Firefox OS

Gina Trapani:

In the five minutes I had to play with it, I was impressed with Firefox OS. It’s a modern touchscreen operating system with smooth interactions, an array of apps, and all the settings and customizations you’d expect. In my short time with the phone, which was not connected to the internet, I played a game of 2048, poked around the settings, and panned and zoomed around a maps app. I would have liked the 2048 tiles to slide more smoothly, and the map scrolling and panning to stutter less, but the groundwork is there. It is a web-based operating system that worked offline well, and there was no distinction between local apps and web apps.

I’ve been playing around with a Firefox OS phone1 for a few weeks now, and I really like it. I think the most interesting thing about it is how simple everything feels. It feels like the first iPhone, with some additional modern amenities.

The lock screen shows notifications and allows you to insta-launch the camera. The home screen is pretty bare-bones. It scrolls down, instead of sideways, like the iPhone’s.

Firefox OS comes with a bunch of built-in apps, pretty much everything you’d expect from a mobile phone. The visual style of the OS is flat and simple, more reminiscent of Android’s Material design than the iPhone’s gaudy transparencies and layer effects.

If you need more apps, there’s an app store, and thanks to the fact that apps in Firefox OS are all web apps,2 it’s pretty well-stocked.

Like Firefox OS itself, the keyboard eschews any fanciness. It does its job.

There’s really not a lot of crazy stuff in Firefox OS. One small nice feature is that you can switch between apps by swiping in from the left or right screen edge, but there’s no nifty cards metaphor for app switching3 and no spatial menu. Firefox OS is just really simple, solid, friendly, easy to use smartphone platform. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing; perhaps there’s room in the market for a platform like this.


  1. This oneback

  2. Hello, WebOS :-) back

  3. Firefox OS does have an app switcher, of course, just not one as genius as WebOS’s. back

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Panic’s Cabel Sasser:

To be honest, I was pretty nervous to be pulling Coda from the Mac App Store. But when we finally did it, I felt an incredible, almost indescribable sense of relief — mostly because as we began to wrap up bug fix releases, we were able to immediately post them to our customers within minutes of qualifying them.

(…)

The last couple of months of 2014 got classically “exciting” as Transmit iOS was suddenly flagged by the App Review team for a violation — a well-documented situation, both on our blog, and sites like Daring Fireball and MacStories. Thanks almost exclusively to these articles, we very quickly got a very nice call from a contact at Apple, and the situation reversed almost immediately.

(…)

This is the biggest problem we’ve been grappling with all year: we simply don’t make enough money from our iOS apps. We’re building apps that are, if I may say so, world-class and desktop-quality. They are packed with features, they look stunning, we offer excellent support for them, and development is constant. I’m deeply proud of our iOS apps. But… they’re hard to justify working on.

Developers are usually the first to offer constructive, useful criticism of Apple, because they’re the first who have to deal with the issues caused by Apple’s behavior. Panic’s 2014 report reads like a microcosm of many of the things that are currently going wrong in Apple’s larger ecosystem.

Marco Arment:

This morning, my words were everywhere, chopped up and twisted by sensational opportunists to fuel the tired “Apple is doomed!” narrative with my name on them. (Or Tumblr’s name, which was even worse.) Business Insider started the party, as usual, but it spread like wildfire from there. Huffington Post. Wall Street Journal. CNN. Heise. Even a televised CNBC discussion segment.

All of them using my name, and a few of my words, to create drama, fan the flames, and get some views.

(Just for future reference, Apple isn’t doomed.)

Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’s design ground rules:

We bear in mind that the object being worked on is going to be ridden in, sat upon, looked at, talked into, activated, operated or in some other way used by people.

When the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the Industrial Designer has failed.

On the other hand, if people are made safer, more efficient, more comfortable — or just plain happier — by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.

Via KPCB.

State of Apple

Marco Arment:

I suspect the biggest force keeping stories [of people switching from OS X to other platforms] from being more common is that Windows is still worse overall and desktop Linux is still too much of a pain in the ass for most people. But it should be troubling if a lot of people are staying on your OS because everything else is worse, not necessarily because they love it.

My main computer is still a Mac, but not thanks to anything Apple has done.1 It’s things like Coda, Pixelmator, Sketch, BBEdit, Kaleidoscope, OmniGraffle, or Interarchy that keep me on the Mac — despite the issues I have with Apple’s OS. By now, I’ve stopped using any of Apple’s own applications.

Ubuntu itself is more than good enough to replace my Mac — but despite looking, I haven’t found good alternatives to stuff like Coda, Pixelmator, or Sketch.

The same isn’t true for tablets and phones. There are no compelling apps that kept me on iOS, and as a result, I’m not using any iOS devices anymore. My Android phone does things my iPhones never could, and my Surface 3 is the versatile, powerful tablet that the iPad should have been.

Marco notes:

I fear that Apple’s leadership doesn’t realize quite how badly and deeply their software flaws have damaged their reputation, because if they realized it, they’d make serious changes that don’t appear to be happening.

I get the same impression: Apple doesn’t see what’s happening.

It seems to me that the media covering Apple is partly to blame for this. There seem to be two main factions covering Apple: people who dislike Apple, and whose opinions can thus be disregarded. And people who like Apple, but would rather talk about how wrong the first faction is, and how badly Samsung and Google are doing, than discuss the problems Apple’s own products have.2

As a result, the people covering Apple are either not credible, or seem to think that it’s their job to defend Apple.3 And while defending a «beleaguered» Apple might have been necessary in the 90s, a lot has changed since then. What Apple needs now is not a partisan media that will rationalize whatever issues Apple has; what Apple needs now is honest feedback about what’s going wrong.

Why are there no compelling apps that kept me on iOS? Because of the way Apple’s iOS app ecosystem works. And why has that not improved? Because any criticism Apple receives for it is either tainted by partisanship, or so timid that it is pointless.

You’re really not helping Apple if you’re just defending whatever they’re currently doing.

Addendum

Ben Thompson links to this article by Guy English:

I believe that many Apple observers have been too invested in picking off the low hanging fruit of obviously out-of-touch commentators, columnists, and analysts. Apple is winning. It’s fun to pick on the idiots, and we do tune in for the affirmation that engenders, but that’s not insight. It’s a tag team wedgie patrol.

Guy English, again:

Marco is right but perhaps his framing is too narrow. This simply isn’t an issue that developers grouse about and move on from. This is something that, at least in my experience, has been affecting customers who have otherwise loved their Apple devices.

Kirk McElhearn writes:

I was wondering if it was just me getting cynical, but more and more seasoned Apple users – I’ve owned Macs since 1991 – have been echoing these problems.

Dr. Drang:

I’ll bet you know several people who bought a Mac, an iPad, or an iPhone because they saw you using one and noticed how easily you did things that were difficult for them. They may have asked for a demonstration of Fantastical; they may have asked whether they could still do X, Y, or Z on a Mac; they may have asked for a recommendation on which iPad to buy; but however it happened, you were largely responsible for Apple sales beyond your own collection of devices. That’s leverage.

(…) Apple’s stuff really was easier to use, both initially and as your expertise increased. All you had to do was use it, and those around you would see it.


  1. Well, technically, the apps that keep me on the Mac use Apple’s APIs, so there’s that. back

  2. But if I’m using an iPhone, how much money Samsung makes doesn’t really affect my experience at all — and actually, neither does how much money Apple makes, or how many bugs Android has. What affects my experience is how good the iPhone is. And if nobody talks about the iPhone’s problems, it’s not going to get any better. back

  3. Yes, there are exceptions. back

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Business Calendar 2

Last month, I wrote about Android Calendar’s low information density. Its «week view» only shows five days, and each day only shows seven hours. As an alternative, I mentioned Business Calendar, an Android calendar app that has a much better week view, but looks kind of outdated.

Well, there’s an update available that looks much better. Business Calendar 2 is now my main smartphone calendar app.

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Gedeon Maheux:

Imagine how hard it must be to find a particular game in the vast wilderness that is the App Store if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Until Apple decides to take definitive steps to improve search results, either via human curation, or by lowering dependencies on popularity, easy discovery in the store will continue to be a major problem. Unfortunately for small developers who need paying customers to survive, time is quickly running out.

Via Michael Tsai.

Project Xanadu isn’t just a really interesting UI for browsing hypertext,1 it’s also the world’s most delayed software.

Update

A reader adds some context:

We’re never going to see widespread adoption of the original total Xanadu design but I’d encourage everyone interested in the web, software, hypertext, whatever, to read Literary Machines and Computer Lib while also appreciating its 1970s context and the iconoclastic personality of Ted Nelson. Also of course, clear contrast with the Worse Is Better rule.

Versions of Xanadu prototypes (based on original development from the 70s and 80s) were in fact released at some point:

http://udanax.xanadu.com/

Another page that explains the OpenXanadu web demos you linked to:

http://xanadu.com/nxu/

The Guardian article timing is weird because that OpenXanadu web demo was released and announced several years ago I think.


  1. Space-up or space-down moves between segments, space-left and space-right moves between documents, space-shift switches views. back

M.G. Siegler likes the fact that Facebook on Android now has a built-in browser, instead of sending you to a dedicated browser app when you open a link. Me, I’m not a fan. Instead of opening links in the browser of my choice that provides the features I actually want, I get a sub-par, slower browser that lacks even basic features like a working share button.1

The worst part is that it’s not necessary. Built-in browsers make sense on iOS, where users can’t easily go back to the originating app once they’re kicked into a browser app. But on Android, you just hit the back button, and you’re back in the previous app. That’s one of the reasons why I think OS-level back buttons are a good idea, despite of their issues.

Update

Dominic Wellington:

For one thing, Safari has all the cookies, and I don’t want to log in to things all over again just because I tapped on a link in an app rather than going through the browser.


  1. And, in some use cases, causes a security problemback