What Google Reader, Simcity, and the MotoActv Fitness watch tell us

My friend Sam Kornstein wrote a great blog post recently titled "A Few Thoughts to Add on Google Reader" about Google Reader getting shut down in July, which sparked a few realizations I've had recently about similar services or products. Sample Simcity City In today's world, our personal lives are becoming more and more dependent on large tech companies focused more on the bottom line than anything else. I was not a Google Reader user myself, but I am certainly dependent on many products from Google and other tech companies, most of which I don't pay anything for (Gmail being the most notable).  A product I use quite frequently is my my Motorola Motactv GPS running watch.  Unlike my old Garmin, all of the software to view the data is on their website.  The problem is that after I purchased the watch, Google bought Motorola and support for the product has stopped.  It's only a matter of time I'm sure before the website goes down and my physical (and paid for product) device suddenly stops working as intended.

A second product I've questions is a new version of the class Simcity, put out by Electronic Arts recently which amazingly sold $1 million copies almost immediately.  Only problem is that the game requires one to be connected to their servers to play (and to make a huge mess, they didn't have enough servers at the launch of the game).  EA claims it is to enhance the game by allowing users to compete against others, critics claim it is to prevent copyright infringements.  Either way, is it fair that a game like Simcity can't be played "offline"?  If I pay $60 to purchase the game, how long is EA responsible for keeping the servers up and running so that I can continue to play it?  A year?  2 years?  10 years?

As more and more data and services become dependent on the cloud, it will be interesting to see how problems like this get resolved.  I have no doubts that in the long run consumers will be better off, but I'm sure there will be lots of bumps on the way.  In the Google Reader example, the great news is that just like I wrote in my post on Apple dropping Google Maps, I'm sure there are many startups that will jump in shortly and deliver a product far better than the rather stale Google Reader product was.

Competition is awesome (see iPhone Google Maps saga)

Google released the much anticipated Google Maps iPhone app yesterday and the reviews so far are pretty good.  I personally didn't think that the Apple Maps were as bad as they were made out to be, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  What this whole saga shows is the importance of competition and why so much focus on monopolies is paid by governments around the world. First, a little background:  the original maps application on the iphone was developed at the very last minute before the original iPhone launch by an Apple/Google team back in 2008.  That just goes to show you how important maps have become, in  2008 it was an afterthought .  Four years later and nothing had changed, Google actually refused to license their maps data to Apple so that it could be enhanced with new features such as spoken driving directions.  For many reasons, this being one of them, Apple decided to venture out on their own.  We all know what happened next:  huge uproar, people almost dying in deserts in Australia, apple execs were fired, and a written apology was given from the Apple CEO.

Fast forward to today.  Customers now have the choice between Apple Maps (and their advantages) and the new Google maps application.  There is no doubt that what Google just deployed is significantly better than what was available in iOS 5, it includes a slicker UI, better transit map integration, and voice driving directions.  I'm willing to bet Google would not have created this app in such a quick timeline if Apple hadn't upped the anti by putting out their own app.

One of the things that doesn't seem to get any press is the neat stuff now supported by iOS 6 for transit directions.  Sure, Apple doesn't have them integrated, but they do provide a means for 3rd party app developers to tie into the iPhone maps.  When I use the Rover app (link), it not only gives me transit directions but also pulls in real-time transit data telling me when buses and subway cars are going to arrive in San Francisco (and I assume other cities as well, like Boston).  This is better than what I had in the iOS 5 Google maps and as far as I can tell it's better than what Google released yesterday in their new app.  Publishing a schedule of when buses are supposed to arrive is signficantly less useful than knowing when exactly they will actually arrive.

Bottom line:  yes, Apple has looked awful through this whole mess, but because they took a gamble and pushed for innovation, iPhone owners are no doubt in a better spot than they were previously.  There is now an all out war between these two companies to keep innovating.  For me, companies going at each other's throats is a good thing and is why capitalism has become THE economic system in the world today.

Insider perspective of Google and Amazon

As a technologist I found this "rant" really, really interesting, but if you don't care much for technology you should probably not read this post.  My favorite line:  "But I'll argue that Accessibility is actually more important than Security because dialing Accessibility to zero means you have no product at all, whereas dialing Security to zero can still get you a reasonably successful product such as the Playstation Network". Essentially this is a long blog post written by a current Google employee who clearly doesn't know how to use Google Plus because he accidentally made it publicly available where it has started to spread like wild fire.  It talks a lot about the differences between Google and Amazon and where Google is going very wrong in building products without a platform.  A must read for someone interested in this stuff, but otherwise don't say I didn't warn you.  Read here.