Buzzword: why Google Docs should be Flash-based

After having just spent a few minutes playing around with Buzzword, a new WYSIWYG web-based document editor, it’s hard to return to Google Docs. I mean, it just feels so clunky compared to this elegantly designed editor. Sure, Google docs is a lot more than a WYSIWYG editor. But looking strictly at the editor features, Buzzword completely blows Google Docs out of the water. And it’s still only in preview. One reason for this is because the people at Virtual Ubiquity made what I think was a very smart decision and designed the app in Flash, which just makes it so much easier to add advanced functionality beyond the glorified Rich Text Area interface the Google Docs really is. Oh, by the way, I’m talking strictly about Docs here – the far more complex Google Spreadsheet remains a work of art.

GPhone – Phone 2.0

There is something ironic in how, while Apple’s trademark tagline is “think different,” the ones who really are thinking different when it comes to phones (and a lot of other stuff – don’t they have a search engine?) is Google. Yes, yes, Apple’s iPhone is an absolutely brilliant work of function meeting form, and had it not been for the fact that Google’s (non-) phone has been on the horizon ever since the iPhone was released, I would probably have picked one up. But the fact of the matter is that, design brilliance notwithstanding, the iPhone is still just a better mouse trap. (Ok, a cooler, hipper, insanely great mouse trap.) Worse, just like all the other phones out there, it’s a locked down, proprietary, dont-even-think-about-installing-whatever-you-want mouse trap. And that is where Google, or Andy Rubin, who is heading up the GPhone effort, is rethinking the fundamental phone paradigm, as Andy Rubin explains in an article on the Gphone in the New York Times:

We are not building a GPhone; we are enabling 1,000 people to build a GPhone.

In some ways, all Rubin is doing is carrying over a fundamental idea behind Web 2.0 into the mobile domain: openness, specifically open-sourcing, as fuel for innovation. While Nokia and Blackberry and Motorola (and now Apple) are butting heads, reinventing one another’s wheels (how’s that for some seriously mixed metaphors), Google is taking the same approach to phones as they have taken to the web, which, last time I checked, seemed to have worked out pretty well. In other words, they are making all their mobile software freely available to several major manufacturers by way of the Open Handset Alliance, which currently has 30 some major phone manufacturers as members.

For me, what is most attractive about this model is that, if I so wish, I’ll be able to install software such as Skype, on the phone. In other words, I’ll be able to install free-calling software where it belongs, on a phone, not on my laptop (which was never designed to be a phone.) The reason Google has no problem with this is because their income model is not about charging me for my calls, it’s about ad revenue, which I have no problem with. Of course, someone who will likely have a definite problem with that is AT&T and Verizon, which explains why they so far have taken the Luddite stance (or should I say deer-caught-in-the-google-headlights stance?) of not wanting to join this effort.

Or maybe what they’re really scared of are the GPhone’s team of (very young) designers 😉

Is there a better way to think outside the box (er, phone?) than to ask a bunch of kids what a magic phone would be able to do?

Gmail gets even smarter (mostly)

I think it’s been a couple days now since Gmail was updated to a new version (apparently only for some users, but for whatever reason I was one of them.) It seems to still be a bit buggy. For example, when I click on the Contacts link, I sometimes get the following blank box.

Blank contacts box in new version of Gmail

This only happens sporadically. When it works right, I get the new Gmail contacts interface

Gmail contacts - default view

The “most contacted” feature is all good and well, but my favorite feature is the groups feature. No more cobbling together the same list of people to send messages to. While it works great overall, again some bugs are apparently still being ironed out, such as the inline Add New… group option

Inline add new group - seems to still be buggy

This seems to still be buggy (had to first go and use the add new group and then I could use the add to group option), but that’s all water under the bridge, as I’m sure this will be fixed soon.

Oh, and the other great improvement, which probably tops all the visible features – Google apparently recoded the front-end of the app, cleaning up what likely must have been iteration after iteration of Javascript for each new feature added over the months and years – the result is incredible. I remember being impressed with how zippy Gmail was when it first was released, and I guess I hadn’t noticed that it gradually had become pretty sluggish over time – no more.

So I guess the only question that remains is: how many more updates does Google need to do before the thing no longer is in Beta?