The Macalope Weekly: Choices

We all make choices in life, and some of them are finally coming home to roost. Android wakes up in bed with the wrong search engine while Apple tries to turn its life around and clean up its App Store act. Finally, the founder of an Apple competitor provides a cautionary tale: choose your metaphors wisely kids!

Better to just chew it off

The Macalope was surprised to read this week that the default search engine on one of Verizon’s latest Android offerings will not be Google, but Bing (tip o’ the antlers to Daring Fireball). Guess that settles it. Android is open!

Well, not exactly. Turns out it’s Bing and only Bing.

Microsoft says the deal is “not exclusive,” meaning it’s not exclusive to Microsoft. If you buy a Samsung Fascinate from Verizon, however, it’s going to feel pretty exclusive.

Microsoft today partly confirmed and downplayed its deal for Bing on Verizon’s Android phones. It told SAI that there would be multiple Android phones on the carrier that would use Bing by default, but that the deal was “not exclusive” and that some of them would still use Google as a matter of course. The representative gave no clues as to which companies or devices would get the treatment.

That sure sounds like the Microsoft we’ve come to know and loathe. It’s nice that some things haven’t changed!

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The horny one is confused, though. What exactly is Google’s path to “victory” if carriers can make phones that exclusively use Bing? Developing a mobile OS can’t be cheap. What’s in it for Google if carriers block their tools? Wasn’t that the whole point of Android? Now they’re either doing it out of the goodness of their hearts (HA-HA-HA!) or purely out of ego.

The company’s basically lost control of its own operating system. Froyo, the latest version—and the one that was supposed to provide some unification—was released a few months ago, and now has a whopping 4.5 percent share of the Android installed base. The Macalope doesn’t know for sure, but he wouldn’t be surprised if iOS 4.1, released on Wednesday, has a higher share of the iOS market than that. (Update: Google posted new numbers yesterday and Froyo now has a 28.7% share which is more respectable but still not in iOS 4's territory.)

Everyone wants to compare the Apple/Google mobile OS wars to the Apple/Microsoft desktop wars of the 1990s. But if Compaq ever got out of line, Microsoft always told them to go jump in a proverbial lake. And then it pushed them in an actual lake. Filled with sharks. A special breed of freshwater great white sharks that the company had genetically engineered for that particular purpose. And then it poured petroleum into the lake and lit it on fire.

Google doesn’t seem to be able to exercise that kind of leverage. Android’s popular, there’s no denying that, but at what price comes popularity when you wake up in a strange hotel room with your arm around Bing?

Let the healing begin

The big news of the week is Apple’s relaxation of App Store rules, removing the restriction on programming languages and intermediary translation and compatibility layers (whew, that’s the kind of talk that starts the Macalope’s engine). As long as an app uses documented APIs and doesn’t contain fart sounds, its chances of getting approved just went from zero to, well, a number greater than zero but still less than 100 percent.

It’s hard to look at this particular change as not being a result of the FTC’s probe into potential anti-trust issues with the infamous section 3.3.1 (the Macalope knows it’s infamous because he can quote the number without looking). It seems likely Apple wanted to ward off the FTC. Other, more charitable interpretations suggest that Apple decided Adobe’s tools were unlikely to gain wide-spread use, because they wouldn’t be able to deliver anything that didn’t suck. Or that Apple decided there was no logical way to accept tools that it wanted to allow—like Unity—without also accepting Adobe’s tools. Or that it was suddenly filled with love.

But sometimes it takes a run-in with the law to make an intervention work.

Whatever the case, this is a good thing. Or so the Macalope supposes. When Apple imposed the restriction, his position was that it was probably the wrong thing to do, but he couldn’t get worked up over it because a Flash cross-compiler was mainly a good thing for developers, not for users. Mac users have had to put up with lousy, afterthought ports for years—let’s hope we’re not going to see a flood of them on the iPhone.

What’s just flat-out great, though, is the publication of App Store guidelines, something developers and furry pundits have been asking for for a long time.

See? And it only took two years of screaming, crying, and threatening to leave the platform. Who says Apple doesn’t listen?

Mad scientist

So many crazy things have been said about Apple over the years that it’s hard to find someone who’s innovative enough to come up with something new. That’s why the Macalope wants to congratulate Acer founder Stan Shih for his innovative work in the field of crazy talk.

Apple’s products are “mutant viruses” that need to be cured, Acer’s creator Stan Shih claimed to reporters late Wednesday.

Acer’s products, meanwhile, are more like your average yeast infection.

Shih saw Steve Jobs’ insistence on revolutionary hardware as creating rampant but short-term growth for devices like the iPad and iPhone. While initially successful, the approach would eventually be defeated by competition that “evolves naturally” and becomes “immune” to the Apple effect, the executive insisted.

Well. Looks like someone got a Michael Crichton box set for his birthday.

He trotted out the repeated example of the Mac and implied that it was marginalized in a similar process.

Right! Forget the fact that over that period Apple was run by first Larry, then Mo, and finally Curly before Steve Jobs came back. Forget the fact that the company couldn’t manage its supply chain to literally save its life. Forget the fact that it licensed the Mac OS and let the clone-makers eat its lunch. Forget all that! Mutant viruses!

[Points hoof at ear, makes circular motion, rolls eyes.]

He didn’t have an answer for why the iPod is still the dominant media player despite being a closed infrastructure.

He didn’t?! Wow. That’s weird, isn’t it? Seemed like he had it all figured out.

Maybe you need to head back to your lab, Louis Pasteur.

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