Daily Placebo

  • Tuesday, November 18, 2008
  • The Wrongly Accused.

    Well that election is over, finally.  So there's a lot less stuff out there to get my ire up.  But of course there's always the old standby, mobile phones.  Slate has an article this morning about the things Google stole from Apple when designing Android.  Now, I'm the first to call myself a Google fanboy or an Apple hater, so I'm definitely biased in this exchange.  But COME ON!

    The author starts by referring to the font technology that Steve Jobs developed and quickly spread to all graphical computers.  Fair enough, I spose that may well be true.  But I'm not sure that basic typography and formatting wouldn't have spread to computers, especially as they became more mainstream.  Next he brings up Google's Android font, custom designed by a font contractor, claiming that it is usable and stylish which makes it reminiscent of Apple.  Odd, I'd think Google would get original 'cred' for not using the same fonts as other companies, but creating a fresh set with a particular use in mind.  Unless of course Apple has cornered the market on making anything stylish and usable... they don't have a copyright on making well designed things do they?  Whatever, font is small potatoes, what else you got?
    The G1 and the Android operating system are not copies of the iPhone and its software... But in a deeper sense, everything about the Google phone seems inspired and indebted to the iPhone... like the iPhone, the Google phone's best feature is its attractive, well-designed interface.
    Wha... what? Still on this noise? Android is biting on the iPhone because it has usable software?
    You turn it on to see a bright, uncluttered main menu that features a handful of icons for frequently used apps. To load one up, simply tap the screen with your finger—yup, just like you've seen people do on those iPhone commercials.
    Seriously?  Pressing icons to open a program. I thought we were past Apple owning the concept of a GUI.  In application design components should be familiar and or intuitive.  I'm inclined to believe that pressing an icon or button and having something happen is intuitive.  And even if it wasn't, the iPhone is not the device that made it familiar.  People have been clicking and pressing buttons on screens for years.  I still remember using the card catalog touch screen at the library when I was like 8.  Mostly I think this slate author needs to acquaint himself with some other touchscreen offerings, or perhaps contemplate the multitude of non-telephony ancestors of present day innovation.  What do you think we mean when we say convergence device?
    The iPhone lists all of your apps on its main menu; you don't need to navigate any deeper menus to get to them. But the G1 hides its many preloaded apps...
    Uh, listing off differences in the interface implementation kinda undermines your whole point, don't you think? And honestly, this drives me crazy. My iPod Touch has 5 screens of icons that I have to flip thorough to find the one I want. If I could organize them into some type of folder structure or menu I'd be a happy camper. But no, Apple has made the decision for me that this is the easiest way to find what I'm looking for.
    Google's best Android idea is filched directly from Apple: Android Market
    That's a shame. The market place, while strikingly similar to the App Store, is not the overwhelming innovation. Android is a revolution because it is an open source mobile phone operating system created by a software company who's primary goal is organizing information. Google decided that there was no reason mobile operators should continue to pump out crappy software as the status quo.  It integrates cloud computing with mobile access in a way that is intended to pervade the entire mobile handset industry.  You don't have to get a G1, there will be hundreds of options with a familiar and usable interface.

    On to the Market... I had a phone in high school that could download and run BREW apps; for a fee of course. Hell my phone now downloads games and apps that were 3rd party developed, approved by my carrier and placed in a central repository.  A great idea sure, but not as revolutionary as you think, so much as as evolutionary.  (ironically, iTunes on a mobile device is a newer and more exciting development, rather than an application warehouse)

    I believe there is good reason for the overwhelming success of the App Store in comparison to its earlier predecessors.  Its slick implementation and the hardware features of the iPhone may help, but the App Store's real secret lies in several 'inferior' generations of iPods and the rabid hacker turned developer community which grew as a result.  That's the reason I drank the koolaid and bought a Touch, and that's the real hurdle that Google will have to overcome to make a serious 3rd party Marketplace.  Luckily, Apple is setting up a walled garden approach a la early 90's AOL, which leaves the real mobile processing market available.

    Apple has a good thing going in the "just works" niche, but that naturally limits customization and adaptation.  Luckily Apple has no problem telling people what they want; and we have no problem being told apparently.  Really, would you see the iPhone the same without that confidence and swagger that this is the solution?  I don't think so.  Which is the real magic of the iPhone that Google just can't steal.

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