Monthly Archive for November, 2007

Super Mario Galaxy Impressions

Wow. Now I need a Wii.


Well, the preview SDK for Android is now out, as well as a slew of titillating screencasts describing the architecture and development process for the platform. I hadn’t been really following the “gPhone” story apart from noting the fact that it apparently existed, so I took advantage of this opportunity to educate myself on the details of the beast.

And what a beast it is.

One of the things that I have always noted as being very impressive about OS X is a certain system-wide consistency and self-integration which Windows has failed to achieve, probably because the community is much more fractured. Beyond a highly consistent look and feel (ironically violated only by Apple’s own efforts in Mail and iTunes), there is a smorgasbord of underlying services and platforms that unify the OS – Cocoa services allow for inter-application actions (I can spellcheck text from in Shiira, my browser, through the services of another application such as Word, for instance), Spotlight integrates with a slew of applications to provide system-wide searching, AppleScripts allow for quick and easy automation and extensibility of applications, and most recently in Leopard, Quick Look allows for a preview framework that greatly assists in locating and identifying files.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that every one of the unifying services I have just listed require a certain amount of active participation from application developers. Time must be put in to integrate support for each of these services. However, the point is that they exist, and the capability is there. Because they exist, and because it is therefore reasonably easy to do so, users expect this level of functionality and developers put in the effort to make it work.

Android was built from the ground up for application integration. I haven’t messed around with the SDK yet, and I probably won’t until next weekend (there are some updates to My College Apps that are waiting to be pushed out), but from the screencasts, the gist of the platform seems to be entirely based on an operating-system level of content and action management. Of course, if I turn out to be wrong, please do correct me.

Rather than having default applications for a small number of things like file formats, email, and web browsing, Android is built on the concept of Intents, which are far more granular. Every action you’d want to perform, such as viewing a map, an email, picking a photo, making a call, or even going to the home screen is performed through a system call on an Intent. Android then determines which application would be best suited to perform the requested Intent – a process that is user-configurable – and then executes that action, optionally returning data such as the selected photo. In this way everything built in Android maybe reused and replaced, right down to, as previously mentioned, the home screen.

Additionally, while applications can store data in their own formats, they can opt into Android’s Content Manager service, which is apparently built on top of a SQLite engine they have integrated into the OS. In this way, content may be stored not only for the host application in question, but also made accessible for other applications to utilize, all with little to no additional effort – one prime example is Contact information, which could be useful to a whole slew of other applications.

A smaller, but very neat and appealing system-wide integration is the Notification Manager, which streamlines and standardizes the appearance of notification icons you often find along the top of phones. In android, all applications may display notification icons that the user may access at any point. When the icon is highlighted (tapped/selected once) it centers itself along the top and displays a little speech bubble indicating briefly what the notification is about, and should the user decide to act upon the notification, the application is then launched with information on what is going on.

Everything is built in Java, with the Java code being put through a custom compiler to leanify and meanify applications for a mobile environment, resulting in “.dex” files.

As a side note, I find it interesting that the entire Android appearance is highly evocative of the translucent smoke Apple has pushed in a few of its applications recently, not to mention that the screencast, while mentioning that Android’s web browser is built off of WebKit, calls it the “standard these days.”

Beyond whether all of this works as well as Google claims, my biggest question is how well Android takes care of the highly varying input and display methods on SmartPhones these days for the developer – it is a complex issue that in Windows Mobile requires the use of an extra framework on top of the .NET CF which makes the entire process extremely painful – just looking at the diagrams of abstraction required to draw a simple form with fields is enough to turn anyone off the idea. In one of the screencasts, the View Manager is described, and this issue is very briefly mentioned, with a note that Google has solved all these issues for the developer.

In summary, Google has created, in concept, an extremely interesting platform. The foremost goals appear to be open information sharing and platform self-integration, along with ease of development. Whether that concept is real, we shall soon find out. I’m off to download the SDK.

On the effects of Digg on responsible reporting

The Internet is an interesting place to be right now, either as a content consumer or as a content producer. Websites such as Daily Kos are quickly gaining steam and credibility (Daily Kos, for instance, is quoted almost nightly on Keith Olbermann’s show these days), while being simultaneously lambasted by the traditional media for concerns of integrity — some legitimate, some manufactured for obvious reasons.

However, these are age-old issues that have already been extensively explored by people far more versed and intelligent than I. Today I’d like to comment instead specifically on social news sites such as Digg.

Digg has had an interesting effect on the ecosystem of the Internet. Digg upends the traditional structure of the Internet, acting as a user-determined hub that sends traffic to the far-flung reaches of the web. To be featured on Digg means a blast of traffic, with hopefully some residual increase, and to be a Digger whose submissions are regularly featured on the front page is to have a certain amount of power. As both of these are desirable outcomes, those vying for such benefit find themselves now in a bit of a competition — and all that comes with it.

The issue of note here is that everything that comes with competition. Digg in general is a cesspool of noise, unorganized chaos that only plays at coming together into a cohesive idea. A submission will float through the ether and be lost, while perhaps mere minutes later, a nearly identical candidate will be picked up and flung into the stratosphere. In today’s world of short attention spans and busy denizens, every moment counts, and if anything fails to interest within a small handful of moments, it gets dropped for the next scrap in the heap; and it is thus, amidst this whirlwind of conditions, that we find ourselves in the thick of it.

Today’s Digg, and — dare I say it — blogosphere is a giant collection of exaggerations. One after another, with everyone struggling to stand out against the noise, minor issues are magically and thoughtlessly transmogrified into grand proclamations of triumph and terrifying prophecies of impending doom.

My point is illustrated, and indeed was inspired by, the recent discovery of a “trojan” that targets Mac OS X. Headlines drifted by my Digg feed proclaiming doom and gloom for Cupertino’s favorite operating system, with one article going so far as to declare that years of not patching security holes will now finally catch up to Apple.

From a purely technical standpoint, this entire ordeal is a pile of putrid stink. The so-called security flaw consists of a user downloading an executable package, supplying the adminstrative password, and finally finding their requests redirected to web-based advertisement portals. This is roughly equivalent to pointing out the horrid security hole in Unix whereupon a user is convinced into typing in rm -r *. And as a side note, this is not equal to most of the user-instigated security holes on Windows, as most of those involve carriers that are not executables.

Regardless, the issue at hand stands; how are we as a community to deal with attacks from all sides regarding our credibility when we ourselves, vying for a spot in our own limelight, fail to uphold any scrap of integrity or dignity? Perhaps I am the one that is overreacting here. Perhaps in today’s atmosphere, words have lost their edge, their meaning dulled. Perhaps these hyperbolic articles flooding my screen are no longer an affront to a society of emotional capriciousness. All I know is that Digg and the social news conglomerate seem to be becoming less and less relevant.