Reprisal is arguably better than the game that informed it. The only downside is that it’s Flash. Imagine if this was an iPad or Android game instead.
For years my lunatic Apple friends have asked me: “when are you going to get a Mac?”. When I finally did, they started asking me: “when are you going to get an iPhone?”. As iOS is growing increasingly more useful with good notifications and over-the-air updates, my answer has been trimmed down to when it has a Gmail app that’s as good as the Android one. “Gmail with IMAP works great” is the usual knee-jerk reaction and “what’s so special about the Gmail app?” the followup question. I’m thinking perhaps it’s time I change my stock answer. I think my new response will be: sync.
This morning on my way to work I was listening to Macbreak Weekly. A bunch of my heroes, including John Gruber, were talking about iCloud sync and the problems some of them were experiencing. Tonya had factory reset her iPhone several times trying to get contacts to sync properly. Andy jokingly suggested the merging of contacts was painful and would sometimes merge 17 different versions of the same contact into a lean 12. Chris suggested it was a good idea to make sure you had a backup of the contacts, calendar and email setup you considered “canonical”, before embarking on your iCloud adventure. When the team started talking about the supposed iOS 5 battery drain, iCloud was almost universally assumed responsible for this.
Grubers level-headed approach was that, while he apparently had no problems himself, he did believe Apples iCloud transition was going to be monumentally difficult and compared it to stepping from solid ground on to a boat while carrying valuable trinkets. Transitioning MobileMe customers to a new free setup, making sure not only calendars, email and contacts sync, but also documents, was bound to generate some headaches, but they’ll pass in time, he suggested. I agree, I’m sure things’ll improve once Apple is on the boat.
Perhaps there is something to be said about Apples approach to sync. As much as they tout that “the truth is in the cloud” — as Yogi Berra would say: that’s only true when it’s true. It’s no secret Apple loves native apps. Native apps run faster, smoother, nicer than web-apps. You’ll hear many chant this, they might even use allegories such as “being closer to the metal” when describing why a web-app can never be as good as a native app. Let me tell you this: Yogi Berra doesn’t care. If it works, it works. If the app is good, it’s good. If things sync, things sync. And if they don’t sync properly, they don’t sync properly.
Googles overarching approach to sync is to not sync. Push the changes immediately. When you add a bookmark to your Chrome browser, a teensy signal is immediately sent to Googles bookmark sync server pushing the change. When you finish typing a word in Google Docs, changes are saved. There is no sync, because there are not copies of files anywhere. There is only one file. There is only one email. There is only one contact. You’ll never have to worry about whether your Android phone, tablet, or Macbook has the most recently edited version of your document, or which one has the most complete contact, or which calendar you added an event to. Because everything is always in sync. It just works.
You’d think it would get muddy if you scratched the surface and peeked underneath. If you do, you’ll find that Android sync is actually asynchronous, and that if you use Google Docs’ offline editing capabilities, you’ll actually end up with some of the same sync challenges that Apple is facing: which version is the right version? Somehow I’ve never once had a problem with this, though. I don’t know if it’s because Google started with the web-apps and built native apps and offline sync at a later time, but I have no trust issues with Google getting my sync right. I know that if I visit google.com/contacts and edit a contact, my changes will propogate to all my devices seamlessly. I never have to worry about losing contacts, losing appointments, losing emails, getting corrupt data, or even backing up. While these words may smell like famous last words, I wouldn’t even think of backing things up. I expect it to work, I trust that it will work, and has done so far.
Compared to the flaming hoops I had to jump through to get just calendars, contacts and Gmail to sync on my wifes iPhone, using an Android device is just a relief.
Windows 8 is a pretty bold new move for Microsoft. It’s bright, vivid, touch friendly and puts apps and contents way up top. It appears to have ditched the traditional desktop metaphor and filesystem. Apps look very different. Here’s what Internet Explorer 10 looks like:
That new look and feel for apps is being referred to as “Metro-style”. Metro-style apps run fullscreen and navigation happens through edge-activated interfaces. While I’m concerned about discoverability for edge-activated interface controls (essentially this is classic mystery meat navigation), I do like that apps are full-screen and that Metro-style apps ditch all archaic notions of UI chrome.
Which brings me to Google Chrome, capital C. Really great browser, my such of choice. From a high-level perspective, Google built this browser to accelerate the pace of web technology development, so that Googles own web-apps — Gmail, Calendar, Docs — could adopt newer features sooner. To that end, Google has gone to great lengths to make sure Chrome is not only cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, soon Android), but that Chrome looks native to each platform. This tenet has been taken to the extreme, actually, with Chrome on Windows XP featuring the horrible “Luna” skin, and Chrome on Linux more or less establishing GTK as the de-facto UI toolkit on the platform, just to be able to use said toolkit. It’s really quite impressive, the amount of work put into making Chrome not only look native, but be native.
Of course we’re only on the cusp of the future. The next round of operating systems are likely to be much more mobile inspired. Windows is blazing a trail with adopting the Windows Phone Metro UI, OSX is likely to become even more iOS-like, and Ubuntu is already exploring more touch-friendly UIs. If Google is going to keep following the path of full-on nativity, Chrome engineers are going to be having some nasty headaches in the not too distant future. Is it even technically possible to replace Internet Explorer 10 as your browser of choice? With Windows 8 treating HTML5 web-apps as first-class citizens among native apps, it’s likely that IE is baked in to the operating system more deeply than it ever was before.
It’s also an interesting mind-game, imagining what Google Chrome would look like, if it were to theoretically be re-written as a Metro-style Windows 8 app. The Metro-style UI is already so minimalist in layout, icon style and even interaction patterns that it’s difficult to think of Metro-style Chrome looking very much different from IE10. The racing-car diagonal tabs for instance, which are important to Chrome’s branding, are hard to translate to Metro-style. Though I suppose if Google were to go this way, they could make their tabs look similar to those of the Android Honeycomb browser (which is likely to spell the direction of how Chrome will look like on Android, once that happens).
Will it happen? I think so, but I think Google will want to play the wait-and-see game for a while. Just like Android Ice Cream Sandwich may be a make-or-break proposition for Google, so do I think that Windows 8 is for Microsoft. Could be that Windows 8 adoption is too slow to worry about. Could be Google’s already working on Metro-style Chrome.
I don’t get asked this question a lot, but I wish I did. Here’s how I imagine the conversation would unfold:
Music Beta is Googles new cloud-streaming music service. It lets you to upload all your music files (up to 20,000) to Googles servers and then lets you stream them wherever you are through a web-interface or to your Android phone. It’s US-only at the moment1.
How it works
There are two ways to access your music once you’ve uploaded it all: via the Android app and the web-interface.
The Android app allows you to “pin” music for offline availability. This will ensure the album of your choice is cached for offline use. This is a very Google thing to do — your stuff is in the cloud, everything simply accesses it from there. You could call this Wi-Fi sync for your music, but it’s better: all the music you want offline you pin until you no longer want it. It works wonderfully.
The web-interface does not at the moment support offline caching. No doubt Google will implement this feature once the kinks get worked out of the HTML5 local storage feature, but for the time being you can only stream from there.
The web-interface works remarkably well. It’s responsive, easy to use, searchable and music plays excellently in full quality with no noticable delay between tracks. I find it a breeze to use compared to iTunes2. If you’re a Chrome user, you’ll also want the Better Music Beta extension for easy play/pause controls and hook-ups with Last.fm (it has has revived my account there). I’m also told the web-interface works on the iPhone (without the pinning/caching feature, obviously), though I haven’t been able to verify this.
So why would you want your music in the cloud? Isn’t it easier and faster to have it stored locally? And what about streaming it to the phone, that’s gotta be expensive on 3G!? The answer is that you want Google Music because you want one central location to store all music. One canonical archive from which all your devices access your stuff. Music over 3G is not going to be a problem in the future, and until then — if you’re on Android — the pinning feature will make sure that’s not a problem. It just works.
Except of course, for the elephant in the room.
Google did not manage to get the music labels approval. So there’s no music store. You’ll still have to rip your CDs, buy your music from Amazon or iTunes and then upload it. There’s also no convenient “matching” service, which would fingerprint your MP3 files or your CDs and let you skip the upload3, instead granting you access to an existing copy.
It’s a weird situation. I’ve yearned for a service just like this for years. One I could upload my music to — the music I’ve amassed on hundreds of CDs over the years. But now that I have it, it almost feels dated already. To make matters worse, I’m not sure a music store and a fingerprinting service would’ve improved the situation. In fact, my gut tells me the future is in streaming all-you-can-eat, i.e. what Rdio does. What’s so great about owning stuff anyway?
Wait. Let’s back up. Music Beta is awesome. There’s a hump you have to get over in uploading, and at the moment it works best if you’re an Android user. You also still have to buy your music elsewhere. But what Music Beta is, is distilled awesome. I totally love this thing, and the only reason it doesn’t get 6 hearts is because the music industry stole a heart. Hey music industry, I’m right here. I have money. I want to give it to you. Why won’t you let me?
- That is to say it works outside of the USA, but you have to be in the USA when you request an invite ↑
- Disclaimer: I have an extreme bias against iTunes ↑
- It does bear mentioning that the uploader works very well. It sits in the background and eventually it’s done. In “weeks”, as they say, but if you forget it, and chances are you will, then it’s not much of a bother ↑
The web changed things. It’s dictated the path of Android, iOS and Chrome OS. All three are operating systems that approach menial computer tasks in an entirely different way:
- they store things in the cloud
- they hide the filesystem from you
- they’ve shed the shackles of the traditional desktop and windowing metaphor
We no longer have to discuss whether it was actually Xerox PARC that invented the “Recycle Bin” concept, we can instead discuss whether we even need one1. It’s exciting. A computer no longer has to have a floppy or a disc drive. In fact, often times you don’t even need a keyboard. In the future, we might not need a physical interface at all, controlling everything with voice and gestures. It’s as if the new way has uprooted us from the rut of putting application links in a dock and discussing whether the window close button should be in the top left or the top right corner. Everything is different, and we can thank Apple first and Google second, for finally bringing us this much needed paradigm shift. In one key area of this exciting new future, however, Google and Apple differ in their approaches.
- The answer is yes, but not for files. Could be for closed tabs, or it could hold an “Undo” history perhaps. ↑
- The web-app now has 1,632 users, 17 ratings and 282 installs per day.
- When I first added the web-app, there was already an existing Google Tasks web-app, but that one opened Tasks in a popup window.
- About a month after adding the web-app, I received an email from Google that I couldn’t use the “Google” name. So I renamed the web-app “GTasks”, and rewrote the description to clarify that this is nothing but a love-letter to Google and a teensy nudge for Google to release their own Tasks web-app.
- Very likely that other Google Tasks app also received this email, but did not act upon it, resulting in the removal of said web-app. As a result, users are surging to “GTasks” now.
- Searching for “Google Tasks” in the web store gives you this page. GTasks has been both among those immediate results, and for a period it’s been buried in the little “All »” archive — the latter being akin to web-app cemetary.