26 March 2014

Twitter hasn't lost sight of anything.

Ashley over at Gizmodo wrote a nice little piece about how Twitter has lost sight of the root of their popularity by allowing tweets to include four photos without reducing the 140 character limitation. The thinking is that this will suddenly create a whole bunch of additional notifications and create noise on the platform. She loses sight of the fact that the audience using Facebook already believe Twitter is all noise.
"Facebook is full of all the noise that Twitter so geniously managed to cut through. In instilling a strict, 140-character limit, Twitter forced you to cut your tweets in to their most basic, witty, and informative forms. And that translated to Twitter being full of higher-quality content by default. Brevity, as they say, is the soul of Twitter."
Despite it being a nice article, she is wrong.
Ashley managed to meander into (or over) one of the biggest differences between Facebook and Twitter: Demographics. Pardon the sweeping obnoxious generalizations, but Facebook is the land of old fogies because the land of Zuck is what their computer skills could figure out. Twitter, by virtue of SMS-like roots, is the favorite of a millennial generation who skipped Facebook because their parents live there. It has always been a badge of honor that gramps couldn't see beyond the noise to find the value.
Will that be lost by allowing photos that do not count against the character limitations? Hardly. Gramps wouldn't know how to tweet one photo - let alone four. Those young whipper(photo)snappers are growing up and looking for additional features so, before they find a new platform, the tweeting gods are making adjustments to please them.
Now, if they make they drastically increase the tweet size then Ashley's argument will make more sense. As it stands today, this is just a nice additional feature that will add more noise in the Twitter-verse. I can hear a millennial cheering now.
("Get off my lawn!")

20 March 2014

Perhaps humans aren't so different.

When listing the traits of what makes humans different from the rest of the animal kingdom there are a plethora of physical attributes listed. We stand up straight, have dexterous hands, can create a multitude of sounds, enjoy long childhoods and even blushing made the list. Those are all lovely, but the one element that gets the most attention is our brain. We are smarter and more aware of ourselves and the world we live in than any other creature on the planet which often fuels the not so subliminal perspective of being "better". In the centuries ahead, we will find more success if we get that perspective out of our intelligent noggin.

This idea, where we are the gifted ones, has certainly helped our  masters of the planet reign, even when we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, were convinced this 6000 year old world was flat. Historically it has been the men (and sometimes women) who have little concern about walking on and sometimes destroying other creatures (including fellow humans) to get their way that has allowed them to lead and conquer. Whether it is Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs or Vladimir Putin - they all reached the pinnacle of their success, at least partially, through their perspective of being better than those around them. This trait continues to fuel the mindset of humans being smarter, but could be nothing more than survival behavior.

The fact is that homo sapiens (it is Latin for "wise man") do not have the biggest brain of any creature on the planet - the whale has us beat. We do not have the most grey matter to body weight, either - those annoyingly brilliant crows on my front lawn decimate us there. Even learning ability and language could be called into question when you consider the brilliance of numerous sea creatures like the dolphin, especially when we note our microscopic understanding of their communication skills.

It is reasonable to question our brilliance when we see the impact and lack of desire to change our ways next to the damage being made on our planet or our continuous need to lash out at each other. We have discovered so many things that we could be doing better to protect ourselves and the world for generations of humans to come and yet we would seemingly rather blow each other up or argue about it than change our ways. Is that the definition of intelligence?

The gift of being "self aware" is perhaps the most galling example of our hubris. We have no idea if other life forms on this planet are aware of who they are and we likely never will. Why is it heresy to assume that the tiniest single cell organism and the largest red wood tree have the same desire to live and prosper? Every living thing grows, changes, reproduces and may well be aware, at least in some cosmic sense, of who they are and what they are doing. Even if we step away from evolution and believe that there is some higher being that granted us the ability to reason, why would we not believe that they granted the same to all living creatures?

I certainly subscribe to the belief that our brains have allowed us to explore the universe like no other life form we have yet encountered. But if we are truly as brilliant as we say we are, we need to be open to the perspective that there is intelligence and awareness that we cannot yet comprehend. I have faith in humanity to continue to probe the world and life around us while also being deeply concerned that we do not accept all life with love and understanding for that which we do not yet understand. The crow that knows your potato chip bag contains delicious morsels is far more brilliant and self aware than we may ever fully comprehend.

19 March 2014

Innovation is the Apple of Google's eye.

Unless something dramatic happens later this year, it seems clear that the throne of innovation has packed the crown and moved 10 minutes northwest to Mountain View. We can blame the passing of Steve Jobs or just plain dumb luck but the fact is that Apple is no longer inventing the coolest new consumer products. In fact, recently, they have not invented much of anything.

Yes, the new Mac Pro design is very innovative, despite limited sales, and, like the Mac Plus aquarium, will quite possibly be the most sought-after rubbish bin ever in a few years when the components are worthless. Sure, the iPhone 5S finger print scanner is cute yet, without Exchange authentication, it is more gimmick than a truly useful security tool. And ... Well. That's about it in the past couple years.

Sure, iOS 7 was a nice re-design, but the innovations there were mostly borrowed from Android and Windows Phone. The new iPad Mini is the best selling iPad ever but is a design based on the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. No question that the MacBook Air is the best laptop ever but has remained mostly unchanged since the 2009 model. An iPhone 5C is interesting, but plastic and colors were already staked out in the Android camp - even if it is magic plastic implanted with heavenly shades.

What is coming in the future from Apple? If rumors are to be believed, and since Jobs exited the building they should be, we can expect a bigger iPhone, a cheaper iPhone, a new Apple TV and lighter, higher resolution iPad and Macs. Thrilling. Hopefully they will surprise us.

There is nothing wrong with incremental improvements over time. In fact, an argument can be made that the iPhone, iPad and Mac are still the best products on the market so Apple should not mess with success. True enough. We have a dozen of these products in our family alone. But Apple used to create entirely new product categories and the iPod, iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air are prime examples, and there are many of us longing for something new to covet. Meanwhile, over in Mountain View, Google has happily taken that role.

Until "Android Wear" was demonstrated the cultural reaction to wearing a smart watch was a 1980's Casio calculator strapped to your wrist. Not anymore. By integrating Google Now's awareness of what you want before you want it, which is another must-have invention, they have created a technological marvel that has the potential to be the hottest tech product this coming Christmas. Sure - it still needs a smart phone. Sure - you need to give your life up to the Google Borg consciousness for it to read your mind (or re-program your brain, as the case may be). Sure - it is just a watch. Much like the iPhone was just another BlackBerry. Or the iPod was just another Rio. Or the iPad was just another Windows Tablet.

It isn't just Android Wear, though. Chromecast is a tiny HDMI stick that is as powerful as an Apple TV. Chromebooks are eating into Apple's education and consumer markets thanks to ease of use and low cost. Nexus phones and tablets offer the power of an iPhone or iPad at half (or less) the cost. Google Glass may be the most innovative idea of all, despite the negativity in the tech public, and like most new ideas is finding markets that no one predicted. (Example: Folks in D.C. are beginning to wear them as a less conspicuous way to record and communicate while in meetings and conferences.)

Apple's core isn't cooked. If they were to release a smart watch there is little doubt it would have impressive hardware. Even so, they have no reasonable answer for Google Now, which is the reason why Android Wear is so astounding. They have no answer to the amazing variety of hardware using Google's products that, purely based on the law of averages, is occasionally forcing Apple to play catch-up. In many ways, as many others have typed before me, Apple has found itself back on the losing side of the Windows versus Mac OS 1-9 game. Unfortunately, this time their competitor appears to be far more creative.