signs that Adobe Flash is on the way out

i’ll spare the discussion of how Flash is dead because Steve Jobs says it is.

while i agree with him on all of his points, i’m not really into the all bow to the great and mighty Steve camp, even while the rest of the industry bows to the great and mighty Steve.  (i may think it’s just a tad bit snotty for Steve to simply not support a development platform that’s become so ubiquitous as to be an industry standard, but i can’t deny that it’s his prerogative as a hardware and software manufacturer to support — or not — any platform he wants.  adobe wants to sue apple?  please.  on what possible grounds?  hardware doesn’t support software all the time, even to the point that intel-based Macs don’t run some of the software that non-intel-based Macs can run, and vice versa. what makes this issue any different than apple not supporting windows software?  i would like to wish adobe luck; if they win, it could set a precedent that would lead to the end of OS-specific software, which, in a way, is sort of what adobe is trying to do anyway with Flash and Air.)

i also don’t think the iPad is the be-all end-all technology product.  but there are some interesting trends.  and i do think it will change the way we think of computing and, in particular, how we look at the web.  (i don’t think this because i see apple as being able to single-handedly define our web browsing experience.  remember that little thing that Google announced six months or so ago, the ChromeOS?  and how the OS would only work on specially-designed hardware, about how the operating system, essentially, was the internet, about how the internet would be changing and blah blah blah, remember all that?  and all the people at the official announcement were busily typing into their netbooks thinking that this would be a netbook operating system but how could anyone want to run this netbook operating system when there wasn’t any actual software and had such limited features…kind of sounds like the iPad now, doesn’t it?  one major technology company with their fingers deep into the pot of user experience of the web with the most popular mobile browsing device — the iPhone — does not necessarily define the direction of the industry and the web (although it could).  two major technology companies with their fingers deep into the pot of user experience of the web — one of which is essentially the name brand of search — just might.)

this, however, is the interesting juxtaposition of information that i think is particularly telling about the demise of Flash as a standardized development platform:

the iPad is used, predominantly, by well-to-do men in the 35-44 age bracket.  it’s not the young geeks (like me) probably because we don’t have the cash to throw around to buy one (and are probably spending more time texting and listening to tunes at any rate, things that make the iPhone a better fit, although half of them also have an iPhone).  [source: Mashable — iPad: The Device of the Rich?]

the top 10 luxury brands (as reported by Forbes in 2009) fail to work on iDevices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) because they use Flash.  some of them — most notably Gucci — have some functionality, but 6 out of 10 die when faced with a Flash-less browser, and of the broken 4, only Gucci has any real functionality.  [source: PSFK — Top 10 Luxury Brands’ Sites Fail To Work On iPad]

it doesn’t take a genius to do the math.  rich, older guys (older than me at any rate) — guys who probably largely resemble jon stewart, pictured above — are the ones buying iPads, but the top 10 luxury brands (read: stuff that rich guys — and gals — like to buy) can’t be viewed on iPads because they use Flash.  the makers of luxury products want the rich guys and gals with disposable incomes (the ones that buy iPads) to buy their stuff, so they are going to have to redesign their sites to use HTML5 or at least provide a non-Flash alternative.  more will follow.  eventually, whether Adobe likes it or not, whether HTML5 skeptics and detractors like it or not, whether HTML5 is really ready or not, HTML5 will become the de facto standard because people want their sites to be viewable on more platforms.

that’s why adobe is pissed off, and they have a point.  but so does Jobs.  HTML5 is an open platform.  Flash is not; Flash is owned by Adobe and, as such, developers need to wait for Adobe to add new features to be able to expand and innovate their software.  That is not the case with an open platform.  in the end, i think Jobs’ points trump Adobe’s.  even if Google makes a tablet, and HP makes a tablet, and Amazon upgrades the Kindle to be more tablet-like, and they all support Flash, the very fact that Jobs has put his foot down in a “not gonna do it” sort of way means that brands and developers will need to decide whether to build a site that can be viewed on a mobile Apple product or…not.  i think the one million iPads sold in the first month and the most popular mobile phone crowns can suggest what direction that will go.

Google Voice: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

google voice is one of the latest in beta systems and software and may be the harbinger of goog’s plan to take over your phone.  the skinny is that google voice is sort of a layer on top of your normal phone service.  it’s a free system that offers voice mail (that transcribes your voice messages to text), free text messaging, and a long-distance plan (though i haven’t compared this to what my current rate is with at&t since i’ve got so much rollover i probably won’t be paying for a phone call until my contract expires).  all this with notifications that can get sent to your inbox when you have a message or text, being able to sync multiple phone numbers to a single google voice number (so, for example, all the phones in your family plan could ring at one google voice number — you know, like in the olden days when people had multiple telephones that had actual wires preventing the phones from leaving a 5 foot area, and all the phones in the house rang at the same time when someone called), and add to that the ability to pick our phone number (with a search function that lets you come up with a witty 3-7 character combination which you can use (or not) to remember your phone number (or give it to others).  as an example, my phone number is 987-0BSG).  there’s also some other added bonuses that i’ll get to…

the good

there’s a few things that voice does that are completely awesome.  even when the voice recognition software flubs some words (and admittedly, they censor the four-letter variety), it’s still nice to  read your message when you don’t want to call into your voice mail.  just being able to check your messages in a browser without picking up the phone at all is pretty awesome, and, i imagine, would be especially useful for someone working in an office that doesn’t allow personal calls.

also, though i haven’t played with it myself, the ability to add multiple phone numbers to your google voice number is pretty sweet.  you can have your business and personal called forwarded to the same phone, multiple family members getting ringed at the same time (as in the aforementioned family plan option) or both your cell and your landline go to your google phone number, so you can be sure to get the call whether your out or not, and not cause the person trying to get in touch with you the hassle of having to call your cell if your land line gets an RNA (that’s telco-speak for “ring, no answer”).

also bonus is the ability to create groups and import contacts and then customize the greeting they get when they hit your voice mail depending on what group they are in.  you can have everyone in your contacts get one message and everyone else another message.  or your friends and family get one message while your clients and work acquaintances get a more professional greeting.  i keep meaning to set this one up.

free texting is cool also, as is the ability to send a text message from your computer.  typing on a real keyboard is a lot easier than using a numpad or qwerty keyboard.  now, with this, certain restrictions apply — such as a text messaging plan with your provider.  because while you sending texts through google voice is free, that doesn’t mean that incoming texts are also free — at least, not if you don’t have free text messaging as part of your carrier plan.  because, while i can tell google voice not to text me when i get a voice message (see this revisited later), i can’t tell it to not text me when i get a text message (and why would i? seems kind of pointless, really).

also, with the google chrome extension for voice, when i highlight a telephone number on the screen, it bring up a little box that allows me to call that number through google voice.

since google voice is an added layer on top of your existing service, you can make a call through google voice one of 3 ways.  1 — you can use the chrome extension (if there isn’t a firefox equivalent, i’d be surprised).  in this case you select the phone you want it to ring (in my case, just my cell phone), and then google voice will connect your call like an old-fashioned operator, calling you and the party you are trying to connect to automatically.  2 — you can do the same operation through the google voice page.  again, just tell it what number you want to call and they call you and connect you to where you’re trying to go.  3 — you can call google voice (your own number) log in with your pin, and then select the option from the voice prompt to make a call.  the in-browser support with the chrome extension is really the only one that’s not clunky as all hell.

you can also use google voice’s built-in call screening system, forcing all callers who aren’t in your contact list to announce who they are and you have the choice to accept or deny the call.  if you deny the call, they get routed to voice mail.  not the most personable situation, but i suppose it would work well for people who get slammed by telemarketers (i solve this problem by just not answering calls from numbers i don’t recognize).

the bad

so, what should be pretty obvious at this point is that the way this would work 100xs better is if there was no added layer — google voice 100% integrated into your phone as your actual provider rather than piggybacking on top of what you’ve already got.  as it stands, the system feels a little jury-rigged, especially with the caller id situation (outgoing calls from your phone? your existing phone number on caller id.  outgoing calls from the google voice system?  your voice phone number.  text messaging?  either or, depending on a setting you can modify.  incoming caller ids — from what i’ve seen — just come from Google Voice.  text messages come from Google Voice but have the benefit of showing the texter’s name at the beginning of the message (or, presumably, their phone number if they aren’t in your contacts — i haven’t gotten a text from someone not in my contacts)).

the whole thing just begs to have google take over every damn thing, and you know that has to be on their minds as well.

also: i mentioned before that you can have voice text you when you get a voice message.  that’s the thing — that’s the only notification you get on your phone.  a text message.  other than the missed call and an assumption (which is what i’m going off of these days).  for those of us who pay per text message and don’t want to rack up $0.10 just for a note saying you got voicemail, you’ll have to actually use your brain as opposed to having a little icon on your phone that tells you you have a message waiting.

i imagine someone with a smartphone and a google voice app would probably experience something a lot smoother.  a blackberry or an iphone or an android or nexus one phone probably has a voice interface integrated (and if not, i’m sure it’s on the way) so the experience can be a lot more sophisticated and seamless.  the system lends itself well to data plans because of the text messaging thing (i know i’m in the dark ages on that one), the email notifications and the fact that google voice is a web-based application.  while it’s not smartphone-exclusive, it’s pretty close; us that use flip phones with no data plan are kind of in the lurch.

the ugly

let me say one thing about the google voice extension for chrome: just because some text i highlighted might have some numerical characters in it, DOESN’T MEAN IT’S A PHONE NUMBER I WANT TO CALL.  seriously, this is one of the most obnoxious things i’ve seen.  i’ve had pretty much anything with more than 6 digits (including long alphanumeric strings like serial numbers, API keys, or other registration-type keys) bring a google voice pop-up.  the idea is similar to that of the skype plugin for firefox, where every phone number becomes a way you can call someone straight from the web page, but the chrome extension for voice is much less discriminating in what it decides a phone number qualifies as.  that said, it is pretty handy when it actually is a phone number i do want to call, but obnoxious the 99 other times in 100 that i don’t and it’s not.

also ugly?  picking your phone number.  because you can keep your current number (with a more limited feature set that does not include the voice-to-text voicemail inbox), or you can pick a number; you cannot (at the time of this writing) say “give me a number.”  if you want a new number,  you are forced to pick one.  think 987-0BSG is kind of lame?  you try thinking of something more interesting — but, before you start, i’ll tell you that geek, g33k, leet, l33t, and l337 are already taken.  and, unfortunately, your phone number can’t be STARBUCK.  nor was anything like DESIGN, ARCANE, PALETTE, or anything else available.  still think you can do better than BSG?  9870 isn’t looking so bad anymore, is it?  the fact that you can’t give up and say “just give me a random number” is ridiculous.  i get that the numbers that are available are limited and that new area codes are being created all the time to accommodate all the new phone numbers (to which google voice is only adding to the problem), but come on, just pick a damn number for me, okay?

when you call your number to check for messages, you don’t get an alert that says “you have no new messages.”  the system only tells you when you have new messages, and, as far as i could tell through it’s badly designed prompts, you can’t listen to old messages, either.  this means that if someone called you, you read the badly translated text, and called in to hear the recording, you would a) not know there was a message waiting and b) good luck finding the thing at all.  sure you can stream the recording from the web app, but, again, those of us not on smartphones might find that inconvenient.  if you do have an unread message you get the “you have one new message” prompt, so why not the standard “you have no new messages”?  i mean, seriously, wtf?

we know where this is going

there’s a pretty obvious conclusion to google voice.  like everything else, it’s still in beta, and fairly early beta based on the limited invites and functionality.  even so, with the development going into the chrome os, the new nexus one and google’s overall emergence into the mobile market with android, it’s pretty obvious where this is going — google is going to jump into the mobile market.  how that’s going to work, i have no idea.  right now, it’s obvious they’re offering up google voice as another free thing to join the ranks of all their other free things, but if they become a carrier, things will no longer be free.  what that means, exactly, i have no idea.  will a google voice carrier be a voice-over-IP-based system?  will they lease access from a larger carrier, say,  t-mobile or verizon?  and if so, how will that affect the consumer costs, since it’s obvious that a lot of the google appeal is in their “free shit is cool” factor (which may go completely out the door when chrome os-powered devices start hitting the market next year)?

and what about integration?  when does gtalk, wave, google apps, and google voice merge into an all-in-one teleconferencing/communications platform that can be marketed to individuals, small businesses, and large corporations?  because you know that has to be coming as well, but, as yet, nothing has been released yet that adequately integrates any of these standalone apps, let alone all of them.  it’s what everyone wants, and it will be the one thing that will add the most value to all of their products as pieces of a whole, and as part of a suite of applications.  when google finally does merge and natively integrate all of their flagship products, they will be in the best possible position to take on the corporate market.  which is exactly where they want to be.

don’t be evil my pale buttocks.

everything’s better in the cloud

image source: gawker
image source: gawker

since google’s big chromeOS unveiling last week, i’ve been left thinking a lot about cloud computing and chrome as an operating system in particular.  while i failed to be enamored about chromeOS, i do think the concept of cloud computing is an exciting developing technology.  chromeOS felt half-assed and not-fully-developed (the latter of which, at least, was true).  and it’s banking on a technology that is not yet widely adopted for which there aren’t a lot of equivalent technologies to what we are used to on our desktops and standard laptops.

the idea behind cloud computing (and the concept that chromeOS is founded on) is that most of what we do these days is done online, and that our most used applications are things that really just interface with the net.  even things that we think of as applications that run locally of our computer — like word processing or spreadsheets — can be taken to the cloud with microsoft’s new Office Live which was introduced to rival google’s own, longstanding Google Apps.  the few things you sacrifice by using a more simplistic user interface with less options (theoretically the stuff you don’t use anyway), you make up for in having permanent, secure, online data storage that follows you wherever you go, no matter what computer you’re on.  it doesn’t matter if your computer crashes, or your whole office crashes — if all your documents are online in Office Live or Google Apps, they’re safely tucked away in microsoft’s or google’s data warehouses.  and the chances of google’s or microsoft’s servers going down are about as high as snowflakes in the mojave desert in august. nvidia’s RealityServer and the independent OnLive show us ways that gaming can be taken to the cloud — and that is a glorious thing.  imagine not ever having to buy a graphics card ever again, and yet, still be able to play the hottest new games available at breathtaking resolutions that would have you staring at your screen in awe.  by taking all the heavy duty graphics and physics processing off your computer and crunching the numbers on a vast server cluster, the only thing you’d need is a fast enough internet connection to stream the audio and video.

cloud2it’s true, it’s beautiful up in the cloud.  the heavenly connotations are not entirely unwarranted when given access to unlimited data storage, unlimited processing power, unlimited games, unlimited music, everything you do and say and think lives in the cloud, you just need a conduit to tap into it.  all this constant upgrading your computer to the latest fancy technology to make it go faster is unnecessary.  you can access the cloud on the laptop you threw in the closet 7 years ago and forgot about. but wait…what about everything we’ve ever known about computing technology?  about how processors are constantly getting faster, data storage is getting bigger and faster and cheaper.  if you can access the cloud with any old thing, namely, if you can access the cloud with a chromeOS-powered netbook that does nothing else other than access the cloud, wouldn’t that sort of put a wrench in how hardware is developed, and do we even want that? because with cloud computing, nothing is local, all (or most) of the processing is done in the cloud.  at least, that was what google was presenting a few days ago.  you don’t need a fast computer, you just need something that can run their software.  (and google kind of has the corner on that market: one of the things they announced was that you would be running chromeOS on a specially-designed hardware device built to run chromeOS.)

a netbook is either a bloated smartphone that can’t make calls, or a dumbed-down computer with limited local storage.

this is where i get stuck.  it doesn’t make sense to me: why use a netbook to access stuff that only lives on the internet if it can’t do some of the things i can do on a regular computer?  okay, so it’s only task is to access and manipulate apps that live online, but so does a smartphone.  a netbook is, pretty much by definition, either a bloated smartphone that can’t make calls, or a dumbed-down computer with limited (or no) local storage.  this is the future of computing?  really?

the cloud also throws a wrench into our concept of ownership.  i mean, sure, i can say that i own all my documents on Google Docs, but what does that actually mean to me if i don’t actually have a file i can manipulate myself.  or, more to the point, what happens to the music collection i consider to be mine if it’s not actually stored on any hard drive i have physical access or proximity to, but rather, is part of a membership service i am subscribed to?  we saw this summer how easy it was to take away digital possessions thought to be the property of the purchasers when amazon pulled 1984 and animal farm off their (digital) Kindle shelves and, subsequently, out of the Kindle users’ collections.

aw_snapthe cloud is great at some things, but not so much at others.  netbooks are a hot, cheap solution to do some basic daily tasks, but they will never be able to do everything you can do on a regular computer.  rather than forcing users to settle on a good enough, cloud equivalent for what they want to do, let’s embrace the differences between netbook computing and desktop (or laptop) computing.  what i’m thinking is web apps that behave more like desktop apps and desktop apps that behave more like web apps.  so much so that the only distinction between the two is whether an app is web-exclusive and therefore can be run on a netbook with no local storage.  as an example, let’s say i’m using something like a video editing program that eats up a lot of memory, disk space, and cpu cycles.  rather than having to go out and buy a supercomputer that can handle the load, let’s offload some of the memory consumption, processing, and temporary data storage to the cloud.  the app still lives on my computer, i still have to go to the store and make the purchase (or download it online and install it on my computer), but it leverages the cloud to enhance the user experience.  my video editing app can use a server cluster in mountain view to handle the video rendering so that task can take minutes, or even seconds, rather than the hours it would take me to render the same video on my computer.  then i’m limited only by my bandwidth, which is pretty much universally accepted as necessary to make cloud computing — and the environment in which chromeOS can truly live — a reality.

is chromeOS really anything more than a cheap ploy to generate more ad revenue?

granted, google told us that this was not a release, not a true unveiling.  merely, it was a chance to look at what the operating system does and how it’s different than what we’re used to now.  but, if you’ve read the chrome browser propaganda, none of this is really new territory other than the fact that, in the future, there will be chrome devices that only run chrome.  with chromeOS, google is banking on a technology whose time hasn’t yet come, and it’s a hefty gamble.  and are google’s intentions purely benevolent?  if google is working towards bringing about a world in which computing is done entirely (or at least mostly) online, gee, doesn’t that mean there will be more opportunities for their text ads to appear while we go about our normal workday?  is this really anything other than a cheap ploy to plaster more google ads across more things you do, by bringing the things you do online?

when applications can intelligently use the cloud to boost performance and take the load off of the local host computer — as i see it, the best of both worlds — then i will be a true believer.  until then, google’s cloud lives in that same utopian dream that the Agents in The Matrix told us failed the first time they built the Matrix.  we kept trying to wake up.