Nintendo’s first-party games and franchises are where their value lies. The only reason left to buy a Nintendo system in the first place is if you want to play their first-party titles. The problem is that there aren’t enough titles to make it worth the premium you pay for access to those games. Never mind that no one is actually dragging their DS along with them anymore.
People really seem to like Siri. I still really hate talking to inanimate objects, though. I don’t even like talking on the phone when there’s someone else on the other side. I also don’t really see how it fits my use case, seeing as how Siri doesn’t interact with third-party apps at all, and the only first-party app I really use on a regular basis is Safari.
Market share numbers are crap. Not that that’s new, but here’s confirmation. Besides, as a developer, I keep going back to this point: the platform that matters isn’t the one with the most market share. It’s the one your app’s target demographic is buying.
How to Justify Buying Handheld Game Consoles in a World Where Smartphones Have Made Them Completely Worthless and Not Much More Than the Necessary Evil Price of Admission for That Platform’s Exclusive Titles
Divide the actual purchase price of a handheld console by the amount of currently available1 exclusive titles you are interested in. Take that amount and tack it onto the price of each of those games. Now, pretend that is the new price for each of those games and that the hardware is free.
Don’t buy the system until the highest price for a game is something you would be comfortable paying for that game.
I hope no one bought a PlayStation or a GameCube in hopes of eventually playing Too Human, because they’re probably disappointed right now. ↩
Typically when I write posts about my views on Android, either they become so long because there is so much to criticize about it, or a new version is announced and more or less obsoletes what I said. This time, I’ll try to keep it focused to one point and I’m intentionally doing this right after the Ice Cream Sandwich announcement. Hopefully, they won’t announce a brand new Ice Cream Sandwich tablet within the next couple hours.
This post’s focus is my frustration with Android’s lack of a coherent design language, and how Ice Cream Sandwich changes that, except not really. And yes, that was intentionally confusing.
Android Until Now
Android until now has lacked a coherent design language.
Before the HTC Hero shipped, there was effectively one UI in the wild for Android. It wasn’t very pretty, as users of phones on 1.5 and 1.6 may remember, and it lacked any kind of document with UI guidelines for developers to work with. But ultimately, things were consistent. Consistently ugly.
The HTC Hero was the first major phone to ship with a custom UI layer, in this case, the first iteration of HTC Sense. HTC also allowed itself to replace some of the core apps the phone ships with, which had custom controls. One of them I remember very well was similar to the iPhone’s UITabBar, but looked more like a slider.
As a design-obsessed developer, you want to try to make things beautiful but still behave like applications your users are familiar with. On iOS, that means making apps that leverage the same UI constructs Apple’s apps use, notably navigation controllers, tab bar controllers, and paged scroll views, because that’s what users are familiar with. On Android, you can’t really make apps that behave like the apps the phone ships with because different phones ship with different core apps.
I’ve been referring to this as UI fragmentation until now; various manufacturers sell phones with different design conventions used throughout their custom UI layers, and it’s hardly possible to make anything that is both familiar and beautiful. You can make something beautiful and inconsistent, or you can make something that is both lame and familiar by sticking to the lowest common denominator of all the UI layers.
From a purely design point of view, old Android is a nightmare.
Honeycomb & Ice Cream Sandwich
When Honeycomb launched, there was lots of buzz about Matias Duarte, a hella good-looking dude who also happened to be a designer on Palm’s gorgeous webOS operating system. I said at the time that if anyone could save Android from its lack of coherent design, he could. If you’ve heard him talk at all, whether it be his interview with Engadget, his session at I/O this year, or in Joshua Topolsky’s piece on This is my next, you know this guy is a genius who is really passionate about what he does.
Honeycomb was a rushed job to get a tablet out there to attempt to slow the iPad down. Despite its lack of success, there was actual thought that went into the user interface and there was an attempt at making things coherent. UI constructs such as the action bar and fragments were introduced. We just needed that to be transposed onto the phone in some way.
Ice Cream Sandwich isn’t a direct port of Honeycomb’s Holo design language to the smartphone. It’s a mishmash of Holo with various concepts Google has been experimenting with in their other Android apps, especially Market and Google+. While there are parts of the OS I really dislike, like that hideous home screen dock or the super-contrasty blue message separators in Gmail, it is so much better from any previous version of Android that you might as well forget they ever existed. For the first time, Android stopped looking like a half-assed OS with the minimum viable UI, and looks like something that has been designed by an actual designer who is trying to trigger an emotional response.
(Or at least trigger an emotional response that isn’t “get this phone away from me, this thing is repulsive.”)
Except, Not Really
Most positive statements I’ve said about Ice Cream Sandwich so far haven’t really been about Ice Cream Sandwich. They’ve been about Ice Cream Sandwich as it is on the Galaxy Nexus.
There is no reason to believe that manufacturers will stop shipping devices with differentiated UI. Honeycomb was pretty sweet, but that didn’t stop Samsung from pushing an update to Galaxy Tab 10.1 owners that would rob them of their delicious stock Honeycomb and force TouchWiz UX upon them1. It isn’t stopping HTC from rolling out Sense on Honeycomb tablets either. The UI fragmentation problem is still very real.
Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich have a real theming engine in place now, which lets manufacturers and carriers tinker with the UI in a non-destructive way. Google is guaranteeing that the Holo themes stock Android uses will come with all Ice Cream Sandwich devices and that any apps that wish to use that theme can use it.2
But then you run into the same issue: if everyone starts targeting the Holo theme in their apps to be consistent with third-party apps, users of HTC/Samsung/Motorola devices will notice two distinct looks sharing the same habitat.
The other issue in play here is that third-party apps aren’t suddenly going to become beautifully designed overnight. Apps will have to be updated to fit in with this new design language, and that brings up a bunch of questions:
Is it really worth devoting resources into redesigning an application for Ice Cream Sandwich when it’s only available on one phone and updates will take forever to be pushed out to existing Android handsets?
How inconsistent will ICS-targeting apps feel on versions of Android prior to ICS?
Have Android developers ever given a rat’s ass about their app’s design? What would incentivize them to start caring now? (This is a similar problem to what Windows 8 is facing, as Windows developers aren’t really known for award-winning UI design.)
Ultimately, if I have one worry about Android design-wise, it’s that Matias’ work is being wasted when manufacturers are just going to take it and piss all over it like they’ve done with every other version of Android.
What is the solution?
I believe that the best scenario for Android when it comes to design and user experience would be to either insist all manufacturers ship stock Android, or that Google takes control of hardware and makes Nexus phones the only Android phones. Almost everyone I know who is buying an Android phone because they want an Android phone is buying a Nexus phone, because they want a stock experience without needing to rely on hackers porting it over in their spare time, and no one seems to be selling that but Google and whatever company they partnered with that year.
Manufacturers being forced to ship stock Android seems unlikely; the appeal of Android that got it where it is now in the first place was that it was a decent platform for carriers and manufacturers to build off of and differentiate through bundled applications and UI. I’m not making this shit up, this was literally the pitch for Android back when there wasn’t a single handset on the market, and amusingly, that’s what everyone now hates about Android.
I personally think the Android experience would greatly benefit from Google taking over control of all hardware3, but if Google only cares about how many Android devices they’re activating, then they should continue encouraging manufacturers to pollute the market with mediocre phones loaded with buggy, mediocre UI layers and occasionally put out a good flagship phone that raises the bar for acceptability. I just hope they won’t be surprised when their all hard work all goes to waste.
Samsung argues that they aren’t forcing TouchWiz UX upon anyone; you can refuse to install the 3.2 software update and you’ll stick with stock Android… as long as you don’t mind staying on 3.1 forever. ↩
I am unsure if this theming engine will be visible to users so that they could opt-out of manufacturer/carrier customizations, but that would be superb. Then again, it could probably be disabled by the manufacturer or carrier unless Google required that to stay there in the Android compatibility guidelines. ↩
I don’t believe this would prohibit them from making Android open to modifications from hackers and enthusiasts, in fact, that would be pretty cool. But to me, it’s abundantly clear that Android’s “openness” is really about being open enough to be attractive to carriers and manufacturers, and the nerds who hack on it are just an afterthought. ↩
What to Do If Windows Phone Connector Shows Outdated iTunes Library Info
If you are in the intersection of the Venn diagram of both Windows Phone users and Mac users1, then you may have run into an issue recently where Windows Phone Connector simply stops staying up to date with changes in your iTunes library.
This is because Windows Phone Connector seems to prioritize the old iTunes Music Library.xml file to the new iTunes Library.xml. I don’t know when the filename change occurred; it seems to coincide with when I switched to Lion, so it’s either Lion or one of the iTunes betas’ fault. If you trash the old file, Windows Phone Connector will suddenly see anything you’ve added to your iTunes library since the filename change.
All two of you. It’s sad really, since I’m a die-hard Mac guy, and I adore Windows Phone. ↩
I once took a psychometric test that was supposed to help me determine what jobs I would be best suited for. I can’t recall which psychometric test it was exactly, nor do I really think that is relevant, so, sorry nerds. All I remember is that it said I was an artistic person.
Naturally, the test resulted in a list of jobs that only exist in fiction and aren’t common on the job market… stuff like flatware designer.
I didn’t really want to become a flatware designer. There was no doubt in my mind I was going to become a programmer, and none of the jobs on the list had the slightest thing to do with computers. And… I’m an artistic person? I nearly failed art in the fourth grade, and I wasn’t much better in music. Clearly, this test was wrong. I forgot about it and went on with my life.
It is said that your brain can see things in a completely different way depending on what the context is. If you’re a writer, for example, you can get significantly different output if you’re dictating something into a microphone instead of typing on a keyboard.
Maybe it was because I had spent six years using OS X every single day that I had stopped noticing its beauty, its attention to detail, and that not only hardware, but software could be a work of art. Seeing the iPhone for the first time really made me realize just how much work Apple employees put into their craft, and it made me think that maybe the psychometric test wasn’t that wrong after all.
There’s something about iOS that just makes you want to write awesome software. I aspire to write software that Steve Jobs would have liked. I’m nowhere near accomplishing that right now, but if it takes me my entire life to get there, so be it.
As an Apple fan, thank you for the numerous devices and operating systems I’ve loved over the years. As a developer, thank you for releasing software that borders perfection and makes us strive to write software that walks right up to that line too. We will never forget you, Steve.
I don’t think anyone really knows. There have been so many conflicting rumors since the beginning of the year. It’s hard to tell if all the rumors are true and there’ll be two new phones, or if there’s going to be one new phone announced tomorrow with a redesigned model further down the pipeline, or if Apple’s just deliberately leaking conflicting information to fuck with everyone.
Here is what I think might happen:
A new phone comes out with an A5 SoC and 1GB of RAM.
Carrier availability: The iPhone is coming to Sprint in the US and au in Japan. I also expect the iPhone to start launching on smaller, regional carriers like US Cellular and MetroPCS.
4G: Sprint and au will have WiMax 4G. GSM carriers will get HSPA+, which despite what carriers say, isn’t 4G. People on Verizon and regional carriers with LTE networks, sorry, you’ll need to wait another year.
SKUs: There’s one model with an HSPA+/EVDO/WiMax radio (similar to the Photon 4G). No more Verizon and AT&T-specific models in the US. Not only will this simplify manufacturing, but it’ll be less of a pain in the ass for people waiting in line on launch day only to hear they’re all out of Verizon models.
Camera: 8-megapixel camera that leapfrogs the Xperia arc and the Galaxy S II cameras.
Form factor: I’m not sure they could jam a good 8MP camera and an HSPA+/EVDO/WiMax radio into a smaller form factor, so I would think they’d stick with the current iPhone 4 form factor.
This is what I have been thinking for the past few weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came true.
But then, Boy Genius Report had to post this article this morning saying that they’ve been told the “real” redesigned iPhone 5 will be a Sprint exclusive, with a 4S launching on other carriers.
This sounds incredibly un-Apple to me. Apple made a big deal when the Verizon iPhone was announced in January that they no longer had any exclusivity deals for the iPhone around the world. I don’t think Apple would turn around and sign another one just for the hell of it. Why would they do it when it’s in their interest to be on every carrier imaginable?
Perhaps this is Apple trying to level the playing field in US cell carriers. Sprint is getting pounded from both sides by Verizon and AT&T, and it desperately needs something that will attract people to it. Unlimited data and Google Wallet don’t seem to be enough to keep people from switching elsewhere to get the iPhone. So what if there was a fancy new iPhone that was way cooler than just an incremental update to the iPhone 4, and you could get it with 4G and unlimited data on Sprint? How many people would switch carriers just for that? At least as many people who switched from Sprint to AT&T when the original iPhone came out at a $499 price point, that’s for sure.
With Sprint desperate to do absolutely anything to stay afloat, why wouldn’t Apple want to make Sprint the single best carrier for iPhone owners? It would be a demonstration of power to the big two carriers that Apple is the one holding the power in the US cell phone market now, and that if they want to keep iPhone users on their carriers, they have to shape up and give in to Apple’s demands.
I’m thinking of maybe getting a Kindle. The new Kindles are priced low enough to be a potentially interesting platform for something I’m working on. But people outside the US are pretty screwed. Here are the models we have to choose from:
Kindle (2011): This is the base model. You know, the one with the button. It has Wi-Fi.
Kindle Keyboard: The Kindle 3 you know and love. I’m assuming it’s only being sold until it’s out of stock.
Kindle Keyboard 3G: Kindle 3 with free lifetime 3G. This is the only 3G Kindle international buyers can choose from at the moment.
Kindle DX: Also known as that thing no one’s mentioned since the iPad came out.
Kindle Touch isn’t available internationally. Why? Beats me. Sucks, because the Kindle Touch 3G is looking mighty fine.
Kindle Fire is understandably not available internationally because most of the services Amazon is using on it (Prime, streaming video, Cloud Player) aren’t available outside of the US.