Friday, May 31, 2013

iMore, the daydreaming site for Apple fanatics

I am an Android user and fan, there´s no denying it. I love Google services, use them heavily and have also been a Linux user for years. Android is the best middle ground between the two, and the work Google and the Android developer community have done since its release is simply outstanding.

Although they are not my cup of tea, I have also used Apple devices, such as an iPod touch 4 and currently an iPad mini. Apple as a company and their devices as a whole represent most of the stuff I dislike about software and hardware in general: Heavily overpriced, dumbed-down, snobbish products developed within a tightly closed and controlled environment. Having said so, I am not one of those who fails to recognize what is good about them, and I must admit there is a lot of that. They are well built and usually do the job they were designed to do reliably. If one adds up insane amounts of dollars spent in brilliant marketing campaigns on top of that, then it´s no surprise Apple does so well as a company. Today, that is. is a site put together by Apple fanbois for Apple fanbois, but they are also expected to be serious and objective, which is what any respectable information media aims to be. This site is a good source of information regarding what Apple will do next, they usually nail it and don´t publish rubbish rumors you often see in other places. On the other hand, they are not that good when it comes to dealing with critics or not so positive news. They will often write opinion articles to demean Android success, Google success or anything that looks like their beloved company or set of products are not "winning".


To give a bit of context, I am just a user of Google services and products who enjoys using Linux and likes its open and collaborative spirit. In that sense, I see year after year how Google pushes so many initiatives and projects that help improve software in general and open software in particular, and that amazes me. Stuff like Mozilla, Ubuntu collaboration, the yearly summer of code events that have worked wonders for KDE and other similar projects, Chromium, Webkit and now Blink, and many more are examples of that.

Android uses the Linux Kernel and even the Linux foundation thrives at how successful it is, and while neither Google nor Android are perfect, they are a heck of a lot closer to what I would like to see in technology as a whole than what Apple represents. In fact, it´s important to understand that Google does not have to do things this way. They could be way more greedy, close up their services and develop all of their products much more closely and never invest in open source projects. Luckily, they are not that way, so it is a good thing that we remind ourselves of that once in a while, because I see lots of people taking lots of things for granted and sometimes it surprises me. Does Google want to make money? Heck yes, but it´s how they decide to make that happen that matters, I think.

Anyway, I digress, but I just wanted to give a bit of background so my point of view is better understood. I feel happy to see Android everywhere because I think it is the better option as a whole, not just from a performance-feature level, but also a philosophical one. I don´t hold any animosity against Apple or their products, I just wished they were managed differently.


What I don´t like, though, is when people blatantly lie, or tell only half of the story, or simply close their eyes to reality because it suits their agenda. That is exactly what iMore does more and more often these days. For instance, they recently put out an article comparing the HTC One versus the iPhone 5. In that article, iMore claims that the iPhone 5 is a better Google phone because Google apps are smoother in the Apple smartphone. Right, well, that´s simply false to begin with. I own a Nexus 4 and have tinkered with a Samsung Galaxy S4, as well as with an iPhone 5 and my own iPad mini, and the fact of the matter is that Google apps behave almost identically throughout. the iPad mini, with its more humble hardware specifications probably struggles the most, but performance is more than acceptable anyways. To find the difference between the iPhone 5 and the Nexus 4 performance, one must indeed be an iPhanboi, someone so utterly and exclusively impressed by the sheer stupidity of smooth scrolling that can spend hours trying the effect and consistently being amazed by it. Even then, the difference is negligible, both devices are as smooth as it gets, but again, it takes a specific type of person to give this concept such relevancy.

The second argument they make, which is actually implied, is that Google apps in iOS are exactly the same they are in Android, both in terms of quantity and quality. Now, this is another example of dishonestly sharing only part of the information to suit their message. They of course don´t mention that Apple users don´t get every one of Google apps, as is the case with Google keep, My Tracks, Google Play Music, Car Home and others. Similarly, they skip the fact that iPhone users get Google apps weeks, sometimes months later than Android users do. Of course, they also fail to mention that all this Google app joy is only possible until the walled garden police decide to spoil the fun, as was the case when they removed Google Maps altogether.

It is probably obvious to anyone except a misinformed iPhanboi, but the best Google experience is not defined solely by having a bunch of great Google apps. Android users know that it´s not just about having the app, but also about how they use it and the features it offers. Streetview and its compass mode or Google Calendar are great examples.

On an Apple device, for example, one has to download and then sign in to each one of those Google apps, one by one, as opposed to the seamless experience that is core in Android. Similarly, apps have extremely limited sharing abilities, which is one of the nicest features in Android, one that greatly enhances the user experience. On top of that, Google apps are not, and cannot be defined as defaults (although Google are trying some smart workarounds to allow people to trigger Chrome when opening a URL from within a Google app, better than nothing, I guess). Last but not least, even if Google did a great job translating its design principles into iOS, their apps simply look out of place in iOS, offering a flat, modern look that simply doesn´t fit the obsolete skeuomorphism so popular in iOS.

So no, the iPhone 5 is not even close to providing the best Google experience. It takes someone who´s never used a modern Android device for more than five minutes or someone who´s deliberately lying to say so. The iPhone 5 does (thanks exclusively to Google, by the way, Apple has only created problems to users who preferred Google services) offer the possibility to use several Google apps, but it lacks in features, gets the apps late if at all, is always under risk of losing those apps if Apple Police randomly so decides and overall simply offers a sub par experience. One has to wonder, though, how all of these concepts escape an iMore editor when something as insignificant as smooth scrolling is all that important to them... Are they not into small details? I guess they are happy as long as it scrolls smooth enough.

Finally, that comment about being able to use other apps alongside google apps is simply ridiculous. Android users have tons of apps of their own that are similar, if not better, than iOS apps. Like Tweetbot? Well, Android users can enjoy Robird, Carbon, Tweedle, Neatly, Falcon Pro... All excellent Twitter clients, not to mention the official Twitter client app, which gets updated in parallel in both platforms. Fantastical? Well, the Official Google Calendar app is amazing, but there are many other apps like Digical which do a phenomenal job at it. Finally, Letterpress... A game? Really? Come on!


Another one of those phrases iPhanbois repeat like parrots. Years ago, when the iPhone dominated market share, that was such an important thing... which it quickly stopped being relevant when Android took over, of course. At that point, the relevant thing was that Apple was single handedly leading the tablet arena. Yet again, a concept soon to lose any relevancy as that dominance is about to die as Android tablets get in the lead this summer.

That apparently random loss of relevancy is quite an interesting phenomenon, but nothing compared to the idea that losing market share, even if it happens as quickly as it is happening to (once market leaders) Apple devices, is of no relevance to Apple. The guys at iMore want their readers to think that is all good and dandy because Apple continues to make more profit than the competition, even if the difference in profit steadily shrinks when compared to the likes of Samsung. Who cares if Apple have lost the lead in almost any market they compete on? Who cares if the potential profit could have been 2-3 times higher if Apple would have as much market share as Android? Who cares if the Google Play Store is on its way to surpass Apple Store profits in two years (if current estimations turn out to be true)? All those ideas are just crazy concepts only trade investors care about.

The ultimate bold idea, though, is to claim that the past of the company serves as an example to demonstrate that iOS devices have a bright future in front of them. The iMore editor shares a graph showing that Apple makes more profit today out of computers than any other manufacturer out there. This concept is used to try to debunk the notion that PCs killed Macs in the past. After all, the situation is somewhat similar, and if Macs enjoy leading profit today, why won´t Apple mobile devices follow suit? The iMore editor once again strategically forgets certain historical facts, like the surely unimportant event (for him) in which Apple was rescued from certain bankruptcy by Microsoft. The current crisis in the computer market, and the fact that PC manufacturers are turning into mobile devices manufacturers, something that will take time and will make them lose money, is also left out of the picture. Finally, the fact that profit could potentially be many times higher should Apple hold a bigger chunk of the market share is once again irrelevant, how convenient.


Now, I don´t pretend to know what´s going to happen because technology changes by the minute, but I think it is not very intelligent to pretend that the current situation is optimum for Apple, or to ignore the challenges the company faces. Yes, they have had 5 amazing years and such results carry inertia with them which doesn´t disappear overnight. However, it is undeniable that they put together some innovative concepts out, had their cake and were eating it, yet their competitors systematically and quickly managed to turn the situation upside down and left them with a much smaller portion than they probably thought they would have at this stage. The potential Apple had 2-3 years ago was incredible, they had the best seats to the show and had everything to become solid leaders of a rapidly growing market. However, they have consistently failed to deliver in many aspects, have been stale in terms of innovation, specially in the last 2-3 years, and in yet another display of sheer arrogance, like claiming they knew what the perfect screen size was, have failed to understand what people truly wanted. All that resulted in Apple´s lead extinguishing way faster than most could foresee.

Apple was not long ago defining the market, but just a few short years after is now, in most ways, playing catch up. The once perfect skeuomorphism is apparently to go out the window once iOS 7 is out. Rumor has it that a cheaper iPhone is on the way, perhaps even one with an even bigger screen. If those changes become a reality, they will confirm that Apple is no longer so clear on what the right strategy is.

That´s all pure speculation, though, I firmly believe Apple has every chance to become the true market leader again if they make the right choices, but the current situation does not look particularly promising. Looking the other way and misinforming to offer cheap propaganda or downright fanboysm is not the right way to manage a website which supposedly offers objective information. Hopefully the iMore editors will do as good a job when offering opinion as they do when they inform about Apple news. In fact, it would be great if they could learn from other mobile nations editors whose attitude towards criticism and weak spots in the platform they most love are much better.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Remember Vivaldi and Plasma Active? Yes, again!

It´s been roughly eight months since I wrote a bitter ARTICLE about the (hopefully!) upcoming Vivaldi tablet. Back then I discussed the terrible customer focus and business approach, as well as the fact that the idea behind the project is so far off what people are looking for today in a tablet that it is plain obsolete way before being available.

8 months later, what exactly has changed? Well... Nothing, zero, niente, nada.

The project official site still shows no information to help customers understand what happened with their preorders. As was the case back when I wrote my previews article, the only way to get a shade of information on the project, release dates and what not, is to proactively follow Aaron Seigo´s blog and hope that he will release an article sooner rather than later. Ridiculous indeed.

Luckily, Mr. Seigo just published an update on the matter, which you can read HERE if interested.

Apparently, plans are there to upgrade the hardware specifications a bit, but other than that, what we get once again are a bunch of excuses that don´t do much after a year waiting for a device that was first introduced as being imminently available. It almost feels like these guys were jealous at Google after the Nexus 4 selling fiasco, so they want to try real hard to come out as even more unreliable! Well, push no more, people, the jury is out and Vivaldi gets the worst customer service and attention accolade by a long shot!

Personally, I think it is sad that some people are so thickheaded that they have to keep pushing for something that has no future and that, if anything, only has a negative impact in the open standards they claim to defend. As far as the average Joe is concerned, they just want to get a device, so things like these only help cementing the idea that the people behind open source projects and standards are unreliable, unprofessional geeks who´d rather play than delivering results.

If Vivaldi comes out within the next 2-3 months, it seems it will come out around the same time as the second generation Nexus 7, and roughly around the same time as Firefox OS, Tizen, Jolla and even Ubuntu devices become available. The problem is that Vivaldi and Plasma Active are way behind most of them, light years away fron what Android has become... I mean, if the rumors are true, the second generation Nexus 7 is going to be a killer device, with an extremely mature OS, a huge ecosystem and user community and millions of active developers delivering quality software... and it will be available at roughly the same price as Vivaldi, but with much better hardware!

Is Vivaldi really necessary? It´s not the nineties anymore, there are many open alternatives out there, several more in the works. Wouldn´t it be better to simply accept defeat than keep pushing a project that has been and most probably will continue to be an embarrassment?

As I said back in the day, coding in your free time, as a hobby, is awesome. Projects coming out of sheer developer passion, for free, are a great thing, and people understand that they are delivered on a best effort basis. However, when you step up to the next level, start talking about preorders, a price tag, shipping charges, presenting specifications, pictures, demos, etc., then that´s when the game is over and it becomes a business which must deliver to expectations and timelines. That´s where this project has been a huge miss, consistently failing to deliver to its own promises and losing customers in the process, who will probably put their money on options they can trust.

It is great to daydream about openness, freedom, making, playing and living, but the best way to convey that is to demonstrate that one can deliver under those principles. If the opposite happens, then it builds on the idea that only big corporations can be trusted, that closed environments are the only ones that truly work, and so the original intent of the project is jeopardized and the opposite goal is achieved.

If the project is finally released in a short while, hopefully there is something there to make up for the endless waiting, but I highly doubt it. If, on the other hand, it is still not ready within a few months, I hope the project leaders simply understand that it is best to cancel the project, communicate accordingly and let other better managed initiatives carry the open standards flag.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

KDE 4.11 to become a long term release

Aaron Seigo announced just recently that KDE SC 4.11 will be the last release before Plasma Workspaces 2. This release will be stable and supported for 2 years, getting attention and polish throughout that period. Here´s his blog entry explaining what, why, how and when:


Personally, I love this piece of news. KDE has more features and options that you can shake a stick at, but even after the great SC 4.10 release, there are still basic things that could be heavily improved. We have come a long way with Nepomuk, it works fairly well now. Performance overall is amazing, it´s even hard to believe that KDE was ever considered a heavy DE, it feels light and snappy now. Improvements in Kwin have come a very long way. There have been improvements in pretty much every area you can think of, and yet, KDE still feels fragile, inconsistent and incomplete at times.

Hopefully this long term release will help close those gaps and make KDE as good as it deserves to be.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ubuntu to suicide again after 2 lost years?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have come to like Ubuntu 13.04 quite a bit. Raring Ringtail marks the first Ubuntu installation lasting more than a day in one of my machines since the Ubuntu 10.10 days. In fact, the more I am using it, specially after getting some updates that have improved stability, the more I am liking it. It´s been a two year hiatus and now that I am getting to love it again, I can´t help but being a bit concerned with everything I am reading about Canonical changing the core of Ubuntu.

News has it that Ubuntu will, over the next year, change its software packaging system to what they call "Click Packages", abandon X and forget about Wayland to embrace Mir and, last but not least, transition Unity entirely to Qt. The idea behind this sequence of changes it to provide a unified foundation for all the Ubuntu platforms (mobile + desktop, maybe TV?) to build upon. Given how quickly they want it to be ready, though, and the fundamental nature of all the changes, it is quite the ambitious plan, to say the least.

Looking back at the "promise-to-achieve" ratio Canonical has been able to score in the last couple of years (quite poor), the quality of what was being offered (again quite poor, requiring 4 full releases to get to an acceptable level) and the fact that there was a clear lack of direction, this all sounds a bit scary. If getting Unity to work as expected took two years an a half, when can we expect all these radical changes to work nicely? Ubuntu 14.04 is the target of all these changes converging together on all platforms, but does that mean the same as actually meeting expectations?

Lots of users like me were disappointed in Ubuntu after 11.04 and it took more than two years to finally offer something compelling enough to bring (some of) them back. If Canonical chew more than they can swallow now, if they get back into unstable, under-performing software for several more releases, it´s just going to be a pity and they may lose some users forever.

On the other hand, I must admit that, if Ubuntu is ever going to be a decent opponent to Android, iOS and the like, these changes might be not only critical, but also an absolutely must. Some are criticizing that Ubuntu is isolating itself from the Linux ecosystem and seeking more control, but let´s be honest, that´s the only way for it to become an alternative to the big names out there. Ubuntu must up its game big time in many respects if it ever wants to put up a fight, becoming more dynamic, flexible, reliable, better looking and way more responsive.

Let´s just hope they get it right this time and are able to complete these changes as planned, within the next 12 months. If Canonical pulls this off, it may be the beginning of Ubuntu for real, a serious distro that can truly compete out there. However, if they again take 2-3 years to actually make it happen, I believe their train will have left the station, probably forever.