State of browser/OS/device usage on Underdog of Perfection, June 2012

I just had a look at my Google Analytics stats for this site. I made some interesting observations.

First, I saw iOS, iPhone and iPad showing up as separate devices. I wondered if iOS was a composite of both, but I realized Google was actually counting them separately. Looking at the daily stats it was clear that they made this switch on May 29, where before that date iPhone and iPad were being reported, and afterward it was just iOS. I’m not sure why they did that, but I am sure there was a very deliberate reason behind it.

Anyway, uncovering this switch was not relevant to my data observations, so I changed the date range to only encompass dates after the switch, June 1 to 20.

Here’s what I found:

True, I am a Mac user, and have for a long time favored Safari (although I recently switched my default browser to Chrome). But I don’t really spend that much time admiring my own work here on the blog. (Yes… not that much time.) So I don’t think my own activity skews the data here too much.

Do I then think this reflects the Internet as a whole? Absolutely not. I’ve learned over time that most of the people visiting my blog are stumbling upon specific posts based on a Google search, and these are almost always posts that are about diagnosing and fixing particular Mac-related problems. So, Safari’s dominance is logical (especially if Mobile Safari for iOS is lumped in here, which I have to assume is the case).

It’s nice to see Internet Explorer under 10%. And that’s all versions of Internet Explorer. But… what the heck is RockMelt? Yes, I am asking the two of you who use it.

Yes, even despite my blatant and unrepentant Apple bias, Windows still slightly edges out Mac in the stats. Interesting, then, that Safari is the most popular browser, since I suspect there are even fewer Windows Safari users than there are RockMelt users. But of course, we’re back to iOS. If you combine Mac and iOS, the total is well above that for Windows, and explains Safari’s #1 spot on the browser list.

Among mobile operating systems, iOS demonstrates a Windows-in-the-late-’90s level dominance. This despite the fact that Android famously holds greater market share in the US. Yes, my content will naturally skew my stats Apple-ward, but this data also, I think, reinforces the idea that iOS users actually use the web a lot more than Android users do.

BlackBerry and Nokia… how cute. Where’s Windows Phone?

And finally, we have mobile screen resolution. Now that Google doesn’t separate iPhone and iPad anymore, this is pretty much the way to distinguish between them in the stats. These resolutions are not the actual resolution of the screens but the pixel-doubled effective resolution used in the web browsers on Retina Display devices. 320×480 is the iPhone (even though the iPhone 4 and 4S have 640×960 screens), and 768×1024 is the iPad (even though the new iPad has a 1536×2048 display).

0x0? Really?

What I think is most significant here though is not the iPhone/iPad split at all, interesting as it is. It’s the fact that once you get past those, there’s no standard whatsoever on Android. That’s something to remember for those of us working on Responsive Web Design.

The real reason Android is (and has always been) in trouble

Over on Daring Fireball, John Gruber links to a Business Insider piece by Jay Yarow, called “Android Is Suddenly in a Lot of Trouble.”

Gruber responds:

It’s not that Android is suddenly in a lot of trouble — it’s that a lot of people are suddenly realizing that Android has been in trouble all along.

Exactly. But he doesn’t go on to mention why it’s been in trouble all along (though as I recall, he has in the past). I’ve seen plenty of reports, like this one from comScore that iPhones use WiFi networks significantly more than Android phones in the U.S. and U.K. This is one way of measuring the qualitative differences in how people use iPhones compared to how they use Android phones. You could also talk about app revenue, for instance.

All of these measurements and analysis revolve around one clear conclusion, especially when one considers how people end up walking out of a store with either an iPhone or an Android phone. Carriers are pushing Android because they can control the experience more. They’re giving away Android phones as stock upgrade models when customers’ contracts come up. People who don’t even care about owning a “smartphone” are bringing home Android phones because that’s just what the sales rep at the store recommended.

Android is in trouble because a lot of its users (the majority? the vast majority?) are just using it as a phone. It’s a commodity. A lot of the people buying it don’t really know or care what it is, and will never actively use its full potential. It’s just a phone. It may be capable of much more, but if it’s not being used for more, what difference does that make?

People who go into a store wanting to purchase a smartphone predominantly choose the iPhone. Not all of them, of course. Tech-savvy people do choose other smartphone platforms, including Android, especially those who want to tinker with the system. But the rest take whatever they are told to buy by their carriers’ sales reps.

This is the biggest reason Android tablets haven’t taken off, and it’s been discussed too. There’s a built-in market for the apathetic purchase of an Android smartphone. But no one (well, I hope) is walking into a cellular carrier’s store and saying “I want a tablet. What tablet do you recommend?” People who want a tablet don’t just want a tablet; overwhelmingly they want an iPad. Most people who don’t want an iPad don’t want a tablet at all. (Almost) everybody needs a phone.

The problem for the carriers, and the reason they’ve been promoting Android, has typically been that Apple retains too much control (from the carriers’ perspective) over the iPhone. That’s not likely to change, but with Windows Phone, suddenly the carriers have other options. Microsoft is definitely keeping a tighter rein on Windows Phone than Google does with Android, but with Windows Phone, the carriers still have options they don’t get with the iPhone. (Not that this lack of control has prevented them from selling millions of the things.)

If Verizon is serious about pushing Windows Phone (along with the fact that they still sell huge numbers of iPhones), then we’ll soon begin to see just how Android was, as Gruber says, in trouble all along. The success it has achieved to date was largely dependent upon carriers pushing it on unsuspecting or indifferent customers. If they stop doing that…

In UX we trust: Netflix as a case study in how good search isn’t good enough

Last night, prompted by a Dan Benjamin tweet, I felt inclined to watch one of my favorite ’80s movies, Fletch. I own Fletch on DVD (two versions, in fact), but I didn’t feel like busting them out. I wanted to watch it on my iPhone in bed, so I decided to check the iTunes Store and Netflix.

Unsurprisingly, iTunes did have it, but only for purchase, not for rental. And I’m not inclined to pay $14.99 to buy a digital copy of a movie I already own twice over on disc. While on iTunes, I saw a recommendation for The Sting. Intrigued, since I have never seen it (gasp!), I considered it as a possible alternative, and was pleased to see iTunes had it as a $3.99 rental. But before dropping four bucks on it I decided to check its availability on Netflix.

I checked the iTunes Store first, because I have learned to assume Netflix won’t have what I want available for instant streaming. Or, more accurately, I have learned not to trust that Netflix will have what I want.

And that’s where the problem lies: I don’t trust Netflix. It’s not that I think they’re up to anything nefarious (it’s not the same as the distrust I have these days for Google, for instance). And it’s not even entirely that I have become jaded by past experience discovering just how woefully limited their selection of streaming content is.

It’s that I don’t trust their interface to really show me what’s available.

Why not? They have a search box, after all. I can just search for what I want. To the best of my knowledge, the search box works pretty well. If they have something, it comes up. If they don’t, it doesn’t.

As usual, I couldn’t keep my frustration to myself, so I took it to Twitter:

So, again, why don’t I trust Netflix? I’ve been pondering that question all morning, and I think I have it figured out. It’s because good search, alone, isn’t good enough. Search is open-ended. It’s also kind of like standing outside a locked door and whispering through the keyhole to someone inside. You know there’s a lot of stuff inside the room. You even know that the room probably holds things you want. But you can’t see for yourself what’s inside, and the person on the other side of the door is only answering yes-or-no questions.

Of course, Netflix does offer more than search. But on mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, it doesn’t offer a whole lot more. Sure, it has recommendations. And you can browse by genre. But I don’t really give a crap about their “recommendations.” That’s the person behind the door, offering a little bit more information, but it’s far from flinging the door wide open. And browsing by genre is great, if you know what genre the movie is in. If it even fits a genre. (I honestly don’t know what genre I’d find The Sting in. Is it a comedy? Drama? Action? I don’t know enough about the film to find it by genre.) And once you’ve selected a genre, you’re dumped into an experience not unlike rummaging through the cutout bin at a record store. (And if you’re too young to understand that analogy, get off my lawn.)

I took a few screenshots on both the iPhone and iPad, as well as on the Netflix website on my computer, to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

First, search results:

Well, that’s lovely. No results. OK. Did I spell it wrong? Is it case-sensitive? Am I hallucinating and this movie never even existed? Is anybody out there?

OK, well… hmm. What should I do now? Maybe I should browse comedies.

Really… that’s where we start? Can I fine-tune my selection a bit? Sort them into some kind of meaningful order? No, why would I want to do that. I’ll just flip through all of these aimlessly until I find something I can tolerate for the next two hours… I mean no, wait. Help me find what I’m looking for, dammit!

Well, OK. I’ve used enough apps between the iPhone and iPad to understand that the experience is often stripped down on the iPhone due to the smaller screen. That’s understandable. What about if I do the same search on the iPad?

You’re joking, right?

Let’s back up a step and see what Netflix presents to the user when they first enter the “Comedies” genre:

Well… um… that’s… a little better… I guess… than the iPhone experience. This is actually pretty close to what you get when you visit Netflix on the Apple TV, as well, and is somewhat of an improvement — aesthetically, at least — over the old version of Netflix for iPad. But still… it’s just that person behind the door, or the cutout bin.

Open the damn door and let me see for myself what’s in there.

Not that I think this is an adequate solution, let me say that right away, but I decided as a last resort to see if the desktop web interface for Netflix offered a superior experience. Here, where Netflix acknowledges that DVDs do, in fact, exist, the results are a bit better:

Thank you for at least acknowledging that the movie I asked about exists. Thank you for telling me that it’s not available for instant viewing but is available on DVD. Would it be so hard to do that on the mobile apps? I recognize that DVDs are useless on an iPhone or iPad, but simply providing this information reassures the user that their search worked. Now I can move on with my life.

What about browsing? Will you finally just open the door and let me see what’s in the room? At long last, sir, will you please just do that?

Yes!

You may note here that not only am I (after a few extra clicks) able to get a simple, alphabetized list, I am even able to browse subgenres! Who knew such wonders existed?

Sadly, browsing by title within a subgenre is probably the best way to get at what may be an ulterior motive behind the limited browsing interface Netflix presents in its mobile apps, as expressed in my tweet last night: their selection of streaming movies kind of sucks. There are plenty of reasons for this, and I’m not going to criticize Netflix for the challenges involved in working out licensing deals to stream thousands of movies for a very small, flat monthly fee. Netflix is a pretty amazing thing, when you look at what cable TV was like when I was a kid. (What am I saying? Look at what cable TV is like right now!)

Ultimately, though, whether or not Netflix is deliberately hiding its poor selection behind a mediocre browsing interface, it still has a mediocre browsing interface. Who cares? you say. Just search for what you’re looking for. Have you been reading this at all? I reply. Search, no matter how good it is, by itself is not good enough. Users need to be able to get their bearings, see what’s inside the room. We need an understanding of the scope of information we’re dealing with in order to make a meaningful search, and to make sense of the results we’re given, when we can’t find what we’re looking for.

So, a couple of final thoughts on how all of this ranting translates into a meaningful lesson in UX (user experience):

1. Don’t just rely on having a search box as an excuse not to organize and display your content in an easy-to-browse way.

2. Give meaningful feedback when a search fails. Don’t just tell the user “no results.” That’s obvious. Help them out. Give suggestions for alternate searches. And if there’s anything relevant in your database about the user’s search terms, even if it’s not directly available to them in their current context, at least let them know as much.

P.S. As it turns out, Netflix has neither Fletch nor The Sting available for instant viewing. I ended up not watching anything last night, and played around with this synthesizer app instead.

Facing the 2012 RPM Challenge

February is just a couple of weeks away, and as I have every year since 2008, I’ll be participating in the RPM Challenge.

What’s that? It’s simple: produce an entire album (10+ songs or 35+ minutes) entirely during the month of February.

My concept this year is a bit different than in the past. This time around, I will not be using any instruments… just my iPhone. I’ve assembled an interesting collection of music creation apps (which I will detail in a future post, but for now will represent with a pair of screenshots, below), and these will be the only tools I will use to generate sounds. I may sample my voice, found sounds and instruments using my iPhone’s microphone, and I’ll do final mixing and post-production on my MacBook Air, but as much as possible this will be an album produced on the iPhone. Given the nature of some of the apps I’ll be using, I also expect this album to be a lot more experimental/avant garde in style than most of my recent solo work.

I am tentatively calling the album i. And I am also considering producing a companion album, called The Way Out Takes, that will consist of unedited versions of the more experimental tracks that end up on i.

Stay tuned for more details as I think them up.

Reflections on (my own) uninformed speculation as pertains to a possible “iTV” from Apple

I don’t have any inside sources of information on the inner workings at Apple. I get most of my information from a handful of well-regarded tech blogs. (See the link list at the bottom of this post.) In fact, I would probably be doing the world a service by deleting my blog entirely and setting up my URL as a redirect to daringfireball.net.

But my lack of well-sourced information doesn’t preclude the formation of opinions, based on what I’ve heard. On rare occasions, those opinions might even merit sharing with others, and today I think may be one of those times.

The topic is an Apple-branded television, and whether or not such is coming in 2012, or ever. I was inspired to reflect on this after today’s post on the topic on Revert to Saved.

Past performance as an indicator of… something

I have a poor record regarding Apple rumors. I insisted in early 2007 that Apple couldn’t possibly be developing a smartphone. (You won’t find any traces of that insistence here, however, as I did have the good sense not to publish anything about it.)

Most smartphones then on the market sucked. I couldn’t envision what an Apple phone might look like, especially one with a touch screen and only one button. Much like The Homer, my mental abomination would likely resemble a cross between a Nintendo DS and the Cinco-Fone. Besides, it would have to be called the iPhone, and Cisco already owned that name. We know how that turned out.

In late 2009 and early 2010, I couldn’t imagine Apple releasing a tablet. (And that time around I had plenty of stupid stuff to say on the matter.) Every tablet I’d seen before that sucked, and I was certain there would be issues with screen resolution.

We know how that turned out.

Now, an Apple-branded TV, or, as the rumors would have it, iTV. Most TVs today suck, and there are few pieces of technology known to humanity more craptastic than a cable TV set-top box. There are open questions pertaining to the potential device’s screen dimensions. (Today’s flood of rumors says they’ll come in three sizes.) And, of course, ITV is already the name of a British network.

Given the eerie similarity of this scenario to the seemingly insurmountable challenges Apple previously faced with the iPhone and iPad, therefore, I am forced to deduce that Apple must have a TV in development, and… we know what it will be called.

Don’t listen to me

Where Apple excels is not in creating whole new technologies, but rather in combining existing and emerging technologies in novel ways, and optimizing the hell out of their performance. And they integrate their hardware seamlessly with software platforms that deliver content and experiences to create a cohesive and engaging ecosystem that no one else can match.

So, my inability to predict or even imagine what Apple has in the pipeline is partly a failure of imagination, and partly a lack of knowledge of the kinds of hardware and software engineering that Apple is keeping under wraps, guarded with jealous secrecy unmatched by any business or government agency on Earth.

So what?

So what, indeed? What is Apple doing, and more importantly, will it be awesome? Scratch that: How awesome will it be?

But the biggest question I actually have right now is: How much of this (hypothetical) iTV was invented before Steve Jobs died, and how much of Apple’s mojo did he take with him? In the coming months we should have an answer. This will be Apple’s first major product introduction of the post-Jobs era, and it will tell us how well that obsessive attention to detail has truly been woven into the “Apple DNA.”

Further reading

As promised, here’s a list of some of my favorite tech blogs/podcasts at the moment. I subscribe to their RSS feeds and check them daily.

Post script

I cranked out the bulk of this post in the Notes app on my iPhone while standing in a hallway, waiting for SLP. I had the idea in my head and I wanted to get it written before I lost it. I’m not sure what that really says about anything, but I thought it was worth noting.