Google Glass is back, but nothing is really different

When Google Glass was launched in April 2012 almost everyone got excited. Augmented Reality was the star of the hype cycle back then, and the possibilities for the device seemed endless. 

Three years later the product collapsed. Privacy and security issues proved to be too important both for Google and users, which became less and less interested in a technology that made us all look a little dumb.

It was expensive, too.

Why would Google launch another version of Google Glass? One would expect that this time the things that failed on the previous version would be corrected. 

They aren’t. Google Glass is still a niche product, enterprise focused, with a very limited set of use cases. It’s a little more powerful and has a better, bigger battery, but again, privacy issues are still there and users will look as dumb as they looked a few years ago. 

And it is as expensive as the previous version. 

There’s another big problem for Google Glass. As it happened (happens) with smartwatches, this device solves a problem that didn’t exist in the first place. Everything that Google Glass does can be done on a phone, and in fact Apple —with its ARkit— seems to have understood this better than Google. 

I’m affraid Google Glass is mostly useless: without real differentiation and really special use cases, it’s little more than an expensive business toy. Good luck with that, Google.

Pebble: Requiem for a dream

Pebble Time 2, Pebble Core, and Pebble Time Round watches will never ship.

One of the latest and greatest market disruptions didn’t come from Apple, Tesla or Amazon. It came from a company you had never heard about, and it also showed that a good idea could also be the start of a revolution even if you had not the resources to make it a reality.

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Pebble started the smartwatch era, and it made everyone dream of the next step in the wearable and mobile devices. As with any other of the trends in the Hype Cycle (made famous by Gartner) the peak of inflated expectations led to the trough of disillusionment. Pebble, though, has not find an exit from that trough.

Others in the smartwatch market are trying to enter the next step of that cycle and enter the phase of ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ to end finally in that dreamed ‘Plateau of Productivity’. Apple is apparently doing fine with its Apple Watch, but interest in those devices and the ones based in Android Wear isn’t growing.

But whereas Apple and Google partners can survive —smarwatches were just a little part of their businesses—, Pebble can’t. It’s only mission was to make the smartwatch succeed. In fact, it was more than a mission. It was a dream. Their dream.

Seeing a smart, brave dream like this fail is a tragedy. But the market is right: smartwatches are just glorified smartphone accesories. At least for now.

Hopefully they will become something else in the future, but Pebble won’t be part of that future. If someone at the company reads this, I’d like to say: thanks for the ride.

Related (coincidentally, Fitbit bought Pebble assets): Smartwatches didn’t kill the Fitbit

Google DayDream is more fashion than tech

Adi Robertson on The Verge:

It feels more like clothing than electronics.

That’s the perfect definition for Google DayDream, a product that is interesting in its own right as the evolution of Google Cardboard, but that doesn’t introduce much more in terms of technology.

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This is another example of a tech product that falls more in the fashion category than on the tech innovation one. Google wants to earn money with this, and I totally understand that DayDream certainly is well designed and its remote can improve the experience.

Anyway, c’mon: $79 for a Cardboard made with fabric? One that isn’t backwards compatible? Thanks but no, thanks.

Source: Daydream Nation – The Verge

Google Daydream: good, cheap, and exclusive

When Google launched Cardboard in 2014 it surprised us with a simple, accesible way to enjoy Virtual Reality experiences. The experiment allowed everybody to experiment and get that first impressions with this kind of content. You didn’t have to invest a lot of money in some previous version of Oculus Rift to marvel at these virtual worlds: you could spend $10 dollars and feel that promise.

Google Cardboard democratized Virtual Reality.

Everything has changed with Google Daydream, the updated version of that first device that is radically different from the original idea. Whereas Cardboard was open to everybody and every device, Daydream is at the moment closed to just two smartphones: Pixel and Pixel XL.

The price goes up as well, and we don’t know for sure what are the specs needed by other hardware makers in order to make their smartphones Daydream compatible. The problem is, there’s no backwards compatibility, so what in the past was accesible to everyone now is just available to a few users.

So Daydream maybe a better product with a better build quality and maybe better content —still no killer app, it seems—, but it no longer democratizes Virtual Reality. Daydream instead goes the other way around..

And that’s a tragedy.

 

Why Google Pixel is not the smartphone I wanted

Vlad Savov speaks on The Verge about the new Google Pixel / XL smartphones, and he gives reasonable arguments on behalf of this Google effort:

Google’s invasion of that space is exciting, and the Pixel itself — when stripped of our constantly speeding expectations and preconceptions — is a highly advanced device with which Google can begin to disrupt the status quo.

The thing is, Google is competing with his own partners in an unfair way -Google Assistant seems exclusive to the Pixel family- and is trying to get more money on the hardware business when the new Pixel should be produced with only one thing in mid:

To show others the path. To show what Android is capable of.

Google is certainly doing that with the Pixel, but with a boastful attitude. “We can do something other companies can’t“, they seem to be saying. That discourse should change to “We can do something now you should be doing too“. The enemy here is not Samsung, LG or even HTC, the not-so-secret maker of these devices. The enemy is Apple, of course, and competing with Apple in its own terms (we control the hardware, we control the software) is quite impossible when you need the industry to keep Android where it is now.

Besides that, “really blue”? Really, Google? Really really blue?

Firefox, Chrome and the perception of value

It doesn’t happen that much in technology, but some articles become more real and truthful as time goes by. It’s certainly the case in ‘Choose Firefox Now, Or Later You Won’t Get A Choice‘, where the author urges the user to use Mozilla’s browser:

So if you want an Internet — which means, in many ways, a world — that isn’t controlled by Google, you must stop using Chrome now and encourage others to do the same. If you don’t, and Google wins, then in years to come you’ll wish you had a choice and have only yourself to blame for spurning it now.

The article is being discussed at Hacker News, where several readers make good points about what are the reasons Chrome and Firefox are currently where they are. One of them made an interesting question: “What did cause you to switch?

When Chrome was launched Firefox was easily the best browser around. That ended with Chrome, which was faster, leaner and had features such as sandboxing that for example allowed the browser to keep running even if one of the tabs stopped working. The extension catalog was not that great at the beginning, but that changed quickly too. 

Years after that, the situation is quite different. Chrome and Firefox are indeed great browsers, and I wouldn’t say one is far better than the other. When I started using Chrome -I’m writing this post on this browser- I did it for the advantages it had, and I didn’t consider sacrificing my privacy as a big danger back in the day. 

That consideration is no longer true, but the problem is, even considering the respect to privacy that Firefox provides to the user, that’s not a perceived value.

It’s nothing you actually feel when you’re browsing. 

That’s the problem, I’d say. Firefox could be interesting for many people if there was some feature specially beneficial to them. Opera has been trying to walk this path with its adblocking capabilities, the power efficiency enhancements and the addition of a VPN proxy. Even with those interesting features, the market share hasn’t changed that much. And if it doesn’t for Opera, I wonder how Firefox can improve its market share with a discourse that again (most) people don’t usually get. 

That’s sad, and the worst part of it: I’m not helping to solve the situation either. I know I should use Firefox. It simply doesn’t feel like the best browser for me anymore. 

Goodbye, Nexus?

google

Google today tweeted out an indication that it will unveil new devices on October 4. People have been expecting Google to at least show new mobile devices on that date, and the smartphone-shaped outline in the tweet confirms it.

A lot of rumors have been published on different media about the upcoming new smartphones from Google. Nothing too fancy or relevant, it seems, except for one detail: their name.

For some reason, Google could decide to change their phone names and say goodbye to the Nexus family. The new phones reportedly will be part of the new Pixel family, which will be announced on Oct. 4th, 2016.

By the way, do you remember that one thing that made the Nexus 4 so desirable? It was the first phone that was actually cheap for what it gave to their users. That trend was picked by other makers, but Google decided their following phones will be more and more expensive each time.

That could be another feature of the new Pixel phones: it seems the smaller Pixel phone will start at $649. Welcome to the new Google.

Project Ara: stop making us dream your dream, Google

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Julia Love for Reuters:

Alphabet Inc’s Google has suspended Project Ara, its ambitious effort to build what is known as a modular smartphone with interchangeable components, as part of a broader push to streamline the company’s hardware efforts, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

It’s nice to be part of a dream, but not when that dream implies time, money and effort that developers and makers all over the world spend into Google aspirational projects.

Google’s Project Ara was one of those, and although the idea was intriguing, the modular phone is the solution to a problem we don’t really have. Vlad Savov expressed it well a few months ago, and the efforts by other makers such LG (LG G5 & Friends), Lenovo (Moto Z & MotoMods) or Fairphone (with its Fairphone 2) show this kind of market is not convincing much people.

The difference is clear: LG and Lenovo just make the bet and dream the dream by themselves. Google dreams with us, and as Eduardo Archanco said, that is not always fair. Not at least for those who are much more than mere spectators.

Google Duo: simpler must be better

It’s  somewhat incredible how Facetime has no clear contestant in the world of mobile video calling apps in Android. We’ve got Skype and other options, of course, but none of them has conquered Android users and here we see even much more fragmentation than on the instant messaging market.

That’s what Google is trying to solve with Google Duo, which pursues something remarkable: minimalism and simplicity. The app is available starting today for Android and iOS, so we’ll see if in this world of overcomplex applications something like this really makes sense to users.

Maybe separating that from Hangouts was the right thing to do after all.

The Chromebook question

I’m currently on vacation so I’ll write less often. I’ll keep reading what’s going on thanks to Twitter and my smartphone, and yesterday I found an interesting article titled ‘Why I left my new MacBook for a $250 Chromebook. There are a few good arguments there to defend a platform that previously wasn’t that easy to support.

The first one: we spend more and more time working and entertaining ourselves on the cloud. There’s an inherent problem there in my opinion: being too much dependent on those services and their servers is really nice and convenient, but you could find yourself losing everything you had there -so safe, so secure, right?- if you are not careful enough.

The second one: Chrome OS support for Android apps is coming, so suddenly we’ve got something that gives us a truly convergent platform from Google. It may be not Remix OS, but it’t a really good way to way to solve the problem taking advantage of both the virtues of Chrome OS and Android. Google seemed pretty stubborn when asked if Chrome OS and Android would merge eventually, and this kind of support finally answers this question.

Mobile and desktop computing, together at last.

This makes Google the owner of one of the greatest and more powerful software platforms ever developed. Only the App Store could compete here, because Microsoft has fallen behind in a segment it owned for so long.

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The author from that post gave a few examples of some apps from OS X that had pretty good alternatives in Chrome OS thanks to their web application versions, but this is almost anecdotal when now we’ll have access to a software catalog with more than 2 million apps -there’s certainly a lot of useless ones- to solve our needs and never look back again to a pure desktop OS.

That could take some time, of course, but for me that conquest of the desktop from mobile OS is the future. Why not buying a Chromebook yet? The time hasn’t come for me yet, but I’ve recently crowdfunded the Superbook at Kickstarter, a device I find even more interesting on the short term.

Better and faster Chromebooks will come in the Fall with the announcement of the final version of Android N. These machines will of course support Android apps as one of their selling points, and maybe there we’ll start to see where this kind of merger develops. Chrome OS and Android will make sense on desktop machines too, so we¡ll be living interesting times on this front as well.