Fascinating article in The New Yorker this week:
Meanwhile, engineers interested in tape, having learned what they could from what the Nazis left behind, made their way to Crosby and showed him what the new magnetic technology could do. His interest was more than piqued; he handed fifty thousand dollars to the men from the Ampex corporation, which at that time was just a half-dozen people. The machines they delivered went into use in 1947, and a new Crosby show, edited by tape splicing, was broadcast—the first radio show to use the new technology. Suddenly audio—recorded media—was flexible. It could be cut and pasted, rearranged, and edited.
The Ampex sign still stands over Redwood City; it’s a Silicon Valley landmark. And Ampex still exists as a smaller company focussed on various kinds of recording. But the company is not what it was; for some time, it was a major manufacturer of equipment in America, a key player in early Valley history: as tape recording caught on, along came computers with stored programs. Magnetic tape was an improvement, in many regards, over punched cards or paper tape; it could more readily store data and programs and play them back. From the roots put down through Ampex came a revolution in data storage.
Wired’s Steven Levy in an interview with Google’s new Android head, Sundar Pichai:
Hold on. You’re saying that you like innovation like Home–but at some point in the future you might decide that an invasive software approach like this isn’t good for users and can’t be done in a future Android release?
No. Let me clarify. Users get to decide what apps and what choices they want. Some users really want this. We don’t want to get in the way of that. [But] in the end, we have to provide a consistent experience. As part of that, with every release of Android, we do go through changes. So we may make changes over time. But if this is what users want, I think Facebook will be able to do it. We want it to be possible for users to get what they want.
In order to provide a consistent experience across the platform, Google will have to increasingly lock down the OS from OEMs and carriers with each new update. This sounds like a non-denial denial to me. That said, Pichai sounds like he understands the benefits of having both Chrome OS and Android:
Users care about applications and services they use, not operating systems. Very few people will ask you, “Hey, how come MacBooks are on Mac OS-X and iPhone and iPad are on iOS? Why is this?” They think of Apple as iTunes, iCloud, iPhoto. Developers are people, too. They want to write applications one time, but they also want choice. What excites me in this new role is that I can try do the right thing for users and developers — without worrying about the fact that we have two things.
Someone better put him in touch with Ballmer.
With Google I/O only a day away, many Googthusiasts and those in the tech press are wondering what’s next for the Mountain View giant? According to Casey Newton at The Verge, not much:
Google’s new head of mobile, Sundar Pichai, has said this year’s event will not be as focused on consumer products as in years past. There won’t be “much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system,” Pichai told Wired.
Fair enough. A company can’t always bring game changing products to its keynotes every year. After such knockout successes like Google TV, the Nexus Q, Chromebooks, Android@Home, Google Buzz, and Google Wave, sometimes you just have to take a breath and focus on iterating established products.
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist poking fun at Google’s lack of progress on anything that wasn’t search, advertising, Android, or Gmail/Apps. And when we look at a product as different and controversial (to the point of being scary to normal users) as Google Glass, I wonder if Google has forgotten what it’s good at.
Google is not a hardware company. It would like to be. That’s where Apple derives nearly all of its profits and one day advertising isn’t going to pay the bills the way it used to. Android certainly isn’t making any money for Google, so what is next?
Currently, Google is facing a problem. Glass, as advanced as it is from a hardware perspective, isn’t garnering much social acceptance. As Tim Stevens points out in his review over at Engadget:
People can and should be a bit concerned about someone walking in a public restroom with Glass on and, since you can’t fold them up and stick them in your pocket, finding something to do with them while you do your business is a challenge. You can easily imagine plenty of other situations where Glass owners would innocently wear their headsets much to the discomfort of others and as of now, there’s no way to assure them that you aren’t recording them.
But there’s something else Stevens mentions in his review, and it has to do with a feature (or product, if you want to think of it as something bigger, which I do) that originally shipped as part of Android: Google Now.
Now will also suggest directions based on where it’s tracked you going. Get directions from Penn Station to a location and, once you get there, you’re likely to find Now suggesting how to get back to Penn. It’ll also throw up lists of nearby restaurants at dinnertime and, while suggestions are far from perfect, Now regularly surprises with its almost prescient understanding of what you’re up to.
I’ve been using Google Now on iOS for about two weeks and I like it, but (on iOS) it leaves much to be desired. Obviously, some of that is due in part to iOS’s app sandboxing, but also because I don’t think Google is doing enough to flesh out the service.
As an example, I’m going to run through my average day and what Google Now gives me as I check in on it.
From what I saw in Google’s iOS app, Now is severely limited in what it displays and how it functions. Again, that’s partly because of Apple’s strict policies, but I also believe Google should be doing more to flesh out the product. I haven’t had a significant amount of time to use it on an Android device where there’s tighter integration with the phone and more room for functionality, but I’m going to assume the information displayed on iOS and Android is derived the same way.
I was really looking forward to Google Now as a way to possibly make me come back to Google’s services (at least for some things). I’ve migrated almost my entire email and calendaring workflow to iCloud and I rely on so many different apps to manage my day, like fitness apps, transit apps, calendar apps, and the occasional weather app. Google Now could, in theory, eliminate nearly all of them if Google focused its efforts less on hardware that alienates the wearer from society and more on a service that might be able to set society up for a future of wearable computing.
What do I mean by this? If Google used its algorithms and resources to turn Google Now into not just a feature, but a must-have service people based their lives around, then the idea of sharing one’s entirety of personal and public information wouldn’t seem so terrifying.
Let’s use my daily routine again as an example of how Google Now could accomplish this :
Google collects so much data on us throughout the day - what we search for, what we click on, where we go, who we talk to, what we buy - but I can’t help feeling it’s squandering that data on nothing but advertising. If Google wants to be viewed as a human-focused company and not the big, creepy, evil robot devil it’s become, then our data needs to benefit us - not just advertisers.
This is where I see Google Now filling the gap between smartphones and wearable computing. Wearable computing, as Google currently sees it, requires the user to don a device and feed it a steady stream of input in order for that person to derive any value from it. It’s intrusive for both the wearer and anyone who interacts with said wearer. At least, it currently is. But over time, as we continue to share more on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the various social media services available, that privacy awareness we’re worried about will fade away. Eventually. One day. Maybe.
Google Now could bridge the gap if Google would let it, and I’d love to see the company turn the “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer” mantra on its head. It is possible to be both the customer and the commodity if Google is willing to do a proper exchange of goods and services. I give Google my data and it uses its vast supply of servers to give me that data back in a way that benefits me.
If you think about it, we already give places like Target and Wal-Mart our information every time they scan our loyalty cards or run our credit cards. They even know about our buying habits before we do. We actually pay them and they turn around and use our own data to target ads at us, but we like things cheap (or free) so we don’t complain…unless it’s Google.
I’m not absolved of any blame here, either. I’ve done more than my fair share of crying “Google is creepy and stealing our children while we sleep.” A little of that is inspired by photos like this (warning: Scoble alert), but also because I used to get angry that my data was being used against me. Sure, the ads in my search results were (usually) targeted based on my interests, but that also meant Big Brother was reading my email and watching my every move.
Today, I just don’t care. What I want is one app to do the jobs of three or four and I want it to come from a company that knows how to manipulate data. Apple can’t do this and maybe it never will, but Google can. Glass is not ready for prime time. It’s too “out there” and would work better in vertical markets, like medicine or special needs. In its current form, Glass exemplifies everything people fear about Google: it’s always on, always watching, and always recording.
Well, so is Google Now, but Now doesn’t make the person I’m talking to wonder if I’m recording a video of them because Google didn’t think to attach a red indicator light. Google Now tracks everything about me on my terms with the settings I put in place. It’s only as useful as the information I feed it and if I decide I don’t want to use it anymore, it’s as easy as deleting the app from my phone and I’m also not out $1,500.
The only thing that worries me about Google is the permanency of its services. I’d like to know the product I’m investing my data in will be around for longer than six months and nurtured throughout its life.
I’m willing to take that chance. I hope Google is, too.
Writing a novel (or a story, for that matter) is confusing work. There are just so many characters running all over the place, dropping hints and having revelations. So it’s no surprise that many authors plan out their works beforehand, in chart or list or scribble form, in order to keep everything straight. After the jump, you’ll find a mini collection of those planning papers, so you can take a peek into the process of some of your favorite authors, from James Salter to J.K. Rowling.
I am in awe of Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer.
My latest piece for Macgasm takes an opposing stance on iOS concept videos from the norm. These mock-ups serve a purpose, and it’s not to appease other designers.
Why does it matter if a 3rd party concept takes liberties that won’t end up in the final product? Last I checked, none of the people who make these videos work at Apple. These aren’t final renders, they’re “what-ifs”, and while many elements may not be well thought-out (slide-to-unlock at the top?), there’s always something to glean from a new design.
…Unless you use social media, or you have a blog, or you’re a designer. Then the world is black-and-white and every decision must follow the rule of Highlanderism: There can be only one.