Photoillustration of a woman photocopying an iPhone.

Relax, Fandroids. I kid because I care.

Cover of 'Dogfight' by Fred Vogelstein.“As a consumer, I was blown away,” says Googler Chris DeSalvo in a quote from Fred Vogelstein’s book, Dogfight, upon seeing the now-legendary January 9, 2007 Stevenote when he unveiled the first iPhone.

“I wanted one immediately,” DeSalvo continues. “But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.’

According to the Atlantic article The Day Google Had to ‘Start Over’ on Android, an excerpt from Dogfight, Google’s big concern at the time was Microsoft. It made sense at the time: They seemed to be making the right moves. If you remember those days, Windows Mobile 5.0 was the third revision of their mobile operating system, and true to the general rule about Microsoft revs, it was finally good enough. They’d lined up an impressive array of nearly 50 hardware partners, including HTC, who’d end up shipping the most WinMo phones, and the big coup: Palm, whom they’d convinced to build phones that ran WinMo. Their OS featured mobile versions of Office. The industry rumblings were that Microsoft would end up eating away at the dominant phone OS player at the time, Symbian. “Microsoft comes out fighting when threatened,” the conventional wisdom said. “Remember what happened in the browser wars?”

Here’s what was considered to be the game-changer that would make Microsoft a serious mobile threat: the Palm Treo 700w

Palm Treo 700w phone

The Palm Treo 700w.

The best smartphones of the era followed a design template that had been defined years earlier by the Blackberry: screen at the top, physical keyboard at the bottom, augmented by some kind of device to move the cursor (first a scroll wheel, then a D-pad, and optionally, a stylus).

Then this happened:

(If you haven’t seen it before or in a while, watch it again. You can almost feel the audience’s excitement in the opening moments, as Steve teases them with hints of what he’s about to announce. You can also feel the envy when Google’s Eric Schmidt comes onstage at the 51-minute mark — remember that he was on Apple’s board then.)

From the article:

On the day Jobs announced the iPhone, the director of the Android team, Andy Rubin, was six hundred miles away in Las Vegas, on his way to a meeting with one of the myriad handset makers and carriers that descend on the city for the Consumer Electronics Show. He reacted exactly as DeSalvo predicted. Rubin was so astonished by what Jobs was unveiling that, on his way to a meeting, he had his driver pull over so that he could finish watching the webcast.

“Holy crap,” he said to one of his colleagues in the car. “I guess we’re not going to ship that phone.”

Another key quote, this time from Ethan Beard, one of Android’s early biz dev people:

“We knew that Apple was going to announce a phone. Everyone knew that. We just didn’t think it would be that good.

With the announcement of the iPhone, the Android project, whose members had been working “sixty-tp-eighty-hour weeks for fifteen months — some for more than two years” made a pivot whose effects we’re still feeling today. The BlackBerry-like phone that they’d been working on — codename “Sooner”, with a physical keyboard, no touchscreen, and a general “me-too” design — was pushed aside. They filed mobile phone-related patents galore in September 2007. The iPhone forced them to rethink the OS and phone design, and from that came a new design, codenamed “Dream”. This pivot would require them to delay their first release by a year, and the end result was the HTC Dream, released in October 2008.

HTC Dream phone, shown in landscape mode with the sliding keyboard extended.

The HTC Dream.

As you can see, the Android weren’t so sure about all of Apple’s design decisions, hence the physical keyboard and trackball. Today’s phone designs tell you how those choices by the Android team worked out.

I’ll close with an observation based on the article by John “Daring Fireball” Gruber. He may be Apple’s freelance PR guy, but he’s often right, including in this case:

Remember a few years ago, at the height of the “Android is a ripoff of the iPhone” controversy, when Android supporters claimed that the similarities were just some sort of amazing coincidence, like Newton and Leibniz discovering calculus concurrently, because Android had started life a few years before the iPhone was introduced? Good times.

I’m going to get my paws on a copy of Dogfight and read it over the holidays. Expect a review of it in the coming weeks.



The New York Post on Bing vs. Google? Really?

by Joey deVilla on June 15, 2009

New York Post logo The New York Post is a “scandal sheet” tabloid newspaper that’s best known for its sensationalistic, hilarious headlines. A few examples:

  • When beer magnate Freddy Heineken was kidnapped, they ran a story titled No Deposit, No Return.
  • When New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was linked to a prostitution ring: Ho No.
  • On the possibility of a “Deep Impact”-style collision of a cosmic object with Earth: Kiss Your Asteroid Goodbye.
  • When Newsweek retracted its story about the interrogation tactic of flushing copies of the Qu’ran down the toilet: Holy Shiite.
  • A famous one from 1982: Headless Body in Topless Bar.

There’s even a book that features the best (worst?) of their wacky headlines.

So when you read the Fear Grips Google story in the Post, you should remember that tech really isn;t their forte and that you might want to take it with a grain of salt. I think Search Engine Land sums it up best:

Bing is probably better than Google anticipated and early indications are favorable in terms of user adoption; however not on any scale to threaten Google’s position. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is taking Bing seriously and trying to carefully assess its algorithm.

Still, the graphic accompanying the Post’s article, Fear Grips Google, is amusing:

"The Searchers" Bing vs. Google infographic from the New York Post

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“Why They Quit Google”, the Quick Version

by Joey deVilla on January 18, 2009

The big TechCrunch article of the day is about a private discussion group in which Google’s HR department asked former employees to post messages explaining reasons why they left the company. TechCrunch published posts from the thread; in case you didn’t feel like reading them all, I took a tally of the complaints in the thread and gathered them up in the table and chart below. Enjoy!

Complaint Count
Unhappy with the hiring process, especially how long it took 10
Low relative pay, benefits or relocation package 9
Management: either micro or not at all 8
Workaholic culture 3
Lost in the shuffle 3




Google Maps, Live Search (a.k.a. Microsoft Virtual Earth) Maps and Yahoo! Maps are all based on Navteq’s mapping technologies. As a result, the tiles used in rendering the maps are the same size, and if you set the zoom to equivalent levels in each, you can seamlessly switch between the three. Take a look at the map below, which shows a map of Toronto as rendered by Google Maps, Live Search Maps and Yahoo! Maps:

Seamless stitched-together map of Toronto, with the left third rendered by Google Maps, the middle third rendered by Live Search Maps and the right third rendered by Yahoo! Maps

The article Switching Between Mapping APIs and Universal Zoom Levels at David Janes’ Code Weblog explains that the mapping systems differ in their zoom levels:

  • Google Maps has 20 levels of zoom, ranging from 0 (out in space) to 19 (pretty close to ground level).
  • Live Search Maps has 19 levels of zoom, ranging from 1 (out in space, but not as far out as Google Maps’ 0) to 19 (pretty close to ground level). Live Search Maps’ zoom levels are equivalent to Google Maps’; for example, zoom level 5 mean the same level of zoom in both Google Maps and Live Search Maps.
  • Yahoo! Maps provides the fewest level of zoom – a mere seventeen. Their counting system is the opposite of Google Maps’ and Live Search Maps; in the Yahoo! system, larger numbers mean farther away from the ground, not closer. The closest you can zoom in with Yahoo! Maps is zoom level 1 (street block level, equivalent to Google’s and Live Searh’s zoom level 17) and the farthest you can zoom out is zoom level 17 (equivalent to Google’s and Live Search’s zoom level 1).

David proposes a universal zoom level and provides code to do conversions between it and Google’s, Live Search’s and Yahoo!’s systems.



I would’ve thought that they ignore everything after the first page, but ReputationDefender says that according to a Cornell University Study [PDF], most Google users ignore everything after the first three results.


The Real Threat to Google

by Joey deVilla on April 28, 2008

According to a BusinessWeek article, the real threat to Google isn’t Microsoft or Yahoo!, but cell phones:. “As more people use cell phones and their tiny glass screens to gain access to the Internet, Google and its fellow online advertisers will have less space, or what’s called ad inventory, to place marketing messages for customers. Google makes money selling ad inventory. And its ad inventory is diminished on a cell phone.”


Filter Google Results by Date with a URL Trick

by Joey deVilla on April 28, 2008

Filter Google Results by Date with a URL Trick: “Google can reorder search and news results from the last day, week, a few months, or entire year by adding a small string to the end of the search URL. Just add this string — &as_qdr=d — to the address bar and hit enter. You’ll get a custom drop-down box that lets you re-order results based on date.”