Apr 262012

Google researcher Sebastian Thrun, Founder and head of Google X, was a guest on Charlie Rose last night talking about his online University project Udacity, driverless cars and, of course, Project Glass.

Locutus looks quite comfortable in front of the camera

You probably know that Glass is Google’s attempt at immersive reality, featuring a super-discreet pair of boss glasses that allow you to use interact with the world via HUD and let you share your mundane life with your friends in real time. Information that Google will no doubt share with its customers (advertisers) in order to shave off another sliver of your identity for their monetary gain. Glass didn’t get much air time, but Thrun did snap a picture of Rose during the interview and posted it to his Google+ page:

Looks a lot like the pictures I see on Instagram lately...

All kidding aside, it’s kind of cool that Google is blowing all this ad cash on these fanciful visions of the future. As scattershot as their projects appear to me, who am I to accuse the company of Microsofting their capital into the void?

I do think Glass will be “personal” in a way that Android is not. Using an Android device, there’s a lot of things going on behind the scene that are invisible to the people carrying them. When people put on a pair of glasses, I think the idea of potentially having everything they do documented in some way is going to put the creepiness factor front and center. I don’t know if the world is ready for that level of immersion.

Apr 122012

Google just announced its first quarter’s earnings and things look pretty rosy – from a certain perspective. If you look at their Q1 from 2011, the 24% growth is impressive. If you look at their performance compared to the prior quarter, it’s a very pedestrian 1%. Details of the announcement from TechCrunch here.

Apple announces their Q2 earnings April 24.

Apr 052012

When the Android Open Accessory Development Kit and Arduino chipset were announced at Google I/O last year, I remarked on Google’s continuing invasion of user privacy that was pioneered by their search engine. The trend is obvious: Google wants to extract your personal information at a cellular level in order to best serve the people who pay them.

The latest syringe to come out of Mountain View comes in the form of a Microsoftian concept video for Project Glass.

I’d call it vaporware, but that would imply that Google is attempting to stifle future innovation in the same space, but Google’s product exists in a space that no company that isn’t funded by billions in play money would attempt to enter.

In addition to the contents of your email, your contacts, your calendar, your chat logs, your social network and your internet searches, Google is making a play to monetize every waking moment of your life. It’ll be just like giving Eric Schmidt an all-day piggyback ride. Let me try to temper my enthusiasm.
Jan 132012

I confess I haven’t been following the whole Google, Search Plus Your World debacle, aside of muttering to myself “catchy name”. What I’ve picked up from my RSS feed is that Google has gone and flipped another one of those damn switches, and this one folds information from Google+ into your search results. This ostensibly ranks some results that favor Google and its services over results that, say, would give you the most relevant information.

Even though I’ve been turning a deaf ear to the latest exploit of Google’s search monopoly, according to Bloomberg, the FTC hasn’t. They plan on broadening their current antitrust investigation, which Google made public in June, to include Google S,PYW. Who says there’s no efficiency in government? Put your hand down.

I really hope all that talk about Eric Schmidt going into politics was just that. This guys appears at 2 Senate Subcommittee meetings chanting “Google doesn’t play favorites with search” over and over and now Google+ makes it 100 times more obvious than any of the algorithmic games that were being played before. At least then you needed smart people to root out their bullshit. This rises to a level of bluntness that even elected officials will be able to act on. Do Larry and Sergey secretly hate Schmidt? Maybe this is their idea of a practical joke?

You can bet that this piling on is going to yield some kind of blowback for Mountain View (in addition to the supernova of Schmidt’s political future), and it won’t be the kind of trouble that Larry will be able to buy his way out of.

Oct 192011

I’ll open with something you may not have known: Android has an interface designer. His name is Matias Duarte. Not only does he exist, he thinks a lot of the work he’s done on Android’s 4.0 iteration, Ice Cream Sandwich. So much so that he used some of his words in an interview with This is My Next/The Verge to take a couple of shots at elements of Apple’s UI design. From electronista:

Right now if you look at all of these applications that are designed in this real-objecty, faux wood paneling, faux brushed metal, faux jelly button kind of thing,” Duarte said. “If you step back and you really look at them, they look kind of juvenile. They’re not photorealistic, they’re illustrations. If you look back at the web, people did the same thing. All these cartoony things hanging off a page. If you tried that today, people would be laughing, unless you were doing it in a kitsch, poking-fun-at-yourself, retro art way.”

You mean like this?

I can’t say I’m sold on iOS’s Find My Friends “ride ’em cowboy” theme, but for Duarte to call out Apple’s UI against Android’s bacon strip of a mobile OS shows just how far Mountain View is from the grown-up’s table.  As the Android team has shown us time and again, class isn’t their strong suit.

Oct 112011

Personally, I don’t have any use for WikiLeaks. I think the megalomaniacal personality of their founder is far too imprinted on its membership, creating an organization that has neither the capacity nor the desire for discretion. Being supremely open isn’t a justification for posting information that endangers other people. But that’s me.

I have even less use for organizations that trade off the backs of peoples’ privacy, only to grab their ankles when the government asks them to. That’s what Google is likely doing to Jacob Appelbaum, who according to NBC Bay Area, is the target of the Fed’s investigation of the WikiLeaks volunteer. The government wants Google and the ISP Applebaum used, Sonic.net, to turn over all of his email accounts. So how does the largest provider of email react when questioned about the responsibility of maintaining its users’ privacy?

Google declined comment when asked but Sonic.net said it tried to fight the order but could not afford to keep up the legal battle.

No comment. You have got to be fucking kidding me. Your users want to know if you’re a service – a service that’s integral to your billions of dollars in advertising revenue every quarter – that’s going to stand up for them or one that’s going to knuckle under when the Man comes knocking.

Google: are you turning over the emails or are you defending the rights your users have to their privacy? Easy fucking question, guys. I mean, easy if you’re not turning them over, I guess.

Sep 212011

In what was purported to be Google’s stern talking-to, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights (breath) opened up its three ring extravaganza today, an affair that was like watching a polite yet drunken developmentally challenged quadruple amputee catch an equally polite greased pig. For 3 hours. Knowing myself well enough to know that 3 hours of this jackassery would result in my hanging myself shortly thereafter, I only dipped my toe in the stream periodically.

Monopolists everywhere tremble in the face of doddering justice

The curtain opened to none other than Eric Schmidt (apparently the people actually running Google were too busy explaining to another legal entity how they didn’t steal from Oracle to make Android). He quickly put into words what everyone in the room was thinking:

That’s actually a pretty accurate paraphrasing of his argument. Schmidt’s load of horseshit shouldn’t have surprised anyone: it was pre-ordained that anything falling out of his caketrap would be garbage. But it was still entertaining to hear the actual words he’d select. We also got to hear the CEOs of Yelp and Nextag call Google out for unabashedly abusing their business models. And lest you be forced to take my word regarding the utter inanity of the proceedings, see if you can stomach this exchange between Google’s antitrust counsel Susan Creighton and Sen. Al Franken. I apologize in advance for the out-of-window playback – and obviously for the infuriating content:

Creighton v. Franken: Fight!

Five minutes of that mummer’s farce – as Ned Stark would say – leaves me astonished that this country’s government allows anything productive to happen. Creighton’s total obfuscation; Franken’s embarrassing misuse of jargon. This is your government at work. The Schoolhouse Rock version of these proceedings would resemble barnyard pr0n.

Aug 302011

I don’t think Apple will release an HDTV, but I’m in the minority. My reasoning, as reductive as I can present it: regarding media, 90% of Apple’s value to consumers is content. This content can currently be accessed through the AppleTV set-top box.

Steve Jobs used the term “bag of hurt” to describe the BluRay format; I think he might use similar language to describe the HDTV television landscape, but to hear “making an Apple-branded TV” spout with certainty from the ballwashers of some analysts, you’d think Apple could just shove the existing AppleTV into a high-end HDTV. But that won’t work, and I’m going to swallow a little vomit to explain why.

The GoogleTV Didn’t Suck

I know, I know: I busted this thing’s balls when it appeared on the market, and in the end it panned out just like I – and a number of other people – knew it would: on a greased rail being shot off the TigerDirect clearance rack. But those who ignore their history are doomed repeat it, so let’s see what it did right, where it went wrong and think about what  the GoogleTV’s failure could mean for an Apple HDTV.

The list of things GoogleTV does that AppleTV doesn’t isn’t long, but there are a couple of ambitious features that, on their face, make it a better TV-integrated device.

An Integrated UI

When you’re watching TV, you can use the GoogleTV remote (the 2-hands Sony version or the “LOL” 2 hands + lap Logitech version) to not only control the TV, but access the GoogleTV options. These options are overlaid in such a way that you can still see what’s playing on current channel. The “type to search” interface allows you to looks for any media content – whether it’s on TV now or available for sale, rental or on the Internet.

Not TOTALLY shitty

Some of GoogleTV’s functions allows you to use picture-in-picture – say to Tweet while you’re watching House. If you’re a DISH Network subscriber, you also get access to your DVR functions. All these functions co-exist with your HDTV without the user having to change inputs (related note: how is it possible for the high-speed HDMI standard to be so fucking slow to change inputs). This “always on” capability is one major way GoogleTV distinguishes itself from Apple’s offering.

The Internet

In my opinion, this feature isn’t as much about capability as it is about scale. The AppleTV does offer access to non-cable content such as Netflix, MLB/NBA TV, YouTube and Vimeo, for example. GoogleTV offers access to any content that isn’t tied down (which ended up being part of its demise, but more on that later). In addition to Apple’s non-iTunes content, GoogleTV offers access to Amazon, Napster, Pandora, not to mention network offerings from HBO, TNT, CNN and Cartoon Network, to name a few. The Chrome browser also comes baked-in to the GoogleTV, so you can surf the web right from your television.

So What the Fuck Happened?

So you have a device that plays nice with your cable box, providing you with access to its content along with a buttload of Internet video and music content and the Internet itself. Why did the GoogleTV faceplant?


The first and biggest obstacle. When introduced, the set-top version of GoogleTV, the Logitech Revue, retailed for $299. Sony’s bundled TVs, which are already at the high-end of the market price-wise, added a premium to the HDTV’s and Blu-Ray players that baked-in GoogleTV’s functionality. $299 is a fair price for a Blu-Ray player/DVR/cable box, but not for something that lays over all of these devices and provides nothing but redundant functionality, a web browser and some connected content.

Access to Content

Definitely the biggest misstep Google made when crowing about the value of the GoogleTV prior to its release. Imagine this: access to all those network and cable stations you could only get on your laptop’s browser before! Imagine ABC, Hulu and Comedy Central on your HDTV: the way it was meant to be viewed! Now imagine the networks and cable companies slamming its doors on the dicks of people (yes, they were all men) thinking they were going to bask in free episodes HDTV – one by one. Far be it from Google to actually secure any of the relationships that would have been required to keep that from happening. Those episodes of Lost that cost millions apiece to produce want to be free!

Google promised me free Hulu, but all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Apple Didn’t Make It   

It pains me to say that the GoogleTV UI/UX didn’t totally suck, but it did suffer from the characteristic lack of polish that comes from having engineers outnumber designers on your campus 400 to 1. It’s basically Android on a TV. Inconsistencies, glitches and some flat-out labyrinthian UI quirks doomed a product that was already crippled on several other fronts.


How Does This Apply to an Apple HDTV?

To ask the question (as I have) another way: what’s the difference between Apple building the AppleTV UI into a high-end HDTV and stamping their logo on it and Apple continuing to produce the  AppleTV the way it does now as a standalone device? To my mind, the only things that could justify such a move would involve at least one of the following:

Integration of the UI

An Apple HDTV could work just like Sony’s GoogleTV. For that to happen would require Apple to mesh its UI with your cable provider’s, on the same plane as Apple’s own iTunes content to make it a “input one device” – the device you turn on to watch TV. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

A Feature That GoogleTV Didn’t Have

DVR integration, broader access to cable channel and network Internet content or a blow-your-mind UI that ties it all together. Again, not out of the realm of possibility.

A Reasonable Price

This is a little bit fungible, especially if Apple hits it out of the park on the first two items. There aren’t too many things hardware-wise that you can do to really differentiate yourself in the HDTV market, and this is a mature, saturated, commodity-good market as it is. Remember: in relative terms, the AppleTV at $299 was a flop; at $99 it was a success.

If Apple can break new ground with the “iTV”, I could imagine a universe where it makes its own HDTV. But when I break it down to the fundamental question: “What can Apple do with an HDTV that it can’t do with the AppleTV?”, I do not see it happening. Sorry, Gene.

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