That joke isn’t funny anymore.

Say what you want about the branding but we all laughed at the iPad when we heard that name for the first time too. KitKat may be silly, but what it portends is anything but.

As of right now, we collectively know most of what iOS 7 has to offer. There will probably be something announced on the 10th that we haven’t seen yet, whether it ends up being an addition to the software or a hardware feature that enhances the experience. But the net gain is primarily a visual one. Yes, yes, the physics engine. Yes, the deference to depth and clarity. I’ve been using the beta for weeks now. It’s very good, no doubt about it.

But I want something more. I want more than feel and form. I want a device that enhances the things I do every day. And right now, as excellent as iOS is, I’m not sure it’s enough.

Now when I say this, I’m not implying that Android is, nor Windows Phone, nor anything else. What I am saying is that no one platform is meeting my needs in the way I want. iOS has been a faithful companion for years now, and nothing I’ve touched has come close to approximating its ability to make complex things easy and beautiful. Its sheer breadth of good software is staggering. But the more I watch the changes in Android, the more I realize that iOS is dragging a lot of baggage along with it. Android is moving at a breakneck pace, and that might not be something everyone needs, but it’s the kind of thing that makes the overall landscape for people like me more compelling. And it’s the kind of thing that eventually trickles out to the edges of the userbase and becomes the norm.

Are there experiences on Android that are as singularly beautiful as iOS? by most accounts, probably not. It depends on who you ask, but I’d concede that iOS still has the upper hand when it comes to arresting visual style. But Android’s aesthetic path has been getting less rocky, more unified and more clean. The current base OS is a balanced and reasoned collection of interactions and third party developers have been impressing the hell out of us now for months as well with great apps on Android, some of which are legitimately wonderful.

And there’s something else worth remembering:

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The bottom line is that while there are so many things I’d change about Android right now, it works well. It’s come a long way, and plenty of smart people are not only realizing it, but they’re finding reasons to like it – a lot. The platform is still struggling with so many problems; malware, fragmentation (arguable on iOS, but certainly more pronounced on Android), and a lot of terrible scammy apps. (Although, have you looked at the App Store lately? Not the king’s ransom we’d all like to think it is.) But ignoring it or making fun of it is junior high bullshit. It was easy to tease when it was ugly, but it’s not anymore. It was easy to laugh when only nerds could manage its complexity, but frankly, iOS has gotten more complex, and obviously people are managing to use Android phones somehow.

It makes Apple better to have someone nipping at its heels. If some of my favorite iOS developers – people whose design sense and technical choices I agree with – are looking at this platform more seriously and exploring it, is it still worth laughing at? How many iOS devs need to take a closer look before we drop the rah-rah shit? If you call yourself someone who truly appreciates how something works, and you’re still laughing, it might be time to stop and think about why.

When iOS 7 launches with its current feature set for the next year and KitKat hits, I won’t be laughing. I’ll be watching with great interest. A rising tide, right?

I love the iPad mini.

When it was released, I got an iPad mini for the office for testing. I brought it home, put all my stuff on it to give it a proper test drive, and promptly decided it wasn’t for me. I liked my bigger iPad with its Retina display. I felt that Apple was being disingenuous with its promises of “iPad, concentrated” – it felt more like “iPad, crushed” to me. Sure, it was small and light, but honestly, there were too many trade-offs for my liking. I dismissed it, wiped the mini, put it in the testing pool at work and went on with my life.

Then something else happened. I didn’t go back to my larger iPad. I watched it, evening after evening, sitting on the TV console, fully-charged, ready to perform at a moment’s notice, but I never picked it up. I used the hell out of my phone, because the iPhone 5 is amazing, as we all know. But I didn’t feel like picking up that iPad. Every time I did, it felt so heavy. Like a really pretty manhole cover. Rene and I did a podcast in which he extolled the virtues of the mini, while I defended (theoretically, as it turned out) the need to have a bigger, nicer screen and a little more performance for the kinds of creative apps I was using.

Then it occurred to me: I wasn’t actually creating anything anymore on my iPad. It was, as I said, sitting. I watched and listened as my friends on the internet sang its praises, selling their large iPads, saying things like “it’s the best mobile device I’ve ever used”. I started to feel crazy, like I missed something… had I been too quick to dismiss the device? No, I know what I like, and my gut is usually right about things like this. Then I asked the people in my daily life who had them. Every single person said the same thing: it’s the best iPad they’d ever used.

With this gnawing at me, I couldn’t take it anymore. Deeply conflicted and doubting my own judgment, I ordered one, a white (HUGE departure from my lineage of black) 32gb Verizon mini. I sat back, suddenly relaxed that the decision was made. A weight had been lifted. If I truly didn’t like it, I could always send it back. I was ready to give it another shot.

Then it took two full weeks to arrive.

Agony. Having made the decision, I was ready to begin my new experiment. But I couldn’t. I had to wait and watch as a seemingly prehistoric process unfolded in front of me. I’m so used to Amazon Prime shipping speeds, watching as my mini was manufactured for a week and then stagnating as it trudged around the world was excruciating. It sat in a UPS facility in Kentucky for almost three full days. Doing nothing. I’ve had a 60" HDTV delivered to me from Amazon in less than 24 hours. This was torture. I casually wandered into the Apple store at the mall while my wife and I were shopping, in the hopes that they’d have a model I could grab that would at least be close to what I ordered. I was prepared to be flexible; sure, I would take a black 64gb LTE model. No problem. But nothing. Wi-fi only, everywhere I went. The cellular models were either the hottest sellers, or seriously undermanufactured.

When it finally arrived, I opened it and wept. Not really, but I was so happy to be done refreshing a shipment tracking page, I could have. I got to setting it up, put all my stuff in place, and configured it just so. Paired it with my Logitech Ultrathin (which looks positively gargantuan next to it now). Attached the Smart Cover I ordered while I waited for it to arrive. Began using it, picking it up, making it a part of my routine.

Verdict? I’m a jackass. I learned some things about myself and what I actually value. All the lip service I’d paid the larger display was truly worthless in the end, because I wasn’t even looking at it. The mini? I can’t put it down. It’s so light, I take it from room to room. I’d never done that with the larger iPad. I read more, I play games more, I bang out email, journal entries and draft posts more, simply because it’s there and ready. Everyone said it takes a few days to get used to everything being compressed a little, and it’s true. It’s been a week, though, and I couldn’t imagine going back. I stopped seeing the pixels about two days in, which was about 47.8 hours longer than I’d given it the first time. If only I’d not been so shortsighted.

The lesson for me is not about buying more crap and filling my life with more screens. It’s about not making snap judgments anymore. I find as I get older that I think I’ve got things pretty wired; that I know myself and what I think I like. The truth of the matter is that I’m woefully inflexible in my own mind sometimes, despite my ability to adjust to things in my real life (I just had a kid, trust me, I’m getting pretty awesome at “adjustment”). I have to learn to put aside my preconceived notions about things, and explore my options, because I’ll never know what I’m missing out on if I don’t.

Seems like a grandiose conclusion to draw over a gadget, but the epiphanies that matter the most to us don’t always come down on a bolt of lightning.

App.net | Twitter

The hidden potential of App.net.

I’ve thought a lot about App.net in the past few months, as many of us have I imagine. What started as discontent with the obnoxious corporate machinations that Twitter’s begun to execute spawned a movement to start something different and user-focused as opposed to focused on marketing. I won’t go into the details, because it’s well-documented in about a million other places, but suffice to say, the project got funded, we got an alpha web app and App.net quickly became a geeky subset of Twitter users both curious to try something new and disenchanted with the current state of things elsewhere.

The launch of Netbot kicked the service into high gear for a while and it saw a huge spike in traffic and activity, proving a point many have made, namely that in today’s tech world, to the user, the application is the service. App.net CEO Dalton Caldwell has even said himself that the ‘out of the box’ experience for new users isn’t terrific, and while they’re working to improve that, apps are paving the way and bringing people into the fold. And we watched as Netbot’s influence stabilized and we’ve seen overall ADN conversations trickle off in our feeds. People went back to Twitter, because the conversation keeps happening there due to a massively entrenched network effect that’s undeniable.

Lots has been said about the potential of ADN, and how it really needs to do something special to continue to grow. It won’t beat Twitter at its own game (admittedly, that’s been stated as not a real targeted objective anyway), but it’s got to do… something.

I’m starting to believe all of what we’ve seen is merely prelude to something more. I’ve been bullish on the service since making the decision to back it and I’ve watched it with great interest. I finally got around to listening to the official ADN podcast a few days ago too, and it’s basically Dalton talking about the API development and answering questions from users. The thing is, in hearing him talk about their progress and plans, I’ve started to realize something – two things, actually.

  1. The Twitter-like feed tool we currently see as “App.net” is but one face – the starting point – of a much larger idea
  2. It’s not just about making that tool better – the long play is to build an extensible communication platform not just for Twitter use cases, but for a myriad other outlets

I’d considered other ways in which the service might become valuable, but I’ll admit, I kept coming up short until I heard him talk about their plans. I thought about how it might be used as an external comment platform for blogs, linking threads and conversations back to a post via the service. I could see that being kind of cool, and I think it would definitely (given the price to enter the service) at least preliminarily solve a part of the “commenting problem”. Users willing to pony up some money to be part of a service like this might be less compelled to be dicks on people’s blogs. It’s a long shot, but you can see where I’m headed.

Listening to the podcasts, though, something else became very clear. The private messaging API is going to be the catalyst behind this entire thing. Dalton described how their focus on releasing a capable first iteration of this aspect of the service took great importance as they worked this past few months. He mentioned the concept of the “internet of things” – all the interconnected devices that are filling our lives with notifications and (in some cases) noise. He talked about the immense success platforms like BlackBerry Messenger and WhatsApp have had in the mobile space, and pointed out that no matter how large public messaging is, private messages (SMS and the like) outweigh it by orders of magnitude. He also reinforced the fact that ADN is not rushing to do much of anything – they’ve created a sustainable business model for the time being, focused on user features, and their goal is to continue developing the service, strengthening the hooks to outside applications and enabling developers to create new and interesting things by delivering working code examples with updates to the API.

Most importantly, he mentioned that with his previous company imeem, the final face of the service was drastically different than its first one. As with any software, the users will in large and small ways influence the ongoing development, and discover use cases that the devs hadn’t even considered. This is the core piece that as a market, we’re unable to see yet. We see a Twitter competitor, and one that feels like it’s faltering as Twitter continues to swell its userbase. We see something that we want to succeed, but we’re not seeing the endgame yet. I’m mentally reinvested in the entire idea after listening to him on the podcasts – not because he’s compelling users to foment revolution – but because he’s seeing past the market perception of what the service is supposed to be. It’s only been five months since the blog post that kicked this off, and four since funding. I don’t know many web services that declared victory in any capacity in that timeframe, and it’s worth keeping that in mind.

I highly recommend checking out the podcast if you’re even marginally interested in this at all. It’s changed my thinking; you may discover the same.

Thoughts? App.net | Twitter

How I’m using Dropbox.

Since I talk about Dropbox quite a bit anywhere and everywhere I can, I’m often asked for app recommendations and about the services that I use with it. The beauty of it is that these things can and do change from time to time because so many apps and services plug into Dropbox that there’s always something new to try. So here are some of my uses and apps as of right now.

For starters, I don’t use my OS X home folder for anything, if I can help it. Everything important lives in Dropbox. I can’t move my Library in there, but if I could, I would. If I lost my MBP tomorrow, I could be back up and running 90% of the way just by logging into Dropbox on a new machine. That makes me feel good. Now, onto some more specific things.

1Password: The alpha and omega of all my Dropboxing. 1Password is the single most useful app on any of my systems, and my world lives inside it. Security’s no joke, and 1P makes it easy. Constant updates, communicative and friendly developers and a willingness to always improve make it my number one app, anywhere.

Notes, Reminders: Notes are stored as plain text files and kept in a folder called Notes. I point the awesome Notational Velocity fork nvALT at this folder on the Mac, and whatever app I’m currently using on iOS at it as well. Right now, that happens to be Elements by Second Gear. It’s clean and fast. Reminders are a different beast. Currently I’m back using Appigo’s Todo, which I’d purchased a million years ago, but which has seen some pretty decent updates. My tasks sync in a Dropbox folder and appear on all my devices. This could change by the time you read this, but that’s what’s great about Dropbox. Another one of my favorites is TaskAgent, although it’s more for lists and doesn’t have reminder functions built in. If you just have one list, you might check out Due, which is also great.

Camera Uploads: This is a service that’s now provided directly through the Dropbox app. Before it was offered, I used many different iOS apps to get my camera roll into Dropbox, and I still use one called CameraSync because it uses geofencing to determine when to activate and upload your pics, taking the manual process away entirely. I set it up for the office and my house, and when I go between them, I get a notification that my pics are uploading. It’s like magic. (I also have Photo Stream turned on as a fallback, but I like that they’re also in Dropbox automatically as well, for obvious reasons – Photo Stream has a 1,000 pic/30 day limit).

Byword: My favorite writing app for Mac and iOS. Hook Byword up to your Dropbox, and your works in progress are everywhere. I store them as plain text (.txt) files for portability into other writing apps as well.

Day One: My journal of choice. Byword is for things I intend to put somewhere on the web, Day One is just for me. A gorgeous Mac and iOS app, with tons of features and improvements. If you’re not using this app, you’re seriously missing out on a flagship writing experience. Again, I choose to store the data file in Dropbox, because I want to be able to pull it apart if I feel like it (or need to) and iCloud’s data container doesn’t sit well with me.

Scanner Pro: A great quick utility by Readdle. If I need a PDF of something I’m looking at in the real world, I grab my phone or iPad, take a picture, and Scanner Pro converts it to a great looking PDF and drops it into my Dropbox for me. Easy.

Drafts: Quick capture and instant dumping into a variety of iOS apps. I keep a “Drafts” folder hooked up to Dropbox and have it set to capture text notes that I intend to file away in my large note file. Hazel watches this folder and drops .txt files into the other one for me.

TextExpander: Super time-saver. TextExpander takes snippets of keys you assign and drops giant chunks of text in their place. I keep the settings synced with Dropbox between my systems.

Paper: My favorite sketching app. Although I don’t use Paper all that much, when I do, it exports my journals right into a Dropbox folder. I end up using this to quickly diagram things for clients sometimes. It helps to have a picture to go with what I’m saying, and if we’re all in agreement, I can save it, export it and refer to it when I go to create a formal wireframe document or something like that.

Software: I keep a master repository of all kinds of .dmg files and installers in Dropbox. I’ve been a Pro customer for years, and recently had my storage space doubled to a massive 200gb, so this is even less of a problem now than before. Super convenient when you’re managing multiple systems in an office environment and the Mac App Store isn’t how you plan to do it.

System: I keep a folder called System in my Dropbox, and the purpose of this folder is to preserve app settings and things like that. If I can, I’ll install an app and configure it so that its settings automatically go there, but if not, I can always manually copy/move some things around or set up Hazel rules to duplicate these settings/files. Alfred is a good example of an app that runs out of this folder – all my extensions and tweaks are synced between my Macs into Alfred from here.

What else?…

Sharing: throw things in a Dropbox folder, get a quick link. Better than email for giant files, and usually works ok for everyone.

IFTTT: there’s all manner of cool automated things you can do with IFTTT, a web service that aggregates other web services to do some nerdy heavy lifting for you. I’m currently pulling all my Instagram shots in automatically, as well as Facebook pics I’ve been tagged in. I also have something set up to automatically forward a document from my iPhone to a folder specified by me in Dropbox, but I don’t really find myself using it. Still, it’s cool and it’s just scratching the surface.

iPhoto: I wouldn’t recommend trying to point multiple machines’ iPhoto installs to one library you keep in Dropbox (seems to have issues, YMMV) but if you only have one machine on which you use iPhoto, it’s an easy way to back that giant file up (if you have the space).

I could go on and on. When I record podcasts, they dump directly into a Dropbox folder from Audio Hijack. I keep a folder just to sync stuff between my MBP and my Mac mini server at home if I need to. A different folder to share things with my wife and her MBP. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and growing every day. It’s a fantastically reliable and functional tool I’ve grown to rely on. I’d hate to go back to computing without it.

If you’ve got a great way to use Dropbox, I’d love to hear it.

Twitter | App.net

Android’s baby steps.

A few days ago, Google released a design guide for Android, a much welcomed first step into unifying the platform visually and creating cohesive application interfaces. Android has, over time, come under a lot of fire from visually-centered users and designers for its wildly varying interfaces and disparity among device types and sizes.

But it’s only a first step. Developers need to embrace the new guidelines and conform their designs to the recommended paths. However, there are still lessons for Google to learn as well. We just got a Galaxy Nexus in the office and one of the first things I realized was that the “Menu” button has been removed and replaced with a few squares on the screen within apps like this:

Android 4.0 Dialer

Android 4.0 Gallery

It took me a second to realize that the tiny squares were there, and another to realize that I could tap them to invoke the menu options that in previous versions of Android were at the bottom of the phone with the Home, Back, and Search keys. But the problem for Google is not the size, nor the location of the squares. It’s that squares already mean something else:

ICS Android Devices

Those little squares are ways to get to your apps. So for an inexperienced user, performing an activity within an app, it may appear that you can tap those squares to get your app drawer opened. Granted, the fact that someone will only really confuse this approximately once is not lost on me. But it’s inconsistent. You can’t attempt to strongly coerce an already fractured design platform if the visual metaphors you choose to implement are murky. Would it have been so difficult to choose some other shape to either signify “apps” or “menu”?

That said, the very existence of the guidelines shows that Android is truly maturing as a platform. Some people won’t like it, because it means Google’s exercising more Apple-like control. Some users will welcome it because it means higher-quality experiences across devices. One thing’s for sure: we won’t be debating “open” for much longer if this keeps up, and that’s fine. It was a straw man from the start.

Forked up.

There have been some rumblings that Google is starting to realize how varied the landscape of Android devices actually is and may take steps to unify the platform. This current state is of course the direct result of the fact that Android was distributed to OEMs and carriers to customize for the devices they wanted to build and sell. It’s a great model for the aforementioned groups, because it allowed them to add all manner of software to the OS as a point of differentiation beyond the hardware itself. For consumers, it hasn’t worked out as well because companies are less inclined to update older devices with new builds of Android as it comes out because the work and expense involved, it seems, is better spent on churning out new devices to sell. The net result is that up until now, unless you had a Nexus device, you were gambling on what kinds of updates you would see on your handset, and for many people, the house always wins.

So let’s think about the first point in that paragraph: that Google may take steps to unify the platform. We’ve already seen shades of it in the restricted release of the open source Honeycomb code earlier this year. Ice Cream Sandwich is around the corner and has a ton of additional features in it that have been done in OEM/carrier customizations or third party apps. What would those groups do if Google just said one day that the party was over? How would they differentiate? In the face of Google changing the way companies can interact with Android, would hardware differentiation be enough?

It might be, but think about this for a second: given that updates to customized Android builds on varying handsets are not consistent across the board (please don’t argue with me, Android supporters, let’s call it like it is – your phone may have gotten updates, but not every phone does), what single action would allow manufacturers an opportunity to set their devices apart against the constant phone updates and turnover? What could they do that would let them continue to use Android the way they want to if Google changes the game?

Fork it.

Amazon did. The Kindle Fire runs a highly customized variant of Android that Amazon built on a completely different path from Google’s. Now, the first thing that tech people think in this case (myself included) is “well, you’re never getting the updates to the OS that everyone else will get”. Guess what? Not everyone does now, on the existing upgrade path. In fact, I’m fairly certain some phones are being released currently that aren’t running the latest version of the OS, and have no defined upgrade path from the manufacturer. The Kindle Fire is running an older version of Android, sure, but its experience wouldn’t indicate this, because Amazon has changed the entire UI to suit very specific use-case needs.

What’s stopping companies from forking Android? Can’t be money, because they’re spending a ton of it on the largely crappy customizations to the OS itself (forgive me, I’m a fan of standard Android on a functional level, though it leaves a lot to be desired visually). Is it R&D? Do they simply not have the resources to actually continue crafting versions of the operating system in house? If not, wouldn’t it make sense to try and bring those abilities inside at this point? Part of me says it’s fear that they’ll go down a path they can’t come back from, and part of me thinks it’s just laziness. “Google’s doing the heavy lifting; let’s throw a few new widgets on this new unobtanium phone we just made and call it a day.” Then they’ll do it again in sixty days (or less). But the effort involved in building what is essentially your own OS is not lost on me, so I know it’s not something everyone can do.

The business model is selling hardware, I get that too. But part of that hardware – an ever-increasing part – is experience, and that’s where the Fire will excel and where all these other companies continue to fall short. Apple can do it, I think Amazon can too, because they’re not thinking about the same things anymore. It’s a content play for them – get the devices in market and sell through the massive Amazon catalog. But they need to sell hardware to sell the experience. They’re not mutually exclusive. They never have been.

Furthermore, building a business on someone else’s platform is always a tenuous proposition. Ask any Twitter developer who’s had run ins with changing APIs or any iOS developer who’s run afoul of Apple’s often arcane rules. All of these third parties building on top of Android may have some tough decisions ahead of them if Google tightens the leash on what can be done to the OS. Microsoft has a whole mess of restrictions for Windows Phone, and that positioning seems to be doing them at least a small favor in that hardware variations exist, but there’s still a cohesive nature to the WP experience. Google may look at this model, not to mention iOS (where hardware and software are as tightly integrated as they could possibly be) and wish to move in this direction for any number of reasons.

It all makes so much sense! Why wouldn’t a company do this? Control the path of your development future. Build compelling hardware that meshes perfectly with the software. What’s stopping this new horizon from being reached?

Content.

If they do, they’re cut off from all the content the Android Market offers. Fork Android, and you can forget Google services. Amazon’s not worried because they have their own playground and don’t need Google’s apps and services. But every other hardware manufacturer does, because without it, all they have is a well-crafted little island that no one in their right mind is going to buy. No apps means no platform, and no platform means no sale. No one is going to splinter off, go up against the iOS App Store and Android Market and even make a dent. I suppose they could try to integrate with the Amazon Appstore, but I have a feeling that may not be a great answer because it’s just trading one content master for another. Through building an Android Market, Google has created a lock-in point for anyone who wants to use Android for anything, because without apps, consumers won’t even consider a device. People give Apple a lot of crap for their policies regarding the App Store, but at least there was no mistaking the intention. Without the Market, every other Android device is toast from the start.

What are we left with, then? An ocean of incessant me-too, bullet-pointed, one-upping phone releases made from varying metals, plastics and glasses. A market strewn with devices, ostensibly orphaned by the manufacturers that released them into the wild, mere months after their introductions. Consumers not sure about which phone they should buy because there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to consumer choice. Too little of it and you feel hemmed in (with the possible exception of the iPhone), too much and you have some heavy buyer’s remorse or just confusion about devices in general. Android held great promise as a new open platform on which many different devices could be built. What it’s become, in spite of itself, is a walled garden of a different kind, albeit with a slightly lower wall, without anyone realizing it. Content is king, everyone knows it, and as long as there isn’t a better channel for it, we’re in for a whole lot of the same.

Talk to me, Siri.

A lot has been said already about the way Siri stands to change user interaction with iPhones, and almost as much has been said about why we all needn’t get excited about it. There’s a readily vocal section of gadget nerds who’s more than happy to point out that they’ve been talking to their devices for years now, and that we’re all a bunch of sycophantic Apple excuse generators who trumpet everything the company does as the only and best implementation that exists.

Well, if you can dial down the contrarian bleating for a minute, I think there might be something here. Part of the reason Siri is so wildly popular over other voice-enabled options is that it taps into our desire as humans to engage not in commands with another intelligence, but communication. We’re not speaking to our phone, we’re speaking with it. Granted, we’re a long way from actually having meaningful conversations with our devices, and the capacity for independent thought and action (mercifully) has not yet arrived (Skynet, I’m looking in your direction).

However, the conversations one has with Siri – and they are, in many cases, exactly that – small, targeted conversations – appeal to us as humans in a way that the stilted delivery of commands likely never will. Think about it – of all the futuristic artificial intelligences you’ve seen and thought about in science fiction movies and the like, which ones are the most captivating?

The ones that talk back.

Andy Rubin has stated that he doesn’t want to have a conversation with his phone; that it’s a tool and should function as such. But I’m willing to bet that as nice a guy as he probably is, Andy’s not like most people. And most people don’t want to memorize a new lexicon of short-burst variable orders through which their phone performs actions. They want to use their real voice, their natural inclinations, and their own way of thinking and speaking and have the machine do the work for them. Natural language processing has come so far in the past ten years, and Siri is merely a harbinger of things to come.

And despite the inevitable enslavement and eventual extinction of humanity that will come of these things, they sure are awesome right now.

“Siri, remind me to go underground when you become fully sentient.”

“Ok, I’ll remind you.”

Tired.

On the heels of what many are describing as the cataclysmically disappointing iPhone 4S announcement yesterday, the internet is rife with tales of Apple’s inevitable post-Steve descent into oblivion. Why, the mere suggestion that Tim Cook has bungled his first big show is enough to send bloggers the web over into paroxysms of glee, breathlessly recounting every misstep, every missed opportunity, and every underwhelming demonstration onstage at that emotionally vacant press event.

But today, after the smoke’s cleared, I’m just tired. I’m tired of the outlandish expectations the media creates. I’m tired of contrarian backlash, built on incorrect assumptions about how an extremely successful company needs to operate to continue on the path to further success. There simply isn’t any way to even view Apple announcements through any lens of reality anymore, and it’s tiring.

Vultures feed on the flesh of the dead, but Apple is far from dead. We’ve stopped getting news from many of the sites we used to read voraciously every day, because what they’ve started serving up is reverse hyperbole, seemingly with the intention of portending the end of Apple as soon as possible in some juvenile effort to scream “FIRST” when it happens and link back to the post. This is a company that currently has more money in the bank than most people can even fathom, and yet people are lining up to tell them they’re “doing it wrong”. I think when you can absorb most of your competitors without breaking a sweat, you buy yourself a little latitude in your decision making process.

For every reality distortion field, there exists an inverse reality polarization portal, where all of the things we ought to be excited about are derided endlessly and deconstructed to the point where nothing is even worth doing anymore. Yet Apple still sells millions of phones, every time, in spite of both of these phenomenons.

The most annoying part, though, is that after all of the nay-saying, market comparisons, vitriolic voice of the people and such, most of these writers will buy that phone, regardless of the lack of new body type. And they might even write something about how it’s actually a pretty big step forward and start focusing on how Apple is creating experiences as opposed to glass and metal bricks with which to do things. Because that’s actually the story that gets buried under the lede right about the time Apple releases new stuff. Heaven forfend you decide to focus on THAT, in which case you’re immediately labeled as a sycophantic Apple fanboy.

If anyone were actually analyzing this at any sensible level, it would become apparent that Apple’s not playing the same game everyone thinks that they ought to. In fact, they’ve never played the same game as the rest of the market. Why in the world would they start now, when they continue to move ahead of everyone else in the game they are playing? Because an enclave of echo chambered writers thinks they should?

Here’s your new headline for the iPhone 4S: Normal people unfazed by ludicrously unbalanced narrow market perspectives; plan to continue spending untold sums of money on new iPhone and apps. If you don’t like the new iPhone, I’m totally cool with that. No one says you have to. I think we all secretly wanted to be blown away yesterday by a new phone style delivered straight from the future itself. In fact, the presentation (in my honest opinion) left quite a bit to be desired.* But when you project your irrational “analysis” onto the population at large, you’re not reporting news anymore. You’re just tiring us out, and eventually, we’ll stop listening.

Update: 10.06.11 7:47 am

*and sadly, now I know why.

Why yes, that is a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my pocket.

Knowing that we’re going to have to think about Android tablet development at some point, it was a matter of time before we picked one up. The perfect storm of frugality swooped in this week as Staples had a $100 off coupon for tablets, excluding the Nook, TouchPad, and one or two others. This coupon, plus a few rebate cards I’d been saving meant I was able to snag a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for about $227. Sweet deal.

So – the big question – how is it, really?

I think at this point I’ve established myself as a fan of electronics, not just those made by Apple, so I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say that while a cool piece of kit, the Tab 10.1 is not quite there for me. I didn’t buy this thing just to bash it – I bought it because I need to understand platforms before we can design for them – so understand right off the bat that I’m not complaining about a review unit and sending it back, or on the Cupertino payroll (or Kool-Aid, depending on how you like to think of those things).

The simple fact of the matter is that for many people – specifically consumers – there isn’t a case for tablet computing yet. There is, however, a case for small pieces of software that deliver compelling experiences. Unfortunately, Android is not delivering them, and iOS is.

Case in point: when I went to Staples, I asked the sales guy for the 10.1 and the first thing he said was “What are you buying it for?” When I replied, “development”, he said “Ok, because this thing isn’t going to replace a laptop for you”. No problem, I assured him, we’re app devs, and we know what we’re doing. Then, the manager came over to verify the coupon I had and asked the same question again. Again I replied “development” and he asked “Of what?” rather indignantly.

“Uh, Android apps?” I replied incredulously.

“Oh, ok, because we’re selling a lot of these things, and we get a LOT of them back. People buy them thinking they’re getting rid of a laptop, and they all come back returning them.”

That doesn’t seem to be happening with iPads, because I think people’s expectations are set accordingly when they buy them. These are not full computing devices; they’re not built to be – and yet when you watch the commercials, what do you hear? The “full” internet. Flash. Do it all. Why wouldn’t people be disappointed when they can’t actually replace a computer with a device that promised they could?

But anyway, on to the Tab itself.

Physically, the 10.1 is a great feeling device in the hand. Thinner and lighter than you expect it to be, with a gorgeous screen and all the requisite hardware checkboxes filled. I’m not sure how I feel about the 16:9 frame, though. No, scratch that, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. I wasn’t sure that Apple was right about the iPad’s 4:3 ratio, but after having one as my only tablet for over a year and then spending a good deal of time with the 10.1, I’m pretty sure Steve was right. It feels too long horizontally, and way too tall vertically. Don’t get me wrong – I could get used to it, if I had to, but I’m kind of glad I don’t have to. Overall, it’s a very nicely built device, though. While still somewhat plastic-y, Samsung made it feel decent.

The Honeycomb OS is light years ahead of where Android started, and it really shows. It’s really quite nice, and my initial experience with the 10.1 was very different from the one I had when I handled my first G-1 at a party a few years ago. Both the UI design and the functionality have added a great deal of value to the device, and I’m really looking forward to seeing future Android devices as the system continues to mature. There’s an incredible amount of customization available on the platform, and that attracts both regular folks and tinkerers alike. I would have liked to see a little more in terms of basic stuff, like wallpapers (since some of what ships default with the 10.1 is like showing an overcaffeinated toddler the gradient tool in Photoshop), but hey, that’s what the internet is for. There are plenty of wallpaper apps in the Market. The attention to detail in small things like the bar at the bottom of the display that has a lot of useful controls baked into it shows that Google really is trying to make the entire interface less for engineers and more for real, actual users. And there’s cool stuff tucked away, like the recently viewed button, which upon tapping, brings a vertical ribbon of apps you’ve been to lately (along with a thumbnail of the activity) – a nice touch, and very useful. Credit where credit is due.

Where it falls apart for me (and likely for most people) is in the user experience surrounding software availability. I fully recognize that there isn’t a ton of software available to Android tablets right now, and that Honeycomb is still an OS that most people don’t have and aren’t developing for, based on market numbers. This is not a problem germane to the 10.1, or any other Android tablet in particular. However, for the amount of marketing and push that these tablets are getting, there should absolutely be not only a wide range of options, but a clearly delineated path with which to reach them. Android Market has neither. You can search for “tablet”, and you hit quite a few things, and you can search for “Honeycomb”, and reach some others, but you have things like themes and wallpapers for phones in the Honeycomb style that make their way into your search. Apple has two sides of the App Store – iPhone and iPad – and it’s completely obvious where the tablet apps are. I’m an experienced user, so I’m figuring things out, but I can’t imagine someone who isn’t comfortable with this stuff having much fun doing the same.

More importantly, by this point in the iPad’s life cycle, there was a huge number of apps available for the platform, and I just don’t feel that happening for Android tablets. Is it because there’s just too much disparity in the sizes and specs? Possibly, but I think it has a lot to do with what I mentioned earlier. If consumers are returning tablets, why develop for them at all? Stick to the phones. Hence, people simply aren’t finding the kind of software they expect to find when they try to download, and it’s causing disappointment. I’m not talking about the geeks, rooting and playing. I’m talking about regular people for whom “unlocked bootloader” might as well be a foreign language.

Honeycomb, as I said, is fantastic. Unfortunately, run an app that’s built for a phone on it, and suddenly it’s not so pretty anymore. It doesn’t scale proportionately the way the iPad does (even if the pixel doubling does look like crap), but instead stretches everything so there’s a ton of wasted space everywhere. And while I’m perfectly content to dig around in settings and adjust fonts and scaling to make it look halfway decent, why would any normal person even think to do that? It should just look good when you open it.

But very little does. Even apps built for tablets might be built for smaller tablets, and behave similarly, and the apps I tried that were built for this size were sorely lacking in design. I know we all kind of assume Android apps don’t look as great as iOS apps, but some of the stuff I saw that touted “built from the ground up for Honeycomb tablets” looks like they didn’t get past the foundation. If your flagship app looks like a development test with some gradients thrown on, you’re doing something wrong.

I guess I’m really most saddened by the fact that I still don’t see a contender in this market. I love Apple stuff, but I want so badly to be able to have something else that’s as good, if only for a change of pace from iOS. I’m a demanding geek, and that’s not going to change. As of right now, Apple’s still the only company giving in to those demands.

Seriously, HP. Pull it together.

WebOS needs to succeed. Seriously. For a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it is vaguely awesome. However, instead of doubling down on development resources and aggressively attracting developers themselves to the platform, HP has decided to do the easy thing: throw money at marketing.

Unfortunately, for HP, this strategy is doomed to fail. Gaga will not sell phones for you. A cutesy handset with extremely limited market potential will not attract new users (just ask Microsoft). And wrapping a delivery truck in Veer graphics and telling people to check out the ‘summer tour’ is just moronic.

HP needs to release hardware – compelling hardware – with reasons for people to choose it over any other hardware. This isn’t about Apple domination, or Android fragmentation. It’s about making the best products possible and running the best software possible, both of which HP, with its massive coffers, is in a position to do, and both of which – to date – it has failed to do.

The Veer is adorable, but not for everyone. The TouchPad, though not supposed to launch “until it’s ready” seems to be a very 1.0 device, and is getting reviews in which the reviewers themselves seem to to be disappointed, having really wanted to love it out of the gate. This market moves at a pace that is almost unsustainable. The longer HP sits around, not actively fixing bugs, not releasing great hardware, and actively pushing products that regular people can’t find a reason to buy, the quicker webOS dies on the vine.

And if the rumors are true and the Pre 3 doesn’t hit until the fall, you can forget about any kind of webOS resurgence. It’s done. People can argue that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but even a great runner can’t fall too far behind and make up all that distance.