It’s the ecosystem, stoopid

Thoughtful ZDNet piece by Jason Perlow arguing that the fact that the iPad mini is more expensive than the Nexus 7 is actually irrelevant. Why? Because it’s not just about comparing hardware. It’s really about comparing apps and content ecosystems. As someone who runs both a Nexus and an iPad, I’m afraid that I have to agree with him.

No matter how much hardware you stuff into a device at less cost than your competitor, if your ecosystem is inferior, and your apps just aren’t as good, then it doesnt matter what you put in that pile of silicon, plastic and metal.

As a device manufacturer, the ecosystem that you are capable of offering to your customers is worth more than all of your component integration, period. 

However, it just so happens that Apple’s component integration is also better than the Nexus 7. Don’t believe me? I own a Nexus 7 and I’ve been travelling with it as my only tablet device since the device was released.

Also Read: Nexus 7, Push comes to shove, I prefer my iPad

I also own an iPad 3 and an iPhone. The only reason why I own a Nexus 7 is that I like to travel with at least one current generation iOS and Android device at any time, because I actually write about this stuff.

But as a consumer? If I had to choose between the Nexus 7 and and iPad mini, I’d much rather have an iPad mini. And I’m a real bona fide, certified geek, a Linux and open source evangelist, and a professional technologist that actually works as one for a living. I don’t just play one on TV, folks.

It’s true that on paper that the 8GB version of the Nexus 7 is only $199 (the 16GB version is $249, and the iPad mini starts at with 16GB at $329) and has some theoretically better components in it, such as a quad core processor, more integrated RAM, and a higher resolution display. It also has a similar resolution front-facing camera.

Have you ever actually USED most Android apps on a Nexus 7 versus an iPad 2, which shares the same SoC and screen resolution as the iPad mini? No? Well I have.

Despite the fact that the Nexus 7 has more horsepower and more memory, the iOS apps on balance are better, run faster, and are more stable.

The Skype implementation on Android is a joke, the video rendering and capture is pathetic and the audio transcode is horrendous, so if you plan to do video chats with that 720p camera, fuhgeddaboudit. And Google Video Chat on G+ is even worse.

Worth reading in full.

The iPad: some niche product, eh?

Before Apple launched the iPad, many sceptics wondered if there really was a market for such a device. Yesterday Tim Cook announced that, two weeks ago, Apple sold the 100 millionth iPad. That’s 100 million in two and a half years.

Makes you think.

The uses and abuses of Skeuomorphism

This morning’s Observer column.

Or consider this, from Wired magazine, claiming that Apple’s iPhone app, Find My Friends, “includes astonishingly ugly, faux stitched leather that wastes screen space. On the new iCal for the Macintosh, things are odder yet: When you page forward, the sheet for the previous month rips off and floats away, an animation so artless you’d swear it was designed personally by Bill Gates.”

Ouch! What Apple’s designers are being accused of, it turns out, is the grave sin of skeuomorphism. Now there’s a conversation-stopper if ever I saw one. A skeuomorph is, according to the OED, a ‚”derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original”.

Our new software monoculture

This morning’s Observer column.

Apple has to date authorised 500,000 [Apps] for its iPhone. The corresponding number for the Android platform is 600,000. These numbers provide ample justification for the late Steve Jobs’s great insight: phones were really powerful hand-held computers that could run useful applications. And so it proved. Jobs unleashed an explosion in creativity as programmers raced to create apps that people would buy in huge volumes. The result is a world in which smartphones are basically app-running devices that can also make voice calls. Ditto for tablets, except that they don’t bother with the calls.

So that’s all right, then? Not quite. Look closer at this explosion of creativity and you find that much of what it has created is either trivial or downright crap. You can, for example, get an app to put an image of bubblewrap on your iPhone screen. Then there’s the Halloween Sound Machine (“Sneak up on your mates with the sounds of a rusty chainsaw, go on, you know you want to!”). Or how about iBeer (“turns the iPhone’s screen into a showy pint of the foamy stuff”)? And gentlemen trying to decide between a walrus moustache, Victorian sidewhiskers or a goatee beard will doubtless find Beard Booth invaluable.

I could go on, but you get the point. A large proportion of smartphone apps are the contemporary equivalent of those plastic gee-gaws my kids bought all those years ago: impulse purchases that provide a moment’s entertainment – or even delight – and are then forgotten…

iPhone, uCopy, iSue

Eminently sane Economist piece about the Apple v Samsung patent case.

It is useful to recall why patents exist. The system was established as a trade-off that provides a public benefit: the state agrees to grant a limited monopoly to an inventor in return for disclosing how the technology works. To qualify, an innovation must be novel, useful and non-obvious, which earns the inventor 20 years of exclusivity. “Design patents”, which cover appearances and are granted after a simpler review process, are valid for 14 years.

The dispute between Apple and Samsung is less over how the devices work and more over their look and feel. At issue are features like the ability to zoom into an image with a double finger tap, pinching gestures, and the visual “rubber band” effect when you scroll to the end of a page. The case even extends to whether the device and its on-screen icons are allowed to have rounded corners. To be sure, some of these things were terrific improvements over what existed before the iPhone’s arrival, but to award a monopoly right to finger gestures and rounded rectangles is to stretch the definition of “novel” and “non-obvious” to breaking-point.

A proliferation of patents harms the public in three ways. First, it means that technology companies will compete more at the courtroom than in the marketplace—precisely what seems to be happening. Second, it hampers follow-on improvements by firms that implement an existing technology but build upon it as well. Third, it fuels many of the American patent system’s broader problems, such as patent trolls (speculative lawsuits by patent-holders who have no intention of actually making anything); defensive patenting (acquiring patents mainly to pre-empt the risk of litigation, which raises business costs); and “innovation gridlock” (the difficulty of combining multiple technologies to create a single new product because too many small patents are spread among too many players).

Some basic reforms would alleviate many of the problems exemplified by the iPhone lawsuit. The existing criteria for a patent should be applied with greater vigour. Specialised courts for patent disputes should be established, with technically minded judges in charge: the inflated patent-damage awards of recent years are largely the result of jury trials. And if patents are infringed, judges should favour monetary penalties over injunctions that ban the sale of offending products and thereby reduce consumer choice.

And it’s nuts letting this stuff go to jury trial.

Quote of the day

“Computing has changed from being something you go to a computer to do to something that the computer comes with you to do. It’s a subtle change, but world-altering for PC makers.”

Astute observation by Charles Arthur in today’s Observer.

The Peer and his iPad

Lord Puttnam, originally uploaded by jjn1.

David (Lord) Puttnam checking email on his iPad after the Open University ceremony last Friday awarding an honorary doctorate to Cathy Casserly, the new CEO of Creative Commons.

As it happens, it was 30 years to the day since he won an Oscar for his film Chariots of Fire.