“Web” Category

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

NYT Goes Human For Tweeting Articles

The New York Times is trying something new—they’re tweeting links to their articles by hand:

The New York Times is turning off the automatic feed for its main Twitter account this week in an experiment to determine if a human-run, interactive approach will be more effective.

Social media editors Liz Heron and Lexi Mainland are taking turns running the @nytimes account during weekday business hours, hand-picking and writing the tweets and engaging with readers.

Interesting idea. I know I’d be more likely to pay attention to links selected by a person rather than auto-tweeted.

May 25th, 2011

Prototypes

Prototypes is a new application for the Mac that makes mocking up—and testing—iPhone applications easy.

This looks fantastic. If you’re in the early stages of an iPhone application and need to test how well your design actually works, this looks like a great way to do it.

May 25th, 2011

Writing a Weblog Full-Time

Shawn Blanc writes on some of the things he’s learned by writing his weblog full-time:

In a way, I have to pretend that I’m the only site out there. That if someone was interested in the things I’m interested in, how then would they find out about those things unless I wrote about them? I can’t pass by something I find exciting or interesting because I see that others are already talking about it. That would be a road to silence.

“…a road to silence.” I love that.

May 25th, 2011

Square’s Card Case

Square just got a lot more interesting. They just announced what they’re calling “Card Case,” which effectively allows you to purchase things in stores without ever using your credit card or paying with cash.

Leena Rao describes it:

In a merchant’s card within the case, you can press a “use tab” button which allows the frequent customer to essentially put a purchase on their virtual tab with Square at the merchant. So once you press that button within two blocks of the merchant, you’ll be able to tell the cashier your name and your card will be charged on the merchant’s backend Square register. Because you are a repeat customer, Square already has your payment information. The purchaser will then receive a push notification when the merchant processes the payment.

That’s really exciting, and not just because it means not needing to fish out your wallet when ordering another coffee. It’s great for businesses because they can build a more personal relationship with their customers. No need for them to hand over their credit card or cash; just take their order and give it to them. The payment transaction handles itself, out of sight.

Square is one of my favorite new companies, because they’re doing incredible, exciting stuff, but they’re doing it in a staid industry, payment processing, but one that we interact with every day. We need more tech companies that attack areas untouched by innovation—payments, banking, politics, education—because not only will we all benefit tremendously from it, but there’s so much great potential there.

May 23rd, 2011

Shift Happens

Jean-Louis Gassée:

The ascent of Netflix signals a broader shift in the way we consume television. For example, “news” programs aren’t really news in that they aren’t fresh, they’re already reheated when we watch them at 6 or 11. Many TV programs, from John Stewarts’s Daily Show to PBS Nightly News, can be watched on a PC when we — not they — are available. Tomorrow, we’ll get all of them (minus NBC, perhaps) on Netflix or one of its competitors.

The chart from Silicon Alley Insider comparing Netflix’s subscriber base and growth to cable operators says it all.

May 22nd, 2011

Twitter’s Shit Sandwich

I don’t link to Daring Fireball often, because nearly all of you subscribe, but this deserves it. Gruber is absolutely right—Daring Fireball: Twitter’s new OAuth policy for third-party applications is a shit sandwich:

I can’t think of any reason why Twitter would force native apps through OAuth other than to create a hurdle that steers users toward Twitter’s own official native clients. Because Twitter’s official clients aren’t going to force users to jump through OAuth to authenticate — they’re still going to simply ask for your username and password in a simple native dialog box.

I love Twitter as a service, but what’s becoming clear is management doesn’t have a clear idea for what Twitter is and where they’re heading. As a result, they’re stepping on third-party developers’ toes for no good reason.

The only good explanation for this that I can see is Twitter wants all of their users using first-party applications, like Twitter’s iPhone application, so they can begin advertising to them like a normal web service. Too bad; there’s serious potential for making money using other, less annoying options.

They either don’t know how to make decent revenue by taking advantage of Twitter as a communications utility, or simply don’t think it’s possible. Either way, that’s disappointing.

May 18th, 2011

Google/Android Vs. Amazon/Android

MG Siegler, commenting on the Amazon tablet:

Google has succeeded in building a massive platform that doesn’t fully rely on them. That’s awesome on paper. But it can work both ways. If others start to realize that they don’t need Google, what does Google do? Just sit there and take it?

Amazon will use Google’s own rules against them. Google allows people to use Android however they would like, but can only get access to the latest Android releases, Google’s app market and Google applications if they follow Google’s instructions.

Rather than try to be an “Android compatible” vendor, so their tablet can be a part of the Android platform, Amazon is going to create an entirely new platform built on top of Android, with their own app store and applications that Google’s Android platform will not have access to. Ouch.

The battle is going to be over developers. Amazon is, as MG points out, getting exclusive rights to certain applications. Will Google try to do the same thing? Will they offer deals to developers who promise to continue developing for the Android platform?

Things are going to get interesting.

May 17th, 2011