Why Google and Apple still have a lot to Learn from Microsoft

The Apple and Google brands dominate the modern digital communications landscape, between them seemingly shaping the future of mobile. Whilst they have shared a breathtaking run of success and growth, the two brands embody very different aspirations.  Despite their success, they still have a lot to learn from Microsoft.

Apple – Supporting Safe Early Adopting through Corporate Paranoia
For the would-be early adopters of technology who want to be sure that their early adoption will be a smooth experience that will signal both a forward-looking attitude, and a personal commitment to uncompromising design values, the latest and greatest gadgets from Apple are a perennial must-have. For the technologically savvy, not afraid to experiment, get their hands dirty, look under the bonnet and get fully involved in their technology, whilst seeing the latest developments even before they have been polished, the restless and even reckless genius of Google is source of ultimate satisfaction.

In order to make the end-to-end user-experience safe for consumers who want to be isolated from what’s under the bonnet, Apple have sought to control every aspect of their eco-system. There is the Apple way and no other if you want to get on board their band wagon – at no point can the experience of a user be allowed to bring the design judgements of Apple into question. At times this attitude of safeguarding the user from themselves has backfired – I challenge anyone to tell me honestly that moving files to your iPhone using iTunes is not a nightmarish process when you switch computers or just want to put a track on from a computer other than the one you are paired with. I know that Apple will be addressing this soon, but it is a clear example of where Apple’s paranoia about controlling user behaviour is made tangible.

Google – Trust the Users, Accept Rough Edge
At the other end of the spectrum, Google’s app market place trusts to user feedback and ratings – no review process except by users. It is undeniable that the overall quality of apps on iTunes is well above that on the Android Market. From Google’s perspective, everything should be driven by users, informed by users, open to users to use or not use, ignore or engage with. You have to be a bit braver to engage, but you can keep on digging with Android, or indeed any of Google’s web services, and finding new joys, excitements and, sometimes, rough edges. Google trusts its users more, and puts faith in the increasing technological savvy of younger generations, along with their cost consciousness, to gain long-term advantage over Apple.

Releasing Apps – Apple’s Big Brother v. Google’s Wild West
These divergent brand aspirations extend beyond the end-user facing aspects of their respective offerings and are even clearer when releasing an app. Want to put out an iPhone app – you won’t be able to guess exactly when your app will come out of the review process, or even exactly happens whilst its being inspected. If a major marketing campaign is slated to coincide with the launch of your company’s new app, then you better leave plenty of time for review, and don’t give a firm date for your campaign until your app is approved – you may even find that it isn’t permitted at all. By contrast, releasing an Android app is instant – no questions asked. At the same time, it’s a good bet that most of the users you really want – high spending, early adopters – will have an iPhone or iPad, so this is not even a choice.

Developing with Apple – Apple’s Way or the Highway
When developing code for these respective platforms, the divergence is even clearer. Apple’s XCode development tool is idiosyncratically Apple, using a language that only Apple cult members could really love – Objective C. At the same time, once you’ve paid for your Apple developer account, which you need to release apps, the development tools are free, and cover every aspect you need covering for developing and testing – even if the process is a little painful.

Want to use Apple’s standard design patterns – that’s fine, you will find more than adequate support, though it involves some fairly logic-defying steps to get things done. Want to do things your own way, or even in a way that is commonly established for lots of other platforms – well, you can do it, but you will find yourself on your own, fighting their tool all the way. Want to use another tool – well, there are permissible alternatives, but none deliver the same access to underlying behaviours and performance compared with Apple’s own tool – in part because Apple doesn’t want to open the development of its ecosystem up to interlopers.

Whatever the problems with developing apps for the iPhone or iPad, there is one thing that makes the idiosyncrasies of Apple easy to swallow – you know what kind of device your developing for, what it’s capabilities are and how you are going to test  your app to make sure it works properly on anything it’s going to be used on.

Developing with Android – Endless Possibilities, Endless Fragmentation
If you want to create apps for Android, there are a number of ways you can go, though the most standard is using the Eclipse IDE, which has been around quite a while as a java development tool. Unlike Apple’s XCode, in order to install the Android development tools, you require a number of downloads and a more involved set up. The fact that you create code for Android using a plugin for a tool not made by them speaks volumes about Google’s general approach – try to reuse the best of what’s already out there, add extra bits to make things easier, provide documentation and starting points and let everyone get on with it. Thankfully, Android is java based, which makes it easy for the majority of programmers – familiar with java or the very similar C# – to get stuck in.

The possibilities with Android are seemingly endless, there are no complete answers, but lots of starting points. The satisfaction of engaging in truly novel development is, however, tempered by the fact that you cannot be sure what kind of device you will be dealing with – screen resolution, memory, capabilities – vary massively. As has been acknowledged by many commentators, Android’s major problem is the fragmentation of the platform – so, you may test your app with a good many devices, but there is still the overarching, and realistic, worry that it won’t work on some device that is key to your target user market.

Indeed, fragmentation is the key phrase one would probably use for the whole Android experience – lots of different ways of doing things, lots of potential tools, lots of downloads to get you going, lots of reference sites and forums, lots of devices, formats and capabilities. No app can hope to work properly on every “Android” platform – and you may easily get caught out by phone features such as physical slide-out keyboards that require the phone to be used one way up rather than another.

Pining for Microsoft
In all honesty, I have no particular axe to grind here – there are many things that I like about developing for the iPhone / iPad, and there are many other things that I like about developing for Android. They are very distinct experiences with their own very well defined pro’s and con’s. However, the very fact that both have their clear drawbacks means that they have a long way to go in fully supporting their developer communities – regardless of what their fanatical partisan adherents would have you believe. Here, I think that both Apple and Google have a lot to learn from Microsoft, a company whose current, though likely temporary, absence as a significant figure in the mobile space is sorely missed by many developers.

Over the years, particularly while it’s dominance as the leader in software and technology was largely undisputed,  Microsoft received much criticism over its behaviour. Over the course of court cases on the bundling of Internet Explorer on Windows, amongst many others, it demonstrated a certain ruthlessness in pursuit of corporate advantage. Nevertheless, Microsoft’s heartland was always its development community – which it looked after in a way that no other company has been able to.

Take, for example, the current version of Visual Studio, and in particular its new scripting language for the web – RAZOR. It is, quite simply, a breathtakingly elegant and simple approach to creating highly interactive web applications, one that keeps coding and obscure development processes to a minimum. Microsoft really know how to make a developer’s life simple – and C#, in my opinion, is probably the best general purpose programming language, or certainly the most carefully elaborated – with well-structure libraries and tools, as well as a very active open-source community.

Over the course of a bumpy track record, Microsoft have got their development tools and frameworks just right – which is why it is such a shame that Microsoft largely missed the boat in mobile, at least until their Nokia deal pays dividends. Moreover, when developing for the B2B market, where the expertise and experience of corporate ICT, security and compliance departments is key, I sense that a lot of mobile and tablet developments are being held back for fear of using anything other than the familiar Microsoft platforms.

Apple, Google and Microsoft – a lot to learn from each other
This does not mean that I want Microsoft to suddenly steal a march on Apple and Google, to become dominant in mobile as they once were, and still largely are, in the desktop market. Far from it – but I think some healthy competition from Microsoft will not only free up forward-looking technological development in the corporate market – but it will also make Apple and Google alike up their game in supporting their developers.

I live in the vain hope that Apple will take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book and start loving their developers a little bit more, that Google will take a bit more care over polishing and integrating their disparate services and support, and that Microsoft learn what makes mobile devices tick. All three have massive amounts to offer by way of advancing mobile and other technology for corporates and consumers alike. All three have their distinct style and flavour – personally, I don’t think any one is better, at least in a general sense, than any of the others – but all of them are needed.

Advertisements

Roundup of the Week (w/e 27/02/2011)

Without a doubt the key market development over the last week or so has been the major change in Google’s search algorithm. Taken together with Google’s commitment to take greater account of social media, this signals a profound change in the terrain of SEO and online marketing more generally. Organisations that already use social media in concert with websites other channels to pursue genuinely useful content-based marketing will have little to fear. Content farms and organisations who play the game more cynically will have to change tack pretty sharpish.

Search

  • Google Announces Massive Search Algorithm Change
    Google just changed its search algorithm and effectively declared war on Content Farms like Demand Media. The change has only taken effect so far in the US, but will be shortly rolled out across all of its search domains. Google aims to filter out sites that are simply there to capture traffic and sell premium ad-space whilst promoting sites with genuine original content.
    Given Google’s recent spat with Bing over the quality and reuse of search results, as well as Google’s overall dependence on primacy in the search market, they simply couldn’t afford to allow the quality of search results to continue to decline.
    Silicon Alley Insider
  • Google Social Search Integrates Twitter, Quora and Flickr
    Internet users are relying more and more on location based services and peer recommendations than general search results. Accordingly, Google has updated their social search to feature three new levels of integration, including Twitter, Quora and Flickr.
    The general search landscape is being transformed rapidly by the inclusion of social media. This will present a challenge for SEO-conscious enterprises, who will need to depend more on the genuine provision of useful content across social media as well as more traditional web-based content outlets, rather than simply producing content to feed the SEO-machine.
    CMSWire

CMS

  • Apache Chemistry Official
    The Apache Chemistry project, the open source implementation of the Content Management Interoperability Specification (CMIS) standard, left the incubator stage and was promoted to a full Apache Software Foundation project.
    Though many commercial vendors have offerings permitting the repurposing of CMS based content, this open source project heralds the mass adoption of more formal content reuse techniques. Technology only offers the fulfilment of cross-platform content – the bigger question is how to intelligently manage the different contexts of information use across desktop, smartphone, tablet and in-app content re-use.
    CMSWire

Mobile

  • 20% of Employees Use Smartphone at Work
    Almost 20 per cent of employees use a smartphone for work, up sharply from 13 per cent just a year ago, according to new research from Forrester.
    Corporates need to start acting in order to take advantage of their staff use of smartphone through a sensible knowledge and content management strategy, rather than simply reacting to the threat such expansion in use might present.
    Mobile Marketing News
  • 140 Million Android Portable Devices by End of 2011
    There will be an installed base of 140m Android portable devices, including smartphones and tablets, by the end of 2011, according to IMS Research forecasts. The market intelligence firm says the recent unveiling of Google’s Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) operating system for tablets, along with enhancements to Android Market, will do much to enhance growth prospects for this segment.
    Apple may be in the driving seat at the moment in the tablet market, but Google are almost certain to dominate in the longer term – the main question is how well they can tie together that base with their undoubted flair for open exchange of content and information.
    Mobile Marketing News
  • Apple Subscriptions for Publishing Apps not SAAS
    Apple’s new subscription rules, which take a 30% cut of all subscriptions done through the app, apply to content publishing apps and not SaaS apps, Steve Jobs has said in a new email. Whilst this does, on the face of it, seem like good news, the lack of definition between publishing apps and SAAS still leaves a very significant room for commercial interpretation on the part of Apple
    Given Apple’s track record for frequently changing tack on Apple Store guidelines, one wonders whether this ‘clarification’ really makes anything very clear. Apple seem to operate very much in the moment when it comes to guidelines, so this conceptual ambiguity only serves to leave yet more guideline gerrymandering on the cards.
    Silicon Alley Insider
  • Windows Phone 7 Update a Disaster
    Microsoft just rolled out an update to Windows Phone 7, and what should be routine has turned into a fiasco. For some phones, the update just fails and you have to reboot the phone (without the update) — for other phones, the update “bricks” the phone, i.e. turns it into a paperweight.
    Following so close on the heels of the contraversial link up with Nokia, it would seem that a disastrous mobile OS update is about the last thing that Microsoft needs right now
    Silicon Alley Insider

Tablets

  • HP Touchpad on Sale in April?
    As with other tablet suppliers, the rumour mills are put into full operation to maximise marketing message in advance of launch, so any announcement should be accepted with caution. Current noises-off suggest an April launch for the HP Touchpad, with its Palm-derived WebOS.
    If there is one thing that Apple is good at, it is the creation of desire and its subsequent prompt fulfilment – when they have a product launch, they have stacks of product ready to buy. Other tablet suppliers who are yet to release their big product are suffering from prolonged pre-release rumour mongering – the boy who cried wolf syndrome. Nevertheless, HP’s release of the Touchpad and its subsequent progress are sure to be of significant interest – will they steal a march on Microsoft given the latter’s late entry into the tablet market.
    Engadget

Apps

  • Chrome Browser Becoming OS within an OS
    Little by little, iteration by iteration, the Chrome browser is quietly morphing into a full-fledged multitasking operating system in its own right. The release of functionality this week shows an aggressive policy aimed at eventually supplanting Microsoft’s Office suite and eventually Windows itself. The announcements included support for new file types in Google Docs, the ability to run background apps and, perhaps most significantly, Google Cloud Connect, which allows users to sync Office documents to Google Docs. Chrome browser is slowly becoming Chrome OS on another OS.
    Perhaps the biggest attraction of Google’s Chrome model is the sheer mobility it encourages. You could move between totally different machines in different locations, with a different OS and hardware and still be confident that provided you can install the browser, you can do whatever you need to without the headache of installing apps and ensuring versions match up. As very fast broadband becomes more widely adopted, its hard to see how this proposition won’t be attractive to many users. Others may talk about the cloud, but Google is still the only company who define what that means to everyday users.
    Tech Crunch
  • Google is Getting Strict About Android App Payments
    Google has suddenly pulled the popular Visual VoiceMail app from the Android Marketplace, seemingly because of a dispute over in-app payments, according to GigaOm. After two years with no problems, Google notified PhoneFusion on Tuesday that it was pulling the app for a violation of section 3.3 of the distribution agreement for the Android Marketplace, which requires developers to use Google’s payment system for in-app payments. Visual VoiceMail is free, but the company sells add-on services like transcription through its Web site.
    Although Google have made their own subscription platform a lot cheaper – only a 1/3 of the cost – of Apple’s. However, by beginning to act publicly on subscription rule enforcement, Google run the risk of validating Apple’s model and thereby strengthening its hand. This risk seems to be outweighed by Google’s desire to capitalise on the the runaway success of Visual VoiceMail.
    Silicon Alley Insider

Hardware

  • 2011: Year of the Solid State Device (SSD)
    Disk manufacturers are putting a new spin on an old product: Solid State Drives. New technology, increased power costs, space limitation, and new business requirements are driving advances in storage. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are part of that new technological push toward more efficiency, increased agility, and higher demand.
    Solid State Devices (SSD) based systems offer rapid startup and reduced mechanical complexity compared with hard drive based systems. With the continuing long-term downward trend in the cost of memory, it is hardly surprising that offerings like the MacBook Air appear attractive. Will this year be the year of the SSD?
    Dzone.com

This Week’s Excitement

  • More Evernote
    I got my API key through for Evernote this week, now I can start playing around with its Edam API, to create some more interesting ways to interact with the content.
    www.evernote.com/about/developer/
  • More MVC and Razor
    Microsoft’s new version of their MVC framework (MVC3), including a new way of including dynamic functionality, called “Razor”, hits all the right notes. They have basically been watching what their development  community has been doing and then adopting all the best practices – which is as it should be.
    www.asp.net/mvc/mvc3
  • Google Trends
    I’m sure most of you have tried out Google Trends – it had only grabbed my passing attention – but there is no doubt that it is a tool of major importance in trying to gauge interest in particular issues over time – it is also a brilliant way of assessing the likely effectiveness of your keyword alternatives in SEO.
    www.google.com/trends

Turn Twitter Searches into Research Archives using Google Reader

Ok, so you are plugged in to endless Twitter feeds to get the low down on what’s going on – but how do you turn this into a useful research resource?

You can keep a track of what is being tweeted and collect it in an archive by using a combination of the Twitter advanced search and Google Reader. Using Twitter’s advanced search allows you to filter out what you don’t want and only keep what’s of interest. Using Google Reader means the captured search feed is then archived for later review – hence building a knowledge base.

How to do it:

  1. If you don’t already have a Google account, set one up
  2. In Firefox (preferably) go to Twitter Advanced search – http://search.twitter.com/advanced – and set all your search criteria, don’t forget to choose language – change the number of results to 50
  3. Iterate to perfect – search, look at the results, use the back arrow to return to the form with the details pre-filled, then search again
  4. Once you’ve got a results list you like the look of, click on the RSS (Feed for the Query) link on the RHS – if you haven’t already chosen your default, you will be asked what to use to subscribe to the feed – choose Google
  5. The Google Reader interface will be loaded and you will be asked for confirmation for subscribing

Now you will have an archived, updated RSS feed with your Twitter search in it, that you can review whenever you want – you can even then use it as the raw material for a Yahoo Pipe, or other feed consumer.

%d bloggers like this: