The Hills Are Greener: Is a Fresh Coat of Paint Really Innovating?

The Hills Are Greener: Is a Fresh Coat of Paint Really Innovating?

Jun 17, 2013

Last week at WWDC, Apple made their big reveal of iOS 7, the massive visual overhaul spearheaded by Jony Ive. Most notably, the OS has been flattened like a steamroller. There’s definitely still some three-dimensional elements and hints of skeuomorphism, but this is a fresh new coat of paint for the OS. But really, in comparison to Android, that’s largely all it is: a new coat of paint. The core product underneath is still the same, and still lacking in certain areas.

It’s easy to accuse Apple on a macro level of stealing ‘flat’ design from Android and Windows Phone 8, both of which used this kind of design first, and it’s right in a certain sense. Apple is playing follower here. But then again they weren’t the first with a touchscreen phone, either.

However, much like how Android and WP8 don’t really look alike, iOS still has its own individual look. It’s basically a more abstract version of iOS, with no more buttons. There’s lots of color gradients too. Looking at the OS, it still looks different. There are natural similarities, but many things that separate all three OSes still.

In fact, really, iOS 7 is so familiar because all that really appears to have changed is the look of it. It’s largely a fresh coat of paint, the structure is still largely the same. The most drastic change was gutting of Game Center into something way different. But the massive feature overhaul that iOS 7 could really use at this point just isn’t there.

iOS7 Game CenteriOS7 Home Center

Customization is still largely left to just wallpapers. All apps still clutter the homescreen, and default apps can’t be hidden away from view, like how Android allows for users to choose what they want on homescreens. Widgets are still not an option, though I personally am not the biggest proponent of them. Most of the changes are minor feature tweaks. It’s still largely the same OS that it was back in 2007. Sure, it’s a lot better now with the added features, and I still overall like my iPhone (reviewing a lot of iOS games will make you go down crazy paths like that) but it just still doesn’t feel like the ideal mobile OS experience.

Google has been far less conservative, having overhauled Android not just visually but also making major feature changes with Ice Cream Sandwich and later Jelly Bean. The spirit of the OS has remained the same, but stock Android proves that there doesn’t have to be a compromise between design and functionality. And I believe that more changes will be on the way with the next big Android update.

Microsoft can’t be accused of resting on their laurels with Windows Phone, either. These operating systems just feel more…modern. iOS looks more modern, but at the end of the day, it’s still a closed and cluttered OS. There are advantages to Apple’s approach, but their strength remains as much the developer community around iOS as much as the OS itself. A new coat of paint can’t really change that.

The Hills Are Greener: Wifi Devices? Why Not?

The Hills Are Greener: Wifi Devices? Why Not?

Apr 16, 2012

So I’ve been considering something bold recently – ditching my cell phone. For someone who spends a lot of time writing about cell phones and the apps on them, this sounds ludicrous, but hear me out. I mostly use data services. I already use Google Voice for text services along with iMessage on iOS to some people. For phone calls, $3/month for unlimited US/Canada Skype outgoing calls and $30/year for a Skype number (discount with that unlimited calling subscription!) sounds like a good replacement for phone service. I’m no stranger to carrying multiple devices around, so why not just carry a mobile hotspot and a wifi device around, and use that instead of a phone?

Well, two reasons. One is that the pocket wifi device is all but dead. The other is that phone networks are still the heart of calling.

So, what about pocket wifi devices, especially something like the iPod touch? Apple in particular doesn’t seem to care much for the iPod touch. It’s not that it isn’t part of their strategy – it’s designed to draw people to the iPhone by giving them App Store and iTunes access from a device without needing a data plan. While it’s great for kids without phones and/or data plans, and this may be their focus, they haven’t updated the hardware since 2010, when it was underpowered compared to the iPhone, having 256 MB of RAM compared to the iPhone 4’s 512 MB.

But for people who use it as a secondary device – such as Android owners who still want a connection to iOS – the rise of tablets may be preventing this growth from taking root. After all, if a device is going to be secondary, only carried around at particular times, why not have it be a device with a huge screen? Like an iPad? The iPad has sold 39.849 million units entering this past fiscal quarter, and that doesn’t include the 3 million iPad 3rd generation units sold when that device launched, along with any other sales in the first 3 months of 2011.

This may be why the Android iPod touch device never really took off. After all, why not have a 7 or 10″ screen instead of a pocket-size one? Samsung has tried selling pocket-sized media players with the Galaxy Player series, and Archos has released Android-powered media players, but neither has really taken off, especially considering that a 7″ tablet can be had for $199.

This may be part of why Google Play is struggling, though: there is no cheap way for a power user to get in to Google Play with a capable device yet, and the cheap ways in to Android are promoting other marketplaces. Maybe that’s the key to their success where Google is floundering. Maybe a rise of a well-promoted, capable iPod touch counterpart would help a lot. Maybe even market it with texting capabilities, really appeal to that youth crowd. Of course, considering that cell phones, which cost a lot of money out-of-contract, are selling for a lot more than what wifi-only devices are doing.

It may not make sense for the bottom line to sell these devices for Google or any of the hardware manufacturers. Apple might not make much profit off of the low-end iPod touch, but they make up for it in the fact that they expand out their ecosystem. Google doesn’t manufacture hardware themselves so they can’t do it, and they appear to be more interested in the tablet market. The hardware manufacturers are all in it for profiting off of the hardware alone – why sell devices just to break even (possibly even at a loss) just to expand out the ecosystem for someone else’s OS? It makes no sense for them.

The other reason may be that the pocket wifi device is just inconvenient as a phone replacement. First, these wifi devices are few and far between, and are still inferior hardware – the Galaxy Player devices are technically inferior to the Galaxy S2, for example. They practically require headsets to use because of their hardware design. Most importantly, emergency calling services still require an actual phone connection.

Tablets with cellular network access hypothetically can be used as phones, such as this Galaxy Tab with GSM voice capability – but this capability is disabled because the carriers are likely thinking why sell one device with network access when it’s possible to sell a phone and a tablet with data plans? It’s also just inconvenient, especially for men who may find it unacceptable, both socially and practically, to be carrying a bag around with a 7-10 inch device that is their lifeline to the digital world with them constantly. Bluetooth headsets might help.

Now, since voice calling is possible over LTE, and many hotspots use 3G as a fallback, it could be possible to use that LTE hotspot, or maybe even a device connected to an LTE hotspot (possibly over Bluetooth) for voice calls, at least on a theoretical level. Heck, maybe even just build in rudimentary voice or text services into the hotspots, acting as dumbphones with wifi routers built in.

The problem is that the carriers have no interest in this. They want to sell phones where they can profit off of extended service agreements by offering subsidies, along with selling voice and messaging plans. Because if they ever get it going over one pipe, then they may just have difficulty selling those separate plans. So they have no interest in evolution.

That’s what intrigues me about trying to break free of phone plans, though. I have no interest in subsidizing the continued hold that the carriers have on the US market as far as their regressive policies go. They sell a product that they actively dissuade their users from using. If I can find a way to essentially beat them, to say “I will pay for your data plans, but not for everything else you’re trying to screw me on” then I will. It just might not be all that convenient, which is the problem. No one’s making it easier.

The Hills Are Greener: The Tablet Conundrum

The Hills Are Greener: The Tablet Conundrum

Mar 7, 2011

This past week, Apple announced the iPad 2, which should come as a shock to no one, unless you live under a rock, which actually isn’t a bad idea as I assume the rent is cheap there, no? Of course, it features a modified design, the obvious addition of a front-facing camera, as Apple absolutely loves FaceTime. There’s a rear-facing camera, in what is probably the one concession to competing Android tablets, even if you can only take 720p pictures with it, like the iPod touch 4th Generation. Inside you will find the new dual-core A5 chip to ensure those 3D games will look even better than ever and the battery life is thankfully still a relative eternity. The problem with the iPad 2 of course, is that it’s still an iOS device. Which makes it a lousy computer..