Apple and Google, in the eyes of the general public and many tech bloggers, have been at war for many years, and in vague terms, both companies sell fancy mobile phones. But the implications of those businesses are so far beyond the face value of what we see. And what I’ve realized is that they aren’t zero-sum or mutually exclusive. What I’ve come to understand is that the more the two companies seem to have been battling, the more the individual directions of each company become unassailably concrete.
Different directions toward the same destination. But I would also add fundamentally different cultures and focus. This is what makes observing both companies so fun these days.
I've long been a fan of Google's dedicated Search app on iOS. Despite the company's lackluster catalogue of iOS software, the Search app has always been polished, innovative, and well integrated with Google services. The app, for instance, supports iOS 9 multitasking and 3D Touch – the same cannot be said for Google's other productivity apps on the platform.
Google announced a new app/service today to share media and links with friends. From their blog:
Group sharing isn’t easy. From book clubs to house hunts to weekend trips and more, getting friends into the same app can be challenging. Sharing things typically involves hopping between apps to copy and paste links. Group conversations often don’t stay on topic, and things get lost in endless threads that you can’t easily get back to when you need them.
We wanted to build a better group sharing experience, so we made a new app called Spaces that lets people get people together instantly to share around any topic.
With Spaces, it’s simple to find and share articles, videos and images without leaving the app, since Google Search, YouTube, and Chrome come built in.
I like how they're going to use it at Google I/O this week to connect developers with technical sessions, but I don't have a lot of faith when it comes to social apps from Google. Pretty clever to bring the smart search of Google Photos (which is amazing) to Spaces too, but I don't see how I could use this aside from occasional, topic-based events.
Google has a point that most group conversations are endless threads of stuff, but am I going to switch to Spaces just for better search/sharing? I doubt it.
I'll still be checking out Spaces when it launches later today on the App Store (the app isn't out yet, but it should be at this link eventually).
Despite some shortcomings in the way iOS handles third-party keyboards, they seem to have taken off recently. Just in the last month Microsoft’s Garage project released the Hub keyboard and Word Flow. Now, Google’s getting into the keyboard game with Gboard, which lets you search Google for all sorts of information.
I’ve only been playing around with Gboard for a short time, but the results have been impressive. Gboard solves a common problem on mobile devices – sharing information. Whether you’re using Twitter, email, or a chat client, it’s not uncommon to have to leave the app you are using to find the information you want to share, whether that’s a location, a GIF, a photo, or even something like a stock price or the weather.
Interesting updates for the only VR viewer I own: starting today, iOS developers can create native apps for Google's Cardboard VR thanks to a new iOS SDK, and they can also embed VR views in their apps and websites.
Google's blog post has an example of a VR view – tap a button, put your phone in the Cardboard, and view the content in VR. Very nice.
MacStories readers and listeners of Connected are no strangers to my criticism towards Google's Docs suite on iOS. For months, the company has been unable to properly support the iPad Pro and new iOS 9 features, leaving iOS users with an inferior experience riddled with a host of other inconsistencies and bugs.
Earlier today, Google brought native iPad Pro resolution support to their Docs apps – meaning, you'll no longer have to use stretched out apps with an iPad Air-size keyboard on your iPad Pro. While this is good news (no one likes to use iPad apps in compatibility mode with a stretched UI), the updates lack a fundamental feature of the post-iOS 9 world: multitasking with Slide Over and Split View. Unlike the recently updated Google Photos, Docs, Sheets, and Slides can't be used alongside other apps on the iPad, which hinders the ability to work more efficiently with Google apps on iOS 9.
Today's Google app updates highlight a major problem I've had with Google's iOS software in the past year. One of the long-held beliefs in the tech industry is that Google excels at web services, while Apple makes superior native apps. In recent years, though, many have also noted that Google was getting better at making apps faster than Apple was improving at web services. Some have said that Google had built a great ecosystem of iOS apps, even.
Today, Google's iOS apps are no longer great. They're mostly okay, and they're often disappointing in many ways – one of which1 is the unwillingness to recognize that adopting new iOS technologies is an essential step for building solid iOS experiences. The services are still amazing; the apps are too often a downright disappointment.2
No matter the technical reason behind the scenes, a company the size of Google shouldn't need four months (nine if you count WWDC 2015) to ship a partial compatibility update for iOS 9 and the iPad Pro. Google have only themselves to blame for their lack of attention and failure to deliver modern iOS apps.
With an update released today, Google has brought support for Live Photos to their Google Photos app for iOS, also adding Split View for iPad Pro users (a feature that is still surprisingly absent from the company's suite of productivity apps).
Big news from Google's Chrome for iOS team today: the app has moved from the legacy UIWebView API to WKWebView, promising notable speed improvements and 70% less crashing.
Here's Andrew Cunningham, writing for Ars Technica:
Chrome’s stability on iOS should also see a big improvement. The UIWebView process in older versions needed to run within the Chrome process, so if a complex or badly behaving page made UIWebView crash, it would bring the whole Chrome browser down. With WKWebView, Google can move the process for individual pages outside of the app, better approximating the process isolation that Chrome uses on other platforms. Now when a page crashes, you’ll see the standard “Aw, Snap” Chrome error page. Google estimates that Chrome 48 will crash 70 percent less than older versions.
Apparently, Google worked with Apple to fix some of the bugs that prevented them from using WKWebView in Chrome before iOS 9. Developers have long been positive about the benefits of WKWebView (see my story on iOS web views from last year) and it's good to see Google moving to a faster, more stable engine.
I'm curious to know if Google's dedicated search app has been or will be upgraded to WKWebView as well. I don't use Chrome (I like the unique perks of Safari, like Safari View Controller and the ability to access webpage selections with action extensions), but I prefer the Google app for traditional Google searches – it has a native interface for the search box with handy suggestions and links to past queries. Not to mention Google Now, which I've grown to like to track shipments, get weather reports, and receive time to leave notifications.
An important note for VoiceOver users: today's update seems to break support for this key accessibility feature in the app.
Joel Rosenblatt, reporting for Bloomberg:
Google Inc. is paying Apple Inc. a hefty fee to keep its search bar on the iPhone.
Apple received $1 billion from its rival in 2014, according to a transcript of court proceedings from Oracle Corp.’s copyright lawsuit against Google. The search engine giant has an agreement with Apple that gives the iPhone maker a percentage of the revenue Google generates through the Apple device, an attorney for Oracle said at a Jan. 14 hearing in federal court.
It's not surprising at all that Google is paying Apple for the benefit of being the default search engine on iOS, but this is the first time it has been confirmed, and a dollar figure provided. But it is also an awkward revelation for Apple, which has recently started to more aggressively position itself as the company that protects its user's privacy. Remember Tim Cook's note on "Apple's commitment to your privacy"?
A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.
Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.
Apple's subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) privacy dig at Google looks a bit absurd and hypocritical in light of this court transcript. Apple may not build a profile on its users to sell to advertisers, but it lets Google do that (by default) and then profits from Google's actions.
Unsurprisingly, Google and Apple weren't happy about the disclosure by an Oracle attorney and sought to seal and redact the transcript. As Bloomberg reports;
The specific financial terms of Google’s agreement with Apple are highly sensitive to both Google and Apple,” Google said in its Jan. 20 filing. “Both Apple and Google have always treated this information as extremely confidential.”
The transcript vanished without a trace from electronic court records at about 3 p.m. Pacific standard time with no indication that the court ruled on Google’s request to seal it.