Eye Opener

This post by Nick Farina (via Daring Fireball) was a huge eye-opener for me on Android. He breaks down all the differences between Android and iOS, from dev environment to debugging to UI design tools, but the section on Animation was what slapped me in the face.
How Android deals with interactions (emphasis added):

If you pressed the Down key, you would expect the “Homepage” entry to be selected instead of “Go to.” So you press the Down key. This causes an “invalidate,” meaning, “please repaint the screen.” So the screen is cleared, then:

  • The OS redraws the status bar at the top
  • The WebView redraws the Google.com website
  • The Menu draws its translucent black background and border
  • All the menu text is drawn
  • The blue gradient highlight is drawn over “Homepage.”

This all happens very quickly, and you only ever see the final result, so it looks like just a few pixels have changed, but in fact the whole screen must be reconsidered and redrawn.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the basic method used in GDI, the rendering system introduced with Microsoft Windows 1.0. That sounds damning, but really most GUIs operated this way.

Let’s see how iOS handles things:

When you’re using an iPhone, you’re playing a hardware-accelerated 3D game. You know, the kind of 3D where everything is made out of hundreds of little triangles.

When you flick through your list of friends in the Contacts app, you’re causing those triangles to move around. And there’s a “camera,” just like a 3D shooter, but the camera is fixed above the Contacts app’s virtual surface and so it appears 2D.

Which is a long way of saying that everything on iOS is drawn using OpenGL. This is why animation on iOS is so hopelessly fast. You may have noticed that -drawRect is not called for each frame of an animation. It’s called once, then you draw your lines and circles and text onto an OpenGL surface (which you didn’t even realize), then Core Animation moves these surfaces around like pulling on the strings of a marionette. All the final compositing for each frame is done in hardware by the GPU.

So when things just never feel quite as smooth as on iOS, there’s a reason. I wonder how much of this is relevant to webOS? Based on the chugginess of the UI in my few weeks of testing the TouchPad, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
As Nick mentions, Android began pre-iPhone. Horace Dediu of Asymco argues Google created Android as a defensive move to protect their existing revenue streams. They weren’t thinking about the future. The opposite was the case for Apple, they created the iPhone (and iOS) to create a new revenue stream. It was yet another chance to define what the future of mobile computing should look like.


On the 12th of August, the IBM PC turned 30 (via).
I remember when my father bought our family an IBM PC when it came out that year. My father told my mother and me this was the future. My mother was skeptical about the $3,000 machine.
I remember him spending entire weekends transferring and backing up data to 5-and-quarter-inch floppy disks. Single-density disks only stored 160K, double density, a whopping 360K.
Before you shut down the computer, you had to park the head. My father couldn’t stress this enough to me. I could ruin the hard drive if I didn’t do it. The thought of not parking the head terrified me.
There was no Windows Operating System. The screen was black with green characters. Everything was performed at the command line. If you’ve ever seen DOS on the Windows machine or the Terminal on an Apple, this was the entire experience on the first IBM.
In the early days the only game my father played was Microsoft Flight Simulator. This was after he bought a CGA display. It had 16 colors. I used to always ask him to fly by the Empire State Building and between the Twin Towers. I thought the graphics were amazing.
In order to play games you had to either run them off of floppy disks or install them on your hard drive. I remember having to navigate directories in DOS, trying to find “FLIGHTSIM/Install.exe”. If I ran a game off of a floppy I had to navigate to the A Drive (the internal hard drive was the C Drive).
During high school I figured out how to type in phrases in DOS through the SoundBlaster card in order to prank call my friends with the computer’s robot voice.
Typing “cd ..\” navigated you up a directory from where you were.
The F1 key was always “Help”.
Control-Alt-Delete rebooted the computer without needing confirmation. It was fun doing this key command on the computers in Sears at the Rockaway Mall.
The printer we got with the PC sounded like a gatling gun when it printed. It just printed text. No graphics. No colors.
These early, crude days with the first PC gave me a big head start with understanding computers and helped shape me into the designer I am today. It has informed everything I’ve done from print design to web design to iOS design. I understood not just how something should look but how it worked behind the scenes. This didn’t mean I didn’t get frustrated when computers didn’t do what I wanted them to do, but it gave me the patience to know how to troubleshoot them.
It didn’t just make me a great driver, but a good mechnic as well.

iPad – Passing Fad

AppleInsider: Acer suffers first-ever quarterly loss, predicts iPad ‘fever’ will recede

Acer Chairman J.T. Wang chalked up his company’s poor second-quarter performance as a “correction period,” according to Reuters. His company has seen numerous struggles since the launch of Apple’s iPad, which has cut into the sales of low-cost, low-power netbooks.

Wang reportedly added that he expects the “fever” for tablets to recede, and for consumers to regain interest in traditional style notebooks. Though he did not mention the iPad by name, Apple’s touchscreen device has dominated the tablet market since it first went on sale in 2010.

Keep telling yourself that.
Reminds me of that Newsweek article from 1995 declaring the Internet a passing fad too.

The TouchPad – The Sleeper Hit That Never Was

NYTimes: Sell Big or Die Fast

These days, big technology companies — particularly those in the hypercompetitive smartphone and tablet industries — are starting to resemble Hollywood film studios. Every release needs to be a blockbuster, and the only measure of success is the opening-weekend gross. There is little to no room for the sleeper indie hit that builds good word of mouth to become a solid performer over time.

This is unfortunate. As I’ve mentioned before, HP’s TouchPad has had a lot of potential and could very well have been one of those ‘sleeper’ hits. A cult favorite, if you will.
As I mentioned in my mini-review, there’s a lot to like with TouchPad, even though it’s not on par with the iPad. But all the bugs and missed details are clearly fixable.
Remember all the shit the iPhone was missing in the early days? Multi-tasking, video recording, front-facing camera, MMS, third party app development, GPS. Remember how they took baby steps each month of each year for the last 4 years releasing updates to address all the bugs and deficiencies?
As John Gruber said, once leadership changed at HP, the TouchPad had no chance of surviving.

Getting Out of the Truck Business

Ars Technica: HP to follow IBM, ditch its PC business

Hewlett-Packard is scheduled to hold its third quarter earnings call later this afternoon, but if a report from Bloomberg is to believed, dollars will be the least interesting topic of the call. Bloomberg is saying that multiple sources are indicating that HP will spin off its PC business to focus on enterprise services. As part of that change in focus, it will be acquiring the Cambridge, UK-based data analysis company Autonomy for about $10 billion, a healthy premium over the company’s current market cap.

What was all that bullshit Steve Jobs was spewing last year about post-PC era and PC’s becoming trucks?
Man Steve, you’re crazy.
I like you, but you’re crazy.

The HP TouchPad

I’m not going to write an enormous review of the TouchPad, A good handful of reviews have been written already, covering all the bases. What I do want to do is briefly give give a short list of observations.
Please take into account this is coming from someone who’s owned multiple iPhones for 3 years and an iPad for about 9 months:
No magnifying glass when tap-holding on input/text fields
You don’t appreciate something until it’s gone. While I probably only use this feature a fraction of the time I spend on my iPad, not having it, or something like it on the TouchPad feels like a major tool in my tool belt is missing. It makes editing URLs, email or notes extremely difficult.
(below is a screen grab from my iPhone)
No temporary scroll-location bar when scrolling
On iOS, when you flick to scroll page, a temporary scrollbar appears on the right side of the screen, letting you know how far down the page you are. On the TouchPad I’ve found no scroll bar in any of the core applications (Internet, Mail, Messages, Photos, Calendar). It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it’s another detail missing.
UPDATE: I discovered the Instapaper app, Paper Maché, does have an iOS-like scroll bar. I’m willing to bet it’s creator, Ryan Watkins, knows a thing or two about iOS.
No jumping to the top of a page by tapping the time/status bar
I’ve come to rely on this a lot on iOS, and like the magnifying glass, it’s something I didn’t realize was so important until I found it missing on the TouchPad.
Overrides fonts on websites and emails with webOS system font (Avenir)
This is obviously a gripe from a designer and won’t bother the average user, but holy shit this pisses me off. Why should I even bother with my style sheets if webOS is going Avenir-ize all content?
Can’t render my unicode ‘exhaust’ puff (it’s fucking UNICODE)
While I’m on designer gripes, why can’t webOS render Unicode characters? Visiting Alan Wood’s great Unicode resource site shows the TouchPad has some serious holes in it’s character rendering.
Overall choppy feeling to the OS, as if it’s underpowered
Lastly, the whole operating system has a choppiness to it. Web pages don’t scroll nearly as smoothly as they do on an iPad (hell, even a first generation iPhone). I also find myself waiting for things to load, even simple things like a new email message window.
I was really planning on liking the TouchPad. They’ve done some nice work but the nice work is overshadowed by all the details they missed. They’ve clearly copied many of the conventions Apple introduced, but I wonder why they didn’t adopt all of them, like the tap-the-header gesture to return to the top of a page, or the magnifying glass?

Fairies in Ferngully

Ghost Face Reviews Watch The Throne (via Whatevs):

Liftoff (Feat. Beyonce): This shit sounds like the anthem the fairies in Ferngully would use to go to war against evil humans to or some shit b. This shit is like Shia LeBeouf in song form yo … Shit sounds like niggas doin aerobics on a magical cloud of daisies. How many meadows did Kanye cartwheel across before he decided to make this beat? Seriously

Tight Integration

Here’s a great piece by MG Siegler on Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobilility.
This is my favorite chunk regarding design:

Here’s another, more straight-forward scenario for you. What happens when the iPhone 5 launches and everyone wants it? That includes many people currently using Android phones. After a few months of this, Google grows frustrated that none of their OEMs can release a device that matches the build-quality that Apple puts out there. But wait, they now have their own company they can at the very least use to apply to pressure the other OEMs to force them to do better work! Does Google also not play that card? Are you really telling me that they won’t try to get Motorola to make the best products possible? Why the hell wouldn’t they? This is a business, after all.

Maybe the iPhone 5 doesn’t trigger that, but maybe the iPhone 6 does. Or maybe the iPad 3 does. Or maybe a Windows Phone does. At some point down the line, Google is going to run into this scenario. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The tight control over both hardware and software is what allows Apple products to be Apple products. And now with webOS, HP appears to be moving in the same direction.

In the same way that Google used to not care about design, but now is starting to, I suspect they’ll start to care more about full control over their products — both hardware and software. They’ll see that the overall consumer experience is tied to both — they’re not mutually exclusive. And Motorola gives them the opportunity to fully explore this. Why not use it?

It’s taken a over 30 years in the history of the personal computer for companies to catch on what Apple has been doing from Day 1 – designing their own software for their hardware products. For Apple, software and hardware are 2 sides to the same coin, and it’s a very valuable coin now.
It’s a philosophy first put into words by Alan Kay in 1982:

People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.

Some PC vendors have taken note on how effective Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software can be, but since we’re in the post-PC era, this integrated approach to computing isn’t happening with the personal computer – it’s happening with phones and tablets.
We have Microsoft (software) forming an alliance with Nokia for their Windows Phone 7 OS.
We have HP (hardware) acquiring Palm (software) and continuing to develop webOS for their phones and tablets.
And now we have Google (software) buying Motorola Mobility (hardware) for $12.4 billion. Yes, the patents are crucial but you can’t ignore the integration benefits Siegler mentions in the above quote.
There’s dozens of analogies to this situation, but since this is Daily Exhaust, I’ll give a car example.
Building a computer (read: laptop, smartphone, tablet) without having control over the software is like building a Formula 1 car without any say over how the engine is built. So you run into problems. Maybe the engine doesn’t fit right in the chassis. Maybe there’s controls and wires and valves you hadn’t accounted for. Maybe the engine throws off the weight distribution on your car so everything has to be reengineered. Now think for a second, that in our hypothetical race car world, every other team on the track has the very same engine and the very same (or very different) problems.
Can anyone say fragmentation?
While I’m not sure I’m advocating for every PC vendor to develop their own operating system (or if it’s even sustainable) I’m just asking, if you want to make the best computers why wouldn’t you want control over hardware and software?

Social Skills and Passion

Over at GQ, Julieanne Smolinski has some advice on how nerds can avoid ‘creeping out’ the opposite sex.

Yes. Nerds are sexy. Yes. We get it. Yes.

Nerd girls are hot. Nerd men are hot. People with cassette fetishes and basement museums now get book deals and “This American Life” episodes instead of swirlies. The word has gone from opprobrium to come-on to something that might be proudly proclaimed via provocatively shrunken spaghetti strap top.

She’s using the wrong word. She means geek, not nerd.
Both geeks and nerds share the enthusiasm trait.
Where geeks and nerds differ is in their social skills. Geeks have them, nerds to do not.
But back to enthusiasm. Julieanne has a problem with too much of it:

The problem here is being too into something. It’s weird! It’s important not to display too much of your -philia to somebody you’re hoping to attract. I know a lot of girls who would find a deep and abiding love for protopunk sexy, but if you can say things like, “Richard Hell is a Libra” then I’m going to suggest you don’t. Be an enthusiast, not an obsessive. (If obsession lies between love and madness, then let us say that enthusiasm lies between “obsession” and “love.” Between obsession and madness? Fan fiction.)

Humans have a problem with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a gateway drug to passion which in turn leads to fanaticism and fanaticism is a bad word. Someone who’s really believes in their religion? A religious fanatic. Some who loves Apple products (yes, self, I’m looking at you) – they’re a Apple fanatic or Apple fanboi.
For me? I’d rather be fanatical about something, than somewhat/sorta/kinda into things. I don’t want to be ok with my job. I don’t want to think my wife is alright. There’s nothing worse than being someone who loves a particular music genre who encounters someone who has no feelings about music.
The most successful people in the world are fanatical about the thing that made them rich. The fanatics can also be the most dangerous people in the world (Philly Eagles fans? Red Sox fans? you guys are fucking dangerous assholes), so while the object of obsession can be dangerous or destructive, fanaticism and passion, in and of themselves are not negative traits.
Never be afraid of having too much passion about something.
It’s ok to turn the dial up to 11.

Bad Restaurant Sites

Slate asks. Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?

While lots of people have noted the general terribleness of restaurant sites, I haven’t ever seen an explanation for why this industry’s online presence is so singularly bruising. The rest of the Web long ago did away with auto-playing music, Flash buttons and menus, and elaborate intro pages, but restaurant sites seem stuck in 1999. The problem is getting worse in the age of the mobile Web–Flash doesn’t work on Apple’s devices, and while some of these sites do load on non-Apple smartphones, they take forever to do so, and their finicky navigation makes them impossible to use.

I’ve also pondered this for years.