[]WATCH predictions

I read some reviews of the watch. I haven’t used one, but I can tell you most of the same things the reviews do:

For the first week or so you’ll be playing with it constantly and there will be lots of people saying “the battery life isn’t good enough”, because it’s not designed to be used constantly.

You’ll get lots of notifications and you’ll realize that they’re really annoying and intrusive. Then you’ll put the effort in to manage those notifications and the problem will go away, you’ll only be told about important things.

Then the novelty will wear off and it’ll just be a thing you glance at but you’ll forget about it a lot but it’s useful and you’ll be happy you have it.

Then you’ll get to the actual useful phase where it really does fulfill that “I don’t look at my phone” thing and you’ll find that not only does the battery last long enough* but your phone battery lasts a lot longer now as well, because you’re not looking at it as much – calendar notifications no longer mean that you’re holding an inherently distracting device that you’re inclined to keep fiddling with.

Then you’ll stop using it, and think “this is actually annoying to wear”, and take it off.

Then you’ll realize that actually you use it all the time and had stopped noticing and now it’s incredibly irritating to have to pick the phone up all the time, and you’ll miss messages because your phone is face-down on the desk or something, so you put it back on.

Forgive me while I’m That Android Guy for a moment here. But I know all this because we did this last year. I’m genuinely interested to see if the extra capabilities of []WATCH are really meaningful, but it’ll be hard – ecosystem lock-in means that almost no-one will be able to have worn both. Maybe the touch-drawing or the Haptic Wossname or whatever will be a meaningful improvement over Android Wear. Maybe not. I don’t know anyone who’ll be able to tell me, and I’m bored of reading reviews that tell me all the same things I learned last year about smart watches.

Oh. And it’s really annoying in restaurants and cinemas because YOU HAVE A LIGHTBULB STRAPPED TO YOUR WRIST. Google solved that one pretty fast – there’s a ‘theatre mode’ now that locks the backlight off unless you explicitly tap to wake, but wow that was annoying while it lasted.

* battery life of >20 hours and <1 week is not interesting because everything in that range means “charge nightly”. I have a Pebble Time coming. I’m wondering if the slightly >1 week battery it promises will make a meaningful difference.

Measure carefully first

Ben Brooks – Apple’s Cut:

This is the heart of the issue. Consumers don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t have to know the people and motives behind purchases in apps — all consumers should need to do is trust that Apple has done their job vetting all of this.

Apple failed to do that with Path and other apps that uploaded user contacts, but I have yet to see a scenario where in-app purchases turned out to be a scam. Apple vets the in-app purchases closely because they know that consumers trust them to do just that — and because Apple must spend the time and resources to vet these goods, Apple feels they are entitled to their cut.

I think Apple is entitled to their cut too — just so long as they continue to do an excellent job vetting the apps.

But they’re not doing an excellent job. They’re claiming to do a job that isn’t possible, then sticking inappropriate band-aids over problems retroactively if there’s enough press outrage.

There was no possible way for Apple to prevent “Pathgate” short of entirely preventing apps from getting at the phone’s address book data. The consumer trust in Apple is.. not misplaced – the App Store is a safer and nicer place than the Android store / Google Play / whatever it’s called – but it’s not fully justified. There hasn’t been a major in-app purchase scam yet.

You can have a business model OR an ecosystem

So now Apple are rejecting iPhone apps that link to the Dropbox “create account” page:

Reason for rejection is the fact that if the user does not have Dropbox application installed then the linking authorization is done through Safari (as per latest SDK).

Once the user is in Safari it is possible for the user to click “Desktop version” and navigate to a place on Dropbox site where it is possible to purchase additional space.

Apple views this as “sending user to an additional purchase” which is against rules.

Devin Chalmers has a similar story:

Through five rounds of rejection and revision, over eight weeks, we and our appeals team kept bowdlerizing our signup links and verbiage to no avail: every week the big red dot would descend again on our iTunes Connect icon

[..]

Eventually it became clear that, from the reviewers’ perspective, there was a problem with that, at all: it wasn’t the (already redacted) signup links that we were being rejected for, but any GitHub link. At all.

In the specific case of Dropbox, they have an SDK that will let you sign into an existing account. According to MacStories:

[..] the Dropbox team has already released a “beta” version of the 1.2.2 SDK, which removes the option to create an account on Dropbox.com. The beta SDK was seeded a few hours ago, and there’s the possibility Apple will reverse its decision on those rejections once they see the removal of the incriminated links.

So, if I’m trying to write a client app against a third party API, I have exactly one option – put a username/password login form for that service directly into my app – not exactly good security practice – and offer the user no help at all in creating accounts on this service.

If I’m integrating against, say, the Flickr API, which doesn’t offer this ability, I’m stuffed. No more third party Flickr clients on the App Store, I guess. Or I could write to Yahoo! and ask them to provide a login flow that doesn’t provide any links that lets my users escape and get to a page that’ll let Yahoo! ask for money. Good luck with that.

As someone who wants to write apps against third party APIs, I now limited to writing clients against:

  • free services that have no intention of ever charging money (i.e., services that are going to go out of business)
  • or paid services that are willing to not try to up-sell their customers during account creation and won’t ever change this policy (i.e., services that are going to go out of business)

And if I have a web service with an API and would like people to write against it, my options are limited to one of

  • Don’t charge money, or provide the option to charge money, and never plan to charge money
  • Don’t provide any easy way for users who are new to the service and are coming from a third-party client to give me money
  • Don’t have an ecosystem

iOS data security and @parislemon

Android and iOS are operating systems that run on computers. Granted, these computers are smaller than the ones you grew up with, but they’re still computers. And guess what? In many ways, they work like computers have in past — including the ability of accessing your other files. It’s a feature, not a bug.

MG Siegler – Prompts

I agree – phones are computers now. But we’re still right to be annoyed over this, in the same way we were right to be annoyed over PathGate. Apps on my phone have the ability to go behind my back and take my (and other people’s) personal data. Of course they can. It’s a computer. They can do all sorts of things, and there are perfectly good and safe reasons to do all of them. This power can be used for evil! And it’s not possible to tell in advance if a given application is going to do something evil.

But we’re still right to be annoyed, because preventing this sort of thing was pretty much the entire premise of the app store review process. (That, and stopping iPhones bringing down the entire West Cost phone network, of course.) Apple promised to protect us from evil applications, and used this as justification for all sorts of stupid rejections that in no way made my iPhone experience safer.

I’m prepared to accept the trade off of a review process that sometimes stops good things if it’ll also stop bad things. But it’s not stopping the bad things. And it’s not possible to stop the bad things. It probably stops a lot of them. But that’s not the trade-off I was promised.

Apple and Address Book permissions

I’m late on this. But from All Things D last week:

[..] soon, apps that use address book data will require explicit user permission to do so.

This doesn’t fix the Thing That Actually Happened, it’s just a sop to people who want to see more gratuitous security. Merely gating access to the Address book doesn’t distinguish properly between Path’s “We’re going to send your entire address book to our servers and store it forever” friend finder, and Marco’s “I just want to make sure a particular contact isn’t already in your address book, and wouldn’t dream of sending anything to my server” Read Later contact install process. Even post-fix, the Path blog post doesn’t make it clear if they’re still going to store my address book (assuming I send it to them again) for all time or not, or how much contact information they’re sending.

This fix might even make things worse. The new version of Path shows a dialog box explaining roughly what they’re going to do with your data before requesting address book access. Once Apple have a gate in the way, are they going to put up two redundant dialog boxes? Or will they drop the helpful one and leave up a single “Path wants access to your address book but I won’t tell you why” confirmation?

It’s not access to the data that needs guarding. It’s what the apps do with the data. Of course, a technical solution to this problem is probably impossible. I’m just bitching.

Things about Google+

Some thoughts about Google+.

First the simple one. I understand / appreciate Twitter’s simplicity a lot more now. It only does one thing. You don’t need to keep track of notifications and posts and tags and checkins and comments. You just read the timeline till you get bored or catch up.

Secondly, on an Android phone, with the Plus app installed, I’m now able to share my photos and comments, and links, you name it, into Plus from the system-wide Share menu, using any application on the system that supported sharing. On my iPhone, I need to wait for the G+ API to be released, then for all of the applications I use to individually invent and implement their own seperate ways of adding a “share to Google+” button, then for Apple to approve new releases of all their software, then I have to upgrade them all on my phone.

One of the reasons that Apple makes products with such nice experiences is because they control the stack from the hardware level right up to the applications on the phone. Everything works together. But that’s where Apple’s work stops – all the applications are (intentionally) silos that don’t / can’t talk to each other. The assumption is that once you have an application to do a thing, you’re finished. To do a different thing, use a different application.

Google’s management / control doesn’t reach down as far as the hardware, or even the OS layer (as the operators / manufacturers can do a lot of things to the platform in the name of differentiation), so Android suffers from a framgmentation problem at those levels. But at the network ecosystem level, they’re stronger than Apple – all of their internet products play together reasonably well. It’s not great, but it’s decent. Google+ can recommend contacts from my address book, or because I’ve sent them mail in the past. It can use the profile I already had. I can use photos that are already in Picassa in my posts without me having to faff (if I used picassa..).

Android has better Share support because Android is a platform that understands the Internet, whereas iOS stops at the Application layer. If you care about having nice applications, iOS is better, because everything about it is aimed at having nice applications. But in the next version of iOS, Apple might manage to ship system-wide support for Twitter, just as everyone I know stops caring.

(Related – when I get a notification on iOS that I have a new @reply tweet, or a new message on some service, it’s merely a notification. I have to launch the app to see what it is. If I’m underground when I see the notification, then I’m just stuffed. On Android, I’ll have the notification because the app already has the data. When I lived in Berlin, this didn’t matter, because you can get decent data everywhere, even on the u-bahn. In London, data is a lot spottier, and it’s changing the importance I put on offline support and background-fetching of data.)

Creator codes now dead

Thus, an application in Snow Leopard cannot use a creator code attached to a document to bind that document to itself.

Snow Leopard Snubs Document Creator Codes

Well, as far as I’m concerned, good. I don’t think I’ve opened a document by double-clicking on it in years – the unpredictability of ‘which of the 4 text editors I have installed is going to open this time?’ has led me to stick a TextMate icon in my Finder toolbar, and I open all text files by dragging them to that icon. Likewise, I have an Acorn icon there I drag images to. For other file types, I tend to drag them to the Dock. Why on earth would I want the preferred text/image editor of whoever originally wrote this file to affect what application I use to edit it?

Now I might be able to cure myself of the habit, and go back to trusting my computer to open files in the apps that I actually use.

It’s hard to like Android.

I don’t have a personal beef against Apple or the iPhone – I’ve never wanted to tether my computer to my phone, I can’t get a Google Voice account (Google maintain an air of smug US-centricity sometimes that Apple can’t match), and I’ve never tried to ship an app with an open webkit in it. But the reflected rage about the whole thing has me all annoyed/uncomfortable/fearful in advance.

So I’m casting around for replacements. And basically, this means Android, as it seems to suck less than everything else. Indeed, if the iPhone didn’t exist, Android phones would be easily the best phones out there for me. Maybe the Pre/WebOS would be better. But it’s not available in the UK yet, so it’s pretty much moot.

I’m trying to like Android.

I have to write down why Android annoys me. I’d really like a go at using a Hero (I’m using a G1 dev phone running cupcake here) before committing, so this is a random set of half-formed thoughts.

  • It’s slow. Again, probably the hardware. But the G1 is slow compared to the iPhone (original and 3G, let alone the 3GS).

  • I can’t listen to music on it. It won’t sync with iTunes (solvable), it doesn’t have a headphone socket (solvable), the music app is lousy (probably solvable), and I only have a 2 gig micro-SD card, so it doesn’t all fit (solvable). All solvable, all annoying.

  • Many fewer apps. The store is smaller, and the apps that are on it tend to be worse than the ones on the Apple store. It’s hard to find reviews of them. They don’t come with screen shots. There are already some apps that require cupcake, some that don’t work on cupcake, some that just crash on startup, etc.

  • The browser just isn’t up to the standard of the iPhone’s. The Mail app is awful. The web browser seems to sometimes open new windows, and sometimes reuse existing windows when following links.

  • The on-screen keyboard is sluggish. This is the same speed problem as above, but whereas elsewhere it’s mostly just cosmetic annoyance, here it’s causing me serious difficulty – lots of typing errors unless I slow right down.

  • I’m trying to port Flame to it – Flame is my normal ‘just real enough that you have to learn the platform’ app that I port to new things I’m playing with. But the emulator behaves differently from the real device, I’m not confident that any other real device running Android would behave the same, so I’d have to test everywhere. And anyway, the device seems to have a major bug around multicast that makes Flame impossible.

Any one of these I could deal with no problem. Probably more. It’s just the combination of all of them that wears you down. And then there’s all the standard little things that come with being a citizen of a second-class platform.

A tiny example – diveintomark.org has an iphone-optimized mobile view – I believe it’s a wordpress standard, I might have seen it in a few places. But he serves the normal page to the android web browser. It’s not a big deal, but a thousand things like that is like using linux in a world of windows people again. No-one bothers with the little stuff. Stuff works on the iPhone because everyone tests on the iPhone. It would work on Android if anyone bothered.

Linux vs Windows/MacOS, all over again. You gain Freedom by using an open platform, making life worse for yourself in a thousand tiny ways, any one of which can easily be dismissed, so they are. But it’s still worse.

iPhone 2.2 application startup changes

Trivial. But interesting to me – Addressbook.app no longer cheats with it’s startup image – it now uses a static default.png like everyone else. It also seems a lot readier to quit when you run something else, whereas it used to stay resident. This makes me happy. It starts very quickly, and it’s nice to pretend there’s a level playing field.

Notes and Maps still cheat with their startup images, though.