31 March 2014

Cult of Mac: “How an Under-Appreciated iOS 7 Feature Will Change the World”

The Multipeer Connectivity Framework enables users to flexibly use WiFi and Bluetooth peer-to-peer connections to chat and share photos even without an Internet connection. Big deal, right?

But here’s the really big deal — it can enable two users to chat not only without an Internet connection, but also when they are far beyond WiFi and Bluetooth range from each other — connected with a chain of peer-to-peer users between one user and a far-away Internet connection.

It’s called wireless mesh networking. And Apple has mainstreamed it in iOS 7. It’s going to change everything.

Mike Elgan

Among the many possible applications of multipeer connectivity, the one most likely to ‘change the world’ is enabling anonymous and surveillance-free communication in countries where the regular channels and social networks are blocked by their governments. Groups of people could quickly and secretly organize mass protests or spread news censored by the official media. Of course, surveillance is increasingly becoming an issue in first world countries as well, so we might start seeing more and more chat apps making use of this new Apple technology. And with considering adding it to Android in the future, a new mode of instant communication could indeed take over the world, turning the WhatsApps of the current mobile phase into a fading fad of the past.

27 March 2014

Monday Note: “Wearables Fever”

Skagen Mens Black Titanium Mesh Strap Watch

Simplifying a bit, younger people don’t wear watches at all and older generations use them as jewelry — and gender-specific jewelry, at that. Furthermore, how many veteran watch-wearers wear the same watch all the time? Many of us own more than one watch, and select the appropriate timepiece (or two — or none at all) for the occasion. These aren’t trivial issues, they’re uncharted territory for mobile device makers and marketers.

Jean-Louis Gassée

Another article about the overhyped smartwatch movement, this time much more grounded in reality. To shortly sum it up, there are a lot of questions about how and why to build a (good) smartwatch, but a massive shortage of answers.

I too know people who are very passionate about wrist watches, owning dozens of models and swapping them depending on the mood or social situation. Personally I own a single one, wear it for years until I get bored and then spend weeks searching for a new model – mostly based on how it looks and feels. Neither of these use cases can be satisfyingly replaced by a smartwatch with average design, that you will probably have to upgrade at the same pace as your smartphone.

What’s new in Chrome 34

If you were among the Windows users upset by the decision to remove scrollbar steppers in Chrome 32, version 34 will solve this annoyance and bring arrows back – but only on Windows. I don’t use the scrollbar arrows very often, but when I needed precision positioning inside a page I missed not having that option, so it’s good to have arrows back.

The other big update is ‘Search by Voice’, included by default for English (U.S.) users on Windows, Mac and Linux; you can enable it by going to google.com, clicking on the mic icon and allowing the new feature. Alternatively, you will also find the corresponding option in Settings, called ‘Enable "Ok Google" to start a voice search’. I played around with it a little while writing this blog post and the success rate is not very impressive, the voice search recognized only half of the commands correctly. You have to speak very clearly and define words carefully to get good results. It’s nice that for some search results – I think where Knowledge Graph is involved – you also get a female voice reading back some information from the top hit. Performance-wise though the feature is slowing down the browser and PC considerably, it’s constantly accessing the CPU to detect voice inputs; at least on my work laptop with the Dev version of Chrome I had to turn this off to recover something resembling normal performance.

Chrome 34 enable OK Google Voice search

26 March 2014

New design for Facebook user profiles on iOS

Less than a month passed since the last Facebook update on iOS and the social network already released the next major version. Just like last time, it introduced some changes not mentioned in the official release notes; after status updates, in version 8.0, Facebook redesigned user profiles. The cover photo and name are both larger, and so are the buttons to ‘Message’ and ‘Call’; the snippets of information on the right of the profile picture have been removed in favor of a small activity stream lower on the page, which is collapsed by default and can be expanded by tapping on the ellipsis; the links to ‘About’, ‘Photos’ and ‘Friends’ have been moved further down and redesigned slightly to match the cleaner look of the new profiles. The cover photo has a small Easter Egg: on the top right corner you can see an arrow pointing left; when you tap it, the cover photo bounces, revealing another photo – much like the Camera icon on the iOS 7 lock screen. You can then swipe through more photos – though these are not past cover photos, as one might expect, but photos in which the user is tagged. This time I also noticed an option to ‘Text’ the user, if he added a phone number to the Facebook profile, but that was probably available before. Overall the new profiles look much nicer thanks to more white space and increased contrast.

25 March 2014

The Next Web: “Apple understands the difference between a pocket watch and a wrist watch”

I think you will want an iPhone on your arm, and in the beginning it will feel just as awkward as those soldiers must have felt when they first strapped their pocket watches to their wrists. To them, it felt unnecessary and maybe even made them feel a bit self-conscious. But after discovering how much easier it is work time into everything they do, the wrist watch became more than a convenience. It changed the outcome of wars. Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Interesting analogy, but like most analogies it can only go so far: a watch does a single thing, show the time, and very rarely two-three others like date or timer; a smartphone on the other hand performs dozens of separate functions and only grows more complex over time as you add new apps for new needs. Even ‘dumb phones’ could do much-much more than the single task watch. Fitting even a fraction of them on a watch-like device will require much more than just strapping an extra display to your wrist.

21 March 2014

Moving away from another Google service, FeedBurner

The shutdown of Google Reader last year made if painfully clear: there are no guarantees that free services will continue to be supported, even if they belong to large corporations like Google. Leadership changes, plans and priorities shift from year to year and some products will end up abandoned, even if they are very important to many people. That seems to be the case with FeedBurner as well; the API has been discontinued a while ago, they don’t have a blog or Twitter account anymore and some people started reporting disruptions in the service. One could say it’s surprising it lasted that long. In any case, I decided not to wait around for the service to be officially closed and to find alternatives for my blog.

There are three main tasks I used FeedBurner for: feed delivery and statistics, email subscriptions and social sharing. While there are plenty of paid solutions for the first two, blogging is just a hobby to me and I don’t have massive amounts of traffic, so it makes no sense to go for a paid-only service like FeedBlitz. After searching around, I settled for FeedPress, which offers a free version with sufficient features for my current needs.

19 March 2014

A Metro replacement for Chrome’s New Tab page

As long-time user of Chrome, I generally prefer to keep my browser light, installing as few extensions as possible, for both performance and security and privacy reasons. Apart from a couple heavy-weight must-have add-ons like AdBlock Plus and LastPass, I manage to get around with lighter extensions, user scripts and bookmarklets. There is one area though where a full-featured extension recently became indispensable: the New Tab page! The previous version with Chrome apps and most visited pages was replaced with a giant Google search box, removing direct access to many useful links while basically duplicating the Omnibox functionality. Many users were not happy with the change, but apparently Google knows better, so the old page was completely removed in version 33. While I agree that the old design was more functional, I had actually abandoned it several months ago in favor of an extension called new metroTab. I think it offers a much nicer experience than the current New Tab page in Chrome or than other similar extensions I used in the past, so this seems like a good time to write about it here on the blog.

Chrome new metroTab with menu
Chrome New Tab page replaced by metroTab

13 March 2014

Forbes: “If Everyone Is Buying Chromebooks, Who Is Using Them?”

As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber notes, the browser share of Chrome OS is not in sync with the perception cast by the NPD sales figures. Looking at StatCounter’s breakdown of the numbers, the browser share is approaching one fifth of one percent (Horace Dediu, @Asymco). That’s a rather big discrepancy. For hardware that requires a decent online connection to work, I would expect to see Chrome OS to be more visible than this. Ewan Spence

While the article is a couple of months old, more recent data continue to support the discrepancy. It’s hard to account for this, especially since Chromebooks are even more helpless without an Internet connection than tablets – at least on a tablet you can play games and watch videos offline. I could see two scenarios that could drive the difference in reported sales vs. usage:

12 March 2014

Feedbin Blog: “Feedbin’s First Year”

RSS fountain

I built Feedbin because I still loved RSS but I didn’t like Google Reader. It looked like it had been abandoned after the last update in 2011 that attempted to prop up Google+ by removing many features.

The goal was to be able to cover costs in one year. Instead it took three weeks. It cost about $170/month to run Feedbin when it launched and with $1.62/user/month in profit after credit card fees it looked like I would need just over 100 customers who were also looking for a Google Reader alternative.

Ben Ubois

Three weeks to break even for a startup built by a single developer. Let that sink in for a minute and think about how a huge company like Google failed to support a product that one person rebuilt from scratch. And don’t think for a moment Feedbin in inferior to Google Reader in some way: between fast search with powerful operators, PubSubHubbub support and the ‘Recently Read’ section, over the past year Feedbin added basically all the best features of Reader – and some more! With every new feature, Feedbin proves I made the right decision choosing it as my new RSS reader last year.

11 March 2014

Ars Technica: “Hands-on with Samsung’s Tizen OS: An impressively capable Android clone”

While Samsung is obviously trying hard to make Tizen look like Android, it looks like Tizen has actually influenced the new design of the Galaxy S5’s settings screen. When we first saw the colored circles in a grid formation, we said the design looked like something that was from a completely different OS. It turns out that OS is Tizen. With Samsung making the two OSes so closely resemble each other, some day it might be possible to quietly swap OSes in Samsung’s mainstream smartphone, just like it did with the Gear line. For the interface at least, the change-over seems like it would be pretty seamless. Ron Amadeo

That’s one way to think about it; but beside the obvious problem of getting developers to write apps for a new operating system, Samsung may find itself in a big conflict with Google over launching a competing OS. Citing the terms of the Open Handset Alliance – which Samsung is also a member of – Google blocked the launch of a rival OS on Acer devices a couple of years ago. There’s no reason these rather strict ‘open’ rules won’t be invoked again in this situation. Since Samsung is the biggest Android manufacturer by far, Google has every interest to keep them in line – or risk loosing the market to Android clones running none of Google’s data collecting apps.

10 March 2014

New privacy selection for status updates in Facebook for iOS

Facebook for iPhone 7.0 new privacy for status updatesThe latest update to Facebook’s iPhone app has arrived about two weeks ago without revealing much about the changes in the release notes, apart from the usual ‘bug fixes and improvements’. TechCrunch reported a redesigned ‘People’ tab featuring a list of recent Life Events from friends such as a new romantic relationship, starting a job, moving, graduating, or anything posted through the Life Events creator. While I haven’t seen this experiment, I noticed another change that should be widely available: the privacy selection for new status updates has been moved to the top of the compose window. This makes it more prominent, separating post privacy from the other options, like tagging friends or checking-in. It also makes this screen look a lot more like an email compose window, which could annoy some users.

As before, privacy defaults to the last used setting, but now tapping the “To:” field opens an entire new screen with a long list of options, starting with the most common (Public and Friends). Lists are unfortunately hidden away under the More… section. What’s new here is the ability to select individual friends to share with, something not available on the web yet – making privacy for Facebook status updates as fine-grained and flexible as group chats, Google+ or, again, e-mail! The interface could use some work though, it’s not immediately clear you can’t share to several lists – the check-box style buttons suggest otherwise – or that you can’t share to a list and individual people at the same time. And as a final tip, you don’t have to scroll through a long list of friends to select the ones you want to see the post, you can start typing and the app will automatically narrow down the list. It remains to be seen if people will actually use this privacy interface, more complex than before. Facebook for iPhone more privacy options including individual friends

Wired Business: “Facebook Drones to Battle Google Balloons in the War of Airborne Internet”

From a logistics standpoint, the sky seems like much more efficient, scalable way to build connectivity. Instead of the intensive, intrusive labor of digging trenches and laying pipes, just send more drones up in the air to bring more homes online. If the drones can really stay aloft the way Titan says they can, there’s way more space available in the sky than there is down below.

As they become the world’s largest companies, all the internet giants will likely want to control as much of the infrastructure between themselves and their users as possible. For Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg, the idea of depending in any way on old-school outfits like Verizon or Comcast must grate. For both, taking to the skies must seem an especially gratifying way to leave such earthbound adversaries behind.

Marcus Wohlsen

While in theory this sounds like a clean, futuristic solution to spread Internet access everywhere around the planet, I would be worried about the safety of commercial flights; while the drones may fly out of the way in optimal circumstances, faulty ones will fall uncontrolled out of the sky, potentially disrupting airplane flight paths. The more drones airborne, the more chances one will crash into an airplane with disastrous consequences. And even if the systems are full-proof, who’s to say Facebook and Google won’t use their flying access points to censor each-other – or anyone else who doesn’t play by their rules?

09 March 2014

Robert Silverberg - Hawksbill Station

in Bucharest, Romania

Robert Silverberg - Hawksbill StationPe malul pustiu al Oceanului Atlantic, un grup de bărbați își duce traiul de la o zi la alta într‑o izolare totală, pescuind și disputând teorii socio-economice. Singurele evenimente care întrerup din când în când rutina așezării sunt sosirea unor noilor deținuți și expediția anuală spre interiorul continentului în căutare de provizii. Însă spre deosebire de coloniile penale din Australia sau Siberia, cei condamnați la exil în Hawksbill nu ajung cu trenul sau vaporul, ci sunt transportați din viitorul îndepărtat cu o mașină a timpului numită Ciocanul. Pentru o izolare completă, stația a fost stabilită undeva în Cambrian, la peste un miliard de ani distanță de statele din prezent care doresc să scape de agitatorii incomozi și periculoși; femeile au fost separate cu grijă de alte câteva sute de mii de ani de bărbați, ca să se evite orice posibilitate de reproducere; ba mai mult, călătoria temporală e posibilă doar într‑un sens, dinspre viitor spre trecut, așa încât sentința pe Hawksbill e la fel de definitivă ca o condamnare la moarte. Lipsiți de orice speranță de scăpare, mulți dintre deținuți alunecă mai încet sau rapid spre nebunie și paranoia, în ciuda eforturilor lui Jim Barrett, cel mai vechi dintre ei, de a menține grupul funcțional. Atunci când un nou condamnat, Lew Hahn, ajunge printre ei, mulți privesc răspunsurile lui evazive și contradictorii cu suspiciune și e bănuit de spionaj. Dar ce rost ar avea un spion care nu‑și poate raporta descoperirile?

The government was too civilized to put men to death for subversive activities, and too cowardly to let them remain alive. The compromise was the living death of Hawksbill Station. A billion years of impassable time was suitable insulation even for the most nihilistic idea.

08 March 2014

TheOneRing: “How would ‘The Silmarillion’ fare as a film trilogy?”

J.R.R Tolkien - The Silmarillion

Before we begin, the very quick answer you will get when asking about a Silmarillion movie is that the rights to this book are currently owned by the Tolkien Estate – and judging by their disapproval of the films made to date, they don’t seem to be in a rush to sell them. J.R.R. Tolkien himself sold the film rights of The Hobbit and LOTR back when he believed they were unfilmable and decided to make a quick buck. The Silmarillion, along with The Unfinished Tales and other works by Tolkien which were released after his death, remains in the possession of the Tolkien Estate and because of this, the prospect of a Silmarillion movie happening in the near future is unlikely, as much as we may want it.

This being said, in a scenario that a Silmarillion film – or series of films – were to be made, would they even work as movies? Would they stand the test of the general movie-going audience? How would it translate to the big screen? Could it be translated to the big screen? This article will explore the possibilities and pitfalls of translating The Silmarillion into film by looking at a potential treatment of the films and a brief analysis of the text itself.

Rud the Spud

Despite the almost insurmountable challenges, I would love to see The Silmarillion in movie form completing the already memorable Lord of the Rings trilogy. Probably a movie series a la Game of Thrones would work best, because there’s a lot of story to tell…

07 March 2014

ignore the code: “Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface”

If it was normal for people to use their iPads for creative tasks, there would not be newspaper articles about people using their iPads for creative tasks. The iPad will have arrived as a productivity device when news sites stop reporting about people who use iPads for productivity. So in the end, all of these links to articles about people who use their iPads to create things only seem to support the notion that this is not how most people use their iPads. Lukas Mathis

Pretty long article, but unbiased and well balanced, going through the things that keep the iPad from being a good productivity device, whereas the Surface and Windows 8 succeed. I enjoyed reading it – maybe because, like the author, I would rather have a Surface than an iPad – and the conclusion is spot-on:

The problem with Metro might not be that it’s performing badly at its intended function. The problem might simply be that, unlike me, most people don’t want to use their tablets for productivity. They’d rather keep using their old Windows PC for that, and also have an iPad for watching movies and playing games.

06 March 2014

AdBlock for Chrome enables itself in incognito mode by default

AdBlock install permissions - no mention of incognito anywhereLike many Internet users, I’m not very fond of seeing ads all over the webpages I visit, so for years I have used extensions to block most of them. Last week I casually visited the ‘Extensions’ page in and discovered something very disturbing: AdBlock had enabled the checkbox ‘Allow in incognito’! The problem here is, I didn’t do that myself – I never enable extensions in incognito mode, since most of them can theoretically track every page you visit – so the extension must have did that by itself, without prompting me for permission nonetheless. Even worse, the checkbox is now disabled, so it’s impossible for me to revoke the access to incognito mode! I hide the toolbar button for most extensions, so if I didn’t visit the Extensions page that day I wouldn’t have noticed the change until much later. AdBlock enabled by default in Chrome incognito mode

05 March 2014

Marketing Land: “Ellen Was On Stage At Oscars With Samsung, Backstage With iPhone”

Samsung’s a big sponsor of the Oscars, to the degree that it even had this year’s host Ellen DeGeneres doing a record-breaking star-studded selfie with a Galaxy phone. But behind the scenes, there’s an iPhone being used.

Ellen kicked off the Oscars in her monologue saying that she’d be tweeting during the show and then took a selfie. Then she did another selfie later in the show, surrounded by Hollywood’s finest — one that set a new retweet record.

Danny Sullivan

Hmm, weren’t people supposed to post selfies on Instagram, not on ? Or is low on cash for product placement after paying so much for WhatsApp?

04 March 2014

Daily Slandered: “Thoughts On Stratéchery’s Social Communications Map”

The Social Communications MapRight, but there’s a problem. Facebook is too broad. It does too much. You can broadcast a status, send a private message and make a video call, all on one site. A platform so varied is impossible to categorise. This was fine for the PC generation. Websites and big screens can handle complexity. The mobile generation, however, demand simple, intuitive more specialised experiences. The entirety of Facebook, (events, groups and all) squashed into one app feels bloated. And Facebook know it. That’s why they’ve started rolling out an unbundling strategy. By breaking off some of its functionality into stand-alone, tailor-made apps it can compete with lighter, more agile, competition in that category. Alex Murrell

Speaking of classifying social networks and communication tools, here’s another way to look at some of them. What is find most interesting about this version – and the following – is how crowded three quadrants are compared to the last one: the permanent & symmetric contains only one service, e-mail! It’s quite remarkable how it was able to survive all these years – and all the attempts to ‘kill’ or ‘revolutionize’ it. tried that with Wave and Buzz, but both were actually extending email into other quadrants where it didn’t ‘belong’; Wave pushed email towards more ephemeral interactions, while Buzz tried to make it more asymmetric. Even , which is supposed to be the current authority on social – is admitting defeat, retiring its email-messaging mash-up attempt.

In a way, email is the Windows of the social space, boring and unattractive, long due for an overhaul; while many people may hate it, it still works because it’s available on every device in a form or another and it’s still an open, distributed system, where anyone can talk to anyone else – which is almost never possible with other apps. It will be very interesting to see if and when someone will successfully break into this area on the graph, since for now everybody seems to be avoiding it.

03 March 2014

With WhatsApp, Facebook buys into your Address Book

Facebook buys WhatsAppAs if to spite with a bigger price tag, recently announced their intention to acquire WhatsApp, one of the most popular mobile messaging services. Countless articles, arguments and analysis have been published in the following days, so my article will probably sound like a collection of old ideas. And before you read further, another disclaimer: I have never used WhatsApp – between e-mail, texting, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, I have quite enough communication channels – and after this deal I’m even less likely to try it out.

Even if I haven’t used the app, I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues about how they use WhatsApp; a common theme (besides being cheaper than texting) is sharing photos with smaller, private groups, photos not meant to be shown to all Facebook connections. This is both a sign of Facebook’s growing complexity (you already have private groups or lists for sharing there, but nobody seems to be using them) and that the social network is increasingly perceived as a public place, not an intimate gathering. A move that Facebook itself encouraged in order to target public data for ads, and is now backfiring in unexpected ways.