, just think about what you’re trying to do. There is a lot I could say about Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud—some of it critical—but those are all details to a much more important story, which is that Apple’s creating the future of computing before our eyes.

June 9th, 2011

Why So Serious?

Marcus Zarra:

There is no reason to hate other development efforts. It does not matter if that developer is better or worse than you. It does not matter what that developer wrote. There is plenty of room for all of us.

Be excited by his or her success. His or her spotlight does not put you in darkness.

June 4th, 2011

Fusion Ads Podcast Sponsorships

Fusion Ads just went live with podcast sponsorships.

Awesome. I’m glad to see them moving in to some unique areas with their advertisements. Like I’ve said before, Fusion Ads aren’t so much ads as they are recommendations from people with extraordinary good taste that I trust.

June 3rd, 2011

Tweetmarks

Manton Reece just announced a new web service called Tweetmarks. It’s a service for syncing last read position for Twitter clients.

I hope Twitter clients adopt this. What it’d mean is that if you read tweets in Twitterrific for Mac and then use Twitterrific for iPhone, it’d automatically move to your last-read tweet, so you don’t need to jump through old tweets you’ve already read. What a great idea.

Manton is building it into the next version of his Twitter archiving and collection app, Tweet Library.

June 3rd, 2011

Windows 8 and Mac OS X Lion’s Very Different Approaches to the Future of Computing

Microsoft previewed Windows 8 today, and it raises a fascinating question: what’s the future of computing?

Apple is making their vision for the future quite clear with iOS, the iPad and Mac OS X Lion. Microsoft, for their part, seems to think the future will mostly resemble the present.

Windows 8

With Windows 8, Microsoft’s basic idea is they want the OS to scale from tablet-sized devices all the way to desktop and television-sized displays, with or without a mouse or keyboard. It’s an ambitious goal.

What this means is there’s a touch start layer on top of “classic” Windows, which is effectively Windows Phone 7′s start screen, and developers can build touch applications. In effect, touch applications and keyboard and mouse-optimized applications run on the same OS at the same time.

What bothers me, though, is touch is only a layer on top of regular Windows. This isn’t a ground-up re-design for touch devices; this is a retrofitting of Windows for it, without giving up the user interface designed for keyboard and mouse. This sounds nice, because it means Windows 8 will be able to run both new touch applications and more powerful PC applications, but what it will probably mean in reality is that there will be a firm divide between touch and PC applications in capability. Because PC applications will continue to work fine (except on ARM processor-based devices), developers will have little reason to completely re-design their PC applications for touch. They’ll release touch “optimized” versions and call it good, while touch applications may just end up being simple and entertainment-focused, rather than complete applications. More widget than application, in other words.1

It’s a tough problem to solve, admittedly; do you have separate classes of devices, with specialized user interfaces, for touch and traditional keyboard and mouse input? This has its advantages: it puts pressure on developers to build complete applications for touch devices and it helps guarantee a better user experience because each user interface is designed specifically for the kind of input used. But this also creates limited devices—touch devices for consumption and lighter work, PCs for serious work like heavy video editing and writing—and separate operating system development paths, too. I don’t think the future of the computer is fast-developing touch devices and completely separate, relatively unchanged PCs for “real” work.

Devices that combine both touch and keyboard and mouse input can, theoretically, do all the work someone needs; users can hook it into a dock and use it for heavy spreadsheet, video, photo or design work, then pull it out of the dock and use it for relaxing on the couch or reading at a coffee shop or on a flight. The Windows 8 concept allows that to happen, and it’s certainly an attractive vision.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t think Microsoft’s current design for Windows 8 will make that a reality. Instead, it hamstrings touch so classic Windows and all of its applications can survive with minimal re-design. It attempts to make touch and traditional PC applications coexist without also converging their design.

Lion

With Mac OS X Lion, though, Apple seems to be taking a very different approach to this issue. Lion borrows heavily from iOS both in concept (App Store, Launchpad, gestures, full-screen applications) and in appearance (user interface elements that resemble popovers introduced on the iPad). Apple could merely be adopting good ideas that iOS introduced to improve Mac OS, but I think there’s something more going on. I think Apple’s attempting to converge Mac OS and iOS.

This is a long-term process, but this approach makes a lot of sense. Rather than build a single OS right now that awkwardly contains Mac and iOS applications—both with unique interfaces—Apple may be attempting to converge the UI language for Mac OS and iOS. By doing so, they can at some point release devices that work just as well with touch and keyboard and mouse input.

In that case, the MacBook Air screen could fold over backward and be used like a tablet, or opened up and used like a notebook, and there would be no need for touch layers like Microsoft is building with Windows 8. Just use it in whatever way works best for what you need at the moment.

That’s a very different approach. Apple is pushing their two operating systems toward each other, while Microsoft is integrating touch as a layer on top of their pre-existing Windows operating system without bringing them closer to each other.

This isn’t a pain-free solution, of course; moving Mac OS closer to iOS inherently means giving up capabilities that some users find absolutely necessary for what they do, but Apple’s always been willing to cause pain for certain users if it’s in the best interest of everyone else. Apple’s trying to create the future of computing here, and a little transition difficulty for non-mainstream users is little concern.

These two different approaches are microcosms of Apple and Microsoft’s very different approaches generally. Apple envisions what they want the future to be for their company (based both on what’s optimal for them and what they see as the best solution for users), and figures out how they’re going to get there from where they are now. This may mean sacrificing existing products, or radically changing them—everything is up for consideration. Microsoft, though, is responding to market trends (touch as a means of input) while attempting to protect their existing business (Windows and its existing applications).

These two approaches also create two very different visions for the future of computers. Microsoft’s integrates touch input for relatively limited purposes, with keyboard and mouse input as the PC’s serious and general purpose means of input. This means, then, that Microsoft’s vision for the future of computing is not that different than computers as we currently know them.

Apple’s approach, on the other hand, opens up very different devices, where touch is as important as the keyboard or mouse, or even more important. Apple isn’t allowing touch and PC user interfaces to coexist in the same OS; rather, they’re moving the PC user interface toward a touch interface. In April, I argued that Apple’s vision is to make the technology irrelevant:

Apple is seeking to make the technology irrelevant, so we can use these devices to do—to make, to create, to be inspired from. Don’t worry about what processor or display it has. Just read. Just write. Just draw. Just do.

Merging iOS and Mac OS fits this vision perfectly. Apple doesn’t want users to think about which device—touch or Mac—they should use for a certain task; they want them to be able to pick it up and just do it. That’s a grand vision for computing.

We’re a long way away from it, but we’re moving toward it, and I’m excited for it.

  1. It’s worth noting, though, that because legacy Windows applications will not run on ARM-powered tablets, these could end up being “pure” touch devices. If they’re popular, they could create a strong ecosystem of touch-based Windows applications, would obviate my fear that touch applications will end up being consumption applications. I don’t think it’s likely, though, that these tablets will be successful. Why would someone purchase a Windows tablet with a very small selection of applications available when they could buy an iPad or Android-powered tablet? []
June 2nd, 2011

Lukas Mathis’s Look At Windows Phone 7

Lukas Mathis has a great look at Windows Phone 7. Microsoft did a great job with WP7, but it sounds like it’s being held back by its licensing model. Hardware partners are holding back WP7 devices with poorly-designed hardware and a difficult OS upgrade path.

May 31st, 2011

My Article for the R&T Newsletter

My article for the Read & Trust newsletter went out today, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. You can subscribe here if you haven’t already.

Here’s a small excerpt from my article:

What we typically see as “creative” is nothing more than someone who was unwilling to settle, someone who took responsibility for what they were working on and thought through every single piece of it, who shot for perfection.

The newsletter is a bit of great reading that shows up in your inbox every week like clockwork. I’ve been enjoying it a lot.

May 31st, 2011

BeMyApp

Here’s a neat event this weekend in San Francisco: BeMyApp. Basically, it’s a weekend-long event for developers and people with ideas for applications to meet, build and put their completed app before a panel of judges. Selected apps will receive prizes to help launch them, but the real benefit is being around a bunch of people who want to build applications.

May 30th, 2011

Aaron’s Running a Little Contest

Pretty neat: Aaron Mahnke’s running a little contest. Buy his fantasy novel, email him the receipt, and you’ll be entered to win a Kindle.

May 30th, 2011

$100,000 If You Don’t Go to College

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is providing 24 high school graduates with $100,000 each to work on their own projects for two years. He selected them based on their project’s potential to save the world.

The condition for taking the grant is that they cannot go to college. Thiel believes they can learn and contribute more by working on their own things rather than sit in class:

“Turning people into debt slaves when they’re college students is really not how we end up building a better society,” Thiel says.

In conversation and as a philanthropist, Thiel pushes his strong belief that innovation has stagnated in the U.S. and that radical solutions are needed to push civilization forward.

The “20 Under 20″ fellowship is one such effort. Thiel believes that the best young minds can contribute more to society by skipping college and bringing their ideas straight to the real world.

College, as a concept, has a tremendous amount of potential for fostering innovation; there’s smart people all around you, the ability to easily learn about different kinds of things you’re unlikely to learn about on your own, resources to research, and time (if you’re willing to make it) to work on things.

That’s incredibly beneficial, but schools tend to find ways to mess it up. Universities like to describe themselves as institutions that take in children and output adult, life-long learners who are prepared to do anything. For most schools, though, that’s bullshit; what they’re really doing is forcing students to take courses they have no interest in and learn how they can get through courses with as little effort as possible, while receiving the grade they desire. School, for most students, isn’t about learning—it’s about receiving a degree.

So, until schools evolve, programs like Thiel’s are a great idea. Some disagree, however:

:

Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at Duke University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and a writer for TechCrunch and Bloomberg Businessweek, has assailed Thiel’s program for sending what he sees as the message that anyone can be Mark Zuckerberg.
“Silicon Valley lives in its own bubble. It sees the world through its own prism. It’s got a distorted view,” Wadhwa says.
“All the people who are making a fuss are highly educated. They’re rich themselves. They’ve achieved success because of their education. There’s no way in hell we would have heard about Peter Thiel if he hadn’t graduated from Stanford,” he says.

Oh, really? Yet we’ve heard about all kinds of people in technology that didn’t graduate from Stanford, or graduate from any other college, for that matter. We’ve only heard of them because they created something incredible.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both dropped out of college. Somehow I doubt they, and the world, would have been better off by completing their degrees. The reason is because people in technology care less about what degrees someone has and more about what they’ve built. That’s a good thing.

This, of course, isn’t for everyone. It’s for the kind of person who’s self-motivated, who’s dead-set on creating something worth creating, on doing something worth doing—not someone who goes to college so they can get a degree and work for the same company their entire lives and enjoy a stable salary, and has very little interest in expending themselves into something.

The problem is, that kind of job is disappearing. We don’t need reliable, boring and stable middle managers with no ambitions besides getting home in time for primetime TV anymore. They’re not contributing much of anything. We need people who see the world a little differently, who see connections between things no one else sees, and thus can create great leaps forward.

Those are the people who are going to be in demand now, and those are the kinds of people Thiel is looking for. Good for him. Universities aren’t fulfilling their role and I’m glad to see someone is trying to.

May 29th, 2011

Ryan Block Wants Gates Back at Microsoft

Ryan Block thinks Bill Gates should replace Ballmer at Microsoft:

How long can Ballmer’s bluster substitute for real leadership, and how much dumb money can Microsoft throw at its “strategy?” Former GM at Microsoft (and now SVP at Google) Vic Gundotra recently said of Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, “Two turkeys don’t make an eagle.” And he’s absolutely right, no amount of Dangers and Skypes and Nokias and RIMs and any other outsized, bloated multi-billion dollar acquisitions can make up for vision at the helm. Bill doesn’t have a spotless track record either, but he’s a master at making calculated gambles on people and projects that break new ground and define the future.

They’d be a hell of a lot better off. Microsoft’s problem is Ballmer isn’t a technology guy, he’s a business guy (and I’m a business student). He isn’t fundamentally interested in what Microsoft’s making; he gets excited by selling. That might work in other lines of business, but for technology companies (particularly consumer technology companies), that’s a brilliant way to lead a company into a ditch. Ballmer doesn’t sit up at night thinking about where computers are going and how they can make the world a better place. He’s thinking about how he can sell more Windows licenses and copies of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft doesn’t have a talent problem. They have a leadership problem. Because Ballmer doesn’t get excited by the technology and what it means, he has no vision for where computers are going and thus where Microsoft should be going. He doesn’t see opportunities for Microsoft to innovate and fundamentally change things; he just sees business opportunities. That’s why Microsoft seems so directionless: they are.

They need someone with vision, who’s willing to take risks and bet the company on things. Someone who will say, this is how it is going to be and this is what we’re going to do, even if it upends the company as it is. Microsoft might fail doing that, but that’s the only way they’re going to be relevant in a decade.

May 26th, 2011