Google Now, Glass, & Wear — The future we lost by making watches miniature phones

From Abner Li, 9to5Google:

What could have been starts with Google Now, a proactive feed that showed the weather, upcoming calendar events, birthdays, commute and travel information, package alerts, movies/concerts you might like, nearby events/places/restaurants, news updates, and much more, including information from third-party apps.

All this was displayed via a powerful card metaphor that showed just the relevant pieces of information. Users had one feed accessible to the left of the main Android homescreen or quickly launched by swiping up from the home button to keep track of their day and see what was next.

You didn’t have to jump into different apps to see upcoming flight details, check email to see when a package was arriving, or open a multitude of first and third-party apps to see your information. In those applications, you’re subjected to different layouts and have to learn different behaviors to access what is fundamentally your information.

Google Now was the high water mark of the “smart assistant” craze that started in the early teens. Since then, we’ve seen both smart home speakers and smart watches move toward more of a “question and answer” approach where you query your device for information or you’re pushed information about your tastes in a “feed” of some kind. I have a number of smart speakers in my house (and I’ve tried Siri, Google and Alexa) but I’ll be honest – I almost never use them becuase they’re a pain in the ass to use and they’re not very smart. At this point I bet 90% of my commands are comprised of adjusting volume, turning on/off a few lights and setting timers. Not exactly an intelligent assitant.

What I wish we saw more of was the Google Now approach – proactive data, notifications and reminders about things going on in your world. The watch is a great place for this because the interruptions can be unobtrusive, customizable and almost always with you. Apple has a Siri watch face that tries to accomplish what Google Now was going for but it feels like a ghost town – no real updates have been made in a long time.

I’m hopeful that increaesd competition in the watch field with Google giving their strategy a reboot will allow for more experimentation and pressure to make both platforms better digital assitants than some speaker could ever be.

WWDC 2021 Wishlist

It’s that time again! Thought I’d throw a quick list together of the top things I wish Apple would do in next software versions at this year’s WWDC. Kind of a grab bag, but thought I’d put a flag in the ground now. Make entire play history available in Apple Music, not just library tracks. […]

Continue reading →

Why the bad iPhone web app experience keeps coming up in Epic v. Apple

From Dieter Bohn at The Verge:

Something keeps coming up at the Epic v. Apple trial as a potential alternative for getting Fortnite on the iPhone: web apps. It’s an intriguing idea, as web apps are able to do surprisingly complex things: just look at a Chromebook or even game streaming services on the iPhone. But potential is far from reality, because the ability for web apps to look, feel, and perform as well as native apps on iOS is severely limited.

Another good breakdown of the issues Apple is trying to have both ways. They’re keeping a tight grip on their App Store and saying that Web Apps are a path forward if you don’t like it, but then they’re making it difficult for folks to actually ship web apps that are truly compelling. In the “best case” scenario for customers and developers, I think a ruling that includes forces Apple to change some of their rules to allow 3rd party browsers could change things greatly. Add to that some of the suggestions I made a while back, and I think a lot of this would go away. A “worst case” scenario is a confusing hellscape of competing app stores, browser ballots and even possibly no default apps on first load. Lets hope cooler heads prevail.

Progress Delayed Is Progress Denied

From The Infrequently Noted blog:

Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.

The author makes a lot of good points about where Webkit lags behind other browsers, and what its strengths are. The main thrust of the argument is that Apple won’t let other browsers onto iOS without being a branded interface wrapping around WebKit and that is harmful to users and the overall Open Web as there is no choice. Further, it puts a dent into Apple’s argument that people can always make a web app if they don’t want to participate in the App Store because the tech isn’t there to fully replace what many native apps do today.

Any time a tech company like Apple is insulated from competition, consumers suffer. iOS needs to open up their app store to alternative browsers as it will force Apple to compete more than they do right now. To their credit, they’ve done the bare minimum recently and allowed a non-Safari browser to be set as default, but they need to go the additional step and allow browsers to use their own engines. Not only would this be a win for the open web, but it would also increase competition and likely force Apple to invest more in their browser engine. There’s a lot they can differentiate on, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of web technologies advancing. I also want WebKit to be the best rendering engine out there because they focus on performance and security over chasing every single API, as that’s an area they can really hang their hat on. I personally feel like Safari on both the Mac and iOS has gotten worse in the past few years from a UX perspective (I’ll save that for another post) but better from a performance perspective. However, it would appear that WebKit as a standards-supporting platform has gotten worse. I hope they can find a good balance between the two.

This assessment can be true and it can also be true that the author is looking at the situation through Google-colored glasses. Google wants to push the web as much as possible because the web is more likely to have ads than an app would, so a more robust, “app-like” web means more opportunities for them to track and target you.

Wish List: Better anti-spam tools for Messages

From Six Colors:

In the war against spam, it often feels like we’re waging an uphill battle. While our email tools have improved and evolved over the last few years, the battlefield has started to shift from our inbox to our phones.

Recently, I’ve ended up on the receiving end of spammy text chains. Usually these are links, texted from a local number, to roughly 20 different phone numbers, many of them within the same area code as my own (or adjacent ones).

I can totally relate to an influx of text spam in the past few months.

I think that in general Apple needs to focus on privacy when it comes to messaging and email. I appreciate the fact that Messages are technically E2E encrypted but things like blocking tracking pixels in the Mail app as well as better contacts privacy settings are high on my wish list. If Apple were able to tell a cohesive story around blocking spam texts and calls, protecting your email privacy and giving you more control over your contacts list at this summer’s WWDC, I’d be thrilled.

The Apple TV’s touchpad swipes and misses at being a good remote

From Chaim Gartenberg at The Verge:

Apple made a remote control that’s an undeniably beautiful piece of hardware. Outside of the Siri Remote, how many TV remotes can claim to actually look good? But the touchpad’s minimalism and misplaced attempt at trying to turn the entire remote into something that it’s not makes it like other failed Apple buttons before it: a stark warning of the dangers of chasing form over function.

The Siri Remote is by far the worst Apple product I own and this article sums up all of the frustrations users feel when using it. The actual Siri functionality is brilliant but it mostly stops there. Swiping around is a pain, they’re easy to lose and when you do find them, odds are you’ll pick it up facing upside down.

I could be wrong, but this sort of design feels like the worst of the Jony Ive era and I’m hopeful that Apple will make amends with the next Apple TV version.

Why doesn’t “Look Around” cover more areas?

From Justin O’Beirne:

If Apple is unable to algorithmically identify POI information in static images (taken in ideal weather conditions), then how will Apple successfully augment reality?16

And what happens if Apple’s rumored AR headset is ready before its map is?

The short version is that it appears that the sheer volume of POI data in the US is slowing down the rollout of look around. And if that’s the case, Apple is really going to struggle to keep these enhanced maps up-to-date, let alone roll them out in a timely manner. I really love the overall Apple Maps look & feel but I do find myself using Google Maps for most POI searches / quick trips and Apple Maps more for longer car trips where I already know the gist of where I’m headed and want traffic/time info (and a nicer looking map). I don’t think Look Around is a “killer feature” but the underlying lack of trust in their POI database is going to be a problem if they can’t get it sorted out.

On another note, these articles by Justin O’Beirne are so fun to read. I love how he builds toward a conclusion with tons of examples and really nerds out on the map data he’s got access to.

Apple News+ is Actually Good

Last fall, I came across a deal where you could get 4 months of Apple News+ for free. I figured I’d give it a shot to see if it was worth the $10/month as I’m a big believer in paying for quality news. Currently, I get most of my news from RSS, the New York […]

Continue reading →

The M1 Macs

From Daring Fireball:

What you need to understand is that the best aspects of these Macs aren’t benchmarkable. It’s about how nice they are. The cooling system never making any noise doesn’t show up in a benchmark. I suppose you could assign it a decibel value in an anechoic chamber, but silent operation, and a palm rest that remains cool to the touch even under heavy load, aren’t quantities. They’re qualities. They’re just nice.

So far it appears that the new M1 Macs are a performance, efficiency and UX win. They’re an improvement in nearly every way, yet within the same enclosure as before.

The webcams still stink, however.

Overall, this is a great review of the entire experience of using  these new Macs and it has me very excited to upgrade whenever I end up buying a new machine.

The HomePod Video

I’ve owned a lot of smart speakers in the past few years but I think the device I’ve enjoyed the most is the Google Nest Hub (I think that’s what they’re calling it this year). It does a few things really well: Music playback control Smart home controls Can be a video casting target, also […]

Continue reading →