What Google is working on; The nightmare of working for Apple: Best of the Web

Google is perhaps best known for its ubiquitous search engine, its web services (such as Gmail and YouTube) and its Android smartphone operating system.

However, the tech giant’s ambitions go well beyond these traditional markets.

Over at Ars Technica, Ron Amadeo has scoured Google’s press releases, announcements, hints and acquisitions to compile a list of the projects the tech giant has in its pipeline. At five pages long, the list is as ambitious as the company it’s covering.

For example, there’s Google’s ambitions to enter the video game market:

Google appears to be starting up a game studio of its own, just like how Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft own gaming developers that produce exclusive flagship software for company gaming systems. First-party game developers can be a big boost to a gaming platform by leading by example and helping the platform owner realize the company’s vision. Google’s Android apps show the rest of the ecosystem how apps should be made, so it only makes sense that Google would want to do the same thing on the gaming side. Google’s studio could take advantage of the newest features of Android without having to worry about things like install base or profitability, focusing strictly on demonstrating the newest techniques to the rest of the ecosystem.

Aside from providing internet content, Google also wants to control how you access it too. In the US, it has begun rolling out its own fibre-to-the-home broadband network:

The first step in getting Internet access to the rest of the world is to build out the necessary data infrastructure in places where there is none. You’ve probably heard of Google Fiber, Google’s gigabit fiber optic service available in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. In those cities, Google is a full-on ISP, putting fiber on telephone poles, running fiber to every house, supplying hardware, and billing customers directly to use the Internet. The goal of Google Fiber isn’t to eventually wire every home in the US—Google hopes to use the power of competition to put pressure on existing ISPs to raise their network speeds.

Of course, it’s not just slow internet Google wants to fix. It’s also investing in healthcare – and ageing:

One of Google’s biggest moonshots was announced in September of last year. Google shocked the Internet by announcing “Calico,” a company dedicated to “health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.” Basically, Google wants to solve the problem of aging. Since the announcement, Calico has been recruiting high-profile anti-aging researchers.

It’s also working on making Hangouts an all-encompassing communications service:

When Google Hangouts was just rumored as a project with the codename “Babel,” Google had four Android texting clients: Messaging (the stock SMS client), Google+ Messenger, Google Talk (the stock IM client), and Google Voice (SMS over the Internet using a virtual number). Google shut down Google+ Messenger, and Hangouts replaced Google Talk. Hangouts eventually gained SMS capabilities, killing Messaging. Now we’re down from four texting clients to two: Hangouts and Google Voice. Google Voice gives you a Google-issued phone number and allows you to send and receive texts the same way you do e-mails: read or respond from any of your devices or from a website. But Google has promised that the all-encompassing Hangouts will eventually take over Google Voice duties, too; it’s just a matter of time.

If you have the time, it’s certainly interesting to take a look through Google’s list of projects.

The nightmare of working for Apple

Over at Medium, designer Jordan Price tells the true tale of how he managed to land a job interview for his dream job at Apple:

About a month ago, after years of designing in various industries, making websites for small-time clients, working at failed and debatably successful startups, and fiddling with random side projects, I had been offered an interview at Apple. I couldn’t believe it. I had just totally revamped my portfolio, and I was now actually good enough to be considered as a candidate at Apple. In my eyes, Apple is, hands down, the most highly-regarded company a designer could work for.

When Price landed the gig, the reaction from friends and family was akin to having a baby:

It turned out it did go well… I got more likes when I announced that I got a job at Apple than when my daughter was born. People that I friended years ago and never talked to since were sending me messages. I changed my title on Twitter, and suddenly people started following me that probably never would have a week before.

However, the Apple dream quickly soured when he discovered his boss was a passive-aggressive bully:

Then my immediate boss (known at Apple as a producer), who had a habit of making personal insults shrouded as jokes to anyone below him, started making direct and indirect insults to me. He started reminding me that my contract wouldn’t be renewed if I did or didn’t do certain things. He would hover over my back (literally) like a boss out of Dilbert and press me to finish some mundane design task that he felt urgently needed to be examined. He was democratic about his patronizing and rude comments, but it didn’t make me feel any better when he directed them towards my team members. I felt more like I was a teenager working at a crappy retail job than a professional working at one of the greatest tech companies in the world.

Despite the many perks that come with being an employee of the world’s best-known tech company, Price quickly reached a point where he could take no more:

Then at lunch time I wiped the iPad data clean, put the files I had been working on neatly on the server, left all their belongings on my desk, and I got in my car and drove home. I left a message for my boss and told him he’s the worst boss I had ever encountered in my entire professional career and that I could no longer work under him no matter how good Apple might look on my resume.

Obviously, there are two sides to every story. Nonetheless, Price’s tale of woe is certainly a reminder of the importance of people skills in staff retention, no matter how good a company’s reputation or how much prestige it carries.

Why most smartwatches suck

In the past year, a new category of device – the smartwatch – has emerged. However, as Tim Bajarin of Time points out, some of the first examples – including the Qualcomm TOQ, the Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear – have drawn derision from the tech press:

Late last year, I got a chance to test Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch. This watch has been deemed a failure by the tenchnorati since its design is even geekier than the Pebble, and the early version was only tied to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. Since its release, the Gear now supports a few other Samsung smartphones such as the popular Galaxy S4.

Looking at the first generation of smartwatches, Bajarin says there are three reasons why most of them are failures. The first issue is design:

The first is design itself. Most women would not be caught dead wearing the current crop of smartwatches. Actually, most men wouldn’t wear the current crop of smartwatches, either. While people buy watches to tell time (and in most cases, that’s a watch’s only function), the number one criteria in choosing a watch for most people is how it will look. It’s a fashion statement, not a technology one.

The second problem, typical of new platforms and devices, is a shortage of great apps:

The second thing that’s important: killer apps. While there may be plenty of apps, the killer app for me is the ability for a smartwatch to alert me to incoming messages and emails. Like most people, I live a very busy life. Especially during the day, I am in and out of meetings, driving to meetings, working at my desk or talking to people, and taking my phone out of my pocket to check messages and email is often difficult. This is especially true when driving or in a meeting.

The third thing, and the most crucial, is at this stage they are not smart enough to be standalone devices. This means that if you lose your phone, your Pebble becomes as useless as a rock:

However, for smartwatches to truly become utilitarian, they eventually need to be standalone devices that can be connected to Wi-Fi or through cellular networks to gain access to a cloud-based way to download apps — not forced to connect through a smartphone. If I forget my smartphone for some reason, these watches in their current form are simple bricks that just tell time and have maybe a few apps that can stand on their own.

Smartwatches are an interesting case study for anyone else attempting to develop or commercialise a new technology. When it comes to consumers, factors like killer apps, design and standalone usefulness matter.

Is Silicon Valley’s arrogance putting the tech industry at risk?

Over at Wired, Bill Wasik has stirred up a storm by arguing the arrogance of some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is putting the tech industry at risk.

As difficult as it might be to imagine today, in the years immediately following World War II, the field of plastics had a similar grip on the public imagination to the tech industry today:

When an industry has a hold on the public imagination, it’s easy to forget just how fickle that imagination can be. By 1946, when women were nearly rioting to get their hands on scarce pairs of nylon hose, plastic had emerged not merely as an enormous business but as the very stuff of dreams, a substance poised to shape the American future. Soon after, plastic spurred visionary industrial designers toward entirely new forms, dramatic curves and swoops that would have been impossible in a preplastic age.

Within just 20 years, the new super-material came to be associated with everything wrong in consumer culture:

Twenty years later, though, the love affair was over—a reversal captured in a famous scene from 1967′s The Graduate, when Dustin Hoffman’s dissolute title character receives some career advice from a family friend: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.”

To a sophisticated audience in 1967, “plastic” had come to stand for everything wrong with the culture, for what Tom Wolfe would soon call the “poor old Formica polyethylene 1960s America,” with its superficiality, its acquisitive domesticity.

Within a few years, silicon captured the public imagination in the same way plastic once had.

The success of the tech industry has led to behaviour, among some newly minted entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, that could be described as arrogant:

In the Bay Area, where tech salaries and IPO riches have pushed the cost of living to the breaking point, the rancor cut deep on subjects ranging from Twitter’s sweetheart tax breaks to working-class families displaced from local neighborhoods.

As the rest of the economy struggled, tech bigwigs repeatedly proved themselves to be out of touch, whether it was Facebook cofounder Sean Parker’s lavish Lord of the Rings-inspired wedding or mega-VC Vinod Khosla’s privatization of one of California’s historically public beaches.

Wasik argues that such behaviour risks making the tech industry deeply unfashionable – a symptom of all that’s wrong with modern society. And, like the plastics industry before it, this will put innovation within the sector in jeopardy:

People don’t crave technology like drugs, wanting it so bad they’ll wire bitcoins to the offshore plutocracy of Libertaristan just to get it. They adopt technology when they’re seduced by the communities that grow up around it, often for love rather than money. If inventing new modes of communication or collaboration was seen as a mercenary act—as no nobler than drilling a well or devising a mortgage-backed security—then such platforms would never thrive, because their value tends to arise from a long, slow, unprofitable process of experimentation.

The race to save America’s television history

One technology from the Post War-era that certainly hasn’t lost its lustre in the public imagination is television.

To The Atlantic’s Rebecca Rosen, nothing makes history come alive quite like video footage:

One surefire way to feel the emotional tug of history, for me at least, is to take in an event as it unfolded, via whatever media people at the time got their news. It’s one of the reasons I love the annual streaming of the broadcast of the Apollo 11 landing, which unfolds at the same time of night on the same day of the year that the original would have. Suddenly, you can feel the tension and drama of the moment, despite already knowing the outcome.

The problem with the physical tape many of these moments are recorded on is that it has begun deteriorating:

“The scary thing about it is that they are on physical formats that are deteriorating,” Karen Cariani, director of WGBH’s library and archives told me. “Video tape and audiotape is not a stable format. After 40 or 50 years, they are disintegrating. And the information—pictures, sounds on that physical medium—is disappearing. Unlike a piece of paper or a photograph that might last 100 years, media formats are extremely fragile.”

Over in the US, a new project has begun digitising an astounding 40,000 hours of archival content:

When its public-facing website launches in 2015, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) will hold digital files of 40,000 hours of footage and audio tape that contain the second half of the American 20th century as it unfolded. Among those 40,000 hours will be interviews recorded as African-Americans struggled to register to vote during the Freedom Summer; there will be the live speeches and press conferences of Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan; there will be entire episodes of public-media favorites like Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and Julia Child’s The French Chef.

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