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Why Web Tools Like AngularJS Need To Keep Breaking Themselves

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 12:54pm

As the line between native and Web applications increasingly blurs, more developers are turning to Web application frameworks like AngularJS. AngularJS, developed and open sourced by Google, has been especially hot, whether measured by general interest, jobs, or open source contributions, largely due to its ease of use

See also: Ember, Angular and Backbone—Which Web Framework Is Best For You?

But not everyone is happy. According to AngularJS critic-in-residence Danny Tuppeny, the AngularJS development community has "lost its marbles" of late. But is his criticism valid?

Why AngularJS?

AngularJS is a popular Web application framework—a collection of JavaScript code libraries, templates and other software intended to make it easier for developers to build dynamic Web pages or Web apps.

See also: Why Even Simple Technology Can Be Hard For Developers

Web frameworks are hot in general, but AngularJS is blisteringly so, as measured by relative growth in job postings:

Source: Job Trends

There are several reasons for this popularity, and Starsheet VP of Products Adam Conrad names three:

  1. It's Google-approved: "Angular is built and maintained by dedicated (and highly talented) Google engineers. This means you not only have a large open community to learn from, but you also have skilled, highly-available engineers tasked to help you get your Angular questions answered"
  2. It's comprehensive: "No other plugins or frameworks are necessary to build a data-driven web application"
  3. It's easy: "With a few attributes added to your HTML, you can have a simple Angular app up in under 5 minutes"

These are good reasons to use AngularJS. It turns out, however, that there are some pretty strong reasons not to, some of which emerge in the comments section of Conrad's article.

Why Not AngularJS?

Some criticisms are particularly focused. Tom Dale, one of the creators of EmberJS, a rival framework, worries that AngularJS may be attempting too much:

Dale is, of course, biased, and occasionally lets it show in rants like this one

But he also has a valid point, one that comes through even more strongly in Tuppeny's broadside. For Tuppeny, the problem with AngularJS isn't its ambition or its pace of development, but rather the way it routinely leaves developers behind:

Our current codebase has parts that are over 10 years old; and we hope our new codebase will last this long too. It seems that if we start writing Angular today; we’ll be forced to rewrite the frontend in three to four years at latest (and with the way apps are going, the frontend is likely to be a large codebase). This doesn’t sound very attractive.... We need frameworks that are stable and supported long-term; not that are constantly inventing new concepts and being rewritten with breaking changes every 5 minutes. Of everyone, Google should know how hard it is to maintain large web apps

Google and the AngularJS community, in other words, may be acting like... well, Google, which regularly dumps or revamps its Web applications after just a few short years. This is par for the course with fast-moving Web companies, but may not fit a more staid enterprise application lifecycle.

Which may be the point.

AngularJS: Breaking By Design

We don't live in a world with 10-year product lifecycles anymore. If your company does, you may want to find a new job. As Ars Tempo founder Zlatko Đurić writes:

[W]e should rebuild our components every 3-5 years anyway. Do you still write code the same way you did 4 years ago? If yes, then why using angular in the first place, why not just use components you've built your stuff with before it? Using the same browser APIs, the same things you relied on in the past?

The payoff is worth it, he continues:

To me, it's still the ... ideas that power the Angular framework that matter. Like DI and data binding. Those things make me able to develop a new webapp in 3 weeks instead of 3 months. That's what matters. And if in 5 years, when I'm two years into Angular2, somebody asks me to extend my old app built with 1.2, I'll probably be pissed at how verbose or stiff the old Angular API was. Or that I can't just use a finished component for it.

AngularJS developer Pascal Precht echoes this sentiment:

I think before you judge about the new templating syntax that comes with Angular 2.0, [Tuppeny] should at least mention why that is. The next version of Angular is built for the future. That means, embracing technologies like Web Components. In order to do that, Angular has to be rewritten, since the current version of it sits on top of a design made like 4 years ago.

The Web, in other words, pushes us forward, and AngularJS seems to be willing to sacrifice backward compatibility to get there. Yes, it probably could be done more cleanly, with less heartache for developers. But no, the alternative is not to comfortably recline in the easy chair of the current Web. 

The Web, after all, will force us to continuously break with the past, perhaps more often than is comfortable. But that's the pace at which innovation goes today. 

There is no rest, saith the Web, for the application developer.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

Categories: Technology

Apple CEO Tim Cook: "I'm Proud To Be Gay"

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:45am

Tim Cook is gay and proud of it, the Apple CEO revealed in a personal essay published Thursday by Bloomberg Businessweek. While he'd been silent on the matter of his sexual orientation for years, the CEO said he'd waited so long because he wanted to keep the focus on Apple's products, not himself.

However, Cook said he decided to speak up in order to support other gays and lesbians with less visibility. 

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

Cook also added, in a line showing his wit, that being gay had "given him the skin of a rhinoceros," which came in handy in his job as Apple's CEO.

Though the Apple CEO had not tweeted about the essay himself Thursday morning, "Tim Cook Speaks Up" quickly became the top trending topic on Twitter Thursday morning with many expressing support and gratitude.

Read Cook's full essay on BusinessWeek.

Photo of Tim Cook via Apple

Categories: Technology

BlackBerry Goes Back To The Future With Its "BlackBerry Classic"

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:00am

To salvage its business, BlackBerry's exciting new strategy is to deliver a modern smartphone … circa 2006. It sounds like a joke, but the company's serious about its upcoming Blackberry Classic Q20, heading to the market in December.

CEO John Chen took to his company's blog on Wednesday hoping to appeal to the BlackBerry faithful. He wrote, "The things you remember about BlackBerry that made you better are better than ever with BlackBerry Classic.” They really do need to be better. A lot is riding on this calculated blast from the past. 

Next month will mark a year since Chen took the reins, and so far, BlackBerry's most notable efforts have been one weird smartphone, one luxury device and an expansion of the company’s BBM messaging platform. Beyond that, BlackBerry stays busy staving off an exodus of its business clients (with some success), while hocking its real estate holdings to fund its comeback campaign. 

See also: How BlackBerry's Focus Will Shift In 2014 After Massive Quarterly Loss

It's clear that this comeback involves BlackBerry literally coming back to what made it a household name: well-designed physical keyboards on phones that are shaped to fit inside pockets and palms. In a world obsessed with "embiggening" smartphone displays, the move seems pretty wacky.

But maybe the time-trip is not as crazy as it seems. Because making phones people want isn't actually the goal. 

Really, it's only just the beginning. 

Time Travel And (Hopefully) Resurrection

This week, Kim Kardashian went on record stating her love for BlackBerries. Chen hopes she’s not the only one. As he wrote: "Innovation is not about blowing up what works to make something new—it’s about taking what works and making it better.”

What worked for BlackBerry were phones like the Bold and Curve, with their “highly pocketable” shapes and well-designed physical keys. BlackBerry loyalists can look forward to the Q20 bringing back that renowned keyboard—not the cramped configuration jammed into the latest Passport—and the return of the trackpad, which went missing entirely on recent models. According to Chen, Classic will also come with a “bigger and sharper” display and a “growing app catalog.”

Chen's back-to-the-future spiel recalls the days when BlackBerry was the smartphone maker to beat. But the iPhone’s debut in 2007 and Android’s launch (via T-Mobile’s G1) in 2008 caught BlackBerry with its pants down.

An extended series of flops ensued—like the Storm touchscreen phone, the Playbook tablet and the Torch sliding touchscreen-keyboard hybrid. On the software side, fans had to wait nearly two years for BlackBerry's revamped QNX software, a robust Unix-based operating system intended to help the aging platform compete with Android and iOS. But by the time BlackBerry 10 finally came to smartphones (in 2013, with the Z10 and Q10), its window of opportunity had pretty much closed. 

The Z10

These flubs didn't happen under Chen's watch. (You can thank former honchos Thorsten Heins and Mike Balsillie for that.) But the current CEO still tried to explain the inexplicable: 

It’s tempting in a rapidly changing, rapidly growing mobile market to change for the sake of change—to mimic what’s trendy and match the industry-standard, kitchen-sink approach of trying to be all things to all people.

That hasn't gone too well for BlackBerry. It now trails Windows Phone, sitting at number four in the worldwide smartphone rankings. Its latest smartphone, the squared-off Passport, looks like it's catching on with at least some folks, but the gadget's gotten mixed reviews and probably won’t lift BlackBerry out of its long-running funk. 

But QNX just might. 

One If By Car, Two If By Things

During an earnings call last year, in December 2013, Chen said:

QNX is probably one of the crown jewels. Every time I come here, our partners call me and customers call me that really want to work with us on QNX.... The plan is to invest in this and grow. The plan is to go by other vertical because we are doing very well in automotive vertical, we are going to continue to focus on that, but we're going to start looking in adjacent verticals to expand the business. In addition to that, we're going to build a platform that are cloud based, that is going to be machine-to-machine based architecture.

Speaking of automotive, Google and Apple are both pursuing connected automotive systems, the former with Android Auto and the later with CarPlay. And in fact, Apple already uses QNX for its CarPlay entertainment system. Ford is reportedly considering doing the same for its Sync platform. 

QNX, which BlackBerry has owned since 2010, is especially good at securing and connecting systems to mobile gadgets. These days, pretty much everyone wants to connect all manner of things to phones—including smartwatches, smart homes, fitness gizmos, televisions and, yes, cars. ZDNet reported that as many as 40 automotive companies already work with it. 

See also: The Future Of BlackBerry Points To Software

That positions QNX as a potentially major player in the so-called “Internet of Things.” That's what BlackBerry is actually hanging its salvation on. It just needs to survive long enough to make it happen. 

Kim Kardashian—BlackBerry’s Loudest Advocate

This week, the world found out yet another Kim Kardashian "secret": She’s a BlackBerry hoarder. The reality TV star stopped by the Recode tech conference to talk about her blockbuster mobile game app, and in the process dropped some completely unrehearsed talking points about her love for—and obsession—with BlackBerry devices.

"I'm afraid it will go extinct,” the celebrity told tech journalist Kara Swisher on the Recode stage. "I'm on a mission to make that not happen.”

Kardashian probably won't actually open her diamond-studded wallet and snap up BlackBerry the company herself, even if she did joke about doing just that). But every little bit helps, especially public support from a pop culture icon and social phenomenon like Mrs. Kanye West. 

Of course, very little happens by accident in the highly managed world of social-media celebrity. Kardashian hasn't denied being a paid spokesperson for BlackBerry; instead, she gave this coy response when Swisher asked if she'd talked to the company about a paid promotional gig: "I feel like I should. I’m going to make a call after this."

BlackBerry, meanwhile, offered an equally non-denialist denial in a statement to the New York Post: "We’re thrilled to have loyal and passionate fans."

Still, if Kardashian winds up giving BlackBerry some juice—say, as a throwback trend or fad—the timing would be spot-on. BlackBerry Classic's hardware naturally differentiates it from the phablet throngs. If Kardashian or anyone else can help the phone stay in the "cool retro gadget" instead of the "sad, recycled lameness" ditch, BlackBerry could conceivably stage a revival of sorts. These phones were, after all, once status symbols.

BlackBerry doesn’t need a massive hit. It needs a product that makes enough money to buy some time, so the company can push its real initiative: that QNX platform. 

"We are committed to earning your business,” Chen blogged, "or earning it back, if that’s the case.” Of course they are. Because Classic isn’t merely an attempt by BlackBerry to relive its old glory days as a hot smartphone maker (at least not completely). It's digging up the past to lay a foundation for the future—one that goes well beyond phones. 

Photos of BlackBerry, Jessica Lange and Kim Kardashian by 1000 Words, Helga Esteb and worldswildlifewonders, respectively, for Shutterstock; product images courtesy of BlackBerry

Categories: Technology

Nintendo Just Wants To Watch You Sleep

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 9:46am

Game company Nintendo has developed a fatigue and sleep deprivation sensor (via GameSpot) that functions without ever touching your body. 

Instead, Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata says, the sensor can be placed on a nightstand to monitor you while you sleep. Its hands-free approach to health tracking has the company calling the device the first of its kind.

These are the first details we’ve heard about Nintendo’s "quality of life" suite of products, due to be released in 2016.

See also: Nintendo’s Next Big Idea: A “Quality Of Life” Console

"Inside the QOL Sensor is a non-contact radio frequency sensor, which measures such things as the movements of your body, breathing and heartbeat, all without physically touching your body,” Iwata said, speaking to investors at the company's second-quarter earnings results briefing Thursday.

The device is able to function without physical touch because it uses radio waves to monitor a user's heart rate, movement, respiration and fatigue. Once it collects the data, it transfers it  to Nintendo’s servers for analysis.

And since this is the company that brought us Mario and Luigi, Iwata said Nintendo’s ultimate goal is to find a way to gamify sleep tracking for users.

"We expect the QOL-improving platform to provide us with new themes which we can then turn into games that operate on our future video game platforms too," Iwata said. "Once we have established such a cycle, we will see continuous positive interactions between the two platforms that enable us to make unique propositions."

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock; graphic from Nintendo (via GameSpot)

Categories: Technology

Microsoft Unveils Health Platform And $199 Fitness Band

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 9:12am

Apple’s got HealthKit. Google’s got Google Fit. Now Microsoft is is entering the fitness technology ring with the just announced Microsoft Health.

The company describes Microsoft Health as a platform consisting of “a cloud service for consumers and the industry to store and combine health and fitness data.” Already, Microsoft Health is compatible with UP by Jawbone, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper.

See also: Apple's Health App Is An Embarrassment

Perhaps the most interesting part of Microsoft’s announcement is the unveiling of a new fitness wearable, the Microsoft Band, to compete with the likes of the Apple Watch. At $199, Microsoft Band went on sale Thursday at Microsoft’s physical and online stores.

Microsoft Band has 10 different sensors to track a wearer’s heart rate, calorie burn measurement, sleep tracking, and presumably seven other stats. On top of fitness, the wearable will also keep track of incoming calls, emails, and texts, plus offer access to Cortana, the Windows based virtual assistant.

See also: Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health - The 'Coke and Pepsi' of Online Health

This isn’t Microsoft’s first foray into the fitness sphere, notes Re/Code’s Ina Fried. It launched HealthVault, a fitness data storage system, back in 2007 and the platform is still active today.

“Soon, Microsoft Health will also allow you, at your choosing, to connect your Microsoft Health data to HealthVault to share with your medical provider,” the Thursday announcement said.

Photo via Microsoft.

Categories: Technology

Google Fit Has Its Own Ailments

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 9:00am

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

Apple has some competition in the digital-fitness space, now that Google has launched Google Fit, its Android answer to the iPhone's built-in Health app.

The problem is that Apple and Google seem to be competing for who can come up with the buggiest fitness software.

See also: Apple's Health App Is An Embarrassment

This summer, both Apple and Google unveiled ways for developers to tap into sensors and connect fitness apps together to share data like steps walked, calories burned, and other measurements of activity and health.

Apple's HealthKit, as it called its software tools for developers, had a messy launch in September. Apple abruptly yanked HealthKit-compatible apps from the App Store, and took weeks to fix the bugs. After all that, Apple's Health app, which took in data from apps using HealthKit, was a screaming disappointment.

See also: Here Come Apple And Google In The Battle For Your Health

Google Fit, which is the name of both an Android app and Google's tools for fitness-app developers, looks more polished. For one thing, there's a Web version of Google Fit, a glaring omission from Apple's iPhone-only system. That means you can record fitness data on your Android smartphone or smartwatch, and then review it on a desktop or tablet—a scenario Apple doesn't currently allow.

But right now, Google Fit does very, very little. It's far from the "complete picture of [a] user's fitness" that Google promised this summer.

Unlike Apple Health, it doesn't dabble in anything medical—it's a fitness-only app. So you can record steps and exercise—but only if it's walking, running, or biking. And you can update your weight. That's it.

Many Android smartwatches now capture biological signals like heart rate. Google Fit doesn't currently display any of that data.

Unleash The Fit Apps

Neither Google Fit nor Apple Health are meant to upstage other fitness apps. But Google Fit hasn't launched with any partner apps. On the official announcement of Fit, Michelle Haq, an associate product manager, has left apologetic comments explaining that the partners Google trumpeted in its post, like Strava, Withings, and Runtastic, haven't actually introduced their Fit-compatible apps yet. (The language of the post suggested those apps were immediately available.)

Other users reported problems syncing activity data from Android Wear smartwatches to Google Fit, with some reporting losing all of their data in the process.

Yes, it's newly released software. But Google Fit has spent months in "preview" testing, and Google engineers made lofty promises about Fit's potential at the company's I/O conference.

After all this time, and all the promises Google made, Android users are owed something more than step-counting software that duplicates what they can do in apps like MyFitnessPal and Fitbit.

Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Categories: Technology

Lenovo Officially Welcomes Motorola To The Family

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 6:12am

News hit the wire early Thursday morning that Lenovo has finally completed its purchase of Motorola Mobility from Google. 

The $2.9 billion acquisition lets the Beijing-based tech company—already a leading PC maker globally—stake its claim in the ground for the mobile market in the western world. 

For Motorola, it has been a wild ride. In just a little over a year, it has gone from an ailing tech company bailed out by grand "Android papa” Google, to new Lenovo family member—one that brings plenty to the table for the Chinese tech company. 

See also: Motorola's Droid Turbo Is The Moto X On Power Steroids

We're Number Three! 

Together, Lenovo and Motorola now form the world's third largest smartphone maker, much to the chagrin of another Chinese tech juggernaut, Xiaomi, which gets bumped down to fourth place. 

The deal stands in stark contrast to Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s smartphone business, which was about killing off certain business lines (cough, Android) and fully controlling Windows Phone's leading devices. 

See also: Goodbye, Nokia Lumia—Hello, Microsoft Lumia

Lenovo doesn't appear to have any such plans. If anything, its eyes are likely focused on ramping up all things Moto, rather than scaling anything down. 

In a press statement, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing said that “by building a strong number three and a credible challenger to the top two in smartphones, we will give the market something it has needed: choice, competition and a new spark of innovation.” 

Motorola's (And Lenovo's) Reversal Of Fortune 

Granted, on paper, Motorola's luck didn't look all that great. Google bought the company for $12.4 billion earlier this year, and Lenovo picked it up for $2.9 billion—meaning Motorola’s valuation didn’t just fall; it got drop-kicked. 

But the Droid maker has been showing new signs of life lately. After a lot of talk about the ex-Google division having one foot in the grave, prompting Google to unload this sickly (and costly) business, it rallied and launched the Moto 360 smartwatch, which has been widely acknowledged as the best Android Wear watch thus far. It also just recently announced its latest—and perhaps beastliest—Droid Turbo smartphone for Verizon. 

See also: With The Moto 360 And LG G, The Android Smartwatch Army Is On The March

All in all, it looks like the comeback that the likes of BlackBerry can only dream of. Having the faith and massive wallet of another major tech company could be just what Motorola needs to keep the ball rolling. Meanwhile, Lenovo made off like a bandit, having just bought its way into the U.S. smartphone market. The new owner promises to fully revive the company in the next 18 months, since it expects to sell roughly 100 million devices this year. 

Motorola and its 3,500 employees will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of its new parent company, and it will stay put in its Chicago headquarters, giving Lenovo another U.S. base. (Lenovo’s Thinkpad laptop acquisition from IBM gave the company a Morrisville, North Carolina office, which has been used as its North American headquarters.) Rick Osterloh will stay on board as president of Motorola Mobility. 

Categories: Technology