A Twitter Grammar Question 

PJ Vogt:

We all know the rule for “a” versus “an.” If the next word starts with a vowel sound, we use a consonant. If the next word stars with a consonant sound, we use “an.”

So the sentence “I read a Guardian article” is straightforward. But what about on Twitter? Any time you mention someone in a sentence, you use their handle. Which means every name on Twitter starts with @, a vowel sound. Do we count it? We tried to figure that out this morning.

I say no — even if you’d say the “at” aloud verbally, in writing you should choose a/an based on the first letter in the Twitter handle, not the @ character. Tricky question though.

Amazon Gets Rights to Stream Old HBO Shows 

Peter Kafka:

That means Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to see shows that have already run on HBO, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” And they can also watch older seasons of some shows that are still on the air, like “Girls,” three years after they air.

It’s the first time HBO has offered access to its catalog via a streaming video service that’s not its own HBO Go. And it gives Amazon an important bragging right/differentiation point as it tries to gain ground on rival Netflix.

People familiar with the deal say HBO did not shop the catalog to Netflix or other potential Amazon rivals.

In short: you still need HBO Go to watch new shows, and the only way to get HBO Go is to pay for HBO with your cable service. But Fire TV is getting HBO Go, too, “targeting a launch by year-end”.

Appreciating Albert Pujols 

ESPN’s Jayson Stark, on the newest member of baseball’s 500 Homers Club:

So the moral of this story remains the same: Lots of men have hit baseballs over many, many fences. Only the greatest hitters who ever lived have been the all-around offensive forces that Pujols has been. And that’s a fact. […]

But suppose we take all those other numbers out of this and focus just on batting average — which isn’t a measure of power at all but merely of a man’s ability to hit baseballs where nobody with a glove is standing.

At .321, Pujols has the fourth-highest average in the entire 500 Homer Club — trailing only those same three men from the previous list: Williams (.344), Ruth (.342) and Foxx (.325).

Matthew Carter: ‘My Life in Typefaces’ 

Matthew Carter, speaking at TED, on constraints and compromise in design.

iOS 7.1.1 Now Labels Apps With ‘In-App Purchases’ in Top Charts and Featured Sections 

Sort of like putting a (deserved) asterisk after the word “free”.

OS X Beta Seed Program 

New program from Apple:

Join the OS X Beta Seed Program and help make OS X even better. Install the latest pre-release software, try it out, and submit your feedback.

Previously, you had to be a registered developer to get access to OS beta seeds.

Update: I was wrong. The Apple Seed Program for non-developers isn’t new — it’s been around as long as Mac OS X has. What’s new is that it’s now open for anyone to join. Until now, it was by invitation only.

Greg Christie on the Creation of the Original iPhone 

Speaking of Greg Christie, I neglected to link to this fascinating piece by Daisuke Wakabayashi for the WSJ last month. It’s a very rare behind-the-scenes look at Apple’s design process. My favorite tidbit: they simulated the iPhone’s performance by using a then-years-old G3 Mac to run the software while it was in development.

Apple made Christie available to Steve Henn of NPR’s All Things Considered, too. To me, that Apple chose Christie for these profiles is a telling sign that his upcoming retirement from Apple is on nothing but the best of terms. The intention was to let Christie — who is extremely well-liked personally and highly-regarded for his work within the company — go out on top, with well-earned credit where credit is due.

This Week on The Talk Show: Mark Gurman 

Special guest Mark Gurman from 9to5Mac joins me on my podcast for a discussion of Apple journalism, rumors surrounding upcoming Apple products, and UI design chief Greg Christie’s upcoming retirement.

Brought to you by:

Beats Music Starts Selling In-App Subscriptions on iOS 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

Beats CEO Ian Rogers says the decision to sell within the Apple app was fairly straightforward: More than half of Beats users use iPhones, and it’s very hard to get an iOS user to subscribe if you don’t sell in-app.

Two other music subscription services — Rhapsody and Rdio — have also agreed to sell subscriptions within Apple’s app, though Rdio raised the price for in-app subscriptions from $10 a month to $15 a month to accommodate Apple’s tariff.

But Spotify, which is much larger than all three of the services, hasn’t made the move. Spotify does have a free, ad-supported tier available on its mobile app.

So Apple is making money on music subscriptions even though iTunes itself doesn’t (yet?) offer them.

Photographs of Golf Balls Cut in Half 

Surprisingly beautiful photos by James Friedman.

On the Leveling-Off of iPad Sales 

Jean-Louis Gassée, on the widespread expectation that year-over-year iPad sales have leveled off:

Despite the inspiring ads, Apple’s hopes for the iPad overshot what the product can actually deliver. Although there’s a large numbers of iPad-only users, there’s also a substantial population of dual-use customers for whom both tablets and conventional PCs are now part of daily life.

I see the lull in iPad sales as a coming down to reality after unrealistic expectations, a realization that iPads aren’t as ready to replace PCs as many initially hoped.

In short, Gassée is arguing that tablet sales have hit a wall, and that the iPad needs to grow more Mac-like capabilities for advanced tasks.

Gassée’s piece spawned an interesting thread on Twitter, in which Benedict Evans argued:

Posit: slow iPad sales are worse news for the PC market: implies phones can take the greater share of PC use cases.

I find that compelling. We might have overestimated the eventual role of tablets and underestimated the role of phones — and the whole argument is further muddled by the industry-wide move toward 5-inch-ish phone displays.

The Decline of Compact Cameras 

Eric Perlberg has a chart shown at Photokina 2014, showing the rapid decline of standalone point-shoot-cameras. No surprise, of course: mobile devices equipped with cameras have taken over (and revolutionized) the casual photography market.

(Source: Original (in Japanese), and translated.)

Apple on Environmental Responsibility 

Interesting choice of narrator.

WSJ: ‘Mobile-Payments Startup Square Discusses Possible Sale’ 

The WSJ:

Square recorded a loss of roughly $100 million in 2013, broader than its loss in 2012, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The five-year-old company paid out roughly $110 million more in cash last year than it took in, according to two people familiar with the matter. Over the past three years, the startup has consumed more than half of the roughly $340 million it has raised from at least four rounds of equity financing since 2009, two people familiar with the company’s performance said.

I’m sure they can make it up on volume.

Layout in Flipboard for Web and Windows 

Charles Ying, describing how Duplo, Flipboard’s new JavaScript-based layout engine, works:

Duplo starts in a similar way as Pages: A designer creates a set of layouts. From this set, Pages selects the layout that best fits the desired content. However, while Pages looks at about 20 candidate layouts, Duplo looks at anywhere between 2000 to 6000 candidates, searching for the best layout to fit the content.

The Invention of the AeroPress 

Zachary Crockett, writing for Priceonomics, on Alan Adler, inventor of (among other things) the Aerobie flying disc and the AeroPress coffee maker:

Adler says the mainstream toy industry has a tendency to push out new products every three years. “Parker Brothers, for instance, has a quota of ten new toys every year at the NY Toy Fair,” he tells us. Aerobie finds this practice counter-intuitive, and goes against the grain:

“A lot of companies feel the need to release new products; they’ll release products that never really deserved to be sold! They’re just not that good. We don’t look at it that way: we only release products that we think are innovative and offer excellent play value. Companies often spoil products by revising them in an effort to make them new.”

Conversely, Aerobie has stuck with a relatively small list of products (18, over a 30 year business), and has never had to discontinue a product (this is a routine practice at major toy manufacturers).

CNet: Nike Fires FuelBand Engineering Team; Set to Exit Wearable Hardware Market 

Nick Statt, reporting for CNet:

Nike is gearing up to shutter its wearable-hardware efforts, and the sportswear company this week fired the majority of the team responsible for the development of its FuelBand fitness tracker, a person familiar with the matter told CNET. […]

There’s increasing competition in the market for wrist-worn fitness trackers, and Nike’s digital app ecosystem, Nike+, has grown less reliant on wearables as smartphone sensors have improved. In other words, it makes less and less sense for Nike to stay in the hardware race when its physical wearables are not bottom-line needle movers, especially as companies like Apple and Google prepare to join the fray.

Interesting, particularly when you consider that Tim Cook sits on the Nike board — and that he wears a FuelBand.

Update: Nike issued a sort of non-denial denial to Recode.

JetPens 

My thanks to JetPens, one of my favorite companies in the world, for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. JetPens offers an incredible selection of the best pens, pencils, and office toys from around the world. A few of their latest items:

My personal favorite for years now is the Zebra Sarasa 0.4mm retractable clip pen (in black, of course). Place an order $25 or more through this link and JetPens will include a free Zebra Sarasa.

If you have any interest in pens and stationery and haven’t looked at JetPens before, you’re in for a real treat.

Typekit Practice 

Tim Brown, Typekit:

Fonts are great, but using them well can be hard. Volumes have been written about typography, yet every good designer will say there are no rules; there is no magic formula for success. Typography simply takes practice. Typography is a practice.

So today, we’re launching a new website: Typekit Practice, a place where novices and experts alike can hone their typographic skills. We hope it will help students learn, help teachers teach, and help professionals stay sharp.

Bloomberg: Apple to Bake Shazam Song Recognition Into iOS 8 

Adam Satariano:

The company is planning to unveil a song-discovery feature in an update of its iOS mobile software that will let users identify a song and its artist using an iPhone or iPad, said two people with knowledge of the product, who asked not to be identified because the feature isn’t public. Apple is working with Shazam Entertainment Ltd., whose technology can quickly spot what’s playing by collecting sound from a phone’s microphone and matching it against a song database. […]

Among the ways it can be used will be through Apple’s voice-activated search feature, Siri. An iPhone user will be able to say something like “what song is playing,” to find out the tune’s details, one person said.

Sounds like a great feature. (Why not just acquire Shazam, though?)

Update: Interesting theory from Sean Heber:

Maybe the Shazam/Siri rumor is based on a Siri API integrating existing Shazam app. No need to acquire in that case

I’d love to see Siri open up with an API for third-party app integration, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.

As for why Apple doesn’t “just acquire” them, as I glibly suggested above — ends up Shazam is shooting for an IPO this year with a valuation of $500 million.

iOS 7 Tint Color Misuse 

Manton Reece:

It has been nearly a year since the first iOS 7 beta, and something about tint color still bugs me. In fact it bothered me enough at the time of the early betas that a filed a bug on it with Apple, something I very rarely do. The problem isn’t so much in the concept of tint color, which I like; having a consistent color for buttons and links, especially now that buttons are so understated, makes a lot of sense. The problem is the implementation in apps that use tint color anytime they want to highlight something, whether it is tappable or not.

Too many buttons that don’t look like buttons — that’s my single biggest gripe about iOS 7.

Lens Blur in the New Google Camera App 

Carlos Hernández, writing for the Google Research blog:

Shallow depth of field makes the object of interest “pop” by bringing the foreground into focus and de-emphasizing the background. Achieving this optical effect has traditionally required a big lens and aperture, and therefore hasn’t been possible using the camera on your mobile phone or tablet.

That all changes with Lens Blur, a new mode in the Google Camera app. It lets you take a photo with a shallow depth of field using just your Android phone or tablet. Unlike a regular photo, Lens Blur lets you change the point or level of focus after the photo is taken. You can choose to make any object come into focus simply by tapping on it in the image.

Interesting idea. Like filters, it’s another way to use software cleverness to work around the physical limitations of the small cameras in mobile devices.

Misunderstanding Innovation 

Horace Dediu:

But there is another form of ignorance which seems to be universal: the inability to understand the concept and role of innovation. The way this is exhibited is in the misuse of the term and the inability to discern the difference between novelty, creation, invention and innovation. The result is a failure to understand the causes of success and failure in business and hence the conditions that lead to economic growth.

This is a step toward understanding why so many people get Apple so very wrong. If you don’t understand what innovation really is, you’re not going to understand an innovative company.

Bloomberg: How Americans Die 

Both the data itself and the visualizations of it are fascinating.

On Yahoo’s Chances of Replacing Google as the Default Web Search on iOS 

Danny Sullivan, on a Kara Swisher report that Marissa Mayer is trying to get Yahoo to replace Google as iOS’s default for web search:

The biggest challenge Yahoo has is that it lacks any solid search technology. Sure, Yahoo has some for very specialized things. But the core technology to sift through billions of pages across the web and ferret out relevant results? Yahoo gave all that up as part of its deal with Microsoft years ago. […]

Some might think that Yahoo doesn’t need to do as big a job as Google or Bing does. Maybe it just needs to focus on answering popular questions. That, however, overlooks the fact that if Yahoo can’t answer virtually every question tossed at it, consumers will get frustrated. For all the talk about mobile search, contextual search, popular answers, predictive search, local listings, it’s web search that remains the core foundation that everything is built off of. If you don’t have that foundation, everything can topple over.

As Sullivan points out, after the maps switch, Apple is probably more gun-shy about dropping Google as the default web search provider than they otherwise would have been.

What’s New in Tumult Hype 2.5 

Speaking of great updates to my favorite Mac apps, the latest version of the amazing Tumult Hype — a professional HTML5 animation tool — has a slew of new features, including support for responsive design. Hard to believe this app costs only $30.

Screens 3.0 for Mac 

Sweet update to the Mac version of my favorite VNC client. If you ever have the need to control a Mac remotely, you should check out Screens.

Brent Simmons on Build 2014 

Brent Simmons:

While seeing iOS devices on a big screen in Moscone West was normal to us, we knew you’d never see Apple feature Android or Windows Mobile devices in their keynotes.

Nor should they. That’s not a criticism — that’s just not Apple’s thing. It’s the new Microsoft’s thing to be cosmopolitan.

I talked to a number of Microsoft employees — on the Azure side — and got the same sense from all of them. They’re excited. They know they’re underdogs; they know that Amazon Web Services is dominant.

They also know that the kind of dominance Microsoft once had — where just about everything that computed ran Windows — is gone and will never come back.

Could just be my skewed perspective, but one thing I didn’t see much of at Build were references to Android. Like Brent notes, there were many references to iPhone and iPad development, including demos during the keynote (not to mention Q Branch’s brief moment in the spotlight). But Android, not so much.

Microsoft has in no way given up on Windows Phone or the tablet market. But the change I detect is a narrowing of their focus. They now (correctly, I say) view Android/Google as their competition, rather than “everyone”. And there’s a decided “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing going on with iOS/Apple too. I hope Apple sees the same thing.

Justin Williams on Build 2014 

I’m a few weeks late linking to this, but I didn’t want to let it slide. Long-time iOS developer Justin Williams, on attending Microsoft’s Build developer conference:

One of the biggest differences I noticed between an event like Build and WWDC was in the subtle messaging. Both Apple and Microsoft are massive companies that make billions of dollars and answer to their shareholders. Both companies also offer development platforms for third-parties to integrate with.

What’s different though is that it feels like Microsoft is more interested in working with us as a partner whereas Apple has always given off a vibe of just sort of dealing with us because they have to. Maybe that’s a little sour grapes, but as a developer it was a nice change.

The differences from WWDC — especially since both were held in the same venue, Moscone West — were fascinating to me. Little things, like the keynote hall being arranged sideways (wide, rather than deep), to big things, like a press room that was open all conference long. At WWDC, press passes are good only for the Monday morning keynote; at Build, invited press can stay all conference long and attend sessions.

It’s not so much that Microsoft is friendlier, but rather that Apple is distant — cooler, in several senses of the word.

‘It’s a 0.1 Update That Feels Like a 2.0 Update’ 

Peter Bright reviews Windows Phone 8.1 for Ars Technica:

Windows Phone 8.1, therefore, has a lot of work to do. It needs to take further steps along the path toward Microsoft’s vision of a unified operating system. It needs to work better on a wider range of hardware to both strengthen its position at the low end and give it a chance of making inroads at the high end. It needs to also offer features: it needs to do things to get people talking about the platform while attracting both users and developers.

Remarkably, Windows Phone 8.1 delivers on all fronts.

When a Committee Builds a Smartphone 

David Pogue reviews the Samsung Galaxy S5:

What is gunking up your screens is Samsung’s usual not-fully-thought-through assemblage of app flotsam. Why do you need one app for Gmail and another for other kinds of email accounts? Why do you need two photo apps — one from Samsung, one from Google? Two Settings apps? Two text-messaging apps? Two video players?

This is the dark side of the Android experience: One company makes the hardware, another makes the software. Now they’re becoming rivals, and we can already see who the loser will be: you.

My favorite part is the “one-handed mode”. And what’s the deal with all those inscrutable icons in the status bar?

‘The Pinnacle of Fitness Failure: Samsung’s Gear Fit Activity Tracker’ 

DC Rainmaker:

This is a product I wanted to love, but ultimately, it just ended up being a huge disappointment. Hopefully Samsung can iterate quickly on the software, and move the platform forward to something that someone might actually want to buy. In the meantime, mine is going into my desk drawer.

What happens when Samsung doesn’t have a market leader to copy.

Siri Honors Jackie Robinson 

Classy.

Samsung Launches Website Highlighting ‘Meaningful’ Design 

You can’t make this stuff up.

Apple, Samsung, and Intel 

Matt Richman argues that Intel is a natural fit to manufacture ARM CPUs for Apple:

This arrangement would benefit both companies in a number of ways. Apple would no longer depend upon Samsung, its biggest competitor, to produce the chips at the heart of its most successful products. (This is analogous to America asking China to build its most advanced missiles and hoping the country won’t use any of the top-secret technology it learns about for its own benefit when it’s clearly in China’s best interest to do so.) And because Intel has manufacturing capabilities that other companies don’t, Apple might well be able to create better chips than it would be able to if it were to continue using Samsung as its chip manufacturer. Finally, the company would have peace of mind knowing that its chip producer doesn’t stand to gain anything from a processor shortfall, as Samsung does. Even if the factory were to cost $5 billion — and it wouldn’t — it’d be worth it. Steve Jobs said Apple’s cash hoard is for “big, bold” “strategic opportunities”. This move exemplifies that thinking.

Chris Ware on Apple 

Speaking of Chris Ware, I’m deeply intrigued by his thoughts on Apple, from a 2012 interview with Christopher Irving for Graphic NYC:

“I really admire Apple’s design, and feel that the general idea and driving principle behind it almost since their inception is to make information tactile. They’re finally getting to this point now where one can manipulate information with the hands and the body. As designers, they’re also so sensitive in ways that I don’t think any other computer makers understand, as their chief designer knows it has to do with very measured, combined subtleties of tactility and weight and gesture and materials. In a way, they’re almost a nineteenth century company, more sensitive to the world of nature than to technology, or at least respectful of it. I can certainly see reading comics electronically, with the possibilities for inter-penetrability of story and image, but I think comics will have to develop into something completely different before that happens.”

(Thanks to DF reader Logan York.)

BGR on Amazon’s Upcoming Smartphone 

Zach Epstein:

The most novel aspect of Amazon’s upcoming smartphone is its 3D software interface and the hardware mechanism that enables it.

Our sources state that the new Amazon phone includes a total of six cameras.

Can’t wait to see this 3D stuff. In the meantime, though, I can’t help but think of this.


The Nocera Chronicles

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera (of “and I think you’re a slime bucket” Steve Jobs phone call fame) devoted his weekend column to Apple. He describes a company already in decline, several times citing Yukari Iwatani Kane’s widely-panned Haunted Empire:

The only real way to stave off further decline is to come out with a product that establishes a whole new category — the way the iPad did in 2010. But that seems unlikely. “Outside the echo chamber of Apple’s headquarters, the notion of the company’s exceptionalism has been shattered,” Kane writes.

That’s the extent of Nocera’s argument that iPad-like new products from Apple “seem unlikely”: Yukari Kane’s having written so in her book. Really.

As I’ve written repeatedly, these Apple bears who believe Steve Jobs was indispensable may well be right. We don’t know yet. Only time will tell. But (again, as I’ve written repeatedly) the evidence so far doesn’t back that theory up, and the “new category” breakthrough products were in fact few and far between under Steve Jobs, too, and often dismissed by critics upon their unveiling. In between those rare new products, the company’s life blood has always been incremental improvements to existing products.

Nocera:

Which brings me back to the litigation with Samsung — the company that is coming to market with products that are every bit as good as Apple’s, and at a lower price to boot. This never-ending litigation is yet another sign that Apple is becoming a spent force. Suing each other “is not what innovative companies do,” said Robin Feldman, a patent law expert at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

I’d argue with both aspects of the “products that are every bit as good as Apple’s, and at a lower price to boot” clause (unlocked 16 GB Galaxy S5’s cost over $700 on Amazon; unlocked 16 GB iPhone 5S’s cost $649), but let’s leave that aside. The primary thrust of the “Haunted Empire” theory on Apple is that Steve Jobs was indispensable, and that the company entered an inevitable decline as soon as he left. But Steve Jobs is the man who told his own biographer:

Our lawsuit is saying, “Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.” Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google’s products — Android, Google Docs — are shit.

Much like how Kane, in her piece back in February for The New Yorker’s website, tried to have it both ways regarding Scott Forstall — arguing that Apple Maps was “a fiasco” in the very next paragraph after arguing that Tim Cook should not have fired Forstall, the executive who was responsible for Apple Maps in iOS 6 — Nocera here has painted Apple into a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t scenario. He spends most of his column arguing that Apple is screwed because they’re lost without Jobs. But now he’s saying they’re screwed because they’re doing exactly what Jobs expressly told his biographer he wanted to do: fight Android handset makers — and by proxy, Google — tooth and nail in court.

Suing each other ‘is not what innovative companies do’”, Nocera quotes a patent law expert. But Apple sued, and threatened to sue, companies all the time while Steve Jobs was CEO. Jobs joked about having patented every aspect of the iPhone on stage during its unveiling. Under Jobs, Apple sued and eventually put out of business an Apple rumor site run by a teenager.

I think there’s nothing Apple could have done in the last three years that would have kept Nocera from writing this column. Likewise with Kane and her book. The company is lost without Steve Jobs and nothing will convince them otherwise.


My gut feeling is that 2014 is going to play out poorly for the “Haunted Empire” crowd. If Tim Cook is willing to tell The Wall Street Journal, “We’re really working on some really great stuff. I think no one reasonable would say they’re not a new category,” I’ll take his word for it.

I have no knowledge regarding what products Cook was referring to. But if history repeats itself, the odds are good that the announcement of these new products — along with annual new versions of iPhones and iPads and MacBooks — will do nothing to quell the doomed-without-Jobs critics.

The iPad was “just a big iPhone” when it was unveiled in 2010; today it’s hailed as Apple’s last great new product. My guess is we’ll see the same reaction to whatever Apple releases this year. It takes years for even the most amazing of new products — the iPhone, for example — to prove themselves on the market. It’s a long game.

Even then — come, say, 2017, when Apple is reaping billions in profits from some product first introduced this year — the doomed-without-Jobs crowd could (and I bet will) just argue that the product succeeded only because it had been conceived while Steve Jobs was alive. It’ll never stop. 


‘Heads or Tails’ 

Beautiful comic by the incomparable Chris Ware.

‘How Much for the Drums?’ 

Dave Shumka:

Ever since I made this video of David Letterman talking to drummers, I’ve wondered if he’s actually seen it. I recently asked one of his writers, Bill Scheft, on Twitter. According to Scheft, not only has Letterman watched it, but “he loved it as he loved few things.” I realize that it just seems like I’m bragging on the internet, but that’s about the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.

With all the news surrounding Letterman’s retirement, it feels like a fine time to revisit the video.

Dieter Bohn of The Verge Profiles Project Ara, Google’s Modular Phone Project 

I remain highly skeptical that a modular design can compete in a product category where size, weight, and battery life are at such a premium. Even if they can bring something to market, why would any normal person be interested in a phone like this?


No One Said Following Is Easy

Ina Fried, reporting for Recode on the ongoing Apple-Samsung court case, “Top Android Executive Says Google Didn’t Copy Apple’s iPhone”:

Lockheimer testified that Android, too, was the product of long hours and hard work.

“The hours were pretty grueling,” Lockheimer said, speaking of the early days of Android as the operating system was being developed in 2006 and 2007. “They continue to be grueling, by the way. … We work really hard.”

Later in the article:

One thing that was not initially contemplated for the first Android device — at least initially — was any sort of touchscreen.

Weird use of initially in that sentence. As shown below, touchscreens probably were “contemplated” for the first Android devices (they expressly mentioned the potential to support them eventually) but they were explicitly rejected in the specification for Android 1.0.

“Touchscreens will not be supported,” Google said in a 2006 specification for Android devices. “The product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption. However, there is nothing fundamental in the products [sic] architecture that prevents the support of touch screens [sic] in the future.”

Obviously, Google later changed course and a touchscreen became mandatory. Lockheimer said the vision evolved as the company learned what it heard screen manufacturers tell it what was coming down the pipeline.

This testimony defies credulity. Consider the timeline. As Daniel Dilger documents in a report today for AppleInsider looking at Android design documents entered as evidence in the trial, in August 2006, the draft Android 1.0 design document mandated up/down/left/right/select hardware buttons and explicitly stated that touchscreens would not be supported. Then, the very next revision of the specification, in April 2007 — a draft described as a “major update” — multitouch touchscreens became mandatory. In August 2006 Android was planned as a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile style hardware-button platform with no initial support for touchscreens. In April 2007 it became a platform where multitouch touchscreens were mandatory. The only way one could believe that this change was driven by what Google heard from screen manufacturers is if what the screen manufacturers told Google was, “Holy shit, what are we going to do about the iPhone?”


But what caught my attention is the “hard work” angle in Lockheimer’s testimony. Long hours of hard work don’t disprove that Android copied the iPhone. In fact, copying the iPhone would imply more work. They effectively designed the Android platform twice: first as a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile style hardware button platform, and then as an iPhone-style touchscreen platform.

The word copying is pejorative, so let’s just call it following. Of course Android followed the iPhone’s lead. But what else was Google to do? It took genius to conceive and create the original iPhone. But once it was revealed — and especially once it hit the market — anyone with a lick of sense could see that this was how all such devices should work. If Google had stuck to its original design for Android, it wouldn’t have succeeded in a post-iPhone world — it would have been Windows Mobile without the existing market share.

The first successful implementation of a radical idea is usually and correctly lauded as the innovator. The second is derided as an imitator. But by the time you get to the third and fourth, the idea becomes a category.

It was inevitable that competitors would follow the iPhone’s lead, and it was inevitable that Apple would feel wronged when it happened. What I wonder about is whether it was inevitable that Apple would sue. Are they pursuing Samsung in court because Samsung is so clearly their most successful rival in the handset industry, or is it because Samsung so clearly copied — not merely followed but gratuitously copied — so much from Apple? I suspect it’s both — that it was the combination of Samsung’s blatant copying and mimicry of the iPhone’s trade dress, combined with their success, that has compelled Apple to fight them tooth-and-nail in court.1

I suspect Apple’s goal is not so much about procuring redress for Samsung’s past actions, but rather to send a message. I doubt Apple will be awarded enough money from this Samsung lawsuit to have made the effort worthwhile directly. But indirectly, if the message gets through to competitors that Apple is willing to pursue lawsuits like this with a seemingly irrational fervor, and it makes them (the competitors) gun-shy to copy future Apple products, to follow Apple too closely — it may not be so irrational after all.2 


  1. They’ve sued other companies, too — most notably HTC. But nothing with the fervor and high stakes of this Samsung lawsuit. 

  2. I also believe that Apple’s executives — Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, all of them — truly believe that suing Samsung, fighting the case until the bitter end, is the morally right thing to do. Remember what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson about his willingness to spend “every penny” of Apple’s cash and “go thermonuclear war on this”. I believe Apple’s current leadership feels exactly the same way. The fact that this is not entirely rational, that it’s driven in part by emotion, anger, and a sense of justice, serves Apple’s interests by disincentivizing would-be future copiers. A crazy opponent is a dangerous opponent. 


Rethinking What We Mean by ‘Mobile Web’

Chris Dixon, in a piece titled “The Decline of the Mobile Web”, citing stats from ComScore and Flurry:

People are spending more time on mobile vs desktop. And more of their mobile time using apps, not the web.

This is a worrisome trend for the web. Mobile is the future. What wins mobile, wins the Internet. Right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.

I think Dixon has it all wrong. We shouldn’t think of the “web” as only what renders inside a web browser. The web is HTTP, and the open Internet. What exactly are people doing with these mobile apps? Largely, using the same services, which, on the desktop, they use in a web browser. Plus, on mobile, the difference between “apps” and “the web” is easily conflated. When I’m using Tweetbot, for example, much of my time in the app is spent reading web pages rendered in a web browser. Surely that’s true of mobile Facebook users, as well. What should that count as, “app” or “web”?

I publish a website, but tens of thousands of my most loyal readers consume it using RSS apps. What should they count as, “app” or “web”?

I say: who cares? It’s all the web.

We shouldn’t think of “the web” as only what renders in web browsers. We should think of the web as anything transmitted using HTTP and HTTPS. Apps and websites are peers, not competitors. They’re all just clients to the same services.

Consider Facebook, the single biggest winner in Flurry’s “time spent” statistics. On the desktop, all Facebook usage takes place in browser windows. On mobile, most of it takes place in a native app. Same with YouTube and Twitter: on the desktop, they’re in the browser; on mobile, they’re in apps. It’s not about the politics of open-vs.-closed platforms. It’s simply about providing the best possible experience for users.

We should celebrate, not bemoan, that the web has diversified beyond the confines of browser tabs and the limits of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Let websites, rendered in browsers, be good at what they’re good at. (And websites are perfect for so many things.) But let native apps be good at what they’re good at, too. Like water flowing downhill, users gravitate to the best experiences. Saying that we’re worse off for the popularity of native mobile apps is like saying water should run uphill.

The single biggest slice in Flurry’s statistics is “gaming”, at 32 percent. Does anyone really think that mobile games would be better off written to run in web browser tabs? Lamenting today the falling share of time people spend in web browsers at the expense of mobile apps is no different from those who a decade ago lamented the falling share of time spent reading paper newspapers and magazines at the expense of websites.

It’s possible that the word “web” is too tightly associated with HTML/CSS/JavaScript content rendered in web browsers — that if I want to make a semantic argument, I should be saying it’s the internet that matters, not the web. But I like calling it the web, even as it expands outside the confines of HTML/CSS/JavaScript. The web has always been a nebulous concept, but at its center is the idea that everything can be linked. So when I open Tweetbot on my iPhone and tap a link that opens within the app as a web page, and from that web page tap a link that opens a video in the YouTube app — that to me feels very webby.

Dixon concludes:

Apps are heavily controlled by the dominant app stores owners, Apple and Google. Google and Apple control what apps are allowed to exist, how apps are built, what apps get promoted, and charge a 30% tax on revenues.

Most worrisome: they reject entire classes of apps without stated reasons or allowing for recourse (e.g. Apple has rejected all apps related to Bitcoin). The open architecture of the web led to an incredible era of experimentation. Many startups are controversial when they are first founded. What if AOL or some other central gatekeeper had controlled the web, and developers had to ask permission to create Google, YouTube, eBay, Paypal, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Sadly, this is where we’re headed on mobile.

Yes, Apple and Google (and Amazon, and Microsoft) control their respective app stores. But the difference from Dixon’s AOL analogy is that they don’t control the internet — and they don’t control each other. Apple doesn’t want cool new apps launching Android-only, and it surely bothers Google that so many cool new apps launch iOS-first. Apple’s stance on Bitcoin hasn’t exactly kept Bitcoin from growing explosively. App Stores are walled gardens, but the apps themselves are just clients to the open web/internet.1

The new mobile app-centric order hasn’t been a problem for Instagram, WhatsApp, Vine, Secret, or dozens of other new companies. In fact, I don’t think many of them would have even existed in a world still centered on HTML/CSS/JavaScript rendered in a browser. Instagram needed the camera, and thrived by providing scrolling performance unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen in a mobile web browser — even today, let alone when Instagram debuted in 2010. How could messaging apps like WhatsApp and Line even exist in a browser-only world?

The rise of mobile apps hasn’t taken anything away from the wide open world of web browsers and cross-platform HTML/CSS/JavaScript — other than supremacy. I think that bothers some, who saw the HTML/CSS/JavaScript browser-centric web’s decade-ago supremacy as the end point, the ultimate triumph of a truly open platform, rather than what it really was: just another milestone along the way of an industry that is always in flux, ever ebbing and flowing.

What we’ve gained, though, is a wide range of interaction capabilities that never could have existed in a web browser-centric world. That to me is cause for celebration. 


  1. Note too, for example, that Twitter itself has imposed far more limitations on mobile Twitter client apps than any app store has. Or consider the spat between Google and Microsoft regarding Microsoft’s YouTube app for Windows Phone. The jostling for control is not limited to the app stores themselves. 


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