iPad vs. Android vs. Windows 8 – Further Thoughts

Several people made some good points in regard to my article on iPad vs. Windows 8.

The most salient one, and the one I keep hearing, is the comparison to iPod.  It goes like this:

Yes, Apple only garnered a minority market share with the Macintosh and the iPhone.  But with the iPod, Apple was able to create and hold a substantial majority market share by establishing such a strong brand identity that “iPod” became synonymous with “portable MP3 player.”  Now, the iPad seems to be holding a majority market share as well by making itself synonymous with “tablet.” Therefore we should compare its trajectory to the iPod, not the iPhone or Macintosh.

The other salient argument goes like this:

Apple has a lock on the “high end” tablet market.  The iPad is better conceived, designed, and constructed than its Android or Windows counterparts.  Users really aren’t that interested in a marginally lower priced machine that offers lower design / build quality, and its hard to see how other manufacturers can “out-quality” the iPad, or if users really want a “better quality” tablet than the iPad.

I like argument #2 best.

The problem with argument #1 is that it ignores the market dynamics.  Macintoshes, iPhones, and iPads all have one thing in common: they are pieces of hardware running an operating system.  OK, technically, this is also true of the iPod, but only technically so. The OS of the iPod is more like an embedded firmware.

Apple’s minority market position with the iPhone and Macintosh stems from the fact that the OS and hardware are coupled.  Apple competes not just with Microsoft (for the OS), but with a gazillion other PC manufacturers (for the hardware).  It does this with phones as well, competing not just against Android but against every phone maker that produces an Android device.  So Apple can sell more PCs than any one PC maker, and more phones than any one Android manufacturer, but against the market as a whole it remains a minority player, albeit a large, powerful one.

Well, tablets are no different from phones and PCs: they are a piece of hardware running an OS, and it is a matter of time before tablet makers are able to closely copy the hardware designs of the iPad and the software advantages of iOS and release an Android tablet that competes well.  Will people buy it?  Yes.  Android has a majority market share in phones and a compelling tablet offering will appeal to that majority.

Windows is more of a wild card here.  In my previous post, I pointed to the fact that corporate IT departments will be much more likely to adopt a Windows 8 tablet than an iOS or Android tablet since it is an OS which they already support and understand.  I still think this is true.

Many people countered with the argument that with HTML5, it is irrelevant which device you support.  I agree but remain skeptical whether corporate IT departments will develop mission-critical wireless HTML5 applications. Corporate IT is happy with hard-wired web apps, but when it comes to running a mission-critical app over 3G or 4G networks, I think that is a far more risky proposition.

If I was asked to develop a mission critical application that ran wirelessly over a 3G or 4G network, I would almost certainly develop a “fat app” that replicated its data with the mother ship and which could run at 100% during network unavailability.  And, as a corporate IT developer, I would lean heavily on Windows as the platform of choice for developing that application, especially since the odds are very strong that the company already has a sizeable investment in technologies like .NET and MS SQL server.

If (and this is a very big “if”) Microsoft can deploy a compelling tablet version of Windows before the market has saturated, I think there is a good chance that they will capture significant corporate sales.  As we’ve seen in the past, inability to penetrate the corporate market was a serious impediment to Macintosh and, for a while, also the iPhone.  If Microsoft can execute, this is a strong opportunity for them to stay in the game.

Google+ Android App – Getting from Good to Great

I’ve been traveling since the arrival of Google+ and therefore have been forced to use it almost exclusively from my Android phone. I’ve enjoyed the Google+ app immensely – it’s a really good app – but there are a few features that, taken together, would significantly enhance the experience of using the app.

In short, the app designers need to focus on answering this question: “what if the user has to use the Android app (virtually) exclusively?” The app works great as an add-on to the web app.  But a truly mobile user may be stuck with using the app exclusively for days if not weeks, and may bump his head on the tiny limitations of the app and give up.  These enhancements would go a long way towards solving these problems.

Ability to Parse Links into Previews

In the web app, there are four ways to enhance your post – Add Photo, Add Video, Add Link, and Add Location.  In the Android app, one of these – Add Link – is not available.  When you add a link, it just gets pasted in, and Google+ doesn’t create the nifty thumbnail / summary of the page to encourage viewers to click through.

Ability to Edit Posts and Control Sharing

In the web app, you can edit and delete posts as well as control resharing.  It is imperative that these functions be added to the Android app.

Ability to +Mention Someone Who Isn’t Already in Your Circles

When I comment on a post in the web app, the app is able to convert +mentions into hyperlinks.  in the Android app, this only works if the user is in one of your circles.  Otherwise, the app doesn’t prompt you with the correct name, nor does it create the hyperlink.  This should work the same on the web or on the phone.

Improved Notifications

I’ve found notifications on the phone to be spotty at best.  Usually it notifies me only after launching the app and reading the posts… not really a useful notification.

After using the Google+ application exclusively for a week, I feel confident that if it supported these features / functions, it would be where it really needs to be in order to keep people using Google+ when they’re away from their computer for extended periods.

Windows 8 vs. iPad: Advantage Microsoft?

There’s been a lot of buzz in the industry press recently about Windows 8, the new touch-centric Windows from Microsoft.

Much of the press has been understandably skeptical.  Apple definitely hit a home run with the iPad, building it on top of the iOS mobile touch interface.  Microsoft, instead, is building “up” from Windows by layering a new browser and application UI paradigm on top of existing Windows.  It’s easy to see where Microsoft might stumble, and hard to see how Windows 8 could possibly approach the seamless elegance of iOS.

And, the truth is, it probably won’t.

And, the truth is, it probably won’t matter.

Here’s why.

A History Lesson

The year is 1990.  I’m sitting at my workstation in Classroom 2000 on the University of Texas campus in front of two state of the art machines: a 386-powered IBM PS/2 running OS/2 and Windows 3.0 and a Motorola 68030-powered Mac IIci.

I’m teaching a class of IBM Systems Engineers (a glorified term for salespeople) who have come to learn about desktop computers. In this class we’re learning about PostScript, but really, the whole exercise is to throw Macintoshes in their face to scare the hell out of them.  And it works.  More than once, you hear an IBM employee mutter, “we can’t win.”

But they did.

In designing the Mac from the ground up as a windowed operating system, Apple has the clear technical advantage.  The machine is slick as hell: 32 bit architecture, peer-to-peer networking, 24 bit graphics, multitasking, and a beautiful, well-conceived UI.  Conversely, in PC-land, there’s Windows running on top of 16 bit DOS: a veritable Who’s Who of Blue Screens of Death and a nightmare of drivers and legacy text-based apps running around.

And yet, Apple failed to capitalize on their obvious competitive advantages, barely growing their market share over the next 10-15 years.

Why?  Because the largest purchasers of computers are corporations, and corporations purchased IBM / Microsoft as an extension of their current computing platform.  In part this was out of ignorance of what Macintosh could do, in part it was due to specific shortcomings of the Macintosh platform – but those aren’t the reasons corporations failed to embrace Macintosh. The real reason Macintosh never broke through the corporate barrier was because it never made sufficient sense to throw out all the legacy apps and start over again on a new hardware and software platform.

Office applications are not the engine of the productivity boom.  Word processors and spreadsheets don’t offer competitive advantage.  Factory automation, enterprise resource planning, sales force automation, customer and supplier portals – these are the expensive and risky custom-built applications that drive competitive advantage.  For that reason, you sometimes still see applications that remain GUI-less – you don’t screw with stuff that works – and oh by the way, throwing a nifty UI on an app like that can cost a fortune and offer negligible – even negative – payback.

So to synopsize our history lesson: Apple failed to sell to corporations because it never made good financial sense for those corporations to reinvent their line-of-business applications for a different platform.  Apple established itself as a great consumer brand and carved out niches in media production and desktop publishing – markets that were not tied to traditional corporate IT.  But because the corporate world used PCs, most individuals purchased PCs for the home, and Apple was unable to substantially grow its market share in spite of technical advantage and overall coolness.

Fast-Forward

We are now seeing the same history lesson repeat itself with the iOS-based iPad tablet going head-to-head against the next generation of Windows tablets.  In order to create the ultimate tablet experience, Apple has adopted iOS as the application platform for the iPad.  And while the iPad is a formidably slick and compelling machine, iOS is probably not the operating system of choice on which to develop mission critical corporate IT applications.

Enter Microsoft with Windows 8.  Will it be clunky?  Almost certainly.  Will it fray around the edges?  Yes.  Will there be jarring experiences where the user drops suddenly and unexpectedly into the old mouse-based paradigm?  Definitely.

But Microsoft can offer something that Apple can’t.  There are thousands, maybe millions of line-of-business applications deployed with technologies like C++, .NET, Access, and SQL Server.  Companies cannot and will not jettison them in order to rewrite for iOS.  But they will extend them to a Windows 8 tablet.

Microsoft’s decision to layer a touch interface on top of Windows is the only logical decision.  It’s the same decision they made in the late 1980s when they layered a GUI on top of DOS.  With Windows, Microsoft retained the established customer base while expanding their market reach by extending, rather than reinventing their operating system.  The business advantage outweighed the technical disadvantage. With Windows 8, they can do it again.

I think the decision is brilliant.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Now, we simply have to wait and see if Microsoft can deliver.  That may be a stretch.  Microsoft has a “hit-miss-miss” record with Windows.  With Windows, it was not until Windows 95 that Microsoft pulled within reach of Apple, and only Windows XP was solid enough to truly compete technically.  Microsoft cannot wait 10-15 years like it did with Windows to catch up.

I think that it’s fair to guess that Windows 8 will not be an iPad-killer, no matter how great it is.  Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be an iPad-killer.  It just has to establish a baseline of functionality and provide a suitable application development platform. Corporations will develop impressive line-of-business applications for the touch interface – specifically field-worker automation applications – if the platform is robust.

If compelling touch-based business applications can be deployed on Windows 8, it will have done its job: it will have convinced corporations that Windows can meet their needs for a touch-tablet computer, and Apple will be stymied in their attempt to finally break the barrier keeping them out of corporate America.

PS: I am writing this on my brand new, and very sweet, MacBook Pro.

Sony. Really???

Yep.  It’s happened again:

Computerworld – LulzSec, a hacking group that recently made news for hacking into PBS, claimed today that it has broken into several Sony Pictures websites and accessed unencrypted personal information on over 1 million people.

The attack?  A simple SQL injection attack.  Most web sites built since 2002 have known how to defend against SQL injections.

What’s worse?

“What’s worse is that every bit of data we took wasn’t encrypted,” the group claims. “Sony stored over 1,000,000 passwords of its customers in plaintext, which means it’s just a matter of taking it.”

Storing passwords in plaintext is simply negligent.

If customers experience identity theft as a result of this breach, you should expect a class-action lawsuit.  These aren’t secure websites breached by a sophisticated attack.  These are utterly inept programming decisions.

I have a bad, bad feeling that this is going to get a lot worse for Sony.

What’s even worse than all of this?

I own Sony stock.

#ouch

To the Dark Side

I have finally done it.  Please forgive me, Mom.

That’s right.  I bought a Mac: the new quad I7 15.4″ MacBook Pro.

And what’s more: I’m switching to Pro Tools 9 from Sonar.

I’ve had a long love-affair with my Dell Mini 9 Hackintosh.  The little sucker went with me everywhere.  I used it as my travel computer.  I used it in my keyboard rig.  Small to the point of silly, and relatively inexpensive, it was the perfect travel machine.

Well, it got stolen in Mexico.

A confluence of needs had me wanting a new MacBook Pro anyway, and what better time than after the sudden loss of the Hackintosh.  So I have finally taken the plunge for real.

More to come…

Double-Dip

Hate to say I told you so, but in April 2009 I wrote:

The keyword to watch for now is #doubledip.  Because with the recent uptick in the economy, the investing world is going to start looking for signs of a double-dip recession.

Now this article confirms my prediction:

The prices of single family homes in March dropped to their lowest level since April 2009, confirming a “double dip” because values are now below where they were since the housing market collapsed, according to a closely watched price index released Tuesday.

Sony: Security Fail Redux

By now, everyone knows that Sony’s Playstation Network got hacked earlier this year.  It’s a big mistake that shouldn’t have been made, but we all make mistakes.  The key to Sony’s viability as a player in the online world is that it be able to learn from its mistake.

Today, Sony is reporting a new intrusion:

In a warning to users issued on Thursday, So-net said an intruder tried 10,000 times to access the provider’s “So-net” point service […] from the same IP address.

There is absolutely no reason why any online service should allow an intruder to attempt 10 unsuccessful login attempts from the same address, much less 10,000.  This represents a complete failure to grasp the fundamentals of security, and any reasonable observer would have to conclude that Sony is completely security-blind and totally naive.  You can expect many, many more stories like this to emerge unless the company adopts a complete reinvention of its online presence.

Italian Home Construction

Vanessa and I had the opportunity to visit some friends who are building a new home just south of Arezzo, Italy.  The home was in a partially-completed state, which afforded a very interesting look at construction techniques.

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Almost-finished home

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Honeycomb brick used for inner wall structure

The first thing you notice about homes built in Italy – and across most of Europe – is that they are built almost exclusively out of concrete and / or stone and brick.  The “bricks and sticks” construction we use across the United States is practically unheard of.

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Textured styrofoam used for insulation in walls and floors

The construction is very, very strong.  The home we visited was a modest, three bedroom home of perhaps 1500 sq. ft.  The walls were built of three layers: an inner structural brick honeycomb is layered with sheets of textured sytrofoam and then covered with exterior stonework.  The resulting wall is well over a foot thick: exterior stone / concrete / honeycomb brick / styrofoam / inner concrete.  As you can guess, these layers can withstand significant earthquakes and are almost impervious to heat and cold extremes.

The foundation is likewise impressive.  In the US, a typical slab foundation has footers poured around the exterior and a thin slab floor.  Here, deep and thick footers are poured underneath all of the walls, and the slab itself is about six inches.

Heating is provided with floor heaters.  The slab is covered with textured styrofoam, onto which is laid heat transferring tubing.  This is then covered with a thin layer of self-leveling concrete.  The insulated concrete layer holds heat well and keeps the interior isolated from the cold foundation.

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Floor heat distribution system. Each valve controls heat to a different zone. The tubes for each zone aren't installed yet.

Each room is a separate zone, so it is very simple to heat some areas of the home and not others.  This is a very efficient design. The multi-zone distribution system with its independent thermostats and valves is a work of art in itself.

We have a floor heating system in the home where we are staying and it is interesting how well it works.  Since the building itself radiates heat across the entire floor, it is virtually draftless, and you feel very comfortable even though the room itself is much cooler than would feel comfortable with a furnace.  The home is a rambling restored farmhouse, but due to the multi-zone heating system, we only bother to heat the bedroom, since we aren’t at home much.  This would be impossible to pull off efficiently using American style furnaces.  My sinuses are also really happy with this approach.

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Master plumbing distribution center.

Furnaces and boilers are practically unheard of.  Here, homes are outfitted with powerful, efficient instant water heaters.  The heaters are designed to heat water for the radiators and floor heaters as well as the hot water supply for the home.  Unlike models I’ve used in America, these suckers pump out a lot of heat.

Since the home is very dependent on a lot of water tubing, and since this tubing is built into foot-thick walls and foundations, plumbing is taken quite seriously.  Instead of the haphazard approach taken in American construction where water supply is run rather ad-hoc, in Italy the water is brought to a central utility room where each zone has independent cutoffs.  As you can see from the photos, the tubing is substantial and built to last.  It needs to be – any leak is a major headache.

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Typical beam-and-tile construction. Layers of tile and insulation keep the ceiling cool. No attics needed.

Roofs here are almost universally made of Italian tile.  It’s a shame we can’t use tile in Texas any longer – ever since the Mayfest storm of 1995, tile is a thing of the past.  The layers of tile, styrofoam, and more tile create a well-insulated roof that doesn’t produce radiant heat like asphalt shingles.

Windows, as in the States, are double-paned “Low-E” design.  Unlike in the States, however, almost all Italian windows can be easily opened and are installed with shutters.  The combination of open windows and shutters to block the hot sun helps to keep the heat out while still providing a breeze.

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Preinstalled solar and A/C hookups.

Most Italians don’t bother with air conditioning.  Summers are hot – about as hot as in Texas – but with such energy efficient homes, a reasonable set of fans can keep you comfortable on all but the hottest of days.  Homes, however, are often plumbed for air conditioning with coolant tubing pre-installed.  This makes it easy to decide after you’ve lived in the space for a season or two exactly how much air conditioning you want and in which rooms.

Likewise, all homes are required to have preinstalled hookups for solar panels.  You see a lot of solar going on here.  The farmhouse where Vanessa and I are staying features an array of 40 panels producing quite a lot of power.

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Electrical utility, wired for everything currently imaginable.

Since the home is hard to modify once it’s built, Italians have a strong incentive to go out of their way to use good materials and put a lot of thought into planning.  Electrical utilities along with phone, cable, fiber, alarm wiring, etc. are all carefully planned and brought into a central utility room.  We do the same in the States, except that here, you’ll see a lot of wiring pulled for appliances that don’t exist, “just in case.”

Italy is a nation that learned lessons about “building to last” a thousand years ago.  All over the country you find homes, churches, and entire towns that are well over five hundred years old and still in perfectly usable condition.  It’s no surprise, then, that while we build homes and neighborhoods that last fifty to a hundred years, the Italians are still building homes and neighborhoods that can last five hundred or even a thousand years.

It is a set of lessons we would do well to learn.

Epicurean Tour 2011

Me, with dancing Spaniards

I’m writing this from the Piazza del Campo in Siena, where a huge group of littering Spanish tourists, who, failing in their attempts to start “The Wave,” have just embarked on a mass-performance of “La Macarena.”  Seriously.  It’s pretty epic fail. At least, for a change, the embarrassing tourists aren’t Americans.

So, how came I to be in Italia, you might ask?  At least, you might ask this question if you didn’t know my Italophile wife.

It all started after our honeymoon.  We were bemoaning the fact that, so soon after our wedding, she had to pack up and go on tour in Holland for two weeks.  I dutifully sent her on her way, and I was, as always, proud of her for her work, but sad to see her go.

A simple twist of fate later, and I found myself with some free time on my hands.  I got a decent deal on a plane ticket to Amsterdam and, lo and behold, found myself on tour with Vanessa for the second half of her tour.

The next thing you know, and we’ve found a pair of cheap tickets to Italy, and a free place to stay, and, uh… well… you guessed it, we’re in Italy for a couple of weeks.

We’ve been eating our way through Europe like a pair of starving Gypsy moths.  As usual, Tuscany does not disappoint.  From Bistecca alla Fiorentina to Ravioli con Ricotta e Tartufo, we’re dining like Scottish kings – amazing food, really cheap.

For updates and photos, just follow my Twitter feed.  I’ll update this post when more photos come online.

Hackintosh vs iPad

A lot of people come into the coffee shop with iPads and are intrigued by my Hackintosh…. As a portable, I’ll take my Hackintosh over an iPad for most everything I do, with some caveats.

First off, it cost about $500 as configured (includes the cost of a Snow Leopard install disc) – 2 GB RAM, 64GB SSD (soon to be 2x for 128 GB total), camera, Wifi, bluetooth.  That’s considerably cheaper than a comparable iPad (actually there is no comparable iPad, but if there were it would likely cost close to $1K).  It can run almost any Mac, Windows, or Linux app (I *love* the Ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition) – “almost” because it won’t run apps that exceed its screen size without connecting to an external monitor.  With 3 USB ports and an SD slot, it can connect to a KVM so I can use it as a desktop Mac – it’s about as powerful as a Mac mini.  And it runs Snow Leopard *very* well – I never have lockups, everything works – I even use it onstage for my software synths, which usually are the litmus test for stability.

The keyboard is cramped and requires a slight relearning curve but I am confident I can out-type compared to the on-screen iPad keyboard – if you have an iPad keyboard case, however, you’ll win.  The battery life is less but still impressive – ~5 hrs of heavy use, 6+ hrs of light use, 48+ hrs of sleep, depending on monitor brightness.  It’s about as thick and heavy as an iPad if you have an iPad keyboard case.  It’s also tough.  Mine has been dropped on concrete many times thanks to clumsy drummers and shows almost no signs of wear.

I have the Mini 9, while Vanessa has the 10v.  The 10v has a slightly larger screen and keyboard (the keyboard is a lot less cramped) and can accept a standard 2.5″ hard drive so you can up it to 500 GB or more, or use a big SSD (if you can afford it).  The 10v, by all accounts, is as good as a Mini 9 as a Hackintosh.

Of course there is a level of tweakery required to get the thing running, but it’s actually fairly easy to do, as there are really good guides and helper apps available now.  In short, you copy a file onto one small USB drive, you copy Snow Leopard install onto another, larger drive, and then boot up from the USBs.  Two or three clicks and you’re installed to 10.6.  A couple of tweaks and you’re ready for 10.6.7.  The only thing that doesn’t work at that point is the internal mic, which requires a hack to enable (USB headset mics work fine).  The hack took me about 15 minutes to complete.

Next step: install Snow Leopard on my desktop.

Jupiter Journey

Jupiter

Once upon a time a Jupiter Jumper came to Earth.  The Jumper asked me to come to Jupiter.

He said, “Would you like to come to Jupiter?” then said, “Of course you would.  It’s only a matter of two blocks, Mars Street and Jupiter Street.”

“And that’s only 6,000,000,000 miles,” he continued.  “You travel only on Halley’s Comet Bus, and Falling Star Airlines!”

I said, “Okay!” and the Jumper beeped with joy.

At the Comet bus station I said, “Two tickets to Mars.”

At Mars I said, “Two round tickets to Jupiter.”

At Jupiter I asked, “Where are we?”

No responce [sic]!  I looked back.  He wasn’t there!

Also Jupiter

I rented a Braniff Flying Saucer and set the dial on “Earth.” I went between Venus and Mars.  No Earth!  The Jupiter Jumper was about 100 miles away.  He destroyed Earth!

I shot a missile at him from the Flying Saucer.  It hit him and he fell into the Sun and got burned up.

The Earth came back together and the dead and injured people, animals, fish, and birds came back to life.

Next time I take a trip I’ll go to Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, or Venus.

Rip R.
3rd Grade

Lookout Mobile Security

Lookout is a nifty utility that performs a few useful functions on your Blackberry, Windows Mobile, or Android phone – virus detection, backup, and location.

I’m not that interested in virus detection: since I don’t install non-Market apps, it’s very unlikely that I would pick one up – and so far there have been no real virus outbreaks on Android anyway.  Likewise, backup isn’t all that useful to me, either, since pretty much everything on the phone that I care about is already backed up with Google.

But the location service is something that might come in very handy someday.  In less than a minute on the web site, Lookout had located my phone with frightening accuracy.

When it says “zero meters” it isn’t kidding, either.  Lookout located not only the correct room in my house, but also pinpointed the side of the room where my phone was sitting.

The other location feature that promises to be useful is the “Scream” function.  If you misplace your phone in the house, you can usually call it, and when it rings, find it.  However, if I’m alone, I’m screwed, because I don’t have another phone from which to call my cell phone.  And if the phone is muted then calling it won’t work. But Lookout’s “Scream” works even if the phone is muted, and it’s pretty loud, too (it maxes out your phones volume).  You will, however, want to keep your Lookout account private.  Otherwise, your roommate might be tempted to make your phone start screaming while you’re out on opening night of La Boheme.