The Guardian Monster

London Underground roundel logo
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Oh the Guardian, that normally well-regarded major UK newspaper, has had a ****ing brilliant idea. You see, if you read a story in the online version of the paper, you can share it on Facebook using their app.

Actually if you are logged into Facebook – even in another browser window you’ve forgotten is still open – it automatically posts the article you’re reading. It does say when you install it that the app will share what you read, but I don’t think the casual user will immediately realise this means “without even asking”. I certainly bloody didn’t.

So at long last, the Guardian has managed to fully automate the process of having someone reading over your shoulder. In this way online readers all over the world can partake of the authentic crowded London tube experience.

But that’s not even the worst part. The link it posts doesn’t actually go to the article, it – yes – offers to install the app. So you accept because you want to read the story. All your friends will then see what you’ve read and install the app so they can read it, which will tell all their friends what they’ve read… This thing is going to spread exactly like a virus.

Indeed the figures seem to be bearing that out. Two weeks ago, after being out only a month, they had their millionth install. At that rate we have about one week left to enjoy Facebook before it collapses under the sheer weight of Guardian links.

No More Pencils, No More Books

iPad showing OpenStreetMap content
Homework never looked more attractive

Giving iPads to kids in school. How lovely. St Kevin’s in Crumlin is the most recent of something like seven around the country, starting with St Colman’s in Mayo, to join this revolution.

What the hell are they thinking?

I guess it tells you a lot about the world some people live in, that this idea wasn’t shot down on the grounds that the iPads would be stolen by children from other, less well-equipped schools. We assume all these kids are being delivered to the gates by car. It’s even more charming to realise that the kids themselves are being trusted not to break, lose, or ‘lose’ such valuable devices. Of course there’s one advantage – right now, most children who had the cash price of an iPad would probably use it to buy an iPad.

What I find either more touching still, or just hopelessly naïve, is the idea that kids will be able to use iPads, in class or for study, without becoming terminally distracted. They’re being encouraged to do their homework in an amusement arcade. Schools say the tablets will be blocked from things like Facebook and Twitter, but it doesn’t take a child to figure out that there are about a billion other available distractions on the Web, and it’s quite impossible to block them on an individual basis. And remember, this is in school – the only place in the world where it’s legal to enforce hours of brain-crushing inaction on innocent children. I spent thirteen of my most impressionable years being bored to tears, I would have killed for such distraction.

On the other hand, I am distracted every day by the fact that I work on devices I can use to access the Internet. Raised from the very start with the temptation, maybe these kids will develop the iron discipline necessary to keep their concentration in this all-singing, all-dancing world.

Maybe.

One thing that isn’t a problem though – you may be wondering how the hell it makes economic sense to give such expensive tools to every child in a school. To understand, you just need to know about the cost of schoolbooks in Ireland. School teaching is free here, yes. But school books are basically a massive scheme to ream hapless parents until their eyes pop. Compared to that, the cost of an iPad over a few years is almost trivial.

What Phone Is Right For You? 7 – I, Android

Android robot logo.
Do people who spent a lot on iPhones get 'Droid rage?

The war may be over already. By the time you read this, Google’s Android could have surpassed all other phone operating systems by the one significant metric remaining: Number of apps available. It is expected to overtake Apple’s App Store sometime during July, at around the 425,000 mark.

That was the final battle. It passed out Symbian as the most common OS on new phones late last year. At an estimated 57% of the titles in the store, it already has more than twice as many free apps to download as any other system. It is available on phones at a wide range of prices – pretty much all of them less than the iPhone. And at the top end of the scale, Samsung‘s Galaxy S II has received overwhelming critical acclaim, dethroning the iPhone 4 in such league tables as the respected PC Pro A-List. So you could say everything from the best to the cheapest smartphone runs Android. Can there be any reason not to go for it?

A few. Though there are already more free apps available for Android, iPhone is still way ahead with paid-for ones, which are (probably) going to be of higher quality. Moreover, all current Apple apps are going to work pretty well on any iPhone since the 3GS. With the wide variety of hardware running Android, you really have no idea what percentage of the available apps is going to work well for you.

And this gets to the nub of the difference between the iPhone and Android experience. IPhone is simpler, more controlled and managed. Android is more open, more free, more varied. And this will allow it to produce the best phone on the market, time and time again.

But some of the worst smartphones available are going to be running Android too.

If you buy a new iPhone you know it’s going to be one of the best phones available right now. If you opt for Android, you still have a lot of choosing left to do. Right now Samsungs are hot and Sony Ericssons are getting interesting, but it’s only a few months since HTC unquestionably made the best Android phones. It’s a whole market in itself, and a busy one. But if you want the widest choice of handset in a smartphone, then Android it has to be.