Bill Bennett

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Google Glass isn’t the answer to anything

Many readers love the idea of Google Glass.

There’s no chance of the nerdy-looking face-mounted computer taking off in its current form. Nor will Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch  win mainstream acceptance in the immediate future.

Wearable computers may have a future. Yet the first wave of devices is as remote from that future as the 1950s computers are from today’s smartphones.

John Gruber’s Daring Fireball nails it:

…the problem isn’t the idea, it’s the actual execution. There are no points for being first to market with a bad product. It’s a cool lab demo that they’re presenting as a finished product.

Yes, that’s exactly the point. Glass is like the Wright Brother’s first aeroplane, a neat demonstration of possibilities, but not ready for the market.

Get one by all means. Wear it and lose your friends if you must. Just recognise now that it’s a crude prototype.

Google Glass not original

Let’s start by getting one misconception out-of-the-way. Google Glass is not a new idea.

Wearable computers have been around for as long as I’ve written about technology. I started on Practical Computing in 1981. During my first months on that magazine I interviewed someone – sorry I forget their name – who told me we would all soon be wearing computers as we went about our daily lives.

It didn’t happen.

Packing a computing into a tiny package has always been on the cards. More so since voice recognition got to the point where a keyboard is no longer essential for input. After all that’s what happened with smartphones before their makers decided bigger screens were better than squinting at matchbox sized images.

Head-mounted displays aren’t new either. Clumsy heavy ones had a moment in the mid-1990s when the technology world was hyperventilating over virtual reality.

Hundreds of companies have patents on that idea.

Hype

Google has done a good job of hyping Glass. There have been plenty of headlines. Many people reading this will want to buy the product when it goes on sale here.

Mixed reports are coming from testers in the US. And let’s face it, the enthusiasts hand-picked by Google to try the technology are hardly unbiased.

Wearing Glass in public will immediately identify the user as a hopeless nerd. It is the 2013 equivalent of clipping a cellphone pouch to your belt. In an earlier era the same type of person carried coloured pens in a pocket protector.

Sure, many nerds will happily wear that badge with pride. For everyone else it will be a stigma. You might as well tattoo 666 on your forehead.

It gets worse. Because Glass records video, it will annoy other people. That’s putting it mildly. You might be lucky to wear them in public and not get punched. Although anyone punching from the front might be readily identified when the video is played back.

So will Glass succeed? Not in today’s format. Early reports say the product is buggy, there are no obvious killer applications and the first models were for US$1500 – that’s a lot for a toy, no matter how futuristic.

Perhaps half the world will be walking around wearing Glass and looking like complete prats a few years from now. It’s unlikely.

Apple, Microsoft sue Google, Android phone makers

Last week Rockstar Bidco, a group of phone makers including Apple and Microsoft, filed a suit against Google and Android phone makers for infringing five of its patents.

The patents were acquired from the wreckage of Nortel for US$4.5 billion after a bidding war. Google lost that auction. The winning consortium includes Apple and Microsoft as well as BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony.

Now, as expected, the patents are being used against Google and its Android partners. The defendants are Samsung, LG Electronics, HTC, Huawei, Asustek, Pantech and ZTE Corp – pretty much everybody who is anybody in the Android world.

Rockstar patents certainly not worthless

Because Google also bid billions for the same patents, it’s going to find it difficult to argue they are worthless.

All Things D has the main news story and a copy of the litigation document.

Yes it’s a mess.  And yes, it shows there’s something rotten with the entire patent system. As John Gruber at Daring Fireball points out, don’t feel sorry for Google. It is just as bad.

So what?

What does the patent action mean in practical terms for phone users like you and I?

Rockstar’s action hangs on five patents that revolve around matching search terms with advertising and user data. In other words, serving personalised advertising. This is central to Google’s business model. Apple, Microsoft and their partners are attacking the core of Android.

Should the Rockstar consortium win, Google will probably have to pay damages. Phone makers may have to halt sales – at least temporarily. It’s possible a settlement will include changes to Android. This could, in turn, mean forced upgrades and even some loss of functionality. Maybe even breaking some apps. All of this will be a short-term disruption.

It could also mean paying licence fees to Rockstar. This will undermine Google’s free-OS-and-apps-in-return-for-advertising business model. It will almost certainly make Android a more expensive option for phone makers. Google may just make advertisers pay more to target Android users.

There’s little chance Google and it’s partners will take this lying down. There could be protracted litigation. If they have any means to retaliate, you can rest assured they’ll be firing their weapons in the coming days. One possibility is less Google support for non-Android operating systems.

How Feedly fills Google Reader RSS gap

RSS reader Feedly has made a determined bid to pick up displaced Google Reader users. It shows them how to make the site look more like Google’s RSS reader.

Feedly was one of the first sites Google Reader users turned to when the search giant announced it was closing its RSS reader. On Friday the company’s blog announced more than 500,000 Google Reader users had moved to the alternative site.

My first impression of Feedly was that it has potential, but the user interface is far too pretty for the rapid ploughing through dozens of feeds that is an important part of my work. I didn’t need another Flipboard-style interface. I already have Flipboard for that.

At the time I wasn’t aware Feedly could display material in the simple text-only format shown above. There’s a post at the blog explaining how to get the more condensed look along with other tips to make the service more useful.

It looks like Feedly will suit my needs. What about you, have you found a practical way to read RSS feeds after Google pulls the plug?

Google’s Chromebook Pixel pushes boundaries

Chromebook Pixel
Chromebook Pixel

Google’s new flagship device is the Chromebook Pixel: a US$1,300 laptop with a Retina-like high-resolution touch screen and a 32GB SSD. It uses Google’s Chrome OS which means applications run in the browser, not as native apps. Two models are on sale in the US, one is Wi-Fi only, the other has 4G mobile networking.

The specification is quite a turnaround from earlier Chromebooks. Only last week I wrote about the unappetising cheap, low-end laptops sporting ordinary specifications. The Chromebook Pixel turns that description on its head. There’s enough power for demanding users thanks to a 1.8Ghz Intel Core i5, integrated graphics and 4GB of Ram.

Most of the extra money pays for the screen, which is a 12.85 inch display with a whopping 2560×1700 pixels – that’s more pixels per inch than Apple’s 13 inch MacBook Pro. It should much smoother, easier-to-read text and make graphics sharper – although users will only get the full access with specially updated web pages.

The other highlight is the touch screen, which paves the way for a ChromeOS tablet – that sounds more interesting to me than an Android tablet.

For now high density displays are still something of a freak-show. Google’s move suggests they will quickly become mainstream.

Google’s move is strategically interesting, the company is aiming for high-end users, not those worried about budgets. I suspect it’ll be taken seriously in corporate IT shops, especially those committed to the cloud and Google apps.

My books listed on Google Books

Usborne guide to understanding the micro30 years ago I co-wrote The Usborne guide to understanding the micro. The title has been out of print for a generation. I was surprised to find it listed at Google Books.

My book also still on sale at Amazon.com. Mind you, the sellers don’t want much for it.

The Usborne micro guide was my first book and, in sales terms it was the most successful although it was not the most lucrative. I can’t find any evidence but remember it featured on some best-seller lists and total sales ran to hundreds of thousands. If you know, please get in touch.

Usborne translated the book into a number of other languages including German. The cover of that version is below and, sigh, doesn’t feature my name. There were other language versions, I spotted  a Spanish translation in a shop somewhere in Spain. There were at least three reprints of the English edition.

Oddly the picture shown at Google Books isn’t the cover but the title page from inside the book.

Usborne Guide To Understanding The Micro

My other books haven’t fared so well . And as for this one from 1984. I wrote it under the pseudonym Gordon Davis after I saw a player with the same name score a goal for Chelsea one weekend. For some reason Google added the word ‘Bitter’ in the name. I’m not sure what that’s about.

Google Docs: Much improved, almost first class

Google Docs, the search company’s word processor, has changed for the better since we first looked at the software in 2009.

Today, it is good enough for serious work. That wasn’t the case three years ago.

It’s hard to list all the tweaks; cloud applications go through rolling software updates, not large-scale version changes. If you blink you can miss the addition of a new feature or the fixing of an old usability issue.

Let’s just say today’s Google Docs is much improved. It’s almost first class and likely will be before much longer.

Better productivity

Three years ago there were two main problems. First, problems with constant scrolling and mousing, windows switching as well as with cut and paste. You could mouse to a point on screen then click only to find the cursor is inserted some distance away.

Cutting and pasting text from a web page is still irritating.

Otherwise, the user experience is hugely improved. This may not be a simple software issue.

In terms of productivity, for everyday writing Google Docs is now either equal to Microsoft Word or it is so close there’s no noticeable difference. If you need to collaborate with colleagues it is a better than Word. Microsoft is clumsy and needs sending versions of files back and forth. With Docs everything happens in one place.

The second problem with the old Google Docs was proofing over a wide line width. Google fixed this.

Google Docs’ screen now displays a fixed-width page, roughly the size of an A4 paper sheet. This works just as well on a wide-screen monitor as a narrow display. Wide lines of text are hard to read and even harder to proof-read or edit.

Google Docs now offers better integration

Microsoft Word’s integration with Office and Windows remains a strength. While Google Docs doesn’t need to integrate with the operating system in the same way, Google Drive means the word processor now integrates nicely with everything else Google.

That is with Google applications as well as the Chrome browser and Android. This last point is vital if you use a smartphone.

These changes make Google Docs more useful than it was. Today you can check documents on a phone when you are not at your desk.