On many occasions, in the middle of various different conversations, I’ve found myself extolling the virtues of Google’s web browser and ultimately declaring ‘Chrome is the best thing ever’. Two or so years ago that meant a lightning-fast
browser to replace the clunky and resource-hogging Firefox that opened so quickly it offered an almost ‘instant on’ to the internet. App shotcuts, syncing and so many other good things also came along for the ride. Today, with its new Web Store, Chrome is revolutionising things again but in a way that isn’t immediately apparent.
A cursory glance at the storefront will say the only two things that need to be said about the Chrome App Store; more than a few pages have been taken from Apple’s book and also that most of these ‘apps’ are merely shortcut-wrapped HTML5 apps. Detractors have always called Apple on its devices needing ‘apps’ to make the web usable. You shouldn’t have to compartmentalise the web, they say. However what Chrome highlights is the fact that so many online services are so robust that they may well have been bespoke native applications at one point in the computing past. That HTML5 now essentially enables them to run without Flash or, Heaven forbid, Air, just sweetens the deal. And so to have them app-ified is still useful, even in full desktop environment. Further it allows integration into the desktop that a website on its own might now- right-clicking contextual menus and drag-and-drop file movement on services like Box.net.
However the reason this compartmentalisation works, at least for me, is in the syncing. I have a consistent user experience – through Chrome alone – across all the computers I use. Pinning tabs for Gmail, Reader, imo.im and the marvellous Tweetdeck HTML5 app keep these basic utilities always open in the browser and makes the experience self-sufficient. I can live out of a single Chrome window at home on Windows or at work on OSX and I love it. Sure, you could do this before and in other browsers, but the experience had never been so consistent or seamless. Most importantly, it had never been so easy.
Once the implications of it sink in you start to realise how Chrome OS seals the deal on all of it and just how significant Chrome’s offerings are. Techcrunch highlights how opening up Chrome OS for the first time and watching all your apps sync over is the future of computing. And it is. Apple’s Mac App Store might offer a similar proposition to OSX in a few months but half the value of Google’s version comes from it being platform-agnostic. Living out of a browser as I said sidesteps the OS and its specificities altogether.
That Google have been the first ones to really push this in a meaningful and accessible way is surprising. For the first time since their core search product, and with the debatable exception of YouTube, they have released something that has the potential to hit the mark bigtime. And for all the talk of ‘cloud’ computing, again, outside of webmail, they are the first to make the idea resonate with the consumer. That probably does come down to their vested interest being on the net while Microsoft and Apple have their OS product families to think about, but is an interesting point nonetheless. It will be exciting to see how this space pans out in the post-Web Store internet.
The last 48 or so hours in the tech world have been pretty interesting- 3 of the biggest companies have had pretty significant public showings of new products and services. While I pre-emptively wrote about Facebook’s mail announcements yesterday, here’s what Google and Apple had to reveal as well;
Facebook – A Modern Mail Service
So Facebook didn’t quite announce a rival to Gmail and Hotmail as everyone predicted… or did they? You can now still register for a ‘@facebook.com’ address once your account receives an opt-in invitation, but this new service will focus on convergence of SMS, Email, IM and other current messaging platforms rather than going head to head with existing providers. The existing concerns remain about Facebook, privacy and email, but guess we know what FB poached that Google Wave dev for now, huh?
Google – The Nexus S, Gingerbread, NFC and Chrome OS
Although Facebook’s revelations largely overshadowed what was going on at the Web 2.0 summit, Google’s CEO had a few almost-groundbreaking things to share with the community. Firstly, he demonstrated Android 2.3 AKA Gingerbread on an unannounced phone many summise to be the elusive ‘Nexus S’ from Samsung. We can’t confirm either way since branding was concealed although a special hardware component was explicitly mentioned – a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip. This lead in to what will no doubt be a key feature of the new OS, set to release in the next few weeks, as it enables ‘bump-to-pay’ transactions. Seems like this will be another area where Google and Apple are racing to get a cutting edge technology into consumers’ hands first.
Chrome OS, that bastard topic largely relegated to the background by Google’s more prominent Android, was also given a clear purpose by an offhand comment by Eric Schmidt- it is for low cost keyboard devices. Which rules phones and tablets out.
Apple – iTunes News…?
Apple threw its hat in the ring this week as well teasing an unforgettable iTunes-related reveal on Tuesday. However this hype sizzled out as soon as it was revealed that the Beatles catalogue would be coming to the popular e-store. The Beatles? Who cares. Everyone who gives a damn will have ripped their CDs, bought their audacious USB collection or pirated the stuff by now.
Luckily this was dispelled with the also predicted and highly anticipated iTunes Cloud, Streaming, iTunes Pass, 90sec previews and a redesigned client.
The war for the internet, ad revenue, market share, hearts and minds is very much underway and at this very exciting time in history I dare not call a winner. Especially since likelihood suggests that even if there is one, there won’t be for long. Microsoft is notably absent from this week’s festivities- no doubt working on getting all those missing features into Windows Phone 7.
Internet giant Facebook seems set to unveil it’s own email service to essentially compete with Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Hotmail in the next 24 hours. However, given the ubiquity of those established services, and Facebook’s poor track record with privacy, would you sign up for a @facebook.com?
This discussion reminds me of my switch to Gmail from Hotmail a few years ago. Gmail at that time fofered a better service- more storage space, a better web client, free POP access – and the fact that it never deaciivated your account, deleting your mail in the process, as Hotmail was known to do. Service-wise, Google’s offering was compelling enough for me to up and transfer over, migrate what mail I could and tell everyone my new address.
However as Google learned earlier this year with the failed ‘Buzz’ experiment, people don’t want social in their inbox, especially if they have little control over it. And what is Facebook all about if not the removal of individuals’ control over their information? The only obvious trump card FB has over other webmail services is potentially tight integration with it’s main social network; one that 500 million people are already tied up in. As to whether that’s something people actually want, I’m not so sure.
Given its massive user base, any Facebook Mail project has its foot in peoples’ doors already. If it wants a whole bunch of people to switch from their existing mail providers, it will have to offer something those competitors do not while also dodging the backlash that’s sure to arise from any privacy-related missteps. Whatever Mark Z and friends reveal today, it looks set to upset the existing webmail equilibrium but to what extent remains to be seen.
The guys over at PC World published an article a few months ago outlining why Windows 7 shouldn’t go on tablets. I paid little mind to that, considering Steve Ballmer confirmed tablets with Microsoft’s desktop OS would be releasing before Christmas. However it seems like the software giant has since decided to cede to this curious contingent of the tech-o-sphere and release Windows Embedded 7 Compact as MS’s de facto tablet OS. Umm… can I say no thanks?
What’s really wrong with the iPad and the Android based tablets coming out now is that they aren’t fully fledged OS’s. iOS’ hidden filesystem takes the cake but there are a million more little things that hamper productivity and make basic tasks beyond looking at web pages more of a pain than they should be. Grabbing an image, cropping it, throwing it in a blog post like this and then publishing the thing is a trial. Then there’s the issue of file type compatibility, needing separate native apps to make the web usable.. etc etc.
Then there’s actual application compatibility. Think of the suites of programs; full versions of CS5 and Office, libraries of games and so forth that can run on Windows. They could all run on a tablet with Windows 7. They currently cannot on iOS or Android, and, from the sounds of things, won’t on WE7C either. A cut down OS is even more limiting when you start to think of the situation in these terms.
Android-equipped phones are trickling out all the time. I’ve had my eye on the Droid X and the Desire HD for some time too, desperately wanting to jump from the iOS camp as I am. One thing that I’ve noticed and is constantly disappointing is the resolution. Why does the Desire HD, with its glorious 4.3″ screen still only have a 800×480 res? Turns out that’s Google’s fault.
Only in reading the hype surrounding the pending release of Gingerbread / 2.3 did I notice that Android caps its resolution at WVGA (800×480). Wtf Google? Why in the world would anyone want to impose a software resolution cap on an ‘open source’ OS? I’m taking a purely topline, superficial look at this. It must make technical or business sense to someone but as I see it this bizarre, deliberate choice is having two important consequences;
1) There is nothing with Android to answer iPhone 4’s ‘Retina Display’. The Desire HD is a good phone but there’s nothing HD about it. In fact, it has the exact same number of pixels as the original Desire, the Droid X and just about any other semi-recent Android phone. That this was mandated by software available is sad enough. However the greater tragedy, I think, is that the cocky PR bastards at Apple get to keep parading around their incremental screen improvement, beauiful as it may be, as the best thing since 256 colours.
2) Android needs a new version for tablets. 3.0, whatever it’s called, is billed as the ‘tablet version’. Why is this necessary? Vendors are steering clear of Google’s OS for their tablet offerings in the short term since it’s just not up to snuff. Of course this is in part due to the less-than-great multitouch implementation currently built in, but it also has to do with the res. WVGA tablets just don’t work- Telstra T-Tab or Optus My Tab anyone? I laugh knowing that in those cases resolution is the least of the abismal devices’ problems but they still serve to illustrate the point.
All I can say is I hope Gingerbread comes out this week and I hope it removes this cap. It’s an inexcusable oversight – Google, get it fixed. It’s still a shame that even if we get so lucky we will have to wait for the next generation of ‘droids before we get something rivalling Apple’s overhyped, pretentiously named but ultimately breathtaking iPhone 4 screen. A tremendous shame, actually.