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November 07, 2014

Our Smartphones Have Surpassed Their Role as Computers In Our Pockets

The prevailing mantra holds that as our phones become increasingly smart and constantly connected, that we're walking around with the equivalent of computers in our pocket.

These intelligent devices can do practically everything their PC predecessors could, from email and web browsing to document sharing and creation, music and photos, and any application you can think of. In fact, I'd argue that we're not only seeing people spend more hours with their mobile devices than traditional PCs, they're more functional as well - as the smartphone has surpassed the PC. Ever try taking photos with your iMac? It's tough.

Now, instead of considering these phones and tablets as miniature computers, which are used to access our desktop content on the go, we're seeing the reverse take place. The smartphones are initiating the activity, and the desktop connects us to the results. Instead of many small computers in our pocket, our PCs are essentially larger versions of our phones - and we come to our Web browsers and desktop apps to pick up where our phones left off.

Rachio's Web site is as Functional as the App

Not too long ago, it was common to expect apps to be made for our smartphone platforms that were extensions of our Web experiences. These simple mobile apps were wrappers for our cloud-based data, or simply sucked down web pages and media, but didn't offer experiences that were enhanced by being mobile. It was just a mirror of what you could get on the desktop. However, as the app ecosystem exploded for iOS, Android and other platforms, coding for the smartphone became the primary destination and effort for new companies and ideas.

Automatic's Web dashboard leverages data from the mobile device.

You could see this evolution go in a a three step process, from "Mobile too" to "Mobile first" and in many cases now, "Mobile only." Mobile experiences can't just be a shadow of the desktop version, but instead are now carefully crafted to meet rigid design expectations, with a user experience that adapts for smaller screens, and gets better with understanding of the user's location data or other apps installed on the phone. We're spending more and more time inside of our mobile apps, which can be our primary messaging and sharing vehicle, our second screens while watching TV or using the desktop, or a constant companion - to the point we hold them in our hands as we walk everywhere, or put them out on the table in front of us wherever we may go, waiting for the next chirp to grab our attention.

Fitbit takes its data and makes smart charts and graphs on their site.

The natural evolution of this mobile first, mobile centric reality is that we're now no longer going to our phones to pick up where our desktops left off, but the reverse. And when I do end up in front of a full-sized keyboard and monitor, I'm clamoring for smart Web experiences in my browser that reflect activities that have happened on the phone. If it's a miss, I may end up closing my laptop and picking up my Nexus 5 instead.

For applications that are primarily experienced on mobile, seeing a strong Web interface that contains the same data as on mobile is a pleasant surprise. You can see this difference in the way Fitbit has worked hard to have a great Web experience to mirror mobile, while the Moves app does not. Automatic and Rachio have a workable Web experience to match their mobile version.

Managing the Nest thermostat via the Web - same as the app.

Not too long ago, trying to use the Web and get data on our phones was exasperating. We had subpar experiences, had to make excuses for short email replies, or say we'd get to something when back at the desktop. But now, often, when at the PC, you're pining for what's on the phone - even if you can send texts or make voice and video calls from the browser. It's delightful to see when the two are working in sync, and the desktop experience makes the phone experience better. As a user, I'd be delighted to see the front-end experience for the same shared back-end data become more in sync and know the devices are working well together for every service.

Disclosures: I work at Google, who is behind Android, owns Nest, and makes browsers and apps for desktop and mobile. I work on the Google Analytics team, which has a great web experience and mobile apps for Android and iOS. (The first version of this post incorrectly said Nest didn't have a strong Web interface. I was wrong.)

October 17, 2014

Fitbit Launches Challenges to Push You and Friends to Go Further

The charm of Fitbit has always been more than just counting steps and seeing how far you've meandered in your day. Even more than the virtual badges you can collect for hitting new personal records, one of the most engaging pieces of this smart wearable has been informally competing with your friends for a place atop the leaderboard, learning who is the most active, and seeing just how much further you need to go to land a spot at the top.

With a new feature rolled out quietly last week, Fitbit has formalized these challenges, encouraging you to take on your friends directly.

New on Fitbit: Challenges to Take On Small Groups of Friends

Available on the mobile app for both Android and iOS, Fitbit has started with three separate challenges for you to extract steps out of your fitness social circle - namely Weekend Warrior (for the Saturday/Sunday stomper), Daily Showdown (for 24 hours of high stepping action) and the Workweek Hustle (to get you out of the cubicle Monday through Friday).

The challenges are pretty straight forward. The clock starts ticking at midnight in the time zone of the friend who proposed the challenge. Those who accept the challenge have their steps measured against other participants, and you can see microevents of who's adding on, whether people are practically tied, or if anyone has achieved their own daily personal goals.

You can also challenge people head to head and see updates.

Like any gamified app, the expectation is that a change in the virtual world will deliver a change in the real world. If my friend takes me on a one day challenge, am I more likely to sit on the couch, or go walk a few blocks to make sure I take the gold medal? And for those of us who've amassed large friend lists in Fitbit, due to non-dramatic promiscuity, the challenges act as a way to focus on specific people or a small group. In one head to head challenge, I had a friend with a planned 15k race at the end of the day, who effectively was sandbagging his activity in an attempt to finish first. Unfortunately for him, he finished just short, as my consistent walking was too strong. After all, my competitive streak doesn't have an off mode. Challenge me here. I plan to win.

October 14, 2014

What If We Redid the 2000 .Com Monopoly Edition for Today's Web?


In the year 2000, as the .com bubble was at its peak, it seemed new tech names were going to rapidly eclipse the old guard. Emails and downloads were new conversation topics, and if you weren’t still on AOL, debates would ensue over which ISP you should choose, or which search engine or portal was the best. Sun was the dot in .com and Linux seemed poised to take over the desktop. Obviously, not everything turned out that way, even if some of the names are still around, and even strong.


The 2000 .Com Monopoly Board

One of the fun collectibles that came out of this time was a .com edition of Parker Brothers’ Monopoly. Instead of properties around Atlantic City streets, you had websites. Community Chest and Chance were replaced with Email and Download cards. And you couldn’t buy property for a few hundred bucks, as everything was in the millions of dollars. Not too soon after the game came out (and of course, I still have it), the .com market was decimated, as the companies of the future weren’t built for the present. Now the game board itself looks like a relic of a short-lived era gone by.

The 2000 List of Companies and Categories


As something of a lark, and thought exercise, let’s consider who would take these 2000 era companies’ spots on the board. I’ll go first with my take on today’s cast of characters.


Dark Purple
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Sportsline.com and FoxSports
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Deadspin and ESPN.com


Commentary: Back in 2000, ESPN, as part of Disney, didn’t have a great approach at owning its web presence. It was part of the Go.com family, one reason it missed the original .com board. Now, ESPN represents sports on all media. Deadspin is an exceptional alternative with sharp commentary that is a must read for serious sports fans. (Apologies to SB Nation)


Light Blue
2000 .com Monopoly edition: GeoCities, Oxygen and iVillage
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Pinterest, SnapChat, and WhatsApp


Commentary: The 2000 edition definitely had a bent toward community. With iVillage and Oxygen, two of the three properties were focused on women. GeoCities didn’t age well and was retired. Pinterest, SnapChat and WhatsApp have become some of the fastest growing communities for pretty much all ages and both genders.


Light Purple
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Shockwave.com, Games.com and E! Online
2014 .com Monopoly edition: TMZ, Buzzfeed and Reddit


Commentary: Shockwave? Really. Let’s move on. For fun entertainment and burning hours of Web surfing, TMZ, Buzzfeed and Reddit can’t be beat. Reddit is a tough one to categorize, as it calls itself the Web’s front page, but it’s knocked off Digg, Slashdot and others for that title.


Orange
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Priceline, Expedia and eBay
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Square, PayPal and Yelp


Commentary: eBay could easily be a repeat in 2000 and 2014. Priceline and Expedia are still doing fine. But Square and PayPal are how the Web does business these days, while Yelp is often the place to go for recommendations on what to buy or where to go.


Red
2000 .com Monopoly edition: The Weather Channel, About.com and CNET
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Dropbox, Instagram and Tumblr


Commentary: About.com looks like a content farm, and while CNET’s still alive and kicking, there’s been nothing to talk about since its CBS acquisition. The Weather Channel? Please. There’s an app for that. And more than just finding content sites, anybody can create and share content globally with apps like Instagram, sites like Tumblr and share it on Dropbox. (Apologies to WordPress, Box and others)


Yellow
2000 .com Monopoly edition: eTrade, Monster.com and Marketwatch
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Wikipedia, LinkedIn and Twitter


Commentary: Monster.com and eTrade were monsters in 2000. I still use eTrade regularly, but they’re not known for their monkey-centric Super Bowl ads any more. Marketwatch is a snooze. Now, people get their financial and business data from each other via LinkedIn, in real time on Twitter, and check its veracity on Wikipedia. (Apologies to Seeking Alpha and StockTwits).


Green
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista and Lycos
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Microsoft, Amazon and Apple


Commentary: In 2000, Search engines took the entire final row of the Monopoly board. But the positions of Alta Vista, Lycos and Ask Jeeves weren’t strong against innovators that got stronger in the next decade. Now, diverse infrastructure plays like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple (for many reasons each) occupy this highly valuable section of the board.


Dark Blue
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Excite@Home and Yahoo!
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Google and Facebook


Commentary: That Yahoo! was the Boardwalk of 2000 is telling. Excite@Home was a $6.7 billion megamerger in 1999, but by 2001 was pretty much in steep decline. Without intending too much bias toward my current employer, Google and Facebook are the 1-2 when it comes to the Web today, from the top destinations to hours spent, tools deployed, etc - and both play a role in discovery for everyone.


Railroads/Stations
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Nokia, MCI Worldcom, Sprint and AT&T
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Verizon, Comcast, Netflix and YouTube


Commentary: Worldcom? Whoops. Nokia? Whoops. Things change, and companies don’t always adapt quickly. The megalopoly of AT&T is now most like Comcast’s ISP/cable monolith, and Verizon (including their FIOS offering) is the big carrier to be dealt with. Fighting the good fight, and using a ton of bandwidth in the process are Netflix and YouTube, which are essential media mediums on every device.


Utilities
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Linux and Sun Microsystems
2014 .com Monopoly edition: WiFi and Cloud


Commentary: We’re still waiting for the year of the Linux desktop, and Sun is now somewhere in Oracle’s beautiful campus. But while you could take a stab at a language or a platform, like Python, Ruby on Rails, or even PHP, generically its best said that the storing of data and access to that data are the true utilities of 2014. Pervasive WiFi (or 3G/4G) and Cloud power every app and every site.


Summary: The Web is dramatically larger, and more global, now than it was less than two decades ago. This admittedly English-first version of the .com Monopoly for 2014 misses out on the international communities like Baidu, AliBaba and others. There’s no place for the Uber and Lyft rivalry, and while Tumblr was included, it’s hard to put Yahoo! on the board, which probably isn’t 100% fair. I wanted to find a spot for Spotify and Hulu, but failed. I’d be ecstatic to see if Parker Brothers was up for another run at the web centric board, and you know I’d buy it.


Disclosures: I work at Google, which is a customer, partner and competitor with many of the names on this board. Putting them on a Monopoly board is not an opening for the company (or any other on the board) being a monopoly joke.

October 13, 2014

Cloud Powered Near Instant PC, Mobile Upgrades Are the New Reality

Buying a new computer or getting a new phone used to be a huge pain. Even if everything was up and running right away, you had to plan for hours, or even days, of moving all your data from the old device to the new one. And if you didn’t successfully complete the data migration, or had sufficient paranoia, you could end up with old devices cluttering your home - just in case you might need to get that old content. But with so much of our data moving from local disks to the cloud, and new operating systems improving their sync and account setup, the day of hot swapping devices is here.

As you know, for the past few years, our home has been a ChromeOS and Android family. This started well before I joined Google, and as each OS gets smarter, that move looks to have been the right one - especially when it comes to this issue.

Samsung's 2012 Chromebook Got Bumped for the 2014 HP.


Last week, thanks to a sale on Woot.com, I purchased a new HP 14 inch Chromebook for my wife. One evening, as she was using the 2012-era 11 inch Samsung Chromebook, I told her to close her eyes. I took her old laptop and put the new one in her lap, and when she signed in, she didn’t miss a beat. All her bookmarks were there, even down to the tabs she had open in her browser. With one move, and for the same $200 or so I spent two years ago, she got a faster device, double the RAM, and a larger, more vibrant screen, with no headaches around data.

There was no question of whether she had to back up photos, or copy her songs. No dragging and dropping off folders and documents. It just worked, exactly as I had expected it to. And the next morning, when she had to print to our networked printer, she just told the browser to print, and the printer was listening. No printer drivers, and not even a memory of a CD-Rom or DVD. It just worked.


Meanwhile, on mobile, the story is much the same. Whether it’s due to an accidental drop (which has happened in our home more than once), or a required factory reset thanks to trying new software before it’s ready (that’s also happened), starting over with a new phone or starting the phone over from scratch is no big deal any more either. Signing into my account brings my account information, access to my data, my apps, and my preferences.

In the storage industry, we used to talk about hot swappable units - which would enable upgrades without reboots or interruption of access to data. The dream of upgrading servers, disks, arrays or network equipment without downtime was rarely achieved, but often talked about. On the consumer side, many of us have grown accustomed to the inevitable pains that come with getting new devices or even upgrading those devices from one system version to the next, and it doesn’t have to be this way any more.

Standard Disclosures: I work at Google, the company behind ChromeOS, Android, and great tools that help you sync your content between devices. You can assume I prefer cloud-based data.