Google’s ad-driven web

Marco Arment writes about the future of MetaFilter.

A depressing look at the ad-funded web today, and what it’s like to depend completely on Google for your business. Google owns the ad-driven web: their search brings all of your pageviews, and their ads bring all of your income. You’re just along for the ride, hoping to stay in Google’s good graces — an arbitrary, unreliable, undocumented metric that changes constantly. (Google’s only “open” with the trivial, unprofitable parts of their business. Search and ads are closed, proprietary, and opaque in every possible way.)

Just ask web publishers whose pageranks have been murdered each time Google changes its search algorithm. They are under the mercy of Google.

My websites are all ad-free. I learnt long ago not to rely on Google for monetization.

The rise of smartphone notifications

Mat Honan writes about the rising importance of notifications.

Interactive notifications will spur all sorts of new behaviors. (And yes, Android already has interactive notifications, but the ones in iOS 8 look to go beyond what KitKat can do.) Some of these will be simple, like the ability to reply to an email or text message. But they’re powerful in that you can do this without quitting whatever you’re already doing. And this interactivity is not just limited to system apps. Third-party developers can take advantage of this new capability as well, so you could comment on something on Facebook, respond to a tweet, or even check in on Foursquare. But others are going to be radical, stuff we haven’t imagined yet. Once developers begin to really harness what interactive notifications can do in iOS 8—and they will—it’s going to cause one of the most radical changes since third-party apps. With the advent of iOS 8, notifications are the new interface frontier.

We saw of glimpse of such use of notifications on OS X Mavericks. And we will be getting it on iOS 8 across all apps that support it. This will help to increase app engagement. Instead of being irritated by a notification because opening it would bounce you into another app, you can respond to it and continue with whatever you were doing. As Mat mentions, it will bring about a lot of changes to how your apps will want to engage you.

Tie this in with Continuity and the circle is complete. You can reply to SMS messages and answer phone calls from your iPad and Mac. I’ll be able to continue working on my Mac when I get calls or green bubble messages while my phone is across the room.

For people who claim to be disappointed by WWDC

Harry McCracken goes through a decade of WWDC keynotes.

I have been hearing about how people are disappointed by this year’s WWDC. If you didn’t know, WWDC stands for World Wide Developer Conference. As you can tell from the name, it is a conference for developers.

Once a year, Apple kicks off its World Wide Developer Conference with a keynote presentation, such as the one coming up on Monday, which I’ll be covering for Technologizer. Many people seem to think they’re famous for involving Apple dazzling consumers with an array of new products, to the rapturous approval of everybody involved.

Which is weird, because that’s not the point at all.

Sure, consumers are watching, and Apple hopes that they’re dazzled. But WWDC keynotes are usually the least gadget-centric events which Apple holds, and even though people who covet new Apple products pay close attention, they’re not the primary audience.

It is funny how critics would always have something bad to say after each conference.

How Google’s self-driving cars work

The Atlantic writes about Google’s trick to make its self-driving cars work.

“We tell it how high the traffic signals are off the ground, the exact position of the curbs, so the car knows where not to drive,” he said. “We’d also include information that you can’t even see like implied speed limits.”

Google has created a virtual world out of the streets their engineers have driven. They pre-load the data for the route into the car’s memory before it sets off, so that as it drives, the software knows what to expect.

Although Google is not wrong to call them self-driving cars, these car are still not true self-driving cars. They can only work on streets that Google has mapped out. This means that Google will need to recreate a virtual version of every street that the cars will operate on. Google might be able to achieve such a task but it is still a staggering job.

Apple’s take on cloud

Benedict Evans writes about Apple’s announcements at WWDC 2014.

So edit a photo and the edits are on all your devices, run out of room and your photos stay on the cloud but all but the previews are cleared off your phone, tap a phone number on a web page on your Mac and your phone dials it. But none of this says ‘CLOUD™’ and none of it is done in a web browser. Web browsers are for web pages, not for apps. Hence one could suggest that Apple loves the cloud, just not the web (or, not URLs). This is obviously a contrast with Google, which has pretty much the opposite approach. For Google, devices are dumb glass and the intelligence is in the cloud, but for Apple the cloud is just dumb storage and the device is the place for intelligence.

Each of them are utilising the cloud from their area of expertise: Apple in making devices and Google in online services.

I’ve described this before by saying that Apple is moving innovation down the stack into hardware/software integration, where it’s hard for Google to follow, and Google is moving innovation up the stack into cloud-based AI & machine learning services, where it’s hard for Apple to follow. This isn’t a tactical ‘this’ll screw those guys’ approach – it reflects the fundamental characters of the two companies. Google thinks about improving UX by reducing page load times, Apple thinks about UX by making it easier to scroll that page.

Google’s approach relies on a good internet connection, whereas Apple relies on the device to do the lifting and might be a more feasible in places where connectivity is spotty. This difference might be subtle for users living in big cities with high speed mobile internet, but it would have a big impact in emerging markets where internet connectivity is not prevalent. Project Loon makes a lot of sense from Google’s point of view now, doesn’t it?

Foursquare and Swarm

It’s 2014, and the unbundling of mobile apps continues.

“The simple story with Swarm is that this is an app that has just four basic screens in it, and it’s the fastest and easiest way to keep up and meet up with your friends,” Crowley says. The app benefits from technology enhancements that were impossible in the early days of Foursquare, making checking-in a breeze (Swarm “is probably what foursquare would have been if it was invented in 2014 instead of 2009,” Crowley adds), but just as importantly, it removes that mechanic from the main Foursquare app.

via The Guardian

iTunes and streaming

If you’re used to listening to music on Winamp or Foobar2000, iTunes will often feel pretty bloated. It’s great as a music library, but with increased competition from streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio and Pandora, it’ll be interesting to see if iTunes can evolve fast enough to fend off these new challengers.

Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels writes

What was once an MP3 player has grown into a monstrosity. What started life as SoundJam MP can barely recognize itself in the mirror these days. iTunes can rip and burn CDs (that used to be a big deal, kids), be used to purchase music and other media, stream radio, listen to podcasts, watch movies and sync to not only iPods, but iPhones and iPads, too.

iTunes Radio is definitely a response to streaming music, but it has yet to reach many markets where Spotify and other services are already available.

The music wars are heating up again.

Google I/O thinks focus on design will make Android more attractive

Marco Arment comments on Google I/O focussing on design.

A software platform’s UI and design ethos can’t be changed on a whim by conference sessions and a marketing push. It’s deeply ingrained, built over the platform’s entire lifespan, and very slow to change. Android’s best apps usually aren’t as good as iOS’ best apps because people who value and demand the best apps — both customers and developers — overwhelmingly choose iOS.

You can’t just decide overnight that you want to suddenly improve an OS design. It is akin to a photographer deciding to take better photos and suddenly his photos improve. It just doesn’t work that way. You need to work on your own artistic taste and photographic vision. That takes time and looking at thousands of photos. And you need to spend hours shooting to slowly discover your personal style.

The platform sets the standard for the apps. Developers and designers take cues from the platform, striving to fit in even when pushing the limits. iOS’ design is clear, high-quality, strongly opinionated, and consistent. It inherently expects quality. There are tons of shitty apps, too, but developers who care about good design are given a strong foundation to build upon and strong environmental norms for inspiration.

The importance of such a strong foundation is clearly demonstrated in iOS’ shift in design for iOS 7. You just need to look at the way app designs, and in many cases the websites of these apps, changed after iOS 7 was released.

Mobile industry commit to anti-theft kill switch

Ars Technica reports on the mobile industry committing to introduce anti-theft kill switches to their devices.

Remote wipe the authorized user’s data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.

Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., “phone home”).

Prevent reactivation without authorized user’s permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as above).

Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

Apple has already introduced Activation Lock in iOS 7. Its commitment to this anti-theft tool will see enhancement to the existing security features on the iOS.

Google makes it clear that it is scanning your email

Business Insider reports on Google’s updating of its privacy policies.

Google scans your email:

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

Google can reuse whatever you upload:

When you upload,or otherwise submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

Of course, on the surface, it is just a way for Google to ensure that they have permission to scan your emails for virus and data about you. Data that is used to customise your search results and ads targeting. And to translate your uploads, assuming these are content that can be accessed by people who will need it to be translated in the first place.

It is better to be vague than specific in this case to ensure that it blankets all possible instances where the policy can be effected. However, it is worrying for Google to have a policy that gives it so much leeway in what it can do with user data.