Just what I want, a weather app that deceives me

Clear Day, the new name of Weather HD, was chosen to indicate that even if weather is gloomy and stormy, a vivid soothing presentation of the weather forecast would provide the user with a sensational and clear-day-like experience full of hope.

Clear Day – (Formerly Weather HD)

Huh? So even if the weather is “gloomy and stormy” it’ll present the forecast in a manner “full of hope”? That seems ridiculous to me. Look at this beautiful, sunny sky in your forecast, oh by the way a hurricane’s coming.

I guess some app updates aren’t supposed to make sense.

Google: You Too Can Be A Developer In The Privacy Of Your Own Home

Not only is the Android Market an open platform for developers (with no approval process, ala the App Store), but now we’ll likely see a vast array of specialized apps built by non-developers. This could radically increase the volume of apps in the Market versus the App Store.

I’ve written about Google’s seeming goal of getting mobile devices on the web instead of running local apps. I outlined some things that could keep Android app quality relatively low: 

  • Fragmentation – Minimal app compatibility, or a lowest common denominator app that can’t take full advantage of a device.
  • Lack of vetting – Lets weak apps through, including potential security risks. 
  • Flash support – Another way of encouraging lowest common denominator apps. 

I wrote “In short, while appearing to do all they can to let as many apps be available as possible, they’ve created a platform to breed lower-quality, inconsistent apps”

If there was any doubt about Google’s desire to have lots of apps while keeping the app experience relatively weak, their latest move should make it clear: they’re letting anyone write apps.

Google’s App Inventor is like a late-night informercial: “Why bother learning a language and coding techniques, now anyone can be a developer with the Develop-O-Matic.” I can see the infomercial endorsements now: “I was skeptical, but I just followed the simple steps provided. As a programmer I make more money each month than I ever dreamed of, and was able to quit my job snaking toilets at Wal-Mart. If I can do it, so can you!”

With everybody and their little brother submitting apps there’s little question Android’s app count will make huge gains. It probably won’t take long before the number exceeds Apple’s App Store, which is something they’re gunning for. And with weak “competition” of local apps like this, Google’s web-based solutions will look that much better, which helps lead people right where Google wants them. 

I have no issue with lots of web and local apps; let everyone decide what works best for them. But what I see is Google poisoning the well from which local apps are drawn. They don’t appear to want a fair fight, and make local apps too difficult (their market place appears to be a mess), generic (soon to include Jr. Developer Kit apps), and risky (potential privacy or security issues) so web apps look far superior by comparison.

Android Developers Blog: We have a kill switch and we’re not afraid to use it

we’ve also developed technologies and processes to remotely remove an installed application from devices. If an application is removed in this way, users will receive a notification on their phone.

Remember the discussion about Apple having a “kill switch” that could remotely delete apps from your phone? The tech punditry howled. Well, Google’s got one and they’re using it.

The blog post couches it in motherly, keeping-you-safe terms. Right. If Google cared about what apps they allowed in the market to begin with, maybe they wouldn’t need to use this thing. Alas, vetting apps is not Google’s strong suit, nor is it ever likely to be.

Misguided Developers: Apple dominates mobile development now, but “open” will win in the end

The way developers see it, Apple might be dominating the game today but in the long-term, it will be Google and its open platform approach that will take the top honors.

Right. Just like Linux with its “open platform approach” took “top honors” on the desktop. Which reminds me, is this The Year Of Linux again?

Anyway, you can develop an app taking advantage of unique hardware and software with off the charts customer satisfaction scores, or you can write lowest-common-denominator code in Java or Flash on wildly fluctuating devices. The choice is yours.

I’ve said before that Google can have all the philosophical/political developers they want. I still believe that. I’ve seen no correlation between a developer’s politics and ability to code.

Consumers just want a really great app. Whether the developer can also sell it on a dozen other devices doesn’t mean diddly to a typical end user (you know, the ones developers should be trying to sell to). Further, whether an app is “open” is irrelevant in a tech world where the meaning of that word has been twisted by every corporate entity to mean whatever it needs to in order to fit their marketing plan.

The “open” advocates are misguided believing they don’t want to buy or code for an Apple device because the six-inch high “wall” around Apple’s “garden” has only allowed over 39,000 developers and 225,000 apps—way more than competitors’ alleged “open” systems have—but it’s the theory, not the practice, that matters to such people.

Google: With our weak vetting, how could this have happened?

Meanwhile, dozens of apps were found to have the same type of access to sensitive information as known spyware does, including access to the content of e-mails and text messages, phone call information, and device location, said Dan Hoffman, chief technology officer at SMobile Systems.

It seems clear that with unsigned apps and minimal vetting for its market place, Android’s (well, Google’s) priority is not security. When you’re trying like mad to offer as many apps as the iPhone you don’t have time for such things. Apps with security issues have been pulled after they’ve been on the market and enough users complained. It such cases the end user is doing the real vetting.

Problem is, not all apps are obvious about what they do. Sooner or later that comes back to haunt the end user, which leads to the real issue: Google doesn’t care that much because the end user is not their customer. I’m not saying Google wants third-party apps to be invasive without user permission, only that preventing it isn’t a priority. The end user doesn’t pay Google for their services, and are not their customer.

Similar to Facebook, Google’s customer isn’t the one using the product every day, but rather the marketing, ad, and analytics firms that make use of the massive amounts of data being gathered. There’s nothing wrong with this—it’s just a business model—but it’s important to know Google’s customers to understand Google’s priorities. Indeed, philosophically Google may not even have an issue with these apps. Google’s been gathering your data for years.

I’d like to see Google take some action on this. Get ahead of the game and make changes to the market place for vetting this stuff. Google can talk “open” all it wants, but they have a responsibility for what’s on their store. They have no issue refusing apps that violate copyright or other firms’ TOS, but that’s all in the interest of their real customers. It’s time they treated the end user with a little respect and looked out for her as well.

Palm: “Hey! We’re still here! Look at us!” (*waving arms*)

Starting June 18th and ending on July 9th, the promotion will slash the price on every paid app in the App Catalog by 50%.

Palm is subsidizing the promotion, making up the difference so developers still get full price.

It’s a fine idea, but with major developers like Adobe currently (and predictably) telling Palm to get lost, surely others will follow. This is just a stop-gap measure similar to the bargain-basement prices on the Palm handsets themselves. At best, it provides temporary relief and a press release, but it’s no fix. The patient is still bleeding. If Palm (i.e., webOS) is to survive, HP must come out with a competitive device to show its worth.

Why Apple Should Not “Open Up” the iPhone

In a thoughtful piece, Macworld’s Jason Snell argues that it’s time for Apple to “open up” the iPhone. 

No, I’m here to say to Apple that while I understand very well the reasons for the company’s walled-garden approach to native iPhone OS apps, the strengths of that approach have now been surpassed by the bad publicity and reputation that Apple and its products are now getting in the market as a whole.

Though well-meaing, when I look at the reasoning provided, I find I cannot agree with any of it. 

I was showing [a non-technical colleague] my new iPad. His response to me was shocking: He said that he had been interested in buying an iPad, but needed to read PDF files, and since Apple only supported its own formats, he couldn’t buy one.

There’s nothing in opening up the iPhone that would stop his colleague form thinking that. Heck, there are people who think a Mac can’t read Microsoft Word documents even though Word’s been on the Mac over 20 years! This kind of perception is simply not possible to prevent, and even if it were, an “open” iPhone wouldn’t do it. 

There’s porn on the iPhone now. Not only does the iPhone have free and easy access to all the porn on the Web, but there’s even an iPhone Porn App Store that sells (web-based) porn apps that work on unmodified iPhone OS devices.

This same argument works for any non-App Store app. Point being, don’t point out that “closed” is no good because we have the web, but then argue we must have “open” while ignoring that same web. Indeed, Steve Jobs all but begged developers to write web apps in the iPhone’s first year, and was mocked for it.  

Can’t get your app on the iPhone? Write a web app. Oh, but then you wouldn’t get all the benefits of the App Store. Guess what? You won’t get those benefits from “open” apps, either. Which means many complaints about web apps will become the complaints about “open” apps. It won’t shut up the critics, it’ll likely make them louder. 

Another reason Apple has probably been hesitant to open up the iPhone to unapproved apps is, that people will write malicious apps, and the damage those apps cause could harm Apple and tarnish the iPhone’s image. It’s true, so far as it goes. But of course, people can jailbreak their iPhones now, and we’ve already seen reports of iPhone malware on those phones.

I don’t see how jailbreaking belongs in this conversation. First, while “open” is a geek argument to begin with, jailbreaking is even a smaller subset of that. I’m a geek, and have never considered jailbreaking. Second, it’s unsupported, whereas “open” apps would be a supported Apple solution.

All Apple needs to do is add a new feature, buried several menu items down in the Settings app, that mirrors the one found on Android devices: an option that lets you install Apps from “unknown sources.” If a user tried to turn this option on, they’d get a scary warning about how these sources couldn’t be trusted, and that they may lead to instability, crashes, loss of data, you name it. Scary stuff.

The Microsoft solution? Oh please no. How many “scary warnings” did Mac users have to sit through in the 90s regarding QuickTime or other non-Microsoft technologies that kept users from straying? Now Apple should do the same? No. If Apple implemented “open” this way, some might be OK with it but I’d call them on it. If nothing else, let’s be clear that if Apple does “open up”, make it a slider somewhere that says it allows apps to be installed from various sources other than the App Store, and be done with it. The user slides it On or Off, that’s it.

But by putting [the option mentioned above] there, Apple immediately shuts up every single claim that the iPhone isn’t open.

This is the gist of Mr. Snell’s argument, but I don’t see it. Such apps would have zero benefit of the App Store and, as with web apps, it seems devs and critics want it all. These are the arguments I see within a few weeks of the “open” iPhone: 

  • AppCo CEO Ima Weasel claims their BestApp app would sell like hot cakes, but Apple refuses to promote it. “Apple only promotes apps in their store”, Ima explained, “and won’t promote anything that doesn’t get them 30%. It’s all about greed.” It will be ignored, of course, that Apple’s 30% includes hosting, exposure, collection, possible promotion, sales statements, etc., and that these services are included even for free apps, for which there’s no 30%. 
  • It’s become clear that Apple’s “open” app policy was a cynical move to silence critics and fool consumers, while simultaneously making it too difficult for the average user to find and install such apps. Until Apple raises the usability and exposure of the “open” store to a level closer to their own, it will serve only as a shield to deflect criticism of their “walled garden.” This will ignore that the “average user” never cared about an “open” iPhone in the first place, and that Apple should obviously not have to give a second app option equal footing with its own. 
  • Apple rejected another app today. “We simply think farting bikini babes is inappropriate for our store”, said an Apple spokesperson, “but the the developer is free to utilize the “open” option.” But Apple knows the “open” store is a relative ghost town. Indeed, Apple appears to utilize the “open” option primarily to reject more apps than before, since they can claim the developer has another venue in which to sell them. In a sense, “opening” the store allowed Apple to tighten their grip on what’s essentially still a closed platform. Make no mistake, this Apple-opened-to-become-more-closed argument will get huge play. They’ll be accused of “banishing” apps to the “open” option. Count on it. 

Can any one following the anti-Apple shrieking over the last three years not see those articles being written? I see them as clearly as the Mac I’m writing this on. And they’ll gain traction, too, especially with Apple’s competitors.

So, no, the “open” iPhone will not silence the critics. Rather, it will give them more attack vectors to claim Apple is actually moving to solidify their closed, anti-competitive environment. An environment they can’t even prove Apple possesses. Meanwhile, Apple would be stuck with more criticism and accusations, from more quarters, with more wild speculation than they have now. And to make it worse, they’ll have to support it.