Friday, August 29, 2014

The Mobile Device Membrane

Back when the iPhone was first released there were no Apps.  The Steve told us that all of the apps would be web-apps & that the Safari browsing experience on iOS would be the same as on a computer.

But, as we all know, people wanted apps.  So rather than watch people jailbreak their phones to mod them & run their own applications Apple decided to cash in on the phenomenon.

So now if you want to develop those apps then you have to have a mac.  And then you have to distribute your app through the iTunes AppStore.  So they are going to get some serious money out of you one way or another before you ever sell one app.

That aside - what was initially interesting about apps in the Walled Garden was that unless you were jailbreaking your phone - there was zero software piracy.  To offset this the price of apps came way down.  An image editing or productivity app was now $10.  I saw that as a good thing.

But... Nowadays - there has been a sea change.  It would seem that every website has their own app.  And they really want you to use it.  If you don't then you get to use the "mobile version" of their website.  You would normally think that would simply change the page layout to be optimized for a smaller screen.  But wait, no - functionality is falling off of the page too!

This is where the model starts to change and introduce what I am calling the Mobile Device Membrane.  It is faster to change a web site than it is to change an app.  You need user-consent to update an app therefore it is easier to change a web site than an app.

Unless - you have multiple versions of the web site.  (i.e. the nerfed/hobbled 'mobile version') In that case you update the main website first - then maybe the mobile version & then you release the feature in the app.  Maybe you even wait for the results of micro-testing prior to including that feature at all.

The result is that mobile devices never have the cutting-edge functionality anymore.  If you require or desire that then you need a laptop, not a tablet.

I recently broke my iPad screen & considered buying a replacement/upgrade.  After thinking about it for a long time I realized that I didn't want one and that a laptop would be a far better choice overall.  I ended up getting the screen replaced at Radio Shack (nice job & very reasonable) and I'm still laptop shopping.

While I very much enjoy the iPad I have found that I use it less as a technical tool & more as either a productivity tool or as an entertainment platform.  I do not find it useful for writing software for example.  But watching videos, playing games, or reading PDF files are the main reasons for which I use it.

I also find it awkward for working with graphics.  The issue of using a stylus vs. having a screen protector is an added complication but either way, the inductive touch interface lacks the sort of precision response that I would get from using a Wacom tablet.  If I were serious about doing graphics work - I can't imagine not going that way. 

The alternative is to always draw things zoomed in like you are fingerpainting in the small.  While a useful metaphor for a workaround - it gets on my nerves.

In the end tablets are not computers & the companies that make them do not want them to be.  A computer is an anarchy-box where the user can get in there & do anything that they want.  Tablets are walled gardens that Thou Shalt Not Use in-any-way-the-manufacturer-finds-objectionable.

Therefore tablets are merely consumer electronics.  Very Useful ones, but that's it.

The one killer application that I recommend highly is TeamViewer.  Remote access to actual computers is the most useful & underrated application of this technology that there is. 

You know all of those computers in the cloud?  Using your tablet to drive one is a serious force multiplier.  It is somewhat clunky, but ultimately very powerful.

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