Blog Archive for July 2009
This week, Google released an iPhone web app for Google Latitude, their location-aware social networking tool. The weird part was this program was just a web app running in the iPhone's Safari browser and not even an app like Google has made for almost every other phone. Here's a snippet from the TUAW post about it:
As Google's Mat Balez notes in his blog post announcing the Latitude release, Google actually developed a native app for Latitude... only to have Apple, uh, suggest that the big G redo the concept as a web app to avoid user confusion with the Maps app. Really? Must have been an interesting phone call.
No kidding. Google spent all their sweet time, no doubt, making a really nice and powerful iPhone app to allow you to manage contacts and see where your friends are on a map. Then, while submitting it to the iTunes App Store, they're told that Apple will not accept this. Great, that's a couple months of programmer time down the drain for Google.
Hold on a second here, though. When Apple announced the App Store, they announced their venture capital friends were putting together a fund for new small businesses to make apps for the phone. One of the first companies that got in on that cash was Pelago Inc., which started a service call Whrrl. I've since then deleted that app and used one that a number of my friends are on called Loopt. All of these apps are already doing the same thing that the Google Latitude app wanted to do, but apparently because Google is a much bigger partner and competitor of Apple's they do not get the option to do an app like this. It doesn't make any sense, and it costs Google thousands of dollars down the drain just because Apple can axe anything they don't like for their phone.
It's even a bigger problem for Apple and third-party hardware makers. Apple does give an API to interface with hardware devices that a company develops and plugs into the iPhone. Companies have already made nice car mounts that will charge your phone and add a couple other features. Medical service providers have made adapters to hook up various types of medical equipment, and Apple has been fine with this. But add some cool thing that will let you do things with still or video cameras? A cool way to import video to your iPhone? The company will likely spend millions developing that hardware component and thousands creating a cool iPhone app to interface with the hardware. But, in the end, if Apple wants to say "no" to the app submission the company has a cool hardware gadget with no way to use it.
On one hand, Apple does all this controlling of applications in the iPhone App Store in the name of protecting the customer, and in some cases they are protecting us from crappy products. But, with situations like this (and some other things that they should have protected us from but got out) it's proving that not only are they doing a terrible job of protecting us, but Apple is too often blocking the cool stuff. Often Apple is even blocking the cool stuff because they want to release their own version a couple months later.
I think that Apple should keep the platform more open. We would get more crap, but the iPhone App Store ecosystem would be even more healthy and have even cooler solutions for iPhone users. Besides, without Apple protecting us from the crap, we would still mark it as crap and not use it. I'm not saying that Apple cannot host the app store, but let it run free and see it become even more useful and powerful.
Although I'm sure I'm not much younger than Robin Parrish, I feel like I grew up with Robin Parrish's work. In the earlier days of the Internet, Robin Parrish was one of the leading journalists covering the Christian music scene on the Internet with his site on About.com. At a time when I was running my own, much less successful Christian music site, I read his insightful reviews and commentary constantly. When I graduated from high school, Robin was doing stuff that he was more interested in, covering movies, novels, and comic books with an even more undying fervor. It was during this time that Robin started publishing his own novels online, the last of which became a real, paperback novel this month. It's titled Offworld.
Like the Dominion Trilogy that Parrish released the last couple years, Offworld starts with a mysterious hook. Everyone is gone. Everyone. It's 2033 and the first manned mission to Mars has returned to earth successfully, but no one is there to greet them. Even the animals and bugs are mysteriously gone. After four years by themselves in space, this is hardly the welcome the team wanted.
Thus, the crew sets out to unravel this mystery. Along the way, the reader finds that these astronauts have their own personal secrets. Plus, there's an anti-social young woman who seems to have spent her whole life on the streets and is the only person to not have disappeared. Not to mention that it seems that nature itself is trying to stop them from finding the answers.
Within Offworld, Robin Parrish creates characters that are as flawed and realistic as they are NASA's biggest heroes. Throughout all his books so far, the characters have always had some mystery, such that just when you think you know them, they surprise you with a new wrinkle to their story. These are definitely no exception, and with less than a half-dozen main characters, there's plenty of time to get to know them well. Although the character development has very little action to it, this was probably my favorite part of the novel.
Speaking of action, I found this the hardest book yet to put down. Nearly every chapter ends on a total cliffhanger. As many have said before me, Parrish's books will someday do really well as summer blockbuster films, and Offworld is no exception. (That is, as long as Roland Emmerich doesn't direct it and make the climax happen in New York.) In fact, the book was so intense I finished it less than 24 hours after picking it up. Good thing it was a weekend, or else I would have suffered at work from either sleep deprivation or thinking of nothing but what might happen next.
So what about Parrish being a "Christian"? Does the book create some big allegory to our life in Christ? Do some of the main characters get "saved"? Thankfully, no, Parrish's books are not preachy. The heroes of the book exude characteristics that Christ teaches us like selflessness, hope, and sound morals. Some characters beg a higher power for help, but Parrish doesn't slow the story down with any theological lessons. In my opinion, it's great to see persons of faith writing positive, engaging stories that are for everyone, not just a church-going audience.
If you're looking for a fun, engaging read during the heat of summer, check out Offworld. I'm hoping it'll be hitting theaters in Summer 2013, but don't count on it; get the book now and you'll be ahead of everyone else.
P.S. - Going back to my old days with Robin Parrish publishing his early revisions of novels on the Internet, I hope something like that continues. I don't read many novels, but because Parrish's stories were released (at least partially) for free on the Internet, I was hooked. I'm not exactly sure if the first chapter will suffice for me as a hook to get me to buy the book - I'd like to see more to promote upcoming books online.