Links: why Google split Inbox, BBM’s Indonesia problem?, Glass’s cloudy future, iPad Air v Nexus 9, and more

This is captioned “Planter on BBM frame”, so don’t blame me.

A selection of 9 links for you. Do not deploy near wormholes. I’m on Twitter as @charlesarthur. Do ping me links, opinions, etc.

Why did Google decide to split Inbox from Gmail? >> TechCrunch

Marat Ryndin gives an insider’s perspective:

As is the case with all Google products it was first released internally as “dogfood” to let Googlers themselves digest all the new features, or as was the case with this particular redesign, the removal of most of the advanced features.

The Gmail team did not have to wait for the reaction for long. And it wasn’t very “googly.” It caused an uproar teeming with disgust for just about every decision the Gmail product/design team made. Phrases like, “You guys just completely destroyed Gmail!” and “What are these crazy designers doing over there?!” were everywhere. From being spoken at many of Google’s cafes to every internal online forum.

Google engineers, in typical OCD engineer fashion, wrote long internal Google+ and forum posts detailing every single use case that was no longer supported, no matter how obscure. Hell hath no fury like a product team removing a feature an engineer had been using on a daily basis. Add to that the decision to turn words into icons and add white space between rows and Google engineers were ready to storm the Gmail product/design team office with torches, swords and in full knight armor (you’d be surprised how many Google engineers own that stuff).

In response, the head of the Gmail design team made a presentation entitled “You Are Not the User.” If you were not lucky enough to witness the carnage in person you could view its archived version on the internal Google+.

This is such an excellent point, so often missed by the commentariat (both above and below the line): most users aren’t power users. Though that does leave open the question of “who serves the power users, then?” I’ve often been frustrated by the over-simplicity of Gmail’s web-based filters (there’s no “send stuff with these characters direct to spam”, for instance).


WhatsApp becomes more dominant among chat apps in Indonesia >> Tech In Asia

At a Mobile Marketing Association forum event in Jakarta today, Indonesian telco XL Axiata released data that confirms WhatsApp is the most dominant chat app used by its domestic customers. Based on slides presented at the event, WhatsApp accounts for nearly 70% of its customers’ daily chat app usage, while Line accounts for 39%, WeChat clocks in at 35%, and Blackberry Messenger (BBM) holds 9%.

If this is a trend, it’s bad news for BBM – for which Indonesia has long been an important market. Then again, a Nielsen study says 79% of Indonesian smartphone users use BBM for about 23 minutes per day – well ahead both in percentage and use of WhatsApp and Line.


eBay and an email scam >> BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:

For several years now I have been running an annual auction of gadgets in aid of the BBC’s Children in Need appeal.

The gadgets are review units supplied by some of the big names in tech, and they fetch some good prices. This year one of the products was the new Blackberry Passport smartphone, and I was delighted to see that, after an intense bidding battle, it went for £410.

Then the winner contacted me to ask for my PayPal details and some further photos of the item. This seemed mildly curious – other winners just clicked and paid – so I had a closer look at the buyer.

He was called Tommy, gave an address in London which I couldn’t find on a map and had only joined eBay the day before making the bid. I sent him a message requesting payment but also forwarded his message to eBay to see if there were grounds for concern.

The critical element in this is email, and how hard it is to validate an email’s origin. Cellan-Jones was suspicious, but many others would not have been. And, as he points out, email programs should be smarter at spotting phishing. There’s a huge space waiting for someone to solve it.


Apple Pay gives glimpse of mainstream appeal for mobile payments >> NYTimes.com

Whole Foods, the high-end grocery chain, said it had processed more than 150,000 Apple Pay transactions. McDonald’s, which accepts Apple Pay at its 14,000 restaurants in the United States, said Apple Pay accounted for 50% of its tap-to-pay transactions. And Walgreens, the nationwide chain of drugstores, said its mobile wallet payments had doubled since Apple Pay came out.

Apple Pay is still far from a dominant payment system. But the retailers’ numbers are the first faint signs of a mainstream willingness to stray from cash and cards. Apple, analysts say, has tapped into something.

“Quite frankly, a lot of it has to do with the strength of the Apple brand and how much merchants and customers love how easy the experience is,” said Denée Carrington, an analyst with Forrester Research. “I’m not saying it’s changing the landscape overnight. But this has never happened with other mobile wallets.”

Compare and contrast the method where you present customers with a fully worked-out end-to-end solution with the following…


Google Glass future clouded as some early believers lose faith >> Reuters

Sergey Brin turned up at an event not wearing Google Glass, which Reuters points out isn’t encouraging…

coming as many developers and early Glass users are losing interest in the much-hyped, $1,500 test version of the product: a camera, processor and stamp-sized computer screen mounted to the edge of eyeglass frames. Google Inc itself has pushed back the Glass roll out to the mass market.

While Glass may find some specialized, even lucrative, uses in the workplace, its prospects of becoming a consumer hit in the near future are slim, many developers say.

Of 16 Glass app makers contacted by Reuters, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them, mostly because of the lack of customers or limitations of the device. Three more have switched to developing for business, leaving behind consumer projects.

It’s increasingly obvious that Glass is not a consumer mass-market product, but one that will chime with a small number of business uses.


Nexus 9 vs. iPad Air 2: A [Mostly] Subjective Comparison >> Android Police

David Ruddock:

I’ve owned an iPad Air since the original model came out last year (my first iPad), and when the Air 2 came out late last month, I dove right in and bought another. Why? My biggest issue with the original Air was speed: occasional stutters and lackluster multitasking performance (I use that in an absolute, not relative sense) were thorns in the side of an otherwise fantastic tablet. The new Air 2 plucked them effectively with the addition of a third CPU core and doubling of RAM (to 2GB).

The Nexus 9, though, has intrigued me from its earliest rumblings.

This is a fantastic piece of work: Ruddock makes it clear he’s going to be subjective, and goes right ahead and does it. It doesn’t matter if you disagree; he’s at least always got a reason for his opinion. This is what reviewing ought to be: a personal trip through an experience, not some milquetoast “objective” description of appearance or weight. (The commenters seem happy to take this on its face.)

More generally, Android Police does some great reporting on the Android ecosystem. Worth a follow.


The Smartest Bro in the Room >> San Francisco Magazine

Ellen Cushing with a long (your long read for the day) profile of Uber and founder-CEO Travis Kalanick:

At this point, Kalanick has learned enough from his public stumbles to emphasize the company’s positive impact on the world: He argues, convincingly, that Uber has reduced drunk driving, made car ownership less necessary, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and generated tens of thousands of jobs. When he says, as he often does, that his company is “changing the way cities operate,” it’s impossible to disagree with him.

However, it’s clear that on an emotional level, he is driven by a purpose not quite as high as his handlers might hope. This is Kalanick at his essential, pragmatic core. According to Gurley, Kalanick is fond of the Valley idiom “one truth”—that is, “he’s always pushing the organization to identify the exact right answer.” He has become an avowed enemy of cabs not because of any ethical outrage over the industry’s failings, but because they’re a staggeringly inefficient way to get the “one truth” of transportation: a fast, safe, and reliable path from here to there.


The desperate struggle at the heart of the brutal Apple supply chain >> The Guardian

I looked into what Apple was trying to achieve in its deal with GT Advanced Technologies:

had the GTAT deal succeeded, Apple would have cornered the market for cheap sapphire, giving itself a notable lead over rivals such as Samsung, which boasts super-AMOLED screens that it makes and uses exclusively. Though Kyocera of Japan and the super-expensive Vertu offer sapphire screens, neither makes them in the gigantic numbers that Apple does for its iPhone.

Cornering supplies is often key for companies trying to control a market. In 2005, Apple bought up huge amounts of flash memory for its iPod Nano music player – shutting most rivals out. It demanded an exclusivity arrangement with Toshiba, maker of the 1.8in hard drive in the first iPod.

Though it doesn’t actually own any factories, Apple pours gigantic amounts of money – about $12.5bn in the past four quarters – into “plant, property and equipment”, the majority equipping its suppliers to make its products. [This quarter] It is spending about $3bn – nearly as much as chipmaker Intel, though far less than Samsung Electronics, which has factories making screens, hard drives, and memory chips as well as phones, tablets and computers.

You’ll find that suppliers to other companies don’t talk either. But Apple has a special role because it can be a kingmaker, as one supplier explained to me (see the article).


The Nexus 10, Lollipop, and the problem with big Android tablets >> Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham:

The Nexus 10 took 10in tablets back to the “blown-up phone” version of the UI, where buttons and other UI stuff was all put in the center of the screen. This makes using a 10in tablet the same as using a 7in tablet or a phone, which is good for consistency, but in retrospect it was a big step backward for widescreen tablets. The old interface put everything at the edges of the screen where your thumbs could easily reach them. The new one often requires the pointer finger of one of your hands or some serious thumb-stretching.

If anything, Lollipop takes another step backward here. You used to be able to swipe down on the left side of the screen to see your notifications and the right side of the screen to see the Quick Settings, and now those two menus have been unified and placed right in the center of the screen. The Nexus 10 is the most comfortable to use if it’s lying flat on a table or stand and Lollipop does nothing to help you out there.

Our biggest problem is the way apps look (1) on a screen this large and (2) in landscape mode. Even Google’s first-party apps don’t make great use of this space in their Lollipop and Material Design updates. Basic building blocks like the Home and Google Now screens (we’ve installed the Google Now Launcher on our Nexus 10, though it’s not included by default) have big swaths of completely useless space to their left and right. The Settings app is mostly a big, white field with a few buttons in it.

As Cunningham also points out, Google’s apps don’t obey its own design guidelines for tablets. Reading the comments here confirms that lots of people don’t *use” Android tablets for much more than viewing video, though – so is app design a moot point?

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