Okay, Google. Now we’re talking. With all the UI enhancements promised yesterday, and thoughtful features like those in this video, things might finally start heating up in the mobile UX war.
Michael DeGusta has done some hard work compiling statistics that describe how carriers/manufacturers support their handsets. Click that link to see a fantastic chart that plots the release of a handset and subsequent software updates for that handset. You’ll see that the original iPhone was supported for 2.5 years (greater than the 2-year contract most are sold with). You can currently update the two-generations-ago iPhone 3GS to the newest iOS version (5).
On the other side of the fence, though, it’s a different story. To quote DeGusta:
7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.
10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
As noted in the article I linked earlier today, Apple’s strategy is to wow you with a great experience, and if they succeed, trust that you will buy more of their products. Most other manufacturers (of anything, really, not just smartphones or computers), however, are focused on milking you as quickly as they can.
Friends with Android phones, I love you. I do. I don’t judge. I am annoying about buying Apple products because I really believe in them. Stuff like this is exactly why.
Via Daring Fireball.
So several people on the ‘net are wondering why there was no tablet to accompany the Chromebook announcement today. I think there are a few obvious reasons:
- There’s that whole Android platform that’s supposed to already be an answer to the tablet problem. Why would one vendor want to offer two OSs for tablets in an already competitive market?
- There’s the rumored beef between the Chrome OS team and the Android team. I think that move would bring the bickering to blows.
- They’re trying really hard to position ChromeOS as a workhorse OS. A productivity OS. A do-your-job-with-this-all-day OS. The iPad is having unreasonable trouble establishing its reputation as a productivity tool, and Android tablets are havinga bit of trouble proving any value at all. I don’t think the Chrome OS team wants to be associated with tablets, just yet.
This could be pretty disruptive.
Remember the CR-48, Google’s netbook-ad-Chrome OS? It’s all grown up, and it’s now the Google Chromebook, a platform for almost-instant-on Chrome OS PCs (mini-laptop and desktop form-factors) with in-store hardware from Acer and Samsung on its way in June, starting at $399.
If that were the announcement, I wouldn’t be writing this post. It got a little more interesting when they pointed out that all of your info lives in the cloud (currently courtesy of box.net, with Dropbox support forthcoming). So you pick up any Chromebook - one you’ve never even touched before, login and there’s all your stuff. That’s pretty awesome. The OS updates itself, with no user-interaction required. Let’s call that a mostly good feature with a bit of Orwellian fear shading it slightly creepy.
It got really interesting when they announced Chromebook for business. All of the above plus remote management via a web console, support, warranty and replacements, and hardware auto-updates. For $28 a month. $20 for educational institutions. That’s a pretty darned compelling competitor to similar packages I’ve seen with Windows hardware. It’s certainly cheaper than any I’ve seen. It’s stands to be seen how many people can really make their living working on in a Chrome OS environment all day, but I do think that’s more people than you’d expect these days. How much of your workflow is web-based?
Really, Google? Really?
So, if you didn’t already hear, Google is dropping support for H.264 in its Chrome browser. If you know what H.264 is, skip to the next paragraph. H.264 is a way to digitize video that works really well on the web and on mobile devices. It’s pretty much the de facto standard at the moment, as it’s supported on almost anything with a processor these days, including traditional computers, smartphones, tablets, and almost any kind of box you hook up to almost any kind of screen (AppleTV/Roku/etc.). It’s what most video services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video on Demand, etc. use. It’s also what HTML5 was beginning to standardize on.
What do they propose we use instead? Their own WebM format or Ogg Theora (don’t worry if you don’t know what those are. No one really does. They’re pretty irrelevant). These formats, they say, “are developed and licensed based on open web principles.”
Tim Sneath, of Microsoft, was so inspired by this that he proposed MS abandon the English language (via Electronista) in favor of Esperanto or Klingon - languages more suited to “open innovations.” A modest proposal, if you ask me. (1)
John Gruber has a series of questions, all good ones:
- In addition to supporting H.264, Chrome currently bundles an embedded version of Adobe’s closed source and proprietary Flash Player plugin. If H.264 support is being removed to “enable open innovation”, will Flash Player support be dropped as well? If not, why?
- Android currently supports H.264. Will this support be removed from Android? If not, why not?
- YouTube uses H.264 to encode video. Presumably, YouTube will be re-encoding its entire library using WebM. When this happens, will YouTube’s support for H.264 be dropped, to “enable open innovation”? If not, why not?
- Do you expect companies like Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo, Major League Baseball, and anyone else who currently streams H.264 to dual-encode all of their video using WebM? If not, how will Chrome users watch this content other than by resorting to Flash Player’s support for H.264 playback?
- Who is happy about this?
The Macalope answered that last one, simply, “Adobe.”
I can’t imagine this will work. Chrome is a pretty popular browser - I use it exclusively at the moment, but I don’t think it’s nearly popular enough to drive the industry away from H.264. If Google plans to drop support in Android as well, though, then they’d be getting somewhere.
But maybe they don’t want it to work, at least not as a promotion of WebM and/or Theora, but do want it to work as a monkey-wrench thrown into the H.264 works. Driving the industry away from H.264 means driving them back toward Flash as the only video delivery platform that would work on more than a couple platforms, which means driving them back to Flash-enabled Android devices and away from their H.264-only iOS devices. So Adobe and Google defend their competitive edge, at the cost of openness, industry standards, development costs, user experience, and who knows what else.
How’s that for “open web principles?”
On the one hand Google is a scrappy imagineer. They encourage skunkworks projects - even allotting paid time for their development. Crazy little personal ideas have become big selling points for Google, such as Google Maps.
On the other hand Google is an enterprise software company. They need to feel safe and secure to their clients. Stable.
These two sides don’t mesh well. GMail didn’t take the “Beta” tag off their banner logo until AFTER they realized enterprise companies were scared away by that. Why? Because what just happened with Google Wave could have happened with GMail.
A company I worked for considered replacing their BaseCamp install with a Google Wave setup. Where would they be today? I don’t know the specifics; perhaps Google has a graceful EOL policy. But even if that’s the case, it means your processes, training and budgets have to be re-worked.
I’m not necessarily complaining, here. I love the former side of Google. I’m tooling around Google Labs pretty frequently. Their attempt to dip their toe in the latter side, though, has me worried. They’re either going to have to very seriously formalize how features/applications/services move from the latter to the former and “stick,” or they’re going to have to pull the plug on one side.
I, for one, value the scrappy scientists more than the stuffy suits.