Google’s material you: be together not the same

Android: Be together not the same
I spent some time in the spa recently and listened to a conversation about Android vs iOS in the stream room. I didn’t partake but found it interesting to hear how people were describing both and their dis/advantages.

There was a point when one person mentioned the customization of Android vs iOS, something like “you only just widgets last year”

But there is something which I have been thinking about in that general space.

Most phones are super similar and the software is what makes it different, its why I stick to the Google phones. I’m not keen on the Samsung opinionated software choices, although I understand people do find much comfort in the per-installed software and decisions. I think of it like Debian vs Ubuntu (of sorts). When Ubuntu came with Unity, I always installed Gnome Shell. It was easy enough to do, but its very difficult to do on a phone (replace Samsung’s UI with plain Android).

But back to phones…

The customization is key… I was originally concerned when Google was following Apple’s approach a while ago but then they seemed to understand the power of Android being yours and leaned right into customization.

Having upgraded to Android 12 a couple of days ago, I really like the system. Material you is surprising and is just right even in dark mode.

I am using Yatse remote which changes the background of my phone depending on what I am watching.That change will persist till I watch something else. I thought it might cause a clash but it doesn’t and still manages to look good always. The colour palette works no matter what. What would Joney Ive and Steve Jobs make of this design approach? Can’t imagine they would be a fan. Its one of the rejections I had about objectified the film/documentary is the lack of customization.

I found this video which sums up what I’m thinking. I look forward to seeing Material you on my new Pixel 6 soon.

 

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Sept 2021)

Metaverse

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed seeing the lack of coverage for facebook whistleblower sophie zhang, thinking about those batteries and yet another data breach.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this with seeing twitter crop bias bug bounty, the discussion about removing the landline and the social dilemma free on youtube for a month.


Tech Crunch gets on the moving train

Ian thinks: Reading this, I can’t really take Techcrunch seriously, because for every one of these startups focused on privacy and security. Theres at least 20 more startups covered the opposite. Maybe its just me?

Envisioning the future of social media

Ian thinks: This interview with Ethan Zuckerman is full of some great points to get you thinking, I find it hard to disagree with Ethan especially around using affordances and setting up small town based on Mastodon.

Values not eyeballs please

Ian thinks: Its always interesting to hear from experts in the space, on the work you are involved in. Its a really good read especially if you haven’t come across the Human Values, which also has new podcast interviews.

Apple cares about your privacy?

Ian thinks: I do find it so ironic, Apple making a song a dance about their privacy changes but their own browser Safari, not including any strong level of privacy? Of course Apple are in privacy hot water for much more too.

What is really behind Only Fans new policy? and its Uturn?

Ian thinks: There is a important question about the platform and who has influence over the platform. As this twitter thread says, you really need to think about the platform & infrastructure,

The dystopia which is the metaverse

Ian thinks: There is so much talk about the metaverse but few looking at the privacy, security, infrastructure and trust within this space. Till then I can’t help but think Vice is kind of right.

Its started with a MP3 player

Ian thinks: Dan Hon’s rant starts with a want and spans the internet media ecosystem, pointing out so many of the problems we all know too well.

Blackhat & Defcon happened, here’s the scary flaws

Ian thinks: I always love seeing what comes out of these security events. You can also watch the full videos from Blackhat and Defcon online here.

Web Monetization showcase

Ian thinks:The webmon showcase is a nice summary of some of the projects which came out of the Grant for the web initiative

Mozilla thumbs down Facebooks claims about Ad Observer

Ian thinks: Its so interesting to see Facebook’s concerns around Ad observer squashed in one post by the privacy first Mozilla. This is deeply concerning behavior, what is Facebook worried about?


Find the archive here

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (April 2021)

Deep fake technology

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed, seeing how Amazon won’t support public library systems and how good / prevalent deepfake technology is becoming.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this with fashion taking on surveillance, Google finally being called out for the not so incognito mode in Chrome and introducing a progressive tax-like system following Apples store changes.


Meet the disruptors at publicspaces

Ian thinks: From the publicspaces conference where you can watch all the talks. I personally found Melanie Rieback and post growth entrepreneurship quite inspirational for all those new startups. We need more of this!

Evidence disappearing right under your nose

Ian thinks: This short documentary from VPRO, highlights the problem with archiving and moderation in critical cases like war crimes.

TransCopyright realised with Micropayments?

Ian thinks: Delivered at Mozfest 2021, Amber got me thinking when she mentions the dream of Ted Nelson’s TransCopyright (co-creator of hypertext) realised using web monetisation for attribution.

Why the excitement over non-fungible tokens?

Ian thinks: March become the month when most people heard the term non-fungible tokens for the first time, likely for a piece of art which sold for the equivalent of 69 million.

Some of the facts and myths surrounding China & America explained

Ian thinks: Useful overview from Wired magazine on the clear differences between the two but also the misconceptions which are portrayed by the media and each other.

We all knew Facebook is hooked on mis-information

Ian thinks: Interesting to see Facebook time their AI fairness paper on the same day. Who are they trying to kid?

A bank is the last place I think about when thinking purpose and human rights?

Ian thinks: I’m not so sure how much is honest in this video but Paypal, are not just saying the right thing but actually doing. Such a important difference from a lot of the D&I efforts being talked about now.

Forget GDP, Its time for a new metric and the UN is engaged

Ian thinks: Its great to hear the UN is considering a move away from GDP to natural capital. Its about time the alternatives are taken deadly seriously, for the benefit of us all. Of course BBC R&D are researching Human Values in a similar mind.

The walled garden is the new security through obscurity?

Ian thinks: Feeling comfortable behind a walled garden can make you reliant on them for security, but like the MIT piece makes clear this can be a bad mistake for your own security


Find the archive here

Apple and their form of privacy

Apple's smug new iPhone ad says privacy matters, just ...

Ummmm right…

I get Apple are more private about data than others like Google (which pings Android phones so much people are suing for data charges) but there is something about misplaced trust with Apple which always bugs me. These latest adverts and recent news stories say it all.

Downloads outage down issues which is all around Apples Gatekeeper privacy and Apple’s latest OS update Big sur network traffic bypass.

Of course this is all clear reasons why I’m very much in the open source camp. Maybe I won’t understand the code, but someone will and can inspect it or track down the issue without signing an NDA. I urge for people to not blindly trust. Always look out for open code, zero-knowledge security, no logging, transparency, etc

Epic games serves up some 1984 on the app stores

 

Epic battle unfolds

Its been a Epic (Pun intended) battle going back and forth for Epic games and the app stores (Apple & Google).

For mobile developers the 30% cut has been a talking point for a long while but the fact you can’t use other payment systems really put the foxes in the hen house. I won’t get into details as there are others which do a much better job. I love this timeline

But I found the Fortnite 1984 trailer absolutely spot on. Pointing directly at Apple and their classic 1984 advert.  Although to be fair like most big companies, Epic isn’t clean in this area but the monopoly & closed doors of the app stores is a big deal. Its very clear Epic games planned the lawsuit, the 1984 and the trigger event in a perfectly planned check move (chess).

Shall we get the popcorn ready for this clash of the titans?

Regardless of what happens, I’m sure mobile developers will massively benefit from Epic pulling the trigger. Of course many other big names have also jumped in behind Epic.

Why NHS’s world-beating app was always a going to be awful but 10+ million!

Contact tracing api
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Even if you forget the thoughts are coming from a ex-googler who has interests elsewhere this blog is pretty damming and I  can imagine how the NHS really bought their own nonsense about it being world beating. Of course in the end they had to back pedal and use the Google & Apple decentralised contact tracing api.

But there are parts even I was shocked at…

It worked 4% of the time.

Thats not even funny, its not just unreliable but a total waste of time. Even if thats exaggerated, double would still be a bad joke at 8%

The British effort did find workarounds that most other developers could not: They used “keepalives” (messages sent by one device to another) to circumvent restrictions on having apps in the background on iOS. Notifications were sent between two Apple devices running the app to keep the connection between the devices alive and therefore having the ability to detect each other’s keys. The NHS tried to develop with a hacker’s mentality and shared its progress through its GitHub page.

There is a reason why keepalives are a bad idea, battery is one of the number one reasons why people find their smartphones deeply frustrating. Having a app keeping the system awake is just a terrible news. Although I assume as most people are staying at home, they will be closer to a charger at least

in May it was reported by the Financial Times that the British government was simultaneously exploring a solution with Apple and Google’s decentralized system as a backup, indicating that, even within the government, there were doubts that the centralized effort could work.

And this is when I heard they were testing both systems, leading to the fact they were going to drop the centralised app soon. This would be fine but…

The development of the app has taken months and cost millions of pounds from taxpayers…

…around $15 million spent…

I have no words to sum how I feel about the UK government throwing this money down the drain in the middle of a pandemic where people are losing their jobs and dying. Its not just wasteful, its incredibly disgraceful and pretty much sums up the UK government right now.

iPhone XR ad promotes smartphone addiction as a way of life?

Found via Hannah while working away, Latest iPhone XR ad promotes smartphone addiction as a way of life, and that’s bad
I hadn’t seen these Apple adverts but yes this isn’t good and strange for a company who was pushing for time well spent a while ago.

If you are affected by any of this, I would recommend having a look at my guide to take control of your smartphone and likely improve your phone and personal batteries

Will breaking up GAFFA do any good?

Elizabeth Warren wants to break up the monopoly of the big tech companies (GAFFA) nothing that new as Tim Berners-Lee’s been saying similar for a year or so.

I do find it interesting watching the calls for Europe to get in the game, but then applying the same metrics to the European market? Something is not quite right there? Why would you want a copy of GAFFA’s, therefore recreating the cycle again?

There’s life in Pebble still

Pebbles growing in work
Me, Jimmy and Alex – Photo credit to Jimmy Lee

Its ironic that since Fitbit bought Pebble and even Vector. There has been a bunch of interesting projects to keep Pebble going. Even Fitbit have been friendly to the idea of keep it going once they switch off their servers later this year.

At least two projects are hot on my task list.

What I find really interesting is the amount of Apple watch users who have switched to Pebble. First it started with my line manager (phil) who bought a pebble 1 a while ago, scratched it then sold it to me. He then bought a Apple Watch to go with his new apple phone; but it wasn’t long till he was frustrated with the charging and not being able to see the screen without the shake. I made clear my reasons for kickstarting the Pebble 2 and left it at that.

One day he totally surprised me one day with a pebble 2 watch in white and green. Good choice I said, even with the fear of what Fitbit would do with Pebble still looming.

I also sold my old pebble 1 watch to Andy at work with the warning of what Fitbit might or rather not do, but he was happy with the price.

Third was Jimmy, who had a old classic Casio watch he use to wear. He one day rocked up with a black pebble 2 watch and suddenly I felt the waters was turning.

Pebble 2.0

But the final surprise recently was with a Apple die-hard, Alex. Alex has apple stamped on his heart; me and Jimmy once had a conversation about the turning tide of pebble watches in work and thought who could be next? Jimmy did suggest Alex and I said nahh never, too tied to Apple. I even remember having a conversation with Alex about the Apple watch vs Pebble. I somehow forgot Alex use to own a Samsung Galaxy S4 plus a long time ago, mainly for VR.

He agreed on the advantages, and as designer to designer we critiqued the design decisions of the LCD screen and wondered if jobs would be happy with the one day battery? (to be fair me and Jimmy had a similar discussion before he turned up with one) Any way, that was a while ago and I almost fell out my chair when recently Jimmy announced Alex had ditched his Apple watch for a Pebble 2. I honestly thought he was kidding then I saw it on him.

Jimmy & Alex also have found services doing interesting custom watch faces, but I’m on the look out for more diverse apps (makers would be a plus). As I’d really like to see more things like ifttt on pebble. For example why not Monzo, Paypal balance status?

Pebble 2

Right now you can buy a Pebble on Amazon for between £40 – £90 depending on which one you get. I’d also say if you were considering a smartwatch, the pebble is still the only one I would consider even now.

Apple store security in racial profiling hot water

Even Steve Jobs himself would be shaking his head…

Honestly when I first saw this video via the guardian, I wasn’t really surprised.

When I was younger, I was regularly followed by security guards in stores. I knew what it was about but I guess at the time we just boycotted the shop and just went elsewhere. Its the same way I was stopped by the police for many dubious reasons.

Like most countries, Australia has its race problems and this isn’t an excuse and I’m glad the young people captured this all on video. The more of this stuff which comes out into the public domain, the more people have to face up the problems in our modern society.

Dare I mention the way the police are killing black people in the states

… I won’t lie, I did shout inside

…2015 right! How can this still be a thing!!!

Of course this caused a wave of postings and comments across the web, even when Apple somewhat apologised. Although I got to say the companies diversity isn’t exactly great either.

Pebble, time to dump Apple?

Pebble time

Iphone users who bought a pebble have been complaining that the pebble smartwatch’s connection with the phone is getting more and more flaky.

While on the other side the connection with Android phones is getting tighter (especially with some support for Android wear). I’m Apple are also going to/has restricted access to more apis since they want exclusive access for the apple watch.

This makes me wonder how long pebble will support the iphone?

Its great they support both operating systems but when one of them wants you off their closed platform? How long do you stay and keep struggling to support it while the walls close in, crushing your development efforts and driving your customers against you?

Food for thought, pebble?

Through the Illusion of the Apple distortion field

iCow Syncing

You got to hand it to Apple, they always have the press eating out their own bowl. You only have to look at the latest apple announcement for the apple watch.  This use to be termed the Steve Jobs distortion field then when Steve died, there was a fear that Apple may not be able to keep things up without their leader.

However this turned out to be not true (to a degree).

How does Apple manipulate the media and press has been a question which many have asked, and very have been brave enough to come forward and explain how. Those who do tend to get put on the blacklist and starved…

Apple can already tell what a review is going to say from [a publication’s] pre-coverage, and they’re not going to give you a review unit if you’re not going to play ball.” In other words, Apple feeds the writers who will do its bidding, and starves the ones who won’t follow its messaging.

One such brave people is Mark Gurman from 9to5mac. Who wrote a super detailed look at the distortion and absolute manipulation Apple roll across the media. 9 indepth pages of stuff everybody kind of guessed or knew but dare not write about? Don’t expect to see Mark at any Apple press events for the next 10 years at least.

Dropbox as furniture design company

This Alabamiana Library Is A Beaut

Dropbox as furniture design company” – @iledigital (Jon Rogers)

When Jon first said this to me, I had to think for a second. Then I got it.

Amazon, ibooks, etc all have their own proprietary ways of holding your ebook. But imagine if you  used many different sources to gather books and organise them. Some digital and some physical (like I do) These are sync’ed using Dropbox or other syncing systems and instead of being displayed as files, appear like dropbox’s photos stream. A far more useful way to display books you have and heck why not make it sharable while your at it?

Next leap… Instead of it being just a digital thing, how about as a physical manifestation? Dropbox could sync the physical and digital together, like a wispersync for binding digital and physical items. Maybe it slots a bookmark into position or folds over the top edge of a page?

But one thing you don’t want is some ugly as sin apple skeuomorphism bookshelf in your living room. It would need to fit with the rest of the furniture and surrounds. Making Dropbox a furniture design company. Not such a massive leap in imagination I would say…

Choose your ecosystem wisely

Android robot-shaped KitKat bars

In my mind the primeconf online dating talk has a lot of parallels with what I have been looking at in regards to  the different stacks and data ethics.

One of my biggest posts was one about the 5 stacks after listening to Bruce Sterling’s talk at SxSw interactive in 2012.  But came across a really interesting piece while looking into the Google IO.

Its time to choose your religion, Android or iOS?

It’s impossible for Google or Apple to introduce a new feature, let alone a whole new revision, to their mobile operating systems without it instantly being compared to the other’s alternative. The sparks that inflame heated discussions about who’s got the better notifications or smarter multitasking come right from the top of both companies. While unveiling Android L yesterday, Google’s Sundar Pichai took a subtle dig at Apple’s new iOS 8 by saying that custom keyboards and widgets “happened in Android four to five years ago.”

Of course this also applies to Amazon with their recent Firephone, Microsoft with Windows Phone and somewhat Facebook too.

Frankly the copying of each other is boring and getting tiresome. But regardless my bets are still with Google. Although I won’t lie, Google Fit although a better thought out proposition than Apple’s Healthkit, worries the heck out of me. Can you even imagine the insane algorithms which will be built?

Although not a foil hat wearing person, I will say I’m one of those people who removing  Moves app from my Nexus5 when Facebook bought them. And that was for a subset of personal data! I didn’t even stick around to see the EULA change because I had a idea of what they might do with that data.

Life will surely be sweeter once every gadget you own relates intelligently to every other, but to get there, you’ll have to decide where your loyalties lie. And the fact that both Android and iOS platforms are set for their biggest updates in years this fall means that the obsessive comparisons between them will be as salient as they’ve ever been. More than ever, your smartphone preference will dictate your choice of tablet, TV, car, watch, and even fitness tracker.

Its a shame things are this way. For example even Ubuntu are following this route with their Ubuntu Cloud, Phone,Tablet, etc. Whats driving all this besides the money, massive collections of data and customer lock in? User experience…

Last year when Aral gave his talk at Thinking Digital about user experience, I was up in arms again (seems everything Aral says, I tend to get up in arms about).The notion of a single user experience winds me up. Each user (in lui of a better word, citizen, person, etc) is different and although you can build experiences for a bulk of people, we have the technology and experience to build  but enlightening and masterful experiences which don’t trap users in a silky web, where you can only emerge a little lighter in regards to personal data.

What Apple and Google are building is what Nike, Adidas, and all the fashion brands wish they had: a set of concrete reasons to compel people to use one company for all their needs. It’s brand loyalty based on practicality as much as emotional attachment.

There has to be a better way right? Absolutely!

The utopian scenario would be to have one global ecosystem where the communication between Apple and Google was about device interoperability instead of trash talk among execs. In its absence, a few sprouts of hope come from companies like Nike and the Google-owned (but still independently operated) Nest.

Yes, the utopian scenario is what we should be working towards and to be fair, many are. However its very complex to build a excellent user experience across different data sets, APIs and services. Its alot easier to just build your own and force the user experience you think people should have.  As Ade said, people’s enthusiasm for federated decentralised $WHATEVER tends to be very low. I imagine its ever lower when considering the user experience. Getting things working technically is hard enough, so the user experience tends to get shuffled into a later position. I do agree with Aral on this. I would also agree this is part of the reason why the stacks are able to increase their lead and dictate the terms which suit their business model.

The old specter of Apple’s walled garden remains. And the more unified Google becomes, the more it’s beginning to resemble it. The difference with the latest software from both, however, is in the scale of the closed ecosystems that are being built. They are, by design, big enough to fit your whole life into. While the next phone you buy might not last much longer than a couple of years, the ecosystem it plugs and locks you into will likely be the one you use for a long time to come.

I would say its not just about choosing wisely, but also choosing wisely what you do on their platform. Its clear things are more difficult as a result of not being all in with one of the stacks but for the inconvenience and pain of wiring up your own solution between the gaps. It may in years to come make all the difference?

How can we ever trust the 5 stacks?

There is a lot to be said about Aral Balkan‘s talk from The Next Web conference (I gather his RSA talk had less technical problems). However I heard and saw it live at Thinking Digital 2014 a few days ago. Like when I heard him talk at Thinking Digital 2013, there was so much I wanted to say in return.

I agree on some level that its about the user experience, I disagree open source and free software is a lie, waste of time and not really free (Aral cleared up the fact he was talking about cost not freedom) Picking the low hanging fruit is certainly entertaining but is unfair, for example Mozilla’s dependence on Google is eye watering but there was no mention of Ubuntu, with their own phone, tablet, TV and computer operating system. I mean Ubuntu totally redesigned their operating environments to work consistently across all of them.

Thinking Digital 2014

During Thinking Digital most of the people I spoke to after Aral’s talk were unaware of most of the problems. I was frankly a little shocked and annoyed this was news to many smart people. But thinking about it some more, Aral’s calls to action afterwards were missing, so most people just felt like it was hopeless. (Maybe a little scaremongering?) Just what you want to ponder over at lunch time…?

I don’t blame Aral (although it always sounds like I have beef with him always), he highlighted the problem but if he included a few thoughtful practical actions (Although as Aral points out, his main takeaway/action was to create Indie Tech alternatives), it could be less gloomy and less fearful…

  1. Read the EULA (End User License Agreement) even skimming it will help you understand whats going on. (although I totally understand how verbose and how hard they are to understand.
  2. Take some responsibility for your own actions
  3. Take an interest and set your limits for issues like net neutrality, copyright, security, privacy, etc.
  4. Support the Open Rights Group (and others fighting for your online rights)
  5. Evaluate the services you use on cost in time, cost in privacy and cost in ownership. Everyone has a figure/percentage, if you don’t… get one!

The Big Picture - Open Rights Group

As mentioned in my post from the quantified self 2014, everyday its becoming even more difficult to trust any of the stack/cloud providers. Not only is the EULA changing more times that is reasonable but there’s some seriously messed up (law breaking) things happening.

Google, Facebook and Amazon have shown us again this week why the combination of a quasi-monopoly, vested interests and an inscrutable algorithm can be a dangerous thing for internet users, since it allows them to influence what we see, know and buy.

Don’t even get me started on Facebooks new messenger app which listens and Apple’s EULA which Norway agrees is over convoluted. The 5 stacks just can’t help themselves but comb through our data and when that runs out they want even more. Its certainly the main business model of the early 21st centenary but it doesn’t have to be that way. Very interesting when put in the context of Mariana Mazzucato’s fast paced talk from Thinking Digital 2014.

public vs private sectors

Even quasi-monopolies can be toppled or made to operate within the realms of public good and moral acceptable. We just need to be smart and work together. This is partly why I’m going to make my way down to Brighton for Indie Tech summit.

Although I’m writing about Aral’s talk again, he’s wasn’t the best of the conference. Sure I’ll go into plenty of detail in the next post.

Update – Jo from Indiephone has wrote a follow up piece about this post clearing up some of my points.