Welcome to the Summer of 2013. Welcome to the summer when you’re not quite sure which of your Internet activities are being tracked. When you want to start Snapchatting everyone because at least then data “disappears.” Except when it doesn’t?
This is the summer when, despite the machinations being clearly reported last year and even over a decade ago, revelations of the NSA doing some sort of link and factor analysis, or at the very least metadata collection, on our Facebook and Google+ profiles has caused us to reach peak tech fear.
There have been foreshocks all Spring. The violent re-emergence of Valleywag; the unfortunate and erroneous abstraction of Sean Parker’s wedding, which, for all intents and purposes, should be a private event, into a symbol of Silicon Valley “excess”; the breathless coverage in alternative publications of our bacon-wrapped ways; and even The New Yorker weighing in, again and again.
Paul Krugman and others are predicting the techpocalypse, or Singularity, or both. If you run a tech blog, staff up. We all are, despite the biggest stories in our field now being broken by mainstream media.
Many argue that our corporate shuttles, inflated housing prices, social bubble, iPhones for day and for night, and enthusiasm in replacing labor with capital, are worthy targets of mass resentment. The creation of a “resentocracy.” In 2010, The Social Network topped the box office. In 2013, The Internship barely cracks the top four because of general Silicon Valley weariness and fatigue.
And then there’s that whole “aiding-the-government-in-aggregating-the-world’s-private-data-without-our-knowledge” thing. “Trust us.” Remember Enron? That’s now us.
The fallacy of the tech industry is that we think our “change the world/connect the world” intentions are enough, or at least that they should shield us from reproach, much like our gated communities of Ubers, Airbnbs, and TaskRabbits. We revel in our massive concentration of wealth, private-public transportation, private tech-heavy schools, and the underlying ideology that the government is stupid. We are exempt.
Well, except when the NSA asks for cooperation in programs that the companies we’ve founded should probably comply with — or else God knows what will happen the next time we get sued for antitrust violations.
Silicon Valley is suffering from an acute fallacy of composition: Just because it does some good doesn’t mean the whole is good. Tech isn’t above harming society. Just because change (i.e. Disruption) is inevitable doesn’t mean it’s always welcome.
Machine guns were innovation. They Disrupted muskets. They also Disrupted a lot of human bodies in World War II. Pharmaceuticals save lives. But they also let people numb emotional pain rather than face it, quiet their children rather than teach them. Social games can be seen as entertainment and relaxation. They can also be seen as dehumanizing thieves of our time and attention.
The tech sector is particularly ill-suited to address its own footprint, staving off its rich guilt with the misguided belief that it lives in a meritocracy. Hell, even the people who blog about it are rich.
Like the problem of technology replacing jobs, there is no solution to technology’s feigned innocence. As nerds and underdogs, we will always believe we have the best intentions. That doesn’t negate the problem: Even though we’re not Washington D.C., we are still an industry with absurd amounts of power, attention and money. And plenty of intentional and unintentional opportunities to abuse it.
You know, Spider-Man.
Last we saw Lumu Labs it was in Hardware Alley at Disrupt New York where the Slovenian startup was showing off a prototype of its digital light meter plus iPhone app — aiming to convince photographers to replace “bulky” traditional light meters with a pocketable gizmo that plugs into their iPhones. Now, the startup has just kicked off a Kickstarter campaign, aiming to raise $20,000 over the next 25 days to get its light meter into the wild.
Lumu’s hope is to replace the standalone light meters that pro photographers carry around with them by harnessing the iPhone’s processing power and battery, and coupling that with its own digital light sensor. The sensor plugs straight into the iPhone’s headphone jack. Lumu says its hardware is more sensitive than the on-board iPhone light sensor, hence it’s able to provide photographer-friendly luminance measurements.
The basic idea is for a photographer to grab a light reading using Lumu on their iPhone, then input the suggested settings into their camera. Settings are displayed in Lumu’s app, which also allows the user to save data to the cloud so they can retain light-setting and location info, plus add voice records, notes, pictures, photo parameters, and more.
Returning to Kickstarter, Lumu said campaign funds will be used to help with the manufacturing costs of the device, and to recruit more coders so it can further extend the features of the app. The startup’s main software guy, Benjamin Polovi?m, told TechCrunch: “We want to take advantage of the smartphone’s processing power and different sensors. The plan is to make different smartphone apps with custom functionalities for all sorts of professionals (photographers, videomakers…).
“We also believe that other developers are more creative than us and hope that they make their own software with new ideas and features, or inspire us. Further, we have to make Lumu work on (almost) all Android devices. But we don’t want to be too specific about our future ideas, because we don’t want to limit our supporters’ creativity.”
Running a website not optimized for smartphones? Guess what, you’ve been put on notice. Google is using its influence and the power of its algorithm to finally force web publishers to fix their mobile website configuration issues, or risk getting downranked in Google Search. Directing smartphone users to 404′s? You lose. Sending smartphone users looking for specific content to some generic mobile homepage? See ya. Using Flash for your video embeds on mobile? Farewell.
Thank you, Google overlords.
Now normally, a Google SEO change is worth taking a critical eye to, to make sure that Google isn’t somehow penalizing websites unfairly or favoring its own web properties as a result, for example. But this particular change will greatly impact me, as a heavy mobile user who surfs the web constantly on smartphones so…um…well… screw you guys who didn’t get on board with this whole mobile “trend” thing, OK?
The company disclosed its plans in more detail earlier this week, noting that it will “roll out several ranking changes in the near future” that would affect sites not optimized for smartphones, while explaining “smartphone users are a significant and fast growing segment,” and Google wants them to “experience the full richness of the web.”
(Translation: people actually want to use the web on their smartphones, dummies.)
Google’s news mostly flew under the radar as most tech news sites – TechCrunch included – fawned over the reveal of iOS 7, though it could ultimately have a much greater effect on the tech world as a whole. Only some people use iPhones, but everyone* surfs the web.
And Google’s influence when it comes to the web is massive. In the U.S., the company has 66.5 percent of search market share, with the next nearest competitor Microsoft/Bing at just 17.3 percent as of this April, according to comScore. Worldwide, Google’s search footprint on both desktop and mobile is even larger, with an 83.18 percent share on the former, and an 81.02 percent share on the latter, per NetMarketShare’s numbers.
According to its new directives, which Google more casually referred to as “common mistakes,” desktop pages which redirect smartphone users to irrelevant pages on the smartphone website (often just the smartphone homepage), will be among those penalized by the ranking changes.
If you’ve at all used the web on your smartphone, then you’re all too familiar with this frustrating experience – you do a search, tap on a result for an article you want to read, then end up staring confusingly at the site’s mobile-web optimized homepage. Where is the content you wanted? Who knows!
It’s a huge waste of time and bandwidth to have to deal with pages like this when surfing on a smartphone, and Google is now going to make sure that sites like that no longer get top placement.
Google also listed a number of smartphone-only errors website owners should look out for, including desktop pages that redirect to 404′s instead of the smartphone-friendly page (or the desktop page if a smartphone page is not available), incorrect handling of the Googlebot-Mobile, and more. But the recommendation which stuck out was the one which stated that sites should not embed video that doesn’t play on smartphones.
And with this tip, Google quietly served the final death-blow to Adobe Flash, too, saying:
Many websites embed videos in a way that works well on desktops but is unplayable on smartphone devices. For example, if content requires Adobe Flash, it won’t be playable on an iPhone or on Android versions 4.1 and higher.
It’s a notable direction for a company which once embraced the Flash format for its Android platform, and had partnered with Adobe to bake Flash into its own web browser Chrome, even as former Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the world just what he thought of Flash, and none too kindly at that. Google finally gave up the fight for Flash on mobile in recent months, given that Adobe, too, had turned its business away from Flash and toward building HTML5-based tools and applications instead.
Flash, long since banished on iOS, unsupported on Android 4.1 and higher, and dropped by game development engines like Unity, needs to stop powering video embeds, too. At least on mobile.
How long do website owners have to make the changes Google suggests? The company doesn’t say, only hinting that they’ll come in the “near future.” (Arguably, these companies have had years to start caring about mobile, so let’s not shed any tears for them.)
Now, if Google could only do something about those ridiculous websites that push you to download their mobile app when you just want to read their content. Yes, Quora, I’m looking at you.
* Everyone meaning anyone with access to it who has also has access to a supported device. Not like literally every human being in the entire world.
Image credit: comic, XKCD
Apple revealed a number of notable new features with the debut of iOS 7 yesterday, but there are many smaller features that are now leaking out as developers have had a chance to play around with the new operating system. Though most of these didn’t get a shout-out during Apple’s keynote and accompanying demo at WWDC, they are the “little touches,” which help to make iOS 7 something bigger than an incremental update in terms of the new functionality it introduces.
There are hundreds of new features, tweaks and changes in any operating system update, but below are some of best “little” features in the new release, many of which have been flying under the radar.
Passbook Gets A QR Code Scanner
Apple’s pseudo mobile wallet Passbook, which previously offered a way for users to store their tickets, store cards, and coupons now has another new feature that makes it more utilitarian: a QR code scanner. Spotted in press shots on Apple.com by iMore, the apparent intention here would be to offer another way for users to load new passes onto their iPhones, as opposed to scanning just any QR code found in the wild.
Compass App Becomes A Level, Too
The compass app, like all the other Apple default applications, received a minimalist makeover with a new design. But the compass also got a level feature, too. It now uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to detect how many degrees off of zero a surface is. The feature is accessed by swiping left from the Compass’s main screen. Nifty, but I’m also thankful that Apple did not launch “Level” as a standalone application. (source: CultofMac)
Live Icons…Well, At Least One
With a nod to Windows Phone (!!!)’s concept of live tiles and Android’s widgets, Apple has taken its first baby step towards offering a more real-time interface to its homescreen with the smallest of changes: a live icon for the iOS 7 clock app. Before, this app’s icon was static, but now the app shows the correct time and even includes a second hand that moves. (You can see this in the Apple iOS video here and the unofficial one below).
New App Store Kids Section Groups Apps By Age Ranges
OK, this one did get a brief shout-out during the keynote, but it’s worth a mention. Though most will see this as a minor enhancement, this will actually be huge for parents. In the revamped iOS App Store, apps for children finally gets its own top-level category. (Before, the majority of kids’ apps were found in the “Education” section if remotely instructional, or tucked under the “Games” category if mainly entertaining.)
With the introduction of the Kids section (above screenshot from iDownloadBlog), there’s an opportunity for parents – and their offspring – to better drill down to find those that are appropriate based on the child’s age. And, as The Guardian points out, this also sets up a structure where Apple could begin to enforce specific rules about apps based on those more granular age designations (e.g. no in-app purchases on ages X to Y, guidance on analytics and how in-app ads are used, etc.).
Black & White Mode
Because iOS 7 now uses transparent overlays for things like the Control Center (easy-access Settings you get to by swiping up from the bottom of the screen), the OS will use either black or white for app labels and the icons on the overlay, as appropriate. As iFans notes, the default wallpaper that ships with iOS 7 will serve up the black version, but the white version was demoed during the keynote.
FaceTime Gets Its Own App, Now Does Audio Calls
Previously, iPhone users could access FaceTime from either the Phone app or Contacts app, but now Apple’s voice calling service has its own dedicated app – just like it does on the iPod touch. More importantly, however, the app now supports audio calls in addition to audio plus video. No wonder carriers like AT&T didn’t want to support FaceTime, right?
Live & Panoramic Wallpaper
A concept popularized by Android is the idea of a “live” wallpaper – that is, instead of a static, unmoving image for your background, the wallpaper is animated, often subtly so. Apple’s iOS 7 now ships with at least two live wallpapers, and hopefully this will open up the OS to run third-party live wallpapers, as well. (See around 0:30 in the YouTube video below for a demo).
However, even for those who choose to use a static wallpaper as their background, as you tilt your phone the wallpaper stays with you. In addition, panoramic photos can also be used for wallpaper.
Turn-By-Turn Walking Directions in Maps (& More)
Great for city dwellers, or anyone else who would rather be steered by audio instead of having to peer down at their phone while trying to find their way around, Apple’s Maps app has been updated to offer turn-by-turn navigation for walking, in addition to driving. It also includes inclinometer support so it knows when you’re heading up or down hills, too, and a night mode will kick in when the sun sets.
Access Notifications On The Lock Screen
A minor but ongoing frustration with iOS’s earlier implementation of the Notification Center is that it required you to first slide to unlock your device. That made no sense of course, as often the purpose of notifications is a quick check of what you may have missed – and Apple had required you take an extra step to accomplish this before. Now, you can simply pull down the revamped Notification Center from the Lock Screen. And with the redesign, it appears it will be easier to tap that “Clear” button when you’ve completed your review and want to dismiss the items.
Unlimited Tabs In Safari
Safari’s revamp puts it more on par with something like Google’s Chrome app, with its new interface, improved bookmarks and sync, and more, but one of the biggest pain points has also now been addressed, too: no more limits on the number of tabs you have open. For heavy readers and web surfers, this was one of those minor but annoying issues that eventually forced us to other browsers, so it’s good to see it addressed.
Finding App Data Hogs Is Easier
A way to see which apps are eating into your cellular bandwidth is now found in the iOS 7 Settings, according to MacRumors. This is the kind of feature that third-party applications like Onavo have provided in the past to data-conscious users. iOS 7 only offers the bare details, though, while Onavo offers tools to keep data usage down, as well.
The search function is no longer available to the left of the homescreen, but is rather accessed by swiping down from the center of the screen. MacRumors also discovered that you can now configure which search results categories display including things like iCloud documents, iTunes, Passbook updates, Reading List and more.
Twitter Music Gets Its Own Station
Twitter’s good relationship with Apple now sees the app’s new Twitter Music service integrated right into iTunes Radio. Spotted in screen shots on Apple.com, Twitter Music’s “Trending” section is available as its own station within Apple’s streaming music service.
Put Newsstand In A Folder
The app everyone loves to complain about, Newsstand, had been stuck on Apple’s homescreen forever, refusing to bend to your own ideas about app categorization. Fear no more says CultofMac, you can finally shove that thing in a folder. (Which is good, too, because I’m not so sure about that icon!)
Tencent Weibo Integration
A significant new feature that speaks to Apple’s focus on gaining traction in China is the addition of Tencent Weibo, a microblogging site that’s like China’s version of Twitter. Tencent Weibo’s competitor, Sina Weibo, was integrated into iOS 6 last year.
Call And Message Blocking
As reported earlier, the new version of the iOS operating system now offers “Phone, FaceTime and Messages blocking,” allowing users to prevent specific people from being able to contact you.
Image credits: Apple.com; all other images have been linked to in the paragraph above the feature being referenced, please credit appropriately.
iOS 7 hits iPhones this fall, but only the iPhone 5 and iPod touch will get all the features announced at WWDC. The iPhone 4 and 4S will only get the new iOS 7 look and a splattering of features. And forget about the iPhone 3GS and older iPhones. They will be stuck in the skeuomorphic world of iOS 6 forever.
As shown in our chart below, AirDrop is limited to just the latest devices, including the iPad 4 and iPad mini. The iPhone 4S is missing out on the filters in Camera but it, along with the iPhone 4, does support filters in Photos.
iTunes Radio, the only feature announced today that makes Apple money, will be available on all iOS 7-compatible devices.
Some of these features are also coming to the iPad – except for the original iPad. It too will be stuck with iOS 6. The iPad 2 will only receive the Siri updates and iTunes Radio. Filters in Photos and new capture mode are coming to the iPad 3 and new devices. But even the iPad 4 and iPad mini will not get the panorama or filters in the Camera update.
This is of course an unfortunate side effect of progress: some devices naturally get left behind.
Apple and Google have done a commendable job supporting older hardware with their latest operating systems. Most of the time, including with iOS 7, the limitations are tied to hardware. Either the hardware flat-out doesn’t support the function or only in a fashion that wouldn’t provide a quality user experience.
Apple more so than most companies will only implement features if the user experience does not diminish. When Siri debuted alongside the iPhone 4, Apple didn’t roll the voice command function onto the one-year-old device, which happened to run a slower SoC than the iPhone 4S.
Microsoft took a big hit when it announced that Windows Phone 8 wouldn’t support then-current generation devices. Instead, those users would get some of Windows Phone 8′s user elements, but not its new underpinnings that powered the improved performance. But the new operating system required hardware not found in the devices of the time. Progress hurts sometimes.
When iOS 7 rolls out later this year, hackers and coders will no doubt do their best porting the missing features to older phones. Besides, even if that doesn’t happen, there’s more than likely an app for whatever feature is missing from your phone… because Apple stole most of them anyway.