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- Google's Flirtation With Being A Hardware Company Is Over (Fri, 17 May 2013 14:03:00 -0700)
A year ago, I left Google's annual I/O developers conference convinced it was making a major strategic shift into being a hardware company. As this year's I/O wraps up, I'm left questioning that conclusion. The message Google is putting forward in 2013 is very different: It's all about what developers can do with the software tools it provides, whether that means broad digital platforms like the Chrome Web browser and the Android mobile operating system, or fungible, ubiquitous services like Google+, YouTube and Google Maps. A Retreat From Hardware In 2012, the keynote offered a drumbeat of new hardware: The Nexus 7 tablet! Skydiving Google Glass stuntmen! The confounding, mysterious, ill-fated Nexus Q media device! (See also: What Google Didn't Announce At I/O) The overall effect was to show how Google was pushing the boundaries of industrial design and taking control of the complete user experience, from hardware and software to the services that run on top of them. Call it a strategic retreat, but we heard almost nothing about hardware this year. The closest Google got was unveiling an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S4 running Google's preferred version of Android, which it plans to sell directly to consumers online. Contrast that to Google's past unveilings of Nexus devices, manufactured by partners but branded with the Google logo. Even Glass, the face-mounted, Internet-connected headset now hitting the market, got sidelined in the keynote. While present at I/O, it wasn't the emphasis. Learning A Hard Lesson Perhaps the disastrous Q?never formally cancelled, merely "postponed"?was the comeuppance Google needed, the failure that brought Larry Page and company to their senses. There's also the ongoing agonies of Motorola Mobility, the handset manufacturer Google bought last year but continues to hold at arm's length. That, more than anything, may have taught Google just how hard it is to crack the hardware business. (See also: The Epic Battle Between Apple And Google Is All But Over) At recent Google I/O events, the company has handed out hardware to attendees (or units on loan for review to reporters). This year's giveaway, a Chromebook Pixel, was a little sad: It was hardly new, having been announced in February rather than at this year's show. While the Pixel arguably showed off Google's ChromeOS, a stripped-down operating system focused on apps that run on the built-in Web browser, it's ultimately just a nicely built laptop?a very familiar category of gadget, hardly the kind of game-changing innovation Google CEO Larry Page talked up at this year's keynote. I suspect that Google will retreat further from hardware?perhaps spinning off or selling Motorola, after stripping it of the most essential code and patents it needs for Android. (See also: Now Google Wants To Kill The Mobile Web (Good Riddance)) Google won't hesitate to build tools that serve its business, like the custom-designed servers and switches that run its giant empire of data centers, or the Trekker backpack cameras it uses to capture the offroad world for Google Maps. And we'll likely see hardware from the Google[x] skunk works, like self-driving cars and Google Glass, where there's nothing off-the-shelf for Google to put its cutting-edge software into. But smartphones? Tablets? Living-room gadgets? Those are no longer the future of Google. Silicon, Page pointed out, is cheap. It's software where Google will continue to seek its riches.
- App Not Working? It Might Be Time To Check The 'Weather' (Fri, 17 May 2013 13:04:39 -0700)
If you've ever used the Internet ? and you know who you are ? you've undoubtedly had apps or various services stop working unexpectedly. For ordinary users, this usually just means no access to Twitter or Gmail for a while. But for developers, whose apps and services rely increasingly heavily on hooks into popular Web services, the problem can be far more complicated. That's because modern Web services (and the apps that facilitate them) can fail for a variety of reasons. One of the most common problems arises when some other service has gone down ? more specifically, when the application programming interface (API) that lets your app tap into that other service stops working. Trouble is, until recently there hasn't been an easy way to confirm or rule out API failures. You Don't Need A Weatherman... And that's where API status dashboards, the weather reports of the Web-service world, come in. Dashboards enable developers and administrators to quickly check to see what's going on with the API itself. If the API is slowed or offline, then at least you, the developer, know the problem isn't in your own code. So you can start working with (translate: yelling at) the API vendor to fix the situation. Zapier, a startup that helps developers integrate APIs into applications, was already using just such a dashboard for its internal purposes. It's now opened up that API weather report for the world at large. Zapier's tool is unique in that it covers a lot of APIs for smaller but still useful services out there, not just their mega-service cousins. It should be a stopping point for anyone who is using one of these smaller APIs. ...To Tell You Whether APIs Are Up Or Down It might seem a little obsessive to be so concerned about an API's status that we build "weather reports," but it makes good business sense. Like the air around us, APIs are a type of environment, too. They have to work and be available at any given moment in order to enable connectivity to a given web application and service. When they fail, data exchange can slow down or completely halt. Of course, API failures aren't the only things that can bring down a Web service. The service itself could have bad code, or one of the servers might be on the way to failure. Tracking down the exact failure, though, can take a lot of time, especially if hardware failure is ruled out. That leaves the code itself, precipitating a search that could take hours. So it's definitely helpful to know right away whether you've got an API problem... or something else. "When a call to an API breaks," says Zapier CEO and co-founder Wade Foster, "you don't always know where the problem is." But Weather Reports Help Zapier isn't the only status board around. Watchmouse has an API Status board that monitors the larger API services, such as Google, Twitter, Dropbox and the like. Its technology was so attractive that CA bought the company in 2011 and incorporated the monitoring service into its Nimsoft Cloud Monitoring tools. Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear that the public Nimsoft page is up to date. The page is currently reporting disruptions for Digg, Dropbox and some Google services. The latter seems inaccurate, since Google itself isn't reporting any issues today. Of course, if you have an app that depends on Google services, you can always check out Google's API status page. Amazon Web Services has its own API and service reporting dashboard, too. If you're building an API for your own service, you can provide your users with a quick status dashboard of your own, using the Stashboard code that was open sourced by Twilio a few years ago. Developers can use the code to create a dashboard that can be hosted on Google Apps Engine. Lead image courtesy of NOAA
- Google: Please Fix The Crippling Problem Plaguing Google+ (Fri, 17 May 2013 11:10:00 -0700)
Google+ has never looked and felt as it good as it does right now. Alas, looks aren't everything. A massive overhaul of the service, announced Wednesday during a keynote at Google's I/O conference for developers, has brought it in line with the most modern and functionally powerful Web design principles. It now has a multi-column layout, scrolling menu bars, and enormous images. Google also rolled out an umbrella messaging service called Hangouts, a standalone app for Web and mobile that neatens up the sloppy mess that was Voice, Talk, and Google+ messaging. All of this is great news for heavy users of Google+ who have been awaiting a design push that looks and feels like 2013. But there's still one giant problem plaguing the service and Google's entire social platform at large: the hub of your Google life is still an email address, and that's a nightmare for users with multiple Gmail accounts. Since taking over as CEO in 2011, Larry Page has been talking up the notion of "One Google" to unify the search giant's disparate services. But the reality is that it's very hard as a user to experience a unified Google until Google realizes that a person is a person, not an email account. At best, the complex process of trying to manage multiple Gmail accounts with Google+ and all the various apps involved slows users down. At worst, it could keep some users from adopting the beautiful new services altogether. Two Accounts, Twice The Pain "For me personally, I have two Google accounts: I have a corporate and personal [account], and it is a pain," admitted Seth Sternberg, director of product management for Google+, in a roundtable discussion with reporters in San Francisco Thursday. And Sternberg is definitely not alone. Many people have two Google email accounts?a personal Gmail and a corporate Google Apps account. Those ought to be Google's best users. Instead, they're the most frustrated ones. And many people set up multiple email accounts for other reasons. Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn let them associate multiple email addresses with a single personal or professional identity. Google doesn't. What that ends up doing is disrupting the entire process of laying the Google+ social net atop the Web. Every time a user tries to +1 a link, log into a website with Google+ sign-in, or personalize search, they're confronted with Google's fragmented view of online identity. So for Google, the email-as-account concept disrupts users' ability to seamlessly use Google+, which in turn makes the network's constantly increasing integration with the rest of the company's apps and services more and more painful with every turn. And for users, it's just plain obnoxious having to use incognito browser windows and all sorts of other workarounds to try and simply manage their online identity. No wonder Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are the go-to networks for finding friends and sharing information. Identity, If And When You Want It Google says it's trying to get better. "We sanded off all the rough edges," David Glazer, a director of engineering at Google, said in the recent roundtable event. Google, to its credit, has introduced an account chooser that makes it easier to stay logged into multiple accounts. But those fixes don't address the core problem?Google's email-linked identity model. What Google really needs is something above an email address that could be used as an identifier for all of a user's various accounts. This higher-level identifier could be something akin to a Twitter handle or a Facebook username. This new Google login could have a registered primary email address?the way Apple and Amazon handle logins to their online accounts?but it should sync up your other Google+ accounts. Separating personal and professional sharing could be simply handled with a strongly established Google+ concept: Circles, or lists of contacts. (And, of course, you should still be able to establish a Gmail account for an unlinked, throwaway identity?for, say, a Craigslist posting or mailing lists.) Umbrellas Are Good Google showcased its ability to neatly fold up services with Hangouts, and the strategy is a no-brainer. It resolves so many problems users face when a company's products are all around them, yet they have no idea how to manage them all and end up just turning away from what they feel they don't need. An umbrella strategy to Google+ and Gmail is a much taller order, but it's one of the biggest impediments standing between the search giant and a more steady, fuller-scale adoption of its social network. So Google, please give us that umbrella, and you'll likely see more people standing underneath it if its done right.
- Yahoo Reportedly Looking To Buy Tumblr For That Magic $1B (Fri, 17 May 2013 10:30:00 -0700)
Yahoo is in talks to acquire the fast-growing blogging site Tumblr for as much as $1 billion, AllThingsD reports. This could be the "big deal" Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has reportedly been looking for.
- New 'Social' Businesses Want To Know All About You. No Thanks! (Fri, 17 May 2013 08:09:00 -0700)
Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's hyperbolic CEO, has been telling anyone who will listen that the "sudden convergence of cloud, social and mobile spheres" is forcing - and allowing - companies to connect with customers in new ways, and to listen with an intensity never before possible. I'm sure the benefits of social business are dramatic and undeniable, but am I alone in being totally creeped out at what seems to be an obvious invastion of privacy? I don't know about you, but I'm just not ready for companies - even companies I choose to do business with - to closely follow everything I do and say. Even if other humans aren't involved. Do You Want To Be Connected To A Machine? At a recent executive event in San Francisco, Benioff entertained customers and journalists wtih a video featuring Beth Comstock, GE's high-profile CMO, claiming her "core belief" is that "business is social." But she didn't just mean people communicating with people, she also meant people communicating with machines. The big question for GE, Comstock said, is "how do we connect our customers/employees to our machines?" GE's goal is to combine data from customers and data from its machines - connecting machines to social networks is very big. The video demonstrated how GE was connecting jet engines to social networks to alert mechanics of their diagnostic status. "If you're in business," Comstock said, "you need social because it will get you closer to your customer? Feedback - that's a marketers dream." Sounds great, right? The Menace Of An Internet-Enabled Toothbrush But consider Benioff's example of the Internet of Things driving social business. He cited Philips' Internet-connected toothbrush that records the time and duration of brushing. With one of these babies, when you go to the dentist and he asks, "have you been brushing" and you answer "yeah," the conversation doesn't end there, Benioff said. The dentist could reply "Let's have a look" and see exactly how much brushing you actually did. That thought terrifies me. While such a scenario might indeed help keep my teeth from falling out, it's also profoundly creepy and invasive. After all, what if my dental insurance provider got hold of the data, and decided it wouldn't pay to fill that cavity because I didn't brush long enough? As Benioff correctly noted, the "biggest part is trust." "With all that data about you out on the network, it gets down to another level of trust with the vendors you choose to let be a part of your life." I trust my doctor with a large amount of intensely personal information - augmented by pretty specific laws and industry practices. For some reason, I'm less comfortable giving my dentist the same degree of trust. Philips and Salesforce? Absolutely not! How Much Should Your Shirt Salesman Know About You? Another participant at the event, male-apparel retailer Trunk Club, is also leveraging user information to help "guys that just dont like to shop" said COO Rob Chesney. Trunk Club's goal is to make "it really easy for you to look great" by not just tracking what he's already bought, but whatever other information may be available online. When a customer contacts Trunk Club, "we pull up this guy and find out what is he all about. We see all his social media info. "It's the future of service-oriented retail." Not for me. Chesney noted that having this kind of info could help Trunk Club sell higher end clothing to a customer who just got a promotion - an event it might learn of Facebook. That might not be so bad, but what is the company going to do if the customer gets laid off? Offer condolences and try to sell them cheap t-shirts? Awkward to say the least. Social.com: Salesforce's Facebook & Twitter Tools Salesforce also pitched its new Social.com tools, designed to help other companies operate this way. Salesforce rolled out the ability to run Facebook campaigns that target users based on what they've posted and linked to on their own Facebook pages. On Twitter, the idea is start "buying in the moment" - spreading promoted tweets even as the larger Twitter conversation is trending. The promoted tweet shows up any time someone tweets with a relevant hashtag. To make that work, of course, you've got to be monitoring all the time. "You can't be relevant if you're not listening," explained Facebook's Fergus Gluster (yes, that's his real name). Jonathan Nelson, CEO of ad agency Omnicom Digital, said that these innovations are a key step toward closing the loop linking real-time advertising to real-time buying. The key, he said, is delviering "the right message for the right person at the right time." Ironically, in a small panel discussion for journalists, Nelson noted that the "suppression of advertising" when it's not appropriate is "more than half the battle." That's a key part of reducing the creep factor. Finally, just so you know, I'm not alone in worrying about these issues. Another panelist, Altimeter Group's Susan Etlinger, admitted that "as a consumer, I don't particularly want to be targeted." The key, Etlinger said, is to build a relationship over time and "be relevant when the consumer needs us, not when we need them." That's a step in the right direction. But if companies they really care about not being creepy, they'll learn to respond quickly and effectively when asked, and otherwise stay out of my face. Photos - except for the toothbrush - by Fredric Paul for ReadWrite
- Google Sensors Are Data Mining I/O Attendees - And They Don't Care (Fri, 17 May 2013 07:07:00 -0700)
- Google And SAP: Two Very Different Cloud Strategies (Fri, 17 May 2013 06:32:00 -0700)
While both Google and SAP shared a 1980's music sensibility at their respective conferences this week - Billy Idol performed at Google I/O and U2's Bono walked the floor at SAPPHIRE - the two companies see the future of computing very differently. Even when the two companies agree on the importance of cloud computing, their strategies couldn't be more different. For one thing, SAP's new cloud isn't even a cloud. But then, SAP's Bono wasn't really Bono, either, but merely an impersonator. Forrester analyst Stefan Ried takes SAP to task for getting cloud wrong in its new HANA Enterprise Cloud: "The Hana Cloud is a very careful move to a new business model. It is not disruptive and will NOT accelerate Hana usage to the many more customers who have been struggling with Hana on-premises because of its licensing. "The announced Hana Enterprise Cloud follows the 'Bring Your Own License' paradigm. While this is great for customers that already have a Hana license and would like to relocate it into the cloud, it is useless for customers that might have largely fluctuating data volumes or user numbers and might specifically use a cloud because of its elastic business model." In other words, it's not really a cloud. Amazon, more than any other cloud vendor, has insisted that such "clouds" don't deserve the name, as they fail to live up to the very premise of cloud computing: truly elastic, on-demand software. But while Amazon normally reserves its ire for private cloud vendors, SAP's HANA Cloud is even less of a cloud because it requires you to bring your own HANA license to the party. Meanwhile, over at Google I/O, Google introduced improves to Google Cloud Platform and made Google Compute Engine available to all. Like Amazon, Google is making a powerful array of infrastructure technologies available on-demand, and totally elastic. Google, like Amazon, realizes that the future of computing is not going to be won by the vendor with the prettiest device or even the best user interface: it will be won by the company with the best cloud services. As Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady pointed out, summarizing Google's first day announcements: "[Google is clearly telegraphing that] the war for mobile will not be won with devices or operating systems. It will be won instead with services." SAP must see this, too, but appears hamstrung by its past, in true "Innovator's Dilemma" fashion. It has so much revenue tied up in legacy deployments of legacy software that even releasing a kind-of, sort-of, not-really cloud offering is the best it can do. This is not to suggest that HANA is bad technology. By most accounts, it's quite good. But as Ried argues, "The SAP Hana Enterprise Cloud is version 2 of the initial Hana in-memory database, but the cloud offering based on 'Bring Your Own License' is more version 0.1 of a cloud business model." Which is to say, it's no cloud at all. While this may not seem like a big deal, enterprises are barreling into true clouds for a wide variety of needs, and no longer merely for development and test workloads. If SAP wants to participate in the future of enterprise computing, it should learn from the companies that are inventing that future: Google and Amazon. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
- Google Is Prepping A Sneak Attack On Microsoft Office (Fri, 17 May 2013 05:57:00 -0700)
Google's alternative to Microsoft Office, Google Apps, has always suffered from the fact that it offers a sort of "good enough" compatibility ? fine for most basic document and spreadsheet tasks, but not enough to match certain Office features. Now Google is preparing to use technology from a recent acquisition, QuickOffice, to close that gap. In recent weeks, Google sources have told me that Google has been internally testing, or "dogfooding," QuickOffice, which began life as a standalone productivity app that offers better compatibility with Office than Google's own Apps. Now, however, Google is testing QuickOffice as a cloud-based service in its own Chrome browser. (Google already provides QuickOffice as part of its Google Apps subscription, specifically as an app for customers with Android tablets or iPads.) Why QuickOffice? QuickOffice uses the same .DOCX file format that Office does, allowing users to quickly edit and share the same files as Office users. QuickOffice compatibility probably means that more businesses and users will see Google Apps as a viable alternative to Office, wounding Microsoft's Office cash cow. Google sources also say they're confident that Microsoft won't be able to block QuickOffice with licensing issues or other legal threats. Eventually, these individuals say, QuickOffice will become the foundation of Google Apps, although that's still a ways off. The target, Google sources said, isn't the full PC-based version of Office itself - although that might be a bit of spin. Instead, Google claims to think of QuickOffice as a competitor to Microsoft's own Web-based versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel - which often deliberately fall short of full Office functionality. For now, that means running QuickOffice as a browser app, probably using Google's Native Client technology, until Google's engineers can integrate it directly with Apps. It's another example of the growing tension between Microsoft and Google, evidenced by the Microsoft's "rule-breaking" YouTube Windows Phone app and its use of an open API to talk to Google+ users via its Outlook.com Web site. Google chief executive Larry Page, for example, used his Google I/O keynote to call out Microsoft's behavior as "really sad," and said that Microsoft took advantage of the open API. "Being negative is not how we make progress," Page said. "And most important things are not zero-sum. There's a lot of opportunity out there." Google Tipped QuickOffice Plans At Pixel Launch Google acquired QuickOffice last year for an undisclosed sum, and the team went quiet. But we know that Google plans to add QuickOffice to the Pixel, because Google said so. At the launch of the Pixel a few months ago, Google's Chrome chief, Sundar Pichai, said that it would take two to three months to add QuickOffice to the Pixel, but that it would be included with it. Since it wasn't available when Google handed out thousands of Pixels to developers Wednesday, it must be coming soon. Looking back, Pichai actually spoke quite a bit about QuickOffice's role within Google at the Pixel launch- but the media (probably correctly) focused on the Pixel hardware itself. Pichai set the stage for the Pixel handout by emphasizing, again and again, that the Pixel represented the best Chromebook experience for developers and early adopters: "if you're living in the cloud, this is the best experience you can use," Pichai said then. Microsoft Strikes... Too Soon Microsoft clearly anticipated a QuickOffice launch at Google I/O. On May 10, it published a blog post that directly attacked the compatibility of Google Apps as well as QuickOffice. Jake Zborowski, a senior product manager at Microsoft, wrote: Productivity software is built to help people communicate. It's more than just the words in a document or presentation; it's about the tone, style and format you use to convey an overall message. People often entrust important information in these documents -- from board presentations to financial analyses to book reports. You should be able to trust that what you intend to communicate is what is being seen. Zborowski's post included several sample documents that users could download themselves for comparison's sake, as well as a funny YouTube video that included Rob Schenider and Pete Rose, poking fun at the "gamble" that is Google Apps. In a supporting comment, Zborowski pointed out that Google doesn't support the Open Document Format, suggesting that Microsoft is more open than Google. Google representatives shrugged off the post, noting that the example documents relied on Office functions typical users rarely touch, such as watermarks and odd text spacing. However, Microsoft's post also noted that Office Web Apps can now be used within Android, leaving the Microsoft-Google competition within the Android tablet space as an app - Google's QuickOffice - versus a cloud solution, Microsoft's Office Web apps. The whole point of the Pixel, according to Pichai, is to show off the power of the cloud. Microsoft, for its part, is still largely wedded to the desktop application, and the $23 billion or so that its Business Division pulls in on an annual basis. (Office 365 doesn't live in the cloud, although it has cloud hooks in SkyDrive and its subscription delivery system.) That's a target that Google has attacked for several years now, with dueling customer announcements from both sides marking the ebb and flow of the battle. Micosoft may be right that Google Apps and QuickOffice don't offer the full capabilities of Office. But they come close - and "close" has been the selling point behind Apps all along. QuickOffice looks like it could close the gap. Image Source: Google
- Smartphones Have Bridged The Digital Divide (Fri, 17 May 2013 05:05:00 -0700)
Since at least the 1990s, when personal computers first became commonplace, public policy experts have worried the ill effects of a Digital Divide. That is, a learning, socialization and economic gap across socio-economic status, race and gender caused by unequal access to computing resources. No need. The Digital Divide has now been bridged by smartphones - the most advanced personal computing devices ever. While personal computers were disproportionally used by the rich, the white and the male, smartphones are more likely to be used by Blacks and Hispanics than Whites, and by girls as equally as boys. Whites Trail In Smartphone Ownership According to a Pew research survey conducted last year, 49% of Hispanics and 47% of Blacks own a smartphone, compared to only 42% of Whites. The survey also revealed than men and women were about evenly split (46% to 45%, respectively) in smartphone ownership, as were suburban and urban residents (49% to 48%, respectively). Only The Income Gap Remains Mobile computing is a fast-moving revolution that is spreading online access to all who welcome it. In fact, the majority of adult Americans and more than a third of teens now own a smartphone. That said, household income remains a differentiator - there is still a clear gap in smartphone ownership between rich and poor. Expect this too to disappear very soon as prices continue to fall. Android smartphones and the latest Nokia Asha devices, for example, are available for less than $100 (no contract needed) all around the world. In the U.S., many smartphones now come free with a carrier voice and data plan. Prices for devices and services will almost certainly continue to drop. In an interview with Bloomberg last month, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen noted that "$50 Android smartphones" would be available this year. Carriers that demand fees that millions cannot afford are likely to be routed around - by Google fiber as likely as legislation. Fewer and fewer people, particularly in the United States and other rich countries, will be denied always-on, any-place connectivity to the global Web. The Smartphone Is The Computer Naysayers like to retort that smartphones don't fully erase the Digital Divide because, even more than tablets,they are primarily "consumption" devices. While "real" computers, the argument goes, can be used to create things and do real work, smartphones are all about downloading content and chatting on Facebook. Work is changing, however, in many cases to take advantage of the spread of smartphones. Such changes may, in fact, disproportionately favor minorities. A separate Pew study last year revealed that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to use their mobile devices for a wider range of activities than do Whites. (See also Teenagers & Smartphones: How They're Already Changing The World.) Further, some have called the notion that smartphones are not designed for "real work" an elitist view: To discount identity performance, socialization and other activities on social media as not productive, not educational, not meaningful, pure entertainment and a waste of time offensively reduces less privileged folks as ?an other,? less worthy and less human. Productivity Divide? If smartphones connect an increasing number of Americans to knowledge resources, job opportunities and cultural amenities, are they delivering a clear and calculable economic benefit equivalent to that provided by PCs? It seems that economic analysis has simply not yet caught up with the impact smartphones are having on work and the economy. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that already today's smartphones possess the computing power of a "desktop" in 2005 and that "at heart [smartphones] are like all computers before them. They are efficiency engines, a means of saving time, bridging distance, reducing cost." Nonetheless, the Journal acknowledges that proving smartphones' aggregate economic value remains difficult: Yet there's something bizarre going on. Even as an estimated 130 million smartphones roam the U.S. streets, economists can't quite find them. Still, as the Journal also states: "Can you find an area of life and business not being affected by the devices?" Global Phenomenon The situation may be even clearer overseas. Already, 89% of the developing world has a mobile device. It's a solid assumption that these mobile phone users will soon transition to smartphones. Indeed, smartphone sales now eclipse traditional mobile phone sales. According to the International Telecommunication Union, "mobile broadband" subscriptions have grown from 278 million in 2007 - when the iPhone was first introduced - to 2.1 billion this year. These numbers continue to grow - and researchers say the trend is already making a big difference: Bridging The Digital Divide In Developing Nations Through Mobile Phone Transaction Systems - University of West Georgia Mobile Finance Options Changing Lives In Developing Countries - Bankless Times Mobile Technology's Role In Combating Global Poverty And Enabling Entrepreneurship - Brookings Institution Alleviating Poverty: Mobile Communications, Microfinance And Small Business Development Around The World - Brookings Institution As smartphones continue to spread to every demographic group in every corner of the world, there's just no more room for the Digital Divide. That's a big deal, and likely to bring significant economic, social and cultural effects over the coming months, years and decades. (See also The Numbers Are Clear: Mobile is Taking Over the World.) Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.
- The Epic Battle Between Apple & Google Is All But Over - Who Won? (Fri, 17 May 2013 04:04:00 -0700)
Guest author Derek Brown is a technology executive and analyst who blogs at One Blind Squirrel. Android, it seems, is the worm that eats away at Apple's core. According to Gartner, Android-based handsets outsold iOS-based handsets 4-to-1 on a worldwide basis in the first quarter of 2013, up from a ratio of about 2.5-to-1 in the same period of 2012. As such, Android accounted for 74% of global smartphone sales last quarter, up from 57% in the first quarter of 2012, while iOS accounted for just 18%, down from approximately 23% last year. Apple's Strengths Irrelevant Going Forward Apple bulls/fans (and even some critics) will likely race to highlight such defenses as: Apple didn't have a major new release last quarter. Tablet sales should be weighed in this discussion. The installed base of iOS devices should be taken into account. Developers still generate more revenue through iOS than Android. Apple continues to generate the majority of the industry's profit. Blah. Blah. Blah. Those points are all very true. Unfortunately for Apple, though, they're also largely irrelevant going forward, given the alarming rate at which consumers worldwide are speaking with their wallets and selecting Android handsets over iOS handsets. With just a few more quarters like this, coupled with the cumulative effect of similar sales data over the past 2-3 years and the likely coming wave of Android-based tablets, it is a given (to me, anyway) that Android will be soon be effectively ubiquitous around the globe. In the world of technology platforms, ubiquity matters (a lot) when developers, manufacturers, etc., are considering future products/solutions. The Mobile Battle Is Over - And Google Won And, so, I will reiterate the view I've held for some time now: The mobile battle that Apple started, first with the launch of iPod in 2001 and then moved into hyperdrive with the introduction of iPhone and iPad in 2007 and 2010, respectively, is over (or, will be over shortly), and Google/Android is the victor. Make no mistake, Apple will clearly continue to play a prominent role in the industry and maintain leadership in some respects. It will also continue to boast a large installed base and a substantial number of loyalists and devotees. But the company's days of dominance, let alone an effective monopolist, are behind it. Apple's Success Was A Once-In-A-Generation Event Pundits, analysts and investors need to wrap their heads around one simple notion: Apple's product cycle and performance between 2001-2012 was a once-in-a-generation event. In my view, no company in history has had (or, likely, will soon have agin) so many successive "grand slams" as did Apple with iPod, iTunes, Mac, iOS, iPhone and, finally, iPad. The company's hardware, software and "it-just-works" approach to integration absolutely annihilated existing competition and ignited massive new markets in which Apple had a multiyear near-monopoly and from which Apple was able to generate once-in-a-generation revenue growth and profitability. As unfair as it may be, the inevitable comparisons to those days will not look good for Apple for some time. The hard reality is that the company's future ? even under the best of circumstances ? will likely reflect diminished influence and declining revenue (perhaps substantially so), with the prospect of shrinking margins to boot. Apple Stuck At Square One In The Cloud To make matters worse for Apple, I think the company is poorly positioned for the battleground of tomorrow: Web (or cloud) services that function like utilities ? seamlessly, across all devices, across all operating systems, all the time ? at low or no incremental cost. As I discussed in a previous post, Welcome to Google?s Playground, Apple, the increasing importance of Web services substantially diminishes the value of Apple?s closed-loop hardware/software core, while simultaneously highlighting the strengths of Google?s business. Web services are Google's lifeblood, and the company prints money, either directly or indirectly, from use of many of these cloud-based services, even if those services are accessed via an Apple device (e.g., Maps or Gmail for iOS). Apple, on the other hand, is almost at square one and, as a result, may be forced to spend big to acquire services that have proven themselves in the hands of consumers at scale. Fun days for Apple, I know. But, hey, at least it?s not Dell!
- How To Hack Your Google Glass ? And Void Your Warranty (Thu, 16 May 2013 16:06:00 -0700)
In one of the more popular Google I/O sessions of Day 2, two members of the Google [x] team behind Project Glass explained how to enable root access on your expensive eyewear ? a step that will also void your warranty, just like it does when you root an Android smartphone. What does root access do? It lets you tinker under the hood of Glass, allowing you to, for instance, install Linux and run apps tailored to the open-source OS. Google software engineers P. Y. Laligand and Hyunyoung Song started with the warranty warning and a quick presentation on how to enable a debug mode that lets you load Android applications (APKs) on Glass. The two stressed that Google recommends this method for tinkering with Glass, as the debug mode doesn't void your warranty. It being Google though, the duo hurriedly brushed past the warning. Using a Bluetooth trackpad-enabled keyboard synced to Glass, the engineers outlined five steps involved in rooting Glass: Access the bootloader Unlock the device & erase personal data Swap out and override boot partition Reboot into normal state Access root mode Laligand was nice enough to run through a demonstration in real-time. Below are the screens from his fast hack. Accessing The Bootloader & Unlocking Device Reboot To Root Success!
- Why Path May Be The Ultimate App For Google Glass (Thu, 16 May 2013 15:14:00 -0700)
I'm a devoted Pathhole?a hardcore user of mobile social network Path. For all that I make fun of Path's twee, artisanal, and bespoke nature?on a recent visit to its lovely office in San Francisco, I was tempted to ask CEO Dave Morin if his software engineers were cruelty-free?I have a soft spot for the service that brings me updates from a small circle of friends, which I then festoon with emoticons. If anything might convert me into a Glasshole, the name I've adopted for the ostentatious neophiles who have started sporting Glass, Google's Internet-enabled camera-and-display headset, it might well be Path. Path CTO Nathan Folkman demonstrates Google Glass. Morin and Path CTO Nathan Folkman recently showed me a version of Path for Google Glass. (Google recently signaled that Path would be one of the first Glass apps available.) It turns out that two key features of Path make it perfectly suited for Glass?in a way that larger social networks like Google+ and Facebook may never catch up to. I've formed this opinion based on brief experiences with both Glass and the Glass version of Path, so take them with a grain of salt. But even those glimpses suggest an uncanny fit between software and hardware. Small Screen, Meet Tight Friends The first advantage Path has is its insistence that you limit your friends to a tight list of 150. I find this kind of in-or-out listmaking agonizing. It reminds me of when my husband and I invited people to our wedding reception, which, now that I think about it, had a headcount of about 150. But now that I've put in the work, I find my Path friends really are the ones I like to hear from frequently throughout the day. Contrast that to Google's built-in Glass sharing options, which require you to go to a website to set up a limited number of contacts in advance. This Android tablet is mirroring what Path CTO Nathan Folkman sees on his Google Glass heads-up display. The second is Path's stripped-down simplicity. Originally designed for mobile, it's actually even more effective on Glass. In my experience, people typically share short updates about where they are or what they're doing?things that are too mundane for Twitter, too intimate for Facebook. In form, tone, and length, they're just right for Glass's screen, floating just above your right eye. Google+ updates, which you can of course get on Glass, are often too long for the Glass interface. And the thought of getting my Facebook News Feed?an option now that Facebook has a Glass app?through Glass seems overwhelming. But Where Is The Money? There are perpetual questions about how Path will find enough users and make money. Glass will not answer those. Folkman, Path's CTO, estimates that some 300 Glass testers have downloaded the Glass version of Path. (Google hasn't given out numbers, but that's likely a large portion of the Glass population.) For what it's worth, Morin tells me the company has been making progress on the business front. It has likely crossed 13 million registered users, and its main source of income?charging users for custom icons they can include in messages?has drawn both derision and dollars. Little-noticed deals with the likes of Sprint and Kyocera suggest that the company may find ways of making money from partnerships with wireless carriers and handset makers, too. An update from a friend's check-in at Google I/O displays on Path CTO Nathan Folkman's Glass display. Folkman says the Glass effort, on which he's spent about 20 percent of his time recently, has helped him think about constructing an application programming interface for partners, and also designing Path notifications for smart watches and other lightweight, small-screen devices. So if we are at the brink of a revolution in mobile computing where we trade smartphones for wearable devices, Path's experimentation may pay off?if not for the San Francisco-based startup, then for others who take careful note of its innovations. Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite
- Google Glass Gets New Twitter, Facebook, CNN Apps (Thu, 16 May 2013 13:07:00 -0700)
The universe of apps for Google Glass, initially limited to the New York Times and the social network Path, is expanding rapidly. Google on Thursday announced several more entries to its Glassware stable: Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Tumblr, CNN news updates, Elle fashion features and a Glass-only game called Ice Breaker. Look for more Glass apps to surface as the augmented reality goggles move closer to a public rollout later this year.
- Making Sense Of Google's New Social Stuff: Messaging, Hangouts & Google+ (Thu, 16 May 2013 12:57:57 -0700)
With a whirlwind of announcements at its Google I/O developers conference this week, Google's vast suite of social products is finally starting to look like it was created by a single company and not cobbled together via a series of haphazard acquisitions. Here are the highlights of what's changed: Hangouts: Google Messaging, Unmessy At Last Google is finally doing something to prune its thicket of messaging products. Let's start with a look at the various chat and messaging products that were due for some much-needed spring cleaning: Google Talk. Talk was Google's Instant Message client. It's also called Google Chat or "GChat," by many people who didn't even know it was called Talk to begin with. Google+ Hangouts. Hangouts was Google+'s group video chat service, from the social network's launch back in 2011. Google+ Messenger: A product redundant with Google Talk, Messenger was Google+'s own IM client. Google Voice: Google's cult-hit digital telephony client, Voice allows users to route all their calls to one phone number. Google Voice works for calls and texting both on desktop and on its much-neglected mobile apps for iOS and Android. Now, Hangouts becomes the messaging mini-umbrella under the social mega-umbrella of Google+. Hangouts, now available across desktop and mobile, will unify Google Talk, Google+ Messenger and the old Hangouts video chat service of yore. According to a statement from Nikhyl Singhal, Google's head honcho of real-time communications, Google Voice will be folded into Hangouts too (Yay!), though there's no word on when. Google+ Gets A Lot Of Love Messaging may have been the messiest area of Google's social services, but Google+ is the big umbrella that covers them all. Amidst the company's epic 3-hour-plus Google I/O keynote yesterday, Google+ guru Vic Gundotra announced approximately one million updates to Google+, the social network that the company launched two years ago. Okay, he pegged the number at 41? but that's almost a million. The updates are extensive. As a regular Google+ user, it's actually difficult to get a sense for what changed, since the redesign looks and feels right in stride with Google's recent overall changes in user interfaces that runs from Google+ to Google Glass to Google Now and Android. So here's a list of some of the most notable of the 41 updates: A multi-column layout. This can be toggled off, if you're still into the Blogger single-column-era. Photos and videos get even bigger. Google is really into making media massive - and we would be too if the average person knew how to share properly high-res photos. New animations. Things are flipping and sliding all over the place in there. A third dimension. You can scroll up and down through your social stream, but Google wants you to be able to scroll in too. Now you can take a deeper dive on a given Google+ post -or is it a Card? I think we're suppose to call everything Cards now -- via related hashtags, which will lead you to more content of interest. It will also take you further down the Google+ rabbit hole, of course. Lots of treats for photographers. Google+ has a thriving community of awesome photogs, and Google is keen to do right by them. Photos in Google+ now have all sorts of cool bells and whistles. A few I'm particularly stoked about include "auto highlight," which de-emphasizes duplicate and blurry pics, automatically picking the best shot out of a batch. I've yet to test this extensively, but since I have a habit of bracketing (taking multiple shots at different exposures) - even on my phone - choosing the best photo of a set can be a major timesuck. This feature could help there. Another feature, "Auto Awesome," can stitch together shots in a series to make a playful Photobooth-esque picture or even a Vine-like animated gif. For a full breakdown of Google's social updates, hit the company's official blog post or just cruise around in Google+ for a while. The the social network has been the butt of many a joke over the last few years, and we're happy to see Google take the time to spruce things up a little. Photos by Nick Statt for ReadWrite.
- Can Google Be The Amazon.com For The Rest Of The Web? (Thu, 16 May 2013 09:03:00 -0700)
Amazon's 1-Click arguably offers the best shopping experience on the Web?desktop and mobile. But 1-Click has been slow to expand beyond Amazon's walls. While Amazon offers the convenient checkout service to retail-website builders, competitors are understandably loath to embrace the e-commerce giant's tools. Now a wiser, bloodier Google has re-entered the fray, taking lessons learned from Amazon and applying them to its own "1-Click" solution for Google Wallet, Instant Buy. But Google's road to riches won't lie through a button on a website. That's the route it took in traditional Web e-commerce, with its older Google Checkout service, which Wallet replaced after it failed to unseat PayPal and other, more traditional credit-card-processing services. Instead, Google's placing its bet on terrain where it has the upper ground: Android apps and Gmail. Google announced Google Wallet Instant Buy on Wednesday at its annual I/O conference. Instant Buy, a set of tools for Android developers, is a complement to the Google Wallet API that the company announced last fall. Instant Buy should probably be thought of an evolution of the Wallet API - the older API filled in payment information, while the new version offers a button to "Buy with Google". Instant Buy serves to both authenticate the shopper and actually pay for the purchase, with an intermediary step to confirm. It's a two-click solution the first time a shopper logs in, but then it's down to one if they save their Google login information with the app. Why is this important? Because buying products via a smartphone can be a brutal experience, requiring dozens of steps to enter payment and shipping information - and users aren't inclined to stick around if they get frustrated. More than 90 percent of mobile users leave a mobile site without buying anything, according to Mike Putnam, vice president of mobile at fashion site RueLala. For a merchant, a simple, painless buying experience is a virtual necessity, given the rising numbers of mobile shoppers. Last Cyber Monday, for example, about 11 percent of all purchases were made via smartphone, according to IBM, about 90 percent more than the year before. This year, about 15 percent of all online retail sales will take place via mobile, according to eMarketer. But payment buttons aren't exactly new. So how does Googl plan to get an edge? The familiarity and ubiquity of Gmail, for one. Google also added the ability Wednesday to pay by email, clicking a "$" sign to "attach" a few bucks, much like a document or picture. The funds simply go into the recipient's Google Wallet, where they can be redeemed for real money (via a connection with a bank account) or used to buy movies, games and apps from the Play Store. PayPal and Dwolla, among others, have offered pay-by-email for years. But PayPal and Dwolla don't have one of the most popular email platforms in the world, tacitly encouraging users to send money at the push of a button. That's one of the more important hooks that the new Wallet offers, a Google spokeswoman said. Eventually, it's possible that Google could push Wallet back into the real world - where it first started out, of course. What Are The Secrets To Success? Lock-in And Context In a horse race, a jockey's tools are the whip and blinders. So it is in mobile payments. The most effective way of retaining customers is to eliminate the possibility of going elsewhere. Within the mobile space, the most effective blinder is the app. If you click Amazon's mobile app to buy a router or garden hoe, chances are you're not going anywhere else. Amazon knows that you can shop elsewhere, pay a higher price, and enter your information across all of those dozens of fields - or you can simply stay and buy with one click. Payments by Amazon, of course, is Amazon's one-click solution, ported to the Web. But check out Payments by Amazon's customer list: the biggest name is probably Ace Hardware. Payments by Amazon offers the same one-click payment that Amazon does, but for the consumer, without the context of Amazon.com, it's just another provider. And for most merchants, Amazon is the enemy. Google's hold over the customer is weaker. Within Gmail, users simply don't have the choice to send funds via any other provider, but they can simply use PayPal or Dwolla and send money to the same email address. But what Google offers is what Payments by Amazon can't: context. Within the Play Store, Google is building recommendations for movies, music, and apps, based on your own preferences and what your friends have recommended. Payment providers have a number of arrows in their quiver. PayPal offers the ability to pay via its service at retail locations. Dwolla users can pay via Facebook and Twitter. But attendees at Google I/O suspect that the next step is for Google to begin building profiles of real-world purchases, so that if the Gap adopts Google, visitors to its online store will know what their Google+ friends bought. Virtually every other payment provider lacks the social integration that Google includes. The idea behind products like Google Wallet?where you could leave your wallet at home and pay for everything by tapping your phone?never really took off. Why? Numerous technical reasons have been suggested?a lack of infrastructure, resistance from financial institutions?but the conversation so far has focused on the problem of paying for things. And paying for things isn't as important as the shopping experience itself, and providing the context for an informed decision that the customer is excited about. "I?m not saying that there are no advantages to mobile payments," Nick Holland, a former Yankee Group payments analyst, recently wrote. "However, the opportunity for consumer/merchant value addition seems to be less around the transaction and far more around augmenting the retail experience. The mobile payments obsession is missing the point." And that happy coincidence may well benefit Google. Photo by Nick Statt for ReadWrite
- Forget Self-Driving Cars, These Robots Will Make You A Drink (Thu, 16 May 2013 08:33:00 -0700)
Google sure knows how to throw a geek fest. The After Hours party after the first day of Google I/O was packed full of augmented reality, food, fun, dancing, Billy Idol and... robots. Lots and lots of robots. It was hard not to miss the robots, considering that the main bar on the third floor of Moscone West had three robots mixing cocktails. The wait for a robot-mixed drink was considerable, as a human controller told each bot what concoction to make. Google may have come up with the self-driving car, but these robot bartenders are pretty awesome too. Check out the photos from the Google I/O After Hours party below. Dancing on dots Sergey Brin and Sundar Pichai mix it up with the press Robot drummer I swear I have seen this robot before. At MIT, perhaps? Taking augmented reality pictures Geek's pose This guy was using an augmented reality app to wireframe the crowd These robots went toe-to-toe Dragons! Watching Billy Idol from the dots This giant robot hand was crushing everything in site GenyMobile founder Cedric Ravalec (and Jon Hamm lookalike) talks to ReadWrite Editor in Chief Owen Thomas about his startup in France. The crowd was told not to take pictures of Billy Idol. Nobody listened.
- Decoding Larry Page: How Google Is Staking Out The Future Of Innovation (Thu, 16 May 2013 08:08:00 -0700)
?We are only at 1% of what is possible.? ~ Google CEO Larry Page Page is right. Even though it seems like we get a breakthrough new technology every year, we are really just scratching the surface. But what does that really mean? If we have achieved only 1% of what is technologically possible, Google is setting itself up to be the company that fills in the other 99%. Just look at the Google I/O keynote Wednesday morning in San Francisco. The company had so many aspects of its product portfolio to announce that it took three hours to work through it all. And that was before Page hit the stage and turned all philosophical: I think we're all here because we share a deep sense of optimisim about the potential for technology to improve people's lives and the world. Google Owns The Second Half Of The Chess Board At a conference in Boston last week Andrew McAfee, a Principal Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, related a story about the pace of innovation that directly speaks to Page?s notion. McAfee recounted how the inventor of chess introduced the game to the emperor of India. The emperor was so impressed with the game's combination of simplicity and complexity, depth and vision, that he told the inventor he could have any gift he could imagine. The inventor asked for a grain of rice, doubled for each square on the chess board. On the first square he would get a single grain of rice, on the second square he would get two, on the third he would get four grains, and so on. The request seemed fairly humble to the emperor and he granted it. What the emperor did not realize, of course, is that if you keep doubling a number, it doesn't take long for for the figures to get really, really big. If the emperor had delivered all the rice he agreed to, the pile would have been bigger than Mount Everest. McAfee linked this story to Moore?s Law (which holds that number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years) and the explosion of data created by humans, rapidly approaching the mind-numbingly large ?yotta? byte. Between Big Data and Moore?s Law, McAfee said, we have entered the second half of the chessboard of innovation. Google's Mountain Of Rice In this case, though, Google is both the inventor and the emperor. Just like chess, Google?s portfolio of products is deceptively simple but utterly complex. And the company is well positioned to turn that portfolio into a truly epic mountain of rice. Rice, in this case, could mean data. Or money. Or better yet, innovation. Who is going to challenge Google?s core products? Yahoo and Microsoft can't come close to what Google has done with the knowledge graph and voice search. Android is forging ahead of iOS around the world. Chrome is one of the simplest but most sophisticated browsers on the planet. And the company's search ad products just keep cranking out the profits that pay for the company's push in to new areas. Larry Page Doesn't Think Competition Is Interesting Yet the individual products seem almost incidental to Page's quest for innovation. Towards the end of the keynote, he harped on the technology industry for holding back the pace of innovation with lawsuits, data hoarding and stifling cross-platform integration: You know we haven't seen this rate of change in computing for a long time. Probably not since the birth of personal computing... [but] despite the faster change in the industry, we're still moving slow relative to the opportunities we have. If Page had his way, Google would not be playing chess against it competitors, but working with them to create even more rice: You know every story I read about Google is sort of us vs. some other company, or some stupid thing, and I just don't find that very interesting. We should be building great things that don't exist. Most important things are not zero-sum. There's a lot of opportunity out there. We can use technology to make really new and really important things to make people's lives better. Business, of course, doesn?t typically work that way. Google has to exist within a whirlwind of quarterly earnings statements and antitrust lawsuits, litigation and corporate development. Given all that, it's amazing that Google is able to do all that it does, pushing the boundaries of technology every year. If Page is right, and we are truly just at 1% of what technology is capable of, someone has to lead the way into the remaining 99%. And despite Page's protestations, no one is better positioned than Google to do just that. Images by Nick Statt for ReadWrite.
- iOS Users Beg Apple: Set Our iPhones & iPads Free! (Thu, 16 May 2013 07:07:00 -0700)
We're still weeks away from Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 10-14, but one thing's for sure: Plenty of iPhone and iPad users are hoping for a fresh design and a more open, customizable experience. Last week, ReadWrite asked our esteemed readers what you're hoping to see in iOS 7. The two biggest take-aways: ReadWrite readers want iOS to be more customizable. ReadWrite readers would really like Android-style widgets on their iPhone and iPads. (Before we go any further, though, let's be totally clear: These results are not statistically representative of iOS users generally, but they do illuminate what many ReadWrite readers would like to see in iOS7.) Make iOS More Customizable When asked if iOS should open up and become more customizable, almost two thirds (64%) of respondents said Yes. Just 28% - less than a third - thought Apple should retain its strict, top-down control because this is how the company ensures a bulletproof user experience. That justification might be historically true, but it's becoming harder for Apple to ignore just how effectively Google is managing to catch up in terms of Android's UX design, while not sacrificing the flexibility Android has traditionally granted its users. For years, Apple fans could laugh off Android as a rusty, imperfect copycat with a lot of growing to do. And they were mostly right. But grown it has, and now Android is a more potent competitor to iOS than ever. With its chief competitor offering a far more customizable experience, Apple faces growing pressure to loosen its grip on iOS and give more control to its users. There's no guarantee that Apple will do that (and even if it does, the changes will no doubt be gradual), but the user demand seems clear. No Wonder Jailbreaking iOS Is So Popular This desire for greater control is exhibited in the growing popularity of jailbreaking - the unauthorized removal of Apple's limits on how people can use iOS. Even though there is no jailbreak available for the latest version of iOS, there are at least 30 million jailbroken iOS devices, according to Cydia creator Jay Freeman's website (Cydia is the "alternative to Apple's app store for 'jailbroken devices' "). Granted, that's a small percentage of the more than 500 million iOS devices Apple has sold to date, but the demand appears to be growing. When the evasi0n jailbreak tool for iOS 6 launched earlier this year, it was so popular that not only did people trying to access crash the site hosting it, but they crashed the Cydia app store and caused performance issues that lasted for days. With 7 million devices cracked in four days, evasi0n was the most popular iOS jailbreaking tool yet. Typically, when we write about the jailbreaking phenomenon here on ReadWrite, the chorus from Android-loving commenters is consistent: Google's mobile OS has been able to do XYZ for years, you doofus. Get a clue. Switch to Android. Snark aside, these folks have a point. Many of reasons people jailbreak their iPhones and iPads are indeed features that come natively on Android, or are at least a Google Play app download away. In our survey, ReadWrite asked readers to list the features they'd most like to see in iOS 7. The second most-used word in the responses was "customization." Other popular requests included improvements to iOS's multitasking, quicker access to settings, multiple user profiles and improvements to the Notification Center. Give Us Widgets Or Give Us Death! Overall, the most commonly requested feature was the inclusion of widgets on the home screen. The use of icons displaying live data has long been familiar to users of other operating systems and has even found its way into at least one iOS 7 preview mockup. Apparently, lots of iOS users are sick of looking at the Weather app icon and seeing the same sun that's been shining since the iPhone first launched in 2007. In total, 734 people responded to our survey. Are these just a bunch of Android fans flooding our Poll Daddy widget with pro-Google sentiment? Hardly. Not only did we give Android die-hards a chance to reveal themselves in the first question, but 61% of responses were made from iOS devices. Another 13% came from Mac computers. Anything else you're dying to see in iOS 7 when it's announced next month? Let us know in the comments. Related Reading: Why Jailbreaking iOS 6 Is Popular Enough To Break Cydia Why Apple Really Needs To Kill It With iOS 7 Apple's iOS Design Changes Threaten To Delay The Next iPhone Will Apple's New Design Changes Kill The Luster Steve Jobs Loved?
- Your Cloud Provider Is Toast. Now What? (Thu, 16 May 2013 06:02:00 -0700)
Your cloud provider is great. Your cloud provider is cheap. Your cloud provider is out of business. Now what do you do? If your favorite consumer cloud service goes out of business or simply feels it's time to end-of-life a particular application, it's frustrating but life goes on. More often than not, you weren't paying for the service, anyway. But for an enterprise, losing access to a preferred SaaS application can be devastating. Just ask Xeround's customers. Learning From Xeround's Failure Recently the Database-as-a-Service (DaaS) provider terminated its cloud database service, giving free users a week to pack up and move on, and paid customers just two weeks: "Xeround?s leadership forum has recently decided to re-focus the company?s effort. This means we will no longer be able to support our service over public clouds, across all of our currently active data centers... We ask you to please export your database instance and migrate your database to another service of your choosing before the termination date... We regret the inconvenience this causes you." It's a nice thought, if not particularly helpful. Moving to an alternative solution is easier said than done. Migration between products, cloud or otherwise, is never particularly easy, often by design. In the case of Xeround, which promises 100% MySQL compatibility, migrating to MySQL might not be difficult. But what if you wanted to move to an alternative database? Or what if instead of a database or other somewhat swappable infrastructure you were hoping to migrate off a SaaS application? Good luck with that. Open Source As A Safety Net Could open source help with this? While not a panacea, giving users both a cloud service and an on-premises deployment, with the latter offered as open source, would ensure a robust back-up plan. It might also give them comfort to use the cloud service in the first place. As Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos argues, infrastructure software is almost entirely open source now as developers "require access to the details [of their cloud infrastructure] ? not just to have the ability to do the same, but for the ability to verify the quality and modify to fit their needs." Businesses are embracing the cloud because it yields cost and convenience benefits, as Forrester's Ted Schadler posits. Add to this developer peace-of-mind and it's a near-perfect combination. This isn't really about source code. While some will want to tinker with code, doing so will generally void your contract with a vendor. Instead it's about security once the vendor fails or cancels a service: moving a cloud service to your data center, even if only temporarily, buys you time and makes the initiatl investment in the cloud much less precarious. What's Your Back-Up Plan? As organizations move to the cloud, increasingly with a 'cloud first' policy, having a back-up in mind is important. Open source is one option that seems to be working for SugarCRM, Eucalyptus and others. But what's your cloud back-up plan? Frequent data dumps? If you had the chance to migrate your end-of-life SaaS application to an on-premises, open-source deployment, would you do it? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
- How To Make The World Safer For Email (Thu, 16 May 2013 05:14:00 -0700)
Guest author Jeremy LaTrasse is the CEO and co-founder of Message Bus, and was a co-founder of Twitter. 30 years ago a Digital Equipment Corporation rep sent the first piece of spam. In 2013, the problem of spam has become an epidemic with severe if often unseen consequences. We now live in a world filled with digital messaging abuse; according to security giant Symantec, 65.9% of all email is spam! These days, the vast majority of that spam is caught and filtered before it reaches end-users' inboxes. But it's still out there, gumming up the works of the Internet and wasting huge amounts of network bandwidth as well as compute power and storage. And still enough gets through to make the practice worthwhile for the spammmers. The threats faced by everyone who gets email vary wildly from penny stock ads and offshore pharma spam to phishing emails and virus-laden attachments. Socially engineered email content leveraging relevant and timely news are hardest to spot. A classic example is tax-time emails that claim to come from the IRS (despite the IRS stating it will never contact anyone by email). Malicious content and links are hidden behind innocent URL shortners (such as Bit.ly, Ow.ly etc.) and hyperlinked text make detection of bad links particularly challenging. And compromised social media accounts may be the most effective ways to spread abuse and malware because we trust our friends and family. A Question Of Trust Yet trust is required for effective communication, especially when identity is involved. How can you, as an email recipient, trust that you are who you claim you are and that the message you are sending me is not malicious? The answer comes in the form of email authentication technologies that help establish identity. These technologies present evidence establishing where the message came from and who sent it. The email industry's leading organizations and thinkers have been working on ways of stopping fraudulent email for years. The most recent innovation, DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) is helping email services like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail quickly determine the legitimacy of incoming messages. For DMARC to be successful, though, both senders and receivers need to come to the table; recently Twitter announced that it would sign all of its outbound email with DMARC. DMARC's rapid adoption by the receiver side of the email world (ISPs and mailbox providers) has resulted in nearly 60% of the world's inboxes secured using DMARC technology in the first year alone. Much of the technologies actively establishing trust and identity are invisible to the end recipient, but Hotmail users might have seen a little green Shield icon in their inboxes - this seal informs recipients that Hotmail has taken an extra step to ascertain the identity of the sender. Despite the email industry's best efforts, however, fighting spam still requires the cooperation of the people and organizations who send and receive emails. (Mass) Email Senders Have A Responsibility Senders of legitimate email must take steps to ensure message security and protect their customers and their brand: Ensure all messages pass SPF (sender policy framework) and DKIM (domain keys identified mail) authentication. Publish a "reject" DMARC policy with reporting enabled. Scan the Internet for "cousin" domains, domains that may be mis-spellings of a legitimate message/corporate domain and have those taken down. (These are often a source of malware and spam aimed at unsuspecting recipients.) Protecting the brand's integrity also protects customers, everything is connected. Respect existing acceptable use policies and terms of service as they're published by ISPs and mailbox providers. Stay familiar with the data privacy laws in the countries where they do business; ensure that all messages and messaging practices follow applicable regulations defining privacy and data security. 5 Ways To Protect Yourself And regular email users also have to take steps to protect themselves: Use different passwords for different logins. Never share personally identifiable information (passwords, social security numbers, bank accounts, etc.) via email: Your bank will never email you and ask you to confirm your bank account number or the password you use to log into your account. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you don't know who sent it, delete it. If it was important, they'll send it again. Your operating system will update itself if you allow it to; usually you just have to agree once and it'll happen forever after. Look for email personalization in messages. Marketers leverage first name/last name, and other information you've shared with them when setting up an account to help identify them as legitimate senders. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.