Fry on Jobs

I instapapered1 this incredible piece on Steve Jobs by Stephen Fry a few weeks back. But I’ve been postponing to read it until this morning.

Henry Ford didn’t invent the motor car, Rockefeller didn’t discover how to crack crude oil into petrol, Disney didn’t invent animation, the Macdonald brothers didn’t invent the hamburger, Martin Luther King didn’t invent oratory, neither Jane Austen, Tolstoy nor Flaubert invented the novel and D. W. Griffith, the Warner Brothers, Irving Thalberg and Steven Spielberg didn’t invent film-making. Steve Jobs didn’t invent computers and he didn’t invent packet switching or the mouse. But he saw that there were no limits to the power that creative combinations of technology and design could accomplish.

He ends with an interesting anecdote about Jobs’ time at NeXT.

  1. http://www.instapaper.com

Android Smartphone Users are App Aware

From ABI Research’s “Mobile Applications Market Data”:

​In Q2 2011, Android overtook iOS to become the market share leader in mobile application downloads. The market shares of Android and iOS were 44% and 31%, respectively.

Apple announced at its iPhone 4S event that it had reached its 18th billion download, meaning that Android has about 25 billion downloaded apps. update: These percentages probably refer to this year’s market share, not the overall download number.

“Despite leading in total mobile application downloads, Android’s app downloads per user still lag behind Apple’s by 2-to-1,” adds Dan Shey, practice director, mobile services.

Given both these numbers, this means that the claim that “Most Android users are upgrading their dumb phone to a smartphone without really dipping into the whole mobile app thing.” doesn’t seem to hold.

update: The massive download numbers for Android that ABI reports seems to be contradicted by the more recent numbers by Piper Jaffray. This analysis brings the download total for Android to 6,750 million, compared to 18,566 million for iOS.

What’s Up With That?

After much unwarranted indignation about the iPhone 4S release, pundits and techies were looking forward to the introduction of the Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.

The introduction came and went, and before long, the first reviews started pouring in. Let’s dissect one from wired.co.uk and see if it really blows iPhone 4S out of the water, as per general expectation.

The physical design of the phone is remarkably similar to its predecessor, the Nexus S — especially from the front. In fact, if it weren’t for the size of the handset and a slightly redesigned backplate, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart at all.

What, no complete redesign? Disappointing! You could almost say the Galaxy Nexus is nothing more than a blown-up Nexus S, in terms of external design. Sounds familiar in more than one way.

The [..] backplate feels good in the hand. It’s textured with a diagonal checkerboard pattern that offers up some grip and is easily peeled back to reveal the (user-replacable) battery and the SIM card slot. It’s a small detail, perhaps, but we were quite pleased to see that you can insert and remove a SIM card without having to take the battery out.

The number of people that replace the battery probably matches the number of people that replace the SIM card after the first setup. Still if you’re ever in a situation where you need to help someone out by switching SIMs, it’s useful that you can do it quickly, without the need for rebooting the phone.

The Galaxy Nexus is driven by a Texas Instruments 1.2GHz dual-core OMAP4460 processor, which is high-end but doesn’t quite hit the heady heights that HTC does with the 1.5GHz dual-core Sensation XE. That doesn’t really matter, though, because in our testing the Galaxy Nexus was happy to chew through most processing tasks that we threw at it without a problem.

So it doesn’t matter if the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t have 1.5Ghz. Because it clearly has the iPhone 4S beaten with its under-clocked, sub gigahertz, A5 dual core processor that lags and stutters all over the place.

Again, like the Nexus S, the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t come with SD card support. Instead, there’s 32GB of onboard storage that’ll happily suck up the majority of the music, movies and apps that you want to load onto it.

What, no expandability? I’m at a loss for words.

As a slight aside, when it comes to apps, once upon a time Android trailed the iPhone in terms of catalogue. Happily that’s no longer true, and the few exclusives that iOS still retains are more than compensated for by the tendency for Android apps to be free and ad-supported, rather than costing money.

Who cares about apps nowadays right? Well, for those who still do, Android now has a catalogue full of high-quality apps. And the best thing is that most of them are free or ad-based. It seems like yesterday that high-quality apps were mostly an App Store exclusive.

There are even a few Android exclusives to be had now, most notably the mobile phone edition of Minecraft.

Too bad indeed for iOS users. I hear the reviews of Minecraft — pocket edition are absolutely raving:

Overall, Minecraft: Pocket Edition is a bit underwhelming, especially when there’s so much on the desktop version that’s missing from the mobile experience. I know it’s an early alpha, but for $6.99, I was personally expecting more. That being said, it’s still kind of a technical marvel, having such an open sandbox running on mobile devices.

Back to the Galaxy Nexus:

[..] we weren’t blown away by the camera. It’s not especially bad, just unremarkable, and with the significant improvements in that department between the iPhone 4 and the 4S, it’s a little disappointing to see so little progress having been made in Google’s newest flagship handset.

Hey, you can’t win ‘m all. However, you forgot to tell us that Samsung boasts the camera shoots pics with “zero shutter lag,” and is capable of taking shots in low-light settings.

However, ThisIsMyNext has this to report:

The camera app comes with a promise of zero shutter lag and indeed we saw a Google rep bash away at the capture button with practically no delay between shots. They weren’t all in focus[..], but it was an impressive demo and a sign that Google is taking the speed of photography on Android devices seriously. We’ve added a gallery of shots taken with the 5-megapixel camera [..] — as you can see, the still shots aren’t all that impressive, but the panorama shot is pretty awesome.

And then, the smartphone feature that everyone — tech geek or no — cares deeply about:

Then there’s the battery life. Typically, when you review a phone, the battery life is about as good as it’s going to get, because it’s new. If that’s the case with the Galaxy Nexus then purchasers will want to keep a microUSB cable close, because the big screen, and connectivity options sip a lot of juice. You’ll get a full day’s use out of it, just about, but woe betide you if you need to make a long phone call that day and you didn’t bring your charger with you.

Fortunately you can always replace the battery halfway during the day.

Finally, it’d be unfair to not at least mention the other bonus goodies that you get with most Android phones but which aren’t new in the Galaxy Nexus.

Read: let’s rehash some Nexus S features from our review last year.

Let’s not, but instead focus on this one:

[..] the voice functions (which are almost the equal of iOS 5’s Siri),

They are so almost the equal of iPhone 4S’ Siri (not iOS5) that your colleagues from across the Atlantic Ocean spent half a review discussing them. Seems a bit much if all they could have done was refer to an older Android review. They must be caught in the residual reality distortion field.

But hey, “the Galaxy Nexus spec sheet checks off all the important boxes”. Except for the CPU, the camera, the battery life, the microSD card slot, and last but not least, the brand new external design — “what’s up with that?”

Remind Me Again What It Is For?

The new Reminders app in iOS 5 felt contrived when it was first introduced at WWCD’11. I’ve been trying to come up with reasons that would explain its existence ever since.

Apple doesn’t introduce a feature without a valid reason. Let alone make it a part of a list of 10 new features in iOS 5 and spend 5 minutes of a keynote explaining it. It’s not like the App Store isn’t filled with instances of the reminder app, with some as simple as Apple’s, and others with a lot more bells and whistles.

During my viewing of the keynote, it seemed as if Apple was telling developers: “Look, location is a killer use case for a reminder app, why didn’t you guys think of this”? Although I am not intimately familiar with the details of Location in the multi-tasking API, at that time, I figured that this was something that should be possible1. Anyway, it was pretty clear from the keynote that Location was where Apple was focussing on in Reminders.

Later on, when Steve introduced iCloud, Reminders seemed yet another example of user data that is a clear candidate for integration into iCloud. All of your reminders, automatically shared across all of your iOS devices. Reminders could be Apple’s way to demonstrated a valid case for an app to integrate with iCloud. Like Compass is a demonstration of the integrated digital compass in the iPhone 4.

While both possibilities are in line with Apple’s behavior of guide by example, neither provides a compelling reason for Reminders to exist at all. Reminders is a very basic app, yet wielding the location stick furiously.

Then, on October 4th, Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S, together with the rumored, but previously unannounced personal assistant feature called Siri. A voice control system that allows rudimentary control of various functions throughout iOS.

Reminders may not be the killer app in the category, but creating (location-based) reminders by only using your voice is a killer feature for Siri. It is the personal assistant pick-up line of all time: “Remind me to go buy flowers for my personal assistant when I leave home”. It wouldn’t surprise me that “Remind me to do something when I leave” was a Siri brainstorm note that planted the seed for a Reminder app. In a very much completely opposite manner, Apple showed us Reminders first, paving the road for Siri.

As for Siri’s future, I suspect the feature will become a reoccurring topic in the coming keynotes. The problem with Siri is that it’s still under heavy development. Don’t get me wrong, Apple is confident about the technology, otherwise it wouldn’t have made it into the iPhone. But the danger lies in people trying it out in the first week, deciding that it doesn’t work that well after all, and tossing it aside. Apple knows this, that’s why they branded it Beta, before releasing it to literary millions of users. If Apple really cares about Siri it will need to rekindle the flame every time it further improves the core tech and releases additional languages and commands2.

  1. Apparently Locationizer is an app that supports location-based reminders and has been in the store since September, 2010.
  2. Why is there no “record message”?

This is a joke right?

Something Big is coming later

Well, yes, the artwork is a fake (original), but the message is based on a joint statement by Google and Samsung:

Samsung and Google decide to postpone the new product announcement at CTIA Fall. We agree that it is just not the right time to announce a new product. New date and venue will be shortly announced.

I gather they are postponing the official announcement of the rumored Google-branded Android handset. What I don’t get is what they are agreeing to in the second sentence. What makes the second week of October a bad time for a product announcement, that gets better by postponing? Is it because of the iPhone 4S introduction? The Android crowd was not particularly impressed with the iPhone 4S. Because of Steve Jobs death? I do not think it would be disrespectful to advance the field of technology that Steve unearthed in 2007. Quite the opposite. Is it because they do not want to take away the spotlight of Ice Cream Sandwich? An OS needs a host, right?

I guess we will find out shortly.

update Google and Samsung confirm in a statement to All Things Digital that the event has been postponed out of respect for Steve Jobs. — Well, there you go.