Posts tagged wants

Google Wants To Make You An Android Developer—For Free

Android is the world’s most popular mobile platform—and now you can learn how to build Android apps for free.

See also: What Developers Need To Know About Android L

On Wednesday Google announced a free Android-app training course, one intended to give you up-close-and-personal experience with the mobile platform used in more than 190 countries and millions of mobile devices.

The course, “Developing Android Apps: Android Fundamentals,” walks you through six lessons for building your first cloud-connected Android app. In a blog post, Google stresses that the course is designed for people with some programming experience, but not necessarily any Android or even mobile experience.

Of course there’s a catch. It costs $150 a month to sign up for Udacity, where Google is offering the course. There’s a two week free trial, but Google recommends you take eight weeks, working six hours a week, to practice the course’s six lessons. Though if you’re looking to save money, perhaps you could blast through that before the free trial ends.

Check out Google’s video to learn about the steps you’ll go through in the course:

Screenshot via Udacity

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Google Wants Your Feedback On Right To Be Forgotten by @mattsouthern

Google is now soliciting feedback on their implementation of EU’s Right To Be Forgotten ruling through a new Advisory Council. In an effort to obtain feedback from the general public, Google has opened up a new form where they are encouraging you to leave your thoughts. The new page Google has set up opens with the question: “How should one person’s right to be forgotten be balanced with the public’s right to know?” The page then goes on to explain Right To Be Forgotten in more detail. A recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union found […]

The post Google Wants Your Feedback On Right To Be Forgotten by @mattsouthern appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Amazon Tells The Feds It Really Wants To Test Drone Delivery

Amazon appears to be serious about its proposed drone-delivery program—so much so that it’s petitioning the federal government for permission to test what it’s calling its Prime Air service near its headquarters in Seattle.

See also: To Deliver With Prime Air Drones, Amazon Has To Solve These 3 Problems

Prime Air burst into the national consciousness last December thanks to an uncritical 60 Minutes report on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his stated plan to launch a service that would use drones to deliver packages weighing less than five pounds to your door in less than 30 minutes. The report was long on promise but short on detail, and critics assailed the news program and reporter Charlie Rose for “fawning” over Bezos and playing into Amazon’s pre-holiday-season marketing offensive.

Among other things, there were plenty of reasons to think Prime Air was little more than vaporware. FAA regulations prohibit commercial use of drones, while the prospect of remotely controlled octocopters buzzing through busy urban centers raised serious safety concerns. Such a system would also have to be safeguarded against hacking and vandalism. Bezos himself told 60 Minutes that drone delivery was probably still “four to five” years away.

Amazon, however, shows every sign of working seriously on Prime Air. In a letter published to the Federal Aviation Administration’s site Thursday, Amazon formally requested an exemption from FAA rules so it can test its drones outdoors in the U.S. near its Washington State research facilities.

So far, the FAA has only approved six organizations to test drones in the U.S.: the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, Griffiss International Airport in New York, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. 

Amazon’s drones can now travel up to 50 miles while carrying a five pound package, Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, wrote in the letter. (Bezos told 60 Minutes that 86% of the packages sold on Amazon weigh less than five pounds.)

“Granting this request will do nothing more than allow Amazon to do what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft do every day,” wrote Misener, “and we will abide by much stronger safety measures than currently required for these groups.”

Added Misener: “One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”

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Android TV: Google Wants To Own Your Living Room (Again)

There’s no doubt that Google wants to own all of the screens in our lives, from the little ones on our wrists (and thermostats), to the larger ones in our pockets and car dashboards. But of all the screens it’s now pursuing, the biggest one of them all is the most intriguing—the all-new Android TV

In a way, Android TV is a comeback story. Google’s path to the living room has been anything but even—it’s been punctuated with failures like Google TV and weird missteps like the announced-then-canceled Nexus Q. The $35 Chromecast streaming stick, launched last year, has been a rare TV success for the tech company.

Even so, Google appears to be in no hurry to dive into another hardware product. This time, it’s all about software and search—two things Google knows a thing or two about. 

Search, Cast And Voice

When it comes to smart televisions, something is broken—and that something is search. Too often, people sitting in their living rooms have to use arrow keys on a remote to peck out movie titles, actor names or other search terms one letter at a time. And the results that come up aren’t always what we want or need. Google thinks it might be able to do something about that.

Similarly, its Chromecast put the phone at the center of the TV watching experience, acclimating people to using their mobile devices as remotes to program the Internet, in the form of streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and HBO, to their televisions. The device prompted the competition—including Roku and TiVo—to keep pace with similar “casting” features. 

So it’s not a big surprise that the Google Cast SDK, which allows Chromecast to work with different apps, is also a key part of the new Android TV software. This means set-top boxes and smart televisions powered by Android TV will also be able to cast shows, movies and music to the TV. (They’ll also benefit from the updates headed to Chromecast, such as customizable backdrops and Android mirroring.)

Android smartphones will also be able to do something else: voice command and search. 

The idea is to make sure you have easier access to the things you want to watch. You could talk into your phone to find a specific movie title or actor. You can even ask, “Who played Katniss in The Hunger Games?”, as one Google exec did during its keynote presentation at the company’s I/O developer conference earlier this week.

The searches can also pull up several contextual results, including actor bios, YouTube clips and other information. If you’re not excited about talking to your phone, you don’t have to. Android TV also works with a gaming controller, a hardware remote control and Android Wear smartwatches, so you can—theoretically, at least—command your TV from your wrist. 

Voice functionality looks like a killer feature, but like Amazon’s attempt at delivering voice search, it could be a letdown if enough developers don’t support it. Fire TV drew criticism for highly touting voice features that, at launch, only yielded titles from Amazon’s own media library. That will change later on this year, as several streaming services plan to support it. But by then, the momentum may be gone.

Android TV, on the other hand, is not a hardware product—it’s software intended for other companies’ TVs and set-tops, including Sony, Philips, Razer and Asus. And there could be plenty of time to put finishing touches on apps and features by the time those products ship.

Learning From Experience

For now, Android TV looks promising, and that’s primarily because Google is reaching out to software developers early. 

That stands in stark contrast to the company’s previous efforts. Google TV, the company’s first attempt at a connected television experience, flopped in part because developers ignored its platform. Nexus Q fared even worse, thanks to its $299 price tag and limited feature set; Google pulled the plug before it even launched commercially.

Then last year, Google found itself with an unexpected hit on its hands—the Chromecast, a TV product people wanted. The gadget has routinely led Amazon’s bestselling electronics list, and is currently beating out Amazon’s own Fire TV. 

Those failures and the success of Chromecast have all clearly informed Google’s Android TV strategy. Instead of its former piecemeal approach with Google TV and the Nexus Q, the company has harnessed smartphones, tablets, and even watches as controllers and second screens that can complement a smart TV.

It’s folding in features that are familar to Android users, like swipeable information cards and Google Now-like voice search. And, Google engineers tell me, the company has made it extremely easy for app developers to turn their Android mobile applications into Android TV-worthy games, streaming services and more. 

One Googler even told me that a developer, using the Android TV software development kit, took perhaps a week to turn his Android mobile app into an Android TV app. 

Apps that are on tap include Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, as well as Google’s own YouTube, Hangouts, and Play Movies. They’ll be available this fall, when Android TV and its related app store are scheduled to launch. 

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A New Parking App Wants You To Share Something You Don’t Own

If you’ve driven through San Francisco’s Misson neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon seeking a place to park for a brunch you’ll spend an hour waiting in line for, you know how difficult it is to find a spot for your vehicle.

When Apps And Real Life Collide

To one team of entrepreneurs, the parking problem here isn’t a problem at all. Instead, it’s an opportunity to build a business by giving those who are willing to pay a little extra a hassle-free parking spot.

Their app, called Sweetch, a moniker that combines “switching” places and making parking “sweeter,” lets users pay $5 to get a parking spot from someone who is leaving. Drivers, in turn, receive $4 when they list their own spot and someone claims it. 

According to cofounder Hamza Ouazzani Chahdi, it’s designed to reduce traffic congestion by limiting the time people spend circling for a space.

“As the inventory of parking spots on-street will not increase, the best way to improve the situation is to provide information to people about parking spot locations and availabilities,” Chahdi said in interview.

He said that while the Sweetch team isn’t originally from San Francisco, they’ve spent the last six months observing the parking situation and talking to people in the Mission to help find an appropriate solution.

Mission residents are not impressed.

“Sweetch is not making parking problems better overall; it’s making it so a person with money is more likely to get a spot,” software developer and Mission resident William Pietri told me. “It makes the problem worse in that it encourages people to wait for a parking space for people to come along and pay for it.”

To critics like Pietri, Sweetch is just a company trying to make a buck from public goods. And its product is seen as the latest in a slew of apps that widen the gap between people who can pay extra and those who can’t.

Such frustrations are nothing new in the Mission, a historically Hispanic neighborhood already dealing with an influx of tech workers and a resultant spike in rents—to say nothing of the giant corporate buses that shuttle them to their jobs in Silicon Valley.

While walking down a neighborhood street one day, Pietri saw Sweetch employees advertising their app. 

“I told them it was an abomination,” he said.

He then saw a Sweetch pitch on the community-based social network Nextdoor. Pietri was not alone in his distaste for the app—his neighbors weren’t happy. There were 65 replies, the majority of which condemned the service and the people building it.

Pietri equates Sweetch to a high-tech equivalent of panhandlers who jump in an open parking space, wave a driver in, and ask for cash—not the environmentally- and community-friendly startup the founders claim to be. 

Chahdi says these fears of people squatting in spaces are unfounded, because the dollar amount is relatively low, and they are not trying to build an app for people to make money. The fee, he argues, is meant to create an incentive to let others know when you’re leaving a parking spot. 

However, if you list your parking spot and no one claims it, you don’t get any money. So Sweetch is arguably motivating parked drivers to wait a few extra minutes to get their $4. 

Parking frustration, of course, is widespread across major U.S. metropolitan areas. And Sweetch isn’t the first app to try and solve that problem—it’s not even the only app that facilitates payments between drivers. Startup MonkeyParking turns parking spaces into auction items, and gives the spaces to the highest bidder.

Among other things, it’s not even clear whether parking apps like Sweetch are legal. At some level they amount to trading in a commodity that neither party can own. If anything, street parking spaces are held in public trust by the city government.

A representative from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency told me, “We recently became aware of these applications and are currently working with other agencies to determine their legality and how they impact efforts to effectively manage parking in San Francisco.”

A City Disrupting Itself 

The City of San Francisco is actively working on improving parking issues. In 2010, the city rolled out SFpark, a pilot project that aims to improve the availability of parking by boosting meter fees in a few heavily trafficked neighborhoods during periods of peak demand. The idea is to discourage squatting at low rates.

The program uses meter sensors to detect open spaces, and it offered an app that could direct drivers to available parking in spaces and garages. But unlike Sweetch, the only thing the city charges is the meter fee. 

In fact, SFpark has open-sourced its parking data and encourages developers to use the public API to create new apps that benefit the community. 

There’s hope that SFpark will expand to cover more areas, bringing the same time-saving efficiencies these pay-to-park apps promise, but keep the parking-related revenues for the city, which uses them to maintain infrastructure, for instance, roads we drive on in the first place. First, though, it has to pay for its own operation: The pilot program is currently under evaluation and the sensor batteries have run down, so the app isn’t currently reporting real-time information on empty spaces.

Local governments are notoriously slow when it comes to implementing change—unlike startups, local officials are burdened with paperwork and procedures. They have to answer to all their constituents, not a small set of customers. So it’s natural for entrepreneurs to look at a problem stuck in a logjam of legalities and envision a quick, technocratic solution in the form of an app. Sweetch is arguably providing a look at available parking spaces that the city has promised but isn’t currently offering. 

Is Sharing Really A Business Model?

When I asked Chahdi about the legalities of selling parking spaces, he said, “No one is selling a spot because it is a public asset and does not belong to anyone. The members of our community are sharing private information about the location of their car.”

That argument seems tendentious, since you’re paying $5 for a patch of asphalt, not a piece of data. Since 2003, it’s been illegal to ask people for money in parking lots or when they’re exiting cars in San Francisco. It’s not clear why putting an app on top of the experience changes things.

Pietri, a startup mentor and entrepreneur himself, said that Sweetch is emblematic of the industry’s flaws—a solution to a problem that makes sense to the wealthy, but that locals hate. 

“I came from a position of wanting to like these guys,” he said. “But they don’t quite get that the purpose [of a startup] is not to make money, but it’s to create value for other people and make money along the way.”

Entrepreneurs won’t stop trying to simplify everyday activities with mobile technologies. The real test for this growing group of apps and services will be to see how many, and which types of people the value is being created for, while balancing the desire for simplicity with the wants and needs of the local community.

In the meantime, some drivers will have no choice but to circle an extra 20 minutes waiting for a parking spot to open up. Those who can wil pay extra for the privilege of parking quickly. Next up: Paying someone to stand in line for them at brunch. 

Lead image courtesy of Pelle Sten on Flickr

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Find out what the world wants to know during the World Cup with Google Trends

As the World Cup launches, content consumption will increase for many websites especially those focused on news and sports. As can be seen from the statistics below, soccer fever is about to take hold:

  • The World Cup is the largest, most connected global sporting event. Worldwide, it has more interest on Google Search than the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the Tour de France combined.*
  • In 2010, about 18% of searches for games, players and teams during the World Cup final were made on a mobile device. Compare that with 2014, when 63% of similar searches during a popular UEFA Champions League match were made on mobile. We’re likely to see this trend continue during this year’s World Cup.**
  • Looking at a 30-day period this year, more hours of soccer content have been watched on YouTube than were broadcast during the entire 2010 World Cup—over 900 times the amount.***
  • In that time, 64.7 million hours of soccer video were watched on YouTube globally.***
  • 1.6 billion views of soccer content on YouTube globally.***
Views of Sports Videos on YouTube, April 13–May 13 ***
* – Source: Google Data, January 1, 2010–May 14, 2014, Indexed Search Query Volume, Worldwide
** -Source: 
*** – Source: Google Data, April 13–May 13, 2014, Indexed Video Views, Worldwide
Connect with your users as they enjoy the games, and potentially drive more traffic to your site. With, tailor your site’s content with the latest insights and most popular trends as they emerge during the tournament. Here’s some examples of the types of insights you can expect from Google Trends over the coming weeks: 
  • Sentiment: Explore how an entire country is feeling, whether optimistic or anxious. Sentiment will be captured across search trends and public Google+ conversations.
  • World focus: For every match, discover which team is capturing the world’s attention in Search. 
  • Top questions: Do your users want to know more about a penalty kick? They’re probably not the only ones. Check out trending questions from every competing country before and after kickoff.
  • Rising players: Find out the players to watch and how they rank in search compared with their teammates.
Check out now and make sure you’ve got the latest information when creating your content. Whether it’s insight on how a country is feeling ahead of a big match, or where fans stand on a referee’s decision. 
Tailor your content to what’s capturing your users interests right now with the latest insights from
Viva La World Cup!
Posted by Chris Jones – Audience Development Specialist
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This blog post was adapted from content originally posted on the Inside Search blog.

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Pinterest Wants You To Be Your Own Advertiser

Pinterest’s Promoted Pins are great for big brands, but what about medium to small ones? Now there’s an offering scaled just to them—a new do-it-yourself Promoted Pins tool.

Pinterest for Business was launched 18 months ago and in that time the social discovery platform has made it so anyone, from big-time corporations to teensy personal blogs, can sign up for a business account. Since last October, Pinterest has been testing Promoted Pins, a way for those businesses to pay for their pins to show up in relevant searches and user feeds. Promoted Pins don’t come cheap though—Ad Age reports that Pinterest is looking for $1 to $2 million commitments for cost-per-impression deals. 

Needless to say, small businesses don’t exactly have millions to spend. A self-serve alternative may be a simple way for Pinterest to scale its offering. 

Is This Pinterest’s “Wild West” Moment?

Pinterest’s Promoted Pins ad product costs quite a bit. My recent conversation with Joanne Bradford, head of partnerships at Pinterest, shed a bit of light onto why. 

“Partnerships [with brands] aren’t just, ‘Go get ad dollars.’ That’s not how we think about it here,” she said. “We’re really about teaching partners how to be their best on Pinterest.”

Outreach takes time and manpower. It’s a work in progress and Bradford continues to hire community managers all over the globe. Partnerships that require educating companies are, by definition, not very scalable.  

In that regard, self-serve ads for the masses are the fast and dirty approach. That’s essentially how Google made most of its money with its keyword auction real-time bidding network. For Pinterest, instead of initially coaching companies on how to best use the platform, it can just monitor the ads from small and medium businesses as they come in. 

Unlike Promoted Pins, Pinterest’s new self-service ad platform is cost-per-click, not cost-per-impression. With that sort of pricing model comes a certain kind of desperation from would-be ad buyers. If you look at the companies on Facebook and Google who use cost-per-click, they’re less about “beautiful” and more “made you look.” Anything goes in the Wild West.

“In the absence of a formalized ad channel, social networks are like the Wild West,” said Apu Gupta, CEO of Visual Web analytics platform Curalate. “Brands do whatever they want to garner attention—whether or not it’s in keeping with what the networks aspire to. I believe that creating a formalized channel for placing ads will ultimately help prevent spam by enabling Pinterest to monitor what types of ads go out.”

Of course, Pinterest isn’t going into this blindly. Don Faul, Pinterest’s head of operations who oversaw the new tool’s development, formerly launched the self-serve ad tool at Facebook in 2008. Dozens of Pinterest employees came from Facebook. Still others came from one of the other largest self-serve ad platforms, Google—including CEO Ben Silbermann. They have seen firsthand what happens when cost-per-click ads get ugly. Perhaps they’re trying for a redo. 

A Need For Speed 

The self-serve Promoted Pins tool isn’t officially open for business. Right now you can register to be on the wait list. According to Pinterest, only a few small to medium brands are testing it

It’s par for the course for Pinterest to go slow and steady on new features. But when you consider that Pinterest tested the first Promoted Pins for six months prior to launch, the announcement of a self-serve tool two months later seems downright speedy.  

There are two reasons this might be happening, one good and one bad.

Starting with the negative, perhaps Promoted Pins have not performed to Pinterest’s expectations. Asking for $1 to $2 million is a lot, even for a big company, if the return on investment isn’t great enough. Since Pinterest has shown it cares more about the user’s experience than making brands happy (through conservative pin promotion and extensive audience testing), big brands might feel like they can get a better deal and more exposure somewhere else. A cheaper self-serve alternative might be just the ticket.  

On the positive side, this might be Pinterest employees’ Google roots coming out. Even today, Google ads are democratic. The search engine wasn’t built by huge brands, but by small businesses hoping for a little exposure that were willing to take a chance. Here’s an opportunity to compare Pinterest to Google yet again, as the visual search community continues to measure up. 

We still know very little about the self-serve tool, as it’s only open to a select few businesses. It’s hard to tell how Pinterest will look once it opens the advertising floodgates. But if Pinterest’s past activity is any indication, it’ll be a while until that happens.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

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Apple Wants Devs To Love Swift, Its Shiny New Language—But There’s A Catch

Apple has high hopes for Swift, a brand-new coding language it unveiled for its developers on Monday at its Worldwide Developers Conference. To Apple, Swift is a simpler, safer, faster-to-run alternative to the somewhat clunky and error prone language Objective-C now used to write apps for iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Essentially, Apple is wagering that Swift will save enough time and effort that it might encourage more developers try their hand at building iOS apps. So Apple would clearly like to see developers learn and adopt Swift—well, swiftly.

If only it were that easy.

With Swift, Apple is performing a complicated straddle between its current technology—the language and tools that developers are familiar with—and its shiny new language of the future. Swift certainly offers a number of attractive new features, including automatic memory management  intended to kill off a class of insidious bugs that plague Objective-C, a “playground” feature that visualizes a program’s actions for easy debugging, and a simplified syntax designed to be both easier to learn and less prone to error.

But to maintain continuity with existing apps, tool suites and code libraries, Swift also snuggles up close to Objective-C. It works directly with Cocoa and Cocoa Touch, the Objective-C frameworks that drive OS X and iOS applications. Since the Cocoa libraries are implemented in Objective-C, developers can run Swift code and Objective C code side by side.

The trick here is that this kind of interoperability basically has to work perfectly for Swift to succeed. If it doesn’t, then developers will still need to tinker with Objective-C to make their apps work—and that means keeping up to speed in two languages, not one. Which is not the kind of chore developers tend to take on gladly.

They certainly didn’t the last time something like Swift came along.

The RubyMotion Experiment

According to Gregg Pollack, the founder and CEO of Code School, today’s programmers aren’t usually prepared for the complexity that is Objective-C. “Lots of developers started out learning Java, Ruby, and Python,” he said. “Moving from that to Objective-C is foreign, difficult, and full of ways for you to shoot yourself in the foot.”

Unfortunately, Objective-C was long the only language for building iOS and OS X apps. That’s largely because the Cocoa and Cocoa Touch APIs (see our API explainer) for Mac OS X and iOS are written in Objective-C, which means that developers usually write apps for Apple devices in the same language to maximize their performance.

But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. You can use another programming language, so long as it can interface with the Objective-C code libraries in Cocoa and Cocoa Touch. So after seven years working for Apple, programmer and Ruby enthusiast Laurent Sansonetti started a new venture in 2012. Its mission? RubyMotion, an interface to make it possible to program iOS apps in Ruby.

As programming languages go, Ruby is well loved. It reads almost like English, with little unnecessary syntax. But RubyMotion never caught on. 

“When things didn’t work, you’d still have to go a layer lower and tweak the Objective-C underneath,” Pollack said. “Now you had to know both Ruby and Objective-C—and the Cocoa framework—in order to build an iOS app effectively. So people said, ‘Why not just use Objective-C?’”

In some ways Swift is like an official Apple version of the RubyMotion experiment. It’s an easier language that interfaces directly with the Objective-C libraries and Cocoa and Cocoa Touch  frameworks. But that means many—possibly all—Swift users are still going to need to know Objective-C. If that’s the case, why not just stick to what you know? That’s why Pollack doesn’t expect a sudden shift.

“There’s always a learning curve with new languages,” said Pollack. “It could take years for bigger companies to pick it up. They’ve got bigger apps they’ve worked on for years in Objective-C. They already have Objective-C developers. Why take the time to train them all in Swift, a language that hasn’t been proven yet?”

The Promise Of Swift

Of course, Swift has a few advantages RubyMotion could only dream of. RubyMotion was invented by a former developer; Swift is the favored child of Apple. RubyMotion was native to Ruby on Rails and had to be tweaked for iOS development; Swift, says Apple, provides “seamless compatibility” with Cocoa and Cocoa Touch.

It’s easy to sabotage yourself in Objective-C, which doesn’t always alert you to errors before testing a running app. If you create a variable and forget to assign it a value—easy enough to do—and then try to use that variable in a calculation, the resulting error can crash your app. Meanwhile, Swift will alert you ahead of time if you’re trying to use any variables that haven’t been assigned, saving you the time and headaches of trying to figure out why your program is crashing.

Swift also provides an advantage over Objective-C in its speed. Some Objective-C operations, like sorting and loops, have an inherent delay because of the number of functions that are called repeatedly under the hood. The compiler doesn’t know which of a dozen ways a function or object was used, so it tries many. Thanks to compiler optimization built exclusively for Swift, however, Apple says running Swift code is significantly faster than Objective-C.

That means that apps built with Swift could be faster and smoother for the end user, too. Jon Friskics, Code School’s iOS expert, predicted that users will notice increased speed in games and animations coded in Swift.

“The optimization won’t just make compiling faster and less prone to errors, but also the apps themselves,” he said. “Computationally intensive tasks like animations will likely run a little bit smoother.”

Of course, Swift is still a baby coding language. It almost certainly has its share of bugs (yes, computer languages have bugs, too). It’s likely going to go through a number of iterations and improvements while Apple and its beta testers fix them.

And Swift has one giant card up its sleeve that RubyMotion never had: It’s an Apple product, and that means Apple can change its APIs to suit the new language. If Swift does live up to its potential, it’s almost inevitable that Apple will eventually rewrite its Cocoa APIs in Swift, eliminating its primary dependence on Objective-C. If and when that happens, Swift will rapidly become the only Apple development language most programmers will ever need to learn.

Swift has the potential to make iOS development easier and, here’s hoping, enjoyable. At least that’s Pollack’s prediction:

Years from now, people will be able to just learn Swift and won’t have to learn Objective C. It’s going to take a lot of pain out of becoming an app developer. It could make it a lot more pleasurable to become an iOS developer—easier to learn, and more fun for people to program.

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Samsung Wants All The Health Data, And It Has A Plan

Mash together most of today’s hot technology buzzwords, and you’d have a good approximation of Samsung’s newly announced cloud platform for tracking health data via wearables and sensors.

Slipping in just ahead of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference next week—during which Cupertino might well feature some new quantified health initiatives and even a possible iWatch fitness tracker—Samsung laid out its own plans for an “open platform” that would track vital health statistics and tie them to cloud services for real-time monitoring.

Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics, pointed out that it’s now common for people to know more about the health and functionality of their cars than they do about their own bodies. “Our goal is, someday, you have sensors that know much more about your body,” he said.

We’re Getting A Band Together, Come Join!

The software platform—dubbed SAMI, for “Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions”—will offer open APIs so developers and partners can help Samsung build out its new ecosystem. Among the first to sign up is the University of California at San Francisco, whose researchers and software makers will get access to Samsung tools for parsing and analyzing detailed biological data.

On the hardware end, Samsung envisions a new wrist-worn gadget it’s calling Simband, which is designed to track and display data like heart rate and blood pressure. Ultimately, Samsung would like to expand that effort to include other gadgets and sensors primed to collect data via other means, such as acoustics, optics and bioelectrical signals.

The Simband also features a new battery technology it calls Shuttle Battery. This is essentially a cell that users can charge separately, then snap onto the device to charge it. The idea is to boost convenience, so users don’t have to take the band off recharging. The mere existence of Shuttle Battery underscores one of the most annoying aspects of wearable technology—charging.

Unfortunately, the Simband solution is like the coolest health wearable you can’t have: It’s more of a reference design than product, and as such, it’s not available for sale. Right now, it functions only as an “investigational device” for developer exploration, to spur interest in the platform.

The plan comes from Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center, and it’s the first major initiative from the company’s Silicon Valley-based outpost. While that’s just one part of the broader organization, the group may need to spearhead a coordinated effort across numerous Samsung categories and divisions if it hopes to succeed with this ambitious undertaking.

Samsung’s Healthy Attraction To Health

Samsung certainly knows a fair bit about health and health technology, although its knowledge and expertise is scattered throughout its diversified and semi-autonomous divisions. And it’s clearly trying hard to make an impact here, although so far without much effect.

On the mobile side, for instance, its smartphones feature S Health, a native app to manage health and fitness—albeit one that hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. On the wearables end, the company recently announced the Gear Fit tracker a few months ago, among other wrist gadgets. Samsung also makes hospital-grade medical equipment such as ultrasound scanners and X-ray machines, although its experience there might be difficult to translate into applications for ordinary consumers.

So while Samsung might look like it has a lot of the pieces it needs to make its health platform a thing, it still has a long, uphill slog ahead of it. For starters, just getting its different divisions to work together to produce attractive, consumer-friendly technology that can solve problems before the likes of Apple doing the same could be a Herculean effort.

Samsung also has what might most politely be called a mixed track record when it comes to forging new technology platforms. Its Galaxy mobile devices are big sellers, but not because of Samsung’s own apps, many of which have been little more than pale imitations of Google apps that users typically ignore. Its Tizen mobile operating system keeps chugging along, but has yet to create much of a splash.

Still, you have to give the giant points for trying. Digital health is a huge and largely untapped field, so the more competitors, the merrier.

Images from screen capture of Samsung’s live stream, courtesy of CNET

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Microsoft’s New CEO Wants To Look Beyond Its Past To Find Its Future

“Suppose Microsoft disappeared.”

It’s quite a hypothetical, given the software giant’s piles of cash and 130,000 employees. Yet Satya Nadella lobbed it in one of his highest-profile appearances as Microsoft’s new CEO, an on-stage interview Tuesday evening at the Code Conference with veteran tech journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

Minus Microsoft

“What is that sensibility that gets lost?” Nadella asked. “What is it that’s not going to be expressed?”

Asking what the world would be like without Microsoft is Nadella’s way of forcing his colleagues to define what Microsoft stands for—and to erase the stench of failure from the company’s name.

Mossberg and Swisher pressed Nadella to explain why the company had missed the massive shift to mobile computing.

“We all walk into the future with our backs to it,” said Microsoft’s poet-CEO.

Instead of dwelling on Microsoft’s mistakes, Nadella said that it was the “hunt for … that inflection point that matters more,” and said we were entering a “post-post-PC era.”

In other words, Microsoft would do better trying to discover what comes after smartphones than trying to play catch-up in that market. 

He suggested that tablet computing had untapped potential—an argument which dovetails nicely with the company’s recent launch of the Surface Pro 3.

What Microsoft was good at, Nadella said, was “building platforms, and building software for productivity.” Tellingly, he didn’t say “Windows,” and he didn’t say “Office”—Microsoft’s multibillion-dollar franchises which have defined its past two decades.

Tying Microsoft’s products together and forcing groups to work in lockstep was a thing of the past. The “One Microsoft” strategy is about having a coherent offering for consumers and developers, not tying all of its products together in ways that don’t make sense. That’s why Microsoft rolled out Office for Apple’s iPad before it had a touch-interface version ready for its own Surface tablet.

“That’s no longer going to be a tactic,” Nadella said.

Translating The Future

Nadella gave a concrete glimmer of his new vision for Microsoft with the unveiling of Skype Translator, a tool for real-time translation of voice conversations. A live English-to-German demonstration ran smoothly, though Steffi Czerny, the managing director of DLD Media, panned the quality of the translation.

Still, it was a showy act of technical prowess, combining the popular Skype chat tool with the years of research and development behind Microsoft Translator, and plenty of cloud-computing resources to make it all run.

And there was a bit of a hasty quality to it that itself spoke to Microsoft’s changing ways.

Asked whether Skype Translator, which Microsoft said would be out later this year, would be free or paid, Nadella punted. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.”

Nadella’s Microsoft doesn’t have all the answers, nor does it pretend to. Instead, it’s asking the right questions.

Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite

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