In many, many ways, the best thing to ever happen to Android will be Google’s acquisition of Motorola. Google can now defend its mobile operating system with Motorola’s patents and create dynamic devices with Motorola’s hardware. At the same time, the E.U. and U.S. have put in measures concerning litigation around essential patents and China has ensured that Android will remain open and free. There will be losers in the Android ecosystem, among them several mobile manufacturers and maybe mobile carriers, depending on how much control Google can exercise over the sale of the devices.
When the Motorola deal was announced last August and Page said that Google wanted to “supercharge” Android, he was not being facetious. Google has a tremendous opportunity in front of it. The path is paved with daggers but the benefit to the entire ecosystem at this point outweighs the risks.
Apple revamped its notification system in iOS 5, introducing a Notifications Center that was strikingly similar to Android’s notification scheme. Apple added its own refinements, such as the ability to add widgets displaying the weather, stock prices, and other frequently-updated information. But the basic approach—notifications displayed at the top of the screen accessible through a pull down gesture—is virtually identical to the approach Google invented.
Users benefit from this kind of copying. Google’s notification scheme was better than the original iPhone notifications, so it is in iOS users’s interests for Apple to copy the idea. The alternative—a world in which companies scrupulously avoid using each other’s ideas—would be much worse. It would become impossible to buy a smartphone incorporating the best innovations from across the industry.
Inventing in the dark
Legally, the question is whether Google infringed on Apple’s patent, copyright, or other possessions. Google appears to be on safe ground from a copyright perspective. Android is built on Linux and uses a Java-like virtual machine; iOS is built on Darwin and uses NeXT-derived Objective C frameworks. We don’t know of any allegations that Android was developed with literal copies of iOS code.
But whether Google infringed on Apple’s patents is a harder question. And it would have been especially difficult to answer as Google was creating the first versions of Android.
Patent law generally gives a firm like Apple one year from the public disclosure of an invention to file for a patent on it. Apple unveiled the iPhone in January 2007, so the filing deadline for iPhone-related inventions would have been in January 2008. After filing, there is an additional 18-month delay before applications are made public. So if Apple filed an iPhone-related patent application on the last day before the deadline, Google wouldn’t have learned of its existence until July 2009—almost a year after the first Android phone hit the market.
Who does this benefit, other than board members and shareholders? Patent / copyright laws are absurdly out of date, a remnant hundreds of years old which no longer makes sense for today’s climate of innovation.
If we actually had a reliable source of app intent/scheme bindings, then a whole lot of interesting possibilities would arise. Instead of silently failing when an app tries to call up a recipient app that isn’t installed, the OS could request to download and install it. You could have apps rely on each other, so that downloading and installing one implies automatically downloading and installing its prerequisite building-block sub-apps.
Most of all, you’d be able to reliably link to and from other apps, almost as if they were web sites. It would be so easy to do — yet Apple and Google have both let this possibility languish untouched for years. I’m on record as predicting that HTML5 apps will take over from native apps in a couple years’ time. The ability to link to and from them — in other words, to partially restore the hypertext dream — isn’t the main reason why, but it’s definitely a contributing factor.
Interoperability can only benefit the (well-informed) user. As someone recently looking into the iOS development game, I’m surprised at the moves Apple has made to limit and not-list the various types of open URL chemes already available.
Banjo has three main goals. One is to connect you to your social networking friends you didn’t know were nearby – for example, a friend from Facebook or Twitter, killing time at the airport, only a few gates away from you. It also wants to hep you find out what’s going on nearby by providing access to status updates and tweets from everyone around you, in a radius you specify. It also provides you with a way to virtually visit other locations, even when you’re far away, to see what’s going on with the people there.
This last feature seems custom-built for journalists, we think. Imagine being able to provide the app with the name of a location where bombs have just been dropped, an earthquake has occurred, or a plane has just crashed.
Microsoft is acquiring Skype for a reported $8.5 Billion in cash. There has been a lot of speculation about what this might mean for Skype, the leading Internet telephone and chat service with around 663 million registered users. For consumers, there are two key aspects to this deal which will potentially take Skype to the next level: Microsoft’s mobile expertise (in collaboration with its mobile partner Nokia) and its enormously popular gestural interface system Kinect.
Microsoft has a competitive mobile offering now in Windows Phone 7. In addition, as Todd Bishop from GeekWire noted, there are over 10 million “Microsoft cameras connected to television screens in homes around the world” – thanks to Xbox 360 Kinect sensors. This is the future of Skype, now that it’s been acquired by Microsoft: Skype will be much more widely used on your mobile and in your home.
ReQall Rover, currently in private beta, is the newest software from the folks behind reQall, a natural language memo service spun off from MIT’s Media Lab, that helps manage personal information. And in under 90 seconds, it just told me some key data about my upcoming day. The weather helps me choose my clothes. I know what my first appointment is, understand what my email queue is like, and I learned that a Facebook friend takes photos of popcorn showers. OK, so maybe that last bit isn’t important, but you get the idea. This Voice Summary feature is available on demand with a button tap or can be scheduled up to three times per day in the software.
I’ve been using the software for nearly a week, and I can already see huge potential because it aggregates important data from the various web services I already use. That may be the best description of how reQall Rover works: combining natural language processing with APIs from third-party services, it delivers personalized information to keep me on track, ranging from upcoming appointments, action items, local trending terms on Twitter, traffic nearby, and more. Upcoming appointments generate information on meeting attendees through LinkedIn and other sources. You can also speak to the software to ask questions as it builds up a database of web links and user-generated answers.
In terms of data services, reQall is leveraging some of the top-tier data stores through available APIs, but Rover can be an information platform for others as well. Other companies that capture user data can provide an API to reQall for inclusion in the software, then users can choose to personalize their experience with that data. There’s little point to re-creating the wheel when it comes to data, Sunil Vemuri, chief product officer at reQall, told me via a Skype video chat:
We’re good at natural language processing and using it to keep information manageable, but we’re not experts on real estate, for example. Zillow is a leader here, so if we could use an API from their service, reQall Rover could alert me of nearby homes for sale as I drive through a new neighborhood.
The approach makes sense, because no one company is likely to be an expert on all forms of data, although we’re sure to discuss that at our Big Data event later this month. Google may have the most information when it comes to general search, for example, but if I were home shopping, I’d hit Zillow over Google any day. And third-party services that offer an API bring a win-win for everyone: Rover users gain more pertinent information, and companies that provide such data are likely to see more people use the service to make it better in the first place
The US military is preparing to arm troops with the latest in mobile technology, developing a mobile device based on the Android OS.
While iPhones are unquestionably the popular choice for preening media types hanging out in Soho, it seems that the Google system is the weapon of choice for military folk for hunting down insurgents in Fallujah.
A prototype device called the Joint Battle Command-Platform being developed by MITRE is already undergoing tests with Android used to run the software as part of a bid to reduce the amount of weighty equipment being lugged around by troops.
There are also already a variety of uses for the smartphone such as apps for keeping track of friendly forces, no doubt also handy for the US’s cannon fodder allies, and ‘critical messaging’ which can exchange important data such as medevac requests.
Why would the army choose to give our soldiers the most unsecured mobile platform in the world? Especially on the heels of the BotNet disaster a month or so ago, I’m very concerned about the potential for critical military information to be compromised by rogue applications installed by unwary users at a whim.
Maybe there will be some kind of private/enterprise security suite developed for Andorid, but there’s no fixing the fact that the platform is fundamentally far more vulnerable than something like BlackBerry’s enterprise-level security features.
Please, let’s just not cross the bridge into allowing our military to pilot drones via handheld mobile devices. It’s a logical extension of bringing as much safety to our personnel as possible, but I find the gamification of war a very troubling possibility. Adding unsecured, powerful communications devices into the mix just seems like a truly terrible idea.
What happens when the network gets hacked, and clever enemies figure out how to ‘spoof’ enemy contact signals? It seems like a very small step to make these phones our own Achilles heel.
If you own an Android or Maemo device, you can now grab the official Firefox 4 for Mobile browser. The official and final version was released Tuesday.
One of the most exciting features, and one that makes total sense for desktop Firefox users, is Sync. It allows the user to carry all of his or her bookmarks, browsing history, log-in credentials and even open tabs from the desktop to the mobile device. This kind of portability, where the devices become less important and the data lives outside them, is almost futuristic and a boon to anyone who needs or desires greater mobility in life and work.
All-platform device syncing is the wave of the future. It shouldn’t matter who my carrier is, what kind of operating system I like, which apps I’ve shared, or what wallpaper I’m using; it’s a major financial and logistical hassle, but big companies simply have to move towards this kind of open standards implementation.
I already use Firefox sync to keep my laptop, work computer, iPhone, and iPad all sync’d. I find it absurd Apple won’t let Firefox import my bookmarks into mobile Safari on the iPhone! I have sync, and you can use it as a portal to open bookmarks you have saved off-device, but there’s no way to save TO your firefox bookmark cloud, and even worse there’s no way to access them from within Safari.
With the release of Amazon’s Android-only music service, and now Firefox sync-enabled browsing, I’m beyond jealous of Android at the moment!
Say hello to Color, a new mobile photo-sharing application with a star-studded list of entrepreneurs and an eye-popping $41 million in funding. Its goal is nothing less than to become the ultimate local discovery tool.
The app, which made its debut just a few hours ago on iPhone (and very soon on Android), is best described as public photo and video-sharing app for groups. Yet it doesn’t have the typical friending or following that you’ll find on Facebook, Twitter, Path or Instagram. Instead, Color chooses which pictures you see based on your location and how often you’re sharing photos with someone else. Every photo and video is public, not only to the people you consider your friends, but to any stranger within your proximity.
I’m finally decompressing from SXSWi. It’s 4AM of the day after I got home, and I can’t sleep, so clearly it’s the perfect time for this post!
Here are the big trends and why:
Social gaming. We’ve all been hearing about it for long enough to know this was already coming, but Austin was plastered with everything from a social gaming keynote, to panels, talks, strategies, startups, apps, roleplayers, hashtags and enough buzz to spin off into it’s own mini-event next year, somewhat like SXSWedu has. The short version is, game mechanics are here to stay, primarily because engagement and activity levels are through the roof. Pushing short-term rewards is also a dangerous game, however, Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR reminds us in a very well-received keynote. (Here’s another really interesting TEDTalk he gave in 2010, with a message very similar to his sxsw keynote).
Group texting. Whereas the last years have been characterized by mass-communication tools like Twitter and Foursquare, this year we saw an inceasing trend towards localization, curation, selection, and sub-grouping. Group texting is but one example of this trend, with upstarts like GroupMe and Beluga squaring off much like Foursquare and Gowalla did last year (GroupMe appears to have won).
QR codes. OMG QR WAS EVERYWHERE!
Decline of social? As I already predicted, terms like “social media” weren’t really part of the lexicon, it’s all so ingrained in what we do. Any app or website being pushed had a social component; with this standardization, I think soon we’ll be describing products which aren’t inherently social as antisocial (think, Word or Excel).
Managing the online persona. With so many more heads in the social media industry in the past year, topics like “How to manage your Corporate vs. Personal Brand” were numerous and very popular. As someone who took over a corporate account after having begun my own well before, I’m always thinking about how to manage this complex issue. The social consensus seems to be, “Where There is Authenticity, Anything Goes.”
Mass adoption and rapid change
Twitter as a medium for all kinds of different applications really hit tome for me here. Interesting features at the Frog Design party, as well as exhibits throughout the ACC and trade shows, played on the sheer volume of Tweets in the area with interesting visualizations, graphs, and interactive displays. With new apps like HeatTracker, built on top of Foursquare and Gowalla, which in turn are built on top of Twitter, a whole new vision of how social media function is starting to appear. With massive, hyper-connected mediums like Twitter all openly available and digital, we’re becoming able to catalogue and organize information in new and exciting networks of like-minded users, allowing even more specific and nifty apps which slice out a certain chunk of the graph to handle really well. My picks: foodspotting, localmind, Qonqr, Hashable, Yobongo, HeatTracker, locaii.
The wide adoption of Twitter at SXSW in specific is just a great example of this. SXSW really “sold” me on the value of location-based mechanics, some of which I’ve always viewed with contempt, because I’ve never had the ideal use-case of many relevant connections happening in a hyperlocal area, having lived essentially in the suburbs for the last few years. I could instantly see the appeal of LBS in a very widely-adopted crowd.
But many of my friends are’t really into the whole idea of LBS, especially becoming familiar with how the more flamboyant users’ use of it can feel like spam. It’s really amazing to see how quickly a rapidly deployed technology, like Twitter or FourSquare, can become part of popular culture; by numerous metrics discussed at a few different panels, services like Twitter and Facebook activity can spread through a culture by orders of magnitude faster than older technologies like newspaper and television – but those who haven’t already adopted appear likely to do so at only marginally increasing rates over time and similar exposure.
So, the challenge seems to be, bootstrapping a user-base into existence in areas deprived of the intense incubating effect a gathering like SXSW, or being a tech hoptspot like SF or NYC, can have.
The issues of location reminded me of the unique advantage of a university, and the importance of fostering adoption of social technologies in children and adults in education. All students and teachers are already within a very clearly defined, intellecutally connected network, on many different levels: the social graph of their interconnected class schedules, the systems like Blackboard many use to communicate privately, P/TA and school boards connections to local government, etc. Academics are already used to the operation of these kind of networks, so the learning curve would be simple.
As our students begin to use these tools in a constructive and responsible way (and, here’s a great opportunity for educators and administrators to advise them, a relationship which benefits everyone), their interest will disperse throughout the world as they graduate and leave their institutions, pollinating the tech workforce and cities they move to with the games, apps, and LBS services they love, and, significantly – will continue to be using to stay in touch with their friends for purely personal reasons.
The educational->professional synergy taking place for today’s digital natives is just startling, and a tool educators must be using! Damn the painfully slow academic machine.