Friday, June 04, 2010

To Evo or to iPhone? – That is the question…

I write this story as the iPad has shipped more than a million units and has become the fastest technology product to gross a billion dollars in sales. The next generation iPhone hardware has been leaked and software details confirm that we will finally receive support for basic multitasking under the 4.0 operating system. Hot on Apple’s heels is the competitive Google Android mobile phone software which is slowly rolling out their latest “Froyo” version 2.2. Most importantly, the brand new Sprint Evo hardware now trumps the unlocked Nexus 1 hardware platform with its next generation 4G radio and 8 Megapixel camera.

The smart phone space has not been this hot since the Palm Treo fought with Microsoft Windows Mobile half a decade ago. To confirm my thought, the NPD group announced that Android handsets are outselling the iPhone – no small surprise as some 60 handsets are available on 50 carriers worldwide. A stark difference from the 5-year exclusive deal that AT&T signed with Apple in 2007 for iPhone distribution in America.

But is the Android software ready for prime time? And is the hardware truly better? The quick answer: Maybe if you are a geek, but read on for the details. First of all, where the iPhone is “visually silent” with notifications, Android phones have a blinking light. Some have two actually; one or two at the top near the speaker as a charge and bluetooth indicator, and the Nexus 1 has a big glowing track ball that changes color upon activity such as email, SMS or applications receiving data. That’s nice if you like visual alerts and keep your phone in silent mode.

Whereas you “buy the capacity you want” on the iPhone, with Android, to expand storage, you can buy a large micro SD card. Their latest version 2.2 operating system will allow you to run applications from this card, rather than require them in system flash memory. This was a feat Palm could not achieve on their platform, but memory interfaces have sped up since those days.

For those who want to use their smart phone without charging throughout a whole day, a second battery is a must. The processors in current smart phones now reach 1GHz, matching that of your laptop from just a few years ago. This plus the wireless communication that receiving a constant barrage of GPS data, email and Twitter feeds from your social network mandate a replaceable “on the go” battery. Android phones have this feature across their multi-vendor lineup. The battery of an iPhone always lives within; although backpacks can be purchased to provide more power. Android cameras are better too, with more megapixels and a flash. The Sprint Evo phone even has a second forward facing camera for video conferencing, plus two LED flashes on the back for extra brightness.

That sounds like some compelling reasons to go with an Android phone, especially if you do not like the AT&T wireless network coverage, cost or new data plan; although most users will have a hard time reaching 2GB of data in a month. In the US T-Mobile offers data only “unlimited plans” and Sprint still allows for 5GB of data use in a month. Most Android phones can act as a modem for your laptop when you travel – but do not expect broadband like speeds anchoring your devices together.

So what’s the bad news on this front? It’s all in the interface and software. Apple has made some amazing evolutions in their user experience. Things like inertia in the menu systems, keyboards that quickly auto prompt and correct your mistakes and a general ease of use are missing from the “half iPhone’s age” Android platform.

After using the iPhone for a few years, I feel that the keyboard is a bit cramped and dictionary not as predictive. Thankfully because of the openness of Android, you can change out its keyboard by installing third party programs, even mimicking an iPhone keyboard, or a new sliding keyboard called Swype.

Android does not have as many downloadable applications as the iPhone does, and Google probably does not have your credit card on file, so buying is a bit more cumbersome. It seems that iTunes sale of 10 billion music tracks at 99-cents sets the stage for you to easily buy applications at $1.99, or increasingly $9.99 for the iPad.

In addition to an ease of use through a near “one-click” purchase, the iPhone changed the way carriers would allow applications on mobile phones, by allowing computer software developers to create mobile programs more akin to those on a computer than a proprietary mobile device without the usual carrier vetting process – albeit one now controlled by a mysterious black box at Apple. An interesting side note is that years ago Apple licensed the “one-click” patent and that play seems like it has paid for itself over the years as Apple sells more digital assets than digital devices.

There are now more than 100,000 iPhone applications from alarm clocks to ones that let you stream media from your home television or hard drive to anywhere in the world. These developers can write a program for any of the near 100 million iPhones and iTouch devices sold, each with identical screen resolutions, or the upcoming iPad which has a 9.3” screen, but is capable of “pixel doubling” to stretch the content. The newest iPhone screen has been examined to have a resolution near that of the iPad, but in the size similar to the prior models of iPhone.

Compare that with Andoid which has several vendors like Motorola, HTC and the like creating handsets which have different resolutions, screen types ranging from LCD to AMOLED, different handset buttons below the screen, and some even with joysticks and full QWERTY keyboards. Some of these older phones run different versions of the Android operating system with no ability to upgrade. This means that next generation applications will not be able to run on those slightly older platforms.

While the Android platform loves Flash, supports hardware acceleration and the ability to play media from nearly ANY website, Netflix and ABC have circumvented the need for Flash support on the iPhone & iPad and have created applications that allow media into the devices.
If you want the “full web” and are willing to put up with some software quirks, then Android is a more open platform, that you may find worth the trouble. I feel that Google will get there eventually as their software is only “half as old” as Apple’s. If you want a device that will anchor with your car, run hundreds of thousands of applications and has an extremely polished Interface, then stick with the iPhone. The next generation hardware is going to be an amazing piece of artwork and technology.

When speaking at Maker Faire 2010, I was asked which mobile devices I carry with me. As a technologist my answer is far too many. I tried an iPad and had to sell it due to its limitations. I prefer a Netbok running OS-X. For my pocket arsenal, I carry an iPhone for appliations and testing on a data-only plan. A Nexus 1 or Evo depending on my country that I am visiting, and my tired and true Blackberry Curve on Sprint. The 3G Blackberry Curve runs several apps, most importantly makes and takes calls, handles email faster via a single inbox than any other device above, and the battery lasts all day long. It’s just not quite as sexy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The new iPhone 4th Generation has revealed itself!

Several weeks ago, a version of the iPhone that was "just a bit different" from the 3 prior year products was found at a bar not far from the Apple Cupertino campus. This device was remotely shut down hours after it was lost, but not before the yet unseen 4.0 OS (it is available as a beta now for developers to test) was played with briefly, and the supposed owner was identified through the phone's Facebook application.

The popular gadget blog site Gizmodo purchased the phone for $5000 from its pub crawling finder after they were unable to get Apple corporate to accept it in return, let alone get them to acknowledge that it exists via phone calls to the headquarters. We can only assume the amount of secrecy that Apple takes with products that are developed internally, and call center agents know nothing of new devices existence until the rest of the world does. These agents took the description of what was found to be a Chinese knockoff. This "rogue phone" became a nice find for Gizmodo, as their purchase has lead to massive traffic (6.55 million views as I write this) once they posted a story with full details on the device on Monday April 19th, a full two months before its assumed launch of June 22nd, 2010. With years of unfettered secrecy around prior Apple product launches, this is a huge snafu for their marketing machine. Or was it? Although, it is no secret among the tech elite that a new phone is eminent this summer, and even firmware hints of a flash and other hardware leaks via software - the features of this device were a worst kept secret in the industry. In fact, Apple has launched a new device each summer since the iPhone June 2007 debut. Plus, on their earnings call today, they announced that 8.75 million iPhones were sold this quarter alone. This is a mass market device, and the technology pros will want the newest model, while the masses should be fine with what they have. As such, I do not see this premature announcement hurting the sales of units. In fact, it is getting Apple even more press in a slingshot after tremendous iPad hype.

The new features with this fourth generation iPhone are a slimmer style (even slimmer than the first generation unit) along with a forward facing "video conferencing" camera, and flash on the photo camera on the back. It uses a new micro SIM as was first seen in the iPad 3G and perhaps has a noise canceling microphone on the top of the device. Usability features like battery life, type of processor and speed were not able to be tested, as the unit was remotely software locked by Apple. This version may be the first iPhone with the Apple owned A4 processor inside, which is what runs the speedy iPad with a compelling 12-hour battery life. With larger batteries within, we may be onto a full-day device, I consider the models sold to date to be half-day usage. Remember when your old Nokia "candy bar" phones would go a week between charges?

Below is a link to a news segment with the Los Angeles CBS anchor David Malkof talking with me about the found iPhone and what its implecations are for the Apple Engineer, Gary Powell who seemingly lost it!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

I cannot WAIT to get my new iPad.

OK, for those of you who know me, and are astute to seen that this post was created on April Fools Day, I can just hear your chuckles now. I bet you are saying "Ha Ha Dave! You got me on this one!" But alas, I will probably buy a few. You see, I was present at the Apple launch event to cover it for G4 and back then said that the device was going to be a big fail, limited in use and will not be adopted. I even shot some YouTube HD video of my and another G4 producer's lack of love for it.

Yet today, perhaps due to my being out at sea for three days, I am considering a different tune. I have read the Walt Mossberg Wall Street Journal review where he says it has lasted more than 10 hours with constant and quality use, calls it a decent consumption device for media and websites. Uncle Walt even goes so far to say that the limitations on content creation, due to its lack of USB ports and an on-screen (for the time being) keyboard are not so bothersome. I have also read David Pogue's piece for the New York Times where he saved face and wrote two reviews. One for the technology experts like myself, and one for the people who just got on Facebook in 2009. He kind of likes it too. Those stories are OK, but this one is better.

At the 2010 SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, I covered a session on HTML 5 Video for; which supports streaming media without the requirement for Adobe Flash. The iPad and iPhone do not support this format, as Steve Jobs says that it is a processor hog, unfortunately it is seen on many websites like YouTube, Vimeo and pro-media outlets like Hulu. Newspaper websites even use the format to give some "flash" to their words. This HTML evolution should integrate its capabilities within. At the same time, Google is announcing that Flash support will be built into Chrome, their browser. It is also supported in their Android mobile phone handsets, which I have been testing successfully with the Nexus 1 Smart Phone. More on that in a subsequent post.

So HTML 5 should make the iPad be a more usable media CONSUMPTION device. Accessories and hacks to Bluetooth should make it a better CREATION device. But one important thing is happening that I did not foresee due to prior stubbornness; Media sites like CBS, Hulu and New York Times are building specific applications and web sites for the iPad. This will deem the lack of Flash media support moot, but will most likely come with "premium content" pricing schemes.

If you want to find the real reason that I am excited about the iPad; with its no-contract 3G service plan with UNLIMITED (for now anyway; lets keep it up AT&T) data plan for $29.99 a month, take a look at the episode of Cranky Geeks that I was a guest on, just one week before the unit shipped to stores and Apple fan boy's hot little hands via UPS.

Ziff doesn't do embedded video, so enjoy this URL: You just click on it, and a page opens!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why I am finally excited about the iPad

I am not a full-time iPhone user. My new friends frequently say "didn't I see you with an iPhone?" as I pull out my Blackberry. You see, I'm one of those guys that carried a flip phone and a Sidekick back in the early "black and white" smart phone days in 2003, because smart phones do not a phone make. These days I still carry two devices; a Blackberry on Sprint's 3G network as it has a real clicking keyboard, ultra fast email that I do not have to wait for and the ability to make and take calls at all of the tech conferences where the iPhone fails. The other pocket has a iPhone 3G, with a data only prepaid "Go" plan. This $20 data plan used to offer unlimited use, but now is limited to 100MB, which gets eaten up in the course of an afternoon on a high-speed data device.

Now I could share a SIM between a USB broadband device, and pop that in the iPhone when I am not using the 3G modem in my laptop, but since I do not want another contract, and my friends always complain of the voice quality on the iPhone, I chose the prepaid route on that gadget. But come April, no longer. AT&T has stated they will have a no-contract unlimited 3G service plan for the iPad for $19.99 per month.

Now I've touched the iPad and used it since I made my way to the iPad launch event to take some photos plus some HD video as I covered the excitement for the G4 TV network. Ultimately, here is what I think of the device - it's a first generation product that is not ready for my dollars.

Check out my thoughts on this G4 TV Attack of the show Loop segment:

However, come April fools day, 2nd, 3rd - whatever. I will point my browser here, at AT&T's data plan site to get a iPad micro SIM, micro to standard SIM adapter, or just try linking one of my other AT&T SIMs to this new account type and watch my 3G iPhone get a new lease on its digital life. Since the iPad uses a new sized SIM card, which has standard pins, but a smaller size, you will need to fill the void in devices like the iPhone SIM slot.

As far as the iPad, I am going to wait for the 4G version and hope that it has a forward facing camera. But I cannot WAIT for the iPad AT&T data service. Lets hope the towers do not let all of us down.