What a year. I’ve been doing technology for way more than half my life and some other times have been as intense but nothing I remember combines speed and scale like the last twelve months. How about a year-end survey?
Good: Momentum · I mean the numbers you get at the beginning of every Android presentation, from me or anyone else: Hundreds of millions of this and billions of that. The interesting numbers aren’t Android’s or Apple’s but the aggregates, which chart our progress toward putting the Net in the pocket or purse of every literate human.
What does that do to the world? I don’t know; let’s find out!
Some worry (reasonably) about everyone being online all the time. I think that regularly disconnecting from the endless input overflow is a good thing. But, that choice must always be voluntary; its imposition, by a malevolent government, a failing market, or poverty, is a bug that we should fix.
Good: Widening Race · I’m still hoping it’s not going to remain an Apple-Android race. Windows Phone 7 has a lot to like, and there’s serious money behind it. I have to suspend my massive skepticism based on the track records of Steve Ballmer and Stephen “Steve-lite” Elop; but the hardware and software chops are still there.
Bad: Losing Competitors · WebOS and BlackBerry, sigh. This time last year I was actually worrying a bit that we’d end up with too many horses in the race, which could really screw up developers’ lives. Life is full of surprises and hope is not gone, but these guys are in seriously tough shape.
Good: Connect Anything to Anything · I install a ton of apps on my devices and sometimes forget they’re there. I got a surprising reminder from one today. What happened was, I was poking through photos in the Gallery app and wanted to email one to myself so I tapped the “share” button and saw this.
There are the things you’d expect to find there, some that came with the device, some add-ons, but the red one at the top surprised me. I have, but rarely use, the BBC news-reader. And if you want to share a pic, one way is to send it to BBC News. I expect this is designed for people ducking rubber bullets in Tahrir square.
And of course after you’ve send the pic to the BBC, the Back button will put you back in the Gallery. This kind of anything-to-anything integration falls out of the way Android is put together. Computer geeks like me call it “loose coupling.” In nontechnical terms, it’s “The right way to design a platform”.
Bad: Batteries · They’re just not keeping up. The advent of LTE isn’t helping, and I’m thinking Apple was smart in saying “not yet”.
It’s nice that my Galaxy Nexus compensates for its vast screen by being deliciously thin, but I bet if you surveyed the universe of people who actually depend on Android devices every day, they’d gladly accept a few millimeters of thickness to buy a few extra hours of no-worry battery time. Systemic industrial-design fail, I’m thinking.
Good: Personalization · Here are a couple more pictures. They are the home screens on my two everyday phones.
Android widgets are super-useful, but they’re kinda busy-looking so I keep them one swipe away, either side. I look at one of these screens a whole lot of times every day, and that wallpaper makes me smile. The fact that they come in every which shape and size makes me smile. The fact that I haven’t seen a single person’s Android phone or tablet that looks remotely like any other person’s makes me smile.
Bad: In a Rut · Last week I was in a café in a hip part of Vancouver, during working hours, and realized everyone else had an iPhone. All the same size and shape. All with the same colors, generally, on the same screens. It was actually kind of chilling. iPhones are beautiful and it’s kinda sad to see people covering that up with those lame kandy-kolored plastic cases; but you can see why it happens.
Apple is just not the kind of company that is going to languish in an industrial-design rut; I look forward to them surprising us sometime in 2012.
Good: App Volumes · Wow, a billion a month from Android Market. I assume the App Store’s still bigger, so you can double that and then some. I remain unconvinced that one-off app sales are a good business for developers, and increasingly certain that we should be selling services not bits. But whatever, those volumes are mile-high letters of fire in the sky spelling “There’s a business here!” We can work out the details as we go along.
A corollary is that I think we can mostly unclench about app piracy. I know there are mobile developers who are seriously pissed about the reverse-engineering weenies who post unlocked apps on scummy websites. Gimme a break, at a billion a month you’re in the mainstream and mainstream people just aren’t gonna hold their nose and trawl through scumware to avoid paying $2.99 for your cool game.
Turn it around: The kind of dorks who will take the extra time and risk to swim in the scum were never gonna pay for your game anyhow.
Bad, but Good: App Marketing · Nobody’s very good at it. I mean, EA and its peers have figured out how to get their products at least a glance from the buying public, but if you’re not an Industry Powerhouse, how do you get noticed?
Between us and Apple we’re closing in on a million apps and that’s obviously a hideous marketing conundrum. We and Apple and Amazon and so on can feature and promote and badge till we’re blue in the face, but I just know that there are many undiscovered gems out there embedded in the 95% of, um, not-gems whose presence is guaranteed by Sturgeon’s Law.
I’m not too worried; Homo sapiens is good at marketing, and I’m expecting pleasant surprises as we fight through the problem of getting the word out.
Bad: Patent Litigation · Nothing I could possibly say could increase the obviousness of the suckitude of this purulent fulminating cesspit. The straw I clutch at is that the developed world’s “management class” has sort of started to get a clue that the brokenness of the software-patent regime is seriously Bad For Business.
2012 · Good, I think. Expect surprises!