Wednesday, 19 October 2011
What if I told you that you could now have Google voice working with an iPhone’s native phone and messaging apps -- much like you can with Android -- and that you don’t have to jailbreak or install the Google Voice iOS app to do it? Yep. Read on!
Last week I ordered an iPhone 4S from Sprint. That’s my carrier since I left AT&T well over a year ago, and I’ve been a Android user on Sprint since I made the move. But before that I was an avid iPhone owner, happy with the phone and reluctant to drop it. But AT&T woes finally forced my move. Now, for the record I like Android. One of the great benefits of an Android phone for me over the past year has been the fact that the Google Voice service can be built right in, native to the phone. For those not familiar, Google Voice (lots of info is available here) is a service that gives you “one phone number for life.” You give that one phone number to people, and that numbers is used to ring all your phones – cell phones, home phones, work phones, whatever – in whatever manner and schedule you choose. If you switch providers and get a new cell number or home or work number, no worries. Just update your Google Voice account with your new or additional numbers, and you main GV number that you give out to everyone will ring the new ones, presto zappo bango. Google Voice also provides text messaging services and voice mail, accessible on a mobile phone via mobile web or a smartphone apps, as well as through a web browser on your laptop or desktop computer.
For quite some time an iPhone app has been available that one can install on the phone, which allows you to place calls, send text messages and get voicemail from your Google Voice account. But you have to do all of those things in the Google Voice app. So, it’s a little clunky – think of it as an extra, non-default phone dialer and text messaging app that sits alongside and kind of duplicates the purpose of your iPhone’s native dialing and messaging apps. In other words, to use Google Voice on the iPhone with the app, you have to use your iPhone differently.
But – thanks to Sprint and the fact that they now have the iPhone 4/4S in their inventory – we no longer need to use the Google Voice iPhone app and can get practically full functionality, using the apps that are native to the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Sprint and Google announced they were joining forces (loosely) and providing the ability to integrate your Sprint wireless account with Google Voice in a manner that would allow you either to use your existing GV number as your mobile number, or alternatively to use your existing Sprint phone number as your Google Voice number. When you set the service up that way, Google Voice becomes your voice mail system and you get all the messaging and calling benefits of Google Voice, too. And, it works with all Sprint-branded mobile phones, not just Android – which is a real differentiator vs. the other wireless carriers.
The beauty of it all: You can set up Google Voice integrated with your Sprint account to both send and receive phone calls and text messages from the native iPhone app interfaces, without the need to jailbreak your phone to install third party apps/hacks, and without the need to install the Google Voice iOS app. People you call or send a text message to will see your Google Voice number in caller ID or as the message sender. Voice mail access works a little differently, but we’ll cover that in a bit.
For discussion purposes to try simplify things, I’m going to refer to this integrated-Google-Voice-Sprint-Account customer experience as “Sprint Integration” for the remainder of this post.
It’s also probably worth pointing out that there are a couple of practical limitations (which are in no way related to the iPhone) that some people run into when setting up their Sprint Integration.
- First of all, if you have a Sprint calling plan that is business-liable (as opposed to a personal phone account), the integration is not supported or enabled. Some individual Sprint customers own their own phones and pay their own bills, but because they got an employer’s corporate discount or similar situation their account is actually flagged as a business account. That should be pretty simple to fix in most cases with a call to Sprint customer service. But just know that actual business accounts are not eligible.
- In addition, if you’ve set up phone call or SMS blocking or filtering through Sprint, you won’t be able to integrate your line with Google Voice until you disable those features in your Sprint account -- but note that Google Voice can usually enable you to do effectively the same thing.
So, how do I make this work?
It’s actually pretty simple. I won’t go into every single detail here, but I will cover the basics. I’m going to assume you can set up a Google Voice account, and if you need more information use the links above to learn everything you need to know.
Okay. First of all, there are a few things you need to make this work:
- An iPhone 4 or 4S provided by Sprint (no, this process can’t and won’t work with an AT&T or Verizon iPhone).
- A Sprint plan that is not a corporate/business plan. Family plans are fine, as long as they are not a business-liable plan.
- No call or text blocking/filtering configured in your Sprint account.
- A Google Voice account (they’re free) that has a phone number already assigned (in other words, not just the GMail-based “Google Voice Lite” thing – upgrade if necessary).
- About 15 to 30 minutes of free time.
To start, once you have logged into your Google Voice account, you’ll need to go to the Settings menu (by clicking the gear icon on the GV screen, over in the upper right area). Then navigate to the “Phones” section of the Google Voice settings. Here you’ll see any forwarding phones you’ve already set up in Google Voice.
A side note: If you already have another Sprint phone line set up in Google Voice with Sprint integration enabled, you cannot set up a second Sprint-integrated line on the same GV account. That’s not really documented anywhere, so I found this out the hard way since my Android phone was already fully integrated before I got my iPhone. So, when I added the iPhone to my Google Voice account I wasn’t even given the option to enable the Sprint integration. What this means is that if you already have one Sprint phone integrated, you’ll either need to disable the Sprint integration on that line or use a different Google Voice account to set up your new Sprint number on. I had troubles deactivating the Sprint integration on my Android phone, so had to search down help from both Sprint and Google so it could be manually deprovisioned. Hopefully you won’t run into that problem - but let me know if you do and I will try to point you in the right direction…
If the Sprint number you want to integrate has not already been added to your configured phones in Google Voice, you’ll need to do that now: At the bottom of the list of configured calling devices (phones, GMail chat, etc.) is a link you can click to “Add another phone.” Follow the simple instructions, enter the codes it promts you to use, and in a minute or three you’ll have your Sprint mobile phone number set up and working in Google Voice is basic mode. You’re not completely done yet, but you’re close. For now, make a call from another phone to your Google Voice number and validate that your newly-added phone rings, just to verify everything is working properly. Remember: Test often, and at each step. It’s a good habit to get into when it comes to “mashing up” multiple computer/technology systems.
Next, take a look at the entry for your iPhone in the GV Phones list (in Settings). You should find a Sprint logo on the screen, next to the nickname you gave your iPhone phone, as well as a link that says “Check eligibility for Sprint integration.” Click on that link.
You’ll need to choose between the two available options: Do you 1) want your Sprint mobile number to become your new Google Voice number, or do you 2) want to replace your Sprint mobile number with your GV number? If everyone has and knows your Sprint phone number, then you can choose option one, so you don’t have to distribute a new phone number to everyone. But, if you’ve already given your Google Voice number out to people who need to reach you, you’ll choose option two like I did. The net effect of that choice in the end will be that when you place calls and send messages from your Sprint phone, the recipient of the call or text message will see your Google Voice number in Caller ID and on the text message. And that’s really the point.
So -- Make the choice appropriate for your situation, then wait patiently for several seconds while the Google Voice communicates in the background with Sprint. Before you know it both companies’ systems will be provisioned to handle your calls all mash-up-cyborg-app style. If successful, you will see a message that tells you:
Your Sprint number, (000) 000-0000 is now integrated with Google Voice.
Calls and text sent from this phone will display your Google Voice number.
Your Sprint voicemail has been replaced with Google voicemail.
International calls from this phone will be placed through Google Voice.
Now you’ll probably want to set up a voice mail greeting in Google Voice if you don’t already have one (or just use the generic default if you prefer (yuck)).
Your next step should be to place a phone call to a number that’s not attached to a Google Voice account (like a friend’s cell phone) and verify that the caller ID shows the correct number.
Next, make sure “Receive text messages on this phone” is checked in the Google Voice setting for your line, and then send a text message to a non-GV phone to make sure it’s sent using the correct number.
Note: It’s actually important to use non-Google-Voice phones for these test calls and text messages, since GV can recognize when one GV enabled phone is communicating with another GV number, and will sometimes try to be “helpful” and modify the normal process of displaying Caller ID data.
If the proper phone number is displayed on calls and text messages sent from the iPhone native Phone and Messages apps, and if your iPhone rings when someone calls your Google Voice number, you’re all set!
What about voice mail?
The only thing that won’t work natively in the iPhone apps in this configuration is visual voice mail. Since the iPhone’s visual voice mail app doesn’t recognize Google Voice from the voice message perspective, you have a couple choices here:
- Configure Google Voice in your browser to email you link to any voice mails (on the Voicemail & Text tab in Settings), and/or
- Check the box in the list for your integrated phone (on the Phones tab in Settings) to enable Google Voice send you a text message when a new voice mail is received
This integration works – as I started to explain earlier – with any “Sprint branded” phone. That doesn’t mean phones that have a Sprint logo painted on them, but rather refers to phones provided under contract by Sprint that operate on the Sprint CDMA network (not Nextel, nor the other carriers that piggyback on Sprint’s network). And, just to be clear one last time, Sprint is the only current service option for native integration of Google voice on an iPhone as described here. So, if you have AT&T or Verizon, sorry pal… No native app integration for you, at least not yet. You’ll just have to use the Google Voice iOS app, which you can download free from the Apple App Store.
And honestly -- If you’re thinking about getting an iPhone 4 or 4S and are leaning toward Verizon or AT&T – stop and consider this:
- Sprint’s mobile service costs less than both Verizon’s and AT&T’s
- Sprint’s plan actually allows unlimited data usage, while Verizon’s is capped – as is AT&T’s
- When Sprint customers roam, it’s free of charge – and it’s on Verizon’s network (!)
- Dropped calls? Not in my experience, which is a far cry from what I dealt with on AT&T…
- Did I mention Sprint’s service costs less?
So – lower cost, you get to use the other guy’s network for free when needed, and no data caps. Sure, download speeds *might* be marginally slower here and there (and even that’s a debatable point), but there’s one more benefit you should know about: Sprint lets you sign up, get the phone and service, and try it our for 14 days. If you don’t like it, cancel your service and return the phone in good and complete condition where you bought it, and you’ll walk away with a refund for the price of the device and any early termination fee you paid. You will pay for the service you used and probably for the activation fee as well (unless you cancel service within the first 3 days), but nothing more.
If I sound like a Sprint commercial, trust me - I’m not. I’m just a customer that likes my wireless provider – and for what it’s worth, I’m a pretty darn picky customer.
Got questions about the Sprint iPhone integration with Google Voice? Post them in the comments and where it makes sense, I’ll update this post with details I may have missed. And be sure to share your iPhone integration success stories as well!
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Siri is coming to the iPhone 4S on Friday, and already people are starting to discover the Apple virtual assistant has a but of a sense of humor.
To chronicle and record for humorous posterity all the unusual, funny, shocking or otherwise interesting crap Siri comes up with, I have created Darn Your Siri - http://www.darnyousiri.com - where anyone can post their funny Siri screenshots there, too - just go to the submission page. That name seemed a little less inappropriate than something like "shit Siri says" but I see that's also a site someone fired up. Of course they did! :)
To take a screen grab of any iPhone screen, hold down the home/round button while at the same time clicking teh power/sleep/wake button on top. The resulting screen grab JPG file is saved in your photo gallery on the iPhone.
I'll be seeing what all Siri has to say soon, when my phone arrives from Sprint on Friday.
Friday, 07 October 2011
Can I cancel my current Sprint account/plan and get a new iPhone 4S?
There's this new iPhone coming out - the iPhone 4S. Maybe you heard about it? Pretty nice device, really. I had iPhones exclusively for a few years from the time Apple came out with them - the original model and then the 3G. I never took the 3GS leap.
But a year and a half ago I fired AT&T out of frustration over continued poor service and moved over to Sprint. That meant I had to give up my iPhone, since AT&T was still the exclusive iPhone carrier. It also meant I never picked up an iPhone 4 model, other than the few times I made a call from a friend's phone. Instead I moved to an Android device, the Evo 4G (which I like, by the way).
Now, let me say up front that I'm not sure if I really want to make a change back to the iPhone right now. The Android phone actually works pretty well for me, as far as the OS and phone itself are concerned. Frankly, I rarely use the 4G capability of the Evo, mostly because of the limited and often spotty 4G WiMax service. But when it works, it works pretty well. Since I made the move away from AT&T a year and a half ago, Verizon - and starting next week Sprint - have added the iPhone to their lineups. I miss some of the capabilities and features I used to get with the iPhone, especially when it comes to app integration between the Macbook, iPad and the iPhone for my aviation-related apps, which get a lot of use between the iPad and Mac these days.
So, I decided to check and see what I'd have to shell out, should I decide I wanted to move to a new iPhone 4S on my Sprint account. The problem I foresaw was that I'm about six months away from the end of my current two-year contract. So, when logging into sprint.com the system told me I'd have to pay full price to order a new iPhone 4s today. Of course, it also informed me I could wait 176 days for upgrade eligibility, and then get $150 off the full price. The rather alarming full prices are:
- 16GB iPhone 4S $649.99
- 32GB iPhone 4S $749.99
- 64GB iphone 4S $849.99
- 8GB iPhone 4 original $549.99
So, I can pay full price now or $499 for a 16GB model in 6 months (more for the larger models). I would guess (but am not certain) that at that time I might be able to also sign a new 2-year contract with Sprint and get an additional $200 off, which would theoretically put me at $299 for the 16GB model with a fresh two-year Sprint contract lock-up. Or is the $150-off-list- price deal dependent on a 2-year deal as well? I will have to ask about that. Either way, I'm at least $100 more than the prices announced the other day (which require a contract)
Next I checked with Verizon, thinking maybe I could just cancel my Sprint service and go over there right away to get the subsidized price with a new two-year contract and not have to wait. Their prices were much more reasonable - and less than I'd pay at Sprint even if I waited for six more months and took the deal I already mentioned. Verizon's new account prices are: $99.00 for the original iPhone 4 and $199/$299$/399 for the new 4S models (also the same prices Sprint offer's it's new customers)
I don't really want to cancel my Sprint service: I get (truly) unlimited data and messaging on Sprint - and you don't get that on the other carriers (there tends to be a 2GB limit). I have a family plan, which allows me to share minutes between two lines, free evenings and weekend, free calls to any mobile phone, and more. Plus their service has been great for me, and when I roam it's free and it's on Verizon's network. I basically get the best of both worlds network-wise. Oh, and the monthly price is right, too. I like Sprint.
Out of curiosity, I logged back into my sprint.com account for another look, and decided to see what it would cost to add an additional line to my existing Sprint family plan and get a new iPhone that way. Maybe that would be cheaper? Ahh, what do you know - The site showed I could do just that and get the same two-year-commitment pricing as Verizon offered. Now we were getting somewhere!
But I don't need or want two phones or two numbers. So finally I called Sprint and asked the helpful support rep what would happen if I *added* a new number and additional line of service to my existing family plan account (a third line costs $19.99 a month if I add it and share the pool of minutes I'm already paying for). My real question was this: Could I then immediately cancel my original number/phone/service from the family plan?
"Sure you can do that," he said. I'ld have to pay a $90 early termination fee balance for the existing line (it's prorated from the original $200 fee (which Sprint recently increased to $350)), and they'd move my existing Sprint number to the new iPhone, too if I wanted. The Sprint rep even put me on hold and took the time to verify with management that was okay to do. Oh, and if I want they'll purchase the used Evo 4G through their buy-back program and credit me $87 for it - which would pretty much negate the $90 early termination fee. Alternatively I could sell the Evo 4G to someone else if I wanted. Either way, it's not a bad deal. And the $19.99 a month fee for the third line would go away as soon as I cancelled the original line, too.
So, based on what the Sprint rep told me it's doable - and fairly reasonable. They recover their costs through the balance of the early termination fee, and get a subscriber locked in for an additional two years (and the early-termination fee for the new phone would be $350.00). If I want, I can get an iPhone 4S without having to pay $650-$850 for the privilege. Sometimes all you have to do is ask the right questions.
Not sure yet if I'll actually decide to get an iPhone 4S. I'd have to think carefully about what I'd lose in the process, app-wise.
One big red flag is that I use Google Voice exclusively for calling and text messages, and it's all Frankenstein-style-built-in on Android natively via the Google Voice app. Not so much on iPhone. Update: I picked up a Sprint iPhone and was able to pretty much fully integrate Google Voice without having to use the Google Voice app, full information here.
So that's one important trade-off to consider, along with the change Sprint made on September 9th: They now charge a $350 termination fee (the same as Verizon and AT&T) that's pro-rated depending on the number of months left on a subscriber's contract. But regardless, it's good to know that if one wants to make the move, it appears there's a reasonable way to do it.
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Update: Apple has posted a Q&A page with information about the data in question, exactly what that data is, and changes they have planned.
This is, well... it's at least very interesting. Which is to say, it’s something that has to make you wonder: Even when core location tracking is not active, apparently your iOS4 device is keeping a log of everywhere it goes. Which is to say, everywhere it goes with you.
The four images here are a visualization of the info harvested from my own iPad, retrieved automatically from a iTunes backup of my iPad on my Mac (click on each of the images to view full-size). I should note that the locations are actually displayed in a less accurate fashion (visually) by the program that generates the map plots, so as to somewhat avoid any issues and abuse associated with exact location tracking. The information in the data file being analyzed is substantially more accurate and detailed.
From cell tower triangulation (it appears this is where the data comes from), you can see a cross country trip I took with a friend from New York to New Mexico, visits to the Denver/Boulder area, and of course a whole slew of travel around the Pacific northwest, where I live.
Also of interest is that I very recently (within the past two months) had my iPad replaced when the sync jack went bad, yet much of the data is from the old iPad in addition to the new one. Obviously when I restored a backup on the old one to the new one, the data was retained as part of the restore. Interesting. Also, there's location info that's recorded on mine, and in some cases I don't see the location data for areas I know I have been to. I'm not completely sure of the rhyme or reason for that.
Video of the two guys who discovered this and created the visualization program is here. They discuss how this was discovered and go into some detail about the data, where it lives and what they found. Video is via the Where 2.0 conference.
Got a 3G iPhone or iPad? You can run the "iPhone Tracker" app on your own Mac and see what your iTunes backup has sitting around on your computer. If your iTunes backups are encrypted (not a default setting) the data is still there but it's not readable.
On it's face and in isolation this is not exactly a huge deal. The location data is not being sent anywhere as far as we know. It resides on your iPad or iPhone (3G models) and on your computer where you sync to iTunes. Well, that's assuming you don't sync to someone else's computer, of course. In that case, they might have your location data available to view and play with.
And really, that's why this could be a big deal, on some level. And it's not just that the data is being collected, cataloged, stored and exists, it's that it's been there since iOS4 was released, and we didn't know because no one really noticed until now. Someone had to get curious, poke around, dig into the data and discover it by accident. Makes you wonder what other info might be hanging around in places we don't know about, eh?
Hopefully Apple will explain exactly what all the data is, why it's there and how it's used - in great detail. It can't be there for no reason, and I can think of a few cool reasons for collecting the data, but unencrypted and no notification of tracking is a little concerning to me. I'm looking forward to hearing from Apple to understand more.
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
I’ve been a Google Voice (and before that GrandCentral) user for a few years now. It’s a terrific service that provides One Phone Number to Rule Them All, so to speak. You can associate multiple different phone accounts (land, mobile, satellite, whatever suits you) with one Google Voice number and can change them at any time. So, anyone can dial or send text messages to your Google Voice number, and you control which phones ring and when, and where your text messages go.
Today Google announced that they are offering a service for $20 that allows you to port your existing mobile phone number to Google Voice, which means you can start using GV without having to take on a whole new phone number. That’s a great thing when you want to avoid the hassles of getting people to start using a new number.
But there are a few things you should know before you make this move, so you can be sure it’s for you.
Google Voice supports most – but but not all – of the features you have on a typical mobile/smart-phone plan. Certainly you will be able to receive calls, get voice mail, and send/receive text messages (especially on Android with the awesome GV app).
There are, however, a few common mobile features that are not supported by Google Voice:
- Multi-media Messaging Service (MMS): If you like to send video, picture or audio messages to your friends and family, Google Voice can’t do this. I regularly have to tell people trying to send me their video or picture to send it to my email or my actual cell phone number provided by the carrier (which I don’t give out – that would defeat the whole purpose of Google Voice). So, if MMS and one number if critical for you, you should wait until GV gets around to supporting this.
- Calls to your Google Voice number are not counted as calls to a mobile number for the purpose of mobile carrier call plans. So mobile-to-mobile minutes won’t get accounted for in the same way.
- With a couple of exceptions, calls you make from phones attached to you Google Voice account will not show up on called ID as having come from your Google Voice number. The exceptions to this are when calls are initiated through the GV web app (in which case Google’s systems dial you up on your phone then connect you to the person you’re dialing) and a few of the GV mobile apps like the ones for Android and iPhone. The Android app actually builds itself into the Android OS’ dialing system and it’s truly seamless. On the iPhone you need to dial using the Google Voice app.
- For text messages to be sent to mobile phones and for them to appear as coming from your GV account phone number, they need to be sent through the GV service, too. This means using the Google Voice interface on Android OS (which you can set as your text messaging default, by the way), via the iPhone app, etc., or from the most useful Google Voice web app interface mentioned earlier. I use the web app all the time for text messaging from my computer browser. But it’s different, so you need to realize that.
- Text messages sent by applications and to/from short message codes (like Skype, your bank, etc.) don’t work.
That said, Google Voice is a terrific service that lets you have one phone number that can ring and deliver messages across several other phones. I use two Google Voice numbers – one I give out as my home phone and the other is for work calls. If I am working from my home office, both numbers cause my home phone to ring, but no one actually knows the number of my home phone – they just know the GV number that I gave them. If I move or far whatever reason change hone phone or work or cell phone numbers, I don’t have to worry about telling anyone. I just change the associated numbers in my Google Voice account. If I am on vacation somewhere across the country for a few days and want calls made to my home GV number - but only from my family members - to ring a phone number at my friend’s house, but only after 8am and before 11pm, and not during the next two hours because I want to get a nap… Google Voice can do that for me, too. It’s really quite powerful and easy to set up.
You can set schedules for different phones, and having a complete history of every call, voice mail and text message available in the browser app is really very nice. If any of the phone numbers associated with the different phones you have connected to your GV account and number should change in the future, there’s no need to tell the world. The people you know can just keep dialing your GV number, and in the background you can change that number that AT&T gave you back in the day when you got your first iPhone and point it at your new Verizon number. Hey, I’m just sayin’...
More information about porting numbers and Google Voice in general can be found at:
Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Earlier today, I was working in my home office and using my iPad alongside my computer. I started a download to update some app data on the iPad, which was fully charged at the time, and went back to my computer to do work-related stuff.
A couple hours later I went back to the iPad and pressed the home button to try to wake it up, with no response. I tried the wake/sleep/power button, same lack of response. Thinking it might be a dead battery (but wondering how that could happen in such a short period of time) I plugged it into the charger and left it there. Normally that would result in some screen activity if the battery had died, but after a couple hours on the charger the iPad was still dead.
After several minutes of futzing around with the iPad on and off the charger, and pushing every button on the iPad, I remembered a button combination that's used to execute a power reset and boot the iPad into recovery mode.
So, I did that combo, holding the Power/Sleep and Home buttons down at the same time for around 15 seconds while the iPad was on the charger. Sure enough, the iPad restarted and fired right up normally. It had a partial charge (about what you'd expect for the amount of time it had been running on battery before it died) and WiFi was disconnected, but after reconnecting to my WiFi network things were all back to normal.
Hopefully this saves someone a trip to the Apple Store or a call to the fine folks at Apple Support.
Monday, 22 November 2010
UPDATE: Check out my new post that describes how to enable the AirPrint support for Windows shared printers, including on Windows Home Server.
I was pretty excited, based on reports in the community in the past about being able to print from my iPad in the new iOS 4.2.1 operating system via my Mac computer. My WiFi laser printer in my home office is a good printer, but it certainly is not Airprint enabled. So leveraging my MacBook (which is pretty much always up and running) was to be a good option for me.
But, alas, iOS 4.2.1 is here, and OS X 10.6.5 is installed and running on my MacBook (after some troublesome issues that finally got resolved)… But it looks like Apple removed the Airprint capability from the 10.6.5 release of OS X. It was in the beta versions, but not in the version they finally released.
Lifehacker has a brief article describing how to manually enable Airprint support in 10.6.5, so you can share your non-Airprint printers with your iOS 4.2 devices via your Mac.
In a nutshell, you just do this:
- Download a few files (which are pulled from the OS X beta)
- Copy them to a couple of specific locations (described in the linked site, above)
- Remove your printer from the system
- Restart your Mac
- and re-add your printer, and share it
Of course, this is not a supported configuration and undoubtedly there is some very real reason why it was not included in 10.6.5, so your mileage may vary should you decide to try it.
For those who may not want to break open the Terminal app in OS X, someone also built a quick Mac App called Airprint Hacktivator that you can run, which will allow you to automagically install the proper files and configure the OS.
Again, your mileage may vary. But I can tell you, it worked for me! I used the Hacktivator app and didn’t even have to restart my computer. I ran it, removed the old shared printer and re-added it, and instantly my iPad “saw” it and was able to print.
So, I’m now printing from my iPad, via my MacBook Air on the WLAN, to my office laser printer. Pretty slick, and a nice feature to have. No more emailing links and copy/paste content to one of my other computers in order to print things I find or need from the iPad.
UPDATE: There's apparently also an option out there to enable the Airprint support on Windows. I may have to take a look at that one and see if it will work on my Windows Home Server, which is quite literally *always* on, as opposed to my Macbook, which *almost* always on...
If you’re interested in what else is available in iOS 4.2 for the iPad, I suggest you check out the Lifehacker review and video.
Monday, 21 June 2010
I've recently run across a number of great resources while researching my Sprint EVO 4G phone, which runs the Android operating system and is quite tweakable.
One of the top resources I've found is called Good and EVO, a blog that answers in patient detail lots and lots of great questions. Anyone who has the device and doesn't know where to start but wants to learn about the phone and how to make it really work should read through all the articles on the site. It's very well-written and contains a wealth of information and links. Check it out at http://www.goodandevo.net/.
Another excellent - and more technical - resource is the xda-developers Android Development forum for the EVO 4G phone. Uber-geeks will rejoice in all the slang and tech jargon being slung around the walls of these rooms. Of particular interest for people getting started hacking on the EVO is "rooting" the device and installing customer ROMs (images of the operating system packages). Check out the EVO Helpful/Popular Threads topic for links to the basics, and check out the broader forum for lots and lots more. The forum can be found at http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=653.
Other good resources to list?
Saturday, 19 June 2010
The other day I decided I'd had enough pain in my relationship with AT&T and that I was going to make a move. I looked at my various options, and landed on Sprint and the EVO 4G Android-based smart phone. I've spent a few days with the new service and device, and I thought I would write up some early thoughts and opinions.
First of all, let's get this part out of the way: I already miss using the iPhone. Now, the Android phone is cool and there are a lot of good things to say about it. But the iPhone is what I'm used to, and from size to form to OS usability to - well - fit and finish, so to speak... The iPhone is great, and hard to leave.
Sprint's mobile service
As expected, Sprint's service is a little patchier in certain spots around the Portland area than AT&T, while in other areas Sprint provide substantially better coverage. Neither carrier truly blankets the entire area effectively. At my house, located in a fairly remote and rural area about an hour northwest of the city, service by both carriers is equally spotty.
But one thing about the Sprint service that stands out over AT&T's is the call delivery stability. Calls go through, the phone rings when someone is calling, and I have yet to experience a dropped call even once. Even in areas with one or two bars of signal strength showing on the phone I can reliably place and receive calls. Try that with an iPhone on AT&T (even in strong signal strength areas) and one is bound for overall abject failure disappointment.
The EVO 4G phone
The phone is pretty darned slick, and Android is a very cool operating system. It's a tough adjustment from the iPhone to this device in some ways. But overall, color me quite impressed. The display is nice, and even though it's a little larger than I might like it is good hardware with a quality fit and finish.
Battery life is somewhat frustrating, and Sprint even hands out a half sheet of paper when you buy the phone printed with recommendations on how to configure your phone to prevent battery drain. The usual suspects apply (turn off GPS and 4G when not in use, turn down screen brightness, etc.) but I think we all recognize that they wouldn't be handing out the sheet if battery consumption wasn't an issue for customers. That said, my experience so far is that battery life is fairly reasonable if you follow the recommendations. I just wish it wasn't necessary, and I'm hopeful someone builds something like a 3000 mAh battery that will fit in the same slot as the provided 1500 mAh battery. There's a little extra room inside that back compartment, so if it's practical to build a bigger battery to fit, hopefully someone will come through. I know I'd buy it.
There are some good apps out there, but not the same quality as I can find for the iPhone in the areas I care about the most. And I am having problems with some apps crashing and force-quitting that are more than just a little frustrating.
The ability to customize and run widgets, etc. on the phone's "desktop" screens is super cool, and the Google Voice app builds itself into the OS in such an elegant, Borg-like manner that it just makes sense for GV people. There are a couple glitches in the app, but hopefully those get improved upon over time.
In a nutshell...
I miss the iPhone a bit. The EVO is a great phone, don't get me wrong.
I don't miss AT&T at all, at least not yet. My calls on Sprint go through the first time and they don't drop. Data connectivity is reliable and performs well. I can't say that about AT&T.
Thinking out loud about the service issues on AT&T's network...
I'm no cell phone service expert. Far from it. But one thing I've wondered over the past few days is whether the issues on the AT&T network are solely carrier problems, or if some small part of the blame might be Apple's. Is it possible the methods of connecting to and communicating on the network being implemented by Apple aren't optimal? I wonder because for the past year I've carried my iPhone with me for personal use, while at the same time carrying a Blackberry - also on AT&T's network - for business purposes. Frequently the Blackberry performs better in any given location than the iPhone. But not always. There are times when both devices just fall off the back of the truck as far as network connectivity and reliability (for both voice and data) is concerned, Yet I can say based on that year's worth of experience that when I've needed to make a call and ensure the best chance of staying connected and not getting dropped, I've used the Blackberry with noticeably greater reliability.
The amateur radio geek in me in me can think of a few possible reasons for the difference between the performance differences between my iPhone and the Blackberry in the same locations at the same time:
- They connect and communicate differently - Obviously the engineers at the different phone manufacturers don't get together in the same room and write radio code, so I suppose it's possible RIM's people are better at this than Apple's folks.
- They're using different cell towers/radios/bands/frequencies - Since these are multi-band transceivers, one has to remember that they may not be operating on the exact same infrastructure equipment at any given point in time. In that case, performance would likely be different.
- The Blackberry seems to hand-off to EDGE sooner than the iPhone, and it stays connected to the network at least a little more reliably.
At any rate, it's hard for me to know what I will think of the EVO and Sprint in another week. I have this 30-day period to decide if it's right for me, and if it doesn't work out I can decide to try something else, or even go back to AT&T if it turns out I was wrong in my decision. But that doesn't sound like something I want to do at this point.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
As I explained in my last post, I made the decision over the past few days to move away from AT&T for mobile phone service, which necessitated a change in the smart phone hardware I use since the iPhone is exclusive (for now, anyhow) to AT&T in the United States. I did some research, got some advice from people I know, read a lot of reviews, and heard out several others who contacted me with their thoughts -- and then today I took action.
After work, I left the office and started for home. It was a little after 5pm, and I thought to myself, I wonder if there’s a Sprint store nearby? I’d been looking at the HTC EVO 4G, a truly impressive Android-based smart phone that operates on the Sprint/Clear 4G network for data, as well as Sprint’s 3G mobile network.
Turns out there’s a store just a few blocks away, so I turned around and drove there. I had realistic expectations as I headed over: The HTC EVO 4G is sold out on the Sprint and HTC web sites, and is in very short supply/unavailable pretty much everywhere, so my hope was that the store would at least have a working demo unit that I could take a look at and test drive.
Turns out they had two working units on the shelf, and the *very* friendly and *very* helpful young lady at the store quickly and expertly walked me though the phone for a minute or so. I was pretty impressed with the fact that she immediately picked up on my experience and expertise level and tailored her very knowledgeable interaction to me. So if someone at Sprint reads this, please take this as a commendation for Meghan O. at your Tanasbourne Town Center store in Beaverton, Oregon. She deserves a customer service award, truly. No pressure, all information, and true passion about the phone and Sprint’s service. Compare that to my experiences in AT&T stores and there’s really no contest. In fact, the Sprint customer service experience reminds me a lot of the service experience in an Apple store, come to think of it. Hmmmm… Maybe Apple should think about that.
But I digress. It turns out they had three brand new, in-the-box EVO4G phones that people had reserved but not picked up, so they were available for the taking. Oh, I started to drool. Well, not really – but I think you know what I mean.
I’ll save all the gory details of why this is such a cool phone for another post, since I need to get some sleep tonight. But I want to explain here why I’ve decided to engage Sprint as my probable (operative word there, see below) new service provider.
- First of all, I can get more for my money. For the same price I am paying AT&T each month for iPhone service and a data plan, I can get the same number of minutes, same unlimited messaging, free calls to any mobile phone on any carrier in the US, free nights and weekends, and – BONUS – the Sprint hot-spot coverage, where the EVO 4G acts as a wifi hot-spot for up to 8 devices to access the Internet.
- I haven’t decided this yet, but I am considering dropping the 3G data service plan from AT&T on my iPad and just using the EVO 4G to provide Internet service via the hot-spot capability (and at faster speeds, I should add). The $30 a month savings pays for the hot-spot feature. I could always sign up as needed for AT&T 3G service on an ad-hoc basis at $15 a month if I need their service for some reason.
- Sprint has a 30-day return policy, which allows you to evaluate Sprint and the hardware you choose, and return the equipment in non-damaged condition within that window for a full refund - including no charge for the service used. In effect they’re saying, “Come try us, and if you don’t like it, we will take the equipment back and make you whole again.” That’s corporate confidence, and should I find out I’m an idiot and made a bad decision (or if I decide I want to take a look at a third carrier) I have the option to get out, no questions asked. I like the try-us-on option. Good move.
- Sprint’s early termination fees are substantially lower than the competition’s newly-published penalties: At Sprint, it’s $200 max, and after you’re about 8 months into your 24-month contract, the penalty starts to drop by $10 a month until it bottoms out at $50 -- and that’s a pretty reasonable deal.
- No limits on data usage for the smart phone. AT&T and others are now capping their “unlimited” plans (and thank goodness, they’re re-labeling them in most cases to be more accurate in their descriptions).
- In the store, Meghan’s customer service skills and knowledge simply won me over. She was confident in what she was saying, quick but not rushed, covered all the bases accurately and efficiently, and answered literally every question I had with answers I wanted to hear.
I’ll add a few things about the EVO 4G phone, because they just have to be said. Keep in mind, I am a bit of an iPhone and Apple fan-boy, and I made the tough decision to leave AT&T and the iPhone not because of Apple’s hardware and software, but instead because of AT&T’s poor service and quality woes.
- This is a sharp phone. The screen is big (really big) and vibrant and it’s a solid build. It feels good in your hand.
- The camera is great, and even gives you access to detailed configuration settings like auto or manual white balance, various recording resolutions, etc.
- And that’s just the main camera. There’s also a second, front-facing camera working at VGA resolution for video chatting/conferencing or whatever you want to use it for (maybe you want to shoot your own passport pictures – it’s all up to you).
- One thing the Apple iPhone doesn’t have a native app for (which is a real shame), but Android does: The Google Voice app. I downloaded and installed the GV app in about a minute and configured it to use my Google Voice account, and now the Android phone uses my GV account – natively – to place and receive calls and text messages. It’s totally borged, all wired in tightly without the need to launch a separate app for calls or anything. You go to the regular phone and messaging apps on the phone, and they knows they’re tied directly to Google Voice. That’s huge, and it’s unique to the Android platform. If you’re a Google Voice power user, Android is *definitely* for you. Find me and ask for a demo, I’ll show you what I mean.
- The Android UI is awesome. It’s responsive, intuitive and even fun to use. I’m impressed.
- 4G data service. I happen to live in Portland, Oregon, which is one of the early cities that got WiMax/4G from the start. The network is pretty well established here and so this means a lot in my book. Fast Internet service for a flat fee and ability to share it with other devices is hot.
There’s a lot more to love about the EVO 4G phone, but I’ll save the rest for another post. Suffice it to say, I am pleasantly surprised and quite impressed with both Sprint and the new HTC phone.
More to come later. If you have an opinion, comment away and let me know!
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
And to Apple: I’m sorry, but as good as you make me feel about the world of technology, I just don’t love you enough to endure AT&T’s bad habits anymore. So, the iPhone has to go, too. And that makes me sad. I truly wish things were different. I almost can’t believe I’m doing this. They say if you love something, let it go free. It’s a brutal suggestion, really.
Let me start out by saying, for those who don’t know, that I’m a security and IT management professional by trade. I’ve held executive and senior management roles for both security and IT functions at a publicly-held company in the financial services space, I’ve consulted with governments and companies large and small on cyber-security issues, and these days I manage security strategy for a Fortune-500 company. So, I have some perspective and reality-based opinions about security and quality.
Let me also say - plainly and clearly - that this blog is where I voice my own opinion about things that are on my mind (as opposed to discussing work-related topics). And my mind is pretty active right now as it concentrates on my personal AT&T Wireless account and the lack of service and security quality the company has delivered over time. In other words, I have some strong opinions on the topic.
This is certainly a bit of a rant, but it’s not a knee-jerk reaction. It’s grounded in reality and reason and I have put some time and thought into my decision.
And enough is enough: I’m done with AT&T.
First AT&T’s reliability and call-handling problems were the issue, and frankly those were bad enough on their own. There are locations where I can *guarantee* calls will drop on my iPhone on the 3G network, every single time. Areas with three to five (out of five) bars of signal strength that suddenly drops the call and goes to zero, before churning around trying to reconnect and eventually coming back with a full signal once (I assume) a tower hand-off finishes. I actually have to tell people that the call will drop in a few seconds and that I will call them back in a couple minutes when the service recovers. They always want to know how I can know that. It’s sad. Coverage has gotten *worse* over the past several months in many areas where I travel, and call reliability has suffered. It’s probably worth noting that the same bad service areas affect my iPad’s 3G data access, as well. So, it’s not just my iPhone.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the costs associated with the AT&T service. We pay a premium for iPhone voice and data plans, and get crap for service in return. If I had a buck for every time someone tried to call me and got voice mail, while my phone was sitting in front of me with four or five bars yet never rang once, I’d be able to pay that early termination penalty AT&T requires of it’s customers. It’s bad enough that AT&T sells us this poor service, but it’s even worse that Apple isn’t more publicly vocal and more forceful about getting the problems solved. It’s been three freakin’ years already, for gosh sakes! There is absolutely no excuse.
Then a week ago comes news that AT&T’s iPad registration service was exposing email addresses and validating iPad hardware identifiers, as uncovered by a hacker group with an unfortunate name (don’t Google it if you are not already familiar with why it’s unfortunate, just trust me on that one). I, too got the victim-list email from AT&T describing what had happened, six or seven days after the fact. It’s not the actual leak that stinks in this case, it’s the fact that such a design would make it into a Internet service in the first place.
Since then, there’s been a bit of a meta-debate about who’s responsible for what, and all of it is really just details. The fact that the information leak *could* happen in the first place is yet another indicator of why AT&T is a sloppy, careless company when it comes to the services I consume and my personal information. Shame on them. But there’s more…
Then this week comes the straw that broke my proverbial camel’s back, as AT&T’s servers fail massively under load during the iPhone 4 pre-order, and we discover that apparently the company's critical software changes didn’t get tested, and changes got made at the last minute. Oh, and as a result our personal data is being exposed – once again - due to a supposed flaw in the AT&T systems and how they access database records.
Regardless of the variety of outstanding questions about the exact details and severity of the security situations, the very existence of these problems is more than just problematic.
One has to wonder, if one is being pragmatic and watching the past couple weeks’ activity: What else might they be skimping on that we don’t already know about? If I followed the same practices and didn’t test or validate security and functionality in my line of work, there’s no doubt I’d be gone in a second. Again, simply unacceptable for a huge company and it’s customers, who demand and require trust.
None of this is indicative of a company that practices good, basic security principles as a matter of course. It’s not indicative of a company that strives first for quality. And it’s not the type of company I feel like I can trust anymore.
So, I am quitting you, AT&T. I’d say it’s been nice knowing you, but that would be mostly a lie. So I’ll just walk away and let the past be the past, and focus on the future. Nine-plus years is enough. Good luck to you. I hope you will change, but it’s going to take some serious work, and I just don’t know if you can actually do it. Your track record is not good. Change is hard. Change means pain. And in the end, most people aren’t willing to endure that process. But maybe you will, and if you do please let me know. I’d like nothing more than to be a happy customer and to write something happy and positive here. I’ll keep my iPad service going with you, since I don’t really have much of a choice and its very existence is part of what makes it possible for me to let the iPhone go. But it’s time for a new phone on a new carrier.
Maybe someday you’ll earn my business back. You might have Apple in your jaws of exclusivity, but not me. For now, you’ve lost my trust and business -- and please realize that you killed an Apple iPhone customer in the process.
And that’s really saying something.
P.S. – A quick final thought to Apple:
I love the hardware. I love the OS. I love the apps. But I can’t stand the service provider, which has failed us for too long now.
I fail to see how you can continue to do exclusive business with a company like AT&T, and I hope you’ll quickly open up options for your customers. Maybe you’re already working on it, which would be a breath of fresh air in this cramped, stuffy, smelly room. I’m sure many will suffer the pains of AT&T to get your hardware and software in your hands, and honestly this is a painful decision for me to make because your phone is something I want and need. But your corporate quality and image is directly tied – even intertwined - to AT&T in the United States, and for a company that stands tall on the ideals of doing things well rather than doing them first, your AT&T relationship is a failure of massive proportions, with quality never measuring up and ability to correct way too lacking. For what it’s worth. I want your products more than any other, but AT&T’s issues have finally crossed a line and have reached the summit of Mt. Unacceptable.
So, what do I do? Please, tell me. Do I wait patiently for a relatively short period of time for another carrier option, or do I just make the move now and use someone else’s hardware?
I am truly sorry to have to leave, Steve. Please, win me back.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Dubbed Astdroid, a new project by Danny Pier hopes to raise a small amount of funding between now and July 7th to launch a smartphone running the Android operating system (specifically Danny’s Sprint EVO 4G phone) into space. He plans to use a weather balloon launch vehicle and to raise the phone to around 35,000 meters. The phone would take pictures and return to earth via parachute once the balloon pops.
It’s a cool idea, with all sorts of possible problems. But what I find most interesting and exciting is the simple idea of just trying it.
I can relate to Pier’s frustration with the idea that the next time NASA will set foot on another terrestrial body it will be Mars (not the Moon), and it will happen sometime around 2035. I’ll be 68 years old in 2035, and while I certainly plan to last that long, I would love to see something more happen before then.
If NASA isn’t going to do it (which is a mistake of huge proportions in my book), then it’s up to us to stake baby steps and push for private space exploration, in whatever forms it might take.
Pier’s plan is to run software on the Android that will collect location and image data, transmitting back the location data in real time. He wants to recover the phone when it gets back to earth, gather the data and images from the phone, and use it again to do the same thing. He plans to share the software he uses so others can also explore.
The entrepreneurial spirit is powerful. Fun, relatively simple projects like this (well, simple compared to the space shuttle, at least) are a great way to encourage others to fuel the private space race, and I hope Pier’s passion rubs off on others.
And any Android phone is orders of magnitude more powerful computer-wise than anything that flew on an Apollo mission, and even more advanced than a lot of what’s flown on many of the space shuttle missions.
I’ve contributed to his effort, and I hope you will too. An investment in imagination and passion is always worthwhile.
And honestly, this is something I’d love to try someday, myself. :)
Well, Apple has released their iPhone app version of the Apple Store, available in the app store now.
I tried to reserve an iPhone 4 through it this morning, but each time I enter and submit my phone account info, the app crashes and I'm returned to my iPad's home screen.
If I had to guess, I'd say AT&T's systems might be the problem since it crashes at the time the AT&T account info is submitted, but who knows. Regardless it's not a very graceful way to handle an error. :)
You can shop for anything Apple in the app, which is actually pretty slick.
Update: Still having problems on the AT&T site (which says it’s down for a server upgrade) and the Apple site, as well as the new iPhone store app doing the reservation. Honestly, you’d think these huge companies would plan ahead for the kind of volume they get every time these releases occur? If your bank planned ahead like this, you’d never get you money. It’s really completely inexcusable, and the track record is horrid. It’s hard to feel comfortable trusting my communication services and information to companies that don’t successfully execute on the basics like availability. Yikes…
Monday, 14 June 2010
Yesterday as I was sitting on one of my favorite chairs with my iPad in hand, I found myself browsing the latest iPhone 4 news and rumors online. After all, the new Apple smartphone will be released to the wild in a week, and pre-orders start on Tuesday (tomorrow). So I had to get my fix of the excitement.
But as I sat there for a while and hopped back and forth from the web browser to this app and that app on my iPad, it occurred to be: Maybe I don't really need an iPhone anymore. Maybe I should look at my options.
Why would I even consider this? Well - because I have the iPad.
A moment of clarity washed over me as I realized that all the functionality I rely upon on the iPhone is also available on the iPad, with few exceptions. All of my aviation software that I use for flying I have on the iPad for example, and honestly I prefer to use it there. Come to think of it, all the apps I use regularly are getting by far the most use these days on my iPad, not the iPhone.
So, what exactly am I using my iPhone for, now that the iPad is in my life? What would I lose if my iPhone disappeared for good, that I can't find on my iPad? Honestly, it's a pretty short list:
- Phone calls -Obviously I don't make calls on the iPad, those all happen on the iPhone. And the phone's not too reliable for that purpose, I should add. But I blame AT&T for that issue.
- Text messages - Which I also cannot do on the iPad, at least not in the native form. I use Google Voice for all my text and inbound voice calls anyhow, so I do some of that on the iPad, some on the phone.
- Location and mapping - But, most of my GPS navigation and guidance work is now performed by the iPad (there are a couple great HD turn-by-turn apps available).
- Facebook app - just for convenience, and because the app on the iPad is, well, the iPhone app (and what the heck's up with that anyhow?). But I also do Facebook in the Safari browser on the iPad. It's just not as portable. And Facebook is hardly a deal-breaker requirement.
- The iPhone is there any time I need pocket-sized app services - And this typically means using apps for things like weather and finding a store or restaurant, which I think can be done from other phones pretty easily. I don't want to carry the iPad with me everywhere, so there are times when I would have to go without.
- Photos - Again, not something you can create with the iPad since there's no camera. But honestly the camera in the iPhone 3G isn't much to speak of, and any phone I'd buy today will dramatically improve on the camera story. I might even get - *gasp* - video capability.
When I consider the (frankly) crappy call delivery and high cost of service on the AT&T network over the past few years, it's awfully tempting to consider making a move away from that carrier for my phone services, which would of course also mean moving off the iPhone. And maybe the iPad 3G makes that move possible for me. Im certain that's not what Apple or AT&T intended, but it might just be the effect.
So - What to do?
I should point out that I do have a few strong reasons to want to stay with the iPhone and get the new model. It has a great interface, common apps between devices are nice to have, and the fact of the matter is things look terrific on the iPhone display (and will look even better on the new one). I like Apple's hardware and software very much, despite the walls and restrictions they've put in place.
In the "alternatives" department, I've started looking at the Sprint EVO 4G - a big new phone with a good performance spec sheet. There have been some rumors of glass/screen de-lamination so I will have to look into that to be sure. And battery life is rumored to be a bit weak. But, having access to 4G wireless data speeds in the city and a Sprint monthly service plan that costs less than the AT&T equivalent by as much as $30 is tempting. In fact, I could add Sprint's $29.95 Internet-sharing plan to the EVO 4G and it would serve as a wireless hotspot for me and 7 of my closest friends if I wanted. And all that for almost exactly the same cost I pay AT&T today for the same service, sans the 4G speeds and hot spot.
I've also thought about the new Verizon phones. The Droid Incredible looks pretty darn sharp, although it appears one will have to wait until July for it to ship. And Verizon's network is - well, you know. It's the network!
One interesting and frustrating tidbit about both of these Android phones is that neither comes with the Froyo (v2.2) version of Android installed. I'm sure HTC will ship it for the phones before too long, but it would have been nice to see them ship with the latest OS, especially given the performance improvements made in that version.
And so, none of this brings me any closer to a final decision. None of these phones are available today, but since pre-order time is here I feel like I should be making a choice. I guess I don't have to, but I don't really want to wait for too long. This shattered screen is pretty aggravating.
It would be cool to see the Android phones in action and to see whether the Android apps look any better on the phone's screen than they do in screenshots available on the web. Frankly, iPhone apps look pretty awesome most of the time, so I am a bit of spoiled iPhone snob, I suppose. Many of the screen shots of Android apps I have seen look like something on a Commodore 64 from when I was a kid. But maybe that's not the norm. So, if anyone has an EVO 4G they'd like to show off in the Portland area please let me know. :)
What would you do, and why?
Monday, 07 June 2010
Last week I logged onto my AT&T Wireless account and checked out my account's upgrade eligibility there. At the time the site indicated it "Could not determine your upgrade eligibility." That was a little weird.
I logged back in today and looked again. With the bid Apple announcements expected today I figured it would be good to know if AT&T planned to make me wait until two years had passed on the calendar. When I asked in a store a few weeks back they'd told me late June.
But today the AT&T site indicates I am already eligible now. (Update: Apparently I'm not the only one)
The Apple keynote where a new 4th-generation iPhone is expected to be announced starts today at 10am. I'll be getting on a plane to go to Chicago about that time, so it looks like I will have to catch up on the news when I land.
I will probably get a new iPhone, as long as they don't cost an exorbitant amount of money. My current phone is the original 3G model, has a shattered (but still fully functional) screen, and is very, very slow with some of the resource-intensive apps I run. I've looked at Android phones, and while the OS is cool the apps I use the most are not available on that platform and likely never will be.
Wednesday, 02 June 2010
I bought my iPad 3G just a month ago, and at the time I signed up for the AT&T Wireless unlimited data plan for $29.99 a month. I’m glad I did, and should point out to anyone on the 250MB plan who wants (or thinks they want) a truly unlimited plan, you have until June 6th to sign up for that plan. After that date, the unlimited data plan won’t be available anymore.
AT&T has announced they’re ending unlimited data plans pretty much across the board. The new plans will provide 250MB and 2GB of data each, with (fairly reasonable) overage charges. Current smartphone customers are not required to switch to the new plans, but can choose to do so without a contract extension.Before explaining the packages, I went to my iPad to see how much data I used during my first month with the iPad:
I’m a pretty heavy user, with a chunk of my use at home, but plenty of data use on the road. So, maybe a 2GB account would work for me (at least most of the time). AT&T says only 2% of their smartphone users exceed 2GB per month. If I was working away from my home office even more, I think I’d likely hit the 2GB top end of the new account. And while I understand the logic around the per-month statistics for smartphones, the iPad really is a different type of device. So, I wonder what the iPad user monthly usage statistics are. What percentage went over 2GB in the first month the iPad with 3G was available? AT&T didn’t spell that out for us.
Luckily, I can retain my unlimited iPad data account if I want to. I just have to keep it auto-billing in order to keep it available, it sounds like. In the future if I find my usage consistently allows, I can choose to go for the 2GB capped account and save enough money for an expensive coffee.
Plan details from AT&T’s press release:
DataPro. Provides 2 gigabytes (GB) of data – for example, enough to send/receive 10,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1,500 emails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video – for $25 per month.** Should a customer exceed 2 GB during a billing cycle, they will receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10 for use in the cycle. Currently, 98 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.
DataPlus. Provides 200 megabytes (MB) of data – for example, enough to send/receive 1,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 150 emails with attachments, plus view 400 Web pages, plus post 50 photos on social media sites, plus watch 20 minutes of streaming video – for just $15 per month.** This plan, which can save customers up to 50 percent off their wireless data charges, is designed for people who primarily like to surf the web, send email and use social networking apps. If customers exceed 200 MB in a monthly billing cycle, they will receive an additional 200 MB of data usage for $15 for use in the cycle. Currently, 65 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data per month on average.
** Usage examples are estimates. Individual results will vary based upon customer’s Internet usage patterns.
I guess the one thing that bothers me is that AT&T and Apple launched the iPad with an unlimited plan option. I am quite glad that existing iPad users can keep the plan they signed up for, but I think about future and new phone capabilities such as the likely video conferencing and streaming on new mobile devices that are set to be available this summer. I worry about plan limits which – in the future – could consistently result in overage charges once data usage organically increases with new hardware capabilities and demand.
Monday, 03 May 2010
On Friday evening last week I stood in line for about an hour along with a slew of geeks and even a few nerds at the Apple Store in Tigard, Oregon to get one of the first Apple iPad 3G models. There were about 35 or 40 people ahead of me in line, and a few more than that in line behind me by the time the 5pm release clock rolled around and the Apple staff came screaming down the hallway in the mall.
Within only 15 minutes I was already on my way back out the door of the store with a 64GB 3G model in a bag, and about $930 less in the bank (I got the AppleCare contract based on past experience). I picked up the model with the most storage simply because (again based on experience) I have tended to skimp in that area and have always come to regret the choice. So, this time I was all-in.
As I have mentioned before here, I use my iPhone for all sorts of things, but especially for aviation related tasks. Since the Foreflight aviation software for pilots was released in an iPad HD version in early April, I knew that was going to become my electronic flight bag. In fact, I might not have even bought an iPad at this point if it wasn't for Foreflight. I waited for the 3G model before buying because its built-in GPS can be used by Foreflight's maps and location-based information system. I'll write a Foreflight HD review soon. It's quite awesome, especially considering this is the first rev if the HD version. I can't wait to see what they improve and add over time. Check out http://www.foreflight.com for details.
After using it for a few days, though, there are lots more reasons I'm glad I made the jump and picked this thing up.
There are so many well-worn cliche statements about the iPad that people have used over the past month. Some of them are especially true, though. For example, reading and writing email on this thing is awesome. It's the way it should be.
Not everything is so perfect in iPad land, though. I wrote this blog post in a program (BlogPress) that is available in a HD version that uses the full iPad screen space, but it won't publish to my site. I guess the metaweblog API isn't good enough for it. :) Unfortunately it appears a good, solid, full featured blog authoring app is a pretty serious gap in the bazillions of apps available on the App Store. There's an opportunity just waiting for someone to tackle it.
The 3G radio, as one pretty much has to expect, pulls down the charge on the battery faster than the iPad model that's just wifi. Of course, you can turn 3G and wifi off and on as you like, independently. How much battery power is actually used with a 3G connection seems to be dependent -- and this makes logical sense -- on the distance from the cell towers and the relative transmit power needed to make the radio connections. Id imagine its also dependent on the type of connection and the frequency band in use on a given tower. Common sense applies to battery life just like any other device. On both models backlight brightness also contributes to batty life, of course.
I've started searching for a high-output car charger, since the iPad needs more than the typical iPhone charger puts out. Kensington and a couple other companies are making a 2.1-watt charger that will allow the iPad to charge in the car in a reasonable amount of time, so I will be picking up one of those soon.
A few of my favorite other apps that have a place on my home screen page:
I set up and tried the AT&T navigator turn by turn software that I already had running on my iPhone. Even though its not iPad screen optimized and I have to use the zoom resized to go full screen, it works great and even better than on the iPhone 3G. The iPad has much louder and clearer voice navigation (and music sound for that matter) and the GPS is fast and more accurate. It just runs better overall. The iPad is a terrific GPS device it seems. Time for some custom iPad dash mounts. Do a YouTube search and you'll see a couple.
I've started using one iPhone app again that I'd let languish for some time because again its just better on the iPad even though you have to zoom it to use the full screen: BeeJive Instant Messenger. The extra real estate and bigger typing surface is great. I hope they release a HD iPad version soon.
The Safari browser on the iPad is awesome and almost so second nature I forgot to mention it. I did notice though that some sites optimized to work with iPhone are a little weird in the iPad browser. Google Voice is a good example (for both the mobile and standard interfaces especially when it comes to the voice mail playback areas of the interface).
Netflix for the iPad is pure genius, and as more flicks are released for streaming it just keeps getting more and more worthwhile. Hulu needs to get their iPad act together now, for real. The ABC video app is cool and now it plays over 3G with a new update, too. (updated)
word is they will be updating it so you can play video over the 3G. Right now ABC's app only streams over wifi.
My favorite game so far is FlightControl HD, a top-down view map game where you land airplanes and helicopters and keep them from crashing into each other. Relatively simple, pure genius. Addictive stuff. I haven't tried many other games just because I'm not a huge gamer. Some of the driving games sure look fun though.
The Weather Channel HD app is also really slick. Lots of great info there, in a well-used piece of screen real estate.
There are others, as well but that gives you an idea. I'll write more at a later time.
Anyone else got a list of killer apps for iPad 3G I should be sure to check out?
Saturday, 03 April 2010
I drove down to Best Buy today to check out the iPads they had on display and for sale. It was about 1:30 p.m. when we arrived and they still had quite a few in stock, but only the 32GB and 64GB models. The 16GB iPads had sold out just before we arrived.
My impressions of the device were this: It was a little heavier than I thought it would be, and a little thicker feeling, but a nice size. It has a great display and is very snappy and responsive. The iPhone apps displayed at 2x resolution were generally pretty blocky looking, but useable at least until a higher-resolution version is released. I wouldn’t want to keep viewing some of them for too long just because it was hard to look at them that way for more than a few minutes. Maybe I’m just spoiled.
Why do I want one of these things? There are a variety of reasons, but one particular reason tops my list. I’m very much looking forward to running ForeFlight Mobile HD on the iPad in the future. The picture on the right shows a couple cool screens of the aviation application revamped for the iPad’s larger display. They’ve iPad-ified acreens for plates, maps, weather, downloads, and airport data. They’ll be adding a bunch of other iPad enhancements in a future update.
Anyhow, back to my check-out-the-iPad experience… The Best Buy sales guy said ( in a “you didn’t hear it from me” sort of way) that they would have another shipment of them in next Sunday. For what it’s worth. I asked for and got a paper from the guy entitling me to go to the front counter and pick up a 32GB model and continued to shop at the store. But, as I thought about it I kept returning to my position over the past few days: The iPad doesn’t have enough value for me without the 3G radio built in. I was considering buying one for use around the house, but just couldn’t justify buying two of these in the first month.
So, I returned the paper to the floor sales guy and said thanks, but I was going to wait for the 3G models. He nodded and said he understood.
It’s a cool device with a nice interface. It’s a lot like a big iPod Touch or iPhone, as the kids pointed out. But it also can do more than the smaller devices in terms of app capabilities and performance.
I’ll pick one up once the 3G models are out. For now, I’ll wait.
Friday, 02 April 2010
I decided the other day that I won’t be in the lines on Saturday morning when the iPad becomes available at Apple stores and Best Buys around the country. Cory Doctorow also says he won’t buy one, but for different reasons. He goes so far as to say you shouldn't get one either. Interesting arguments. I’ve discussed before – here on this site - some of the reasons I think I want one, as well as some of the concerns I have about it, and in the end I do want to acquire one.
But, this Saturday’s event won’t be for me.
Why? I’m going to wait for the 3G-equipped model.
The more I think about it, the more I realize I need portability in the iPad if I am going to use it, meaning portability and network access across the boundaries and gaps of WiFi networks. I plan to use an iPad from the road, in the hangar, at any random place where I might land and want to check a weather report and email, that sort of thing. So, without an available-most-everywhere data service (a phrase that some, I know, will debate at length), it just won’t meet my needs.
So, I wait.
Anyone else waiting for the 3G models before buying? Too bad they’re not available on day-one. I’d grab my
lawn line chair and head right down there if they were.
Update: A good New York Times article talks about perceptions, limitations and redundancy in the iPad. Interesting perspective.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
A guy named Chad contacted me today and asked if I knew how to get the newest version of Blackberry Messenger (which, as of the time of this writing is v220.127.116.11) on his Blackberry device. He was having problems finding it because his BB Desktop Manager software would not find the update, he said. After some questions and answers, I found the page linked below on the Blackberry support web site, which allows you to send a link to your BB so you can download and install the software app (assuming you have rights to install apps on your phone, of course).
Once installed, you may have to reboot your Blackberry device.
Hopefully that helps someone else!
Friday, 29 January 2010
You could argue that one shouldn’t complain about a product before it lands in your hot little hands, but a common theme over the past few days among the pundits on the web has been the newly-announced iPad and it’s apparent lack of openness. as Alex Payne comments, “Apple has decided that openness is not a quality that’s necessary in a personal computer. That’s disturbing.”
While I think the iPad is a cool device, and that it will be useful, and that I will likely buy one… I have to agree with Alex. He’s right. That’s an interesting and complicated place to be: I want to and probably will use an iPad to do good things, and make valuable use of it. But there’s a big part of me that won’t like it too much.
The risks of closed platforms have been debated for some time, in many venues and over a variety of companies, platforms and systems. Lots of catchy terms like “walled garden” and “black box” are used to describe essentially one thing: Vendor-provided ecosystems that you can only interact with they way the vendor allows you to.
It’s why the iPhone “hacking” community has been so active, and so popular. Everywhere I see teenagers and aducts with iPhones that have been “jailbroken” so they could run third party apps and get around Apple-instituted limitations, or unlocked so they could drop in a T-Mobile SIM card. The numbers are staggering when you look at how many iPhones have been modified. And I think we all know that the same community will step up and take the same approach with the iPad. After all, “it’s just a big iPod touch,” as they say. Well, whether you look at it that way or not, the software is a common denominator for sure.
Apple needs to step up and find a way to work their garden so the walls can at least be lower. There must be a healthy balance between truly closed, which is what we have today. Apps can’t be installed on the iPhone unless Apple sells and approves then (unless you jailbreak your device). Allow multitasking and background application activity, in the very least. Some restrictions are simply unacceptable.
The closed nature of the device – and I call it that purposefully – foretells the possible future, one where consumer devices replace computing systems. The iPad may have a computer chip in it, but so do my clock radio and televisions, and those are devices – not computers. If I can’t have unfettered access to the computer, it’s a device in my mind. When I was a kid we used to get into the guts of the computer, physically and programming-wise. We were able to make them do whatever our little hearts desired. That might be something good or bad, smart or stupid, broken or functional. But we learned and we created, we discovered and we built.
The iPad is a design feat (with a fat bezel, but still a cool design). The OS is another design usability marvel. The ecosystem built around the devices is popular, usable and works. But it stifles creativity, choice, flexibility. Are we at another of these inflection points, where things like common-person usability and “it just works” are acceptable trade-offs for flexibility and capability?
My hope is that Apple will step up to the plate and make some hard choices that benefit their customers’ bigger-picture needs. It’s the right thing to do, and would add some traction to what otherwise appears to be a deceptively slippery slope. I can envision a software switch (which would be set to the “safest” mode by default) that a device user could manipulate to “lower the garden walls” electronically as a matter of choice, with the potential consequences clearly spelled out (and I should point out that this would be a useful enterprise capability as well, should they wish to properly and securely enter that space someday).
Choice. What a concept.
Ready – Set – Comment.
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Apple is taking the covers off a new “tablet” style device today – called the iPad (link to Apple’s new product site, with video) - in a much-hyped announcement. I rely on my iPhone in so many different ways nowadays that I have a hard time thinking what work and life would be like without it. I could manage just fine, but things would change substantially.
One of the things I do a lot with my iPhone is pilot-related. I have a number of apps on the iPhone that I use to help me look at aviation weather, airport information and diagrams, radar images, current wind and weather conditions, electronic charts, and a whole lot more.
But the iPhone is a small screen for a lot of the information. Much like small GPS devices in the cockpit are convenient yet too small to offer the best experience, the iPhone doesn’t provide the best format for some content.
Here are the iPhone aviation and pilot apps I use most often:
- ForeFlight Mobile – worth every penny and more, this is an amazing app for planning flight, filing your flight plan, lot of maps (VFR/IFR/street/weather/clouds), electronic airport information, weather info to the max (including closest station winds aloft) and much much much more.
- CoPilot – I use it mostly for the terrific weight and balance calculator and graphing portion of the app. Also for some speed/distance/fuel/etc. calculations (all of which I always verify manually). If ForeFlight had all this included, it would be terrific.
- AeroWeather – Probably the app I run most often. One tap on the screen and I have an instant one-screen view (very well laid-out) of the weather situation at each airport I care about, arranged the way I want.
- TWC (The Weather Channel) – Not an aviation app, but it has a good 10-day view of the weather that tends to show the most pessimistic look at what’s forecasted, which is nice for pilots. We need an aviation-specific app with a long-term view like this one has (within reasonable predication limits).
Enter the Apple iPad. Half and inch thick, 1.5 pounds and a 9.7-inch display. And it can run ALL iPhone apps out of the box, pixel for pixel with a border, or via pixel doubling in full-screen mode. A new SDK lets app developers take full advantage of the screen real estate and resolution.
And, there’s 3G service for $14.99/month for 250MB of data, or $29.99 for unlimited data - from AT&T. Free AT&T WiFi hotspot use with those accounts, too. But, the iPad 3G models are unlocked, so choose your GSM carrier. Prices for iPads start at $499 for a 16GB WiFi only model (with options of 32GB and 64GB storage), and 3G models for $629, $729 and $829. WiFi models available in 60 days, and 3G versions in 90 days.
Now, granted I am predicting the future a bit here, but hopefully ForeFlight and a few other iPhone apps on the new tablet will – assuming they all take advantage of the new display capabilities in updates – be the most perfect in-between device option for the private pilot.
Grab a copy of the latest AFD as an eBook? There’s an app for that.
I can even imagine Garmin or some other aviation GPS software/hardware maker offering a iPad app for sale, rather than selling a device with the software. The possibilities for flying – after accounting for very necessary safety and quality requirements - are great.
Anyone else think they might want an iPad for their aircraft cockpit?
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Google Voice is awesome. It's the greatest service you can't get yet today. One number for all my phones, for life, replete with text messaging capabilities and a whole slew of cool features.
But, as much as I love Google Voice, I will stand on my soapbox here for a few moments to yell into the ether about a couple of glaring omissions in the current release that I think Google should address sooner rather than later: MMS message support, and support for sending a mobile message (whether SMS or MMS) to multiple recipients at the same time.
MMS messages are multimedia messages and are sent much like a text message. They're different than SMS message sin that they might include a video or a picture. Right now, if I want to receive a MMS message, I have to tell people to send them to my actual cell number, not my google voice number. Why? Because Google Voice quietly and calmly eats MMS messages, never to be seen again. This completely defeats the purpose behind the "one-number-for-them-all" story. So, it needs to change. When the iPhone on AT&T gets MMS service, which is likely to happen in July sometime, this need will become even more apparent and important.
MMS support could probably be delivered in two phases. Right now if you send a MMS message to the Google Voice number, it just disappears into the ether, and is never delivered anywhere. You don't even know someone tried and the sender assumes it was delivered. To rectify this, Google could do a first phase change where MMS messages would simply be forwarded in original form to the mobile phone(s) configured in the system, without worrying about displaying them in the Google Voice web interface. In a second phase they could then enable web-based viewing.
Second on my list is adding the ability to send an SMS (and MMS as a bonus) message to a group of recipients. We already have contact groups, and we can select more than one contact at a time in the web interface, but the option to send a SMS message disappears from the user interface as soon as you select more than one recipient. I regularly use SMS messages to notify members of a church youth group about meetings and other announcements as a group, so enabling a group-send as well as select-multiple to send SMS would be huge for me. As a bonus, provide me with a phone number that is virtually tied to that group so I can send one txt to my group number on my mobile phone.
What features would you like to see added to Google Voice?
The latest news via Unstrung's Michelle Donegan is that AT&T's 3G Microcell, which has been in a limited and private beta in the United States for a few months now, will be available in a sort of public beta in the coming weeks, in select (and as-yet unnamed) cities. The 3G Microcell is a device that you plus into your broadband connection at home. It has a 3G transceiver built in, and allows you to create a small cell area of coverage (hence the name "microcell" of course). I've written about it before, here and here.
From the news article:
According to AT&T's executive director for radio access network delivery, Gordon Mansfield, who was speaking at the Femtocells World Summit in London today, about 200 users are testing the femto service in targeted customer trials.
In the coming weeks, he added, "we will expand that into a marketing trial of the AT&T-branded 3G Microcell, which will be open to customers through our AT&T stores… in a handful of cities.
"We're on track for a full national launch by the end of 2009."
The equipment comes from network infrastructure equipment giant Cisco.
I'm hoping that Portland is one of the metro areas they include in the text phase, since my home has pretty much zero coverage. But I do have broadband and would truly benefit from the product.
AT&T plans to add a whole bunch of 850 Mhz spectrum to it's 3G service infrastructure, which should improve it's network performance and capacity substantially. Many have experienced the dropped call and unavailable network performance issues on AT&T's network, so this is a welcome change. But for those of us who simply live just outside the workable coverage area, the 3G Microcell will open even more doors for its customers.
Monday, 08 June 2009
Today Apple announced the next rev of the iPhone, the "iPhone 3GS." It has beefed up processing power and some cool new features like a better camera, more storage, etc.
Normally I'd be ultra excited about getting one as soon as its available. But this time around, I'm having a hard time getting inspired.
It has nothing to do with Apple's hardware and software. In fact, the processing power boosts and other changes are very, very tempting, and in a world where all else was equal it would be a no-brainer for me to drop the early upgrade cash on the table and move on up.
But the fact of the matter is, with AT&T's ultra-poor network performance on my current iPhone 3G, I think I'm better off waiting until Apple adds another U.S. carrier. I consistently have to turn off the 3G capabilities on iPhone 3G in order to avoid dropped calls and to successfully get network connections. That was the case with the first iPhone 3G I had, too. To top it all off, the service has gotten worse recently in my experience. I just can't see dropping that much cash for a new phone to operate on a network that already sucks. I've been sorely disappointed by AT&T, almost to the point where I want to call them and tell them they've consistently failed to perform to the level of service they claim (which is 100% the case).
It's time for Apple to drop that bomb on AT&T. Failure to perform in this case is going to cost Apple market share. It's got to be embarrassing to the company. During the announcements made today at Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, every time AT&T was mentioned the crowd just laughed. Seriously laughed, and not because there was a funny joke. It was because AT&T's quality is so lacking one just can' t help but either laugh or cry. They even laughed when AT&T was not mentioned - most notably with regard the fact that the carrier's logo was missing from some key slides in the presentation, pointing out AT&T's lack of launch time support for MMS and tethering, two of the key selling points for the new phone model.
AT&T has turned into that partner that Apple doesn't need, and shouldn't want. It's time to make a change. AT&T has simply failed to perform. When you can't reliably make and maintain calls and the data network won't keep a connection between towers, something's just not good enough. I hope Apple will step up - sooner rather than later - and add another carrier or two even before AT&T's exclusive agreement expires. It takes two to be successful in any partnership, and in this one AT&T's turned into a bit of a boat anchor.
What would change my mind on this one? Simple: When my current 3G phones work like they should on AT&Ts network, I'll be the first one to say so right here. Out loud and with conviction. But, I'm not holding my breath quite yet.Tmobile
Maybe a good jailbreaking and switch to Tmobile will work on the new OS and device. I'm sure someone will figure out out. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We shall see.
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
Shorthand used to be reserved for stenographers and people who took dictation or a lot of notes. But for the vast majority of us it was never fun. Remember those days? Now shorthand is cool again, but in text messages sent and received on cell phones. And it seems as if everyone under 25 is doing it (as well as some of us old people).
Parents, if you're lost in the world of texting because the abbreviated vocabulary is confusing, no worries. Mobile phone manufacturer LG has released a new web site that allows you to decode txt message slang, and you can use it at http://www.lgdtxtr.com/.
So now you can get a better handle on what your kids are up to. Enjoy.
Tuesday, 05 May 2009
I recently took advantage of an in-store offer to replace my water-damaged 16GB iPhone 3G with a 8GB version for $199 with no contract extensions, just paid the money and walked out with it. And in my case I got to keep the old one, which makes a great WiFi-enabled MP3 player.
Apparently (according to reports) it's now official policy/program now for Apple stores to allow problematic iPhones where the water damage sensors (there are four of them) have been "tripped" (discolored do to extended water exposure) to be replaced with the same size and model for $199. That's a great move for people like me who do things like ski, boat and oh, I dunno... Live in the freakin' rain.
So, if you have a problematic iPhone that you have been told is not covered under warranty, you might be able to take advantage of this policy.
More info here.
Sunday, 12 April 2009
I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He's been writing some really cool iPhone apps and mentioned that he's wanting to focus for the future on apps that can be written and maintained cross-platform. He'll prefer to leave out the platform-specific "extra" functionality, he said, in order to be able to do the bulk of the work once and maximize the deployable surface area.
I got to thinking about this the rest of the day and came up with a whole list of questions for my friend. It's an interesting and logical approach, and certainly not wrong by any stretch of the means. Contrasted against the common move by devs to focus only on the iPhone platform for example, my friend's approach really makes me think. Now, to be clear, I have no idea what it takes to actually deploy an app to the iPhone and also have a version to deploy on Android or RIM devices, or on the upcoming Palm Pre (which looks really cool, by the way), or whatever. At least not without writing each one from scratch. My friend does, though. What I took from our conversation (as a business guy) was that it can be done at least to some extent, but that doing it in a cost-effective way means limiting functionality on any given platform. I may be oversimplifying, and in fact I probably am.
Then today I noticed that Mike Rowehl, who writes "This is Mobility," just posted an interesting article entitled "Please don't mistake my apathy for a lack of understanding," in which he takes on the recent meme suggesting that mobile developers are blindly leaving platforms other than Apple's behind, suck os Nokia's Ovi Store.
Which leads me to ask the obvious question: "What the heck is Nokia's Ovi Store?"
Granted, I'm not buying tons of mobile devices and deploying them like I used to, and certainly I'm not a mobile developer, but I'm still pretty well plugged-in (irony intended).
My past involvement in cross-platform development and porting of apps taught me that it's almost always a complicated and expensive endeavor. But it's not just building the app for the first time that one has to consider. Maintaining multiple platforms of the same app is can also be prohibitively expensive, unless there's a relatively simple and effective way to build once and deploy in many places/platforms. In the mobile world, it just isn't simple, cost effective and reliable enough (from what I can see).
And honestly, I want to choose the best devices and buy apps that take advantage of all the cool features those devices offer. I don't often want apps that leave out the latest hardware features and software enhancements.
Who's doing cross-platform mobile development and truly making it work? How are you doing it? If you've found the way, drop me a line - I'd like to hear about it.
Monday, 23 March 2009
Since my last post, in which I predicted the newly-minted Google Voice service would be a real positive impact in my world, my Grand Central account was enabled for the upgrade to the new application and I have migrated to the service.
Greg’s One-Line Review: It’s pretty darned awesome.
But you probably want a little more detail than that, so here we go…
First of all, I should explain that I’ve used Grand Central for the past couple years. Grand Central was the centralized phone service that Google acquired some time back, and it allowed one number to ring multiple phones, with centralized voice mail, call screening and recording, etc.
Google Voice builds upon Grand Central by adding a number of new features, including a couple killer apps in my book: Text/SMS messaging and conference calling. Other enhancements include automated transcription of voice messages and a unified inbox for all your text messages and voice mails.
I live in a very rural area, far from the nearest cell phone tower. Mobile service on my iPhone is – for all intents and purposes – nonexistent at my house. If I put the phone up on a certain window sill and avoid moving it or touching it, I can get marginal service and might be able to receive text messages. But sending messages and making/receiving phone calls is next to impossible.
By giving people my Google Voice number (which is 503-766-2258 by the way), my friends and colleagues can send me text message and call me at one number, regardless of where I am and what services are available at my location. When someone calls the number, Google Voice rings my cell and home phones at the same time. I can add other phone numbers to the ring list, as well – on the fly. So, if I’m working from an office number I can add it to the list, no problem. I can define time periods to each phone, so individual phones ring only when I want them to.
I rely on text messaging for a lot of things, and many of my friends, family members and colleagues also rely on it to reach me. Needless to say, with poor wireless phone service at home, there are times when I don’t receive and cannot send text messages. That pretty much defeats the purpose of using text messaging to reach people in real time. With Google Voice, text messages send to my number are delivered to my phone and to my Google Voice Inbox, meaning even if the phone service prevents delivery, I get the text messages in my web browser and can reply to them there. That’s huge for me – and I have already taken advantage of the ability to send and receive text messages from my computer.
There are a few things I hoped I’d find in Google Voice that aren’t there, at least not there yet. I’m hopeful they’ll be added in the future:
- No support for sending text messages to groups – While you can create groups of contacts in the unified Google Voice inbox, you can only send messages to individual contacts. Since I lead a youth group at church, and we rely on text messaging to send out regular communications, I’d especially like to be able to send a single message to a group. As it is today, I can send a message to multiple contacts at once from my iPhone and just save the thread and keep replying to it, but when the group membership changes I have to start from scratch. It would be much easier and more reasonable to send to a single group managed in Google Voice.
- I’m a Google Apps user and have an Apps email account under the same Google account as the one I am using for Google Voice. I’m not sure why, but behavior is not as expected when I click on the Mail link at the top of the page from Google Voice. Rather than taking me to my Google Apps email inbox, it takes me to a page where it asks me to sign up for a GMail account. All other Google applications seem to understand where to go when that link is clicked, but this one doesn’t yet. I’m sure this is just early/beta stuff that needs to be worked out, but it also means my contacts are not synchronized across my Mail and Voice inboxes, which is unfortunate (they’ve already enabled unified contacts sync with GMail account inboxes).
- Support for syncing external contacts on the server side – While I was able to export my Outlook contacts, which are maintained on an Exchange server, as a CSV file and then import them without any issues into Google Voice, even better would be the ability to keep them up to date and in sync via the Google Voice service on the back end, maybe using ActiveSync or something similar. I’ll have to look for contact syncing software instead, since managing the sync effort by hand won’t really work for me.
All in all, Google Voice is a great app that’s already changing my ability to communicate. People in rural areas with marginal mobile service could really benefit from Google’s new offering. I’m looking forward to seeing what they deliver next!
Sunday, 15 March 2009
I live in a remote location where you can barely get wireless service. I have to place my mobile phone on a window sill in just the right spot, and if I do that I will often get marginal service – enough to receive text messages most of the time, at least. Depending on the weather and atmospheric conditions, I sometimes get no signal at all.
There are two pieces of forthcoming technology that I plan to use to improve my situation as soon as they are available: Google Voice and the at&t 3G Microcell.
Google Voice was just announced late last week, and is an upgraded version of the services I already use via Grand Central, which Google acquired about a year and a half ago. Grand Central gives you one number and voicemail box for calls, and Google Voice expands in that by enabling SMS messages to the common number, with web and email access to the txt messages. I should note the service is free. The new features will be huge for me, since my ability to send and receive txt messages from home is limited at best, and often unreliable. I already have Grand Central routing voice calls to my home-office and cell phones at the same time, so the SMS addition will be welcome. Google is also adding voice mail transcription (machine transcribed) and some other nice features like built-in conference calling. They started upgrading people who already have Grand Central accounts a couple days ago, but mine has yet to be enabled for an upgrade. So, I am impatiently waiting. they say new users will be able to sign up in the coming weeks. More information about features available on Google Voice can be found here.
On another front, month or so ago, the tech news/rumor world was all excited about the pending at&t wireless 3G Microcell, which is a device that a user can plug into their broadband connection at home or in an office to create what amounts to a short-range personal wireless tower. I am luck enough to have terrific fast broadband service via a rural wireless transport provider called Cascade Networks, so I’ll be able to take advantage of the new at&t hardware when it’s available. Unfortunately, there’s been no news recently about availability of the 3G Microcell, but I’m hopeful it will be available soon. Having that available would enable me to consider shutting off my home phone service and possibly saving that monthly cost. The 3G Microcell is rumored to support data and voice for a few devices at a time, and who-knows in the cost department. All I know is it would improve my ability to communicate, which would be a welcome change.
Monday, 26 January 2009
Although there's not a specific release date or price available yet, AT&T has posted some information on their web site that points to the future release of their new, in-home 3G cell station, which I mentioned here a couple weeks ago.
Engadget has some details about the device from the AT&T web site (details since removed from att,com, copied below), and images (like the one above) have started to show up on AT&T's site, as well. The pictures show two manufacturer names: Cisco on the case and Scientific Atlanta on the model/serial number label.
I'm looking forward to this, as I technically live outside the usable AT&T service area and can only occasionally/barely get a wireless signal at my home.
What is an AT&T 3G MicroCell™?
AT&T 3G MicroCell acts like a mini cellular tower in your home or small business environment. It connects to AT&T's network via your existing broadband internet service (such as DSL or cable) and is designed to support up to 10 3G capable wireless phones in a home or small business setting. With AT&T 3G MicroCell, you receive improved cellular signal performance for both voice calls and cellular data applications, like picture messaging and surfing the web for up to 4 simultaneous users.
- Enhanced coverage indoors - supports both voice and data up to 5000 square feet.
- Available unlimited minute plans - Individual or Family Plan.
- 3G handset compatible - works with any AT&T 3G Phone.
- Up to 4 simultaneous voice or data users supported.
- Device is secure - cannot be accessed by unauthorized users, easy and secure online management of device settings
- Seamless call hand-over - start calls on your 3G MicroCell and continue uninterrupted even if you leave the building.
- 3G wireless phone/device
- Broadband service over DSL or cable
- Computer with internet access for online registration
- Installing your device near a window is strongly recommended to ensure access to Global Positioning System (GPS). A GPS link is needed to verify the device location during the initial startup.
- The 3G MicroCell device is portable. The device may be moved, provided the new location is within the AT&T authorized service area and properly registered online.
Wednesday, 07 January 2009
Unfortunately, I'm not one of the customers that AT&T has apparently been reaching out to in their testing of in-home micro wireless stations. I wish I was, since I live in the sticks and barely get service at all on my AT&T wireless phone. This is exactly what I need: A broadband-connected device that gives you local 3G coverage in your home.
Ars Technica reports that AT&T has described the device this way:
"AT&T's new product is a small, security-enabled cellular base station that easily connects to your home DSL or Cable Internet, providing a reliable wireless signal for any 3G phone in every room of your house. The device allows you to have unlimited, nationwide Anytime Minutes for incoming or outgoing calls."
If anyone from AT&T happens to be reading, I'd be ecstatic to try the device out and provide detailed feedback. Feel free to contact me, my email and phone number are over in the sidebar. I'm just sayin' ...
SD cards have become a de facto standard format for media in most devices, with a couple holdouts (namely Sony, which predictably uses a proprietary format). As such, the format has grown and there's been quite a bit of innovation effort focused in the SD arena.
A couple of announcements made this week at the CES show in Las Vegas are worth paying attention to. In one announcement, we learn that the SD format will support massively larger storage. In the other announcement, a popular WiFi-enabled SD card gains some nifty new video-handling features.
SDXC means on-card storage increase to a theoretical 2 terabytes
The SD Association announced a new standard (links to PDF file) that will soon have us leveraging massively larger storage capabilities (with much higher purchase prices, one would have to assume - we will have to see what the economies of scale bring us):
"The new SDXC specification provides up to 2 terabytes storage capacity and accelerates SD interface read/write speeds to 104 megabytes per second this year, with a road map to 300 megabytes per second."
That's some serious storage and speed. Photographers and HD videographers can soon rejoice. Just don't lose your little 2-terabyte card. Of course, it's likely that new devices will be needed to support the new standard. The SD Association says the SDHC, Embedded SD and SDIO specifications will also benefit from the new SD interface speeds. I'd be very (and pleasantly) surprised if we can take advantage of the larger storage capabilities in existing devices.
New Eye-Fi SD cards will allow direct HD uploads to YouTube
Eye-Fi already has a great thing going with their SD cards that use WiFi to transfer digital images, and now they're previewing a new card technology that will allow you to directly transfer your HD video content straight from the card to YouTube via WiFi. Now that's cool. I really want one of those for use in my Kodak Zi6 HD camera, and I'd use it in my full-sized HD camera, too. The power-requirement questions rattling around in my head will have to be answered at a later date, and I hope it will handle video as well as still images on the same card. Unfortunately they're not available yet, and no date was set for release. But I, for one, will definitely be watching for this.
This is pretty cool. Not completely new, but interesting for the future.
LG will (eventually) be shipping a wrist-wearable cell phone
that they just showed at the CES show in Las Vegas. I'm just pointing it out because this might just be the first watch I'd be willing to actually wear. Maybe. I'll probably hold out for a little thinner and smaller. Regardless, it's pretty cool.
There's an Engadget video of it at: http://www.viddler.com/explore/engadget/videos/116/
Would you want to wear a phone on your wrist? Useful or just geeky? I can hear the wrist-cancer complaints coming already...(via Engadget)Update - More links:IntoMobile coverage
- with lots of pics
Tuesday, 06 January 2009
I've written here several times in the past about Pandora, the slick Internet music app that streams music it determines you'll like based on a starting point you give it (like a specific artist, for example). You can refine the channel by voting up or down, song by song. Based on your votes and the "genetic" makeup of the music you rate, it determines what other music to put into the channel. The greatest aspect of using Pandora is discovering some truly great music and artists, many of which I never heard of before Pandora. It changed my music world.
Not too long ago, Pandora for the iPhone was released, and it was the number-one free iPhone app for 2008, and for good reason. It works well on WiFi or 3G networks and provides the majority of the functionality you get on the full-blown web app.
Well, today Pandora released v2 of their iPhone app, and they've added even more to it. Gleaned from the release notes, here are the new features:
- Tap the album art to see a progress bar, create a station from the current song or artist, or to email the station to a friend
- View the "back side" of the album art to read artist bios
- Rotates to a landscape layout to see recently played songs (coverflow-style)
- Play samples of each of your bookmarked songs
- Create a station based on genre
It's a cool update. I just wish I could close it and have it play in the background while I do other thing son my iPhone. I mean, come on Apple - It's the number-one app, make an exception, please! Anyhow, I don't know if I will use it more (it was already pretty great), but it adds some smart new functionality that's appreciated. You can find it here (links to iTunes App Store) or just get it for free via the App Store icon on your iPhone or iPod Touch.
A few photos to show you what I'm talking about:
'Create New Station' options
Sending to a friend without leaving the app
Coverflow-like view of past-played songs
Friday, 28 November 2008
Not that you'd actually want to do it (or at least I don't think I would), but you have to admit it's pretty cool that you can now run Linux on the iPhone. It's really basic so far, but no doubt it will get better and have more and more hardware/feature support. Maybe a dual-boot option would be cool though, after all...
Details are here and Engadget has info, too. Video showing it off below. What would you use it for?
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
It's been an interesting and exciting few days in iPhone land.
In the just past couple days, Google Earth and a voice recording application from Griffin have both been released for the iPhone. Add to that the news that iPhone owners now have access to AT&T WiFi hotspots for free - nice! Google Earth is - of course - free, and Griffin iTalk is free for a limited time, along with it's Mac client (for syncing).
Google earth on the iPhone (iTunes app store link) is pretty cool. It takes advantage of the GPS and accelerometer, and other than that it's, well... Google Earth, just on a smaller screen. You can use touch/twist to rotate gestures on the screen, as you'd expect. I should mention that it's crashed a lot on me, and that when I first installed it I had to hard-reset my phone to get anything to work. But for the most part its been as stable as any other complex app on the device (meaning mediocre to so-so). It's worth the install for sure, if for no other reason then just because of most of the cool things you can do with Google Earth on your Mac or PC.
The other great app that everyone with an iPhone or second-gen iPod Touch should run and get right now (while it's free) is Griffin's iTalk and the complementary iTalk Sync client, which allows you to sync your audio recordings made with the iPhone app to your Mac (PC version coming soon) over the air via WiFi. It works like a charm, is well-documented, looks great and the audio quality is user configurable. The best quality setting sounds pretty great. It could realistically be used for man-on-the-street style interviews.
Provide a file name, select the recording quality, and start recording by clicking the Big Red Button:
The green button means you're actively recording. The VU meter shows your audio levels live. Click the green button to stop recording.
You'll end up with a file (or more than one if you record multiple times) showing in the recording list.
When you load up the Mac sync client app (a small and quick install) and start the iPhone app on the same wireless network, you'll be prompted to allows the sync client to access your iPhone's recordings.
While copying the file via the sync program, the iPhone shows you the status and progress:
And finally you have the files on your Mac (or soon on a PC), in .AIFF format, ready to use. Nice and easy!
I plan to play with the app in Barcelona next week and test the audio quality to see if it's really good enough for on-the-spot interviews for the podcast. It's worth a shot, although it won't touch the quality of my Zoom H4 recorder, of course.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
I thought I'd present some casual observations I made throughout the day Wednesday on a trip from Portland to Seattle, as well as some newly reported information about the AT&T 3G network that's hit the 'net over the past 24 hours or so.
The back-story here is that I - like many others - have found the reliability and consistency of the iPhone 3G to be less than satisfactory while on the 3G AT&T network.
First of all, it became clear to me over the course of several hours yesterday that the iPhone is not to blame with regards to connectivity on the 3G network. While driving from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington and back yesterday, I had the opportunity to run a whole slew of speed/connectivity test sessions using the iPhone app called "iNetwork Test" (click here to get the free app in the iTunes App Store).
AT&T actually has fairly impressive 3G network coverage from south of Olympia, Washington practically all the way to Seattle, with one or two small gaps in-between where the phone switched to EDGE. Much of the area along that I-5 corridor is rural or sparsely-populated. From a wireless connectivity standpoint, it's a pretty decent area to live in if you're going to be far away from the city.
My experience in using the 3G network along my drive up and down the Interstate can be summed up thusly:
In areas with higher population density, and thus more iPhone (and other device) users, ability to a) connect to the voice network and make calls, b) stay connected to the voice network, c) make data connections and d) maintain data connections was substantially worse. The difference between dense and sparsely populated areas was like night and day.
Where population density was lower, even in cases when fewer bars are displayed on the signal strength icon, voice and data connections were reliable and solid without exception. In contrast, in high-population areas even full-signal connectivity was spotty and unreliable.
I'm running the latest iPhone software, v2.0.2, which both Apple and AT&T have encouraged people to upgrade to. AT&T even sent a text message to all users asking them to upgrade - a first-time action on the part of the carrier.
Some new information, part of which you'll find quoted below, helps explain why I experienced substantially poorer performance in the cities and heavily-populated areas but not in the rural sections of my drive. According to reports, it appears AT&T's 3G radio systems are power-constrained, and are not able to maintain all the connections. The incredible number of iPhone 3G devices on the network - especially in metropolitan and urban areas - is most certainly placing a heavy load on the radios. In addition, iPhone 3G devices that have not been updated to the v2.0.2 software are placing an even heavier burden on the radios from a power-consumption standpoint.
So, there's a power-management problem, as well as a capacity problem. When the network "noise" in the radio spectrum used gets to be higher, the towers have to increase power to try to overcome the noise. You can see how that doesn't work. Eventually the noise keeps climbing and the power consumption at the tower (and presumably on the iPhone as well) goes through the roof.
More towers would increase capacity, reduce power requirements and resulting noise, and generally improve coverage. But that's not something that can be changed overnight.
All of this helps explain why my ability to make calls, connect to the 3G data network and download at high speeds was much better where the network is only lightly used.
The Daily Tech site has a detailed report (and some intelligent reader comments) that describes the cell-site power issues, the problems related to the older iPhone 3G software, and other items. Go to the Daily Tech site to get all the details. Here is a portion of the information, including some text quoted from Roughly Drafted Magazine, whose author was able to get some new details from a source inside AT&T's wireless business describing the power issues and what the iPhone's v2.0.2 software update changes:
Basically the update "fixed power control on the mobile" according to the source. To understand what they're going to say next, you must first know a bit about AT&T's jargon for UMTS -- the technology it uses to deliver its 3G network. In the technology, phones are referred to as user equipment, "UE" for short. The base transceiver station towers are known as "Node B".
With this jargon in mind, the AT&T source explains:
"In UMTS power control is key to the mobile and network success. If the UE requires too much downlink power then the base station or Node B can run out of transmitter power and this is what was happening. As you get more UEs on the cell, the noise floor rises and the cell has to compensate by ramping up its power to the UEs. If the UE power control algorithm is faulty then they will demand more power from the cell than is necessary and with multiple users this can cause the cell transmitter to run out of power. The net result is that some UEs will drop their call. I have seen the dropped call graphs that correspond to the iPhone launch and when the 2.0.2 firmware was released. The increase in dropped calls, (were the result of) dropped calls due to a lack of downlink power."In essence, the iPhone is asking for a stronger signal than it needs. In areas with lots of users, some or all of whose phones are doing this, calls start to get dropped and signal quality drops. This all follows with the conclusions the media had reached -- the problems were somehow correlated to user distribution and seemed puzzlingly to be both with AT&T's network, and with the hardware.
The source continues:
"The power control issue will also have an effect on the data throughput, because the higher the data rate the more power the Node B transmitter requires to transmit. If the UEs have poor power control and are taking more power than is necessary then it will sap the network’s ability to deliver high speed data. This is one of the reasons why AT&T has been sending text messages to users to persuade them to upgrade to the 2.0.2 software. In a mixed environment where users are running 2.0, 2.0.1, and 2.0.2, the power control problems of 2.0 and 2.0.1 will affect the 2.0.2 users. It is not the network that is fault but the interaction of the bad power control algorithm in 2.0 and 2.0.1 software and the network that is at fault. The sooner everybody is running 2.0.2 software the better things will be. Having seen the graphs the 2.0.2 software has already started to make difference."Since transmitting lots of data takes lots of transmission power, and transmission power was unnecessarily being raised above that necessary for the use levels on phones, the network in areas of heavy use was unable to handle high speed data.
Monday, 25 August 2008
A couple of small, independent evaluations of the iPhone 3G's performance, which has been much maligned by many of it's customers (including me from time to time), have been published in the past day or so. The results are interesting to consider, especially side-by-side.
In the first test, Swedish tech site GP took their iPhone 3G to a super-fancy antenna test chamber
at a company called Bluetest, where they ran the iPhone through the highly technical paces along with a few other 3G phones for comparison purposes. Results are available on the GP site.
In the second test, Wired asked readers to participate in testing from the field
, where they gathered and submitted speed and other connectivity data with their own phones. Wired then analyzed, mapped and posted the results as well as the test data in complete raw format at their site.
In the end, what did the tests yield? Well, you should read them for yourself and draw your own conclusions, of course. But in a nutshell, here's my take on what they found:
- GP's antenna test found that the iPhone 3G's antenna performs as well as any of the other 3G phones tested.
- The Wired real-world network test found that the networks are often woefully underperforming, and that while speeds are typically faster than EDGE, the ability to connect to a 3G tower might be problematic at best.
So, does this mean Apple-provided software fixes may not be able to solve the iPhone's 3G woes? It seems that in the case of network performance where the number of "bars" showing on 3G is at the bottom of the scale yet a EDGE network has a strong signal, trading off could be done better by the phone. But what really needs to happen to solve the big-picture problem is better 3G coverage. My experience in several cities has been that 3G coverage is poor in many cases, and inconsistent at best. In fact, if the AT&T EDGE/2.5G network was not available as a fall-back (or maybe "call-back" is a better term, given the dropped call rate), AT&T would never be able to sell their service. The effective 3G network coverage just isn't good enough to stand on its own. And poor coverage combined with all those handoffs and network drops just mean more and more battery power being applied by the device to keep re-establishing it's 3G connectivity.
However, any software fixes for lockups, freezing and app crashes will require Apple taking action. One thing I've wondered lately: Are device/software hangs and crashes causing or somehow related to network connectivity issues? Could one be causing the other, at least part of the time? I have noticed locking/hanging in several apps while the iPhone tries to connect to the AT&T network (as evidenced by the simultaneous flurry of AT&T radio-speaker-dance noise that we've all become familiar with over the past several years).
Monday, 18 August 2008
Boy Genius says iPhone software v2.0.2 is on it's way out the door this afternoon. In fact, I just checked in iTunes, and there it is.
All 248.7MB of it. The description in the iTunes UI says it contains bug fixes, and that's it. Here's hoping the performance and stability issues - especially related to 3G network performance and switching - are what they fixed in this release. I almost returned my phone the other day out of sheer frustration, and that's saying a lot, really.
Update: After a couple hours of on/off use, apps are notably more stable/snappier (at first I wondered if it was just my imagination, or a fresh restart effect - time will tell), and network performance is better. Where a 3G network with poor or broken signal would be selected before, now a strong EDGE network is selected by the phone. Apps don't seem to hang in places where they reliably (or maybe the better term would be "predictably") hung before the update. For example, the volume controls in almost every app used to not respond for periods of time. Now they work every time. Much less frustrating. There are no real changes in terms of ourward appearance and functionality.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
There are a lot of so-so iPhone apps out there, fun to use once or twice but not killer applications that you simply must have. DataCase
is a candidate for that latter classification. (Available via the app store
for iPhone and iPod Touch, $6.99)
The DataCase app allows you to copy files from your PC or Mac to the iPhone via the wireless network using a drag-and-drop method. Once on the iPhone you can view and use the files in mobile mode. There's support for MS Office formats, PDF, text, common images, HTML, plus any audio and video the iPhone OS would normally support.
It's pretty slick. I'm playing with it now and can see the real benefits of having a variety of key files, documents, etc. available on the mobile device any time I need them. One problem common to all iPhone apps is the fact that it has to be running in the foreground in order to access the app remotely - no background execution. Good thing I bought this 16GB iPhone eh?
Links: Veiosoft web site
and a review at TUAW
Saturday, 02 August 2008
Every now and then you'll discover a couple or few smaller apps that work well together, or alongside each other. The type of situation where you get the 2+2=5 effect. Individually both apps are great, but when used together they becomes something even more. "Two great tastes that taste great together," to borrow an old marketing phrase.
That's been the case for me with two iPhone apps - Shazam (iTunes store page) and Pandora (iTunes store page). Today I use them alongside each other. It's my hope that someday they will be able to communicate with each other and share information.
I've written about Pandora here before. It's a web app that happens to have an iPhone client as well, where you can start with music you like and it helps you find more music that fits your taste and style. You create channels, or stations, and the Pandora service selects similar music for your to hear, and you can fine tune as you go.
Shazam is another of those magical "wow" apps for the iPhone. I use it in the car when I hear a song I like. Rarely do I know the name of the song, or even the artist. But as it plays, I just tell Shazam to listen to a 12-second portion of the song (a process called "tagging"). It uploads the resulting data to the centralized service, and back comes all the information about the song - Artist, title, album, everything. It's really amazing, and in my experience 100% accurate. From there you can also find YouTube videos and launch into the iTunes store to buy the music you've tagged.
I'll often take the name of an artist I discover from Shazam and plug the info into Pandora and start listening there. It's a great way to quickly and relatively effortlessly drill down into new music I have never heard before, but it's music that I really like.
Now imagine if you could use Shazam to identify a song and then inside Shazam choose an option to create a channel based on that artist in Pandora. That would be awesome, truly awesome. I have no idea how "possible" it is, but I can hope. :)
On a similar note - meaning various apps that work great together - ReadWriteWeb published an article this past week with a list of apps that complement each other well (including my Shazam/Pandora combination).
Friday, 01 August 2008
You should listen to your online friends. They often have great ideas, like in this case. I was recently turned onto a simple but effective
alternative to bulky plastic cases and leather holsters for my new iPhone 3G. It's called the invisible SHIELD
. The product, simply put, is
pretty darned terrific. You hardly know it's there, and it protects
like crazy. You can also get invisibleSHIELD for the iPhone
Now, let me tell you right up front that when it comes time to "install" the shield on your phone, you'll need a clean work surface, a little patience, 12 to 24 hours to let your shield "cure" on the phone,
and the ability to read and follow some simple instructions. If you make sure you have those few key things taken care of, all will go well.
In the video below I show and abuse my iPhone 3G (the only one I own...) with an Invisible Shield installed. In the video you can see that there are a couple scratches under
the shield. Those came from a combination of iPhone and the keys in my pocket (before I ordered the invisibleSHIELD
. In fact it was those exact scratches, which I got the first day I had the phone, that prompted me to find a real, working anti-scratching solution.
I can highly recommend the Invisible Shield.
Full disclosure: Zagg (the manufacturer of the invisibleSHIELD
) doesn't know I am doing this review. I found their product all on my own based on a real need, and clicking on the advertisement below takes you to my link on their product site - If you buy something there I'll get a small chunk of the change you spend. If you don't like that idea, no problem - just go to zagg.com and click through to the iPhone 3G page (or whatever product you want to cover and protect - For me, my MacBook Air is next).
Thursday, 24 July 2008
What would Steve click?
It's not often you find advertising that doesn't just bother you. I try to keep the ads on this site relevant, minimalist and out of the way. But on a limited-size device like the iPhone, not to mention it's a device that has that "cool usability" vibe, the need for ultra-careful advertising design is critical. Acceptance is important.
Enter AdMob. They've created advertising blocks for the iPhone that are - well - pretty darn cool. Hopefully the advertisements that show up in them in practice will be relevant and cool, too. Check out the video.
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Gizmodo has a good article highlighting the analysis of the iPhone 3G's battery life (some loose methodology, and some only slightly more formal) by nine industry pundit sources. All I can add to the info is that it's good to burn the batteries in for a week with full charges and discharges (even in the modern battery world) before one can really experience accurate results (batteries tend to need a couple good cycles to provide optimum output).
The general consensus? No 3G phone on the market has great battery life, but in the grand scheme of suckiness, the iPhone 3G's battery life suck the least. Forgive the terminology, please. Just trying to make a point. :)
"One takeaway seems to be that as far as straight-up 3G talk time goes, the iPhone 3G is near the top of the range—Wirelessinfo and PC World both found it to be among the best 3G handsets they've tested for voice talk time. For mixed use and browsing numbers, the range is pretty wide, since the variables at play are nearly infinite."
I know a couple people who run so many programs at once on their laptops, they might just be able to take advantage of the new quad-core mobile processor from Intel, which is apparently coming next month. But I have to wonder - since those are the same people that will scream about battery life - how practical it would be. It will be interesting to see how they perform.
At any rate, looks like it's coming in August (and it ain't exactly cheap - see the story for more info).
"We're bringing quad-core to mobile in August," said Sujan Kamran, regional marketing manager for client platforms at Intel in Singapore. Kamran declined to disclose specifics of the quad-core chip, which will carry Intel's Core 2 Extreme moniker.
Link: Intel's Quad-core Mobile Chip Coming Next Month - Yahoo! News
Monday, 14 July 2008
Wow. The numbers are really huge. Apple has released figures for it's "opening weekend" box office smash, the iPhone 3G. One million units sold in the first three days. It took 74 days to sell that many of the original iPhone last year.
No wonder activation in the stores was so sluggish (or at times just broken). Big uptake in the USA, plus 20 other countries on opening weekend.
A quick note about analyst reports that preceded Apple's announcement. "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." For the record, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said Monday that Apple was not going to meet even the half-million sales mark expectation set by the marketplace for the opening weekend. Boy, was he ever wrong.
In addition to the huge iPhone sales, Apple also announced that more than 10 million apps were downloaded from the iTunes App Store in the same time period. I wonder how many of those were paid for, how many were free, and what kind of revenue for Apple and authors we're talking about.
Very. Smart. Company. Not perfect, but that don't need to be. They take chances. Big ones. Laser-focused, too, and always successfully defining ahead of time what is "right" and then delivering (which, by the way, is much easier to do than letting someone else define "right" and then trying to meet those expectations).
Thursday, 10 July 2008
I arrived in Colorado this afternoon, plugged in my iPhone, backed it up, installed iTunes 7.7 and grabbed the iPhone v2.0 software from Apple's servers (it's out there, although iTunes is not yet advertising it here). I found the Apps listings in iTunes and decided it was about time to upgrade. So, I hooked up the iPhone and promptly fell asleep on the couch while it did it's thing upgrading.
I woke up to the sound of "bliiihdeep!" from the phone and a little "thunk" as it slid on the countertop from where I had it propped up against my Macbook Air (strategically placed so a vibration would make it move, hence alerting me to activity during the lengthy upgrade process). I went to the phone, restored the backup from iTunes, and BAM! There I was, iPhone 2.0 software ready to go.
Once I jumped onto the wireless network at the house, I launched the app store and started looking at programs. The first one I tried was Twitterific. It's pretty okay, but all else being equal I wish I still had Twinkle on there as an app. I'm sure it will be available soon enough.
I installed Google's search app (very cool), the Paypal app (kinda cool, very spartan), and the Weatherbug ap (because those guys rock and their screenshot actually looked interesting - and it's a great little app). Last, I found the Pandora app.
Now, I have written about Pandora here before, long long ago. It's just as amazing a service today as it was then. Simply put, you start pff by providing an artist or two or three that you like and Pandora starts playing music of a similar nature that it "thinks" you'll like. You can vote individual songs/pieces up or down and it refines its recommendations. And Pandora's app on the iPhone let me log into my Pandora account instantly, within seconds, and literally ten seconds later it was streaming my music channels to me over the air.
Incredibly usable, simple, effective. Pure usability bliss.
I showed it to my mom. She instantly lit up and said, I quote: "Wow!" The thing about Pandora is I can explain it to anyone in about 20 seconds and they always "get it." They've done something - perhaps everything - right.
That made me think. My mom just found out she will have to be spending some substantial time in the hospital soon. When I showed her the Pandora application, after she showed her sense of amazement, she got pained look on her face and asked me if I would show her how to transfer files to her (crappy) MP3 player. The device is next to unusable. Even I have a hard time getting it to work. There's nothing good about it. So, tomorrow when I am out picking up a new iPhone 3G, I'm going to grab an iPod touch for my mom. And then ship my old iPhone to my friend Chris (whose shipping address I need in order to do that BTW, hint-hint).
My wish list for more apps? I was pretty disappointed to not find a blog authoring application, something similar to Windows Live Writer but trimmed down and made for the iPhone. Maybe I just need to learn how to program this stuff, but that's a scary thought. Someone better than me must be working on a blogging app. There's a good one available in the app store for TextPad, but that doesn't really help me since I don't use that platform for my blog.
So, iPhone software v2.0 has convinced me to but an iPod Touch for my mom. Once again, the ball's been hit out of the park.
Wednesday, 02 July 2008
Google Talk is now available on the iPhone in the Safari browser. At the Google Mobile blog, the details are laid out. If you use Google Apps for your domain and have the Talk app activated there, word is you can access it, too using this URL syntax:
"We've just released in the US a new version of Google Talk designed specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch browsers. In addition to sending your friends Gmail messages from your iPhone, you can now chat with them while you're on the move, too! In your iPhone browser, just go to www.google.com/talk, sign in and start chatting. That's it. Google Talk runs entirely in the browser so there's no need to download or install anything."
Announcement: Official Google Mobile Blog: Google Talk for the iPhone
AT&T has released a set of informative videos (all of which appear below) with details about when, where and how to buy the iPhone 3G. Prepare to qualify!
There are three videos. The first one is for people who are not existing AT&T customers:
Next, information for people who are already customers of AT&T (including iPhone owners and non-iPhone customers):
Finally, if you want to give your first-generation iPhone to
your old friend Chris
someone you know, here are those details:
In addition, a press release outlining all the details for various types of purchasers describes the in's and out's of contracts, upgrades and whatnot:
AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) today announced iPhone 3G pricing for new and existing AT&T customers, several attractive voice and data plans, and tips on how to be “iReady” when iPhone 3G goes on sale at AT&T retail stores at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, July 11.
“We can’t wait to offer iPhone 3G to our customers, and we want to make sure the buying process is as easy as possible,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T’s wireless unit. “Considering all the great new features of iPhone 3G, we think our pricing and monthly plans present a tremendous value for consumers and businesses alike.”
Pricing and Eligibility
AT&T is making it easy for customers to prepare for their iPhone 3G purchase by posting “Get iReady” tips and frequently asked questions at www.att.com/iphone. The site also will include a link for customers to check their upgrade eligibility and other wireless account information.
iPhone 3G will be available for $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB model. These prices require two-year contracts and are available to the following customers:
Existing AT&T customers who are not currently eligible for an upgrade discount can purchase iPhone 3G for $399 for the 8GB model or $499 for the 16GB model. Both options require a new two-year service agreement. In the future, AT&T will offer a no-contract-required option for $599 (8GB) or $699 (16GB).
- iPhone customers who purchased before July 11
- Customers activating a new line with AT&T
- Current AT&T customers who are eligible, at the time of purchase, for an upgrade discount
Current customers may also choose to wait until they become eligible for an upgrade discount. Eligibility is generally determined by amount of time remaining on a current contract and payment history.
Current AT&T customers who are upgrading to iPhone 3G will pay an $18 upgrade fee and new AT&T customers will pay the standard $36 activation fee.
Voice, Data and Text Messaging Plans
AT&T brings iPhone 3G customers the best coverage on the globe and the largest mobile-to-mobile calling community with unlimited calling to AT&T’s 71.4 million wireless customers. iPhone 3G customers can choose from four individual AT&T Nation plans, which bundle voice and unlimited data (e-mail and Web browsing).
All AT&T Nation and AT&T FamilyTalk® plans for iPhone 3G include nationwide long distance and roaming, Visual Voicemail, Rollover®, unlimited Mobile to Mobile calling, Call Forwarding, Call Waiting, Three-Way Calling and Caller ID.
- AT&T NationSM Unlimited: Includes unlimited Anytime Minutes for $129.99 a month.
- AT&T Nation 1350: Includes 1350 Anytime Minutes and unlimited Night & Weekend Minutes for $109.99 a month.
- AT&T Nation 900: Includes 900 Anytime Minutes and unlimited Night & Weekend Minutes for $89.99 a month.
- AT&T Nation 450: Includes 450 Anytime Minutes and 5,000 Night & Weekend Minutes for $69.99 a month.
AT&T will offer FamilyTalk plans, with bundled voice and unlimited data, starting as low as $129.99 a month for two iPhone 3G lines. Up to three additional iPhone lines can be added for $39.99 each.
Unlimited text messaging can be added for an additional $20 ($30 for FamilyTalk plans of up to five lines); $15 (1,500 messages), or $5 (200 messages).
iPhone for Business
Business customers interested in iPhone 3G should contact an AT&T business sales representative or review their account information online to determine their eligibility for upgrade pricing. Corporate e-mail and other business applications require the Enterprise Data Plan for iPhone, which is $45 a month and bundled with an eligible voice plan. Small business customers may qualify for AT&T BusinessTalk, the industry’s only shared plan specifically for small businesses. Additional details on iPhone business offerings are available at www.att.com/iphoneforbusiness.
iPhone 2.0 Software
All iPhone customers will benefit from the iPhone 2.0 software, which will be pre-loaded on all iPhone 3Gs and available as a free download for current iPhone customers. The new software will include numerous enhancements, such as business-class e-mail access via Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync; the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK), which allows a business to easily create applications customized to its needs; and the App Store, which offers a wide-range of applications — from games to business, education to entertainment and productivity to social networking. For example, AT&T has developed YELLOWPAGES.COM Mobile for iPhone, which takes local mobile search to a new level by allowing users to discover businesses and local events based on their popularity among other iPhone users, get directions and access business reviews.
So - The real question is this: Who plans to get in line early? :)
Monday, 30 June 2008
Nate Westheimer of The Silicon Alley Insider has this to say:
Twitter should take full advantage of their messaging platform, user base and user disposition to lead in the P2P mobile payments space, where, despite years of hype, no one has much of a head start.
Link to the article: How Twitter Could Be Worth A Billion In A Year
I have to admit, coming from the Internet financial services space, the thought of this actually happening scares me slightly, given the serious lack of stability and the manner in which changes have been made at Twitter with less than complete communication. But at any rate, they have a lot of money to throw at the problems, so I am rooting for them to get things right. It just hurts. :)
Westheimer makes some good points. Twitter is carrier/provider-agnostic and has amazingly terrific user and market penetration. Just as I send you a direct message today by typing "d yourname hi how are you?" I could pay you using syntax like "p yourname $20."
But getting from here to there is an whole other story. It's far from trivial to create a financial transaction and accounting system, especially one that scales to the sizes required (but it certainly can be done).
It's an appealing and interesting idea and one that warrant some real thought. As someone who comes from the the online banking software, infrastructure and security world, I can see the market need as well as the challenges from many fronts that will face any company that finally jumps fully on-board the micro-payments and mobile-payments train. A number of good, well-funded companies have given it a run before with limited success. It's a complex problem to solve, but it's doable.
It sure sounds like a fun challenge, and there's a massive marketplace out there just waiting for someone to get it right. Note the operative verbiage there - Doing it well is critical to success. The fact is there's no room for "scale later" in this game.
What do you think? Would you pay people via Twitter if you could? Would it be useful to you?
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
I've traveled to Europe with my iPhone before, and despite activating an international data plan I ended up spending a bit more than I wanted to (by about $100). But Raven Zachary came back home to a $800+ bill, and there are many tales of others having even worse experiences.Raven wrote a blog article offering some tips
to keep your costs down, all of which are good. So, if you are traveling out of the USA with your AT&T iPhone (and yes, that DOES include to Canada or Mexico, so do your homework), check out what he wrote.
As of today, there is no "unlimited" international data plan available. It can get very expensive to deal with email attachments and use the maps program, or even just to check email the same way you do back home (meaning automatically every n
minutes). With the 3G network coming on the new iPhone and the associated roaming costs for high-speed
access projected to be higher, this all becomes even more important.
Until AT&T makes it a little easier to be their customers, and simplifies things for those of use paying them big bucks for service, you'll need to order specific international services
and configure your iPhone in certain ways
to make sure you don't get nailed and you'll have to search the 'net to find sources to read about the problems and related solutions. I feel sorry for people who get completely blindsided (and there are a lot of those people out there). So much for seamless, don't-have-to-think-about-it use, eh?
Thursday, 05 June 2008
A reporter from Forbes Magazine, Brian Caulfield, has been sneaking around a bit
, asking questions, and taking pictures from various public-domain locations where he thinks Apple's next-gen iPhone (or APple Tablet, or next-gen iMac, or all of the above) are being dispatched from.
Tons of boxes overflowing a large warehouse, courier service trucks in drives coming and going, no-label boxes and warehouse workers being cagey but saying basically nothing. But when you start to stack up so much circumstantial evidence it's pretty convincing. If nothing else, it generates great hype and gets people like me to pay attention and write about it. Marketing madness.
What I really
want to know: Where and when to line up as an existing AT&T customer who wants to upgrade, and how much cash to bring with me. I'm guessing/surmising the answer is sometime in the next week and a half, and $200 (plus a pen to sign a contract extension).
Friday, 23 May 2008
The Import Genius blog has a new article
describing their examination of shipping manifests for Apple Computer, and they have found an unusual and very large set of shipments over the past couple of months that they suggest is imports of the heavily-rumored next version of the iPhone. I geek out over this stuff, simply because I really like my iPhone and I'm looking forward to the next version and the capabilities we all assume it will have.
According to the Import Genius people,
Since mid-March, Apple Inc. and its logistics partners have imported
188 ocean containers of a product type never before declared on its
With iPhones currently out of stock at many Apple stores,
including its flagship outlets in New York City, rumors abound that the
company is winnowing stocks in preparation for a new 3G version of the
Well, we shall see. And hope. Lots more details and evidence are available in the ImportGenius.com blog entry
Other interesting iPhone tid-bits:
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
I'm going to have to try this one next week when I fly...
Apparently Gerald Buckley was able to successfully scan his boarding pass bar code, which was displayed on his iPhone screen as a PDF image. I have to assume the scanner was most likely an image-scanning type since a laser scanner like you see in many places probably wouldn't "see" the barcode. Although, I have noticed in bright sunlight that the iPhone screen almost looks like the text is printed on the surface right under the glass, almost like it could have a shadow. But regardless, it's pretty cool.
Buckley describes his experience on his blog
Those of us with a "jailbroken" iPhone can take advantage of a new beta software release from Intelliborn
called "IntelliScreen." Intelliborne is the same company that brought us Vonagent, which is another app I have on my iPhone for voicemail integration.
The app allows you to have a single, quick view from the standby screen of news, email, your text messages, the weather forecast, your calendar - lots of great info, all on one screen and scrollable.
Each of the sections are finger-scrollable and the screen show up whenever the iPhone is locked. The configuration app lets you specify basically everything you'd want (with the apparent exception of specifying your own news feeds - you have to choose from feeds at Yahoo, CNN, Reuters, Fox, etc.).
Rumor and real-world activity happening right now sure looks like a new, 3G iPhone is just around the corner, and with that should come the new apps store sanctioned by Apple. But until them Jailbreaking your phone (which is a relatively harmless software change) is the only way to get this app. In the Installer application on the phone, go to the Sources list, then click the Edit button, then the Add button. You'll need to add this as a new app source:
If the Intaller refreah seems slow to finish or respond, just be patient.
- View Calendar, Email, Text Messages, News, Sports, and Weather from your iPhone "Slide To Unlock" screen
- Smooth scrolling across each item to quickly glimpse at your data
- Auto-Checks Email when you view the unlock screen - no need to "Refresh" from Mail.app or wait 15 minutes
- Go directly to the application of your choice with a "Swipe"
- Precise International Weather (by Zip) provided by Weather Underground.com
- News Feeds include Yahoo!, CNN, Fox News, and Reuters (more coming soon!)
- ESPN Sports Feeds include MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA Men's Football and NCAA Women's Basketball
- Customizing your IntelliScreen is easy! Choose which content you want to view and where
- Mail and Text Messages can be shown only if new items are available
More info at http://www.intelliborn.com/
Sunday, 13 April 2008
I downloaded a new iPhone native app this morning called Twinkle, which is a terrific Twitter client with integration to the iPhone's camera and the radio geolocation abilities. Even without those two enhancements, Twinkle would be - by a long shot - the best option for the iPhone when it comes to Twitter. To get Twinkle, you need to install it via the Installer.app program for jail-broken iPhones (see below for some more info).
Twinkle automatically figures out (approximately) where you are using Erica Sadun's FindMe utility, and uses that to label your Twitter posts with your location - very cool. It also allows you to cclick on a "near me" button to find posts from people located - you guessed it - near you. You can fine tune the distance and it's a nifty addition to Twitter.
A few observations:
- Twinkle is a very fast app - which is welcome since web-based options tend to be very slow, to the point of painful. This app, however, races.
- The UI design and usability to pretty darned terrific. It's quite well though-through.
- I wish I could follow people from within Twinkle. That's one feature that's missing. I hear it's coming soon though.
- Looks like I cannot click on URLs in tweets - that's certainly a missing feature (also coming soon).
- Need links to pics that are posted in the tweet - Can't see a reference to the image in the web Twitter interface if I include a pic.
- The app has has crashed on me a number of times while it's trying to do the geolocation, not sure if my fringe-area location has anything to do with that or not.
Of course, the app creator has a Twitter account, and you can see how popular it's becoming when you look at tweets that refer to Twinkle on TweetScan.
A few iPhone screen-grabs to show it off (click each one to view full-size):
View of my followed peeps' tweets
You wouldn't normally see this too often. My
fringe coverage area means I'm hard-to-locate.
Viewing an individual tweet, with ability to
reply, direct message, or go to the tweeter's
individual profile/post page.
Replying to myself. Yeah, that's a little weird.
What you see when you view an individual
Ah screen-door effect. Taking a picture
to attach to a tweet.
Note the paperclip showing a picture is
attached. Also, the character count actually
works and is accurate, which is a weakness
of many twitter clients.
Clicking on the paperclip allows you to
view the attached image - a nice friendly
addition. You can also remove the image
from here, if you change your mind or
want to shoot a new one.
Note: In order to use Twinkle today, you have to "jailbreak" your iPhone, a modification that allows third-party applications to be installed on the device. In the future, you will hopefully be able to download Twinkle from the Apple app catalog (once it's made available). But not today. An obligatory word of warning... If you do the jailbreak process, Apple won't provide support on your phone in the event you need it (unless you restore the phone to non-jailbroken status of course). The ZiPhone jailbreak app is slick and simple - you can just download for Windows or Mac, plug in your iPhone, click a few times, wait a few seconds and you're done. Google it if you want, you'll find it.
Sunday, 06 April 2008
Count me in as one of the people who will line up to get a 3G iPhone - whenever it comes out. It looks as if the community has determined via tear-down methodology that the chipset inside the current iPhone is not 3G capable, so a software upgrade doesn't seem likely (something I had hoped might be possible based on early information, but ah, oh well...).
The most recent oh-by-the-way rumor/news about a 3G iPhone comes via Walt Mossberg, who says it will available in 60 days. And Walt is certainly a person to be in-the-know. In the video where he made the side comment also discusses the current state of "broadband" around the world and talks about where technology bottlenecks are preventing future growth and areas where consumers are not yet satisfied. It's a good clip to watch.
The 3G iPhone part is about 6:50 into the video.
Add to Mossberg's comment the recent orders of 3G chipsets and related ramp-down of 2G production at the company Apple sources their equipment from, plus side comments by other industry execs and some good Apple-style business common sense thinking, and it all really does start to add up.
Looks like it's time to start tossing that loose change in the ol' jar again each day.
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
I discovered (via iPhone Atlas
) a new web app that lets you specify any well-formed RSS feed, which it converts to an iPhone-formatted and friendly list of headlines - sliding animations and all. My site's feed can be seen by clicking here
You can just click on over and add your feed
. It takes seconds. This geeral idea could translate into some pretty cool blog themes if someone wanted to tackle it.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
I saw an interesting post
yesterday (with a couple pics) indicating that Mono, the open-source implementation of .NET, has been ported to the iPhone, or at least it's been started. That's pretty interesting, and it makes me wonder two things: First, are .NET apps realistic for the iPhone? And second, WWSH
It's certainly interesting to think that all those talented .NET programmers out there could have a chance at programming for the iPhone, and that any of a variety of apps could be ported or even natively run in the future.
A little proof:
Mach kernel version:
Darwin Kernel Version 9.0.0d1: Wed Oct 10 00:07:50 PDT 2007;
Kernel configured for a single processor only.
1 processor is physically available.
1 processor is logically available.
Processor type: armv6 (arm v6)
Processor active: 0
Primary memory available: 116.00 megabytes
Default processor set: 26 tasks, 164 threads, 1 processors
Load average: 0.00, Mach factor: 0.98
# export MONO_DISABLE_SHM=1
# ./mono hello.exe
Hello Mono World
Saturday, 22 March 2008
I'm noticing a not-so-subtle change in the force. I spent the better part of the week listening to Barack Obama, and I'm a moderate-to-conservative guy. Policies aside, he's a persuasive man. Anyhow - I'm also a Windows guy for the most part, but have been known to ride (and occasionally cross over) that fence, as well. Recently, a new business/work venture has me experiencing the need to be ultra-portable from time to time, meeting and working potentially from who-knows-where. So, given the current tax situation and the "workability" needs, I broke down and dropped by the Apple Store last night and - after having visited the store four times and carefully considering the available options - I bought a MacBook Air. My friend Matt patiently watched while I substantially delayed our arrival at the movie theater. Good sport, that Matt.
In case anyone's keeping track, the current game score in the Hughes household Windows vs. Apple system showdown is: Windows 2 (technically 3 if you count the roomie's machine), Apple 2 (or 3 if you count the iPhone). I'm not a Switcher, but I am an Adder.
VMWare Fusion, a very cool app that will let me run Windows apps on the Mac, is coming soon. I will write up my experiences at some point with that process, with a focus on how it works from the perspective of an IT guy. There are - plain and simple - certain apps that are only available on Windows that I need to use, so it will provide me with both worlds, at the same time. You can learn about Fusion here
Everyone and their brother have already posted reviews and articles about the MacBook Air, so no point in me rehashing the obvious. Here are my initial highlights:
- Keyboard - Backlit, brightness auto-adjusts, nice keys, quiet typing.
- Screen - Excellent backlight, also auto-adjusts, bright and contrasty.
- Thin - Well, duh. And light, too. That was what got me to look in the first place.
- Battery - Not going to get the advertised 5 hours, but I have pounded it pretty hard for about 2.5 and its still advertising an hour left on the battery (first charge)
- Close-lid-sleep-wake-up drill - Nice and quick. I like that.
Also, I picked up the "incase" brand neoprene sleeve case they had at the Apple store, which is really very nice. I am already liking it. Great protection and hey, it's all black. :)
I got home, opened it up despite being very tired, ran through the setup (nice, easy and cool), eventually climbed into bed and watched this past week's episode of Lost in HD on the 'net. The Air is a great computer for that, too. I like.
Thursday, 20 March 2008
Stories at CNN, Ars Technica and CNET are covering the fact that Apple is working on a plan that would allow unlimited "free" access to the iTunes music library - if users paid more up-front for their iPod devices.
This sounds interesting, but it seems like an up-front charge (when you buy the device, as a one-time fee) might have some legal (not to mention business viability) challenges associated with it. Now, if they were to go with a Zune-like monthly subscription model, that would be a whole different story. It would actually make a lot of sense.
Group-think/conventional wisdom seems to be that since the average iPod/Phone user spends about $20 total on music through the iTunes store, it would make sense to charge everyone that much up front. Others say something more like $80 is more reasonable. I think they're all wrong: Charge me $20 up front, and I will do everything I can to maximize - in a big way - that mandatory investment. People only spend an average of $20 because they have to keep paying. Charge that up front and grant them unlimited access, and they'll download more music than you can possibly imagine.
That's where the Zune Pass idea is a better one. Recurring monthly revenue of a predictable, fixed amount (which is great from a business standpoint) and a happy customer base. I just don't see a one-time fixed fee model holding water for very long. But then again, if your intent (hypothetically) is to launch a firestorm campaign to (further) monopolize the market and then dump it as unviable... Well, you might actually succeed at one goal by failing at another. Just an thought. :)
Monday, 10 March 2008
Ahhh, a big thank-you to Google. I can now sync both directions between Outlook 2007 and my Google Calendar account thanks to Google Calendar Sync. Simply install one little program that occupies (another) space in the taskbar, and set it to sync as often as you wish. Simple as that. I like simple.
I just installed the app, specified my Google Apps account (yep, it work with the Apps calendars, too) and everything was perfect. Can't ask for more than that.
You can set the direction of information flow (from Google Calendar to Outlook, from Outlook to Google Calendar, or both directions), as well.
Quick, useful, easy and it "just works." This whole mobility concept is starting to become more and more usable and seamless. Nice.
UPDATE: In the comments and in email, a couple smart people have asked some important questions regarding whether the app syncs everything it needs to. My thoughts: "So, there's certainly room for improvement, and it looks like some relatively simple enhancements with corresponding configuration options would make this an even better app for a broader range of users."
Thursday, 06 March 2008
Microsoft and Apple have announced that they are working together to make Exchange Server and the iPhone mobile phone work well together. Apple will license Exchange ActiveSync for use on the iPhone, which will in Turn help assure the Exchange Server dominance in the marketplace stays they way it is. It's really as simple as that.
The fact is that Exchange is a pretty terrific server product for email, calendaring and a lot more. The iPhone is a pretty terrific mobile device. They don't integrate too terribly well today: You can sync your calendar and contacts via the USB connection to your computer, and you can get IMAP email from a properly-configured Exchange server (which works, but is not exactly optimal). But it's far from simple, far from seamless, and far from supportable in the enterprise.
One has to wonder what this means, either directly or indirectly, for the Windows Mobile world. I know the arguments: Different markets, different platforms, different purposes, etc. etc. etc... but with the iPhone SDK availability, that gap will be much narrower. And the fact of the matter is, Apple has the usability nailed with the iPhone. Sure, there's a few enhancements needed. But those are ones that can (and I'm certain will) be done.
ActiveSync will provide the ability (assuming Apple leverages all the features) to do push email, calendar and contact sync over the air, and task list sync.
Perhaps one of the more important potential benefits from ActiveSync integration with the iPhone is the ability to get enterprise-class security on the device, which to date is lacking and doesn't meet the needs or standards of most commercial IT departments. Exchange 2007 clients can be set up for enforced enterprise IT "policies" or controls, which would go a long way toward satisfying the security needs. In my mind, that's the biggest potential win. Without that, pushing email and syncing calendars and contacts is to risky an activity.
From Apple's press release come details of what they intend to provide - and it looks liek Cisco VPNs are in the package, as well:
Apple has licensed Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft and is building it right into the iPhone, so that iPhone will connect out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007 for secure over-the-air push email, contacts, calendars and global address lists. Built-in Exchange ActiveSync support also enables security features such as remote wipe, password policies and auto-discovery. The iPhone 2.0 software supports Cisco IPsec VPN to ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data, as well as the ability to authenticate using digital certificates or password-based, multi-factor authentication. The addition of WPA2 Enterprise with 802.1x authentication enables enterprise customers to deploy iPhone and iPod touch with the latest standards for protection of Wi-Fi networks.
The iPhone 2.0 software provides a configuration utility that allows IT administrators to easily and quickly set up many iPhones, including password policies, VPN setting, installing certificates, email server settings and more. Once the configuration is defined it can be easily and securely delivered via web link or email to the user. To install, all the user has to do is authenticate with a user ID or password, download the configuration and tap install. Once installed, the user will have access to all their corporate IT services.
Good move Apple. Good move Microsoft. Looking forward to this one!
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Mine iPhone's jail-broken to let me use a couple truly-useful apps written by third parties, so I'll just wait a few hours before I apply this update from Apple, but early reports are that this new version of the iPhone/Touch firmware can be jail-broken using ZIPHONE (for the adventurous only of course), but note that the author (Zibri) says not to upgrade yet, and to wait for him to create a quick update. No problem. I like having my NetFlix queue available, so jail-breaking is in the cards for me.
The Unofficial Apple Weblog has all the goods and is updating with more info as they discover the details of this firmware release. So far bug fixes seems to be the official word.
Nice that Apple's supplying regular fixes. I'm not exactly counting on being pleasantly surprised and finding things like 802.1x and a whole slew of other needed enhancements, though. Hopefully some day.
Monday, 11 February 2008
UPDATE: Want to be able to track a BlackBerry when it gets lost or stolen with a more robust online system? Check out GadgetTrak, available for GSM-based devices.
Got a Blackberry? Ever worried what you'd do if you lost it? Ever actually had to replace a lost one before? Lost or stolen, it's good to be able to find your handheld, especially if it has important data on it.
A couple years ago I was in Minnesota on a trip and went to play FrisbeeTM Golf with a friend. The course went through the woods and across a couple fields. When we got done, I realized my Blackberry phone was missing. Not good.
We used my friend's cell phone and started calling it. I got lucky that day. It was (thankfully) not on vibrate mode, and we eventually found it deep in the woods (where I had been forced to bushwhack in order to get to my flying disc). The battery was near dead.
Now it appears there's a better way. Berry Locator is a software program that will cause your Blackberry device to scream and flash - even when set on silent mode. When you lose your device (or if you can't find it in the house clutter) you just send it a specially-formed email and it wakes up and does its thing, letting you find it. Even better, if your BB has GPS capabilities, you send an email and it will reply via email with a map showing you the coordinate where the device is located. Plus, you can type text in the body of your email that will be displayed on the screen when it's activated, in case someone else finds (or otherwise has possession of) your Blackberry.
Combine that feature with a password, data encryption and the ability to nuke the device in a worst-case scenario (on a corporate BES system), and you're pretty good to go.
Cool capability, but it only works if you install it ahead of time. There's a free trial version, and when you decide to buy it, it's only five bucks.
I've been a monthly customer of T-Mobile's hotspot service for a few years. I used the service almost exclusively at Starbucks stores. So, with the new announcement that AT&T and Starbucks will be offering two-hour chunks of use for free if you have a Starbucks card (the refillable type) as well as a $20 per month unlimited use option. It looks like I will no longer need the more-expensive T-Mobile account. The only time I've ever used it outside of Starbucks was at airport locations (Red Carpet Club), and I'm not flying as much as I used to (thank goodness).
You can't really beat free WiFi, and it's everywhere these days (except Starbucks), so this is a smart move in my mind.
While final pricing structures could change, some details have come out: the service will cost $3.99 for two hours of Internet access. But those customers who register and use their Starbucks card will receive two hours of free access per day. An unlimited plan is available for $19.99, which includes access to over 70,000 AT&T hotspots worldwide.
Existing T-Mobile HotSpot customers aren't being left out in the cold; thanks to an agreement with AT&T, they can continue to access the Wi-Fi at Starbucks without paying extra.
Also, see the ars techncia coverage at this link.
Saturday, 09 February 2008
I don't think I have actually mentioned it here before (oops), but I use Twitter on a semi-regular basis to jot down thoughts, post my "status" and keep an eye on what some other people are doing. My Twitter name is greghughes (go figure), so feel free to add me to your follow list, or whatever. :)
Twitter has a mobile client (at m.twitter.com, but note that it only works on a mobile device) that works, but it's pretty basic and feature-incomplete. So, since I had some time this evening I decided to look around for software (to run on the PC) and web-based (for the iPhone) clients.
I found a few options, including a really nice web-based client specifically made for the iPhone (or the iPod Touch) called PocketTweets, which is clean in appearance and includes pretty much all the Twitter functionality. I can post my own Twitter updates (called "Tweets"), send replies to others, or anything else on Twitter I might want. It's certainly better than any of the other clients I found. Very cool.
Next I need to find a good Windows client that won't crash when run on a 64-bit OS. I've been using Snitter, which is pretty okay but doesn't quite work (update) reliably enough in my experience and I'm not much of a fan of bright and contrasty color schemes. Any ideas?
Tuesday, 05 February 2008
Well, we knew it was coming. Apple's 16GB iPhone is here and it's $100 more than the one we already have. I wonder how many they'll build and sell. It looks like the only change is the storage capacity. For some I guess another 8GB is nice to have, but for me I don't need it. I'll make a move (quickly) when a 3G iPhone ships. Hopefully soon, and hopefully with features like MMS and video recording. iPhone is available in an 8GB model for $399 and the new 16GB model for $499.
There's also a 32GB iPod Touch. Now that's kinda cool. But I already have an iPhone, and if I buy another media player it will probably be a Zune.
So... Anyone buying?
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Well, it's finally happened. Apple has released iTunes v18.104.22.168 along with the iPhone v1.3 software, adding support for syncing with 64-bit Windows Vista in this new version. So, I have updated the iPhone (and lost my custom apps at least for now as a result) and am a happy camper. Relying on the aging Mac Mini desktop to sync was not working well for me. Now I can sync to my notebook.
Apple plans to introduce formal support for third-party apps through their own developer program next month, so I will happily wait a little while and hope for my couple of apps that I liked (especially the iFlix NetFlix manager app, one of my recent favorites).
There are some great enhancements, especially in the Google Maps application. Check out some of the new capabilities here in a Apple video tour of the January '08 update.
I left my iPhone at home one day last week when I drove to Portland for a day of jury duty followed by time trying to meet up with other people I know. I didn't notice until I was halfway to the city that I had forgotten it, so it was too late to go back and get it. All afternoon I realized how much I rely on my phone for regular daily stuff and how much others rely on my having it with me, as well.
Now I just have to sync up my purchased stuff from the iTunes Store and get the Audible account moved over. After that, I'm golden!
Friday, 26 October 2007
There's been a slight lack of specific information about the actual Gmail IMAP rollout timeframes (the phrase being thrown around - "a few days" - is sufficiently vague, yet it tends to make one think of the number "three"), as well as a lack of information about Google Apps email service and IMAP on that system (as opposed to the generic Gmail platform). Some people already have IMAP enabled. I don't yet. I'm a little bummed, but I know how these massive rollouts for a system this size can be. They don't just happen automagically. So I exercise patience and use this time to drive myself nuts, heh.
Anyhow, I went looking for some specifics over at the Google Help site today, and found some new content in the Apps for Administrators specific help, as well as a linked description of how long it may be before I see it show up in my Apps email accounts:
We're working hard to roll out IMAP access to all our users, but it'll take about a week.
To use IMAP, you must have your interface language set to 'English (US)'. You'll know that IMAP is available in your account when the Forwarding and POP tab in your settings becomes Forwarding and POP/IMAP.
Until then, thanks for your patience!
There's a variety of other IMAP Setup related topics there as well. And you'll want to check out these third-party resources for some details in configuring things like iPhone and Thunderbird (or any client, really) so it works just the way you want it to:
So, within less than a week it sounds like, and I have the info I need to optimize my clients when it does happen. Nice - that helps. :)
Thursday, 27 September 2007
iTunes (and my friend John) reports that v1.1.1 of the iPhone software is available. Since I have third party apps installed, I am hesitant to install it just yet. My phone has not been unlocked carrier-wise, but app-tap is on there.
I think I will wait a little while and see what people have to say. No point being the guinea pig on this one. :)
UPDATE: I was able to update my app-tap-modified iPhone to v1.1.1 without a restore required, no problems. Of course, I no longer have any third-party apps on the device, so I will be looking for updates there in the next few days.
Where to look in early moments to see what works and doesn't? Well, Engadget is such a great place...
mcg @ Sep 27th 2007 2:14PM
What the hell, I'm trying it now. I haven't unlocked my SIM but I have AppTapp installed and a number of applications, including SummerBoard. I'll let you know how it goes.
Ben Kreeger @ Sep 27th 2007 2:16PM
Yes, please let me know what happens; I've got AppTapp installed.
mcg @ Sep 27th 2007 2:19PM
Oops, it's probably best that I reply to my original post. I got the dreaded "unknown error" when attempting to install the software right off the bat. Maybe undoing jailbreak would have averted that problem, but what's done is done. Now I am having to use the iTunes Restore Phone feature. Looks like I'll be losing my apps and my data. No big deal to me, really, but beware. I'll post again when I'm up and running with 1.1.1.
mcg @ Sep 27th 2007 2:25PM
Now I'm back in action. Lost apps and data. Had to reenter my voicemail password.
Interestingly, I have a new icon next to the standard BlueTooth blue icon---it's in the shape of my bluetooth headset. Looks to be a batter meter. Nice.
mcg @ Sep 27th 2007 2:27PM
Now I'm syncing my photos, music, calendar, etc. It's going to take awhile, so I'll wrap it up here. Bottom line, if you've done a jailbreak, be prepared to start from scratch. It would be nice if someone could un-jailbreak the phone and see if that prevents us from having to reinstall everything.
Monday, 24 September 2007
One of the things that disappointed me when I got my iPhone home and unboxed it was the fact that all the headphones I already have won't fit in the headphone jack. The iPhone headphone socket is recessed, so the plug slides inside. Most common headphones with a standard 3.5mm plug won't fit. While the earbuds that come with the iPhone are pretty good, Apple's earbuds have never fir my ears all that well. So, well you get the idea.
But this morning on the JKOnTheRun site, Kevin Tofel points us to an inexpensive and useful adapter that fits into the iPhone's recessed jack and lets you plug your "standard" plugs in without worry. Headsets with microphones built in work, as well.
Best of all, for now it's only $3.95 and the company that is selling it - Helium Digital - is also providing free shipping. I've ordered mine. What a bargain.
Friday, 21 September 2007
Lots of iPhone posts recently, I am aware. I promise I will get other topics up here. But I need to tell you about my service experience with Apple this week, as it exemplifies why great service is so valuable - not just to the customer, but to the company as well.
As I described recently, I had a mishap with my iPhone where a new holster that was way too tight resulted in a flying iPhone that bounced off my hand, off my knee, to the floor and a subsequent small dent that prevented the power/lock button from working at all. In a nutshell, the phone got damaged after I dropped it (although I maintain it should be a bit more resilient and the holster I bought sucks design-wise).
So, as I said I would the other day, I took the phone and a small dose of hope with me to the Apple store here in the Portland area to show it to them and see what it would take to get it fixed (meaning how many dollars). As I also said that day, my expectations were low in terms of service coverage. Boy, was I ever surprised.
I took the phone to the store, signed up to speak with one of their experts on the in-store concierge system, walked around the mall for about 30 minutes, and then went back to the store. The techs looked at the iPhone, saw the problem, listened to me for about 15 seconds as I described what had happened, and immediately proceeded to arrange to have the situation rectified.
Wow. As I listened to the service tech telling me they didn't have a replacement phone available right then and there (they were out of stock) and that he expected more in the store the next day, I actually got a little confused. "So how will this work?" I asked. "Will I use the loaner and bring it back here when my phone is fixed?"
"Nope," he said. "We stopped the loaner program. We're just going to give you anew phone. I'm sorry I don't have any in stock right now, but we'll call you as soon as we get one in, probably tomorrow. Since your phone is basically working except for this button why don't you take it with you and you can bring it back when the new one comes in, and then we'll just swap out the SIM and everything right here when you come back."
I think I looked shocked. At least based on the look on his face. He smiled.
"Wow," I said. "Thanks!"
"Not a problem, not at all. You need a working iPhone." said the tech.
And less than 24 hours later I received the call, went to the store, and got the replacement in short order, no waiting. They even let me exchange the decidedly crappy holster case that was so problematic for a much better model, which you can see here.
Kudos to Apple for its quick, unflinching, natural and truly customer-centric reflexes. It felt 100% authentic and the focus was on whether I was happy as a customer and if the product was meeting my needs and working properly. I can tell you this: I have already started looking at other Apple products in the store and have visited the online store a few times since this experience, as well. I am much, much more likely to buy Apple sometime in the future as a result - and that means in my personal decisions as well as professional business ones.
There's something to be learned here, for sure.
Thursday, 20 September 2007
Over at http://ipxsync.com/ there's information about a new service, listed as currently in beta, that will allow you to get your Exchange information on your iPhone. Appropriately dubbed iPXSync, it's offered SaaS style and they say will be simple to set up and get running.
UPDATED: Someone from iPXSync sends along this link to a FAQ page (nice that they're watching the discussion and participating!), and Kevin over at JKOnTheRun also posted about this, and has posted a follow-up that helps to answer some of the same questions I have.
All security concerns aside (the iPhone has quite literally no IT controls available for it in case you lose it or something), it's an interesting possibility and it'll be fun to see how they deliver this. I'm hoping it's what people are assuming - wireless connectivity to the information on Exchange in the actual installed apps on the iPhone, although without proxying and (therefore) potentially storing highly sensitive information on the service's hosts, that might be really hard to do (and a big red flag for any corporate user with half a brain). So, I hope they have something really smart and secure dreamed up. We shall see. I am also wondering how they'll deal with tasks from Exchange. And that makes me wonder if this will all be browser-based, or if they'll be app-tapping their way in, or what (in which case iPhone OS upgrades become a concern).
Ahh, questions abound. :)
From the web site:
iPXSync provides iPhone users with real-time m
obile access to all of their critical Microsoft Exchange Server information including email, message folders, calenders and tasks.
iPXSync is a zero-installation solution that requires no special software, hardware or configuration changes on the Exchange Server.
iPXSync is offered as Software as a Service (SaaS), which means it is immediately available with no expensive upfront fees, and you can be up and running in just minutes.
Technorati Tags: iPhone
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Navizon is a cool company that has some great technology that takes data from your mobile device - such as cataloged WiFi access points and cell towers your phone can "see" - and then uses that data to triangulate and plot you on a map.
There's a new third-party app for the iPhone that runs Navizon and connects to their service to use the data from the iPhone, and which then feeds your location to the Google Maps app and pinpoints you. Nice. Requires the AppTap installer, of course.
Not nearly as good as something like TeleNav, but very cool and useful nonetheless. It gets you fairly close, especially where WiFi access points are used for reference. I have installed the app on my iPhone and am trying it out today. It was able to find me accurately within a city block earlier, and other times it reported there was no known data points visible to the service. At least so far all it has used is WiFi access points to get a fix, not cell towers, so there might be something I need to change or set up, not sure.
Expect their service to be a little bit overwhelmed with excited iPhone users today and in the near future, in the event you experience problems signing up for a Navizon account.
Reference: iPhone Atlas
Monday, 17 September 2007
As I mentioned the other day, my iPhone dropped in a partially-broken fall (bobbled with one hand but not caught) from about the height of my knees or slightly above down to the ground, and dented the case so the button that switches off the display and power and provides reboot capabilities, etc. no longer works. The plastic is jammed and prevented from moving by the tiny piece of bent metal case.
I'll be taking it to the Apple Store this afternoon to see what - if anything - they are willing to do for me. Their service coverage specifically says they won't cover damage due to accident or neglect, so I will cross my fingers (it was such a short drop), but not hold my breath. The non-warranty repair costs they quote are high enough to make me consider just buying a replacement phone. Of course we would have to see what AT&T has to say about that, as well. We'll see.
UPDATE: After dropping the Apple Store and setting up an appointment, I waited for my time to come up and then spent a total of about five minutes with one of the service employees there. I briefly explained what had happened, he showed it to the service manager, and they immediately arranged for a replacement. Wow. I'm floored. So much so I started looking at more products in the store and seriously considering them.
At any rate, on the Boy Genius Report site I just saw this gray anodized replacement cover for about $47.00. Hmm. It's interesting to me when I think about taking the thing apart and fixing it myself, since the one thing that worries me the most about doing that is the lack of a suitable replacement metal case part.
In the pictures it's apparent that there's no metal supporting pieces in there, it's just the metal case skin, and from this article (great detail and pictures there) it looks like there's a lot of glue to dissolve in the process of moving parts, but it's entirely possible. Plus a black case would be, well, cool. Heh.
Hmm, a decent disassembly tutorial video too. Heh. Use at your own risk. I like the lowered and faster-paced voice for the disclaimer at the beginning. Classic.
I won't undertake a tear-down-and-rebuild yet. Apple Store
gets got the first shot, and won hands-down. But it's interesting to see what the community is doing and what the self-service, warranty-breaking, hardware-hacking options are.
Friday, 14 September 2007
I was interviewed yesterday for a Business Week article that appears today, discussing the value of mobile-phone-based GPS services and why they're becoming so popular. The article is well-written and covers the bases in a couple quick pages. It's kind of funny to be interviewed as a consumer - Most of my interview experience has been as a security expert, so this was fun.
I'm a power mobile user in a very practical sense. I travel a lot, and very frequently to places I have never been before. As a result, I am always having to find my way to new locations in unfamiliar lands. So, over the past couple years, GPS-enabled technology has become my friend.
I started my GPS navigation experience a few years back with a laptop and a serial USB add-on that you stuck on your dash, powered separately via lighter socket, etc. eventually I updated to a USB GPS device that worked similarly. The software I used (Delorme's Street Atlas USA, a couple different versions) was very cool and you could actually speak to it and it would take your commands and talk back to you. I could say, "Computer, where am I?" and it would reply with something like, "You are heading north on US Highway 30 at 61 miles per hour. You are in Columbia County, Or-ee-gohn." It never really pronounced Oregon correctly, but hey that's the text-to-speech technology of a few years ago. The hardware and software has all been substantially upgraded since then and works even better. But I can't lug a laptop around in the car to do simple navigation (although I did just that on a trip all over southern California once), plus there's a whole class of information I use today that you just don't have access to on the laptop in the car.
I also got my 4-wheeler ATV with GPS capability onboard. I pretty much never use it, but on occasion it's been useful to mark waypoints at intersections on logging roads I'm cruising (oh wait, I never do that) so I can know which turns to take on the way back. There's no map capability, but an arrow points at your next waypoint and the display tells you how far away it is. Pretty useful.
Eventually I decided I needed something more usable, which at the time meant picking up a stand-alone in-car GPS device - the Magellan Roadmate 760. It was a great unit. I'd decided prior to that not to get an in-dash unit (and I am glad I did, since I never travel distances in my own car, see further down). It served me well, but as I traveled more and more I found it to be too large and clunky to stuff in a backpack and run through airports and in rental cars. So I gave it to a friend of mine who used it until it crapped out.
My next device was smaller Magellan unit, on sale at Costco, and included real-time traffic information over the air and the ability to suggest alternate routes, which is very cool. It's a great device (and my friend who had the 760 is using it now), but again it's one more thing to carry around. I found myself printing out paper driving directions or copy/pasting/emailing the Google Maps directions to myself before I left for a trip, instead of packing and carrying the GPS unit. Again, I have enough junk to carry around, and even the compact model meant too much stuff.
When I got my Blackberry 8800 with GPS built into the unit and the TeleNav service, I had found the perfect navigation device for my needs. Some people argue that paying ten bucks a month for the service is not something they'd be willing to do, and that Google Maps on the Blackberry is awesome, but I disagree (strongly). Google Maps is cool, but it's far from a useful and safe navigation system. You have to type, keyboard navigate, and read tiny print. Plus, it doesn't have anywhere near the information provided through the TeleNav service.
I wrote about my experiences with the Blackberry and TeleNav in the past. You might want to read those entries for some early perspective:
In those entries I explained a few of the real differentiators of the service. Here's a summary of what I get from the TeleNav service that makes it so perfect:
- Maps are always up-to-date with the latest available data and can be downloaded as needed. With a standalone device you have to download map updates, which you must pay for, and in the real world the GPS device makers rarely make updates available.
- The annual cost (since I already have the Blackberry and its cost is already easily justified for its various other uses) is about $120.00, which means after about three years you'll spend as much as you would on a mid-tier stand-alone GPS device - One that doesn't have live traffic updates and where the maps are only as accurate as the day the manufacturer loaded them on the device (meaning always out of date).
- I always have my phone with me, and in turn I always have my GPS device with me.
- No extra cords or brackets or suction cups or anything to haul around.
- Small, tiny, compact, and works great.
- Because it's on a data-enabled phone, the service provides all sorts of useful real-time capabilities in its directories and interfaces.
- I can enter an address, search for a class of business, or type in a name of a business or place, and it will find the closest matches to my location, let me call them and route me to them. Better than Google Maps does, by far.
- Advanced directory services like search for the closest gas station, or search for the lowest gas prices near me. Let me tell you, when you're in a hurry to get to an airport and don't want to pay the $8 a gallon the rental company charges to fill the stupid car for you, that $9.95 a month starts to sounds really inexpensive. And it is, after all, about the savings of time and money, not just the direct cost of the service.
- I get real-time traffic and re-routing, which has proven useful a few times, as well as turn by turn directions spoken out loud with a clear visual view of the immediate situation, so I can glance and see what's next. Google Maps does only a rudimentary version of this, which requires finding the right keys to click, reading a lot of information on the screen rather than looking at the road, and a map scrolling feature that frequently fails. Simple fact: It's a lot safer and usability is better with the TeleNav interface and capabilities. Google maps is cool if you want to know where you are and maybe your passenger is telling you where to turn next. Otherwise it's just not up to par with the services and software available out there today.
I like the TeleNav so much I actually pulled the SIM card out of my iPhone the other day while I was up in Seattle and put it into the Blackberry 8800 so I could use the TeleNav GPS service to find my way around (and interestingly it worked swapping the card). I brought the Blackberry with me just in case I needed it for specifically that. Yeah, I know - back to carrying two devices. Well, at least they're small ones.
Now, if TeleNav could be installed and work on the iPhone, we'd be screaming! We can only hope.
I was just looking at the Apple iPhone Store Credit site (after chatting with a friend who just took advantage of his $100 credit) and noticed the one of the documentation graphic photos of the iPhone (see right) shows software v1.1.1 (3B13) as the version running on the device. Click the Get Started link on the starting page and then scroll all the way down to see the graphic on the site. Since the latest release version (the one I have) is v1.0.2, there must be a new release coming very soon - and just as you'd expect with the addition on new features like the WiFi Store, it gets a second-decimal upgrade. Interesting that it's not v1.1.0 though. Hmm.
So I did a quick look-see in my RSS reader and lo-and-behold, iPhone Atlas is all over the case. That's a great site, by the way, if you want to stay on top of iPhone information, for sure.
Below is what iPhone Atlas says we should expect. It will be interesting to see how well this list matches up.
Backing speculation spurred by an image on Apple’s iPhone store credit page that shows software version 1.1.1 (3B13) — the latest current release is 1.0.2 (1C28) — we’ve received word from reliable sources that an iPhone software/firmware update is imminent. Here’s what’s expected:
iTunes WiFi store Already available on the iPod touch, Apple promised delivery of the iTunes WiFi store for iPhones some time in the month of September. The functionality is expected to be added to the iPhone with this firmware update, or independently pushed to the iPhone via EDGE/WiFi.
Playback controls while sleeping/locked The iPod Touch sports a function that allows the home button to be pressed twice in order to bring up various media playback controls (volume, skip forward/backward) without fully unlocking the device. This feature is expected to be added to the iPhone in this release.
International/multiple keyboard support As previously reported the iPod Touch sports keyboard functionality that is far more robust than the iPhone’s, currently. It provides keyboards in 14 different languages, and supports alternative keyboard formats including QWERTZ and AZERTY. It can also make two or more keyboards available simultaneously, and has a feature that allows you to quickly type a period by double-tapping the spacebar. These features are expected to be added to the iPhone’s keyboard function in this software/firmware update.
Bug fixes/stability enhancements A slew of bug fixes and stability enhancements, including improvements for WiFI/EDGE networking are expected to be incorporated in the forthcoming release.
Hack/unlock concerns There is a significant likelihood that this update will undo unlocks (allowing the iPhone to be used on networks other than AT&T) that make use of a buffer overflow, including the iPhoneSIMFree method, and the freely available iUnlock method.
It is also likely that the iPhone will need to be re-hacked after the update to accept third-party binary applications (see our guide for instructions on doing so). Note that after changes were made to the iPhone’s software with iTunes 7.4.x, some iPhones entered an endless rebooting cycle when re-hacked, fixed via this method.
Check out iPhone Atlas for more, and subscribe to their feed for lots of great future info.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
Updated: If you're wondering how this was resolve by Apple in my particular case, you can read about it here.
Ugh, this just had to happen.
I went to an Apple Store up in Bellevue, Washington yesterday before the nerd dinner and picked up a couple things, namely a Jawbone Bluetooth headset (which is awesome, more on that later), a touch-screen glass protector and a leather holster for my iPhone.
Don't buy the leather holster. Long story short, it's too tight, there's no way you can keep a good grip on the phone when you try to pry it out of the holster on your waist, and when it does come out you'll be lucky if it doesn't have some real velocity and inertia behind it. Like I said, you'll be lucky if.
I wasn't that lucky.
As I left the hotel today a text message chimed in and I went to pull the phone from the holster. It was hard to pull on, and when it finally gave way it came out fast, bounced off the palm of my hand, down my leg and to the floor. Actually, it didn't really hit that hard. Nowhere near as hard as every other phone I have ever had.
But the metal case that encloses the iPhone is apparently pretty soft. As in, it bends easily. The "power" button (that one on the upper right top edge) is now stuck and won't operate because even though the fall was broken and slowed, the soft-ish metal bent just enough to tweak the opening where the plastic button sticks though. So, now it's effectively jammed. Argh.
I was near the Apple Store (same one) when this happened and so I went there to see what I will have to do to get it fixed, but the wait for one of their "experts" was like three hours, and I had to dive into Seattle traffic to make the trip back home to Portland. So, I'll cal Apple or take it to the local store in the next day or so.
I'd recommend a couple things based on this experience. Again, don't use the leather holster, it's just a poor design, and one that a friend of mine has has loosened up over the month he has had it, but to the point where it no longer properly holds the phone (it went from tight to too loose, go figure). Also, if you're prone to dropping phones, go straight out and get one of the rubber armored slip-on cases. I sure wish I had chosen that instead of the holster. Hopefully this will help someone avoid a problem and the expense I am sure to be faced with when I get this thing fixed.
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
Gearlog's got a post online where Apple's head marketing guy, Greg Joswiak, lets the world know that while they won't support it, Apple also won't try to stop or break the iPhone app community's progress on getting new apps built and onto the iPhone. Then apparently they clarified a couple times and now say future updates probably will break native iPhone apps:
iPhone native application developers, take heart: Apple doesn't hate you. And now you have a whole new device to play with.
Updated 3:15 PM: Apple says "software updates will most likely break" native apps as they go forwards.
Updated 1:15 PM: I just got a call from Joswiak who wanted to make clear: "not hate" doesn't mean "like" or "support." I think I made that clear further down, but they said that some people may not be reading all the way down this piece. So to summarize: Apple will neither forbid nor support native code on the iPhone/Touch. They will not design software updates specifically to break native apps, but if the updates happen to break native apps or your native apps turn your iPhone into a rutabaga, don't go crying to Apple, 'cause it ain't their problem. Capiche?
Nice. I am off to install a few apps myself later today or tomorrow. First on deck is a RSS reader. And maybe a cool lightsaber application heh.
Coming soon: A list of cool iPhone resources I have been collecting as I investigate and search for stuff and chat with people I know.
Monday, 10 September 2007
I won't be unlocking my own iPhone from the AT&T network simply because for me there is no benefit to doing so (although I probably will be messing with it from the standpoint of hacking in some third party apps). But, if you have aneed or desire and you want to run down and grab an iPhone (be sure to pay for it after you grab it) and set it up on TMobile in the US or on any GSM service provider(carriers with SIM cards) elsewhere, you can get the software now via iPhoneSIMFree resellers. Be sure to read the fine print about no guarantees it will work if Apple updates the iPhone software with a block, etc.
Here's a link to the video from Engadget showing it actually working.
Thursday, 06 September 2007
I'm quickly learning the pain of running a 64-bit OS on my new laptop. Of course, that's the version of Windows Vista Ultimate it came with, what with all the processors being sold these days are 64-bit and all.
I went to install iTunes (which installed with a message explaining it would not be able to copy CDs) and activate the new iPhone, and what do you think I see?
Crap. You have got to be kidding me.
Apparently this is a well-known issue. Except that I didn't know and on the box it says, "Windows Vista" is supported, without any mention of version or 32-bit vs 64-bit. reading the fine print details of the release notes one finds a buried mention of no support for 64-bit Windows. Hmph.
Now I have to decide what to do - return the phone out of pure spite, or sync it to a different computer... Sorry, but "lame" is the only word that comes to mind here. Fanboys will undoubtedly spew vitriol at that statement, but it's still lame.
Ideas anyone? Will a 32-bit OS running in a virtual machine work for me maybe?
Wednesday, 05 September 2007
Glad I didn't buy one yesterday. I thought about it. Considered it. Decided it was too much money at $600. Now it's $399. It can't feel good to me the proud owner of an 8GB iPhone that was purchased before today though. Ouch.
UPDATE: Om Malik points out that if you bought one in the past 14 days at the old price, you should be eligible for a refund of the difference. He quotes the Apple return policy:
Should Apple reduce its price on any Apple-branded product within fourteen (14) calendar days of the date of purchase, you may request a refund of the difference between the price paid and the current selling price. An original purchase receipt is required, and you must request your refund within fourteen (14) calendar days of the price reduction.
Now that it's in my range I can reconsider, but then again there probably won't be any in stock to grab. Heh.
Read about it pretty much everywhere, including here.
Monday, 30 July 2007
Ouch, this news is a few days old but I am just catching up on security reading and ran across this one. The securityevaluators.com guys have found some real issues with the iPhone's security and have been able to exploit it. The New York Times and others have covered this recently. Seems much of the iPhone application library runs as admin/root. The overall design of the iPhone seems to rely in large part on preventing apps from running, rather than creating a robust security environment. But leverage browser vulnerabilities or similar issues on a hacked wireless network or Internet web site and it can get very interesting very quickly.
From the executive summary in the findings document:
To demonstrate these security weaknesses, we created an exploit for the Safari browser on the iPhone. We used an unmodified iPhone to surf to a malicious HTML document that we created. When this page was viewed, the payload of the exploit forced the iPhone to make an outbound connection to a server we controlled. The compromised iPhone then sent personal data including SMS text messages, contact information, call history, and voice mail information over this connection. All of this data was collected automatically and surreptitiously. After examination of the file system, it is clear that other personal data such as passwords, emails, and browsing history could be obtained from the device. We only retrieved some of the personal data but could just as easily have retrieved any information off the device.
Additionally, we wrote a second exploit that performs physical actions on the phone. When we viewed a second HTML page in our iPhone, it ran the second exploit payload which forced it to make a system sound and vibrate the phone for a second. Alternatively, by using other API functions we discovered, the exploit could have dialed phone numbers, sent text messages, or recorded audio (as a bugging device) and transmitted it over the network for later collection by a malicious party.
This is the sort of thing I was afraid of when I wrote about the potential for iPhone security and use in the enterprise. Security vulnerabilities are not just about the Windows platform, after all. Here's a mobile platform, effectively in v1, and it has flaws that can be readily exploited. Hopefully Apple will be able to get some patches ready and out before the these evaluators release the details the evening of August 2nd at the Black Hat conference, which is where the researchers - who have already provided Apple with the full details so they can create and distribute a fix - will be presenting their discoveries.
Monday, 16 July 2007
The other day John Batdorf, a sharp guy I work with, stopped me in the hallway and dropped me an email note (which he sent from his iPhone of course) regarding my recent comments about my 10-minute experience with the iPhone. He bought one on the first day and has a great write-up about his experience with the device on his blog.
Specifically, he wanted to get me to check out the on-screen keyboard and the fact that my experiences with key-misses are actually dealt with in software by the iPhone.
Just thought I would mention how great the keyboard really is. Even
when you miss the correct key while typing a word the phone does an
excellent job figuring out the correct word.
I probably missed ten to twenty words above and the phone got them all
right. This entire email took me about one minute to type.
Sent from my iPhone
I'm glad John caught me, handed over his iPhone for a few minutes, and let me have another go at the on-screen keyboard. Sure enough, for the most part if I hit an adjoining key while typing characters, the device was able to figure out what I'd screwed up and correct it for me. Not too shabby.
So, I stand corrected. The keyboard's quite a bit better than I first thought. One more plus for iPhone.
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
Want to know how many minutes you have used this month? Turns out the mobile phone companies have some not-so-well-advertised numbers you can dial to find out exactly how many minutes you've used. They are:
- #646# for Verizon and T-Mobile
- *646# for at&t/Cingular
- #4 for Sprint
Another tidbit of info to help watch the bottom line... Using directory assistance (411) service through the carrier can be quite expensive. So, consider using the Free411 service at 1-800-FREE411 (or 1-800-373-3411 for us numerically-challenged Blackberry types). The cost of using it is actually free, unless you consider the time it takes to listen to a short advertisement on each call. Heck, to save a buck a call, it's worth it I think.
Google Mobile allows you to send a text message to 46645 (google on the keypad) and get back all sorts of information. Check the Google Mobile page to learn about all the cool things you can do there.
For business directory information, you can also call Google up at 800-GOOG-411 (800-466-4411)
Monday, 02 July 2007
I dropped by an at&t wireless phone store yesterday while out cruising around, and checked out the iPhone, which they have a large stock of apparently. I walked in and asked, "Do you have one I can look at?" The answer was "we have lots you can buy if you want to." I got the impression there are a lot of lookers but not a lot of buyers. They certainly are not having stocking problems.
Anyhow, I spent about 10 minutes checking out the phone, and overall I was pretty darned impressed. Certainly the overall user interface is great, and the screen is pretty amazing. I like the clean, simple, intuitive UI for sure. The Apple architecture and usability people did some pretty amazing work, and this is their first phone.
So again - I'm quite impressed. I considered buying one on the spot and my impulse-purchaser controls kicked in and I left. Important to take the time to do things like breathe. And think. Stuff like that.
So, it's great. There were a few things, though, that I had a hard time getting past during my quick run with this
device phone piece of electronic art.
One of those things is the on-screen keyboard. Unless you use a finger and type one letter at a time (no thumb-typing here for sure), it's just not workable. So, if you're sending quick messages a short line at a time you're okay. But typing longer emails or notes won't work from a practical standpoint. For most users that's probably okay. For me that's a big deal.
Next, there's no 3G support - just EDGE. Which is cool in terms of keeping battery consumption minimal but not so fun in terms of data speed. However, the iPhone has WiFi capability, so in some cases there's a fast option.
One more thing I noticed - or at least could not intuitively find - is a lacking ability to copy and paste text. If someone knows how and it's possible, please let me know and I will go back and check that out.
Finally, the lack of some things that might be software-fixable (or I missed the options, so again, correct me if I am wrong): The camera appears to only do still pics, not video. I didn't see MMS capabilities but you can email images. I could not find a way to record audio. Again, all of these are software things so they can change (and this is, after all, the first release).
So - people have asked me the $600 question (I can't see buying the 4GB model, after all):
Will I buy one?
Not yet probably, but it's very very tempting.
I can actually see it happening soon though - and that's actually a surprise to me. I didn't expect to quite so won-over. It's that usable and that nice. Despite my nit-pick list above, overall I think it's great. The phone is sleek, fast, even artistic in it's UI experience. And the things it does, it does quite well. Everything else is left out (at least for now). That's refreshing compared to other models of "smart" phones that try to be everything to everyone and in the process get bogged down in their own usability, stability and performance weaknesses. Apple seems to know where to go as well as when to stop. Others could definitely learn a lesson from that.
Who else has tried one? What did you think?
Thursday, 28 June 2007
I recently ran up against a self-induced application disaster on my Blackberry 8800 (that's what I get for messing with stuff I know will probably break), so I needed to do a clean reset of the device to it's factory defaults and then start over again from scratch. I'm not too keen on the idea of reloading the OS if I don't have to (with over the air configuration I have not used a USB cord on my blackberry except for once since I got it), so I started poking around trying to find the on-board reset capability (they call it "wipe" the handheld device). Nothing like trying to find a command deep in the bowels of a multi-layered system. But, this is one that people should not find it easy to accidentally choose...
So, since I finally found it, note to self for the next time I need it:
Blackberry "Wipe-Handheld" command list (at least for my 8800 - same or similar for other models)
- Options menu
- Security Options
- General Settings
- Wipe handheld
- Enter password ("Blackberry" or your business-assigned security password)
Useful if you're like me an have a tendency to muck around under the hood too much and gak things up. And yeah, that's a word. Gak.
Saturday, 23 June 2007
eWeek has a good summary in their article "Analysts: iPhone Has Neither Security nor Relevance" with a number of links to other resources of the likely security problems introduced by (of not in - we'll see) the iPhone. Certainly the iPhone is not the only device where we have to worry about these types of problems, but let's face it: iPods and other mass storage devices are already too loosely allowed at many companies and organizations, and the hype surrounding the iPhone and the potential excitement of iPod owners can cloud judgement. Read Andrew Storm's article on the topic.
In contrast, Blackberry's enterprise services are well-secured and provide a whole slew of workable and effective controls that the iPhone can't even begin to match up with. In a nutshell, the iPhone is a consumer device that probably doesn't belong in the enterprise - at least not in it's first version. Gartner plans to recommend businesses keep the iPhone out of the enterprise.
Also - sounds like typing on the on-screen keyboard is an index-finger exercise, not for thumb typers. So again, not so much an enterprise device. But we'll see all this stuff for ourselves in just a few days. The iPhone debuts on June 29th.
Note: I think the iPhone is a cool looking device and probably a great consumer item. I'm not knocking the device for consumers, just pointing out it's not appropriate for use in the enterprise. So before anyone starts with "iPhone/Apple-Hater" rhetoric, you can just stop. :)
Monday, 11 June 2007
I just upgraded my Blackberry 8800's TeleNav GPS software to v22.214.171.124 (an update from the the preinstalled v4.7), which was just recently released by TeleNav. It was really darn good before and it's even better now. Included in this release is the until-now-missing-on-the-at&t-network feature of real-time traffic routing updates (dubbed "TeleNav Traffic alerts"). This added capability uses available traffic congestion and hazard feeds to update your route to the quickest available in real-time. In addition, the new version includes improved business listings in the search options and the ability to click on addresses right in the calendar and address book contacts, launching the GPS service automatically. That's something I can easily be grateful for, what with all those hotel addresses embedded in my Outlooks calendar for my travel days.
The UI is also greatly improved. The menus are much shinier and there's now a signal strength meter in the GPS software, a small but welcome addition. Note that when you install and run the first time you'll need to allow the software to set up several hardware and network access permissions, and you'll need to provide your TeleNav account password (which you used the first time you set up) as well. It appears I lost all my favorites in the upgrade process, so just be aware that something like that might happen to you as well. My recent locations list was still up to date. I had to change my map view from overhead back to the 3D birds-eye view as well. None of these things were a big deal for me.
If you have the Blackberry 8800 from at&t and use the TeleNav service, it's a free update for you. Just browse to http://ota.telenav.com/ota/at with your 8800 and download the new version. Note that the update requires a fairly long reboot after it's installed.
From the press release:
TeleNav Traffic alerts users through voice and on-screen prompts to traffic slowdowns and incidents along their programmed travel route. With just one click, customers can choose an alternative route or can remain on the original course. TeleNav Traffic calculates and provides an ongoing estimated time of arrival based on the customer’s current route and the latest traffic information. Subscribers can also view traffic information on a map and see details of surrounding traffic situations.
TeleNav Traffic is a feature of the latest version of TeleNav GPS Navigator™ and is offered as a free feature upgrade for TeleNav GPS Navigator subscribers. TeleNav GPS Navigator v5.1 also includes enhanced business listings, which identify more retailers and office parks. The TeleNav GPS Navigator now allows BlackBerry users to click addresses inside calendar invitations or contact lists for real-time navigation to that location.
Thanks to at&t and TeleNav for making this update happen. My $9.95 a month is going even further now. I have to say, always up to date maps, a small single device and turn-by turn instructions with Traffic is a pretty great deal. Even after say 24 months of using this service you would not have paid as much as you would to buy a GPS unit, and maps on a stand-along unit would be out of date before too long. I'm convinced.
Now I just need to find a way to record video and/or make screenshots from the Blackberry 8800 screen so I can illustrate this stuff...
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
The State of Washington just passed a law last week that makes it illegal to text while driving. Ummm, duh? Too bad we need a law for this, but I guess we do...
From the Seattle PI:
"Under the new laws, drivers who read and compose text messages or talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device could face a $101 ticket. The text-messaging ban takes effect Jan. 1; the cell-phone law will be enforced starting in July 2008.
"Drivers are exempt in some situations, including emergencies, and neither offense will be enough to get a driver pulled over by the police."
Where do they come up with fine amounts like $101, I wonder?
I have to admit, I have been guilty in the past of texting while driving and it's a BAD thing to do. Especially since I have a Blackberry. What the heck was I thinking? I know lots of people who text behind the wheel, really - and it's just not a good idea. I guess we could call it driving under the influence of Crackberry.
At any rate, some things just make sense and I guess I agree with this one. I'm not big on generating lots of laws, but where the end result is that innocent people are protected from ignorant dolts, it's probably worthwhile.
But - it's too bad police cannot pull you over just for texting. You have to be in an accident or exhibit some other violation it seems. Isn't that like waiting to chase the Lion through the zoo as he eats bystanders, when you saw the cage door was open half an hour ago?
Friday, 23 February 2007
I'll write up a couple/few posts about this new mobile phone over the next few days I am sure, but suffice it to say I have swapped out once again and am now using the Blackberry 8800, which was just released to the market by Cingular. You might recall my recent forays into the world of Windows Mobile with the Blackjack and Palm Treo 750.
I just fired up a personal account for the built in GPS navigation system, which is a TeleNav product. It comes preinstalled and all I can say is wow! Very, very nice. I will be using it for spoken turn-by-turn directions this evening to a weekend cabin on Mt. Hood, where I am taking the church youth group for a weekend of
pain skiing and snowboarding.
So yes, I have given up the Palm Treo 750 running Windows Mobile. In the end, it was the lesser of the available evils, but was not stable enough and much of the usability was still quite clunky. It's a good device, but for what I do, once again Windows Mobile just doesn't do it. I have spent four or five hours so far with the Blackberry 8800 and I am supremely impressed. Although the trackball is a little different I like it and am getting used to it quickly. The menus are a little different than they used to be on all previous BlackBerries, but I am adjusting and I can see why they made the changes.
I wish I could write more now, but seven kids are counting on me to be ready to go to the mountain on time. Hey, at least we'll find the cabin when we get there!
Friday, 12 January 2007
If you sense a pattern to my post titles, you're really paying attention. Recently I spent a few weeks using the Samsung Blackjack, a new Windows-mobile smartphone. Within the first 24 hours, as I wrote last month, it became clear to me that the phone wasn't going to work for me, being a power user of mobile technology for critical, fast-paced business. In other words, Crackberry-style. You can read my experiences here, and also know that while I was able to adjust somewhat to the Blackjack, the three weeks that followed that first "24 Hours" post were not significantly better than my initial impressions.
For the past few days I reverted to using my tried-and-true Blackberry 8700 again. I went back because using the Blackjack was holding me back in a substantial way, and I am so busy at work right now I needed to get back to something that would perform and work the way I work. It's worthy of mention that after about 10 minutes using the Blackberry my old wrist pain started to come back. Not a good sign. the 8700 is wider then the Blackjack and the Treo, and I found that holding it was stretching my thumb out in a way that was causing me pain. So, that's a good thing to discover. Also, while I enjoyed the quick usability of the Blackberry the moment I went back to it, I found the screen and general look and feel to be plain and stark after living in Windows Mobile for a few weeks.
Anyhow, on Wednesday this week, a new box arrived via FedEx from Cingular (despite the much-hyped winter storm) and I swapped the Blackjack and the Blackberry back out again in order to give the new Palm Treo 750 a try. This is the latest of the Windows Mobile 2005 enabled Palm devices. It runs Windows Mobile Phone Edition v5, plus Palm has made some nice little enhancements to the home screen (or "Today" screen, as they say) and other software interfaces. To be honest, I was quite skeptical about whether this new device would be sufficient after my experiences over the past few weeks with the Smartphone version of Windows Mobile running on the Blackjack hardware. But I can report today that I am pleasantly surprised, and that I may have actually found a Windows Mobile phone that can replace my Blackberry for real-world use.
To be certain, the Treo 750 is a significantly beefier (both physically and figuratively) device than the Blackjack. But it is fast and smooth, very well designed and crafted, and is thought-out in a way that most other devices are not. Palm's attention to the enhancements they made to the home screen and some of the underlying software is indicative of their usability focus, and that's important. In fact, it may just make the technology sufficiently usable for what I need. Pretty much anything I need is accessible right there on the home screen. Because it's a PocketPC version of Windows Mobile, it has the touch screen and a stylus, so I can use my finger or the metal pen thing. Of course there is also the ubiquitous five-way button pointer just above the keyboard pad that works quite well for navigation, too.
So, what is it that is so much better about the Treo 750 that has me singing it's praises? Let me count a few of the ways:
- It's fast and more powerful. The Treo doesn't miss keystrokes or pause for several to many seconds when you launch an application or try to do normal everyday tasks.
- The way Palm approached text and MMS messaging is very cool - It looks a lot like an instant messaging interface and makes for a fast and positive text messaging experience.
- Better speakerphone.
- More advanced Windows Mobile software, with the ability to run PocketPC applications.
- The keyboard is pretty darned terrific, leaps and bounds better than the Blackjack's.
- The Treo loads web pages reliably and faster than the Blackjack, which is interesting since the 3G network the Treo uses is not (yet) HSPDA. The Treo currently runs on the UMTS network, with a HSPDA software upgrade slated for the first half of this year.
- Check out some of the ease-of-use enhancements in a one-minute PC WORLD video here.
- Check out Cingular's Treo 750 interactive tutorial (about 20 minutes) here.
What are some remaining Treo 750 and Windows Mobile shortcomings? There are a few, if I want to get nit-picky:
- Battery life in my subjective first-day use on the high speed network was better than the Blackjack, but it is still not up to par with what one gets out of the Blackberry (which is and EDGE network device, for the record - slower yet again).
- More proprietary connectors?? I know, it's a Palm creation. But seriously, why the heck can't we just charge and sync via a standard Mini-USB2.0 port? Time to locate and buy some more accessories. If I had $29.00 for every cheap plastic vehicle charger I ever bought, I'd be just about break-even.
- The Inbox application on Windows mobile doesn't let you aggregate all your mail into the main inbox if you use subfolders in Outlook/Exchange to organize your email. More on that and what I did to alleviate the problem this evening can be found below.
Quick sidebar: My friend Trevin reacted in an IM conversation tonight to my petty complaints about the devices by saying, "Oh, cry me a river Hughes." Heh. Hey, man... You know, it's picky, difficult people like me that gently drive usability experts back into their corners and holes (in a friendly way, of course) where they make technology miracles happen in the next rev, and we also provide them with wish lists of things that would make us buy their stuff. Everything I say is intended to be taken from the perspective of "room and opportunity for improvement." Now, Trevin tells me he likes the smaller form factor of the Blackjack. The Treo is just too large and unwieldy for him, he says. Well in my book the Treo is smaller than my Blackberry 8700, at least width-wise, and that's a good thing. The Blackjack was almost too small. And yes, too small is possible - especially when you have to fit a QWERTY keyboard on the thing. Also - Trevin's a truly terrific guy, and I respect his opinions greatly. We have different perspectives, different jobs and use our devices differently. And he was being sarcastc in our IM chat - a little poking fun at friends kind of thing.
For some additional perspective, I'd suggest reading Walter Mossberg's Personal Technology article from Thursday, in which he says he thinks the Blackjack is a better device than the Treo 750 overall, although he recognizes some of the benefits of the Treo. It's clearly a purchase decision to be made based on individual and specific needs. Walt also points out that the newly-announced Apple iPhone (or whatever they end up calling it), which won't be released for several months, will likely be a killer for an of the Windows Mobile phones. Time will tell. The iPhone looks terrific for sure, but until I see one and use it, I am not convinced it would work for my particular business power-user needs. But that's also not likely to be the target market.
As I noted in my Blackjack review and above, I have always been a hyper-organizer of email, using folders and subfolders in Outlook and Exchange to organize email by type and recipient. As a result, due to the way the Windows Mobile Inbox works, in order to see if any email has arrived that gets distributed to any folder other than the inbox, I have to navigate the folder tree on the mobile phone, which requires a whole bunch of clicks and scrolls. Now, the full Windows Mobile edition on the Treo 750 includes a much simpler and easier mechanism in the form of a Folders menu, which allows me to much more easily access the folder list. But what I really wanted was what I was used to: A mobile inbox where all email sits, regardless of how I organize it in my desktop Outlook client.
So, I found myself in a bit of a stuck situation, until I got to thinking about it and spent a few minutes this evening IMing with Trevin. I had briefly thought of dumping all of my Exchange folder hierarchy completely and changing over to using Search Folders in Outlook. Trevin told me he only uses search folders and that he uses them extensively. I am running Outlook 2007, and the search performance in that application pretty slick, so I made up my mind and went straight to my Outlook rules and exported them (just in case), then deleted them all. Now all my email would go to my inbox. I started setting up search folders and found I could actually do a lot more with those than I realized - That's something I will be getting deeper into at a later date. Anyhow, I replicated and created the necessary functionality and effectively solved by mobile inbox issue. Now the phone puts everything where I want it and Outlook shows me what I need to see the way I need to see it, only even better than it did before.
I will always like Blackberries, and I am sure I will be running new ones now and then (since I tend to be the guy who tests the new stuff). But for now, the 8700 is gone and the Treo 750 is in its place. It will be interesting to see how it performs over time, but this time around I have a level of confidence that was not present on the last WinMobile trial. That's a good thing.
What do you think? Have experience with these devices? Any PocketPC/Windows Mobile software you think I can't live without (or would not want to live without)?
Thursday, 07 December 2006
I almost didn't write this one. But then I changed my mind because it occurred to me that there's a lot of people who are in the same boat. Let me be very clear here that this entry is written from the perspective of a business power user, someone who stretches things to their usable limits, and then some.
As many readers here already know, I am a Blackberry guy. Have been for years. Occasionally, I go through the trial phases with other devices, sort of a change-up process that - at least to date - has always ended up being a sort of Blackberry Vacation phase for me.
Anyhow, yesterday I set aside my trusty and scratched Blackberry 8700, with it's extended battery and general useful goodness, to try the latest in Windows Mobile technology for a while - the Samsung Blackjack, procured from Cingular. Giving up my Blackberry, which has survived multiple submersions (don't ask, don't worry) and significant drops on many a hard surface, is not something I take lightly.
The Blackjack looked interesting. I had an opportunity to switch out with no risk and to see what it's all about. The TV commercials had caught my eye, truth be told, and it looked like about as good of a Windows Mobile device as any, probably even better. So, I thought, what the heck... And yesterday it arrived and we swapped out the SIM cards. I went about my business sans-Blackberry and with a sleek new phone. This blog entry is my (rather pointed)comparison of the two devices and software. It's important to note that a comparison point of view is my primary perspective when I review mobile devices. In order to make a switch from what I already have it has to work for me in a business sense, well enough to make me want to move, so a comparison with a power-business-user slant is both fair and meaningful.
Anyhow, It's been an interesting 24+ hours.
First off, the 30,000-foot Gestalt view: To be honest, my hopes have been fairly dashed. No matter how you skin it, from a strict usability standpoint the Windows Mobile 5 experience still just doesn't match that of the Blackberry. It's much closer than it used to be, but the remaining gap is real and there's much work remaining to be done to move into the same category. And I am not referring to the Blackjack hardware here (more on that in a minute). I am referring to the OS as a whole and the UI navigation specifically. I have to scroll and click through so many things just to do the simplest tasks. The conglomeration of operating system and applications (some controlled by MS, some by the device manufacturer, others by the carrier, I am sure) is just a little too klutzy to work well. It's right on the edge of being too difficult to be practical. Keep in mind, I come from Blackberry land, where things work quite well, where Blackberry controls the hardware and the software in a much more complete manner. And that's the set of users that Windows Mobile needs to win over. Without that, the potential market is considerably more scarce. Also keep in mind, I really want the Windows Mobile experience to rival or even best the Blackberry - there's no fan-boy stuff going on here. The simple fact is that in practical power-user life the Blackberry wins by a significant margin. And by practical use I mean email, calendar, tasks, text messaging, and the like. Not MP3 files and video. Those are nice, but the basics have to work really well first.
What exactly am I referring to? On the Blackberry, I look at one screen and touch one wheel to do everything but type. Everything I need is right there, in full view. My email is one thumb click away and so is the calendar. On the Blackberry clicking the wheel brings up a context sensitive menu of options - all of the options right there on the screen without having to go to three or four more buttons on the face of the phone. Sounds picky, I know, but deal with several hundred emails a day and see how much of an impact it has. For that matter, spend ten minutes reading email flowing in on a Blackberry and then see how long it takes you to do the same thing on the Blackjack or any other Windows Mobile device. It's a different world.
Now, granted - Blackberry doesn't have some of the terrific things the Blackjack and Windows Mobile sport, and it's some pretty darned cool stuff that you get on the Blackjack/Windows Mobile device, to be sure. For example, the 3G UTMS/HSPDA network is amazingly fast (the Blackberry 8700 is an EDGE device, which is okay but doesn't really even compare speed-wise), and of course the Blackjack has a camera, which is something you can't get (yet) on a Blackberry (but the 8800 model with a camera is rumored to be coming in the spring). The 1.3 megapixel camera does a pretty nice job, by the way. Much better than other phones I've used before. Windows Media Player 10 (with some nifty streaming audio and video on the fast network provided by Cingular) and the ability to use MicroSD cards is cool. You don't get that on the Blackberry. And a solid MSN/Live Messenger application that I don't have to go find and pay for was a welcome item, as well. It also does AOL and Yahoo! messengers, by the way.
Did I mention it's a phone? Bluetooth 2, speakerphone capability and a very good phone call and sound quality are all pretty impressive.
There have been three lock-ups that I had to pull the battery to resolve. One was a network data failure to communicate at all this morning first thing, and the others were random application glitches it seemed. I have had to pull the battery on my 8700 a few times, but it's very, very rare.
Ultimately, even with the cool bells and whistles, if I cannot reliably and effectively do email, calendar and messaging in a very quick, painless and efficient manner like I can with the Blackberry phone, it's all for not. At best the experience on Windows Mobile takes some getting used to for a Blackberry user, and yet in reality even after some adjustment time it still lacks. You just have to navigate too much and too far with too many pointers and controls to get much of anything done, and the beautiful, bright screen is used for "bling" more than for practical real estate application. I will look for screen themes that better use the space, but I'm not holding my breath.
As far as the hardware goes, it is a nice feeling device. It's very solid and feels substantial in your hand. I like that. I think the proprietary cable that hooks to the USB port and/or charger cable was a terribly bad decision. Why not mini-USB so I can use my existing cables and chargers? Oh, wait - that's right. How would they sell more accessories if they all match? Ugh.
And don't get me started on battery life. Get this - between 8am and 3pm, I completely went through a charged battery, and that with only one phone call all day, and that call only lasted five minutes tops. I have the Exchange push-sync thing going and Bluetooth is turned on (by the way, the Bluetooth on the 8700 is flaky and the Blackjack has it beat in terms of reliability). I imagine that uses a bit more battery, but is it unreasonable to expect that the battery would last at least a day? The Blackberry lasts forever on a charge. I have a hard time killing it on a dawn-to-past-dusk day of emergencies and lots of phone calls. Good thing there's two batteries with my Blackjack - I needed them both just today. That's not good. A Microsoftie friend tells me there is some way to turn off the HSPDA capability and that doing so might help with battery drain, and also that the push configuration with Exchange is a power-killer as well. But to me it seems like the features should be supported by the battery system. Either that or else the features need to be made a lot more efficient. Again, I am speaking from a practical standpoint. It has to work in the real world, regardless of what it is. And I can't change batteries mid-day in many cases. Hopefully after a few charges the life will get a little better but I can't imagine it getting so much better as to alleviate the concern.
Probably my biggest and most noticed disappointment about he hardware is the keyboard. I was surprised at how hard it is to type on this thing. Visually the keyboard is pretty cool and is somewhat similar to the Blackberry. But once you touch it you realize the keys are long and tall in shape, close together, and it's too easy to screw up finger placement. They're also slippery and stick up a long way, making accurate finger action even more difficult. The spacebar key is too narrow, and there's actually room there on the device to make it wider - which makes its lack of size even more unfortunate. And worst of all, as I type email or anything at normal typing speed the device randomly misses keystrokes. They just don't register. And at other times the OS seems to lag in showing what I type. I have had to go back and fill in missing letters and characters all day long on the thing, which is doubly frustrating. Again, from a practical standpoint that's not good.
I hate even writing this, because I very much wanted to like the Blackjack. And while I don't quite hate it (and I will stick with it for at least a few more days to see if somehow my experience and opinion changes), the usability issues have just about killed it for me out of the gate. The enthusiasm is gone and it's been fairly disappointing.
I have to believe that on the platform side Microsoft is truly interested in going after the serious enterprise business market, which is why I mention these details about the OS. And I will happily share my thoughts and experiences with anyone on the Mobile OS team that wants to take them. I'm picky, heh. And the war's not over yet: Today no less than ten people noticed the cool form factor of the Blackjack and instantly asked me if that was a new Blackberry I had. "No," I told them, "it's a Blackjack Windows Mobile phone." Hmmm! said the looks on their faces. "Do you like it?" they asked with anticipation. "No," I said. "It's driving me nuts. It should be cool but so far it's just too much work to use it." And that's the truth.
As I said, I almost didn't write this. There are many people out there that will get the Blackjack and love it, I am completely sure of that. It's a great phone. But as a hard-core power user on the business side, I need more - and this is my way of asking.
First impressions count for a lot, and the experience I've had with the Blackjack - colored by my experience with other devices that work very, very well - was simply less than I had hoped for. I think I have reasonable expectations. I am hopeful - and somewhat confident - that it will get better in the future. At least I sure hope so. The Windows Mobile OS has a lot of potential to kick butt. It just needs to get across that magical proverbial line, and probably Microsoft needs to do even more to ensure that the device makers do their part, as well. I know that seems like a legal stretch, but hey there's plenty of proof showing why it's needed. Blackberry has perfected their form factor and their software, which while relatively simple is elegant and works very well. Microsoft doesn't need to copy them to come up with a great solution, and they don't need to stifle the channel partners, software authors and hardware manufacturers, but they do need to set high standards, and they need to push hard and fast.
If and when that happens, maybe then I'll switch. Maybe it'll be a no-brainer. I am open to it, and hope that someday it will happen. Until then, I think this is just another vacation from my Blackberry career, but I am willing to let time tell. Heck, it's probably a good idea to stick with something else for a short period anyhow as far as repetitive stress injury avoidance goes, at least. Right?
Wednesday, 25 October 2006
My friend Scott loaned me his XM Satellite Radio for my recent road trip to Minnesota and back (2,000+ miles each direction). Wow. Way Cool.
Nothing makes a long, long drive half way across the country and back bearable like non-stop stand up comedy and 70's era music that just plays all the way across the country. Throw in some CNN, BBC and a little FOX News for balance and let's just say it's a great way to travel.
I went to Minnesota last week to help a friend move, among other things. It's been that and weddings (lots of weddings) recently. The satellite radio - combined with a pair of GMRS handie talkies - made for an enjoyable journey back to Oregon. If you ever drive across the country and your travel companion is in another car, take a pair of 10-mile radios with you and get off Channel 1. You'll be glad you did.
Anyhow - back to the XM radio. This was (believe it or not) my first experience using a satellite radio unit. I've looked at them before, but honestly I have never really liked the form factor of the receivers. On this trip I used the built in FM transmitter to get the audio out of the receiver and over my audio system, since I don't have a cassette player in my car. I wish they could make the transmitters a bit more powerful since I had to change the FM channel on my car radio periodically whenever the frequency selected was in use by a local radio station (too bad there's not a frequency set aside and used for low power in-car type transmitters). But that's really just nit-picking. I guess if I was constantly listening to XM or a similar service in Portland all the time, I'd get frustrated with the FM transmitter since the stations are so many and since they bleed out of band so badly in some cases. But for a cross-country trip it was pretty cool.
I like the ability to take the radio from one car to another, so although built-in receivers would obviate the need for a low power transmitter, that's not really what I'd want.
I noticed that some channels have considerably better fidelity - a compression-related effect, I am sure - than did others. I have been told that XM started compressing a lot of programming pretty heavily early this year, and that Sirius has better audio quality. Anyone done some detailed listening comparisons? I've not yet listened to the Sirius broadcasts, so I cannot compare myself. I know there are differences in programming, as well as a significant overlap in the core channels. Too bad Sirius doesn't have the "decades" channels. I liked those a lot.
Do you use XM or Sirius satellite radio? What do you think and how well does it work for you?
Wednesday, 04 October 2006
I just submitted my name at the BerryWare site to get information about availability of the "bimmerberry" line of custom-finish housings for Blackberries.
From the BerryWare site:
“Available in 6 colours - Red, Pink, Green, Blue, Midnight Black, and Silver, these replacement houstings are not the clip-on cases you find everywhere, but an actual refinished housing for your Blackberry painted by a certified professional refinisher using high quality paint and clear coat.”
You have to admit, that's kinda cool. And with my Cingular 8700c and the not-so-cool finish Cingular chose, a metallic black or red finish sounds good to me.
Blackberry Cool says: "Pretty neat, but we’re really hoping the combination of this and the adoption of the BlackBerry in celeb-world doesn’t result in a 'Pimp My ‘Berry' scenario. That would not be pretty."
Ummm... Oops. :)
via Blackberry Cool - Disguise your BlackBerry
Tuesday, 03 October 2006
From the "Department of You've Got To Be Kidding Me" comes word that BlackBerry users are blaming others for their problems:
"CrackBerry addicts: Why the workers who can't switch off are suing their employers"
... now these discreet handheld gadgets, which provide workaholics with constant email updates, are being blamed for chronic insomnia, relationship break-up, premature burn-out, and even car crashes.
British employers are being warned they could face multi-million-pound legal actions from BlackBerry-addicted staff on a similar scale as class law-suits taken against tobacco companies. Research by the University of Northampton has revealed that one-third of BlackBerry users showed signs of addictive behaviour similar to an alcoholic being unable to pass a pub without a drink.
The report found that some BlackBerry users displayed textbook addictive symptoms - denial, withdrawal and antisocial behaviour - and that time with their families was being taken up with BlackBerry-checking, even at the dinner table.
That's awesome. So what this means, basically, is that I am set for life. I have a guaranteed lawsuit at this rate, I mean you should see me with this thing - I blame the world for my addiction! Who can I sue next?
What ever happened to plain-old, self-assigned-responsibility? Jeez.
And, for your related viewing pleasure (note the video contains some video-blurred nakedness):
Thursday, 08 June 2006
Maybe I should head to Chicago for a week.
According to Reuters, the Sheraton Chicago hotel's general manager, Rick Ueno, has devised a rather unique informal program for Crackberry addicts. Check in, hand your Blackberry over to Ueno, and detox for the rest of your time there.
Ueno... said the program which began Wednesday grew out of his own personal BlackBerry addiction. His one-step recovery was switching to a regular cell phone.
"I was really addicted to my BlackBerry. I had an obsession with e-mail," he told Reuters. "Morning and night. There came a time when I didn’t think it was healthy ... I quit cold turkey."
Ueno said he would take personal charge of any BlackBerrys or related devices guests want to surrender and place them in his office locked up until their return is requested. There is no charge.
"I run a hotel with over 900 employees and thousands of guests. I think I’m more effective. I feel better. I sleep better. My family likes it," he said of his post-BlackBerry life.
He might be onto something...
Friday, 26 May 2006
If you're like me and spend 50% or more of your life reading the Sky Mall and United Airlines magazines in the seat back pocket in front of you, and if you also happen to have a Blackberry with a web browser enabled, or some other SmartPhone-ish thing that lets you browse the web, be sure to check out United 2 Go:
Among the things you can do or check on this mobile-enabled site:
My itineraries: View your United Airlines and United Express segments regardless of where they were booked.
Flight availability: View domestic and international flight availability up to 331 days in the future on United flights. For Palm OS device's without a wireless connection, the downloadable electronic timetable is available monthly on united.com.
- Flight status: This gives you up to the minute flight status that includes departure/arrival times, gate numbers and departure/arrival status for United flights.
- Flight paging: Much like the Flight status alerts feature on united.com this allows you to request flight paging for future United flights
- Mileage Plus summary: This function provides you with access to a summary of your Mileage Plus account.
- Red Carpet Club locations: View Red Carpet Club information including location, hours and phone numbers.
- Airport codes: An easy to use airport code lookup tool is at your fingertips for reference.
If you're a frequent traveler on United, it's worth a bookmark.
Tuesday, 16 May 2006
My friend Jim reminded me the other day about an app I recently installed and have not taken the time to write about, despite the fact I've been using it - namely the Google Maps Mobile (beta) client that I have running on my Blackberry 8700C.
Available for a number of handheld platforms, this network-connected client software allows you to do a lot of what you've already come to expect from Google Maps on the web, only now you can take advantage of the service your handheld. Everyone I've shown it to in the past couple weeks has agreed that it's pretty darned awesome.
Things you can do with the Google Maps Mobile client:
- Search for nearby businesses cataloged in Google Local (via the "Find Business" menu option)
- Specify a location to show on the maps (it remembers locations you enter, too)
- Get driving directions to or from any location (just click the location and choose from the menu)
- View locations either in map or satellite view, and toggle between views
- Zoom in and out, and pan left/right, up/down
It would be nice to have a feature for the driving directions to be listed on a single page, turn-by-turn, rather than only on the map at the waypoints (which works just fine, just not what I'm used to). But hey, who's to complain? It's free. Heh...
The mobile client seems to be available for multiple devices, so read the list to see if yours is supported, and to get it point your mobile device at:
I installed mine by visiting that page and installing over the air - the best method there is, really.
And for a bit more information in your regular ol' (non-mobile) web browser, see the Google Maps Mobile (beta) page and read the FAQ.
Sunday, 14 May 2006
The sun has finally come back out in the Pacific Northwest, which means it's time again to get on the bike. I went riding today with Matt and Dan. We cruised a long loop in Columbia County that goes past my house. It's a great ride with lots of fun turns and rural scenery. It was in the mid to upper 70's today and the next couple days will be much warmer than that.
But spending time on the bike means when the stupid cell phone rings, it goes unanswered. I know what you're thinking - why am I worrying about the stupid phone when enjoying a day on the bike? Yeah, yeah... Okay, I get the point. But since I will probably ride it to and from work more and more now that it's nice out, it would be nice to be able to answer the phone in the helmet - but only if I never have to take my hands off the motorcycle controls. It would also be a very cool way (with free mobile-to-mobile minutes) to do a full duplex intercom between riding partners.
So, today I ordered the Cardco "scala-rider" Bluetooth headset that's made specifically for use in motorcycle helmets. It clamps on (no glue, which is nice) and allows you to answer the phone, as well as (if your phone allows) place calls using your voice. Plus it automatically adjusts its own volume to accommodate for road noise. It's built and designed for use at highway speeds and has some special circuitry to deal with the noise. Plus, tons of standby and talk time, and a good all-around feature set.
- Receive and initiate calls.
- Weather protected headset fits open-faced and full helmets.
- Self-installation within 5 minutes, leaving no traces on helmet.
- High impact balancing microphone for inter-city speed conditions.
- AGC Technology automatically adjusts volume according to noise and speed levels.
- VOX Technology enables you to receive or reject calls by voice control.
- Special clamp allows attachment and release of the headset within seconds.
- Up to 7 hrs. talk time / 1 week standby (recharging from regular outlet).
Once I receive it and have a chance to try it out, I'll post a review.
Thursday, 27 April 2006
Sona Mobile has announced they will release a media player for newer model Blackberry devices that enable users to partake of wirelessly updated "BerryCasts" and wireless streaming media.
Sona Mobile Holdings, Corp is launching a BlackBerry Media Player software application, designed to offer multimedia applications on the latest generation of RIM devices. The new application will offer near TV quality playback of synchronized video and audio files, and will bee showcased at the Wireless Enterprise Symposium May 16-18.
"We are thrilled to be first to market with a media player for BlackBerry devices. For the very first time, BlackBerry users can receive either BerryCast (PodCasts wirelessly updated) or streaming video on their mobile devices," said John Bush, CEO and president of Sona Mobile. "And being able to announce CanWest MediaWorks as our first customer who will supply news content daily for a Sona Mobile BerryCast, lets RIM customers take advantage of a download-and-play method of delivering multimedia files to BlackBerry devices. We believe that this application will be well-received in the marketplace."
Should be interesting!
Sunday, 23 April 2006
Victor Garza over at the InfoWorld Zero Day Security weblog wrote a bit about his experience with his Verizon EVDO card. He recently switched over to the Kyocera KPC650 PC card (which is the one I have) after complaining to Verizon about the performance of his older card, which had an integrated antenna, and says he has seen some real improvements.
What really caught my eye in his blog entry, though was this:
"I've also heard that several speed improvements are coming to Verizon's EVDO marketplace. Requiring only a firmware update to existing EVDO cards this update will kick speeds up to the megabit range..."
Hmmm - anyone heard about this? If this happens - and I sure hope it does - I will be one very happy Internet addict. Looks like the reference is to EVDO Rel. A, which promises upgraded speeds of up to 3.1mbps downstream and 1.8mbps downstream - much faster than today's EVDO networks speeds. Fingers crossed here that a firmware upgrade will be available, and we don't all have to buy new cards!
Also, you can read a bit more about the history and future of EVDO here.
Saturday, 22 April 2006
If you have a Blackberry and want to make custom wallpapers for your device (for example, I have the 8700 and wanted to make my own backgrounds with a few image files I have on my computer), check out the Blackberry Wallpaper Generator on the Blackberry Cool web site.
Just upload an image, and the site will let you send the pic link in email to your BB device. Click on the link to view the image on the handheld, then save it and - if you like - make it your wallpaper.
Nothing too complicated, but this is a quick and easy way to get it done.
Wednesday, 01 March 2006
DualCor will soon release their new cPC computer. Many are poised on the edges of their seats, waiting to see more, and many also can't wait to buy.
Digital Lifestyle Magazine has a new video with lots of good footage of the device being shown on by Steve Hanley, DualCor CEO. An external battery pack with 10 DAYS of battery life. Wow - cool.
See the video here and learn more about the new device.
Note: As mentioned here before, I am a DualCor technical advisor, so I am not exactly completely unbiased, but you have to admit, no matter what - this is great stuff.
Saturday, 25 February 2006
Friday, 24 February 2006
Recently a couple coworkers at Corillian turned me on to TextPayMe, which is a cool service you can use to send money to others (and even to a few online merchants). Click the banner below to check it out and sign up for free - They'll even deposit five bucks in your TextPayMe account when you sign up. For real. You don't even have to provide a credit card or bank account info unless you want to transfer funds into the TextPayMe account, so there's no risk. It costs you nothing.
And, if 35 people sign up via this link, I'll get a XBOX 360. You can do the same thing. nice eh?
TextPayMe services are used to send payments to (and receive payments from) people you know, using text messaging on your mobile phones or wireless PDAs (I'm using it on my Blackberry phone). Let's say you go to a restaurant with three friends. Instead of asking the waiter to split the bill, or even worse trying to find the right amount of cash to put in the pool and pay your part, one person pays the bill, and the other three send their part to the person who paid using TextPayMe. They send it to your cell phone number, nice and easy. And for the people sending the money, the security system (which is a two-factor secure system - nice) calls their cell as soon as they text the payment. They answer the phone and are prompted by the peppy IVR voice on the other end to enter a PIN (which you provide at the time you sign up). Only then is money sent.
So - a cool service to try, nothing to lose, and five bucks to gain! Click here to go to the TextPayMe site and sign up to give it a try!
Thursday, 09 February 2006
People everywhere are commenting on the press release sent out Thursday by Research in Motion (RIM) earlier today regarding their software workaround that they have ready in the wings, should they lose an injunction hearing in a US court later this month.
Interestingly, the comments lean toward overwhelmingly positive. While I'm certainly glad RIM's doing something in the contingency planning department, and while I truly appreciate RIM's service and excellent devices, I just don't see things as all happy and cheerful and rosy. Call me a stick in the mud, or call me pragmatic. Whatever. I'n not a Blackberry or RIM hater, just someone who's caught in the middle of a problem that many other IT pro's can relate to.
RIM's has this workaround going for some time, and their announcement today comes just a couple weeks before the ruling. Previous reports indicate the judge in the case, if he issues the injunction, might provide a four week buffer before the injection would become active (that's what the complainant, NTP, has asked for, anyhow). That means in about six weeks, every Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) and every Blackberry handheld in the United States (maybe everywhere) might have to be updated with a software patch that RIM has yet to describe or provide. Not only that, but there's no indication made as to what versions of the BES software will be upgradeable and when that software might be delivered.
Or - who knows - maybe it will only apply to new devices when they're sold, and not ones already out there. But the servers - well no way to avoid changes there if the injunction is issued.
For what it's worth, I think this whole thing is an unfortunate pain in the backside, one which could and should have been avoided by both sides of the dispute long ago. But now we're stuck here, all of us, and it's no good. Invalidated patents being used to claim intellectual property rights are at issue, and millions of people are potentially impacted.
So I don't know about you, but no matter what happens in the court, this situation represents an expensive, time consuming and complicated set of upgrade circumstances. If RIM wants to do this the right way, seems to me maybe it's time to issue the workaround software now, get it out there in the hands of the people that need to deploy it, and then leverage it if and when it's needed. From RIM's statements, it looks like that should be a viable option:
"BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition is a software update that enables underlying changes to the message delivery system. BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition provides two modes of operation: Standard mode and US mode. When users are outside the US, and receiving service from a non-US service provider, the BlackBerry device operates in Standard mode and there are no changes to the current message delivery system or BlackBerry functionality."
Or at least state what versions of the server software can be upgraded should the need arise, and when. In a world where enterprise change management and production system testing requirements reign, especially on a platform as fundamentally sensitive as the BES system (secure messaging is a critical piece of infrastructure), four to six weeks is so little time as to be impossible for some.
I've carried Blackberry devices now for years, and I've worked with and managed the BES software for just as long. It's not the simplest stuff, and it's something companies rely on for their day to day operations. It's not just a nice-to-have, it's an integral piece of operational infrastructure.
Regardless of who's right or wrong in the legal case, it might just be time for RIM to stop the dancing, get off the floor, and pay the valet to bring the coach. It's getting late, and someone's ride is starting to look a bit like a pumpkin.
Friday, 03 February 2006
The Onion has some insight as to how Blackberry users will be forced to cope if the unfortunate shutdown actually ever occurs. As is fairly typical at the Onion, there's some truth behind the satire...
Thursday, 12 January 2006
From CBC in Canada comes a hilarious video from Rick Mercer's show - The Mercer Report - demonstrating the latest in apparel for the Blackberry user. Should be mandated by OSHA in all high-tech office settings:
Check out the Blackberry Helmet Video at:
(note - in non-USA style, there's some slightly-blurred-out nudity in this, so if you can't handle it, don't click - but hey, the video is funny)
Sunday, 18 December 2005
James Kendrick's got some exclusive details on the DualCor cPC, a nifty looking mobile device that can run Windows XP for normal computing tasks, and switch to Windows Mobile 5.0 when the user needs more PDA type functions:
"The cPC sports a dual processor design, a Via 1.5 GHz processor running Windows for standard computing functions and an Intel chipset running Windows Mobile 5.0 Phone Edition for handling PDA and phone tasks. The cPC doesn't just rely on the dual processor/ OS design to innovate, it also has a passive digitizer (touch screen) running Windows XP 2005 Tablet Edition! This will provide a rich stylus-enabled experience for those times when end users are mobile and not docked."
This is a great idea - dock it and you get the keyboard experience with a monitor and all, pop it out of the dock and switch to mobile mode instantly, with an uber-smartphone. I can think of a few people who are probably going to want one of these...
Here's how DualCor puts it:
"Delivering the Holy Grail of Enterprise Mobility: 100% replication of the fully functional, fully connected, non-diluted, intra-enterprise desktop experience in a completely mobile hand-held device."
And I like the letter-opener style stylus (see the larger view of the image, above, by clicking on it).
Sunday, 13 November 2005
I've been a T-Mobile Hot Spot subscriber for more than a year now. I have used it all over the country, and it's always there when I need it, whether I am traveling or if I'm just dropping into a Starbucks for coffee on a whim. It lets me leave my desk and still work from time to time - and we all have those times when the value of sitting in a coffee shop where no one can find you in person is seriously valuable.
One thing that's always frustrated me is the fact that I always have to open the web browser and load some random page to authenticate to the HotSpot service. It's a pain, and today (while sitting here logged onto a Starbucks HotSpot in Beaverton, Oregon) I decided to see if there was anything available to automate the process for me.
You can imagine how stupid/ignorant/DOH! I felt when my google search pointed me right back to T-Mobile's web site, where I found a description of their Connection Manager software. After hitting the 'back' button on the browser a few times to return to the page confirming I was signed on, I decided to read that page for the first time and sure enough, right there in the menu bar is a link to "Download Connection Manager." Heh.
Turn off your speakers if you're in the coffee shop before you click on the link, though, or you'll quickly become the target of startled stares from everyone else in the shop when the completely unnecessary Flash movie with LOUD SOUND. Kinda like this (you'll need those speakers back on again, dude).
Download the file, run the installer, and choose from a completely goofy skinned app or a Neapolitan-colored stylized app. I chose the lesser of the two evils.
Then things got interesting. It immediately required me to disable the Wireless Zero Configuration Service in Windows XP, which will no doubt break everything else I had set up for wireless connections prior to installing this thing. It sure as hell better work... Why can't things be simple an non-intrusive?
Now, clearly this software does more than automatically log you onto their regular WiFi HotSpot network. It sees a WPA-protected network, which means encryption and privacy. +1 for that. And the the EDGE/GPRS options obviously refer to using their data cards to connect from the road. Cool to have that in one place. Too bad there's no task bar icon when the app in on the screen.
The interface works well and there's really a whole slew of options. One of the coolest was the fact that when I went to the "Tools>Settings" menu and chose the "VPN" tab, it automatically detected my Cisco Systems VPN client and all of it's profiles and let me choose which to use when clicking the big, fat "VPN" button in the T-Mobile UI. It works great, and I'm connected as I type. Nice feature:
VPN options dialog - click to view full size
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of using the software is the availability of the secured wireless network. Seems like they could offer this without having to install custom software, but oh well...
Access to a secured network - click to view full size
Here's where the automatic logon happens - they give you the opportunity to provide your T-Mobile account name and password, and you can save it for later use:
Save your credentials to authenticate automatically later - click to view full size
Of course, it failed miserably when I first tried. I had to randomly select a whole slew of messy windows that kept popping up when I was trying to fill in the account dialog. Some of them were especially helpful:
Not sure what they're wanting with this dialog
But eventually (after fighting several windows that continually took focus away from the "enter your authentication info" dialog box) I found success:
Success - click to view full size
Sure enough, wireless zero config is disabled and I am connected using their software. Good enough for now, but that will likely have to change due to the complexity of some of the networks I have to access with this thing. We'll see.
As I was typing this, without warning yet another random box pops up and steals focus. Apparently it was downloading every single T-Mobile HotSpot location in the entire freakin' world. Weeee... Anyhow, it was bit confusing for a second, and all these windows just popping up, downloading stuff without asking and stealing focus are aggravating and just plain bad design. But it does work:
Random pop-ups everywhere - click to view full size
So... Despite the fact that it's custom, proprietary software, there are some cool things in this app. For example, the Available Networks dialog is better than anything built into Windows:
Nice network list visuals - click to view full size
Well, I'll leave it installed for now. Maybe I'll get lucky and the other networks I access will just work. Not counting on it though. Heh.
Somewhere there must be a third-party app that will automagically log me on. Just haven't found one yet. Maybe I'll make one.
Wednesday, 28 September 2005
Research in Motion's Blackberry brand is (I'm saying it out loud right here) the de facto standard for business wireless email/PIM/phone communications. One of these days Microsoft's Mobile platform may overtake the Blackberry line, but hey - it hasn't happened yet, and fact is Blackberry's got the form factor down pat. Windows Mobile on a Treo? Cool, yes - but I'm not confident it will make a good RIM replacement. My Palm-based Treo that I used earlier this year got returned after about a month, and not only because of the software. The device itself was nice and all, but not very practical or friendly. I hated that keyboard.
The latest Blackberry model to hit the "coming soon" list is the 8700, which has been confirmed to exist (but not yet announced) and which is slated to hit the street later this year in a GSM/GPRS/EDGE model (you can likely expect Cingular to get it first). The specs are pretty cool and it makes me wonder what all this device will actually do (check out the list from pinstack.com):
- Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE
- Speaker Phone
- Memory: 16MB RAM / 64MB Flash
- Polyphonic Ring tones
- Support MP3 ring tones
- Updated Form Factor
- Full QWERTY keypad
- Dedicated Send & End Keys
- Mute Key
2 User-Definable Keys
- This blackberry should come with a 320x240 VGA Color LCD and should feature a 312Mhz processor
So, if it supports MP3 ring tones and has 64MB flash... maybe there's a slot on this thing we can't see in the pics that would allow a flash card of some type? MP3 player capability maybe? Hey, I can dream, right?
Is this the one that gets an Intel processor, or no?
Looking forward to this one, for sure. EDGE data service will be terrific. From the RIM quarterly call this week, I would not be too surprised if there are other interesting and new devices coming this fall and winter, too. Lots to look forward to.
Monday, 19 September 2005
Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry devices and servers, are getting ready to kick another new model out the door - the BlackBerry Electron. It looks a lot like the 7290 in size and basic shape, but also appears to have features you typically see on the 7100 series.
The higher-resolution screen will be a welcome addition, and the idea of programmable keys is also something I'd definitely take advantage of.
And perhaps the best part: EDGE network capability. About time! Plus a speakerphone.
Only one thing more to hope for: Will it play MP3s and have a SD card slot? Well, we can always hope.
Friday, 17 June 2005
Berry 411 is a cool Charityware app you run on your Blackberry handheld. I've been using it for a sort time, and it's already super-useful.
Berry 411 installs an icon on your start page that gives you quick access to yellow pages, white pages, Google, movie times, weather, encyclopedia, and Froogle results.
You can dial any phone number directly from the display or add it to your phone book. The results are formatted to fit the Blackberry screen.
Skip the web browser and clunking around entering addresses to find information - this is a power tool for anyone with a Blackberry. Not sure how I missed this one over the past few months, but sure am glad I found it.
Phillip Bogle (blog), the author of Berry 411, has some other useful apps vailable for download, too. I'll need to see if Scott knows about AddToPath. And BerryBloglines is cool.
What you can do with Berry 411:
To find something, type what you are looking for and click the trackwheel. You can select from the following types of searches:
- Yellow Pages let you find local businesses by name or category.
- White pages searches residential listings.
- Google searches Google, with results conveniently formatted for the Blackberry.
- Encyclopedia searches reference information at mobile answers.com.
- Movies displays local movie times. Enter the name
- Weather displays the local weather forecase.
- Shopping displays Froogle shopping results. Eventually I will add online reviews and local shopping results where available.
Tuesday, 07 June 2005
Too bad there's not a Windows Mobile device that truly rivals Blackberry's form-factor for durability and real-world practical power use (yet, that is) (in my humble opinion, that is), but I can continue to hold out hope for better PocketPC's now.
Why? Because the Windows Mobile OS (2005 version) will soon be getting a messaging security and feature pack update that will enable "push" technology for instant delivery of all your Exchange 2003 info (email, contacts, calendar, etc) to your Windows Mobile 2005 powered device. Exchange 2003 SP2 will enable the functionality on the server side.
So half my concerns about the PocketPC/SmartPhone editions of Windows Mobile will be alleviated - namely the always there, immeidate delivery story.
Funny thing... I was having coffee with a Microsoft friend just the other day. He asked me why I was still using a Blackberry (common question from my Microsoft acquaintances), and I didn't have to say much. My first argument was the lack of real-time push.sync (which we both knew was coming on with the next Exchange update and the Mobile update). He agreed with me in one respect, though: RIM got the form-factor figured out when they built these Blackberry things - nailed it right on the head. RIM's keyboard rocks, plain and simple.
Good going for the Windows Mobile team. Lord knows that whole Blackberry Connect thing has never really panned out (it's supposedly Blackberry software that runs on the Windows Mobile OS, but it's really not materialized anywhere to speak of).
But about those devices running Winodws Mobile... They need to be improved to really make them work and hold up. My idea? Simple. Microsoft doesn't make the hardware (they keep reminding us of this, and it's become more of an excuse than a reason over the past couple years, guys), but they do have some control and impact in that area. Microsoft should exercise some release management and licensing control over the hardware manufacturers - Perhaps they should specify some quality and usability requirements and license the OS first to those manufacturers that actually produce a better product. that meets some stringent requirements for usability, reliability, durability, performance and battery efficiency.
Important message to all companies looking to do handheld QWERTY keyboards: You might want to consider where you're going to spend your "innovating" funds. You might be best served to simply pay RIM however much they ask to use their keybord. Like, as in their actual keyboard, not some knock-off, lumpy chicklet version like on several of the Windows Mobile powered devices I have used in the past, or the river-rockish Treo keyboard (yuck). Just buy the technology from RIM - Their's ain't broke, nothing to fix or improve.
At any rate, looks like the possibilites continue to change and grow, and Microsoft's made a good move here. Glad to see it's coming to pass.
Sunday, 22 May 2005
Fellow IT-management type Alex Scoble posed a wireless question in the comments from a random post yesterday (one that pictured my trusty Blackberry 7290), which led to a short series of comments of back-and-forth on wireless voice/data coverage. After thinking about it some more, I realized that I'm asked this type of question often, so I figure I'll harvest some of the comments content and create a new post here. After all, it's all about the conversation, and besides now I'll have a link to email to people, heh...
The in-building wireless coverage problem can be the scourge of many an IT manager. In-building dead-spot complaints have been known to pressure many IT pros to dump otherwise good carriers to go with another one that may offer good service at their micro-location, but which doesn't meet the business' other, broader needs. Not to mention the fact that the cost of simply changing carriers can be quite expensive.
If you have an in-building wireless overage problem, don't automatically assume changing carriers is the best or only way to solve it. Instead, exercise your two key options: Call your carrier and tell them you need them to provide you with a solution, and/or think about finding one yourself.
One of our teams recently finished a three-month review of many of the mobile providers available here. First of all, it's important to know that each carrier emphasizes a slightly different market. While T-Mobile's pricing was attractive, honestly their coverage was lacking outside the metro areas, which was a problem for our specific needs. Their people are great, and where it works it works well, but the remote coverage was our concern. Nextel was similar to T-Mobile in that regard. Verizon and Cingular have the broader coverage fairly well nailed down compared to their competition (especially when it comes to worldwide coverage, which we care about), but they, too have frustrating coverage gaps and spots. We looked at the other carriers, as well. In short, they all have their good and not-so-good points, and each caters to a somewhat different set of business needs. Most importantly, it's important to note that no carrier is perfect, especially in-building. You will always have one employee (probably a justifiably important one) that can't make calls unless they (literally) walk down to the corner from their home and press their phone to the stop sign pole. That's just the nature of wireless service in the US right now, and hey - it's a big country.
Also keep in mind that the phones you buy can make a difference. quad- and tri-band phones allow you to roam off network when the carrier's network is not available, and typically help to allow good worldwide coverage. Make sure you research those kinds of needs closely. Also realize that if your carrier's network is available, it won't matter how many other bands and providers are available if the phone is "locked" or set to use only the preferred networks - so while you are evaluating, ask questions about this and play with the phone's software switches for network preferences.
So anyhow, from experience I always recommend choosing a carrier based on what they can do for you in the macro sense: Do they provide the level of coverage needed in the areas where you move and travel to do business? Is the price right? Get test devices for a couple weeks and do a real-world evaluation with real people - you'll find that coverage maps and sales people don't tell you everything you need to know. After you've weighed the options and chosen a carrier, you're often best off to look to specialized technology to provide good coverage in places like offices buildings and exec homes. And you might be surprised how low the costs can be.
For example, check out http://www.spotwave.com/ - I have had one of their SpotCell devices, which are quite good, for a couple years now, and I know they've made refinements and improvements since then. The SpotCell package uses a directional collector antenna to gather the signal, and a donor antenna to provide wireless coverage to the location where it's installed. It's pretty cool an can solve some serious dead-spot problems. I originally got one through AT&T Wireless (now Cingular) to solve a residential problem and was able to move it to another location for a while to solve a problem there. I actually need to call them and ask about an update for it for my area, and I can tell you from past experience that they are quite willing to provide excellent customer service when you contact them. If you're looking to outfit a smaller office or someone's home (under 5,000 sq. ft.), it may be worth the small-ish investment, since these devices start out at about $1000. Larger office buildings might need more than one coverage device, and the SpotWave people can quickly help figure that out. I also have another brand of wireless extension kit similar to the SpotWave technology (I'll have to climb up and look at it to see what brand it is), but it's not nearly as friendly or intuitive to set up. The SpotCell is so simple to make work, even a five year old could do it (well, except for the antenna mounting part I guess).
I am also told on fairly good authority that there are some IP-based in-building devices coming to the market that act as a mini/micro indoor-coverage site - you can just plug them into your Internet connection and they'll "talk" back to the wireless carrier via VPN or similar method. I know T-Mobile is working on them now and will probably announce something before too long. But the carriers are staying pretty tight-lipped about announcing availability right now for some reason, probably because they know they have to do it right the first time and support needs to be solid, which means fuzzy launch dates until it happens. That will be an interesting space to watch.
Friday, 15 April 2005
I've recently gone on a run of trying all kinds of new devices in the PDA/MobilePhone/Email-Enabled-Device arena. I have used various Blackberry devices for a few years now (and have been using the Blackberry phone devices since they were first born). I have occasionally moved to other devices to try them out and see if they would suffice for use in my work. Recently I undertook that sort of project, evaluating various mobile carriers and their networks and devices, so it's been a real gadget-land around these parts since around the first of the year.
I won't be writing about the networks and service providers (maybe some other time), but I did want to catalog some of what I encountered, the geeky part of the project: All these nifty mobile devices.
It's worth noting right up front that as a general rule, I've pretty much always been disappointed with more-than-just-a-phone devices whenever I've tried them, for one reason or another. My experience has been the same with most of this latest run of devices I have tested. Also, I wrote this entry/review over the course of the past couple months, going back to it periodically to document bits of my experience over time.
To cut to the chase, let me jump to the end of my story briefly: As of yesterday I am back (by choice) with a Blackberry phone from Cingular - the very same model of phone I had before this whole testing process started. It's a RIM 7290 device. And that's a choice I made after using a whole slew of what people say are the coolest, newest phone/PDA/email/whatever devices.
You know what they say - Once you've had Blackberry, you can never go backberry. Or, uh, something like that... Sorry. Bad joke. But it's true.
My recent device trials (and tribulations) have included the Audiovox 5600 smartphone running Windows Mobile 2003 from AT&T/Cingular (which has been the rage among bloggers the past several months - it's unofficial nickname is the "Scoble Phone") and the Blackberry 7100t phone from T-Mobile. I've also used the Blackberry 7100g (Cingular) and the PalmOne Treo 650, both from Cingular. Rounding out the list was the Siemens SX66 device, which has a slide-out keyboard and WiFi built in, running the PocketPC Phone Edition of Windows Mobile 2003.
In each case, there were things I liked about these devices, and there were things I didn't like.
Audiovox 5600 SmartPhone (running Windows Mobile 2003 - ATTWS/Cingular)
I'll give Audiovox kudos for making a really cool phone in the gadgety sense, but I have to give it lower scores in terms of it's practical utility. Keep in mind, I use this kind of device as a tool, one that I use constantly for communicating and staying in touch for work. The "Scoble Phone" has been hyped up as the only device you'll need to carry around, and it has all kinds of nifty things on it, like mobile MSN Messenger, Windows Media Player, the ability to use Mini-SD cards for tons of extra storage, a built-in still/motion camera (of very mediocre quality), etc. But the software apps are a little glitchy, and I lost count of how many times this thing either reset itself or required me to pry the battery out of the back and replace it in order to get it started and working again. On top of that, while the geek/nifty factor is fairly high (I can see how Windows Mobile is a useful and appealing mobile OS), the practical/regular use score is low - it just doesn't work that well for me, beyond its simple use as a phone and SMS device. Text input is T9, which is cumbersome at best and impractical for work. Bluetooth for hands-free use worked somewhat reliably, but was problematic from time to time. Audio quality was good. It's small and compact and has a certain "neato" quality. But it doesn't allow me to quickly and efficiently communicate, except via voice calls. I handed it back. I liked the phone, but it didn't work for me, not even close. And by the way - as of the time of this writing, Cingular is not offering the phone on its web site.
Blackberry 7100t (T-Mobile) and 7100g (Cingular)
These two devices are essentially identical in terms of the guts and the software running on them, but the Cingular device has a better form factor and body/shell - It's a lot more solid, the keyboard is laid out better and is easier to use, and I get a strong feeling it would last longer than the T-Mobile model in a durability sense. Text input is a unique hybrid type - the keyboard has a standard qwerty style layout like all Blackberry devices, but instead of one letter per key like others by RIM, the 7100 series has two characters per key. It does the predictive text thing, a lot like T9 does on a mobile phone keypad, but it's considerably more accurate and a lot faster to type with. Making the move from a standard-keyboard Blackberry to this device takes a little getting used to, but after a few days I found myself fairly comfortable with the layout. Bluetooth hands-free functionality was flawless and reliable - better than the Audiovox phone. RIM figured out some good things with this device, but there are a few things missing that keep it from being a truly killer device: There's no MP3 support like you get in the other phones tested, and the ear-piece audio level at max volume is painfully quiet (a common complain with Blackberry phones that really needs to be addressed). There's no camera, and since this is a biz-class device, that makes sense. But RIM should really consider building a model with a camera option, an SD slot, MP3 capabilities, an MP3 voice recorder, MSN instant messaging (they included Yahoo! and AOL on this one, so why the heck not), and better audio capabilities (ring tones, music, etc). In fact, a Windows Mobile device that actually shipped with the vaporware (to date) Blackberry Connect software package would have me running for the store. But, progress is progress, and all in all the 7100 is a pretty good tool that makes some improvements on earlier models. But hey, put the standard RIM keyboard back, please - if it ain't broke, well - you know... I returned both these devices as they were loaners, but I'd recommend them to others, and a few people I know have bought these recently - and they're thrilled with them.
PalmOne Treo 650 (ATTWS/Cingular)
Topping out in the community's collective Bling! category is the PalmOne Treo 650, a nice looking and feeling PalmOS-based SmartPhone with lots of counterintuitive functionality and mediocre documentation. Now I remember why I left the PalmOS behind a few years ago. You'd think I'd have remembered, but sometimes we just need to be reminded. This is another phone with a so-so-quality camera built in (better in overall image quality than the Audiovox 5600, but with the same low 640x480 resolution). It has a full keyboard built on, which is arguably it's most redeeming factor, but in daily use the keyboard feels lumpy, klutzy and crowded compared to any RIM/Blackberry device I have used. The Treo uses a touch screen and a slide-out stylus for screen navigation, as well as a set of directional and select buttons. The screen is bright and contrasty, which is nice. Battery life is fairly limited when you're actually using it. Call audio is excellent, and is louder in earpiece volume when compared to the other devices mentioned here. The email setup and use of multiple email programs ranks a "so-so" score, and overall it was clunky to use. I can't count how many clicks, scrolls and stylus gestures/touches it took to do even the simplest activities. If I am sitting in a chair, have some time, and have both hands completely free and nothing else to distract me, I can use this device. But I don't want to. Returned to sender, can't recommend it.
Siemens SX66 PocketPC Phone (running Windows Mobile 2003 - ATTWS/Cingular)
I was excited about getting my hands on this device, and hopeful that it would meet my needs and satisfy the usability/utility requirements. I also hoped it would have Blackberry Connect software on it, as was advertised some places and rumored at others. It didn't have it, but I tried it anyhow. The first things I noticed was that I was able to use it with my Exchange server (the Audiovox device crapped out if I tried to use a "space" character in my password. I had thought [assumed] the inability to use a space in a password was a limitation of the OS, but this device proved me wrong). The screen on this thing is very nice, and the backlight is bright and contrasty. Bluetooth worked better than any of the other devices in hands-free mode, and the keyboard makes it more accessible and usable than the Audiovox device by far. But the keyboard's pimple-style chicklet bubble layout was painful to use in the real wold - keys are tiny and way too close together unless you;re six years old (probably not the target market). Battery life was pretty awful, especially if you use the WiFi at all. Even without using WiFi, the battery was dying on me regularly between charges, and since there's no USB charging with this thing I could not charge it in the car or anywhere convenient (You have to charge in the cradle, which is plugged into the wall via a power adapter, or you use the same wall plug adapter with a socket adapter to go straight to the device. So be prepared to be tangling the wall adapter cord up a lot to carry it with you everywhere, or else plan on a dead phone periodically - dumb). To top it all off, this morning I grabbed the device and went to turn it on, but it did not respond. Yet, the little green service light was flashing so I knew it had power to it. I pulled the battery put it back (the Windows Mobile version of CTRL-ALT-DEL), but still no response. I started driving to work and tried it again while I was stopped for coffee at the local store. Voila! Up it comes, but totally reset, nuked, blown away, default ROM settings - everything I had set and stored before was gone. Good thing the important stuff was on my SD card... I've read and heard rumors of serious software problems with this phone, and when you combine that with the lame keyboard that looks cool but isn't at all usable, well... Returned, with prejudice.
Back In Black - or, Right Black Where I Started From
So, as of this morning I am back running on a Blackberry 7290 phone with the latest, solid Blackberry software. This is the same model I gave up a few months ago to do the testing. Sure, it's not as fancy in many ways as the 7100-series, but it's got the best keyboard and it works, works, works. And probably the best test of all was this: Within one minute of picking this thing back up and setting a couple of device options to something other than BB's defaults, I suddenly found myself orders of magnitude faster and more productive than I was with any of the other devices I'd tried.
RIM got something right when they built the Blackberry. Then they added a phone to the device. Then they did this funky keyboard thing with the 7100 that works pretty well. It works, and it is usable.
There's a great book I've held onto for a few years now called "Don't Make Me Think" by author Steve Krug. It's all about usability (as related to web design, but that doesn't matter, the same concepts apply here). The reasons the Blackberry devices are all so good is because they are truly intuitive - I don't have to spend my time clicking and clicking and tapping and clicking just to try to find some simple function, and the user interface is so intuitive it becomes almost reflexive to use. RIM wins because their devices have utility. It's because they're reliable. It's because they're usable. I have confidence that RIM/Blackberry will keep that as their core philosophy, and so I am very much interested to see what will come next from the company.
But damnit, I still want to see and use a good, reliable phone that runs Windows Mobile latest edition, with Blackberry Connect software on it! PLEASE! There's a lot of room for growth, and it's not all about smaller, smaller, smaller, or geekier, geekier geekier... It's all about usable, usable, usable. Size is just one part of usability. Geeky is fun, but not always practical. Who will end up winning this game? Can't wait to see.
But for now, Blackberry's in the lead in my book.
Sunday, 03 April 2005
When Microsoft sets its sights on a market segment, look out. It'll happen, sooner or later.
I've been using a whole bunch of the latest mobile phones recently to test them and see how well they'll work for business use. The fact of the matter is, most of them pale in comparison to the Blackberry devices. Blackberries are great tools. All the others are great gadgets. At work, I need a great tool more than a great gadget.
But what I really want is the best of both worlds. Push email, real-time sync on email, calendar, and all that. Lookups live over the air from my company's active directory. MP3 player, phone, voice recorder, MP3 and poly ring-tones... and the RIM form factor works great - he typical PDA-phone running Windows Mobile is a little too goofy and unusable - especially in the keyboard area. Blackberry keyboards work great - the palmOne and PocketPC keyboards I have used - well, they just suck.
From Engadget, with reference to an article at Internet Week, word about the upcoming Windows Mobile 2005 and how Microsoft likely intends to compete with RIM's Blackberry devices - and server.
This will raise eyebrows and - if the Windows Mobile devices can be improved to be a better tool and less gadgety - it's entirely possible they could take away a lot of the market currently sufficiently served only by RIM...
If their recent deals to license their ActiveSync technology to Nokia, Symbian, and palmOne are any indication, Microsoft is working hard to steadily encircle the Blackberry with the next version of Windows Mobile, aka Windows Mobile 2005 aka Magneto. The plan? CRN reports that Microsoft is finally going to unveil Windows Mobile 2005 at the Mobile and Embedded Developers Conference in Las Vegas next month, and that they’re going to be taking a serious swipe at RIM by adding Blackberry-like support for push email and live content updating to Windows Mobile-powered Pocket PCs and Smartphones. The CrackBerry’s pretty damn entrenched, but Microsoft knows a thing or two about dislodging a market-dominating competitor, and so will be reviving a familiar tactic: to compete with RIM’s server product they’re going to be giving away their Exchange 2003 Server Pack 2 update, which adds support for push, for free.
Friday, 11 March 2005
This is a test of a photo attachment weblog post sent to dasBlog via email from a Treo 650 smartphone. The Treo is kind of cool, but Cleo (the cat) is cooler. :)
Note: Unfortunately, due to a bug of some kind I had to intervene on the mail server and manually delete the email post for this entry, because it kept reposting to the blog every few minutes. Oh well - at least I know the posting from the treo works!
Thursday, 27 January 2005
The other day I decided to change to using passphrases instead of single passwords on my Windows accounts. Aside from the minor headache of having to remember I made the change at all, it's been a good thing.
That is, until today.
This afternoon I decided re-enable my wireless sync with my Exchange server on my Windows Mobile 2003 smart phone (Audiovox 5600). I had disabled it when I changed the password the other day, with plans to set it back up when I had time. So I went to enter the new passphrase on the mobile device, but no workie... Apparently, while Windows and Outlook and Exchange-HTTPS and pretty much everything else in the Windows world supports passphrases that include spaces, not so on Windows Mobile 2003.
Apparently you simply can't enter spaces in the password box on the smart phone.
So, I have a choice to make: I can either change back to using passwords in order to allow my Windows Mobile device to sync with Exchange (one step forward, two steps back), or I can stay with passphrases and leave my Windows Mobile device crippled (don't even get me started on that one).
Needless to say, I am not very happy with either option...
Anyone have a solution? Am I missing something here? Seems to me when you create a password interface, you'd support what the back end system allows you to use?
Wednesday, 19 January 2005
Microsoft Expert Zone WebCast: How to listen to digital music in your car
Wednesday January 19th, 10:00am Pacific Time
I have a project pending where I plan to do some serious computer-in-the-car stuff. So, I took note of the fact that Microsoft is putting on a live webcast in their Expert Zone Wednesday morning at 10am Pacific Time about that very topic: Digital music and spoken word and podcast or whatever.
"...But you need a way to connect your digital audio to your car stereo. The topic of this WebCast is how to find digital audio to listen to, how to connect a portable audio player to your car stereo, and how to support and power it while you drive. This presentation also discusses how to replace your car stereo, how to add a hard disk-based audio player, how to burn custom CDs with digital audio, and where to turn in the online community when you need help and have more questions about digital audio."
The PowerPoint deck can be downloaded prior to the event, as well.
Monday, 17 January 2005
Sunday, 19 December 2004
I recently started carrying around a Blackberry 7290, which (aside from the fact that it’s an electronic leash) I like a lot. One of the complaints I have about it, though is a lack of anything beyond the stock, simple, same-old Blackberry ringtones. Well, as it turns out, you can add ringtones of your own. If you were to search the depths of the help file on the device, you’d find some information about this, but – I mean come on – who actually reads help files?
Now, granted, you’re limited to the relatively simple audio implementation supported by the Blackberry device, meaning MIDI files only – and you can’t play polyphonic sounds on these devices. But in Crackberryland, just having the ability to add my own personalized sounds is a welcome fix!
So, if you want to try it yourself – here you go. Keep in mind, I am working from the point of view of a being a RIM7290 user with service from AT&T Wireless – uh, I mean Cingular. So, that’s what you’ll see here. This should work with certain other models and service providers as well, but since I don’t have other devices to test with, you’ll just have to try for yourself. Feel free to comment here (see comment link at end) with your experiences.
Step One: Get your Blackberry’s web browser working – Hopefully you’re already good to go in this area. You’ll need to use the M-Mode browser and go to a page on the Internet that will provide you with the MIDI files.
Step Two: Find some good MIDI files – There are two common ways to do this, but ultimately this step involves simply downloading a MIDI file to your device from a location on the Internet:
Option A: Just find some random MIDI links and load them… One way to do this is to browse to a site that has links to MIDI files and just click the links. For example, point your Blackberry’s browser to http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/midi/?plain (found it searching on Google) and if your browser cooperates, you’ll be able to click on a midi file link:
Option B: Use a site that has lots of MIDIs and makes it easy (note - web addresses updated 3/2008)… Namely, you really can’t beat the amazing number of selections available at the Free Ringtone Heaven, and you can easily use this site to update your Blackberry’s ringtones. Browse to http://www.freeringtoneheaven.com in your computer’s web browser and find ringtones you want to try (there are more than 49,000 cataloged there). You can listen to the MIDI files on your computer, but remember they will sound different (much simpler) on your Blackberry. Once you’ve found a few choice audio files, make note of their ID numbers and point your Blackberry’s M-Mode browser to http://www.freeringtoneheaven.com/wap.php (this link works on your Blackberry, but on your computer it may throw an error – this is normal). You’ll see a screen where you can enter the ID number of each MIDI file you want to load – one at a time:
Step Three: Listen to the files and save the ones you like to your Blackberry Device – It turns out when you launch a MIDI file, the Blackberry 7290 has a player for the format. As soon as it is downloaded, the MIDI file will start playing on the handheld.
You’ll see three round buttons in the Blackberry audio player – One starts the audio file, one stops it, and the other gives you an action menu – which includes the option to save the MIDI file to the handheld:
A couple of quick hints about MIDI files for the Blackberry:
- Dealing with file names can get kinda goofy on the Blackberry. I downloaded The First Noel and ended up with a sing called “Get” on the handheld – which is the name send down via the PHP app on the Icarus web server. Annoying, but there is a way to deal with it, you can rename the MIDI files as you are saving them – just move the cursor to the “File:” field in the Save File dialog (pictured above) and give the file a more meaningful name before you save it.
- Small MIDI files are usually simple MIDI files, and that’s a good thing for our purposes. Simpler – in terms of the number of instruments playing at once – will more often than not translate into better sound on the Blackberry, since it seems to play only one MIDI voice/channel at a time. Of course, so if you find a MIDI file you really like, you can always try it and delete it if it doesn’t sound good enough on the handheld.
You can delete audio files you don’t want any more by going to Profiles on the home screen, clicking the wheel once and choosing Show Tunes…
…and then highlighting the file name, clicking one more time, and choosing Delete from the menu. Bye-bye MIDI file.
You can choose where to use your new MIDI files just like you would any other Blackberry ring or alert tone.
That’s about it – enjoy!
Thursday, 02 December 2004
The other day, Research In Motion (RIM) announced the release of Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) v4.0 to their customers. The told us about it back in September, but it was not actually released until just recently. Exchange and Domino versions are available now.
What’s the big deal? LOTS.
Of primary interest to IT-types and end users alike is the fact that with the new version of the BES software, end user basically no longer need the Blackberry Desktop software at all anymore. All synchronization can be done wirelessly, or over the network with a small, easy to distribute application.
That means fast, easy setup of handheld devices. It also means that all handheld data can be backed up the the server, and that users can be given a passcode to type on any handheld along with their corporate email address to wirelessly provision and configure their Blackberry device.
There’s a bunch of improvements and enhancements, from security changes to better data access to more programmer tools... I’ll be doing an upgrade from v3.6 to v4.0 here very soon, so I’ll be sure to post my observations and thoughts when we are done with that little project.
One thing’s clear: RIM is getting things right. I’ve been working with BES for a number of versions (for four years now), and with each release the bar is raised significantly.
Now, in order to fulfill my gadget dream, all I need is a Windows Mobile device with a keyboard and the Blackberry Connect software installed. Hey Motorola, where’s that MPx???
Sunday, 14 November 2004
You knew the day would come, and Windows Mobile will continue to get better and better:
Engadget: A full 48.1% of all non-smartphone PDAs sold in the third quarter of this year run on some flavor of Windows CE (mainly the Pocket PC operating system), while Palm-powered PDAs accounted for only 29.8% of sales, a pretty significant decline from the same period last year.
Windows Mobile is cool, on PDAs and SmartPhones. The hardware gets better and better. The multitude of touch points and common apps between the Windows desktop OS versions and the mobile platform OS make Windows Mobile an integrated and usable system, and therefore valuable to end users. On top of that, they've done a very good job making it look and feel nice. It's got the electronic bling, if you will, that other handheld operating systems are at least partially missing.
Monday, 08 November 2004
The one where I try to sound smart, but really just make a fool of myself in the process. But if I learn something new, it's all good.
I'm just a glutton for punishment, so it's not too unusual that I would attend a developers' evening conference event put on by Microsoft about development for mobile devices, regardless of (or perhaps in spite of) the fact that I am most definitely not a developer.
That said, don't use anything I write here for anything real. Don't quote me or anything. Please. This information is all wrong, I can pretty much guarantee it. This is just an attempt on my part to see how much I can learn in three hours, in an area where I easily get lost.
But I mean hey, I keep seeing these techie developer-like guys writing two lines of code at most in these sessions and how they just magically make things work, shazam!, so I figure even a guy like me should eventually be able to figure this stuff out, at least sort of. Enough to create something useless but functional, at any rate.
Because secretly I sometimes wish I was a developer. I long to make things. New things. Different things.
I just want to create.
So here I am, seeing if I can learn any of this stuff. And I am finding - as usual - that its kinda cool.
Windows Mobile development random thoughts (or maybe this is just a cheap excuse to use bulleted lists):
- Design applications assuming your app will need to rotate portrait>landscape>back again.
- Screen dimensions - be flexible here and include hi-res resources for VGA quality screens in the future (use higher res to improve quality, not so much for more real estate).
- Emulators are cool - deploy, test on a software phone or Pocket PC.
- VS.net will compile and deploy x86 executables to emulators, and ARM compliant code to the real devices. In the future the emulators will emulate ARM chip-sets.
Ok, so this dude just wrote 2 lines of code and made an app that collects a ticker symbol from the user, calls a web service and returns the current price. Two lines of code. Cool. The term code-behind probably relates to this. But I'm not a developer, so I am guessing here.
Look Mom - TWO LINES! Neat.
Idea: Have special evening sessions just for non-developers, where you teach them to develop cool simple stuff. People like me, whose brains are a little older and slower, but who desperately want to be a cool nerd (like that makes sense) and create things. Seriously. I'd go to every one of those events. No real nerds allowed, unless they are teaching (sorry to all my developer friends - I need someone to work at my pace heheh). Target guys like me, who really want to learn, the ones who spend the money. Focus on making something simple, cool and complete. Let me create something, let me feel like I understanding these guys that work for me and around me. Help me grok your world. Let me create something that works, something that when we're done is all mine and does something - hey, anything - useful.
Okay - back to the session...
Ahhhh here we go - demos. I like it when I can see something created and then working.
Tipper is a little program someone wrote that helps you figure out how much of a tip to leave. Cool, especially for foreigners who may not be accustomed to the tipping stuff.
- Windows forms and controls - I think I know what this all means... Looks like there are some controls not available in the mobile framework, which makes sense, since it's a more limited memory space and less-powerful hardware.
- Networking - looks like you don't have to understand HTTP in order to use it. Something about streaming and stuff that escapes me. Okay, it's actually way over my head, but "escapes" sounds cool.
- Data - XML or SQL Server CE for storage, depending on type, amount and size of data (SQL for bigger/more I guess). Web services for data exchange. SQL Mobile 2005 will be a cool enhancement with all kinds of new stuff like data grids and binding and stuff. Make SQL CE development easier. Not require you to use a SQL CE device to develop a database. Nice.
- XML Parsing - XmlTextReader and XmlTextWriter parse a doc, but with no in-memory caching. XmlDocument lets you parse a complete document at once and traverse it in memory.
- ADO.NET - Uhhh, yeah. Way over my head. Heh.
- Web Services - This I get. Sort of. more so than ADO.net anyhow heh... XML web services, both basic and digest authentication. SSL encryption support here, too. SOAP stuff. Clean is good, right?
More demos... A news reader that goes out and reads RSS feeds - now that's a cool one. Thom Robbins wrote this and some of the other demos. The news reader and others can even be downloaded from his blog, here.
Hmmmm Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. Cool - that should be interesting...
There was an interesting presentation about the future of the compact framework and Windows Mobile, and there will be positive changes in VS.NET 2005 for the new version, too. Life becomes friendlier and easier for the mobile developer.
Microsoft Location Server - lets your application find itself or other apps. Real time location information integrated with MapPoint technology. Very, very cool. Hosted by your company, not Microsoft, which is even cooler.
Ok, I am prety close to brain dead now, and I need to save a few brain cells for my trip to buy Halo at 12:01am. Cool stuff here. I have no idea what I am talking about, really, but I do feel smarter, so that's good.
Thanks to Bliz for the heads-up and invite.
Saturday, 06 November 2004
My Blackberry phone device up and died on me as soon as I got to Hawaii a couple weeks ago (a blessing in disguise to be sure), so I got a replacement this week. The new one is the Blackberry 7290 model - the latest rendition of the smaller form factor devices with the full keyboard. It's nice. Have fun with an online tour here.
Want to add ringtones? Instructions here.
Some things I like about it:
- Nice, contrasty, clear color screen
- CallerID info is now big, bold and easy to read, and backlights itself for dark places
- A new Help icon on the home screen that works really well
- VERY bright back-light, and two-stages of brightness (hit the back light button once for half light, again for full brightness, again to turn off - cool)
- Color background images for the home screen and the "screensaver" mode, and a new icon on the home screen called "pictures" that I'll have to explore a bit
- Bluetooth (YAY!) (but no printed documentation in the box on how to use it - Go to the help icon on the device's home screen - that only took me a day to find... Once you enable and configure it in the device settings an icon is added to your home screen, as well)
- Quad-band radio on AT&T (850/900/1800/1900 GSM/GPRS) means noticeably improved network coverage over other devices I have used
- USB charging and connector uses a standard USB cord with the itty-bitty plug on the device end, same as several other devices I use like my MP3 player
- Improved keyboard layout (subtle)
- Better information on the home screen - if I enable wireless calendar sync with Exchange for example, the icon on the home screen changes to indicate it's active in that mode. In vibrate mode, the profile icon (which is moved to the home screen, by the way - that took me another hour to find heheh) gets an overlay of - uhhhh - a vibrate gylph or something like that.
A couple of things are really bugging me, though:
- I can't get the RBRO code to work on the browser that's installed on this one. If I go to Google, I'd like to be able to choose to use HTML only. I'll have to play with this some more. Trying to view a larger HTML page results in an error that the page is too large to convert to "HDML" - whatever that is... That sucks, guys.
- The thumb wheel used for navigation is a little too stiff and slick compared to other BB models like the 7280 or 7780, which means my thumb slips a lot. I am sure I will adjust, it just bugs for now.
- Mine came with a version of the v3.6 desktop software in the box that needs to be updated to ensure wireless calendar works correctly. If you use it, get SP3a. Hmph.
- Still uses the old style ring tones. Come on, guys - polyphonic tones have been around for quite a while now - what's up with that? UPDATE: At least you can add your own simple MIDI files!
- Maximum volume on the earpiece is lower than on other models. It makes it harder to use in noiseier environments. But it's still adequate, just not as nice as other Blackberry phones I have used.
Other than that, I am pretty happy with this thing. It's (for the most part) a real improvement.
Saturday, 23 October 2004
And I thought I was pretty geeky with a Tablet PC sitting on the seat and a radio transmitter for audio on the radio... My PC-in-the-car setup 's got nothin' on what J.P. Stewart's doing...
A bunch of Microsoft employees have started a club to pursue their common hobby, as car enthusiasts, where they're building computer equipment into their automobiles. Channel 9's Robert Scoble interviewed one of those employees, J.P. Stewart, on video, and took a close look at what he's done with his ride:
Link: Channel 9 - J.P. Stewart - A new hobby: putting Windows XP in your car
Low-power computers (Mini-ITX style) in the trunk and mini touch-screens in the cab, all built in and custom fit, make for a really cool setup.
DVD, Windows XP, WiFi, GPS, sound system integration through the CD changer control, USB digital sound, and lots of cool stuff. A portable USB 2.0 hard drive moves from car to home or office and allows you to copy files like music and stuff. Or use the WiFi to copy/sync music from the driveway while you're at your home.
Some of J.P.'s goals, now and future: GPS with Streets and Trips (done), Media Player for music (done), Internet always on everywhere (will be using TMobile Motorola phone with Bluetooth, and the computer will use it as its network connection).
And he says he has less than $1000 into the computer equipment, and some uncounted number of hours of his time. Wow. Very cool stuff.
Tuesday, 28 September 2004
And just in time - Blackberry has announced (but not released) BES 4.0, which will (finally) get some much-needed changes in place!
For example (my filtered feature list of what really stood out):
- COMPLETE WIRELESS SYNCHRONIZATION - Yes!!!
- View pictures on the device
- More wireless calendar features (accept tentative, add comments, notification of conflicts)
- Global search (email, contacts, calendar, tasks, across the whole thing)
- Wireless management of Out of Office message, email filters, signatures, etc.
- Lots of back-end wireless security and management improvements
More detailed info is on the Blackberry web site - click the links below.
The latest release of the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution will feature:
Nice, nice nice! Time to go renew that TSupport subscription that's about to come due...
Blackberry customers running a BES can sign up for possible inclusion in a BES 4.0 preview if interested. Done.
Thursday, 23 September 2004
I know he didn't mean to (so I won't act all flattered or smug or anything), but Robert Scoble just sort of summed up the better part of my topic/category list for this-here-blog of mine, over on his blog...
I thought it would be interesting to compare his list of cool upcoming topics for the future to what's categorized or searchable right now on my site. So, I did just that and have added the links, below. Not a bad start, and it points out to me where I am falling shorter than I had realized in my content. Hey Robert, thanks for the copy.
“For the next 18 months, where are the business opportunities going to lie? Tablet PC. Bigtime. Windows Media Center. Gonna be a big deal. SmartPhones. Wanna watch how fast the Motorola MPX220 sells when it's released in the next few months? Xbox Live. You only need to say one number and everyone knows exactly the Xbox thing I'm talking about: "2." Visual Studio 2005. Tons of stuff coming there. MSN has a whole raft of things up their sleeves. And we haven't even started talking about BizTalk, SharePoint, Exchange, SQL Server, 64-bit Windows, SBS, CRM, LiveMeeting, and OneNote, among other things.”
It also gives me a gut-check on my existing blog categories. Here they are, with the ones that apply to this posting checked:
Saturday, 14 August 2004
A few months ago I got excited about the forthcoming Motorola MPx phone - a PDA/mobile-phone unit running the Windows Mobile OS and sporting a true HTML browser, WiFi, etc. Well the story is even better now, by a long shot:
Research in Motion announced a couple of weeks ago (now how did I miss that?) that the MPx and MPx220 will include BlackBerry Connect capability, meaning the MPx will be a full-blown Pocket PC PDA (Windows Mobile OS), a telephone, and a Blackberry device. The MPx220 (the smaller SmartPhone that will get the software) is a quad-band device - I am going to have to assume for now that the MPx is what their spec sheet (PDF) shows: GSM 900/1800/1900 and GPRS.
I bet it costs a fortune, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. This is exactly the type of device needed for companies that have people who travel a lot, have to be constantly in touch, need the immediacy of Blackberry email but want to be able to kick a PowerPoint presentation onto the screen and have it really work, or view and make some simple edits to a spreadsheet, or browse the intranet or Internet. Who needs a laptop? The QWERTY keyboard is just right. I like the rumor of a dual-hinge capability - supposedly it can open hinging on either the long side or the short side, depending on what you want to do with it. The image look like that's true too, although they all seem to show it its long-side pose.
What the MPx will have:
- GSM 900/1800/1900; GPRS
- Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.9 inches; 99.7 X 61.2 X 24 mm
- Weight: 6.1 oz; 174 g
- Up to 180 minutes talk time
- Up to 140 hours standby time
- Integrated 1.2 megapixel camera with flash
- 2.8” 240 x 320 color touch TFT screen for easy data input that also works with a stylus
- Multi-function QWERTY keyboard with touch screen that also works with stylus
- Opens in portrait view for phone use, PDA applications and games
- Built-in Wi-Fi: embedded 802.11b wireless networking
- Microsoft Outlook on the PocketPC
- Integrated Bluetooth Wireless Technology
- SD/MMC slot up to 1 GB
- Compatible with all Microsoft Pocket PC applications
- WAP and HTML browsing, streaming video and audio
- Multi-Media Messaging Service (MMS)
- IrDA (Infra red) and Built-in "ActiveSync" protocol
- Connectivity via IrDA, USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
If anyone happens to read this who know when and where it will be available (aside from “second-half of '04” that is), comment or email me.
What do you think? What would make the perfect device that could replace a laptop, phone and PDA? Comment your thoughts below.
(...by the way, companies that put search functions on their web sites should only do it if it works worth a darn. Compare this search with the same one in Google... Argh!)
Monday, 09 August 2004
Tom posts about a couple of common sense things to do when designing your blog web page to make it more usable for those people who read your site on a mobile device.
I actually view a number of blogs on my Blackberry hand-held, which has a pretty darn small piece of real estate for a screen. But, in HTML content mode (AKA RBRO mode) it's workable. I can even log onto secure web sites with form-based logon fields and fill out forms and submit content to other web sites.
I agree with Tom's suggestions about what the little things are that can make a big difference to the mobile user when laying out your pages. Of course, you could always design a WML/WAP version of your web site, and if you do 100% CSS it's all about order, not layout. At any rate, the point is that it's a good idea to think about the many users of your site, and how they consume your content - and for the average blogger, basic layout changes are about all one is going to take on.
Monday, 12 July 2004
Update: ATTWS/Cingular customers with newer model RIM devices (like the 7290 for example) may find this method does not work. If so, call your service number and tell them you want them to activate your HTML browser on your device. It will be like wireless magic, and you'll be all set.
WAP browsing not working well for you? Feel the need to see the Google graphic when you go to do a search? Are the sites you're trying to browse simply broken when you try to view them on your RIM device in WAP mode? If you have a RIM Blackberry with the newer software, do this (mine's a RIM 7280 on AT&T Wireless, your mileage may vary):
- Go to the M-mode web browser.
- Choose Options.
- On the keypad, type “RBRO” (without the quotes). An additional five or so menu items will appear.
- Click on “Browser Configuration.”
- Scroll to the bottom of the page, and look for the “Constrained Content Mode” field. Change this from “WML Only” to “Unconstrained.”
- Click the wheel and choose “Save Options.”
- Again, go to “Browser Configuration.”
- Scroll down a few lines from the top to “Content Mode.” Change it from “WML only” to either “WML & HTML” or “HTML only” (your choice).
- Click the wheel and chose “Save options.”
- That's it. You can now browse HTML, graphics and all - just make sure your bandwidth allocations won't mean a big bill at the end of your billing month!
Friday, 09 July 2004
posts about new Portable Media Center
devices available for pre-order on Amazon.com:
Creative Labs 20 GB Zen Portable Media Center
Samsung Yepp YH-999 20 GB Portable Media Center
Very nice. Time to do some research and get on the list for one of these. The Media Center Experience is about to take off in a big way. Both can store up to 80 hours of video, be that TV, movies or home movies, over 10,000 songs and up to 100,000 photos. See a demo of what there are all about here.
“Windows Mobile-based Portable Media Centers are handheld entertainment devices that make it easy to store and play recorded TV, movies, home videos, music and photos transferred from a PC with Windows XP. You can watch and listen to your favorite entertainment anytime and anywhere – in the palm of your hand or through a TV or stereo. It’s simple to sync your music, video and pictures from your PC with Windows Media Player 10, and fast and easy to find the entertainment you want to play on your device. Portable Media Centers also support Windows Media Audio and Video plus other leading file formats, so you can choose from a wide range of music, videos and pictures.”
Sunday, 25 April 2004
Looks like maybe the future is starting to look up for PocketPC-based phones.
I used a Motorola SmartPhone (MPX200) for a while, but gave up on it because of poor performance in the Exchange sync department (on the part of the phone, which bogged down under the pressure).
As far as T9 text input has come, it drove me crazy trying to type email on a phone keyboard, so I switched back to the Blackberry Phone, which does a great job for me and others where I work. It just doesn't run the Windows Mobile OS.
But, looks like Motorola has some new models up its sleeve. While the new SmartPhone (MPx100) looks interesting, the new MPx PDA-Phone looks very cool. With a full keboard built-in, a true HTML browser, WiFi built in, etc., I'll be all over this (if it ever makes it to the US, that is). Availability is set for 2nd half of 2004 according to Motorola's press releases.
© Copyright 2013 Greg Hughes
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