Posted: May 11th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | No Comments » | 0 views
Just about two years ago, I went off the deep end. I had come home early from an event in an effort to do something responsible: email. I was on the road and knew the situation would be dire (since I had not been checking my email all day). I was wrong. It was a disaster. It may as well have been Inbox Trillion. There was no way I could get through it all with my sanity intact. So I did the only logical thing. I quit email.
It was both an experiment and a statement. I decided that I wasn’t going to respond to email for an entire month. And while I did cheat a little (I would still check it from time-to-time in case of emergencies and to delegate some work-related items that couldn’t wait), it was without question one of the best months I’ve ever had.
I was decidedly less stressed out. I found myself enjoying the internet more. I no longer dreaded opening up my laptop or looking at the push notifications on my phone. And guess what? If someone really needed to talk with me about something, they figured out a way. Funny how that works.
And yet, the good times couldn’t last. The month came to a close and I was back on email. While I don’t think I actually missed anything in my time away, the sheer ubiquity of the medium and the realities of life brought email back into my life full time.
And I hate it more than ever.
In the months and now years following the experiment, a number of people have asked for an update on my epic battle with email. The good news is that a few things have gotten much better. The bad new is that everything else has gotten much worse.
After my experiment, I tried a bunch of different things to make my email situation more tenable. What I ended up coming to was a system where I would be checking email constantly throughout a day, responding to what I could quickly from my phone, archiving anything that didn’t need a response, and keeping the rest in my inbox until late at night, when the incoming volume would drop to near zero. Anything that wasn’t timely would then sit in my inbox until the weekend when the incoming volume is uniformly lower.
It was a bit like letting pressure build up (quite literally, you might say) and releasing a bit of it at night so my inbox wouldn’t explode. And then releasing the rest of it every weekend. And then starting over on Monday. Every Monday. Forever.
This was my life. And while it was manageable, you know what? It still sucked. Because I would find myself getting gradually more and more stressed out throughout the week as I saw my inbox grow and grow leading up to the weekend release. It made me more stressed out on Friday than on Monday. I now somewhat dreaded the weekend. Email time.
Then one day a CrunchFund portfolio company asked to run an idea by me. That company, Orchestra, was planning to take what they had learned from their to-do list app and make a new kind of email client. That, of course, became Mailbox.
From the moment I first heard the idea, I knew it was a winner. It was essentially taking a lot of what I was manually doing with email and streamlining the process. And they were doing it in an extremely smart and even sort of fun way, using the native niceties of modern smartphones.
Mailbox quickly became my most-used app. It still is. It basically alleviates the pressure build-up in my inbox by allowing me to release it constantly throughout a day. Brilliant.
But also sort of an illusion.
I’m not alleviating the pressure by responding to emails right away. Instead, I’m pushing them off to deal with at a later time. My system of responding to emails at night or on the weekend is largely the same, I simply no longer have to watch those emails build up until I am ready to take action.
Now, don’t underestimate how wonderful such a system is. And it’s a system that will continue to improve with automations and the like now that Mailbox has the resources of Dropbox behind them. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the problems of email have been solved. The underlying issues very much remain.
Mailbox simply perfected the game of Whac-A-Mole that we all play.
One major issue that remains with email is the notion that every message should get a response. And a big reason why I hate responding to email during the day is that too many people are too quick to respond to my reponses. For every email I send in the day, I seem to get two in return — often immediately. (As a result, this caged animal has been learning not to touch the electric fence — hence, night and weekend emailing.) And a large number of those responses are “K” or “Cool” or “Great” or “Thx” or some other banality best left unemailed.
The problem with these responses, even the short ones, is that they all take time to consume. If I read them in Gmail, it takes a couple seconds to load the response. And then another couple seconds to archive it. If I read them on my phone, I have to wait a few more seconds to download the messages from the server. Not to mention the push notifications that come in alerting you to the new message, taking up yet more precious seconds.
Seconds make up minutes, which make up hours, which make up days, which make up months, which make up years. One day we’ll all be laying on our death beds wishing we hadn’t wasted all that time reading a million “K” email responses in our lives.
Email needs some sort of quick response or maybe even a no-response reply system. Maybe it’s read/unread states that all recipients can see. But that’s been tried before and understandably, some people don’t like others to know when they’ve read a message. So maybe it needs to be a simple checkmark, like Path recently introduced in its new messaging system.
Or maybe the answer is something like emoji/smilies/stickers. Believe me, I know how lame this must sound. I mean, stickers for Chrissakes?! But ignore the immense cuteness and joy of stickers for a second and focus on what they signify: an ultra-quick way to express a reaction. This could work for email too.
Neither of these things would work if they simply came in the form of yet another email response — thus, defeating the purpose. Rather, these should be in the form of some sort of quick-loading visual cue that resides *on top* of an email system. That would likely require everyone using the same email service (unless this somehow became a new standard that every email service provider adopted — not gonna happen). But perhaps a fall-back system could be put in place to deliver these quick messages in email form if the recipient isn’t using the correct email service (giving them an incentive to sign up).
I guess my point is that while we’re seeing a lot of services come out with new and interesting ways to combat email overload — beyond Mailbox, see: Handle, Triage, Evomail, Mail Pilot, and many others — the only way email ever truly gets “fixed” is to be completely re-imagined. It doesn’t need a paint job, it needs a demolition job.
My fear is that this will never happen. We’ll keep getting better tools to handle email on various devices (on your iPhone, on your iPad, on your iWatch, on Google Glass, etc) but eventually the moles will become too quick and plentiful for any of us to whack.
At that point, email will become something we only use for work while we use some other quick messaging system for everything else. This is already happening to some extent — when was the last time you sent an email for “fun”? — but the messaging world is increasingly fragmented and not universal.
Earlier this week, I announced my next step professionally. It resulted in over a hundred emails of well-wishes and congratulations. These should have left me feeling wonderful. They did not. Unfortunately, the medium has become the message.
[Disclosure: It would probably be easier for me to list where I *don't* have some sort of conflict in the things mentioned above — see here. The one thing I'm not conflicted about: how much I hate email.]
Posted: April 9th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Android, Facebook | No Comments » | 0 views
“This is not a Facebook Phone.” Yeah, whatever. The HTC First is the first phone that has Facebook partnering up with an OEM to bake an Android pie with Facebook Home filling, so I’m calling it the Facebook Phone. There will be more. This is just the first. And guess what?
It’s really good.
Sitting through the Facebook Home announcement last week, before I got a chance to play with a device, I thought it was a smart maneuver by Facebook to use Android’s openness to their advantage — to put their own social layer on top of the OS. It’s not forking Android, more like spooning with it.
But given that this was their first stab at the product, and given some of the woes many of the OEMs have had doing Android skins, I honestly wasn’t expecting too much. Maybe down the road, after a few iterations. But not now.
But again, it’s really good.
Regular readers will know my predilection for the iPhone. I think it’s not only the best smartphone ever made, but the best device ever made, period (though the iPad is close). The iPhone started out fantastic and has just gotten better over time with each iteration.
Android, on the other hand, started out as sort of a nightmare. The G1 was like a weird Sidekick/iPhone hybrid with a half-baked OS. In the subsequent years, Google has come a lot farther than Apple has, only because they started so low. The most recent “pure” Android device, the Nexus 4, is excellent. The hardware is solid, the OS is better. It’s still not quite iPhone-good yet, in my mind. But it brings the two sides closer than they’ve ever been.
So where does the Facebook Phone fit in?
It’s a complicated question to answer because it really depends on what type of user you are and what you’re looking for out of a smartphone. So again, I’ll just give my take as an addicted iPhone user. I like the HTC First with Facebook Home (the official name, I think) more than the Nexus 4, but less than the iPhone 5.
From a pure hardware perspective, there’s no question that both the Nexus 4 and the iPhone 5 run laps around the HTC First. (I assume you can sub the Galaxy SIII, SIV, and HTC One in here as well, though I don’t have much experience with those devices.) As you can tell from the spec page, the First isn’t as fast as any of those devices. Nor is the camera as good. Nor is the storage as plentiful. Etc.
Using the First, you’ll notice some lag within apps and the core OS itself that you don’t experience on the iPhone 5 or the Nexus 4. But I’ve been very impressed with how well Facebook has gotten their own Home animations to work on this hardware (more on that below).
In terms of build quality, I actually quite like the HTC First. In my hand, it reminds me of the Nexus One, which was for a long time my favorite piece of Android hardware (only recently passed by the Nexus 4). Compared to the other, larger-screen Android devices that are popular these days, it feels small, but not too small.
The screen is actually slightly larger (4.3-inches versus 4-inches) than the screen on the iPhone 5. And the pixel density is a bit higher (341 PPI versus 326 PPI). It’s a great screen. And because it’s only slightly wider than the iPhone 5 screen, I’m enjoying using it in one hand more than I do with the wider Nexus 4.
I’ve found the battery of the HTC First to be excellent. Yes, even with the screen constantly displaying and rotating big images and with AT&T LTE constantly on.
But let’s be honest, no one is buying this device because of the hardware. That it’s perfectly nice and adequate is just a cherry on top.
The key to the HTC First, of course, is Facebook Home. While Facebook is purposefully downplaying it — “It’s not an OS.” — to regular users, this will absolutely feel like a new OS from the moment you turn it on.
When you turn the device on, you log in with both your Facebook and Google credentials. Once that’s done, every time you turn on the First, you’ll see a collection of big, beautiful images constantly rotating on the screen. These are all pulled from your Facebook friends. If they’ve posted pictures to Facebook, those will show up here. Or if they’ve simply left a status message, that will show up with their profile cover photo behind it. This all looks really, really good.
And it’s surprisingly addictive. Because you can swipe to scroll through these images/statuses all without unlocking the phone, I’ve found myself doing this each day that I’ve been testing the phone more than I care to admit. The fact that you can double-tap to “like” any of these (an action taken right out of the Instagram playbook) is even more addicting.
Let me be clear, I’m not what I would consider a heavy Facebook user — or even a moderately heavy one. I browse the service from time-to-time and post things there every once in a while. I think Facebook Home has me using it more than I ever have in my life. Maybe it’s the novelty of it over these first few days. But I think Facebook has really nailed the interaction element on the home screen. I actually wish I could use Instagram and other visual feeds this way as well (of course, Instagram pictures shared to Facebook are a part of this main screen experience).
You can also comment on any photo/status right from this home screen (technically called “Cover Feed”).
The other element you’ll notice here is a big circular picture of your face (or whatever your Facebook profile picture is) at the bottom of this Cover Feed. When you tap it, it brings up three options: move your face up to get to your apps, move it left to get to Facebook Messenger, move it right to return to whatever you were doing last before you re-entered Cover Feed.
If you move your face up, to apps, this is where you’ll finally see something that looks like Android. But it’s not entirely like Android. It’s a page filled with Android apps, but along the top are the standard “Status”, “Photo”, and “Check In” buttons that will be familiar to any Facebook user. This is normally where the Google Search bar goes on Android devices. Instead, that’s somewhat buried in a screen to the left.
On this main screen is where Facebook Home instructs you to put your favorite Android apps. Included are what you’d expect: Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram, alongside the Google standards like Chrome, Maps, and the Google app itself (better known to some as the home of Google Now). Also here you’ll find the Camera, Gallery, Settings, Play Store, Phone, and a couple other stock Android OS apps.
You can create more of the app collection pages to the right of the main page. And to the left (where the Google Search bar is), you’ll find a scrolling list of all your apps.
So yes, some of this feels like Android. But again, it also feels different. And I really like that.
To me, one problem I’ve always had with Android is that at its fundamental level, it draws directly from the look of iOS. It’s rows of app icons. Yes, widgets and a few other things have since been added, but I’m always still looking at the screen and thinking of Android as a slightly less responsive and polished iOS.
Facebook Home is different thanks to the Cover Feed, which lays on top of the app screen. And on top of that are the beautiful, elegant notifications that Facebook has created. Simply put: I like them more than both Android and iOS notifications. They feature big, clear app icons (or a person’s face if it’s a Facebook notification) and a snippet of the message you’re receiving.
These notifications stack in reverse chronological order, as you’d expect. You can swipe them away. Or you can hold one down to collapse them all on top of one another to swipe them all away.
If you tap on one, it flips over and asks if you want to open that app. One more tap does that. This is where things start to get a little weird.
If you have a password enabled to protect your phone, you’ll be prompted to enter it before you can enter the app. But what’s odd is that if you simply swipe up to get to your list of apps, you don’t have to enter your password until you click on one in particular. In other words, sometimes you’ll be asked to enter your password from the app list, sometimes before it. I get it: Facebook doesn’t want you to be able to use an app before you enter this password, but it’s weird to prompt for it at different levels.
Even weirder is that you can actually do a few types of Facebook actions — both liking and commenting — without entering any password. In fact, there’s no way to password protect these actions, as far as I can tell. Facebook says that you’ll need to enter your password before leaving a status message or posting a photo yourself, but someone could definitely take your phone and leave comments galore on your friends pictures, no questions asked.
This is a direct result of Facebook Home laying on top of Android. The security here is still on the Android layer beneath the Home surface. I suspect Facebook will add the option to put some security on their Home layer as well.
(Update: As Dieter Bohn pointed out to me on Twitter, there is a way to make the lock screen go in front of Facebook Home. It’s actually in the Home Settings — which is a different app from the regular Android Settings — there you unselect “See Home When Screen Turns On”. Unfortunately, this is basically useless because it disables all notifications until you unlock your phone. So, yeah, you probably don’t want to do that unless you’re very paranoid of someone snatching your phone and commenting up a storm.)
Another awkward thing about this Home-to-Android handoff is that if the phone is unlocked, you can hold down the middle home “button” (it’s not actually a button, it’s a haptic area below the screen, standard on most Android devices) to bring up the Google App (which includes both a big Search bar and Google Now, if you have it enabled). But if the phone is locked, holding this down does nothing. It doesn’t even prompt you to enter your password.
The same is true with double-tapping this button. If the phone is unlocked, this brings up a list of your most recently used apps. If the phone is locked, this does nothing.
A few times I found myself in no-man’s land because of this handoff as well. I would try to run something from a notification and for whatever reason, the unlock screen just wouldn’t come up. So I had to go back to the Cover Feed area. Not a huge deal, but again, awkward.
I also found it awkward that the HTC First haptic buttons don’t function in the same way that they do on other Android devices that I’ve used. For example, the far right button usually brings up a list of running apps. Here, again, you do that by double-tapping the center button. The far right button is instead a settings button on this device.
Back to the good stuff: Chat Heads. Awful name not withstanding, this is absolutely how messaging should be done on a smartphone. Rather than making you open a separate app to get and respond to messages, Chat Heads put a user’s face (in the shape of a small, circular icon, just like your face on Cover Feed) on top of whatever you’re doing on your phone. Browsing the web on Chrome? Up pops a face with a snippet of the message. Click on the face to open an overlaid chat session. Click on the face again to minimize it to the circular icon (which can remain “alive” clinging to any corner of the screen). Brilliant.
This even works with multiple conversations at once. And, of course, group conversations. I suspect we’ll see a lot of other players in the mobile space copy all or some of this implementation. Again, this is how chat on a smartphone should be done.
What really pushes Facebook Home into the good product category for me though is the little touches. Elements like Cover Feed not only look gorgeous, they’re highly responsive and even a bit playful. For example, when you move your face icon around the screen, the action items (“Apps”, “Messenger”, “Back”) will be drawn towards your face depending on which direction you’re moving. It’s a bit like a black hole getting close enough to a star to swallow it. In other words, it gives you the illusion of gravity.
Likewise, double-tapping to “like” something within Cover Feed brings up a nice big “thumbs up” overlay. And this is accompanied by a water droplet sound. Simple, but again, playful. The same is true of all the system “clicks”.
These touches, while seemingly trivial, give me the same type of feeling I get when using iOS. You can tell that a lot of time and care has been put into the user experience here and it shows, in spades.
And again, you cannot overstate how smooth everything feels. In my experience, even with the Nexus 4, this has not always been the case with Android. What’s odd is that this isn’t even technically the latest version of Android. This is 4.1, not 4.2. (I’m told that Facebook will move fast to ensure that Home is compatible with the latest Android releases after they come out.)
The Android apps themselves can still feel a bit sluggish or jittery at times — again, this isn’t the fastest hardware out there. But all of the Facebook layer performs wonderfully. (And, to be clear, I had no problem getting every Android app I downloaded to run.)
So, will I replace the iPhone with the Facebook Phone? No. But again, I’m just not a heavy Facebook user. I’m impressed that this phone got me more into the service, but not impressed enough to give up the iOS universe.
I’m also not the target market of this phone. And if you’re reading this, I doubt you are either.
Still, it’s hard to believe this is only Facebook’s first take at Home. This is a very polished and impressive first entry into the space. I’ll be curious to see Facebook Home running on other hardware like the Galaxy SIV, but I think the fact that you won’t be able to get third-party notifications would be a deal-breaker for me.
I think the success of this first Facebook Phone will ultimately come down to how much marketing muscle Facebook, AT&T, and HTC put behind it. The first commercial is already out there in heavy rotation. And I suspect those AT&T stores will be erecting some big Facebook Phone tents any day now. This is a good product, so marketing will help drive sales. They just need to get it in customers hands, trying it out.
Facebook has said they plan to update Home at an aggressive pace. That’s great news. It’s nice to have another innovator in the space, even if they aren’t building their own phones or OSes. That’s a technicality. To most people, this will sure feel like a Facebook Phone. And for now, the Facebook Phone. And given the quality of the work here, I see this all as nothing but a good thing.
Posted: April 4th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Facebook | No Comments » | 0 views
Facebook is absolutely, positively, 100 percent not working on a phone.
The first rule of tech news remains intact: when a company says they’re definitely not doing something, it’s as sure a sign as you can get that they will eventually do said thing.
“Today we’re finally gonna talk about that Facebook Phone…,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said only slightly in jest to kick off today’s event. He then went on to give the same type of semantics argument he’s been giving for years. “So we’re not building a phone. And we’re not building an operating system.” Both are technically true statements.
And yet. Boom. Facebook Phone.
Here’s the thing: you can argue semantics about basically anything in the world. Does Apple actually build the iPhone? Or does Foxconn? Does Amazon build their own OS? Or does Google? Is the phone I held in my hand today real? Or are we in The Matrix?
We all knew the Facebook Phone was coming. And here it is. Far more interesting to me now is what exactly it means for the ecosystem in general.
“You don’t need to fork Android to do this,” Zuckerberg said at the beginning of his keynote. This is a theme that would come up again and again throughout the presentation. At one point, there was even a cute blue and white fork icon that was crossed out. You simply must understand: Facebook is not forking Android!
But why does that matter? It doesn’t.
There’s this negative connotation around the term “forking,” perhaps because a few others, notably Amazon, have forked Android in a way Google probably would not prefer. But the forking argument is another semantics one. No, Facebook isn’t technically forking Android, but what they’re doing is arguably more invasive. As I tweeted earlier, they’re essentially “spooning” it.
And make no mistake, Facebook is the big spoon here.
Sure, Facebook is saying all the right things now. How many times today did we hear about how great it is that Android is so “open”? And yes, Google did have to approve this new HTC First (Facebook Phone) device in order for it to be certified to carry the Google Apps and Play Store. But my sense is still that this tone may change in the coming months as Google and Facebook find themselves more at odds. We’ll see.
As Zuckerberg himself said today, “The home screen is really the soul of your phone.” Why would Google not want to own that soul? Especially on an OS they built? They may be fine with Facebook Home for now, but the countdown to Google+ Home or, more interestingly, Google Now Home, is officially on. And when that hits…
Facebook tried to convey something that wasn’t technically true during the keynote today. They tried to make us believe that Facebook Home is just another app. Or perhaps more accurately, a better kind of app. That is technically true of the version that will be in the Google Play store next week. But the version that will come pre-installed on the HTC First is different.
That version uses hooks in Android that are not normally exposed to standard apps. This is to allow Facebook Home to show all third-party app notifications, not just the ones coming from Facebook’s app. The downloadable Google Play version of Facebook Home will not be able to do this. HTC, using their previous experience from their “Sense” skins, did this for Facebook, as I understand it. And that’s why Google had to approve it beforehand. (Which, again, they did.)
Now, maybe Google opens up these hooks in a future version of Android and this difference is moot. Or maybe they don’t. You have to wonder why they haven’t yet, especially with so many other “skins” out there in the Android world. Today, though, the difference remains.
And so, while not forking Android, Facebook isn’t exactly just building your standard app, either. And if the technical argument isn’t enough to convince you, just think about how many other app makers partner with OEMs. And how many get key space inside the retail stores of a carrier partner?
This Facebook Phone is a bigger deal than Facebook wants to let on. And understandably so. You don’t announce you’re going to rob someone’s house before you rob it. And just because, in the case of Android, Google left the doors unlocked, it doesn’t mean it’s not a robbery.
(The situation becomes much more gray when you consider that, technically, Google invited them in by way of a third-party guest. But that would still be robbery. Even if they helped move around some furniture before they left with the goods. But now I’m way too deep in the woods…)
If Facebook Home isn’t any good, none of this will likely matter. I only got to play around with it for a few minutes today, but I was generally impressed by how smooth everything seemed to operate. It seems almost un-Android-like in that regard. But giving good demo is not the same as being a good product. So we’ll have to wait and see on that front, as well.
Still, I think today’s maneuver was a very smart one by Facebook. They’re not forking Android because that implies something bad. They’re spooning with Android, which is fine — nice, even. Never mind the fact that Google probably won’t be too fond of either eventually for the same underlying reasons.
These days, Samsung doesn’t seem to mention Android too often even though they’re so reliant on the OS. But Google seems okay with that as the Search and Play revenues continue to flow in. Similarly, Facebook didn’t mention the Android-maker too often today, and I doubt they will going forward with this and future Facebook Phones. And Google should be okay with that as long as the Search and Play revenues continue to flow in.
But what if Facebook Home eventually swaps out Google Search for the search engine of their investor and close partner, Microsoft? Or what if they put Facebook Search front and center instead? Or what if people search less in general because they just use this device for Facebook services and little else? Or what if Facebook decides to use their own app store instead of Google Play?
Or what if Google, sick of seeing Samsung, Amazon, and now Facebook fondle Android, decides that they want to own the branding of their creation? Again, what if they want to be the “soul of your phone”? There are a lot of variables here going forward.
“It is possible that they go back on their commitment to openness. But I don’t think they will. And it would take a lot of effort,” Zuckerberg said when asked about Google today. That reeks of one of those statements that will come back to haunt. Or maybe he’s just being disingenuous, feigning naiveness — because, again, maybe he’s the thief to Google’s joker.
For now, Facebook and Google are strange bedfellows, spooning.
[photo: flickr/Jeff Kubina]
Posted: March 24th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | No Comments » | 0 views
If judged by my Twitter stream last week, the shutdown of Google Reader is the biggest story ever in the history of news. Of course, the reality is that Google is likely shutting down the product for a good reason: relatively few people used it, with less using it over time. More wood, fewer arrows, and all that.
But that doesn’t mean this move isn’t a mistake for a couple reasons.
The first is that Reader’s users, while again, relatively small in number, are hugely influential in the spread of news around the web. In a sense, Reader is the flower that allows the news bees to pollinate the social web. You know all those links you click on and re-share on Twitter and Facebook? They have to first be found somewhere, by someone. And I’d guess a lot of that discovery happens by news junkies using Reader.
By killing the flower, Google could also kill the bees. That would be bad for all of us, even if we no longer use Reader or have any clue what RSS is.
But the second reason worries me even more because it’s more quantifiable. By killing Reader, Google is likely to harm a lot of publishers, large and small, by eliminating a larger source of traffic.
On my own site, I’ve always been surprised to see Reader constantly in the top five of traffic referrers day in and day out. If I tweet out a link or share one on Facebook, it leads to large spikes, but Reader is my rock. It’s steady traffic each and every day.
When I heard about the killing of Reader, I decided to dig a bit deeper to see just how much traffic Reader is responsible for. And I did this not only for my own site, but for TechCrunch as well. The results are both fascinating and terrifying. When Reader takes its dirt nap in July, a lot of us could be really screwed in the two places it hurts the most: our egos and our pocketbooks.
In the past 30 days, Google Reader has been the number four referrer of traffic to TechCrunch, behind just Google Search, Facebook, and Twitter — and it nearly beat Twitter. Google Reader accounted for a little over three percent of all visits.
If you go back to include the past year, Google Reader falls to number five on the list, with Aol.com, the parent of this site, sneaking in there as well. But the percentage of total referrals jumps a bit in that span, to just over four percent.
If I include a full three years worth of data, the first thing you’ll notice is that Google Reader has indeed dropped quite a bit in usage over time — at least as seen by TechCrunch. Referrals (on a monthly basis) are now about one-third of what they were at the peak of Reader referral power in August 2010.
But over that entire span, Reader is the number two referrer to TechCrunch, behind just Google Search. Yes, over the past three years, Reader has driven more traffic to the site than Facebook, Twitter, or Aol. In fact, it has driven more than Twitter and Aol combined over that span (though, to be fair, some of Twitter’s traffic was “dark social” at points before they wrapped every link in t.co). Reader has accounted for over seven percent of all TechCrunch visits in the past three years.
Looking at my own personal site, ParisLemon, the story is a little different. When my site was young and not really maintained with much frequency, Reader was routinely out of the top ten referrers. But over the past couple of years, as my site has grown, Reader has quickly risen to become a key driver of traffic — it’s now consistently in the top five.
To me, this shows Reader’s importance to smaller publishers. As my site has grown, Reader has become an increasingly important way for people to read my site. And it has clearly driven a lot of that growth. That all ends this coming July.
And all of that just speaks to the traffic that Reader sends to sites. The key element of Reader, of course, is that it allows readers to consume content without visiting a site if they choose to. To some, this has always been problematic, since those readers aren’t being served ads (unless they’re being injected into the feed, of course). To others, this was a vital distribution mechanism. For every person that got referred to a site via Reader, there were undoubtedly thousands more reading quietly on a daily basis that you would simply never see or hear from.
Again, while perhaps not directly monetizable, I’d imagine those readers are important in other ways. Maybe they’re other bloggers who read everything and choose to link to your site because they read a post of yours in Reader. Or maybe they’re one of those aforementioned “bees” that read your content in Reader and chose to then put it on Twitter, or Facebook, or Reddit, or Hacker News, or all of them.
I can’t help but get the feeling that the ramifications of Google killing off Reader are going to be far more wide-reaching than they may appear at first glance.
Given the quick rise of Feedly recently and others such as Digg promising to fill the void, maybe the direct referral traffic component is replaced. But given Reader’s importance to sites like TechCrunch, I’d say that’s a pretty big maybe. I think it’s just as likely that a large amount of those regular visitors go away and never come back.
And without links to sites being seeded via Reader, maybe non-regular visitors dip as well. All of this could seriously screw with the pageview-based advertising model of the blogosphere. What if five to ten percent of visits just vanish? What if it’s even more?
I’ve personally long-since moved on from Google Reader. But its impending death still concerns me. For the same reasons that the disappearance of bees concerns me.
Posted: March 8th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Android, Apple, Google, iPhone | No Comments » | 0 views
This is the first Android device I would feel comfortable using on a regular basis.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to, but I would be just fine with it.
If I had to boil down my thoughts about the Nexus 4 into two sentences, those would be them.
Of course, I don’t have to boil down my thoughts and I will elaborate below. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked as much about a device as I have about the Nexus 4. Maybe it’s because of the limited availability. Maybe it’s because it’s supposed to be the best “clean” Android phone yet. Or maybe it’s the growing sentiment that Android itself is finally getting closer to iOS/iPhone and maybe even surpassing it in some ways.
Of course, with the latter, we seem to hear that every year. Gingerbread was going to be the version of Android that was better than iOS. Then it was going to be Honeycomb (Android tablets were finally going to take off!). Then Ice Cream Sandwich. Now Jelly Bean. Later this year, we’ll hear the same about Key Lime Pie (or whatever it will be called).
Here’s the thing: the most recent versions of Android almost remind me of something developed by Apple. Not necessarily in the fit and finish, but in the methodical way in which they are improving. It used to be that new versions of Android brought sweeping changes to the entire OS. Recent versions seem to be more about refinement — which I think is a good thing for both users and developers.
With the underlying layer of Android now up to snuff, Google can and has focused on getting more of the little things right. And I think that’s why I’m finally getting comfortable with Android: it’s both familiar (as I’ve tested many Android devices now) yet distinctive and fairly polished.
There’s been quite a bit of talk recently about some prominent iPhone users making the move over to Android. I don’t think this is purely coincidental — there’s a lot to like about Android now and it does seem to be evolving at a faster pace than iOS.
But I’m not going to make that move. And I won’t even say “yet” because that implies that I’m waiting for it to happen. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. I want to be using what I consider to be the best device, and I still consider that to be the iPhone.
But in a world without iPhone, I could definitely see myself using the Nexus 4 as my smartphone. It is a really good device — one that Google should be proud of. Beyond the aforementioned Android software evolution, the Android hardware is also evolving nicely — even just the Nexus line of products.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Nexus 4 is that it’s not really anything like an iPhone. Unlike some of the Samsung-built phones, LG and Google went in another direction. It’s significantly wider than the iPhone 5 and a little taller too. I’m not a huge fan of the form-factor, but plenty of people will be. The larger screen enabled by these larger dimensions is obviously nice.
If the iPhone 5 feels like holding a precious item, the Nexus 4 feels like holding a solid one. Previous versions of Nexus devices have always felt a little bit cheap to me — I actually think the Nexus One was my favorite from a pure built-quality perspective. The Nexus 4 does not feel cheap, but it doesn’t feel as high quality as the iPhone 5 either. Maybe I like it simply because they finally got rid of that silly tear-off backing that Google seemed to be so fond of for a while there. God I hated that “feature”.
The Nexus 4 is the first Android device I can remember where it’s distinctive enough for me to recall what it feels like when I’m not holding it. The iPhone has always been this way. Again, I think this is a testament to Google and LG. It’s not just some plastic-y black slab crammed with specs, it’s designed.
And I fucking love the wireless charging orb that Google just released. Pardon my French. Actually, don’t. I fucking love that thing. Apple needs to copy that pronto. It’s by far the best smartphone “dock” I’ve ever used. And it’s a billion times better than Apple’s current iPhone 5 dock — because no such dock exists. I know it’s a little thing, but coming home and just slapping the Nexus 4 down on a magnetic charger is such a nice touch. And yes, I know there was a similar dock for the Palm Pre, I had one — sadly, it seems the 20 other people who bought one weren’t enough to keep that company afloat.
Yes, it sucks that the Nexus 4 doesn’t support LTE. The reasons seem to be extremely lame — okay, bullshit — but I don’t necessarily consider it a total deal-breaker either. Perhaps due to network saturation, Verizon LTE speeds in San Francisco have fallen back to earth from their initial highs. I notice a difference between LTE and “high speed” 3G, but not a huge one.
The bigger factor for me has been the T-Mobile network coverage itself, which seems far less reliable than Verizon (again, in the Bay Area). Because the phone is unlocked, you can use it on AT&T as well, but still not at LTE speeds.
Other spec-y stuff: the battery life seems solid — on par with the newest iPhone. The internals are clearly quite fast — by far the fastest Android unit I’ve tried yet. The screen looks great — though not iPhone great, and it is noticeably worse in direct sunlight. The camera is decent as well — though, again, not iPhone 5 great (Google has finally improved the camera software too).
Nice hardware aside, the true reason to go with Android — if you’re going to go with Android — has to be the software. Aside from the core Android layer getting more polish, the Google services keep getting better. Specifically, Google Now is great. You may not realize it at first, but over time, it keeps getting better.
One example: I was on a trip to Germany recently and opened Google Now on the Nexus 4. Suddenly, everything I had been searching for on my computer — a venue, a restaurant, the weather, a train — were all right there with up-to-date information. When it works — and there is still a ways to go — it’s magical.
Google’s built-in voice search also destroys Siri. There’s no pussyfooting around that. It’s not even close. The good news is that you can access Google Voice search from the Google app for iOS as well. And rumor has it that Google Now is coming to iOS shortly also — and maybe as a part of the Chrome app?!
Google Field Trip is another fun — yet unrefined — Google service. Of course, that just launched on iOS yesterday.
The main things I miss when using the Nexus 4 remain my favorite iOS apps. Mailbox, Albumatic, Vine, Moves, Clear, Applauze — all nowhere to be found. Yes, a lot of those are companies I’ve invested in — killing it! — but the point is that a lot of young startups still choose to launch iOS-first for whatever reason. For some apps, that’s changing, for some it’s not. It remains an issue for Android.
I do like — and find it interesting — that some more established services are using Android as a testing ground for new app functionality. Tumblr and Foursquare are two that jump to mind here.
When using the same apps on iOS and Android side-by-side, you still notice that the iOS apps still run a bit more smoothly and seem to perform better. Each new version of Android seems to fix this a bit, but we’re not at parity yet. People will try to debate me on this, but there is no debate. We’re not there yet. I don’t know if that’s an Android issue or a developer issue, but it remains an annoyance. The good news is that if you aren’t using iOS on a daily basis, you’re less likely than ever to notice.
Probably the biggest thing I miss about my iPhone when using the Nexus 4 is iMessage. A few years ago, I would have never expected that text messaging would be a key lock-in feature — well played, Apple.
It’s impossible to deny that Google is getting closer to iOS/iPhone in terms of quality with Android, and with these Nexus devices in particular. Maybe that’s bad news for Apple, or maybe it will push them to innovate faster. Either way, I see this as a win for consumers.
John Gruber wrote something recently that came to mind when writing this review:
Windows 95 was vastly improved over Windows 3; the classic Mac OS had barely evolved in a decade…
To be clear, I don’t think it’s fair to say that’s happening here yet, but it’s something to think about. It has been said before, and it rings true: Google is getting better at doing the things Apple is good at faster than Apple is getting better at doing the things that Google is good at. We’ll see what the shakeup at the top of the iOS and iCloud teams yields…
At the end of the day, I’m still firmly rooted in the iPhone camp. And it’s still difficult — though less difficult than ever — to see that changing. One reason that it took me so long to get this review out there is that I was trying to use the Nexus 4 as my only device, but just couldn’t. iMessage, iCal, the apps I needed to test, etc, made it very hard. Again, I’m not sure I see that changing. But I look forward to whatever Google is working on with Motorola. And I look forward to Key Lime Pie. And I’m sure more Apple diehards than ever will be watching closely to see what exactly iOS 7 will entail.
For now, the iPhone still wins the debate in my mind. But I’m finally ready to acknowledge that there is a debate — and a healthy one at that.
Posted: March 4th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Microsoft | No Comments » | 0 views
The RapGenius breakdowns of recent Andrew Mason and Warren Buffet statements by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz are, well, genius. And they got me thinking back to some of my favorite blog posts along the same lines: breaking down corporate speak, vagueness, or pure bullshit line-by-line. Strolling down memory lane, I landed upon this post from June of 2010, in which I broke down some high and mighty numbers put forth by Microsoft’s communications chief Frank Shaw.
Then I had to read his post again. I almost couldn’t believe it. Nearly every number boasted about two and a half years ago has now turned against Microsoft. I mean, it looks really bad. And it’s probably why we get bland press releases instead of mouthy or frank updates. Such updates have a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass.
So let’s let the ass-biting begin, shall we?
Shaw kicks his post off by touting some impressive Windows 7 sales numbers. But then he pulls back to say that he’s going to let Microsoft’s numbers speak for themselves. Except he’s not really doing that. Instead, he carefully aligns each number against numbers from of rival companies in an effort to make Microsoft look good. Unfortunately for Shaw, the numbers that made Microsoft look good in 2010, make them look bad in 2013.
Number of Windows 7 licenses sold, making Windows 7 by far the fastest growing operating system in history
Having just launched Windows 8, Microsoft has been a bit vague in terms of actual sales numbers. They’ve stated that 60 million licenses have been sold (in other words, most to OEMs, not directly to consumers) and that the trajectory is “similar” to that of Windows 7. Nothing necessarily wrong with any of that — unless you believe that each new Windows version should be bigger than the last.
Technically, if Microsoft is to be believed, they sold 60 million licenses for Windows 7 in 74 days and 60 million licenses for Windows 8 in 75 days. Very close, but not enough to overtake the “fastest growing operating system in history”, bestowed by Shaw.
And just to compare Apples to oranges for a second, at the 60 million in 75 days, Microsoft is selling exactly 800,000 Windows 8 licenses a day. Impressive. But perhaps not impressive as the fact that Apple averaged selling 833,000 iOS devices a day last quarter. Which leads us to Shaw’s next 2010 stat…
Projected iPad sales for 2010.
Projected netbook sales in 2010.
Projected PC sales in 2010.
This is where the wheels start to come off. Shaw is clearly trying to suggest that the much-hyped sales of the then-brand-new iPad are nothing compared to those of netbooks. And that the iPad looks particularly bad compared to overall PC sales (of which netbooks are a part). Remember, this was 2010, when we were at peak-netbook. Mosts analysts thought the sky was the limit for these devices. And they thought that iPad sales would be relatively timid. Those analysts were wrong. So. Very. Wrong.
The source Shaw cited guessed that 20 million iPads would be sold in 2012. The actual number was around 66 million. Original projections for netbook sales by 2012 were closer to 100 million. Instead, the segment is all but dead, with many of the major OEMs no longer making those devices. Overall sales are hard to peg for 2012, but the number was certainly below the 29 million sold in 2011 (which was well below the 39 million actually sold in 2010 — you’ll notice that the estimate Shaw’s stated in June of that year also missed by a lot).
I think it’s safe to say that netbook sales were well below 20 million for all of 2012. That’s interesting because just in the holiday quarter of 2012 alone, Apple sold around 23 million iPads.
Think about that and then read what Paul Thurrott wrote in 2010 about the iPad being no threat to the netbook market:
And IDC is now forecasting that ‘mininotebook’ (i.e. netbooks and sub-12-inch machines) will sell 45.6 million units in 2011 and 60.3 million in 2013. If I remember the numbers from 2009, they were 10 percent of all PCs, or about 30 million units. Explain again how the iPad will beat that. Please. Even the craziest iPad sales predictions are a small percentage of that.
It’s pretty simple, Paul. In math, a higher number usually beats a lower number. Not only did the iPad destroy the netbook, it even beat the fictional netbook sales forecasts by some silly analysts.
As for global PC shipments, Gartner reported that the number came in at 352.7 million last year. You’ll notice that this is below the number Shaw stated for 2010. In other words, the iPad is going the right way (and fast), the netbook is going the wrong way (and fast), and the PC is like Matthew McConaughey’s high school girls in Dazed and Confused — “they stay the same…”
Percentage of US netbooks running Windows in 2008.
Percentage of US netbooks running Windows in 2009.
Something perhaps impressive to tout in 2010 is something to probably be embarrassed about in 2013. It showed that Microsoft was clearly thinking and betting big on this segment of the market. Unfortunately, 100 percent of 0 is 0.
Number of paying customers running on Windows Azure in November 2009.
Number of paying customers running on Windows Azure in June 2010.
Shaw was quick to note that in just a few short months, Azure went from 0 to 10,000 paying customers. Since then, there hasn’t been a whole lot of horn-tooting. Microsoft said in 2011 that they had 31,000 customers. And last year would only say they had “high tens of thousands of customers” and that they were adding “hundreds” of new customers every day. This is Microsoft. “High tens of thousands” and “hundreds” mean precisely jackshit.
Total subscribers to largest 25 US daily newspapers.
Total number of Netflix subscribers.
Total number of Xbox Live subscribers.
Netflix now has over 33 million subscribers. Xbox Live now has north of 40 million subscribers (though probably not yet 50 million of you’d think they would have touted it). Both have seen good growth, but Netflix is clearly growing faster (despite a period of losing users).
But hey, at least the newspapers are still dying. In related news, Microsoft sold more Surfaces than the dinosaurs did.
Number of new Bing search users in one year.
Bing did hit an all-time high in search market share (in the U.S.) this past January with 16.5 percent. Unfortunately, the gains came at the expense of their search partner Yahoo. Google continues to dominate the space, as they also rose this past month to 67 percent market share (and the percentage is higher in many places overseas).
All of this slow cannibalization has only cost Microsoft something like $15 billion over the years. Shaw did not tout that number.
Linux Server market share in 2005.
Predicted Linux Server market share for 2007 (made in 2005).
Actual Linux Server market share, Q4 2009.
Not much to report here in boring land, but Linux has been slowly rising while Microsoft has been slowly falling. (Also humorous that Shaw called out false/missed projections, just like I’m doing here!)
Global iPhone sales in Q1 2010.
Nokia smartphone sales in Q1 2010.
Total smartphone sales globally in Q1 2010.
Projected global smartphone sales in 2014.
Another good one. Clearly, the idea here was to show that the iPhone was puny compared to the overall market, and the market leader, Nokia.
Apple sold 47.8 million iPhones in Q1 2013 — nearly matching the size of the entire smartphone market in 2010. Nokia, meanwhile, has fallen from first to seventh in the smartphone race. Last quarter, they sold 15.9 million smartphones, of which 9.3 million were Asha “full touch” smartphones, which you couldn’t certainly argue aren’t smartphones at all.
You may recall that in early 2011, Microsoft and Nokia formed a partnership on smartphones. That makes Shaw’s 2010 reference all the more juicy. Microsoft may have not been the reason for Nokia’s collapse, but they certainly haven’t helped.
Shaw’s overall point was clearly that it was the early days of smartphone and that the market was going to expand hugely. Both of those things ended up being true. But Shaw undoubtedly thought that the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone OS would be able to compete for those 400 million or so new smartphones customers. Unfortunately, aside from just Nokia, Windows Phone itself is also going the wrong way in terms of marketshare. In the U.S., Microsoft controls just 2.9 percent of the market. iOS and Android combine to control about 90 percent of the market.
Global Gmail users.
Global Yahoo! Mail users.
Global Windows Live Hotmail users.
Active Windows Live Messenger Accounts worldwide.
Rank of Windows Live Messenger globally compared to all other instant messaging services.
Gmail now has 425 million users. It is the number one email service, taking the lead last year. Hotmail? It still has 360 million users, as of the last reports. “They stay the same…”
And what about the #1 instant messaging service in the world? Microsoft is shutting it down this year.
Apple Net income for fiscal year ending Sep 2009.
Google Net income for fiscal year ending Dec 2009.
Microsoft Net Income for fiscal year ending June 2009.
Total Microsoft revenue, FY2000.
Total Microsoft revenue, FY2009.
This one really hurts (especially in light of my “decoding” from 2010). First of all, Shaw erroneously stated that Apple made $5.7 billion in fiscal 2009 and had to correct it in the intro of the post (pretty big error). But even at $8.2 billion, Microsoft probably thought they had a lot of breathing room…
Yeah. Not so much.
Apple made $41 billion in net income in fiscal 2012. Yes, that’s income, not revenue. Profit. Straight cash, homey.
Microsoft made $21.76 billion in net income in 2012 — roughly half of the company once so far in their rearview. Meanwhile, Google, with a net income of $10.7 billion, is growing faster than Microsoft.
As for revenue, Apple made $156.5 billion in fiscal 2012. Microsoft made $73.72 billion. Again, I refer you to the art of math.
My point here isn’t to rag on Microsoft — well, at least that’s not the only point. The point is to show that numbers worth touting one year may come back to haunt you in the future — especially if you’re focusing on comparing yourself to your rivals. And if you’re going to get cute in calling out your rivals, it’s probably best to make sure that your body can cash the checks your ego is writing.
Posted: February 26th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Google | No Comments » | 0 views
“Wait. That’s a touchscreen?!”
That wasn’t the first thought that popped into my head when I started to use the Chromebook Pixel — it was about the tenth. But that’s only because it seemed impossible that a screen this nice could be a touchscreen. Of course, being that nice, comes with a price.
I dove into using the Chromebook Pixel almost completely blind. During the unveiling, I saw some buzz about a new device Google had just unveiled, but I really had not read anything about it when I received one that afternoon from the company. I just figured: Oh, another Chromebook. Cool. (But not that cool.)
All it took was holding it for about five seconds to realize that this Chromebook was very different. It was actually well made. My tweets that evening sent some people into a tizzy. Yes, I really liked this thing. A Google product! (Of course I have plenty of times before and have always said I would if it was a good product.)
But the true test came the past few days. I have not used my MacBook since I got this Chromebook. No, I’m not making some grand statement there — I simply wanted to see if I could possibly use a Chromebook as my primary machine.
There’s good and bad news:
Yes, I could.
No, I won’t.
Simply put: the Chromebook Pixel is a brilliant device. That’s not to say it’s all rainbows and puppy dogs. In his full review, Frederic hits on many of the downsides of the device — and there are a number of them. I’m going to focus on my experience trying to use this thing as my primary machine, both good and bad.
Just as I did, the first thing you’ll notice about the Pixel is the build quality. It’s solid. Unlike previous Chromebooks which ranged from plastic-y to downright janky, this thing is handsome. It’s not exactly like a MacBook, but it’s not completely different either. In some ways, it’s sort of like a cross between a MacBook and a Microsoft Surface. Really, my only (minor) complaint is that the ports don’t quite feel like they have the same attention to detail as the other parts of this machine (power input is ho-hum, headphone jack is way too tight, etc).
When you turn the Pixel on, you’ll see a machine that starts almost immediately. It’s a first taste of just how fast this thing is when paired with the svelte Chrome OS. When the desktop loads, all you’ll see is an amazing background image. It looks like a framed photograph. The retina MacBooks have displays like this. But this is a Chromebook. I had to keep reminding myself of this.
As you’re undoubtedly aware, Chrome OS is really just the Chrome web browser with some added functionality to make it more like a traditional OS (file handling, etc). When you load up the browser, you’ll find razor-sharp text and beautiful web pages. Unlike when the retina MacBooks first hit, it’s much harder to find sites that look like total crap — though there are still plenty of images that do. But the big sites: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc, all look great.
Because most of what I do on a daily basis on a computer is already in a web browser, I was right at home with the Pixel. With previous Chromebooks, I was frustrated by the lack of speed of either the hardware or Chrome OS (or some combination of the two). Here, everything performs fluidly.
That includes the trackpad. You may recall myself and others blasting the trackpad on the original Chromebook, the prototype Cr-48 device. That remains one of the most frustrating bits of hardware I have ever used. Some improvements came over time (via software updates) and in subsequent Chromebooks, but nothing could match the trackpad found of MacBooks. This trackpad comes very close.
But again, you don’t actually have to use the trackpad because you can just touch the screen. Amazing, right? Eh, sort of.
Maybe it’s a case of old habits dying hard, but I basically never find myself touching the screen. Honestly, I think it has more to do with the fact that it’s sort of a pain to reach up and touch the screen when you can just manipulate the on-screen elements using the trackpad where your hands already lay.
What’s weird is that as an addicted iPad user, I have found myself from time to time trying to touch the screen on my MacBook. Maybe I’ve shamed myself enough times to have learned my lesson. Or maybe I’m just not used to manipulating Chrome this way (I still prefer Safari on my iPad). Either way, I find it odd that I’m not more drawn to touching the screen. I keep forgetting about it.
And again, it’s simply not that convenient to do so. It’s something that gives great demo. But in practice it’s a figurative pain that may lead to a literal pain. It’s cool to show off Angry Birds and Google Maps, I guess. And it may be good for some other games down the road. But for now, it remains a novelty. Worse, it’s a novelty that’s often a bit laggy.
Having said all that, Frederic notes that the bottom of the touchscreen has some Chrome OS APIs as well. Right now, you can swipe to hide/show the toolbar. If they do more there, maybe the touchscreen will gain use over time. But manipulating standard windows with touch still feels weird. I feel the need to be very careful when trying to hit menu drop-downs and window tabs. It stresses me out. That’s not what touch computing should be. (See also: desktop mode in Windows 8.)
Despite (or perhaps because of) the vastly improved performance of the Pixel, I find the fan kicks on quite a bit. Most of the time it’s not too loud, but it’s noticeable. Even more noticeable is the heat that the device puts off in the upper left corner of the bottom of the machine. It’s not quite George Foreman Grill-hot (like my old Dell laptop), but it can be uncomfortable (to fire up the grill, trying running this demo). It has been a while since I’ve noticed any of my MacBooks getting this hot.
And the fans enter jet-engine-mode (loud fan whirring) far less often on MacBooks as well. In fact, basically the only times I notice the fans kick on while using a MacBook anymore is when Flash is enabled and running (which is rare on my machines). Perhaps that’s the issue here as well since Google ridiculously still insists on bundling Flash with Chrome (and Chrome OS). It’s time to move on, Google. Our computer fans and laps will thank you for it.
And since it’s undoubtedly related to all of the above, I’ll note here that the battery life of the Pixel is, in fact, disappointing. Maybe I’m spoiled by the MacBook, but 4 to 5 hours isn’t good enough anymore. And really, I’ve been seeing a lifespan much closer to the 4 hour end.
BUT the good news is that part of this battery performance is undoubtedly related to the fact that the version of the Pixel that I received comes with LTE built-in. It’s amazing to not have to worry about tethering to my phone (or using the undoubtedly awful WiFi at the local coffee shop). It takes a little bit to connect (to Verizon, in this case), but once you do, it’s solid and fast. I wish MacBooks came with this option.
I just went from gushing to negative about the device in the span of a thousand words. But the bottom line remains that the Chromebook Pixel is a very good laptop. It’s a laptop I would have no problem using on a daily basis. In fact, I’m writing this post on it right now.
It’s nice to see how far Google has come with both Chrome OS and the hardware of these Chromebooks over the past couple of years. People will complain that it can’t run things like Office, but the reality is that most of what many of us now do on a traditional computer is through a web browser (and Office is slowly but surely moving there as well).
I still absolutely adore the dedicated search key on the keyboard. And I still absolutely abhor the fact that the copy-and-paste shortcuts are basically the reverse of what they are on a MacBook. (See update below.)
From a pure product perspective, this device is a winner. It’s the Chromebook that should show many PC users they no longer need Windows in their lives. Hell, it could even convert some Mac users as well. This is how a browser-based computer should be built. Unfortunately, many of you will never know this firsthand because you’re never going to buy this device.
It’s not the battery life issue that’s the real problem, it’s the price. At $1,299 and $1,449 (for the LTE version), the Pixel is far too expensive to get users to switch from what they know (PCs or Macs). There’s no real reason to do so. The touch element on the brilliant display is cool, but not nearly enough.
I have to believe Google realizes this. Maybe the Pixel is meant to be more of a look-what-we-can-do machine. And if that’s the case, great. But it just seems sort of silly to go to all the trouble of making a very good product that will never sell.
To me, Chrome OS still makes the most sense at the low end of the market. Apple owns the high end, with Microsoft dominating everything else. And “everything else” is still a much bigger market than Apple’s end. Yet Google is more or less playing in Apple’s end here. Yes, the margins and as such, the profits are much better on this end. But Google has never played that game. Why would they now?
Further, much of the audience at the high end of the market still likely wants native applications that deliver performance and functionality that the web simply cannot match yet. Photoshop, Final Cut Pro — even things like the iLife suite of products. You don’t get any of those things with the Pixel. And the inverse is true: basically everything you can do on the Pixel, you can do on a high-end laptop (except maybe the touch element, but we’ve already been over that). And those machines can probably still run Chrome itself faster than this device.
If there’s one saving grace, perhaps it’s the 1 TB of Google Drive storage that is included with every Pixel. That kind of storage isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s worth about $1,800 if you were to pay for it monthly over the three years it’s included with the Pixel. (For comparison’s sake, a 2 TB Time Capsule is $299 — but not in the cloud, obviously.)
The Chromebook Pixel proves that Google can make great traditional computing hardware. They need to take what they learned here and put it in play in the sub-$1,000 market — and ideally, the sub-$500 market. Eventually, if Chrome OS is to work, it will be when $199 (and maybe one day, $99) Chromebooks squeeze Microsoft from the bottom while MacBooks continue to squeeze from the top. Then iPads and Android tablets come in to punch Windows machines in the kidneys repeatedly for the TKO.
In a world without MacBook Airs (lighter and cheaper) and Retina MacBook Pros (more robust and powerful), maybe the Chromebook Pixel makes some sense on the market. Or in a world where this device is $500, maybe the Pixel blows away its PC counterparts in terms of quality and ease of use. Or maybe even in a world where touchscreens on a laptop are a must-have feature, the Pixel would be perfect. But none of those things are true here. And so what we’re left with is a great product without a market fit. A classic startup story. Time to pivot, perhaps.
Update: So, us Mac users can actually switch ctrl/alt functionality in the settings!
Posted: February 21st, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Android, Apple, Chrome, Google | No Comments » | 0 views
When talking about Apple’s rise from near-bankruptcy to become the most valuable company in the world, people often credit the amazing string of products from the iMac to the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad. And rightfully so. But just as important was another piece of the puzzle that ensured said products would find mainstream appeal and acted as an accelerant for Apple’s success: the Apple Stores.
When Apple first got into the retail game a little over a decade ago, many people scoffed. In hindsight, Apple seems to do quite well when people scoff (see: here and here) — it sort of makes sense, if an idea was obvious, others would have done it. But others in Apple’s position had tried to do retail and failed (see: Gateway — complete with cows out front — Sony, etc).
Yet Apple became the most effective and prized retailer in the world.
Naturally, this led others to take a page from Apple’s playbook. Notably, Microsoft. And while the experiment is ongoing, so far, those stores do not appear to be taking off in the same way. So when you hear the news that Google is considering opening their own retail stores as well, you might, well, scoff. But I think that would be a mistake. I think Google could be poised to nail retail as well.
With the news today about the Chromebook Pixel, the pieces are all starting to come together. Google says it’s selling that product through the Google Play online store and through Best Buy’s and Currys PC World’s websites. (And they’ll be available to use, but not buy, inside some Best Buys and Currys.) That won’t be good enough.
Google has been attempting to sell various Nexus products through their online stores for years now. The results have ranged from some success (Nexus 4) to fail (Nexus One) to major fail (Nexus Q). The Best Buy results seem mixed as well. While Chromebooks are finally seeing some traction, it’s still minimal despite the reach of Best Buy.
What Google needs for these products is what Apple needed a decade ago: their own stores that they’re in complete control of to showcase their products.
You have to believe Google knows this — hence attempts to create Chromebook sales areas staffed by Google employees in places like airports. But they need permanent hubs. They need central locations in cities around the world where people know they can go for all their Google needs. They need people in those stores to play with their products. And they need Google-trained employees there to answer any questions. It’s not good enough anymore to see a spec sheet online. We’re in an era of new usage paradigms. Hands-on time is key.
This is especially true for Google with products like the Pixel and soon Google Glass. Average consumers are never going to buy these products online without having tried them first. These are not standard PCs that are simply faster than the last PC you bought.
Average consumers are never going to buy these products online without having tried them first.
Okay, but how can Google Play Stores (the presumptive name) follow in the success of Apple Stores and not the mediocrity of Microsoft Stores? By not exactly copying Apple.
One of Microsoft’s mistakes with their stores is that they’re carbon copies of Apple Stores. Anyone who walks into one immediately feels this. It was an obvious but insanely stupid strategy on Microsoft’s part. Microsoft is trying to play to Apple’s strengths instead of their own. And in the process they’re reinforcing just how good Apple is at what they do.
In the beginning, Apple Stores made sense because Apple was generally considered to make high quality products. But that can only be truly appreciated when consumers use them. And because OS X (and later iOS) were not as ubiquitous as something like Windows, there was a large barrier to entry in people buying their first Apple product. And big retailers were reluctant to give a lot of space to Apple at their stores because of their low market share. Classic chicken-and-egg. Apple needed their own physical stores.
I’d argue that they were the single most important factor in the iPhone’s success as well. Without the stores, Apple wouldn’t have had the same leverage over the carriers. They would have needed those carriers to sell the phones and would have likely had to strike some unsavory deals with those devils as a result (like another company that’s the focus of this post).
That Apple nailed other elements like the Genius Bar was just a very smart cherry on top of the strategy.
Microsoft has had almost the opposite problem. Basically everyone both knows and has used Windows, Office, etc. Retailers have been awash with PCs for decades. Yet Microsoft still decided to copy Apple’s store model. You could argue that they now need these stores to get people to play with their Surface products. But I’d argue that doesn’t help because those products are simply not very good. That is still the key, remember.
(Honestly, Xbox may be the best thing those stores have going for them, going forward. Microsoft may be wise to pivot the focus. Come for the Xbox, stay for the Surface and Windows 8. Maybe. Please.)
Consumers need to know what the hell Google Glass actually is.
In contrast, Google products have been improving since the first Android and Chrome OS products. And they seem to be at the point where they’re ready to be showcased in a retail experience. People need to know firsthand if they can replace their BlackBerrys or *shudder* iPhones with the Nexus 4 (yes yes, my thoughts on that device are still coming — it’s tough when you have another day job). They need to know if they can really use a laptop with an OS that is essentially just a web browser. They need to know what the hell Google Glass actually is.
But again, these Google Play Stores shouldn’t be Apple Stores. They shouldn’t be stark white minimalist spaces of carefully crafted wood, cement, and glass. They should look like Google products. They should be colorful and sort of playful. There should be a self-driving car in there. There should be Google Glass stations. Android devices galore. Chromebook areas. Maybe even Google TV. (Maybe.)
Every machine should be connected to the web (maybe via Google Fiber?) and prominently displaying Google.com or Google Now. Another key insight Apple had for Apple Stores was to let people play with their machines as they would in their homes. I recall going to stores like CompUSA back in the day and only being able to see PCs with canned demos playing on the screen. Those places didn’t want people just hanging out and using their machines. Huge mistake.
Microsoft would love people hanging out in their stores like they do in Apple Stores. Yet they don’t. Maybe that means internet access isn’t enough. So maybe Google should do something I always wish Apple would do: open a coffee shop in the stores (Google Ventures did just pour some money into Blue Bottle Coffee — just saying). Make the Google Play Store a destination for the connected wanderer. Loiter all you want, just keep $earching for thing$.
Other companies now look at Apple Stores with their mouths agape. $6000 in revenue per square foot — double their closest retail counterpart, Tiffany & Co (motherfuckin’ Tiffanys!). But that can’t be the focus. That can’t be why Google is getting into this business. It has to be all about showcasing great products that simply need a bit of hands-on time (or a bit of hand-holding) to be truly understood and cherished.
It feels like Google is primed for this.
[Image: Adapted from Flickr/turbulentflow]
Posted: February 14th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, xbox, xbox 360 | No Comments » | 0 views
What I’m about to say is undoubtedly going to piss some of you off. And that’s fine. Because in a few years, I’ll be right and you’ll look silly.
While everyone is focused on the next generation video game consoles from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — the latter two of which should be coming later this year — Apple is going to dominate them all. And it won’t even be that difficult.
Now, it’s not like this is a completely insane notion. Anyone who has been following the smartphone space for the past few years knows that Apple has sort of backed into video game dominance by way of their iOS devices. Apple has sold over 500 million of them. These devices have yielded over 40 billion downloads of the over 800,000 apps. And a large portion of those apps are games.
To put that in perspective, Microsoft has sold roughly 75 million Xbox 360s worldwide — and that product launched over seven years ago. The iPhone — the first iOS device — launched five and a half years ago. And there were no third-party games until a year after that.
Sony’s sales for the PS3 are nearly identical to the Microsoft numbers (it just took the worldwide lead from the 360). Nintendo has sold roughly 100 million Wiis since it went on sale just over six years ago. They have also sold about 150 million handheld DSes since 2004 (if you add all the varieties together).
Even if you lump together the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, the Wii, and the Nintendo DS, Apple has still sold about 100 million more iOS devices than all of those systems combined. And again, in a much shorter span.
Perhaps because the iOS devices are multi-purpose devices, you don’t see a lot of comparisons between something like the iPad and the Xbox/Playstation/Wii. Those are video game consoles, you see. Totally different, they say.
Not for long, I say.
A couple days ago, Nat Brown, one of the founders of the Xbox team within Microsoft, took to his blog to absolutely destroy the current state of that product. His entire critique is worth the read, but one thing in particular stuck out to me:
Apple, if it chooses to do so, will simply kill Playstation, Wii-U and xBox by introducing an open 30%-cut app/game ecosystem for Apple-TV. I already make a lot of money on iOS – I will be the first to write apps for Apple-TV when I can, and I know I’ll make money.
Yes, a creator of the Xbox is basically begging Apple to give us an Apple TV SDK so that he can write games for it. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do.
The rumor that Apple would unveil some sort of Apple TV SDK at an event next month turned out to be bogus (as most things analysts say about Apple prove to be). But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming. In fact, I’d bet on it sooner rather than later.
I haven’t heard anything specific about the SDK, but the chatter about Apple’s broader television plans has been picking up. And if that chatter is to believed, something is happening this fall — likely late fall. As always with Apple, those plans are subject to change (and, in fact, have changed a few times in the past — see: “Project Sphere”). As you might imagine, content deals remain a bitch, yet remain vital to such a project. But multiple sources suggest everything is finally lining up for this fall.
It’s not entirely clear if this means an actual television itself or some other sort of newfangled Apple TV device.
But it actually doesn’t matter. Apps are the key.
So if you believe that Apple’s living room plans are going to come into focus this fall, you should probably also be ready for some sort of developer announcement in the months leading up to the fall. Maybe that comes at WWDC. Maybe later.
Sure, it is possible that Apple could launch some sort of new TV-centric hardware with only a few apps built closely with a handful of selected partners. But that would be a bit of a letdown — that’s essentially the Apple TV right now. People wants apps. Developers want to make apps. And apps are what will make or break Apple’s foray into the space.
We all know the current Apple TV is already running iOS (even if Apple dances around directly stating it). And we know that the Apple TV is running on the same type of hardware stack that iPhones/iPads/iPod touches run on. The thing is ready to go. All Apple has to do is flip a switch.
Okay, it’s not that simple, but you get the point. Right now, out in the wild, there are over 10 million Apple TVs — the majority of which are already capable of running iOS apps. Sure, they may look less than ideal scaled up to television screen sizes, but they’d work. You can already get a preview to some extent using AirPlay.
If I’m right that Apple will want to seed the app ecosystem before their big launch in the fall, I suspect they’ll have developers use the current Apple TVs to test such apps. Perhaps this has something to do with the recent pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain upgrade.
And it’s entirely possible that Apple will take a larger two-pronged approach. That is, keeping a $99 Apple TV (which would be enabled to run apps) alongside any more robust television product.
This is all speculation, of course. But while everyone is busy focusing on the hardware, they’re looking past the obvious software advantage of anything Apple does in the living room. The 800,000 apps won’t translate directly, but in two categories in particular: video and video games, Apple is going to dominate where their rivals cannot simply because of the support of small, third-party app developers.
That’s why Nat Brown is so dead-on above. Microsoft and the rest had the opportunity to be first-movers here and they blew it. They focused on traditional game makers and traditional content providers. They focused on extending the traditional PC hardware paradigm. It’s going to be death by 100,000 apps.
(By the way, just to be clear, I’m not ruling out something like OUYA or another Android-based system coming into the space to shake it up as well. But I believe controlling the hardware and software experience will be important, just as it is in the other hot devices right now.)
When I talk about this, people mistakenly think I’m saying that games like Call of Duty are going away. Of course they’re not. These types of hardcore games clearly have their audience and will continue to do very well. I simply believe two things:
1) That the Apple TV is already nearly powerful enough to run such games. Perhaps not the highest of the high end, but give it a year or two. That’s the thing: Apple will likely push yearly hardware (and software) updates for anything they do. Microsoft has not updated the Xbox in over 7 years. Huge mistake.
2) That the audience for non-hardcore games when Apple opens up an Apple TV SDK will be much larger than the audience for the hardcore games.
Apple will not win this space by playing the game that Microsoft, Sony, and to some extent, Nintendo, are playing. They will win by changing the rules of the game. And that game is all about developers, developers, developers, developers. Which is perhaps the most delicious twist one could ever imagine.
Posted: February 10th, 2013 | Author: MG Siegler | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Apple, Dell, Microsoft, OPINION | No Comments » | 0 views
The year was 2004. I had just graduated college and my old Gateway mini tower PC was on its last legs. I was about to move out to California to begin my life. My parents asked what I wanted as a present before I left. But they already knew the answer. Dude, I was getting a Dell.
I went online and customized the hell out of an Inspiron 8600. The price tag was well over $3,000. The thing was a beast. If computers came with hemi engines, this would have had one. When the fans kicked on it sounded like a space shuttle launch. It was thick enough to stop a bullet. It just about as portable as a Microsoft Surface — the original kind. It had a retina-searing red cover. I was in heaven.
My god, how times change.
Incidentally, that era was probably the peak of Dell’s power. At the time, it was the No. 1 PC-maker in the world with over 16 percent market share. The company had even withstood the merger of HP and Compaq in 2002 — its two largest rivals at the time — to come back to the top of the PC heap. The “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” advertising campaign had just ended a very successful three-year run. Dell’s market cap was right around $100 billion. Founder Michael Dell felt comfortable enough to hand the company over to someone else.
Then everything started to fall apart.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Dell’s fall from grace this week, following the news that Dell officially has a deal in place to take itself private. Yes, humorously, it’s Dell and not Apple that will be giving the money back to the shareholders. (A statement which is totally not relevant, by the way, or so says Dell PR.)
But Dell is not shutting down. Instead, the company will try to transform itself behind the curtains. The boring (and likely) guess is that over the next few years, Dell will fully become a software and services company — almost exactly following the IBM transformation of yesteryear. But the Microsoft involvement in the buyout suggests that Dell could still be eyeing a personal computing future.
But how did Dell get to this point? You’d think they simply got complacent given their dominance of the PC industry. That’s undoubtedly part of it mixed with a nice dash of mismanagement. But Dell was trying to match rivals coming at them from other sides. I fondly recall my Dell Axim, a Palm Pilot competitor from the PDA era of handheld computing. And there was the Dell DJ, the iPod competitor, which people probably have less fond memories of.
The bigger issue, of course, is that the entire PC market has been collapsing. But rivals such as Lenovo (which facilitated the IBM transformation by buying its PC business) and even HP have fared better. If trends hold, Dell could fall to fourth — or possibly fifth — in the worldwide PC market share race this year, behind Acer and maybe even Asus.
In the U.S. it’s entirely possible that Dell will fall to third place behind Apple. Yes, “not relevant” Apple (see: above).
In an interview with Bloomberg, the “Dell Dude” himself, actor Ben Curtis, was forced to admit something that must be embarrassing for the company. When asked if he was using a Dell at the time the commercials were running, Curtis responded: “Absolutely.” The logical follow up: “Are you using one now?” His response: “I have a… desktop. I am using a Mac right now.”
Curtis, probably realizing what that must sound like (and clearly hoping Dell will eventually bring him back), tried to backtrack a bit, saying the MacBook he uses was a gift. But then he pushed forward with something that’s fairly obvious to everyone. About his Apple machine: “It’s something that has also been sort of one of the necessities now. Which is what I think Dell is competing with. Trying to get back to the younger generations which have been inundated by Apple.”
You visit college campuses these days and you see this. More importantly, you visit the homes of people with young children and it’s iPads galore. Does anyone really believe these kids are going to grow up to buy Dell computers? Does anyone believe any of these kids will actually know what Dell computers are? Does any kid today remember what a Gateway 2000 machine was? And those guys had cow boxes.
All of this sort of makes me sad when I think back to my Dell, which was, incidentally, also the last Windows PC I ever bought. It could, without question, beat the shit out of my current MacBook. But that’s only in the brute-force sense — like a heavyweight boxer beating up a flyweight.
Let’s go with that analogy for a second. Dell as the heavyweight boxer works because much like the world in which we now live, heavyweight boxing no longer matters. In fact, boxing as a whole really doesn’t matter anymore either — increasingly like the PC industry. Tablets and smartphones are various types of the new sport that does matter: MMA.
Dell was the last great heavyweight champ. (With HP potentially ruining its legacy by continuing to slog it out in a pathetic way, well past its prime.) And heavyweight champs don’t fare well as MMA stars.