Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You Can Toucha The Mango

I've used enough iOS devices to know them inside and out.  Simple, clean, no frills - much like Windows for Workgroups 3.1.  It doesn't do a heck of a lot other than let you launch apps, and the apps don't really do much outside of their sandboxes.

Same with Android, with the exception of being able to tweak it to look and behave how you'd like.  You can't really cover up the fact that it's little more than a platform for launching apps.  The cases and screens may change, but at the end of the day, they appear to me no different than iPhones or iPads.

Both iOS and Android are essentially software showcases.  They provide developers a nifty, powerful, portable stage to do their thing and a solid commerce mechanism to help them get paid.  They're giant digital flea markets (or malls if you will) with everything you need from anyone who makes it, in one convenient spot.  The iOS mall is very exclusive, and the Android mall is kind of like the run down joint in the bad end of town where the owner doesn't seem to know or care what happens as long as he gets his cut.

Color me uninspired.  The Apple fanbois and Google fandroids can argue about which app launcher / flea market is better than the other.  It's like arguing the difference between off-white and eggshell.

Enter (of all people) Microsoft.  Yes, the same Microsoft who only ever accidentally trips over an extremely successful product.  The same Microsoft with a total lack of coherence, consistency, or a compelling vision for how their products should improve people's lives.  Slowly, it appears, they have been coming to grips with the world in which Apple and Google would see us live.

The living room is kind of where it all started.  The XBOX 360 platform has been extremely popular, for all the right reasons.  It works well.  It looks dynamite.  It's cheap.  It's great with media.  It has access to streaming content.  It's audiophile and home theater enthusiast-friendly.  It's small.  It's WiFi.  The games are compelling.  The multiplayer Live experience is impressive.  You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work it.  Everyone has one.  People continue to trust Microsoft to get it right, whether or not they realize it.  A console from two or three years ago will still hang with the latest games, no issues.  Brilliant.  New stuff like Kinect works with any XBOX 360, no matter how old.  Brilliant!  Executives across the nation have ditched their Harley helmets for copies of Halo and Modern Warfare.  It's cool to be a gamer...finally.

In another part of Redmond, another group of people appeared to have been told "find a spot in the mobile market where nobody else dares go, and own it."  The result is impressive.  Very impressive.  Even if nobody knows it yet, it's fantastic.

Windows Phone 7 was the best mobile user interface of any device ever, period.  And it was flawed in some significant ways.  There were lots of things you couldn't do with it that you should have been able to do, but at its core, WP7 was a completely different approach to smartphones.  Revolutionary, really.  Yes, there were some sandboxes, but the difference was that there were also cool Habitrail tunnels connecting them, and very smart hamsters trained to run back and forth.

For example, on WP7, a contact becomes an incredibly powerful thing.  The phone almost magically combines everything you know about a person from every source you feed it - Exchange, GMail, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc, so that a person is represented in one "object".  You don't need to download a bunch of apps to do it - it just knows, out of the box, that you're probably on several of those services.

Because of this, any action related to a contact is available just about everywhere.  You can write on their Facebook wall, send them a tweet, a text message, an email, call them, pull up a map of where they work - all in one place.  And you get to do it in what must be the best implementation of graphic arts ever employed in a user interface.  It looks great, and it works phenomenally well.

Common bits of information are recognized everywhere.  An address, for example - whether it be part of a contact, or your current location (the GPS is freakishly fast and the street address resolution feature is freakishly accurate) - is understood as an address.  When you tap on an address, what should happen?  A map should appear.  What might people want to see in addition to a dot on a map?  How about a list of nearby restaurants and things to do?  What information should show up if you tap on one of those links?  Everything.  Phone number, hours, reviews from popular websites, who has checked in there on Facebook, spoken turn-by-turn driving or walking directions, etc.  Everything of interest, that you would most likely want to do or know about a place or a person, has been captured and gorgeously integrated in an incredibly simple interface.  Two taps simple.

The dependency on tethering to a computer appears to be somewhat diminished, but you will need Zune on PC (or the Mac plugin thingy) to do some things.  The good news for PC folks is that the latest Zune is also beautifully designed and simple to use.  Microsoft is doing some absolutely remarkable things in terms of user interface.  It just works.  Hardly a row/column table to be found anywhere.  There are definitely feature issues in Zune, but someone else can dive into that.  I'm just happy (actually, ecstatic) that Microsoft is demonstrating a capability approaching mastery of the user interface and that the penny has dropped for them in terms of making deep, meaningful interoperability of their various products and platforms a priority.  SharePoint, Lync, Office, Exchange, Windows 7, Server, and now Windows Phone.  They are all connected. No, really connected.

I am now using the Samsung Focus S.  Yes, there are still gaps I'd like to see addressed, but the Mango release has done an amazing job of addressing the most common issues people doing an evaluation would run into.  You have to dig at least a little bit to uncover the dead bodies now, whereas before you had to step over them.  If I had no interest in connecting to corporate email or no concerns about managing them, I would never use another phone.  The app marketplace is not on-par in terms of absolute quantity, but what is there is of high quality and the selection is broad enough to facilitate more time wasting and work-from-Starbucks activities than you can probably justify with a straight face.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I love my phone.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Froyo Snackins

It took careful explanation by a "fandroid" over lunch one day to understand Froyo, Gingerbread, and Ice Cream Sandwich.  Are they even trying?  Is there a dartboard somewhere in Google headquarters with a dessert menu stapled to it?

If you struggle like me with all the TOMS shoe-wearing meme-ery going on around the Android camp, you'll be happy to know that each subsequent "major" version of an Android operating system gets a new name, and each new name starts with the next letter in the alphabet.  Froyo begat Gingerbread, which begat Ice Cream Sandwich (F-G-I).

Given that, the next Android OS name will begin with a "J", the one after that a "K", and so on.  Which got me to thinking...if I were to be as dopey as possible, what names would I come up with for future Android releases?

The following is the fruit of that labor.

  • J - tough call, but either Jelly Roll or Jujube
  • K - should be Key Lime Pie, but with these people you might well get Kaiserschmarrn
  • L - Ladyfinger?  Maybe, but that ruins tiramisu later.  I'm going with Lemon Bar
  • M - Mincemeat Pie.  Yes, going for stupid intentionally.  Tough to out-stupid "Froyo".
  • N - They like cold stuff don't they.  Neapolitan Sundae?
  • O - would ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BE Oreo Cookie, but if that would cost them a cent, you'll get Orange Sherbet and like it.
  • P - Peanut Butter Fudge
  • Q - um, let's hope the next great thing is out by then.
Happy Friday.