Google, Apple and the Internet OS

The other day I was reading a great post by Tim O’Reilly entitled The State of the Internet Operating System. It’s a long article if you are used to the average blog post (not very different from what this one will be!), but it’s worth reading all of it.

Now, if you are done reading it, I wonder if you agree with him or not. When I started reading and probably up to one third, I was not understanding where he was going to end up, but then I had a A-HA moment and all of sudden I realised what he means and I completely agree. It is something that has been in my mind for a while, but I was never able to put it down in words as well as Tim O’Reilly did. One of the reasons recently I’ve been paying particular attention to where I sign in, which cookies are in browser and where I go is that I can see where Google are going and how they are expanding their APIs and how developers are using them more and more. Google are amazing at how they are identifying growing trends, developing new technologies or acquiring companies and integrating their existing products. Add to this their release speed and you have an amazing juggernaut heading to the conquest of the Internet Operating System. They are obviously dominating the Web and you don’t need me to tell you that they are doing very well with APIs. Come in mobile devices and more in general mobile computing. Google have not left any base uncovered and they have the already successful Android and the upcoming Chrome OS. Then at the latest Google I/O the Google TV is announced in partnership with Sony, a company that has always tried to develop its own technologies and keep them as closed as possible. If they have given up to Google it means Google is giving them something that is worth a lot.
Continue reading “Google, Apple and the Internet OS”

New Gmail mobile built on HTML5

I was very pleased to read an article from Alex@Google that describes how they have decided to develop the new gmail mobile web interface.

There are at least two reasons why I liked this article, one is that, as Alex mentions, the team originally developed a J2ME application (that I used quite a bit on my old Sony Ericsson W810i) and then decided they needed a web application to serve slightly different needs (and probably slightly different users). The second reason is that it seems like if you don’t create an application for the App Store you are going to fail, while Alex explains quite a few reasons why developing a web site was better than a native application.

Bottom line is, of course, that users get multiple options and an opportunity to choose what suits them best.

I think the article is well worth 10 minutes of your life, if you still haven’t read it, hurry up to check HTML5 and WebKit pave the way for mobile web applications.

Everyone wants an App Store these days

Apple has changed the world with the iPhone. Developers (and users sometimes) complained there were no open APIs to build native applications. Apple noted the request and changed the world again with the App Store.

Everyone in the mobile space seems to be running now to create his own store. Google has launched its store called Market (also see a short review with some nice screenshots) and while at this time it’s all free, it is going commercial next year.

RIM has its own BlackBerry Application StoreFront.

T-Mobile, who is already benefiting from Google’s Market, is going to create its own based on Apple’s experience.

Now Orange comes with Orange Downloads.

There are probably more that haven’t announced it, or simply I haven’t heard of.

BUT, did any of these guys ever think that the great thing about Apple’s App Store is that it is one place and there’s no fragmentation? How are these guys going to cope with this? Replicating and renaming won’t solve those issues. They will all be just like the existing “Decks” or portals, simply on a pre-installed application. That will not make them win. vs netnewswire for iPhone

I have been a happy NetNewsWire user for years now. As I posted in the past, I understand a lot of users have moved to Google Reader, but I still like my NetNewsWire client for the Mac and especially the ability to read articles offline.

NetNewsWire was acquired and integrated with Newsgator a few years ago and now it’s all free (this is free publicity for the newsgator guys!). This means that I can read my news on both web and client interfaces and get everything synchronized. I’ve started using the mobile version more or less a year ago and while I still don’t understand why they don’t use their .mobi extension, I think they have made a good effort. They started with an iPhone version only and quickly had to make it at least XHTML Basic so that other mobile users could access it (the full web version, for example, is too AJAXy even for clients like Opera Mini).

I have recently upgraded my iPhone to version 2.0 and immediately installed the free NetNewsWire for iPhone client (this is more free publicity for you guys). The interface is very similar to the Mac version, adapted to the small screen, of course. Every time you load the main page it tries to update the feeds. Only feeds with unread items are displayed. This is very reasonable as on the mobile device you’d rather want to quickly go to new items (while on the Mac client you can also see feeds with old items and read them again). Nothing particularly fancy happens, you select the feed, get a full list of news items, read them. You can make the entire feed as read.
This is, all in all, everything you would expect from a mobile feed-reader.

I have to say that I’m surprised that some of the good features of the mobile web version haven’t been translated into the iPhone-client. The mobile web client has a minimalistic approach, in fact news items in a feed are split into pages of 10 or so items. The iPhone client lists all the items in one big page. Scrolling to the oldest news is of course much quicker than on the mobile web version, but at the same time, if you have a very active feed and haven’t kept up for a few days you’ll find yourself with 100+ items in one long page. In the mobile web version you may mark all the items in one page as read, but on the iPhone client you may only mark all the feed as read. Imagine I have a feed with 100 items; I start from the oldest (that’s what I normally do) I go up; as I read articles they are marked as read, but of course I will not read them all. If I have to close the application, when I come back I will only see the unread items of that same news feed, but since I could not mark “as read” items that I did not want to specifically read, I will still find them there. This means that I have to go back to the bottom and go through the same articles again. I will be quicker, of course, but if I could mark groups of items as I can do in the mobile web version, that would be much easier.

Another feature that is present in the mobile web version and not in the iPhone-client is the ability to mark a single item as “read” without opening it. Again, in the iPhone client you either really open it, or you’ll have to mark the entire feed as read.

For some reason in the iPhone client is possible to mark items as “clippings”, but you are not able to see the “Clippings” folder. Clippings are the same as “starring” an item on Google Reader, news items that you want to store for some reason, they will appear in a special folder and not go away even if they have disappeared from the feed.

While it’s obvious that the mobile web version is synchronized in real time as you are in fact connected directly with the newsgator site, it’s unclear how synchronization happens on the iPhone client. You may at any time force the feed update, but you have no way to force synchronization and there is no preference pane. Using the Mac client almost at the same time gave me the feeling like the two were a bit out of sync. On the iPhone I am often offline (I only use Wifi) thus the ability to force-sync would be much appreciated and I think it’s something that is particularly useful for a mobile client in general. You never know if and how the user is really online and actually the advantage (maybe the ONLY one) of the NewNewsWire client is that you can read news offline.

The browser and some, but not all applications in the iPhone let you use it either in landscape or portrait mode. I got used to it and I like it. Why can’t I read my news in landscape mode? This is definitely a needed feature for the NetNewsWire client.

Overall I think that feed-readers show how thin is the list of advantages of using an online/web-based feed reader as opposed to a specific client. Offline reading is probably the only consistent advantage, so I think NetNewsWire should spend time on this.

Newsgator mobile (with the iPhone browser) and NetNewsWire for the iPhone, have almost the same interface and responsiveness. Hopefully they will improve the client a bit because I LOVE reading the news offline. Overall rating is positive, but of course you need to be a newsgator user. I look forward to see improvements to the client, because it’s definitely worth!

Final note: I have no way to really measure this, but it seems like running the client eats up a lot of battery. I have no grounds to base this except for a “feeling”.

“Over the Air” event in London

Make sure you note these dates on your calendar. On April 4-5 there will be a very exciting event in London called “Over the Air“. We are all mobile mammals (read fans and addicts) and this event is really the place to be: the topics will be anything that has to do with services provided over the air. It will not be limited to browsing, one of the most common topics of dotMobi, there will also be Android, iPhone web apps and native apps, J2ME and more.

If you are in London it’s a must, if you are not, it’s probably worth to start looking for a flight and a hotel.

I will be talking about DeviceAtlas, of course.

See you there.

iPhysics for the iPhone

Christmas holidays were long enough to spend some reasonable time with the family, short traveling (Tuscany is always beautiful) and even resting and playing with the iPhone.

I tried quite a few iPhone “native” applications, many seem to me to be mostly useless, but some are quite nice. iSMS is the extension to the Apple SMS client that we all wanted (the UI is OK and takes advantage of the UIKit, of course you don’t get the iChat-like layout). iPhysics is a great game, inspired by Crayon Physics, it takes advantage of the touch screen perfectly, it uses the accelerometer when needed and is also a fun game. Reminds me a lot of The Incredible Machine, but with a spin. If you have an iPhone, I strongly suggest it, there are already plenty of custom levels.

iPhone SDK updates

According to this article on Electronista Apple has started delivering iPhone SDK’s to some selected partners.
It seems like the SDK is not a full SDK, but a way to produce applications in a contained programming environment. Sounds like Apple did not get it and the fact that lots of developers wanted to hack and build their own fully native apps was not enough of a signal.

Also, can you imagine how many developers you could bring to the Mac once they have developed something for the trendy iPhone?

It’s a missed opportunity to me. The whole “signed application” process is a bit of a pain (Symbian developers can probably tell you something about this), but reasonable (especially if you want to create a “walled garden 2.0” in iTunes), but not allowing developers to create at all is a misake.