SiliconFilter

About Time: Gmail, Google Calendar and Docs Get Offline Access

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Google just announced that it is finally launching offline access to Gmail, Google Calendar and Docs. Once upon a time, Google allowed users to access their data offline through Gears, but the company shelved this effort in 2010 and never replaced it. Now, Chrome users can install a new pluginfrom Google that will give them offline access to Gmail offline. Docs and Calendar users will be able to download the respective plugins over the next few weeks.

Gmailoffline

One caveat, though, is that you can’t edit documents in the offline mode. That’s probably a deal-breaker for some, but it’s definitely better than having no access to your documents on that non-WiFi equipped plane. Google hopes to offer offline editing in the future, though.

Gmail and Calendar, on the other hand, will allow you to perform virtually all your regular activities offline as well.

Getting Started with Offline Gmail

To access Gmail offline, you can’t just unplug your computer and keep using Gmail. Instead, you have to open a new tab and launch the Gmail offline app from there. Interestingly, the offline interface is pretty much the same as the Gmail tablet interface.

Chrome-Only For Now

For the time being, of course, this new functionality is only available in Chrome and ChromeOS. Google says that it hopes to bring this functionality to other browsers in the future. In a slight jab against its competitors in the browser arena, Google notes that those will get these features once they “support advanced functionality.”

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4:24 pm


Germany vs. Facebook: Like Button Declared Illegal, Sites Threatened With Fine

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Updated: German websites based in the state of Schleswig-Holstein have until the end of September to remove Facebook‘s ‘like’ button or face a fine of up to 50,000 Euro.

Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy. Home owners, for example, can ask Google to pixelate their houses in Street View (maybe so that their garden gnomes can stay incognito?). Facebook’s facial recognition feature has also come under fire in recent weeks. The latest target of Germany’s privacy advocates is Facebook’s ‘like’ button („Gefällt mir,“ in German). Thilo Weichert, the head of the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, argues that Internet sites based in his state that use the ‘like’ button are illegally sending this data to Facebook, which in turn uses it to illegally create a profile of its users web habits.

Note: the original article didn’t sufficiently stress the fact that Weichert’s jurisdiction is limited to Schleswig-Holstein only. I’ve updated the story to reflect this more clearly.

Thilo Weichert (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Weichert argues that data from any user who clicks the ‘like’ button – including those who are not Facebook users (which seems to be the crux of the problem for Weichert) – is immediately transmitted to a server in the United States. Weichert told German newspaper FAZ that his concern is that “Facebook can track every click on a site, how long I’m there, what I’m interested in.”

According to the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection’s press release, Facebook uses this data to create “a broad individual and for members even a personalised profile. Such a profiling infringes German and European data protection law. There is no sufficient information of users and there is no choice; the wording in the conditions of use and privacy statements of Facebook does not nearly meet the legal requirements relevant for compliance of legal notice, privacy consent and general terms of use.”

According to the Associated Press, Weichert is also telling users to “‘keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins’ and ‘not set up a Facebook account’ to avoid being profiled.”

Facebook, of course, rejects Weichert’s claims and argues that its operating well within Germany’s and Europe’s data and privacy protection laws. Its users, Facebook says, stay in “full control of their data.”

50,000 Euro Fine

Indeed, Weichert isn’t actually ready to sue Facebook itself because it is outside of his jurisdiction. His agency, however, is threatening to sue site owners who continue to implement the ‘like’ button on their sites with a fine of up to 50,000 Euro. Site owners have until the end of September to remove the ‘like’ button from their sites.



4:27 pm


Google’s Expanded Sitelinks: When Bigger Isn’t Better

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Google’s expanded and enlarged sitelinks don’t add much to the search experience and just waste valuable screen estate.

Yesterday, Google updated the way it presents sitelinks – those extra blue links to a site’s sub-sections that often appear underneath the main search result link. When Google originally added those links to its results, it definitely made finding the right result easier and the links didn’t get in the way when you didn’t need them. Now, however, Google has decided to enlarge them significantly. Indeed, the font size of the secondary links is not the same as that of the main link. Google also expanded the number of links up to 12 (from a maximum of 8 before), meaning that for some searches, you now barely get to see the second search result on the page (especially if you have a smaller screen).

Here is how these results used to look like:

met old sitelinks

Here is the new version:

Met new sitelinks

What did we gain from this change? I would argue we got virtually nothing useful out of it. The green URL Google added doesn’t really add anything to the experience, the short snippet of text from the page is too short to add real value, and the smaller links in the original design were just as readable as the new ones.

Instead of adding any real value, the new design now puts greater value on the first search result than ever before. While most users don’t necessarily look far beyond the first search result, it would still be nice if you could see more than just two or three results per page without having to scroll down.



5:57 pm


Ubuntu Founder: “The Stranglehold of Windows on the Platform Itself Seems to be Coming Unstuck”

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If you have watched the Linux community long enough, you know that every year is inevitably proclaimed to be the year where the Linux desktop will finally break through. Sadly, though, that has never happened. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu developer Canonical, however, thinks that a major sea change is currently happening in the corporate world that could give Linux another chance. Ironically, what’s giving Linux on the desktop a new opportunity is the fact that the desktop itself is slowly becoming less relevant thanks to virtualization and the move towards productivity computing in the cloud.

As Shuttleworth notes, “Windows is optional, or at least it can be managed and delivered as a service to any other platform, so it no longer has to BE the platform on the client.” Microsoft’s “stranglehold of Windows on the platform itself seems to be coming unstuck.” He estimates that 10-20% of desktops will be able to migrate to Linux smoothly over a year or two.

Rightly, though, Shuttleworth also notes that the Linux world shouldn’t really think of Windows as a target anymore. “Being an effective replacement for Windows,” he writes, “is no guarantee of relevance in the future.” That, indeed, is very true, now that a majority of what we do with our computers involves the browser more than anything else. With ChromeOS, Google is effectively making a push for Linux in the corporate world, though it barely ever mentions the Linux underpinnings of its project. Then, of course, we’ve heard this story a few times too often before, so before you get too excited, remember that every one of the last 10 years was declared to be the “year of the Linux desktop” by at least one pundit.



3:14 am


Browser Version Numbers Are Now Irrelevant – And That’s a Good Thing

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Mozilla is getting ready to officially launch Firefox 6 tomorrow. That’s less than two months after the release of Firefox 5 and not even half a year since the launch of Firefox 4. Indeed, there is now some talk in the Firefox community to get rid of version numbersin the user interface altogether. That’s not a bad idea. Users really shouldn’t have to worry about which version of a given browser they are running and those version numbers have now become mostly irrelevant anyway.

Google Chrome is now at versions 13, 14 and 15, depending which channel you are using (stable, beta, dev). I’m currently running Chrome version 14.0.825.0 dev and the Nightly version of Firefox (8.0a1). To be honest, even though I follow this business pretty closely, I have no idea how those versions are different from Chrome 13 and FF 7.

Both Mozilla and Google are using a rapid release cycle schedule to push out new versions on a set schedule. Instead of waiting for every major feature to be ready, new features are pushed out whenever they are ready. Opera and Microsoft are still using a more traditional release schedules, but even Opera now features a developer channel (Opera Next) to push out betas quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Microsoft would switch to a more agile release schedule after Internet Explorer 10 (though its strong presence in the enterprise may make this impossible).

You Shouldn’t Have to Care About Browser Versions

At this point, there is no good reason why an average user should have to worry about keeping a browser up to date and given the current version number inflation, these numbers have completely lost their meaning anyway.

While large enterprises may hate this, as they like to have exact control over what runs on their users’ desktops, users can only profit from the rapid advancement in browser technology. There really isn’t any good reason why your average mainstream user should have to worry about which browser version is  installed on a given machine. Both Chrome and Firefox already push out updates as needed – though Firefox still pops up a dialog when a new version is ready while Google just installs it in the background.

I can’t remember a new browser version really breaking anything on the Internet these days – though I gather the moment I type this, I will get some email about banking sites that still won’t run unless you use Internet Explorer 7. New version tend to add more stuff but rarely deprecate an old feature. Except for developers, users don’t have to really worry about that. If a website makes use of these new features, that’s a good thing – and it can only help developers if more users are able to make use of these advanced features.

One Exception: Major Interface Changes

From a user’s perspective, all those changes that happen behind the scene and keep them secure on the net or speed up the browser are mostly irrelevant anyway. The only time most mainstream users care about a major update is when the user interface changes. For the large segment of users who actually have to invest time into learning how to use a browser, that is indeed an issue developers have to think about and that would call for a pause in the automatic update procedure.

 



11:29 pm


The Internet Explorer IQ Hoax and the State of Tech Blogging

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Last Friday, the tech blogosphere was enamored by a study that claimed that Internet Explorer users had a lower IQ than users of other browsers. The study by AptiQuant found that the average IE6 user only scored just over 80 on its IQ test – a test score that is, in terms of real-life accomplishments, generally associated with elementary school dropouts and unskilled workers. The study was a hoax.

The Hoax

A hoax like this one obviously capitalizes on the inherent anxiety we all feel about our own intelligence and the prejudice that nobody in their right mind would ever use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It also allowed those who use fringe browsers like Opera and Camino to feel especially smug, as the average score of their cohort was supposedly around 125 (that’s close to the level of most neurosurgeons). Safari users (who are most likely to use Apple products) were also supposedly among the most “intelligent.”

Overall then, this was a well thought out hoax, though there were tons of red flags, as Wired’s Tim Carmody points out. The huge difference in scores, for example, doesn’t really make sense and the average Opera user – while making a fine browser choice – isn’t likely to be a genius either. A quick Google search would have shown that AptiQuant never really existed before it released this report (even though it claimed to have data from 2006). The data itself also isn’t exactly trustworthy, as it relies on online IQ test – likely delivered through spammy pop-ups – and carries little to no scientific relevance.

Why?

If this was so obviously a hoax then, why did virtually everybody in the tech world run with this story?

Here are a few reasons why I think this story was able to get so much play:

Pressure to be fast, write more stories and get more pageviews: This “report” was published on a Friday and while most people associate that day with fun, fun, fun, fun, writers still have to pump out a few stories and news is generally slow on that day (and that Friday was indeed a very slow news day). (That pressure, by the way, is even stronger for writers who are paid by story.)

Stories about statistics can be written quickly and get pageviews: Indeed, the constant pressure to write more stories that get as many pageviews as possible is one of the reasons why we writers love stories about statistics: they are easy and fast to write, generally come with some pretty graphics we can use and do well in terms of pageviews. I’ve written my fair share of those and there is a legitimate role for those stories that boil down lots of data into an interesting story. What often happens, though, is that writers will just believe anything they see in these studies and run with it, without ever questioning the study’s methodology.

Indeed, there is very little reward for those writers who spend a lot of time going through the methodology section of a report and then find that their time was wasted because the report turned out to be untrustworthy. Writing a story about how IE users are dumb makes for a good headline and lots of pageviewsafter all. A subtler story just wouldn’t get the kind of pageviews and rewards that “IE users are dumb as a bag of hammers” can get.

Microsoft sucks, doesn’t it?: There is also a general undercurrent of anti-Microsoft sentiment on most blogs that makes it even easier for a story like this to get through without even an ounce of fact checking (something most blogs don’t do anyway: you publish first, edit later and then update the story as necessary). If the story had claimed that Safari users were significantly dumber than Chrome users, chances are we would have seen a bit more pushback and less glee.

It’s worth noting that quite a few of the companies that create these studies also face a lot of pressure to get publicity and acquire new customers. Why they often risk their credibility by putting out statistics that are obviously wrong is beyond me, though. It’s up to the press, though, to examine this data and decide whether to trust it or not.



4:04 pm


Share and Share Alike – Where Is the Google+ Etiquette Manual?

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Anyone who has used Google+ for more than a few hours has, no doubt, discovered a very high level of engagement. Users are sharing great content and are eager to share opinions on just about any topic, and there are many ways to share and connect. One can share, re-share, comment, +1, tag others, and even comment on comments and re-share re-shares. How, then, does one effectively participate? Are there established rules of etiquette for all of this communication?

The short answer is no. What follows is not intended to read like rules. It is simply a collection of my opinions based on what I’ve learned over more than twenty years communicating with others online. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, but please be nice.


This guest post was written by Bill Soistman. Bill is a programmer, educator, and trouble maker who has been sharing his opinions online since 1995.

He has more than twenty-five years experience solving real world problems and turning ideas into websites, mobile applications, and actionable strategies. He lives in Delaware with his lovely wife and two brilliant children. He cares far too much about baseball and blogs about faith, family, freedom, and fun. He currently spends a lot of time hanging out on Google+.


Sharing “Your” Content

If you have something original to share, share it. If you discovered something great online, share it. Sounds easy, right? So, what about the noise? With whom should one share and how often? I can’t answer those questions. I have a much better handle on what to do with content posted by others, but the same standard should apply to original content. That standard is added value. In the end, quality should always win out over quantity.

Comments

Comments should be reserved for real commentary, but the value of a comment is relative to the nature, tone, and intended audience of the post. A well thought out opinion on an important social issue is much more valuable when followed by carefully articulated consenting and dissenting opinions.

A thousand comments of mere agreement or raging hate do not add real value to the discussion. A political rant shared with a circle of like-minded people, on the other hand, may warrant a barrage of comments reading “amen” or “you go girl!” Same goes for the pic you buddy posts of his world record waterski jump or new Lamborghini, and your friends posts about graduations, promotions, engagements, anniversaries, births, etc. Go ahead and say “Congratulations!”

What About +1?

Giving a post a +1 may be preferred to posting a very short comment simply to express agreement, disagreement, or amusement.

I tend to draw the line based on the nature of my relationship with the author of the post. If that water ski jump record was set by a close personal friend, I will +1 but I am more inclined to also add a comment. A casual acquaintance of mine posts the same thing and I will +1 and leave my commentary out of it, even though I am just as impressed. On the other hand, if a complete stranger is proud of his accomplishment and I have reason to believe that he cares about my two cents, I’ll comment. It all comes down to added value to others. If I find I’m commenting for my own benefit, I probably shouldn’t.

Re-Sharing

Another way to participate in the discussion is to re-share content posted by others. This is widely regarded as a favorite feature by users because it spreads content to new circles and invites others to participate in the discussion. The benefits seem obvious, but there are questions to consider before indiscriminately re-sharing everything.

In my experience, re-sharing is the biggest contributor of noise. Some in my circles have proposed an arbitrary limit to the number of re-shares as a solution to the added noise. If you see something in your stream five or more times, for example, perhaps it is best not to share it again. I disagree. I think Google could mitigate the noise with an option to hide redundant posts (though I haven’t thought of solutions to the open questions this raises). I think the consideration, once again, is one of adding value for my friends. If I have something to add to the discussion or a qualifying remark, then I’ll re-share. Otherwise, +1 is the way to go. Simply hitting the share button because I like something is not, in my opinion, the best approach.

One must also consider fragmentation before re-sharing. Inviting others to participate in a discussion is great, but if the new comments are posted on the re-shared thread, the discussion is now fragmented. Sometimes that’s fine. Re-sharing is an excellent way to take the discussion in a different direction, but what about cases where fragmentation distracts? Should there be some protocol for requesting comments be added to the original post? Should Google implement some method of comment aggregation (or have they already done so)? The best course of action, for now, is to simply consider these questions before re-sharing and act accordingly.

Finally, privacy is at issue here. If something was shared publicly, it stands to reason that it is open for re-sharing, but one should think carefully about re-sharing something that was shared in a limited context. One of the favorite features among users is the ability to selectively share content with others by using circles, but that value may be diminished when posts are re-shared. There are restrictions and polite reminders in place for re-sharing non-public content and I think Google is working on more in this regard, but the best approach is careful consideration before you re-share.

Re-Sharing Re-Shared Posts

When one re-shares content that was re-shared already, the new post will look as though it were re-shared from the original post. This takes care of proper attribution for the original author, but does the re-sharer deserve some credit? Some users have begun to add something similar to the “hat tip” or “via so and so” that many bloggers use when they comment on news stories and such. I tend to think this is the best approach for now and may be one of the better ways to use tagging.

Where Does It End?

What should one do about commenting on something that was re-shared? Is one obligated to comment on the original post? Is it appropriate to leave a “thanks for sharing” comment on the re-share, or does that add too much noise? When is it appropriate to tag someone by name? Is it necessary to return the favor when one is tagged by someone else? Is it always inappropriate to tag those who are popular simply to get the attention of the attention getters? What about the etiquette of adding people to circles? If I create a circle for the express purpose of avoiding people while leading them to believe I am “following” them, does that make me a bad person?

Bottom Line

Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or should not participate. When I first started using Twitter in 2006 there were a lot of opinions, including mine, about the wrong way to use it. Many of those opinions, including some of mine, lost in the free marketplace of ideas. Like other communities before it, Google+ will evolve based on the behavior of users. We should all stop to think about how our behavior changes the experience for others, and we should, in my opinion, adjust our behavior for the benefit of the community.

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4:00 pm


In-Car CD Players: Another Soon-To-Be Obsolete Technology

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I still remember plugging my portable CD player into a cassette adapter so I could listen to my music in the car. Today, in-car cassette players are a thing of the past, but most cars still come with built-in CD players. According to Ford’s global trends and futuring manger Sheryl Connelly, that could soon change, though. While talking to AM Online, Connelly noted that “the in-car CD player – much like pay telephones – is destined to fade away in the face of exciting new technology.”

CDs, of course, have not exactly been big sellers over the last few years, as more and more consumers have shifted to MP3s, so phasing out in-car CD players only makes sense in the long run. Ford’s Connelly believes her company will continue to offer CD players in markets where there is demand, but as her colleague Ralf Brosig also told AM Online, Ford expects to see all-digital in-car entertainment systems in the near future.

Next Wave: Cloud-Connected Cars

Ford has been among the leaders when it comes to bringing digital entertainment options to cars, and has added USB connectivity and SD card ports to its latest MyFord Touch systems.

Some of Ford’s in-car entertainment systems are also connected to the cloud (though drivers have to bring their own connectivity in the form of a smartphone to their Fords) and allow users to play music through Pandora or Stitcher. More of this connectivity will likely come to more cars in the near future and will maybe even one day make USB and AUX ports obsolete, too.

 



4:16 pm


Google+ vs. Twitter: Planned Community vs. Organic Growth

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In many ways, the story of Google+ and Twitter is that of a planned community vs. organic growth. Twitter was never conceived to be what it is today. Its success was purely accidental and thanks to being in the right place at the right time. Its early years were chaotic. Users invented features that Twitter later canonized (@ replies, RTs etc.). Now, Twitter has grown to be a major success, but even after all these years, the company still struggles to explain what it really does and the old conventions that made perfect sense as it grew up now make potential mainstream users feel like they don’t understand how it works.

Compare that to Google+. As GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram rightly points out today, all the major features and attributes that venture investor Mark Suster praises about Twitter can also be found in Google+. It’s social and features real-time updates, an open architecture, asymmetric following and has all the hallmarks of a system where content can go viral.

Google+ = What Twitter Could’ve Been if it had Known What it Wanted to Be

While many pundits prefer to think about Google+ in terms of what it means for Facebook, I’ve argued elsewhere that Twitter should be more concerned about it than Facebook. The reason for this, I think, is that Google+ is very similar to Twitter, the difference being that Google+ was always meant to be what it is today. Instead of retweets, the @ namespace and other clunky conventions, Google+ uses a vocabulary and design that encourages sharing. Instead of having to write public replies, you just click the “comment” button. Want to share a story with one of your circles? Just click the ‘share’ button. Twitter makes it hard for new users to get started, but you don’t need to learn any new conventions to use Google+.

Google’s Advantage: It Knows What it Wants Google+ to Be

Google had the benefit of seeing what worked and didn’t work on other networks. Twitter obviously didn’t have this luxury. Instead, it is now stuck with trying to rein in its chaotic ecosystem. That ecosystem, of course, is what’s still missing from Google+. A Google+ API is forthcoming, however, and we will likely see most of today’s Twitter services (or at least those that are still under active development) hook into Google+ as well.

Celebration, FL vs. New York City

For Internet users, just as for those who live in Celebration, Florida (Disney’s planned community), the question will be if Google+ is the more interesting service, or if the chaos that stems from Twitter’s organic growth makes it a more vibrant community. Currently, it seems like Google+ could win this fight.



7:17 pm


Now that Google Has Launched a New Social Network, What Will Happen to Buzz?

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Google announced its new social network Google+ earlier this morning. Given that the company now has two competing social networks – Google+ and Google Buzz (or three, if you count Orkut as well) – it’s hard not to wonder what will happen to Buzz in the long run. Google launched Buzz with a lot of fanfare and clearly thought it would be a major hit. Buzz, however, never recovered from the negative publicity around the privacy flaws in its earliest incarnation, though it continues to live on in virtually every Gmail user’s inbox.

Is Buzz’s Fate Sealed?

It’s hard to make any predictions about the success of Google+ yet, but I think the future of Buzz is sealed at this point. Google+ doesn’t even offer any connections between Buzz and Google+. The two products completely separate entities, even though they share the same ideals in many ways.

google_buzzBuzz has been lingering in limbo for a while now anyway and even though Google pushed it out to millions of users, it’s mostly a wasteland today. There actually haven’t been any meaningful updates to Buzz for months and the whole project feels dormant at this stage. I assume this is partly due to the fact that most of the current Buzz team worked on new Google+ features instead of focusing on the old network.

Shutting Buzz down would affect relatively few users – especially if Google decides to make it easy to transition links and contacts between the two (that’s a bit “if”, though).

As Wired notes, Buzz’s failure clearly became obvious to the top brass at Google and the company started the project that has now become Google+ (and was apparently called “Emerald Sea” in an earlier incarnation) just months after the launch of Buzz.

Google has clearly learned from the failure of Buzz (launching it as a limited “field test” instead of an open beta is one example of this) and Google+ clearly represents the next step in the company’s evolution to become more social. Buzz itself, however, has served its purpose at this point and I assume we will hear about the its fate pretty soon.



6:54 pm


New ICANN Rules Will Soon Spawn Plethora of New Web Suffixes, But Will Users Care?

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For the small application fee of $185,000 and $25,000 per year, you will soon be able to buy your own generic top-level domain. Top-level domains (TLDs) are the .com’s, .net’s, edu’s and others that we’ve become so accustomed to. Until now, if you were Microsoft or CNN, you couldn’t register .cnn or .msft, even if you were willing to pay a lot for it, as the organization in charge of administering these domains did not allow for these kinds of vanity domains. Now, however, in what could turn out to be a history decision (at least in Internet terms), ICANN’s board has given the green light for these new generic TLDs. (more…)



6:09 pm


What’s Missing From Apple’s iTunes in the Cloud is iTunes in the Cloud

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When Apple announced its iCloud service yesterday, the whole presentation led up to the reveal of iTunes in the Cloud, the most anticipated part of the service. As Apple went through its explanation of the service, though, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. iTunes in the Cloud is missing a central part of what I was expecting from this service: access to my iTunes library in the Cloud. All the basic pieces are there: Apple knows what music I have on my machine (assuming I pay for iTunes Match once it’s released) and can sync that data to my other Apple devices – but you can’t stream your music from a web-based iTunes interface.

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3:33 pm


The New Windows 8 UI: Trying to be Too Many Things to Too Many Devices?

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Microsoft showed off the first demos of Windows 8 at the D9 conference and on its blog today. In its current form, it’s basically a blown-up version of the Metro user interface that also graces Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. That’s not a bad thing at all, actually. With its live tiles, the Metro UI provides users with one of the most information-dense “desktops” around without giving up aesthetics for clutter.
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4:31 am


U.S. Transportation Secretary: “There’s Absolutely No Reason for Any Person to Download Their Facebook Into the Car”

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Cars are becoming increasingly connected and there can be little doubt that this opens drivers up to all kinds of new distractions. Some new cars can now check your Facebook account and read updates out aloud. Others connect you to your personalized music stations on Pandora or let you browse through your locally stored music collection through one of the many little screens that now grace many cars instead of the traditional analog dials. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, however, thinks that all of these electronics are just too distracting and, according to the Wall Street Journal, is pressuring car manufacturers to minimize “gadgetry in new cars.” Indeed, LaHood told the Wall Street Journal that “there’s absolutely no reason for any person to download their Facebook into the car. It’s not necessary.”

While it would be easy to brand LaHood as a Luddite who doesn’t want people to “download their Facebook,” there can be little doubt that the car manufacturers haven’t yet figured out a way to smoothly integrate all of these new bells and whistles into the regular driving experience. Ford’s SYNC, for example, only allows drivers to access certain functions through voice control while the car is moving. These systems can be frustrating, however, as even the best voice recognition is still prone to making errors – which will likely distract the driver even more.

Given the long development cycles in the car industry, it will take a bit before we get advanced Internet-connected in-car infotainment systems that feel as integrated into the driving experience as today’s basic car radios. It’s not about Facebook, though.

There is no reason why a status update from Facebook that’s automatically streamed to your car should be any more distracting than listening to a morning zoo radio program. The car industry, sadly, hasn’t quite figured out how to do this, yet.



3:42 pm


Android Tablets: Hardware is Great, OS is Getting Better, but Apps are Still MIA

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When it comes to tablets, the iPad is still synonymous with the whole tablet category for most users. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though, given that it took Google’s partners quite a while to launch competitive hardware and Google’s first efforts to launch a tablet version of Android were not up to par with Apple’s iOS. For the most part, though, the forthcoming Android 3.1 and 4.0 releases will take care of most of these software issues, however, and with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Android tablet hardware is now also getting to the point where it’s competitive with Apple’s iPad line.What is missing, however, is the wide variety of apps that makes Apple’s ecosystem so vibrant.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

galaxy_tab_sidewaysThis is not a hardware review, but as others have pointed out before, the Tab 10.1 (which Google gave to all of the attendees at its developer conference last week – including this writer) is both lighter and thinner than the iPad, has a great screen (though it’s 16:9 widescreen takes some getting used to) and generally feels very solid. Other Android tablets from a variety of manufacturers will launch this year and chances are that quite a few of them will rival Samsung’s latest tablet in terms of build quality and speed.

Android’s Weak Spot on the Tablet: Apps

There is one area, though, where Android simply can’t compete with Apple yet: apps. One the phone, this is actually a minor problem at this point, but when it comes to tablets, Google doesn’t even offer the ability to just show tablet-ready apps in its marketplace. The apps that are available, whether they are news apps from CNN and USA Today, weather apps from the Weather Channel and WeatherBug, or e-book apps from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, can easily compete with their brethren on the iPad.

But there are no magazine apps worth writing about, Twitter’s and Facebook’s regular Android apps run fine on the tablet, but are just large versions of the phone app (which is true for virtually all non-Honeycomb specific apps). Indeed, just finding tablet-ready apps is a major pain as the Android Marketplace will happily show you a list of featured tablet apps but doesn’t make it easy to filter regular search results by screen size.

tablet_apps_android

Another Weak Spot: Built-In Browser

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of alternative browsers that work well on the tablet, including those from Mozilla and Opera, but the built-in browser is just not up to par when compared to Safari on the iPad. It’s actually quite fast, but often has issues rendering complex pages and while support for Flash is a nice thing to have, Flash video playback is sometimes choppy or cuts out altogether. For a company that makes Chrome – arguably the best browser on the market today – this browser on the tablet is a bit of an embarrassment. Thankfully, Android is open enough to allow you to run whatever browser you want, though, but this problem shows that there are still quite a few areas in Honeycomb that need polish.

Would You Buy a Tablet that Only Has 100 Apps?

android_marketThat said, though, I’ve used the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 exclusively for a few days now and it’s definitely growing on me. Android’s support for desktop widgets, easy sync with other Google services and smart notifications (one of the areas where Android always beat Apple) already show that the Android OS can best Apple in some areas.

With regards to the hardware, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first really iPad challenger. If you decide to buy a Motorola Xoom today or the Tab 10.1 when it’s released next month, you are, however, placing a bet on the fact that enough developers and publishers will also bet on Android as a tablet platform.

Given how far Android has come in the short time it’s been on the market, I wouldn’t bet against it – especially now that those 5,000 developers who attended Google I/O have a tablet in hand.

Disclaimer: Google provided free Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets to all Google I/O attendees, including members of the press.



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