Jul 13

Inputs, Integrations, Smart Services, and Ecosystem; The next iOS and Android battles

Apple, Google, Mobile, Tech Comments Off

WWDC and Google I/O have come and gone. At first I was disappointed with both, but then I sat back to think about what an amazing time we are in with mobile and computing. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the battle of the full touch screen is done, and now we move on. Android has caught up enough on the quality of display (although not “retina” displays such as housed by HTC One X are fantastic), and especially with Jellybean, the UI isn’t as jaggy and laggy as in the past. The hard work of battery drain and performance still continues, but it is also easily close enough. The Nexus 7 shows that Android tablets can compete too. Finally people can talk pro’s and con’s versus “er, why the hell would you buy that?”

All in all it feels like we are heading to another game of Brazil vs. Germany, both at the top of their game. Brazil has the amazing feel, taste, and style, and are also continuing to up their game with pace and strength. Germany has their organization and resource to bare, but also have growing cunning and quality. You look forward to watching the next game.

The next battles live in new inputs, integrations, smart services and ecosystems.


Touch has been somewhat nailed. We do have haptic feedback to look forward to in the future, and this has the chance of changing the game again. How will our typing productivity go up with haptics? How will it change gaming, or music instrumentation, or art?

Voice is the obvious big push. We are still pretty early here, but where Siri was good, Google has gone beyond. The speed of recognition has been outstanding, and once you get to a certain point where you can trust it, I think this will go far past the gimmick to full usage. I also feel like there is room for hybrid usage. When typing something you can tell your system to go into caps mode, or switch to the spanish keyboard, or what have you. Once voice is of a certain quality it all changes.

Then there are other new inputs. Having the camera giving us a Kinect experience on mobile. Who knows what else will come along that will enable us to get our ideas, requirements, and instructions to the computing device as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Oh, and of course there is Glass :)


With hardware Apple has the advantage of full integration (their own chips) and buying power. This means that they typically have the nicest hardware with the best overall package, AND they can do it for cheaper (this is very different to the Wintel generation where Mac couldn’t compete on price!).

Google has the advantage of Open, and giving consumers more choice (”I want a bigger screen”).

Smart Services

Google must be salivating on this one. Now that we have the basic integrations and inputs on great devices…. services can come in to solve user problems. We see this clearly with Google Now. The server can put together your location, your history/data, and your context to “do the right thing.” This is in the realm of magical, and although folks will freak out about privacy and “big brother knows too much!” the good side is that it can deliver humane results.

Google has the chops on the server, it is their DNA, so I expect them to push hard here. The more data you have to work with the better you can service the client, so as the data and the algorithms get better we will see more and more magic.


Android has a lot of applications. There is more of a push on all digital content. However, we are dealing with many wall gardens, which is frustrating for customers.

If a user has their content in iOS apps, and tons of music and movies in the iTunes locker, it can be hard to make a switch to an Android device. You can have the same feeling as if you have an amazing VHS collection and then a new betamax player comes out with some nice features that you would love to try.

Man, what a battle. We are finally at a place where the fight is competitive and I hope that each side keeps pushing and we continue to see a fantastic tug of war.

Aug 21

Facebook webOS; Playing to Win

Mobile, Palm, webOS 2 Comments »

I have been taking in the news and constant amazement as the “HP webOS” situation changes in front of my eyes. A month ago we had folks from HP saying that we are staying the course and great devices are coming soon, and now we have utter chaos. I don’t know what HP’s plan was, but man…. surely it wasn’t to be executed as badly as this.

I feel so bad for the webOS userbase, developer base, and employee base. They have been left in the lurch again. Shocking, really.

It has made me look back at my own career and think about the good times and the bad. As I reflect on my experiences, I definitely see a trend. I have felt the most frustrated when I know that we didn’t “play to win” and were too conservative. My successes have come from projects and products that had a strong vision and we went all out for it. The funny thing there is, even if the outcome wasn’t a home run, great things came out of it.

I don’t think that either Palm or HP were anywhere near aggressive enough, and I can look back at early meetings that Ben and I had with folks where big ideas were shot down for being too risky. Many of the folks at the top wanted to be another Apple, and you can’t fight that war. Android has been so successful through a) hard work by engineers and b) a disruptive and very different business model. Java is yesterdays technology though, and if we saw webOS at Google I think that Android would have been even more than it is today. The interaction model is vastly superior. This doesn’t mean that the user experience is superior. I can’t say that is the case because webOS hasn’t performed well enough. It has been too slow and buggy, and it pains me to say that. webOS 2.0 was a case of second system syndrome to the extreme, and if we had instead had folks sitting in a darn profiler, we would have ended up at a much better spot.

I think that the only real hope for webOS is not for an HTC to come along and make some hardware for it. It needs an owner that cares and will push the hell out of it. The only owner that I really see is Facebook of all people. They very much have a culture of playing to win, they are making large bets on the Web. They need to do so, as the last thing they want is for an iOS/Android duopoly surrounding them.

They could take webOS and do some very interesting things with it. Imagine an open source webOS that could run on top of Android (hint: I may have seen this before). This way, your system can be installed by the Android user base, and Android apps can even run on it. They may not run perfectly, but who cares…. you get access to that application base and you can kill the “number of apps” arguments.

Why stop there? You can run webOS a la iCloud, but even more so. The entire experience is in the cloud, and the synergy concept can now truly go where ever you want, even onto iOS and Android. The core WebKit platform could join the PhoneGap project. Now the Web gets a massive boost. Instead of waiting for the Web features to trickle into the Android and iOS WebKit implementations, we could rally behind a WebKit (or Gecko if they work with Moz!) platform that you can target on any platform. Chrome Frame for Mobile. We need it to compete.

There are some great engineers who (very kindly imo) stuck it out for love of the platform and their teams. However, many great ones have left too. So, whoever comes in needs to rebuild the team.

It is hard for HP to come in and recruit talent, especially now, but Facebook? If they step up to the plate with a killer vision and stock options to boot…. wow. I can see the team now. It is amazing. It has many WebKit engineers (which are much much needed). If I was a college for computer science I would be spending as much time with the WebKit code as possible :)

It would be a crazy big bet for Facebook, but they have the funds and cojones to pull it off. As great as the Web is, it needs a lot of help on mobile devices. iOS is fantastic and has a great mix of a high level language in Objective-C with a fast low level runtime (especially with ARC). The Web is a very forward looking solution. We need a lot of engineers to keep accelerating it, but that is happening. The JavaScript runtimes are on an amazing streak. We are getting better and better graphics and low level APIs made available.

Man, I would love to see someone really give it a shot, and go for broke. HP’s fire sale will get some users in the field, so someone can swoop in and take advantage of it.

Facebook actually has a fair few engineers and execs from Palm over there, and what about Amazon? They have made a big bet on Android, and are going gangbusters on being the company that makes money off of Android. However, if they went webOS on top of Android? Oh, and Jon Rubenstein is on the board of Amazon (which always seemed a bit weird to me!) Maybe Amazon and HP could at least be good partners.

Jun 20

iOS as the perfect projector? More fun mobile design thinking

Mobile, Tech, UI / UX 1 Comment »


I have to say it, I love AirPlay. Being able to use any device (phone, tablet, laptop) to project something to your lovely flat screen is fantastic. Up until now, the focus has been on media (which makes sense) and being able to send anything from a funny YouTube clip, to a movie you have purchased on iTunes, if solid.

But, with an improved AirPlay, the app developer can project whatever they want onto an AirPlay aware screen (or just audio for non-screen output). This has entered my mind into its latest “woooah, how cool would it be if [insert app here] used that feature to project [insert cool idea here]!”

The obvious ideas that people talk about first is gaming. iOS is already a force in gaming, but now that your devices are controllers and can teleport their views to a screen at a whim? Wow. I can’t wait to see the game that personifies having iPhone and iPad form factor controllers and helpers.

There is much beyond media and the games though. TV’s now come as weak app platforms. I have got a Twitter app on my Samsung. It sucks. I never use it. It is also not needed. I should be able to sit down with the Twitter iPad app open on my lap, and display tweetigoodness to my TV. I could have a simple view, but also, isn’t the TV a perfect TweetDeck?

As well as having the iPad as a controller but using the TV as the main display, you can also go with different modes. As you work on an image, you can see throwaways, or old versions, up on the TV for you to look at. The Echofon Twitter client has a Photofon app that shows you images from your Twitter stream, but that could be embedded and a screensaver kicks in.

Now you have these lenses on, I dare you to open up an app and not think about a cool visualization for another screen!

I hope that PhoneGap has a plugin in the works for this in their iOS 5 support (ASIDE: A birdy may or may not have told me that full screen WebViews run with the JIT which is good too) so Web folk can take care of this too. It would be fantastic to have Web views available to project over there.

There is still so much that will be coming too: More TV’s will be AirPlay enabled (so you won’t need an Apple TV); Other operating systems will start to support these modalities (read: industry standard AirPlay please :/); The browser is an ideal projector too, and cross platform; And, then the other screens will also start to accept touch input.

So, I now have another question to ask when I start a new mobile project…. to go with others such as:

  • What goodies can I hide in the scroll over space?
  • What could we put in landscape view here?
  • (hardware keyboard) What shortcut keys could we use, and what action can we type first to
Jun 13

The “I” in iCloud and the “We” in Web

Apple, Mobile, Open Web No Comments »

iOS 5 is a big release for Apple. It is their move away from the PC being the hub, and now we can talk to the big old iTunes in the sky. Android and webOS folk may scoff a little at this. “We have had over the air updates for ages!”, “Those notifications look familiar”, “In fact, my notifications are still far superior!”

It is great to see systems competing, and non iOS systems having advantages, but they shouldn’t get carried away. iOS is still the king. That is where the best apps can be found (ironically even though it is so restrictive), and the UI is still the most responsive and easy to use. Android is looking good and getting better rapidly, and is superior in real ways (e.g. navigation, deep integrations, etc) but again, it has room to grow too.

I was recently watching a tablet user study, and one of the users talked about how they thought that their tablet apps were so much better than the phone counter-parts. Really? Why did they think that? The reasons given were: easier to use, more stable, more responsive, and much more beautiful. Huh? Well, it turned out that this user had an iPad and an Android device. Ahhhhhh.

What struck me about the “cloud” side of iOS 5, was how it squarely goes after helping you manage your devices. The big pain point mentioned was getting content onto your laptop, tablet, and phone. What it lacked was the “we” part of sharing. I am very curious to see if this is a point of view, or a baby step. It is much easy to scale out the problem of “I”…. much easier to shard.

I have the pain that Steve mentioned with my devices, but I also have much more. For one, I don’t just have iOS/Mac devices, so how do I get them in on this action? For two, I have a family, and I want to help manage their world too. The tablet is a very social and shared device for some people. It gets passed around the family table. The same device could have your work email and calendar, as well as games for the kids.

One of the reasons that I bought an iPad 2 was because I could hide it, and the first generation could be the “family one”, leaving me my own. Now, you may think that Apple won here since I got a new device, but it feels natural that another tablet system will actually cater for the user here. I would be shocked if at some point in time, you don’t just pick up a tablet, the camera sees who you are, and you are shown your view into the world.

Beyond sharing a physical device, there is sharing data. Apple thinks in a very app-centric model (which has done very well for them!) and it is hard enough to share between apps, let alone beyond that.

Joshua Topolsky discusses Apple’s truth on the iCloud which hits this home.

While I won’t argue that Apple and others have had tremendous success with native apps and services, it’s also impossible to downplay the importance of the web and what it brings to applications. It’s not just that many of the applications we use are actually intimately tied to the web (even Apple’s own products are able to make quick changes like the switch to iCloud services in iOS 4.3 thanks to markup being used in place of native code), it’s that the web provides something native applications cannot. There is no native application for the Mac or iOS that replicates the shared document editing of Google Docs; there’s no mail application that exists for the Mac which will allow me to access my important information from anywhere in the world with or without a device in hand; there is no photo sharing service for iOS or the Mac which is as flexible or accessible as Flickr. When I need to access music with my Rdio account, I can do it from a plain old web browser, or an Android, iOS, or even BlackBerry application — and the ability to shift between those portals is incredibly powerful.

When it comes to Apple, it feels to me like the company views the web as a technology which undermines rather than enriches its products. It wants you to talk to the cloud, but only through its portals and its gateways, in closed loops and private networks. Is it possible that for the company Apple has become — the lock-in PC-maker, the gatekeeper, the retailer — there’s still a little too much Wild West in the web? Is Apple’s failure with or aversion to web services a byproduct of the desire for complete control over its ecosystem and products? Or is the gang in Cupertino just not that good at the internet?

The Web, though very simple standards (HTTP, URL, HTML, etc) is very much about connecting. This results in applications that can share data (even in the same UI such as mashups), and it is very natural to have a group aspect to the data. This means that we need permissions models around such data, and along with that we have the base APIs being built around URLs.

iCloud APIs on the other hand have an SDK that is built top down. The center of the world is Objective-C, now low level network primitives. This is a very different way to look at the problem, and you end up with obviously iOS-centric (if not “only” right now) views.

Wil Shipley himself links to questions on the Apple Dev Forum around how this system can work. The questions themselves can’t be questioned due to the restrictive systems in place.

There are a couple of social aspects of iOS shining through. Game center is one, but the biggest news here is the integration of Twitter, which is absolutely massive. Having the throne as the only integrated account (and most importantly, not having Facebook there) means that Twitter can take a huge run at social APIs that it maybe wouldn’t have cared as much about before hand.

It continues to be a great time to be in tech. Apple has made many small but important strides in iOS 5. Android “ice cream” is coming. And then we have the other mobile operating systems (Windows, webOS, etc) who are embracing the Web heavily.

When I think about the “we”, I definitely think back to my former thought that HTML5 is a jewel that we need to cut into a weapon.

Feb 21

Too greedy? A shift in the force

Apple, Mobile, Open Web 8 Comments »

apple greedy

The ripple effect from the Apple announcement on their 30% cut of subscription services is still going strong. Firstly, it is obvious that Apple has every right to do this.

The Readability folk wrote an Open Letter that plainly states:

To be clear, we believe you have every right to push forward such a policy. In our view, it’s your hardware and your channel and you can put forth any policy you like. But to impose this course on any web service or web application that delivers any value outside of iOS will only discourage smaller ventures like ours to invest in iOS apps for our services.

This is the heart of the matter for me. John Gruber started to poke holds in the article:

Maybe I’m missing something, but these guys claiming to be surprised and disappointed by Apple’s insistence on a 30 percent cut of subscriptions when their own business model is to take a 30 percent cut of subscriptions strikes me as rich. And how can they claim that Readability isn’t “serving up content”? That’s exactly what Readability does. What they’re pissed about is that Apple has the stronger hand. Readability needs Apple to publish an app in the App Store. Apple doesn’t need Readability.

This side steps the main issue. It isn’t about the right to take the 30%. The problem is that some of the companies don’t have a business model that fits this change. It especially hurts models that pass money back to another entity. Even a pure model such as 37signals Basecamp would need to do the math on what 30% of their monthly fees would mean to their bottom line. Add to the fact that the iOS price has to the lowest means that all prices may have to change.

And then there is the infrastructure. You can imagine that it would take some effort for Amazon to build an in-app purchasing system, and this is work that takes away from building out other infrastructure. I know, they should just suck it up.

However, at a time where iOS and Android competition is at its strongest, Apple makes a change that alienates developers and businesses. Apple has always had an interesting relationship with developers. There was the 3.3.1 issue, and the general fact that they are very closed. However, even with all of that, developers could understand it. The 30% though feels like too much greed. Oh, come on, I hear you say. How much does the retail chain charge you as the middle man? This is a great deal! “Apple has brought back the shrinkwrapped software business!”

30% is changing the tide though. Many of these companies will be looking much more strongly at other platforms, and investing in those platforms (Android, Web, and maybe others).

John thinks that “Apple doesn’t need Readability.” It isn’t about not having one app. The balance in the ecosystem is changing. Many of the Big Apps will be investing more elsewhere than before.

Maybe this will blow over and the iOS ecosystem is so strong that it doesn’t really matter. Maybe Apple will see that it has gotten “too greedy” (not that they don’t have the right, but that it isn’t worth the hit to the ecosystem) and will lower the % or make other changes for different types of subscriptions.

It will be interesting to see. It definitely feels like there is a disturbance in the force.


Chris Leydon has commented saying that:

We have no issue whatsoever with Apple taking a 30% from our app… they just won’t provide us for the means to do it and inadvertently lock us out from the app store.

A bulk of the TinyGrab post goes into detail on how they break various infringement numbers and how, because of limitations in the AppStore, they can’t do business there. One key item is the fact that you don’t get info on the purchaser (and thus without having that connection you can’t do things like offer free access via another app), as well as other items around “rental” and unlocking features. If you want to get creative (or just offer simple use cases for your users!) with the way that you do business, you may not be able to work within the Apple system.

Jan 19

Comparing the performance attributes of iOS browsers

Mobile, Tech, Web Browsing with tags: No Comments »


I recently talked about the attack of the mobile browsers.

Then, Steve shared bookmarklets for mobile performance work.

He and Jesse hosted a fantastic Velocity Summit in the city today with the best and brightest in the realms of web ops and browser land combined. It was an honor learning from them, and it was just fantastic to see top notch folks from Chrome, Firefox, IE participating and sharing ideas.

With all of the performance talk, I started to play with Steve’s work, and was reminded how much of a pain it is to work with bookmarklets on iOS. There are some solutions, from Dropbox, to syncing bookmarks (from iTunes as well as Firefox Home), but in general it can be a pain.

Some of the new iOS browsers have extension support though… such as the 360 Browser. I wondered if it would be more efficient to great extensions (they call them plugins, but that confuses the world with Flash etc) that are quickly actionable from within the browser. Ideally, I could tell the browser to always run the extension so I could collect data throughout a session.

One concern though was the fact that most users on iOS are coming at you from Mobile Safari, and although these new browsers are using the iOS WebKit APIs (as Apple won’t let them do anything else) how different are the browsers themselves?

BrowserScope to the rescue. I fired up and ran all of the tests in each browser application and compared the results. They were incredibly consistent. All of the numbers were the same when run on: Mobile Safari, Sleipnir, 360 Browser, and Skyfire except for the “Cache Redirects” test in the Network section. In that case, two of the browsers passed the test and the other two didn’t. All in all that is pretty friggin’ consistent though. The network connections were all the same for example….. so this makes me feel like there is room for a nice developer oriented iOS browser. Sure, it can’t get access to a lot of the low level data, but there is much that can be done, especially if you pair it with a remote session ability so you can power the beast from a desktop rather than the dinky device itself!

Dec 29

Attack of the Mobile Browsers

Mobile, Tech, Web Browsing 3 Comments »

It has been exciting to see the increase in mobile browsers available for various platforms. Some platforms have allowed this freedom (e.g. a “full” Firefox experience on Android). Others like iOS restrict applications to the realm of WebKit and the APIs available:

“2.17 Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript”

Even with that handicap, we have seen some very interesting experiments, each with their own take.

I have been playing with some of the new iPhone browser apps recently. What jumps out at me?


My favorite is probably the 360 Browser from Saloni Srivastava. It packs a lot of fun features into a small device sized package, even if the UI feels a little foreign sometimes:

  • The pie menu approach brought a smile (we experimented with a pie menu in Bespin). There are two modes: drag and tap. With the default drag mode you end up holding a digit down on the screen and moving around. In practice I found this approach wanting because I would either hide the menu that I was aiming for, or I would move off and the menu would disappear. I prefer the tap approach, but actually wish for a solution that mixed the two… specifically, in tap mode I want to be able to hold down on a menu item and have a tooltip tell me what I am dealing with…. important as you learn the system.
  • Firefox Sync support is fantastic. I wish that I could tie in syncing from other browsers too and unify things.
  • In the top left of the toolbar you can quickly tap to make the current tab private…… something that many users will enjoy ;)
  • Tab support in general is good, and you can quickly show and hide them
  • Which leads into full screen support
  • The plugin system allows you to bring in a lot more to the experience. It feels a bit clunky, going into the plugins area and tapping on the item even though it has an [x] on it etc, but it great to be able to extend your browsing.


Sleipnir Mobile innovates nicely with tabs and somewhat with tagging and bookmarking. Being able to setup various “workspaces” for your tabs is very useful. I find myself wanting to keep a copy of sites like TechMeme, Hacker News, and others, and being able to put them in one tab group is fantastic.


Skyfire has both an iPhone and iPad version of their browser. Most talk about their support for Flash video, but they also have other interesting features such as their “quick views” which give you a taste of Twitter or Facebook without having to jump away from your current browsing stream. I am not the kind of chap who is looking for “related” exploration, but others probably are. It is also interesting to see how browsers get around limitations of the app-centric model. For example, Skyfire is aware of the clipboard and sucks in URLs, since you can’t send a URL to open that browser, or have a system-wide setting for “default browser”. We have similar issues with bookmarks. I want one central store that they can all use (others would like separation).

In general, features such as private browsing, better tab management, and also caching itself can be huge. It drives me bonkers to hit the back button and have to wait for a page to be reloaded when I just came from there. I would happily give up a lot more hard drive space on my device to the browser. The feel of the browser is important too. If the scrolling is off, or the gestures? Ugh. I had that experience with Opera when it first came out. By default pages were zoomed so far out that it was unreadable and the pinch/zoom felt wrong.

I really hope that the exploration that is happening in the mobile browser space (and the money that some folks are making off of it!) keeps going, and that Apple opens up their terms to allow for a full Firefox experience and others.

What would you like to see on a mobile browser?

Dec 15

Chrome Frame for iPhone; Taking your HTML5 renderer with you

Mobile, Open Source, Open Web, Tech, Web Browsing 2 Comments »

I love the Web, but a couple of things have gotten me thinking.

#1: Netflix on PlayStation 3 via HTML5

I got to meet some of the awesome engineers behind the HTML5-fication of Netflix experiences, specifically folks in the TV group. They showed us various UI experiments and it was beautiful to see. The UI is slick and modern, and every effect is using CSS transition goodness, nicely hardware accelerated thanks to the PS3’s GPU.

At first it may seem a bit crazy that the team took Qt/WebKit with them as the rendering platform, but when you think about the huge number of devices that Netflix needs to support, it makes “wanting an iPhone and Android app” seem like laughable fragmentation.

#2: Trusting the implementations to catch up?

We have amazing browsers in modern devices. But as we push the Web forward, we are still facing buggy implementations and varying support. Although WebKit lives within Mobile Safari, that doesn’t mean that Mobile Safari has open sourced everything to WebKit. The touch support isn’t there. We can’t all use the same scrolling effects and the like. That has to be built up by everyone.

Ideally, with position:fixed (now in Android), you could use that and even flexbox to use the core scrolling of the browser itself so you don’t have to resort in the mimicry that frameworks have had to do until now.

Even the magical escape chute to the GPU via CSS3D isn’t a silver bullet.

matthew farag

Matthew Farag has a lovely portfolio site that uses the power of this modern goodness (using Scripty2 for auto hardware acceleration!). Works great on a desktop WebKit, but how about the iPad? It does pretty well, but you start to see some of the buggy issues where the GPU seems to run out of memory and you get weird artifacts.

So, when you put these two together, you realize that it could be nice to carry a great consistent Web runtime with you to allow you to get great experiences, especially while we are transitioning and getting everything flushed out. It would also enable us not to be beholden to the likes of Android and Apple to make sure that their Web runtimes are fantastic.

I may want Chrome Frame for devices more than I care about it on the desktop as it turns out. Hmm. Alex? ;)

Dec 02

Native apps are always better than Web apps; Psst, the new way has an escape chute

HTML, JavaScript, Mobile, Open Web, Tech, UI / UX, iPhone 3 Comments »

When we talk about the mobile Web being a good candidate to be a unifying platform for mobile and beyond, we often get nay-sayers telling us that there is no chance of this happening.

Their claims often chanted include:

  • Cross platform never works (case in point: Swing)
  • You can’t create a great experience without going native (and Apple raised the bar on the experience!)

There is some validity to some of this, but I also wanted to discuss the other side too.

Cross Platform Did Work

Swing gets bashed because a) it didn’t take off, and b) people always saw Swing apps as ugly and great examples of the uncanny valley. That team worked tirelessly for many years to try to get the look and feels to be as exacting to their hosts as possible. A pixel off here and there…. and it felt wrong.

It turns out that this probably wasn’t the right approach, and either a) Use SWT to use the real OS components or b) create a great looking l&f that is different to any one host, but natural and fantastic to use. Ben, Jasper Potts, and others fought for such a look and feel in Nimbus but a lot of time had gone by.

We have all seen many platforms on top of hosts that don’t feel right and don’t look good. That doesn’t mean that cross platform can’t work. Flash is an example that is very much cross platform and that community very much went the “every app will have its own UI”…. probably TOO far in the other direction ;)

In fact, the Web itself is a fantastic cross platform success. We have argued that if it wasn’t for the massive Web revolution, would non-Microsoft vendors (read: Mac OS X) be in the situation there are now? Or would they have followed in the wake of Atari, Amiga and BeOS? When the Web happened, suddenly the interesting actions that people wanted to do on a computer were dominated by the global scale of the Web (Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay, etc). The Microsoft Office lock-in was gone (aside: it also DID help a lot that Microsoft gave Apple money, got Office over there, and solutions like VMWare enabled those few Windows apps that you still wanted to come with you).

The Web was a great cross platform success, even though its rich capabilities in the areas of graphics were laughable…. as I mentioned in an earlier post:

Apple - old and new

When you look back at many of the earlier designs of the top website brands, they are comical by todays standards. However, at this same time, technology such as WPF was being touted on the desktop. Why would people visit Web sites when they could experience amazing native Windows and Macintosh experiences?

So, I don’t think you can discount the Web on the merits of “cross platform can’t win” as it already did win once, and at a time when the capability gap was much wider than we now have with HTML5.

Compare this native app to their Web site!


I teased about the Delta mobile Web application before. If you compare their iPhone application to what you get if you go through a mobile browser, the difference is huge.

But, is the reason they are so different due to capability? I think not. I think the reason is much more about structure, legacy, politics, and history reasons.

I remember seeing an early viewing of an Adobe AIR eBay client. The thing was so rich, so much better than the awful eBay site in almost every way. It made you want to cry looking at the website afterwards. Why or why would eBay have this fantastic client and not spend time on the website where all their customers were! It wasn’t that they were baffoons, it was because they had no legacy in this new world!

The designers had free rein with a blank sheet of paper. They had core concepts and some design language, but total creative freedom. Compare that to the website. If they changed the color one hex value users would go nuts! Every time Facebook changes their site there is a massive campaign to change it back for the first 2 weeks.

They also didn’t have to run the gauntlet of the massive codebase that had been built over years to make any of these changes. And the QA. Ugh.

In fact, an entirely new team could be formed to do this work.

This is exactly what I am seeing in mobile. In many companies, if there is a mobile group, they are just that…. a very separate group. In a non-mobile-thinking company they are like the old “Mac” group in a Windows heavy shop that hangs in the corner and is very different.

Other companies are still getting into the world of mobile and realizing that usage patterns are going in that direction. They are bringing in consultants to help out. They are forming new crack teams to take on the challenge. They are realizing that they need to re-think the entire experience, and hopefully realizing that they need to create software as-a-whole in a very different manner.

The bar on the quality of experiences on some of the mobile platforms is very high indeed (and very low on others!) which has the (great) effect of pushing the bar forward.

Will this leave the Web versions behind? Maybe in the short term. Kinda like how the old Twitter website was simple compared to Tweetie and other clients, but #newtwitter is much richer and borrows some of the concepts where they make sense.

I am definitely seeing people swing back to their web experiences. As multiple platforms foster in touch and cross device, they are starting to feel the increasing tax of building totally different applications across the fragmentation, and then trying to keep them in sync once the 1.0 is complete. Outsourcing the 1.0 is one thing, but the syncing part is hard.

Back to Delta. You will notice that the screenshots on the web side get increasingly poor as you go deeper into the experience. Contrast that with the iPhone version above that is always at a high quality. It is time for them to go back to the web side and sync up.

In fact, just before a recent talk, we coded up some of the simple transitions and feel just so show how easy it is to get some of this stuff working via the mobile Web. You can see the simple example here.

In our Palm Developer Day keynote we shared some of the high level pieces on how to put this all together, the major piece being that you have to really re-think the way that you architect your applications (think: Gmail not server generated HTML, Backbone.js, and more).

Here are some of the slides:





aside: Dave Balmer goes into some depth in his Rockstar apps with HTML5 talks.

Of course, it isn’t all hunky dory. There are still edge cases on getting things performing just right using the Web on the various devices. You have to think “cross platform” again. It may have been nice to ignore that and hack on a native application for awhile. But, would you rather be porting between proprietary SDKs and languages all day long? Or re-use as much of your code as possible.

And, if for some valid reason you really DO need a bit of native for something, you can break out of jail and do just that. The escape chute is waiting for you.

We have a long way to go on giving developers better access to native capabilities and tools to make building the next generation of apps more of a breeze, but it is doable right now (another aside: webOS kinda proves that right now as the native apps ARE Web apps!)

I will finish with the interesting take from Venture Beat the other day on how
the iPhone app is the Flash homepage of 2010. They say:

In the late 1990s, it was common for companies to spend $50,000 to $150,000 for a Flash homepage that looked like a beautiful brochure. However, they soon learned that Flash was cumbersome, slow to load, expensive to build, and hard to update, and moved on to HTML. Now only specialized, high-end sites are Flash only.
The exact same thing has replayed itself on the iPhone. Companies have paid $50,000, $100,000, and more for an iPhone app. Now they have to keep the iPhone app in sync with their regular web site, and have to add additional native apps, each at a high price point, due to the hypergrowth of Android and newly viable platforms like Windows Phone 7

Nov 23

Moving into our new Set Direction offices on University Ave; Spying on Sencha

Mobile, Set Direction, Tech 2 Comments »

Moving into Set Direction Offices

Today was a big day for us, moving into the new pad on University Avenue, Palo Alto. Not a bad place to be! Major kudos to Spencer Tall of Allegis Capital who are letting us hang with them as we incubate our ideas. It is majorly appreciated, and exciting.

Once we finally settled into our offices (after a trip to the Apple Store, just a block away!) we sat down to look at the view, and we giggled to see that it was this:

Spying on Sencha

We are staring at the front door of Sencha! It feels like we are on a stakeout to see when Abe comes and goes. We took this shot and sent it to Abe just to let him know that we are “in position” ;)

We said “hi” to our Sencha neighbours and man did they seem in good spirits. The very recent SenchaCon was a huge success. It was there that they announced their 1.0 of Sencha Touch, and that it was to be free. This is great news for the mobile Web community at large. The segment is buzzing with jQuery Mobile, Enyo, Sencha Touch, and more.

Congrats to all, and Abe….. looking forward to being your neighbour mate.