The new iPhone “Health” app – screenshots and analysis

I’ve been waiting eagerly for the release of the “Healthbook” app, and it was finally announced at WWDC earlier today.  The app itself is actually going to be called “Health”.  I actually much preferred the icons that were floating around prior to the announcement (what’s with Apple and the blah icon designs since iOS7?):

Original leaked Healthbook icon (I like it!)

Health app icon (snore)

The app itself is very impressive.  See the gallery below for screenshots of the app:

All in all, I had high expectations for this feature and still came away impressed.  Apple, in its typical style, delivered a well-polished product that blows away prior implementations.  A few thoughts:

  • So many bloggers and pundits keep harping on the fitness aspects, and what it means for Fitbit, the iWatch, Nike, et al.  But the focus is pretty clearly on health as well as wellness (if not health over wellness), and providing a consolidated view of health is where this thing shines.  In fact, I think Apple might just have become the must-have gadget for Baby Boomers who really need a consolidated view of health (blood pressure, sugar, daily activities, etc).  There are so many medical device manufacturers who should not or cannot invest in software for their connected device, and Apple really offers the best platform for these devices to integrate to.
  • I wonder how many fitness aggregators will open themselves up to this platform.  My Fitness Pal is one of the leading food trackers.  Right now, they require other companies to sign an agreement with them to access their API, with its food database and other entries.  If My Fitness Pal feeds this data into the Health app, any other app can grab the data from there without needing to sign anything with My Fitness Pal.  They would be giving up a lot of control to Apple by allowing Health access to their data.  Same goes for other heavyweights like Runkeeper, Fitbit, etc.
  • After seeing this app, I’m excited to see what the iWatch is going to offer!

Amazon’s biggest advance in robotics (it’s not the drones!)

Everyone is abuzz about Amazon’s new announcement of Amazon Air (see coverage from Ars Technica here).  The announcement, which aired on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, was teased throughout the prior week and played up nicely on Sunday, as correspondent Charlie Rose gasped in shock when Jeff Bezos revealed the robots to him.

On Monday morning, I expressed some skepticism on LinkedIn.  I wrote that while technically feasible,

Legally and logistically I think there’s a lot of unknowns. How high do they fly? What’s their approach altitude? Does the pilot fly with a camera? Can they see my backyard? Can they see through my windows? Can they see through my bedroom windows?! Are they taking pictures or video along the way? How are they planning to deliver to apartments – a drone just can’t drop everyone’s packages in front of the building. I’m sure there are smarter people than me who’ve thought about all these issues but I think they all come with safety and privacy concerns that need to be addressed.

I still think that’s all true.  But all this hullabaloo ignores the fact that Amazon already has amazing, cutting-edge, industry-changing robotics technology – it’s in their subsidiary, Kiva Systems.  Who is Kiva?  Kiva Systems is the developer of a cutting edge robotic warehouse automation system.  This technology basically allows robots to pull the items for your order from their bins in the warehouse, instead of needing humans to do so.  Kiva had big name clients like Zappos, Follett, Gap, Staples, Walgreens and Crate and Barrel as customers.  They were bringing in $100 million in revenue from these big-name customers.  Last November, Amazon bought Kiva Systems for $775 million.  Amazon wanted Kiva’s technology more tightly integrated into their own systems and didn’t want any competitors to have this technology at all.

And the fruits of this purchase were seen this past Black Friday.  The Boston Globe had a great story on Sunday about Kiva.  The story detailed how, by October, Amazon had deployed 1300 robots in its warehouses to automate order fulfillment.  It also talked to some of those former Kiva customers, who feel like they are now losing a competitive advantage now that Amazon owns this technology.

So while Amazon Air gets all the press, the robots from Kiva Systems will be saving Amazon millions this year and in the years to come.

The Oddest Android 4.4. KitKat theory you’ll hear

I’m going to propose my theory for the biggest new feature in Android Kit Kat:  BUMP PAY.

Here’s my rationale:

  • Sep 17:  Google removes the NFC requirement for Google Wallet.  Ostensibly, this is because the app is shifting purposes to support things like online gift and store cards
  • Sep 16:  Google purchases Bump, whose apps allow you to bump two phones together to share information
  • Oct 24: Screenshots of the Android Kit Kat settings screen show a feature called “Tap & Pay” (http://www.androidguys.com/2013/10/11/fresh-images-confirm-android-4-4s-tap-pay/)

So there you go.  Square Cash is great, but can Google bring payments to the next level?  Imagine just typing in a payment amount and bumping with the payee if they’re close by – no email entry or use lookup required!

I’m excited to see what comes out!

The Story of the Foolish Thieves

The story of the foolish thieves goes like this:

Two thieves with knives walked up to a man and demanded $100.  The man, in turn, offered $70 and warned them that the police would soon arrive.  An argument ensued.

In the end, the thieves were seen walking away, patting each other on the back for their success, with three pennies between them.

note: the details of this story do vary.  In some versions, the man offered only $66; in some, he offered nothing.  Some versions even claim the man was the devil himself (also I consider this superstitious nonsense).  However, most all versions agree on this: the two thieves were truly fools.

Google solved Android fragmentation and forgot to tell everybody

I had a whole post planned this topic but Ars Technica beat me to the punch.  The gist of their article:  Google actually pushed out a significant upgrade to Android without actually upgrading Android.  They pushed out major changes to location services, game services, music, search, notifications, messaging, and social networking through Google Play and Google Play Services.  By doing so, they were able to update these services for about 98% of their audience, without requiring a version update!

According to the Google developer team, they went this route to break their dependency on version updates for their innovations.  Now, they can deliver API updates to phones without intervention from carriers or OEMs.   Ars asked “is there a light at the end of the [version] fragmentation tunnel?”

What Ars missed, though, was that this approach solves OS fragmentation problems as well.  Access to Google Play, Maps, Gmail and other services requires a licensing agreement; that’s why you don’t see these services on other forks of Android.  Going forward, these Android forks will need to support Google Play to get these major feature updates.    And I’ll bet major new APIs built on top of the low level stack (for example, Google Now cards) will require Google Play Services to work as well.

So, if Samsung wants to fork Android, they can go ahead and do so – but if they don’t include Google Play they’ll miss out on a growing chunk of the Android API that developers will probably be implementing.  Same goes for anyone else in China or the Far East that wants to fork Android.  And Amazon, you’re already screwed.

Nice job, Ars, in catching an important nuance to Googlel I/O that every other outlet missed.

EDIT: another great post on the subject by Android Central.

Why Buy an Android Phone over an iPhone

You should know by now that I’m a big Android fan.  Inspired by a recent post about contextual computing I wanted to list out all the amazing contextual things you can do with tools like Motorola Smart Actions, Microsoft’s on{X} or Tasker:

  • Turn WiFi on when I’m at home or the office
  • Set my phone to vibrate between the hours of 8 and 5
  • Set my phone to vibrate when I’m at the office
  • Turn on my ringer when I plug in my charger
  • When I’m at the office, change my ringtone from the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get Retarded” to “Fur Elise”
  • When I’m in a meeting, turn my phone to silent
  • Send a text message to my wife when I leave work
  • Turn off Wifi, GPS, and background apps like Facebook when my battery level is low
  • Open Spotify when I plug in my headphones
  • If I open YouTube and I don’t have my headphones plugged in, turn up the volume to max
  • If I put my phone in the car dock, turn on Bluetooth, open Spotify, turn the screen brightness to max, set the display to never shut off, and auto-respond to any text messages

The future gets even cooler with the advent of NFC-enabled phones.  There aren’t a lot of NFC tags out there, but you can use special NFC stickers to do some crazy stuff.  Here are things you can do or could do in the future:

  • Tap phones to share contact information, photos and videos without an internet connection – great for places like concerts, sporting events, meetups and conferences where the connections are bad
  • Tap your headset against your phone to pair automatically; tap your phone against your car dashboard to do the same
  • Put stickers on the fridge.  If you run out of milk, tap the “milk” sticker to add milk to your phone’s grocery list
  • Put a sticker on a drink coaster.  If your friends have Android phones, they can tap the sticker to get your house’s SSID and network password, and automatically log in (you can also print out a QR code – find this awesome app here)
  • if you network enable your lights or thermostat, you could tap a sticker near your front door to turn off the lights or turn down the heat
  • Once shops and restaurants start using this, you could:
    • Check into a restaurant/bar/gym by tapping a sticker on the doorframe
    • Register with Belly by tapping your phone against a Belly sticker on the cash register
    • Put stickers up on the wall by the entrance in Starbucks; diners can tap the sticker to order their drink, which will be ready by the time they get to the counter to pay
    • Pick out outfits you like at your favorite apparel store; when you go to the store, tap your phone against the store’s Android tablet.  The sales rep can then grab all your favorite items in your size and suggest clothes or accessories that can go with it

Pretty neat stuff. This is all stuff enabled by a combination of Android’s open API’s, background services, and Intent infrastructure.  There is a buzzy phrase around mobile apps – great apps take advantage of SoLoMo, or Social/Local/Mobile.  However, Android apps give you an ability to go beyond that to SoCoMo – Social/Contextual/Mobile.  The thing to consider is that your phone knows an amazing amount of things about you – where you are, how fast you’re moving, what events you have coming up, where your friends are, if you are in your car, if you are listening to music, etc.   And the Android platform can take all that information to make your life easier and automate away all the simple, repetitive things you do everyday. I’m excited to see what people come up with next!

So if you’re looking for a phone, get an Android phone.  You can do amazing and interesting things with it that you just can’t do with other phones.

Logitech Revue review part 2: What’s next?

I have already posted a review of the Logitech Revue, one of the first implementations of the Google TV platform.  That review was mainly on the product overall, from an end-user perspective.  As an avid Android fan, I thought I would talk about the Revue from a developer standpoint.

I think the Google TV platform has a lot of potential.  Here are a few things that I would like to see:

More Intuitive Interface

Apple TV this is not.  Whereas the Apple TV interface is simple and intuitive, the Google TV main menu feels like a mess.

Also, in typical Android fashion, user consistentcy is a mess.  The back button sometimes takes you out of apps, and sometimes takes you to the prior page.  There is a button on the keyboard to watch live TV; however, the option to do so on the main menu is buried at the bottom of the “Apps” section.  The same shortcut to a Google TV-enabled website can appear in the bookmarks section, the most visited section, and the spotlight section; it’s unclear to a user where they should go to find this content.

Google could do a lot in the area of user interface to improve the device.  I’ve seen screenshots of the new Honeycomb build; so far, these really don’t inspire confidence in terms of improving the UI.

Development approach

In the current iteration of Google TV, there is one preferred method to implement applications – Google TV-optimized web sites.  Google has published developer guidelines to help web developers create their site for this environment.  However, this will change with the upcoming release of Google TV.  The new version will continue to support TV-optimized websites, but will also support the Android Market.  This means that Google TV users will be able to download and run Google TV Android applications from their device.  In general choice is good, but I think might be better if Google pointed developers toward one platform.

I don’t yet see the large advantages to Android apps in their current format.  Right now, the Android Apps on your TV lack touch support and occupy the full screen.  To me, this doesn’t seem highly compelling over existing web sites.  Android has powerful capabilities like content providers, intents, and service providers that have potential, but I don’t see great use cases for these features on the TV platform.  To make Android apps compelling, I think Google needs to provide:

Overlay Support

To really integrate TV and the internet, I think Google needs to enable some kind of app overlay on top of the existing TV stream.  That really fulfills the promise of watching your favorite TV show and seeing Twitter reactions on the same screen.  Google currently offers this by displaying the app with the TV show in a small picture-in-picture window in the corner.  This current option provides internet or TV access on a large screen; I am arguing for integrated internet and TV access on a large screen.  To really kick that idea into high gear, Google should create a:

Channel Sensor

I’d love to see a sensor that tells the system which channel the user is on and what show the user is watching.  This could enable a twitter app that will automatically pop open a stream on the current show’s twitter hash tag.  Or, imagine having an NBA season pass app that pops up league scores, stats and comments whenever you’re watching any NBA game.  Please, Google, make this happen.

Summary

While Google TV has a lot of promise, I would like Google to really customize and optimize the Android experience for the TV platform.  It feels like Google is trying to apply a lightly-customized Honeycomb build to the TV platform, and I feel like that’s the wrong approach.  Here’s to hoping that the TV platform takes Google’s strength in information organization, search, and developer talent and with the Android platform to create something novel and unique for consuming video content.