Browser Warz: Smartphone and Desktop Edition

August 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

My hard-on for Google related news continues.

There have been a few articles recently about the staggering growth of Android’s market share in the smartphone arena. The BBC reported Android phone shipments increasing 886% compared to last year, while in the US alone Nielson reports that in the last six months Android market share has risen above the 23% held by Apple to 27%, thereby overtaking their most important competitor. However, it’s also worth stating, for the sake of balance, that Symbian overshadows both OSs in the worldwide market, claiming 43.5% of this lucrative pie, and then that’s followed by RIM, the Blackberry OS, trailing way behind at 18%, followed closely by Android at 17.1%, with Apple at 13.5%, and so on.

However, Google shouldn’t be celebrating just yet, says MG Siegler from TechCrunch, claiming that the handsets sales aren’t really that impressive considering how many phones now carry the OS and how many mobile carriers sell those phones – compared, that is, to the iPhone, which only has two models available on one mobile carrier. He concludes that the comparison is unfair, that it doesn’t take into account iPhone 4 sales, and that we should wait to see the iPhone on at least one other US mobile carrier before making any kind of real assertions.

Now, to be honest, it reads a bit like an Apple propaganda piece, especially when he states “most shocking thing about the news today that Android sales overtook iPhone sales for the first time last quarter is that it didn’t happen sooner”. However, he does raise a couple of good points – that iPhone 4 sales aren’t counted; and the iPhone’s limited availability. That’s all true, but unfortunately I think it points more to Apple’s straight-up unwillingness to make partnerships and instead rely on exclusivity agreements. I don’t think people need to be reminded about this, but this is a very similar path to the one they trod when Microsoft took the desktop OS market by storm, leaving Apple their very small, but pretty, niche.

Anyway, irrespective of the issues of comparing market share in the US, GfK reported a “staggering” 350% increase in handset contract sales in the UK, and that was over a three-month period between Q1 2010 to Q2 2010. This being the UK, the iPhone is out on all the major handsets, so MG Siegler’s criticism doesn’t really stand up to much over here. The fact is that all these stats point to a massive surge in the uptake of Android-based handsets and that this trend is likely to continue for a while yet. Frankly, whether it’s 886% or 350%, Google should feel very pleased with what they’ve accomplished, even though they’ve got a long way to go.

Onto a somewhat related topic, Gizmodo, among others, has reported that Microsoft quashed radical privacy features that it was planning to integrate with IE 8, and it was prevented from doing so because of internal company conflicts. The privacy settings in question would have blocked third-party trackers by default, essentially cutting off advertisers from the anonymous, personal information that would normally be disclosed in the background while users surfed the Web. For Microsoft, that’s a pretty big step towards giving users more control over what information they wish to disclose – which is why Brian McAndrews, senior VP at the company, previously a CEO of web advertising company aQuantive,  put the kaboose on the whole thing. Long story short, the IE dev team lost against him, and it resulted in one feature being dropped altogether and another that users would have to manually turn on every time they booted up the browser – in other words, making it absolutely bloody useless.

The reason I’m talking about this story is because people care about their privacy. Sure, they might eventually compromise on it – if, for instance, what is offered in return is substantial enough to warrant it – but it’s still an issue. The point is, Microsoft and Google, for all the money they can put into desktop browser development, are beholden to certain stakeholders who hold a massive interest in online advertising. For Microsoft, less so; but for Google, that just about counts everybody in the entire company.

Google’s Chrome OS has made impressive strides in the browser marketplace, currently holding a 7.1% share against Firefox at 22.9% and IE (all versions) at 60.7%. Pretty good considering how “young” it is, and I truly believe it has already surpassed the latest Firefox build in certain aspects. However, unlike Google, one thing the Mozilla Foundation doesn’t have to worry about is advertisers, which means they don’t have to design their browser with them in mind; and in fact, all they need to think about is the core user experience. This is the single greatest advantage Mozilla has over its rivals, and if they can compete in terms of offering more speed, functionality, better UI and integration with third-party plugins, then it will almost certainly keep them ahead of Google, if not Microsoft as well.

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Television Recommendations — 02/04/09

April 2, 2009 § 2 Comments

Two recommendations today: ‘The Wire‘ and ‘Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe‘.

UK residents are in for a treat lately with two excellent pieces of television; unfortunately, both are on quite late. The BBC seems to think people will bother to catch The Wire at 11:20pm on a weekday, and that’s their call. If I were a working man – which I’m not at the moment, but if I were – I doubt I’d stay up to watch it. Adding insult to injury, it seems that they haven’t got the digital broadcast rights for the programme, so you can’t catch it on iPlayer either. Well done, the BBC, you’ve just gone and shot yourself in the foot again. At first, I was pretty excited to hear that The Wire would be coming to UK television screens, but I’m not going to watch it like this. Luckily, if you know where to look, the internet can provide every episode of the critically-acclaimed series for free and whenever it’s convenient for you.

Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe is on at a better time (10:30pm every Wednesday) and, fortunately, you can catch up with episodes on iPlayer. It’s also on BBC4, so I don’t know how much advertising coverage it’s getting – but probably not a lot. So here I am, pimping it out. It’s funny that the one word that comes to mind when thinking of Charlie Brooker is ‘genius’ – and he’d probably give me a clip round the ear and humorously berate me for saying that. Charlie Brooker isn’t a genius, but he is a very smart and funny guy.

He has around half an hour in his programme, and he dedicates it solely to satirically mocking and analysing the British media. The show surprises me every time by just how good it is at both informing and entertaining. For a start, it’s amazing just how much he covers within that 30 minutes of screen time; there is almost no fluff or padding in the programme (apart from the poetry reading in episode one, which was kind of shit). Added to that, is that everything he says or remarks upon is so absolutely correct – almost all the time. He is consistently spot-on on a regular basis, and he communicates so well to the audience, not with pretension or with condescension, but simply by talking clearly and with common sense. And then there’s his sense of humour, which is a mix between piss and fart jokes and sarcasm — but it’s funny sarcasm. The man, quite simply, is a brilliant satirist.

So, this is good news for people who still watch television. For everybody else with a good internet connection, it won’t really register a blip. Since almost all terrestrial channels have catch-ups through their respective online services, and since most popular television series are readily available via torrents and streaming websites, this blog update is almost obsolete — because, why watch television nowadays when you can download programmes quickly, for free, at decent quality, with no adverts, at your convenience and, sometimes, only a day after they’re first aired on American channels?

Television is becoming obsolete, if it isn’t already so. And the television licencing in this country really needs revamping because, frankly, the system they’ve got going is archaic, and it doesn’t really account properly for those downloading programmes using the internet. This is from the TV licencing website:

You must be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. It makes no difference what equipment you use – whether it’s a laptop, PC, mobile phone, digital box, DVD recorder or a TV set – you still need a licence.

You do not need a TV Licence to view video clips on the internet, as long as what you are viewing is not being shown on TV at the same time as you are viewing it [emphasis added].

Basically, this means I can watch any programme I want, which has been shown on British television, as long as I’m not watching it as it’s being broadcast. This means that you can watch everything on iPlayer (or 4oD) if it’s after the programme has been originally aired.

It’s not that I want to be charged money to watch iPlayer or 4oD or whatever, but, in theory, I can watch almost all of the programmes the BBC aires without contributing tax-wise. And, hey! It’s a great deal for me, but it doesn’t make it very fair now, does it?

Anyway, I’ve kind of gone and hijacked my own train of thought here. I’ll just finish up by saying that The Wire and Newswipe are fantastic programmes, and they deserved to be watched (on whatever equipment you watch television on).

Intentionality vs. Improvisation (Edge GDC Article)

March 25, 2009 § 1 Comment

This post is in direct relation to the following article:

GDC: Stop “Punishing the Player”

The reason why I am taking the time to comment here, on this particular article, is that it links strongly to my review of The Path and opinions stated in the 4Player article I submitted recently.

« Read the rest of this entry »

YouTube Hop-Watch: 'I Wanna Be the Guy' and 'Monty on the Run'

March 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

First off, we have I Wanna Be the Guy (IWBTG for short), which is regarded as one of the hardest games ever created. IWBTG itself was made as an homage to 8-bit platformers/shooters, some of which were well-known for their notorious difficulty settings and unfair level design. Often, the key to beating these games was in memorising the levels and enemy movement patterns, rather than skill. I’ve watched a couple of run-throughs of the game on YouTube and it’s actually pretty well designed for an ‘unfair’ game. The creator – Mike ‘Kayin’ O’Reilly – must really have been walking a tough tight-rope between controller-smashing frustrating and just impossible. Luckily, he seems to have kept to the former – if that makes any sense at all. The thing is, I could go on about how well the game is designed, but the fact I’d never want to actually play the game – I’m not sure what that actually says about it. Maybe I’m just a giant wuss (probably true).

It was from one of the LPs (long-plays) that I heard a particular piece of music in the background in one of the levels. The music in question was from an obscure Commodore C64 game called Monty on the Run. It’s a basic platforming game where you have to run around collecting things and such. That’s not that important; what I found remarkable was the music which I just loved. It taps right into my nostalgia nerve-centre as although I never owned a C64, I did own an Atari ST computer, which was very similar in how it reproduced sound in video games.  I started watching some other videos recommended by YouTube and there’s one with some guy playing the theme on a midi keyboard – very well, I might add – and another with a whole orchestra. The best thing I saw though, was this brilliant video from some Russian guys. Well, you pretty much just have to watch it; it’s just awesome. The fact that some of the text overlay – like the credits – is in Russian just adds to the video’s quirky charm.

The final thing that I actually saw a while ago, but thought it was good enough to mention, is this video in which kinetic typography is being used to portray a scene from Requiem for a Dream. I’m not particularly big on the movie, but by just hearing some of the dialogue in this clip you are reminded of how good the acting in the movie was. Sure, it released Lux Aeterna upon the world – which was used continuously on every single, fucking YouTube video or movie trailer for a good period of time afterwards (I really thought that fad would never end) – but on the bright side, I learnt how to spell ‘requiem’ by heart without any reference to a dictionary. I’m joking, of course; it’s not that bad a piece of music; it’s just the way it is perpetually used that makes it sound even more ridiculous the next time you hear it. It was even overused in the goddamn film and – I think – that was my major problem with it, now that I think about it. The way that film tried to hammer home the message ‘drugs are bad and addiction is hell’, was like Darren Aronofsky putting a power drill to my skull (yes, that was a Pi reference. See! I don’t hate Aronofsky) – to the sound of epic orchesteral music. I don’t think I need to say this, but the film lacked subtelty. Big time.

Anyway – /rant over – there’s also a pretty good typographic portrayal of I Will Be Blood‘s climatic final scene. Obviously, don’t watch if you haven’t seen the film – which I recommend by the way, because it is brilliant (or, as Dr Kermode would put it, because “it redefined the grammar of modern cinema“) – but for everyone else: “DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIINAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGE”

Also, on a side note, Dead Space review is forthcoming – that is, if I ever get around to finishing it. Not because I’m scared mind you; I’m just a very busy person. Lotsa lotsa meetings…yeeeeeeaah.

Enjoy; good night, and good luck.

'Gaming In The Clinton Years': Tomb Raider 3 Storyline Idea

January 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Now I don’t like bashing someone’s work but Gaming in the Clinton Years are the worst set of game reviews I have ever seen. They were all done by the same guy and to give him credit, he did cover a lot of games during the 90’s. Unfortunately they’re awful and I don’t just mean his reviews are often wrong, I mean the reviews themselves are so bad, they are laughable. I’m not going to spoil this particular episode but you really have to see it.

'The Ethics of Scent of a Woman' Article

January 12, 2009 § 1 Comment

Excellent article here by a guy called Matthew Belinkie. Scent of a Woman is a bit of a joke as a ‘serious film’ about ‘making a stand’ but it is hilarious because of Al Pacino’s ridiculous over-acting and general Pacino-ness that we’ve now come to unfortunately know and hate too well. To be fair to the guy, he did get an oscar for that role; it’s understandable that he let that go to his head and for him to think that from now on he should act like that in every film. Anyway, despite the need for someone to tell to really “CALM THE FUCK DOWN”, it’s difficult not to love the guy in Heat and The Devil’s Advocate. Heat is a good film and although it would have lost an element without Pacino it still would have worked well because everything else in that film was great. The Devil’s Advocate on the other hand, only Al Pacino could save us from Neo’s so-subtle-it’s-almost-undetectable acting style by going the complete other way.

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