The iPhone 5 needs “one more thing”.Comments

Google's enhanced voice search, the Knowledge Graph and Aro's Saga are all putting pressure on Siri. Will, and can, Apple respond?

Siri understandsAfter the launch of Android Jellybean I said that Google was leading the pack with search and contextual data thanks to Google Now. Both great features but possibly not enough to tempt dedicated iPhone users away.

I've been saying throughout the iOS6 beta process that Siri has been improving and getting more accurate. It is also being tied into the central mapping engine for enhance functionality, especially during navigation, and partnerships with other providers are supplying a wider scope of data such as sports information. By hooking into the knowledge graph, however, Google is striding ahead so Apple needs to respond.

This just got more important than ever now that Google is bringing enhanced voice search and the knowledge graph to the iPhone so that iOS users will be able to witness its power for themselves.

Straying from the path

I already know iPhone users who are buying Samsung Galaxy devices (both the S2 and S3) even without the benefits of JellyBean and Google so imagine how things will be once users have sampled all this and then realise this can be had hooked in to the OS with the added advantage of Google Now. I can envisage many more people moving to Android.

Siri will still have a degree of advantage on the iPhone because it is implemented at the OS level but it needs to go much further or Apple will be left further behind in both search and context.

The recent release of Aro Inc's Saga application for iOS which aims to provide Google Now style information after learning where we go, what we do and who we are with, is applying extra pressure and iPhone users could be left with a definite case of information envy.

Perhaps Apple sees the refreshed hardware, new Maps application and Facebook integration as a sufficient advancement from the iPhone 4S but I doubt many users will feel the same. More than ever the iPhone 5 needs "one more thing".

The iPhone 5 needs “one more thing”.

The mobile experience – it’s no longer just about the phone.

As mobile devices become more complex the trend is for applications to provide more data automatically. Google is moving in this direction already but will Apple follow suit?

CloudiOS6, the latest version of Apple's mobile software and currently at beta 3, has a number of parallels with the recently launched Android Jelly Bean in that it initially seems like a minor revision but there are a number of tweaks and small features that you would miss if reverting to the previous version of the OS.

With both iOS and Android, however, the latest updates are creating a deeper symbiotic relationship between our devices and the cloud. Jelly Bean's killer feature is Google Now (the system designed to provide data cards automatically based on what we are doing) and iOS6 continues the development of Siri, especially now that local support is available outside the US, and its interaction with the new Maps application.

On the face of it, iOS6 doesn't look like it has enough new features to be a meaningful upgrade over iOS5 but we have reached the point where mobile operating systems are sufficiently advanced so as to only need minor adjustments - fanboys would probably disagree but the reality is that the OS alone cannot progress much further without the cloud.

Context

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are collaborating on a book about "the coming automatic, freaky, contextual world" where being always on, always connected and monitored by a multitude of sensors means we can now have more data than ever pushed to us based on our location or activities: the context. Context is something I've been talking about quite a bit recently in a purely social sense but the marriage of context and modern hardware is a powerful mix that will take time for many to feel comfortable with for fears of privacy invasion.

Google is ahead of Apple in this regard in that Google Now pushes information to you whereas Siri pulls it based on your requests but I think it is only a matter of time before Apple goes a similar route and starts to use context to supply data automatically.

Ditching Google Maps is about so much more than just relying on a competitor for data, it is about Apple taking back control of part of its ecosystem so that it can be used for myriad purposes. Maps is just the beginning, the partnerships with other companies (to provide subject specific information) enable Apple to provide far greater utility - this will only continue as more data is hooked in to the central engine. The lines between Siri and Maps and data from the like of Yelp etc. will blur with multiple sources being amalgamated to present a more coherent, useful picture.

The future?

Those now in partnership with Apple may need to heed the Google Maps warning: as Apple builds services around the new mapping service there is a risk that they too may reach a point where they have served their purpose and be discarded as Apple moves to provide its own in-house solution. Perhaps we will see Apple acquire some of these partners to lock the data in to the iOS environment so as to reduce Google's advantage.

Apple will no doubt be accused of copying Google Now but I feel that the data engine behind Maps and Siri will need to become more proactive in supplying us information rather than us just requesting it - this is a logical progression considering the way the market is moving. As I have also said previously elsewhere, the data engine should be integrated with Spotlight search so that we are able to perform text searches on the same information when we are unable, or unwilling, to use Siri's voice capabilities.

The only variable is time but, now that Google are well on the road, is it time that Apple can afford?

Why not discuss the original post over at Google+

Image by Extra Medium

The mobile experience – it’s no longer just about the phone.

The move from Android to iOS.

Google's Android and Apple's iOS dominate the smartphone market with hoards of fans willing to fight tooth and nail for their platform of choice. What is it really like moving from one to the other? I found out.

iPhone screenI made the move from Android to an iPhone 4S at the weekend and reactions have, as expected, been mixed ranging from the disparaging "a downgrade" to "welcome to the club, you won't regret it".

Having been an Android power user for almost two years I feel able to comment in a rational, balanced way without any fanboy style reactions. So, here are my thoughts on making the transition.

Activation

Quite ironically, I set up a wireless access point on my old HTC Desire so that I could activate the iPhone whilst coming home on the train. I did not previously have an Apple ID or iCloud account but setting them up and getting the device up and running was painless.

There are sufficient similarities between the two operating systems that anyone could easily make the jump from one to the other without much fuss. Having the majority of applications available on both platforms is also a great help as you have that instant familiarity thus lessening any potential culture shock.

There are always learning curves and I initially thought I could not get the iPhone to sync directly with a Google account. Configuring iTunes to bring in contacts and calendar data from Google is simple and avoids but this can also be achieved by setting up your Gmail account as an Exchange account rather than using the Gmail specific option. Either way it saves you having to manually recreate all your stuff despite it living in two very separate homes.

Hardware

I have always liked the build quality of the HTC devices I have owned, although largely plastic they feel sturdy and not likely to break so there was a lot to live up to. I don't yet have a case for my iPhone so am probably over-cautious about it being largely glass but it feels extremely solid and well put together. It has a reassuring "heft" to it even though it is not actually that heavy.

One thing an Android user will instantly notice more than anything is the single button. It's quite strange at times not being able to hit a "back" hardware button but you soon get used to this functionality being on-screen. I have mentioned before, however, that the inconsistency with which applications make use of the back button on Android is a major failing.

retinaSeeing is believing

A lot has been made recently of The New iPad's retina display but we mustn't forget where it all started. I used to think that the display on my Desire was good, I used to think that the retina display was over-hyped - was it really that much better?

Having used the iPhone for a while and comparing it side by side with a "normal" display the difference is obvious and striking. It's not just the pixel density but a combination of the screen resolution and font that makes text incredibly readable. By way of illustration I spent half an hour reading my RSS feeds in Google Reader at arms length with no trouble at all; I would not have been able to do that so comfortably on my Desire.

Software

Android also lets itself down when it comes to software; inconsistencies in the OS and core Google applications have become a bug bear which hastened my desire to move to iOS. While I have only installed or use a limited number of apps on my phone I have used a sufficient number here and on an iPad 2 to know where I feel more comfortable.

The fragmentation with Android versions, screen sizes and device capabilities is often cited as a major issue and it is easy to see why developers are targeting Apple first - if they target Android at all. iOS is without it's share of issues in this regard, however, with a number of applications being released separately for the iPhone and iPad meaning that the user is forced to purchased them twice.

Experience

It is always said that specs are largely irrelevant as long as the device you are using is able to adequately perform its role; you don't realise how true that is, and how much "experience" counts, until you have used both an Android device and an iPhone. iOS feels much more polished than Android, it is far smoother when rotating the screen or transitioning between pages. Animations within applications themselves are of consistently high quality that everything just feels better.

Android lovers may wax lyrical about the ability to install this custom ROM or that custom recovery, "root" the device and be able to perform all manner of tweaks on it but, to be honest, once I found a solid, stable AOSP (Android Open Source Project) ROM I stuck to it and stopped tweaking my device.

There should not be a need to have to root a phone and muck about with it just to achieve a particular level of functionality - while iOS can be jailbroken I don't see that I will need, or want, to.

A long time coming

My disillusionment with Android has been growing and the move has been a long time coming;  it will not be one I regret in a hurry.

 

This is a re-write of an original post on Google+

Images by myself and Richard Masoner

The move from Android to iOS.

A rose by any other name.

What's in a name? In these materialistic times are we more driven by the one-upmanship of increasing version numbers or do we see through the names to what lies beneath?

iPhone4SIt's fair to say that a lot of people (the stock markets included) were disappointed by Apple not releasing the iPhone 5 but are they right to be?

Apple products seem to elicit a more emotional response than just about any other whether it be by the fan boys or the anti-Apple brigade so it was always on the cards that any failure to deliver would become a big issue.

A let down?

The main "failures" from yesterday's presentation, as perceived by those with expectations based on unfounded rumour, were that Apple's new offering did not have a larger screen or redesigned body and, perhaps most importantly, the numeric reference was not incremented.

The iPhone 4S has plenty to get excited about: the dual core A5 processor giving faster speeds and more responsive graphics, the 1GB of onboard RAM, antenna upgrades, and a greatly improved camera. All of this combined would be enough for any other manufacturer to announce that the phone as a major revamp but our expectations are set so high with Apple that even a slight let down strikes us like a knock-out blow. HTC, for example, has been rolling out a number of devices with merely incremental upgrades (the differences between the original Desire and Desire S are hardly worth the effort) with virtually no comment.

It's not just about hardware

Whilst Android community web sites have been lording it over the apparent lack of progress - the biggest argument is that the Samsung Galaxy SII already meets the hardware specifications - we must remember that the allure of the iPhone is not down to hardware alone; the mixture of hard and software combines to provide the Apple "magic".

Android suffers not only from OS fragmentation but also fragmentation of application functionality where there is no consistent behaviour from one app to the next. Seemingly small things such as this all contribute to appreciating the level of control that Apple exerts over the iPhone ecosystem.

The new features in iOS5 such as the Notification Center and Siri may be viewed as Apple playing catch up but when combined with the hook into iCloud and iTunes Match provide a compelling reason to stay with, or even switch to, the iPhone.

Frustration

I have mentioned in the past my growing frustration with Android and the possibility that I will be moving to Apple with my next device but will I let the device nomenclature convince me that this is not a new phone? Does it matter that we have the iPhone 4S and not the iPhone 5?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

A rose by any other name.

Initial thoughts on Tweetdeck for Android.Comments

TweetdeckRather than write a full review and duplicate the good work of others elsewhere I wanted to share a few thoughts and opinions and how I arrived at them.

The journey

I've always been a geek and have spent (too) many an hour just tinkering and tweaking to get something just the way I want it - whether it be a self build PC, website or phone. In fact I spent a long time building custom Windows Mobile 6.5 roms for my old HTC Touch Dual before the OS was released.

When my Touch Dual died (probably as a result of repeatedly re-flashing too many roms) I was still in contract so couldn't afford another Windows Mobile device. It was disappointing at the time but ultimately did me a big favour. I ended up with a Nokia XM5800 after being surprisingly impressed by the one my wife (@SallyWalker) had bought. Okay, Symbian is far from the best mobile OS but the ability to side load apps from any source was a blessing.

Without a doubt, the best application I have ever used on Symbian is the Twitter client Gravity written by @janole. The interface and design was a masterclass in what Symbian could achieve and should have become a template for how apps look on the platform. I strongly believe that Symbian themselves should really have looked at this and redesigned the OS itself.

Gravity was the perfect Twitter experience for me; it just felt "right". Using accounts from multiple services, GPS, image sharing and URL shortener integration were all there and the app was, quite honestly, way ahead of the competition and really set the standard for how Twitter clients should be, and not just on the Symbian platform.

Gravity was so good that it was the single reason I was hesitant to ditch my Nokia and move to Android. Ever since I have been searching for that perfect Twitter experience on Android but never found it - that could now be about to change.

A new hope

For some reason I can't fathom I've never been a fan of desktop Twitter apps, don't ask me why but I've just never gotten on with them and always preferred to use the web site. I installed the Tweetdeck desktop application but very soon found myself removing it.

Twitter on a phone is different and, while I have still been using the mobile website from time to time, I believe a client is the way to go to get the best from the service. However, being disappointed with the alternatives I stuck with the default HTC application Peep - it was simple and did the basics reasonably well so why waste space installing something else. Just as with desktop clients the rest didn't feel right; perhaps I had just been spoilt by Gravity.

I was intrigued when I heard that Tweetdeck would work in a similar way to Gravity: multiple accounts, swiping from side to side to switch between different columns etc. and I am glad to say that I was not disappointed. Tweetdeck feels so much like Gravity to use that it is almost a homecoming.

The current build may still be a beta with a few bugs and an incomplete feature set but I can honestly not now imagine myself using anything else on an Android device. Not a statement I make lightly.

As well as the overall experience fitting the way I see a mobile Twitter client working there are a number of features which instantly resonated:

  • performing a search and saving the results as a new column so you can keep an eye on a topic in real time
  • the Buzz notifications (I don't have my Facebook account added but it's the same thing) in the 'Me' timeline indicating, for example, if someone liked your post
  • choosing either exact coordinates or a Foursquare "Place" when geotagging
  • the little indications when you have unread items: the dots indicating pages and the yellow scroll bar at the side - the longer the bar the more unread items

The beta support forums are busy already and a lot of the requests mirror things I would personally like to see such as improved support for lists (I may even start using them), the ability to separate different services out to different columns and to show which tweets are geotagged directly in the timeline. Don't get me wrong, the combined Home column works really well with the different colours for the different services you are using but it would nice to have the choice to split them into their own streams.

The single biggest problem with Tweetdeck is the inability to change the refresh times. Currently, the application update your stream every few seconds which, on a device that has known battery life issues, is not a good call and effectively prohibits you from leaving it running in the background. Fortunately, this has already been acknowledged on the support forums so I envisage there being more options in the next build(s).

The future

As long as the key issues get resolved before Tweedeck hits version 1.0 the applications is, in my opinion, streets ahead of any other Twitter client for Android and can only get better.

Initial thoughts on Tweetdeck for Android.

Android – time for a change.Comments

AndroidEver since spending three and a half years doing outsourced support for Microsoft I had always been a "softie" at heart - that much exposure can be akin to brain-washing and we always used to joke that I had an MS barcode on the back of my head. This attitude was very noticeable in that the original "Randomelements :: Blog" was self hosted on one version of Sharepoint or another (wow did it really go back to 2004?)

It was only natural, therefore, to move to the Windows Mobile platform as my smartphone of choice - starting with the Orange SPV550 and moving through a few other phones and OS iterations. Coming from that background I am obviously used to being able to install apps from anywhere so I resisted moving to the iPhone on a point of principal - the closed system with all applications needing to go via the App Store just seemed an unnatural barrier which you shouldn't need to rely on jailbreaking to get around.

There is not doubt that the iPhone (and now the upcoming version 4) was a gamer changer and a great device but one which didn't fit my needs or way of doing things. When my HTC Touch Dual finally died (after many, many flashes of custom ROMs) I spent a year with the Nokia XM5800 which, in all fairness, is a great phone but a bit bulky in the pocket so, the time came to move on - Gravity by @janole, however, is an absolute MUST for anyone with a supported S60 device.

Step up Android

I'll admit that I'm late to the party as far as Android is concerned but maybe that's for the best. I've entered the fold with the OS at v2.1 so never experienced life without multi-touch or the app drawer; instead I have the great looking Sense UI and a very stable, mature operating system at my disposal.

In a way the HTC Sense UI is almost like a homecoming having used TouchFlo/Manilla on Windows Mobile so my new HTC Desire was instantly familiar straight out of the box (OOTB).

Android v iPhone

With the inpending arrival of the iPhone 4, the debate over whether iOS or Android is better has been raging just as furiously as the Mac v PC argument ever did. Nowhere has this been highlighted better than Robert Scoble's post on Buzz. Robert has been extoling the virues of the Android OOTB experience: "all my contacts, apps, calendar items, and other things automatically synched without hooking it up to anything" but (despite using a gmail account for years) having all of my details in Outlook I did not experience this.

As you would expect, the integration with the key Google applications is pretty much flawless and all achieved by just entering your GMail account details as part of the device setup. Even those apps in beta are seamlessly linked to your GMail account - take Google Listen as a great example.

I'm a big @scottsigler fan (an original junkie) so setting up his podcast in listen was my first priority; after doing so I was surprised, nay, delighted to find that Listen had automatically added it to a "Listen Subscriptions" section in Google Reader. How cool is that?

Listen Subscriptions

All change

It is this flawless integration that has prompted me to change the way I do things. I have converted all of my contacts to Google Contacts and - wait for it - completely dumped Outlook as my email client; I just don't need it any more. Sorry Microsoft!

Dumped Outlook

It really is something to say that a phone has altered my behaviour but there it is. There are a few holes such as the lack of a native file manager but the Android Market is beginning to flourish and is populated with numerous, good quality, free applications to fill these gaps.

Android is here to stay and not just make up the numbers.

Image by scarygami

Android – time for a change.