android – Stay N Alive

Can’t get Google Wallet to Work? Have an Expanded Battery Pack? That may be Your Problem.

I’ve been beating my head around why every place I’ve gone to so far with Paypass (Home Depot, McDonalds, Best Buy, 7-Eleven, you name it) hasn’t worked with my new Galaxy Nexus phone that’s supposed to work with NFC and Google Wallet. I searched all the forums and just couldn’t figure out what was happening. The guys at 7-Eleven said it worked with every other phone they tried it with.

Then I remembered – I had an extended battery pack that I bought off Amazon that was on the phone to extend the battery life. It made the back of the phone a lot bigger, I’m guessing preventing the NFC signal from getting through. I actually found a unique way of testing it: The Nexus Q actually supports NFC. If you hold your phone up to the Nexus Q your phone will open up to the Nexus Q app in the Play Store. So I ran an experiment.

Just as with 7-Eleven and all the other Paypass stores, the Nexus Q didn’t register when I’d hold up my phone to the Nexus Q. When I removed the extended battery pack, sure enough, the phone would buzz, beep, and then open up to the Nexus Q app. That was indeed my problem!

So if you’re experiencing this same issue, try putting back in the original battery. I’m betting this fixes a few issues, and it’s odd that I’m not seeing this warning anywhere in the Galaxy Nexus forums or docs. I’m surely not the only one with a battery pack! And how does it work with thicker cases?

If this helped you, let me know in the comments!

Shared first on Google+!

UPDATE: I’m being told on Google+ that the NFC is actually in the battery on the Galaxy Nexus, so that would explain why this happens. I wonder if there are expanded battery packs that have NFC in them so this doesn’t happen. If you know any let me know in the comments!

Breaking Down the Signal – The Android, iOS, and WebOS Comparison

There’s no shortage of criticism, complaint, or praise of the various mobile operating systems. The iPhone, Android, the Pre, or even Blackberry and Windows Mobile – no matter which phone you review you’re bound to find someone who either absolutely loves the device they own or completely hates those that do. I tried to make this known in my previous article on my preference towards iPhone, stating the features I liked about it and showing why, despite connectivity issues I thought it was the best phone I’ve tried. I thought it was worth stepping back even further though.

I realized very quickly after my previous article that nothing I said was going to sway those that had already made the Android choice, or the Pre/WebOS choice, to switch back to the iPhone. So I decided not to fight it – here I’m going to take some time showing you the different devices I’ve spent significant time with, what I liked about them, and what they lacked.  Then I’ll let you make the choice on what phone works best for you.  You might notice there aren’t many articles like this – that’s because they take a lot longer to write and involve a lot more research.  This one is no exception.

The Experiment

I’ll admit, my experiment wasn’t the most scientific one could muster.  But I will tell you I own 3 phones currently.  The first, my work phone, a Palm Pre, which I’ve now owned since March.  Secondly, is Apple’s iPhone 4, my main phone where I forward most of my calls now, and recently replaced an iPhone 3GS (my wife having previously owned the iPhone 3G).  Lastly, I have the HTC Evo, a test phone I borrowed for a month or so from work so I could understand Android better.  My hope was to try to play with the Android products my employer creates in order to design and build Social architecture and end-points into that experience (which is what I do for a living).  I am also forwarding all my calls to that phone, through Google Voice.  In addition to that, I have access to a Droid Incredible which gets passed around at work, as well as a Blackberry, which I admit I’ve never really touched (nor do I have much desire to play with – I’ll leave that for others to review).

So, the three phones I put to the test were the iPhone 4, the HTC Evo, and the Palm Pre.  The minimum amount of time I’ve used any of them has been 2 weeks (the Evo, just barely newer than the iPhone 4).  I have carried each for a significant amount of time, playing with them, answering calls, making calls, and trying to get to know the features.  I’ve also been trying to get to know the development environments of each as I try to learn the advantages to each development environment.  I think I’ve given each phone a fair amount of time to try to have a good understanding.  So let’s go into the features, and I’ll let you be the judge:

Palm Pre

Hardware Features:

Let’s face it, the Palm Pre just feels good.  When you hold it, it naturally feels good in  your hand.  Being one of the only mainstream Smartphone devices with a keyboard, I admit that’s an advantage, not a weakness.  I have yet to find an on-screen keyboard that you can type on and know what keys you’re typing without looking at the phone.  With the Pre, you can almost do that.  The Pre, when you slide it open to reveal the keyboard (without, it just looks like a smooth eggshell), has a mirror that you can use to either look at yourself, or see yourself if you need to take a picture of yourself.

The Pre doesn’t have a front-facing camera, and the rear-facing camera is far from what the Evo or iPhone 4 can provide.  The other failing part of the Pre is that due to its plastic casing it wears down after about a year or so.  I have several friends all with Pres and each one of their phones after a year or so starts to show a lot of wear, and even issues when sliding the case open and shut.  That’s part of the problem, the more moving parts you have.

The battery on the Pre is also pretty good.  With little use, you should be able to get away with charging it only ever other day or so.  Using it as a hotspot, you’ll have to charge it much more frequent.  It definitely lasts much longer than my Evo.

As for signal, Sprint in general provides a pretty good signal.  The building I work at has repeaters throughout so it’s a tough comparison, but at home I haven’t had many issues, and even taking to the Bay area I always treat it as my backup phone because I know I can always guarantee a signal there.  The Pre is a pretty reliable phone, in terms of hardware.

The other thing I really like about the Pre is you can also purchase the charging stone that works with it.  With that, you can simply place the phone on the stone and it charges, without any need for connecting wires.  This saves countless charging cords and keeps its smooth look as you don’t have to open the little charger opening on the device.

The Operating System:

The Pre is hands-down the most beautiful operating system out there right now.  Even Steve jobs gave note to it in their recent press conference.  The Pre has just one button (other than the default volume controls and mute switch), which shows you all the programs open at once when you press it.  However, it also has a gesture where if you swipe backwards, it always goes back to the previous screen you were on, and if you swipe forwards, it goes forward to the next screen.  This works in applications as well.

Let’s not forget that the Pre and WebOS was the first operating system to support true multi-tasking on the phone.  Even today its interface is the one that seems to make the most sense.  At any time you just press the main button on the phone and all your open applications pop up as windows on the phone.  If you want to go to one you just select it.  Want to surf through the open applications? Just swipe left or right and you can see all the open “screens” for your applications.  If you want to close any, just swipe the screen up and the application gets flung off the canvas, closed forever.  It’s a very natural interface that anyone can get used to.

As for the rest of the operating system, well, it’s all based on Linux so it’s very open and very customizable.  I have a friend who completely removed his default browser and other apps in the phones he gave to his kids so they couldn’t access the internet.  It’s that open.

They’ve taken developers to heart, and even enabling “developer mode” on the phone is a matter of just typing in the Konami code (“upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart”) in the search bar.  Doing so enables a whole host of features, enabling you to get access to a shell and the heart of the phone.  There is also an entire “homebrew” community of applications not officially in Palm’s app store that you can easily install on your phone.  My coworker even showed me how to view the source code on these applications – the entire experience is very open to the very core, something not quite the same as Android, also Linux-based.

With developer mode enabled you can also enable tethering on the phone.  Searching for it reveals all sorts of articles on the subject, not requiring much effort.  The great thing about it is neither Palm nor Sprint seem to object to the hack and openly encourage the homebrew apps such as tethering.  The entire experience is, well, beautiful.


As I mentioned, the entire application experience on the Pre is a very open experience.  Palm makes the entire developer SDK free (normally $99 to closed-source apps) to developers willing to developers willing to make their code open source.  Developers of such apps are then required to release their code to the community under open source terms they specified.

The application experience, while not quite as consistent as the iPhone’s (iOS), still makes fairly nice apps.  With the surrounding OS, they still look beautiful – the OS makes everything on the phone look beautiful, so ugly or not, the application should not affect the overall experience.

The main problem I saw with applications on the Pre was the lack of them.  While in general, I was able to find something for every need I had, the main vendors weren’t always producing my favorite apps for the phone.  Things like TomTom, Sling, and others may not ever provide apps for the phone, so the high quality apps may never make it unless there is a viable amount of competition.

In addition, because the Pre no longer supports iTunes (previously they had found a hack to be able to make iTunes recognize the phone), there is no default music player for the device.  Therefore if you’ve bought all your music on iTunes you’re out of luck syncing with it.  It does work well with solutions like DoubleTwist, so there are alternatives, and I didn’t find the lack of iTunes support to be that big of a deal.  It will be less of a deal if cloud-based apps like Spotify start supporting the OS.  That said, the apps were my biggest turn off for the Pre.

Development Environment:

Pre had my favorite development environment of the 3.  Since most native apps support plain HTML, CSS, and Javascript (that’s why it’s called “WebOS”), it’s dirt simple to learn how to develop on the device.  You can use the HTML/CSS/Javascript model, or even port your C/C++ apps into the phone, making porting of heavy OpenGL apps to the phone from iPhone and other devices simple.

The SDK doesn’t have an incredibly powerful IDE experience like the iPhone’s InterfaceBuilder, but it is still sufficient, and since it’s just HTML and Javascript, not a very difficult thing to manage.


Hardware Features:

The Evo is a machine.  From its huge size to its heavy processor, it’s built to run things fast.  Out of the box it comes with a 1GHz processor, an 8MP camera, 1.3 MP front-facing camera, an FM Radio, and more.

It’s much bigger than the other phones.  I don’t know if it’s the size making it a psychological thing, but it feels much heavier, too.  That’s probably one of the biggest downsides in my opinion.  It’s a clunker.

The phone reception is pretty good, and boasts 4G speeds on Sprint’s 4G network if it’s available in your area.  I was able to get up to about 5Mb/s on mine, and the web experience is very snappy.  In fact the entire experience is very snappy due to the speed of the processor.

If anything, I’d say the hardware is the main reason to get this phone (minus the size), except for one thing: the battery.  The battery life is horrible!  It makes the phone unusable, and goes dead by noon each day when you enable 4G on the phone.  When 4G is off, it only lasts until about 2pm each day before having to recharge (my measurement of battery life is by what time you have to recharge it after the time it is fully charged in the morning when I disconnect it from the charger in the morning).  Unless you’re willing to carry a charger around with you, this phone will be very difficult to use.

The Operating System:

The Android operating system, like the Evo, is clunky.  Everything is very boxy and not very smooth.  When you scroll the UI is shaky.  I get error messages from the operating system about applications crashing all the time.  While the hardware may make up for it on the Evo, the operating system really ties down the potential of the hardware.  I hear much of that will be changed in the Gingerbread version of Android, which I have yet to see.  At the moment the user experience is far behind its two rivals I’m reviewing here.

The one thing I really like about the Android operating system is the tight integration with Google products.  It works seamlessly with Gmail.  It works seamlessly with Google Voice.  Many of Google’s other products are all integrated tightly into the operating system.

In addition, Google includes deep integration into Facebook and Twitter and other social networks, right in the operating system.  However I think you will find greater benefit from dedicated social clients like Seesmic or Tweetdeck or the Twitter app.  I don’t think the Social Integration is enough to push one over the edge, at least not yet.

The Android OS, like WebOS, is very open.  Being Linux based, you can do many things as a result, offering many customizations you can’t get from the iPhone.  That said, whatever you do, you’re still tied to the flavor of Android your provider has given.  I’m not sure if Sprint has blessed hacking the Evo or not, and how tightly they’ve locked it down.  That’s all up to the phone manufacturer and the cell phone provider.


Android has a very rich application environment.  While there are still not near as many high quality apps as the iPhone, the number for Android is steadily increasing at a rate faster than the iPhone, and will probably exceed the number of applications the iPhone has at some point.

That said, the application experience on Android isn’t nearly consistent as the iPhone’s.  Applications are bulky, crash often, and don’t have nearly as beautiful a UI as the iPhone.  The approval process for Android’s store isn’t nearly as strict, so you’re likely, when searching in the app store to find a kid’s app right next to a porn-related application.  You’re likely to find very amateur applications, and my bet is at some point the majority of applications built for Android (if that is not already the case) will mostly be those types of applications.

I find the Android’s application experience to be sub-par to that of iOS.  That’s not to say it will always be that way – it’s just the way it is now.

Development Environment:

I really like the approach Google took with the Android application development environment.  It’s a Java-based environment, something just about every programmer has had some experience with since they teach it in most schools as the beginner class.  The development environment will be very familiar to most developers.

In addition, there aren’t near as many hurdles a developer will have to go through to get their application in the app store.  It’s a relatively pain-free experience, and Google is making that even easier with their recent Scratch-like App Builder that anyone can use.  It will be very simple.

Registration for the app store is $25 – there is no open source program like WebOS.  However, the SDK is free for download to anyone, and the entire operating system source code is also made available online.  It’s a very developer-friendly operating system.  Perhaps that’s its greatest weakness, though.

Apple iPhone 4

Hardware Features:

The iPhone 4 is simple and sleek, plain and simple.  Similar to the Pre (with the exception of the Open Source part), since Apple also controls the hardware, they have the added advantage of seamlessly integrating the entire hardware and software experience to work well with each other.  It’s hard to not talk about the hardware without mentioning the software, and vice-versa.

The size of the iPhone is just perfect – it’s smaller than the iPhone 3Gs, not much lighter though.  It fits in the palm of your hands just perfectly, and its glass exterior is very beautiful.

The phone comes with a 1.4MP front-facing camera, making it slightly better than Evo’s, and 5MP rear-facing camera.  Despite the camera being lower resolution than the Evo’s 8MP camera, you won’t be able to notice.  In my comparisons of the two side-by-side in various environments the iPhone 4 produced far superior photo and video quality than the Evo.  The difference is very noticeable, and Apple seems to have really compensated the hardware with software.

In addition to the superior cameras, the Retina screen completes the experience, with absolutely the best phone picture I have ever seen.  Using this phone will make you want to read books on it, just so you can see the pristine quality of the text and images on the phone.  It’s absolutely fun to take pictures and video on the device because they look better than most other monitors and TVs I have in my home.  It’s a beautiful device, through and through.

The phone has a similar processor speed to the Evo, however Apple made their own processor so I’m sure there are some advantages there.  The operating system through and through is very snappy and smooth as a result, providing for a very seamless experience.  The phone also comes with 16GB or 32GB of memory that isn’t limited to music or apps, which is different from most Android devices, which only allow you a limited amount of space for apps, leaving the rest for music and data.

The battery life on the iPhone 4 is amazing.  It’s not quite at the level of the iPad, but still the best battery experience I’ve had on a phone so far.  I can keep it running all day with normal use and not have to recharge it until the next day or even later.  You will not be worrying near as much about recharging with this phone.

Then there’s the part that seems to get the most press – the connection.  I noticed the connection problem.  I was able to reproduce it (but I admit it would have taken me longer to notice all this had the media not been all over it).  Very occasionally I see a dropped call which I didn’t see on the 3GS.  That said, it just doesn’t bother me.  The phone is still useable, even without the bumper.  Adding the bumper seems to make most of the problems go away, and in fact, the black bumper almost makes the phone look a little better.  Given the fact that Apple is giving these away free now, it seems like it’s almost a non-issue.  That said there will be people in areas with even less connectivity that will have “the AT&T factor” – this will always be a factor so long as Apple is tied to AT&T and it’s one worthy of considering.  If you normally have issues with AT&T and don’t want to deal with them, maybe this phone isn’t for you.

That said, I think the new antenna actually improves the internet speeds.  When combined with the faster processor, the two seem to work very well together and provide a much faster web experience than the iPhone 3GS.  It’s actually somewhat comparable to the Evo from what I can tell (that’s without detailed experiments).

The Operating System:

iOS is, well, iOS.  It’s the Apple experience.  It’s simple.  There’s not much to it.  You have one button and a bunch of icons to click on.  That’s why people use Apple.

iOS 4 is a very smooth experience, only amplified by the iPhone 4’s beautiful Retina screen and faster processor.  Multitasking, once you figure it out and as applications start to adapt it, makes things much easier.  You open an app and it opens right to the place you left off.  There is a bit of a learning curve in learning the multitasking features though.  Once you learn to double-click that home button you’re in multi-tasking heaven.

Folders makes things much more organized, with fewer swipes if you have a lot of apps.  The biggest issue with folders is figuring out how to add applications to new folders and create new folders (you do so by just swiping an application icon over to another icon or folder).  Once you figure it out though, it “just makes sense.”

The new HD camera features are very slick.  With the still camera you can now zoom and pan.  Zooming reduces picture quality, and one won’t want to do it too often if you’re looking for high quality photos.  However, I’ve found using some of the apps like Pano or auto-stitch with the new camera make for a very beautiful photo experience.  HD video is amazing, and being able to auto-focus by clicking on anywhere in the picture while you are shooting video makes for a very professional-looking video that focuses and unfocuses just like a professional video camera.  The video shoots at 30 fps, which is the same as my more professional Canon Rebel T2i camera.

Oh, then there’s FaceTime.  Yes, there are apps on the Evo (and even the iPhone) with similar functionality, but the deep integration into the operating system makes all the difference.   It’s almost too convenient to video call your friends, and I find myself reaching for that FaceTime button whenever I can and I know my friends have an iPhone 4.  That’s also the biggest problem – knowing when your friends have an iPhone 4.  Hopefully more devices start to integrate with this and it becomes more of an open protocol than it is currently.

The operating system for the iPhone 4, in conjunction with the hardware makes it simply beautiful – it’s something you must experience to gain the full benefit.


Applications are Apple’s strength.  The benefit Apple has is it gets to add hardware features that applications can take advantage of as part of the experience.  With the iPhone 4 the photo applications are all going to be better, and I wouldn’t doubt there will be a slough of video editing apps that come out as a result.  Already, you can purchase Apple’s iMovie app and shoot and edit your movies all on the iPhone.

The application experience on the iPhone is always going to be consistent.  Apple reviews all applications thoroughly and ensures they all maintain a somewhat consistent look and feel that is consistent with the Apple brand image.  They are all about their customer and they want that experience to reflect even through to the applications that are installed on the phone.  If you have a bug that they notice, they won’t approve it.  If you aren’t consistent with their standards, they won’t approve it.  That’s simply the Apple way, and if you don’t agree, there’s always the web browser.

That said, some criticize the lack of being open as Apple’s weakness.  Currently tethering costs money because of this weakness.  It wasn’t even available before.  The customer is stuck waiting for Apple to release new features and approve new types of applications as a result.  This is frustrating for some.  For me the peace of mind that the experience will remain consistent is comfort enough for me.

Development Environment:

The development environment is somewhat consistent with the application strengths and weaknesses.  Because Apple wants to remain consistent, developers often get shut out.  If Apple doesn’t like your app, they won’t approve it.  Some developers aren’t even told why Apple doesn’t like it.  Others are left hanging waiting for their apps to be approved.  That said, the majority of applications, assuming they follow Apple’s terms and rules, will get approved.

My biggest beef with the development environment is Objective C – it makes me want to poke my eyes out.  It’s a purely object-oriented language that deals with events and other weird language paradigms most modern-day developers aren’t going to be familiar with.  Its InterfaceBuilder GUI IDE isn’t like visual tools such as Visual Basic.  You have to create a prototype, then re-duplicate most of that prototype in code later.  It’s a pain to deal with.  There’s a huge learning curve.  It’s one of my biggest hurdles towards developing for the iPhone.  That said, once you learn it, you’re in high demand and you’re producing high quality, highly usable apps in a beautiful environment.

The Verdict

Looking at the 3 phones, comparing hardware, software, applications, and development environment, I have to choose the iPhone 4.  It’s the best phone I’ve ever owned. Better than the other phones and barring a few weaknesses, everything just flows together and looks beautiful when you use it.  It feels natural to my every day workflow.  The Pre isn’t a strong enough device.  The Evo is too bulky and cludgy and buggy.  Not to mention the battery life making it practically unusable.

If I had only the choice of the Evo and the Pre, I would probably chose the Pre.  The Pre’s UI and overall experience far trumps the Evo’s.  The hardware isn’t quite as beefy as the Evo’s, but the software really makes up for it, and especially in recent OS updates, doesn’t have many speed issues you notice.  It also feels nice in the hand and is easy to carry around.  I like WebOS far better than I like Android.

If I absolutely had to choose Android, I don’t think I’d go with the Evo.  We have an Incredible laying around the office that is much smaller in form factor and almost as fast.  The battery lasts much, much longer than the Evo’s.  My choice of Android devices, at least at the moment, would be the Droid Incredible.  My iPhone’s battery still lasts longer, amongst the many other advantages it gives me.

So with all those details in mind, I hope you can see why I chose the iPhone 4.  If I had to recommend one device, it would be the iPhone 4 – it has the best experience, the best hardware, the best software, and despite a few connectivity issues and hurdles into the App store which the end user barely sees, it is absolutely the best mobile device I’ve ever owned.

I want Android to prove me wrong though.  I want HP/Palm to prove me wrong.  Heck, I want Microsoft to prove me wrong.  I hope they produce something better at some point – it could happen.  However, at this point in time, put side-by-side, my overall recommendation would be the iPhone 4.  If you’re a device manufacturer and think your device might be better, send it my way and I’ll do a review of it.  At least now I’ve set the bar and hopefully someone can make something better.  And hey, if you can do a better comparison with the phones you use, I’d like to see.

Disclosure: The iPhone was the only phone I paid for in this experiment.

Name a Better Phone

Let’s put all partialities aside.

Currently, I own an iPhone, an Evo (which I’m borrowing through work for testing), and a Pre (my work phone).  I have been a Windows user most of my life, and spent 2 or 3 years with Linux on my desktop.  In the PDA days I ran a Palm Pilot, a Handspring Visor, and a Dell Axim (Pocket PC) device.  In all honesty I don’t care what the brand of the device is that I use – I care that it gives me the best experience for my money and will provide the same for my family.  At the same time my experience may be different than yours.  You may need something cheaper.  You may not need a camera.  You may just need the phone features.  All these factors go into the purchase of a cell phone.

Yet, when Consumer Reports says that it can’t recommend the iPhone 4 as a whole simply because of one feature, when it rates it higher than the competition on every other test, I call foul.  Something’s fishy in this review.

Partialities aside, when you rate phones, as a whole, feature-by-feature, side-by-side with the other phones that I own, the iPhone 4 still outperforms them, hands down.  Even Consumer Reports confirms that. The iPhone 4 takes better pictures than my Evo.  It takes better video.  The iPhone 4 has so much better screen quality than my Evo.  I can edit my movies on my iPhone 4.  The iPhone 4 lasts at least 3 times as long in battery life than my HTC Evo.  The iPhone 4 has a better, more consistent application experience than my Evo.  There’s simply no comparison on those features.  The iPhone beats the Evo in user experience and simplicity (My 2 year old has issues with the Evo – he has no problem with my iPhone).  It has better parental controls.  It has a much smaller, easier-to-hold form factor.  It has FaceTime, and before you say the Evo has apps that do that, the Evo has not integrated it into its Operating System and phone book, and that’s a huge difference.

Now let’s look at the Evo.  True, the Evo does have better call quality.  That’s perhaps the one advantage that matters to me.  The Evo has better Google Apps integration, although that’s not as big a deal to me either since at work we don’t use Google anyway. (and the iPhone 4 is good enough)  The Evo has social integration built in, but except for the hard-core techies and Social Media geeks, this simply won’t matter to the majority of the world, and the iPhone 4 has better apps to handle this anyway.  What else can the Evo do better?

I know you’ll bring up the issue of Choice.  I’ve covered this before – it’s a valid reason, but I ask you to define choice.  Can I run my Evo on Verizon, and run Verizon Android phones on Sprint?  How easy is it for you to switch services with your Android phone?  Can I port my iPhone Objective-C based apps over to the Android marketplace?  No matter what, there will always be elements of the OS you can’t port, and there will always be limitations in choice. History doesn’t change, so long as one company is controlling the infrastructure.  At the same time, no one is stopping me from Jailbreaking my iPhone to get the extra features I might want, should I want them.  Sure, Apple makes it harder, but that’s not stopping people from doing it.  There will always be some form of choice no matter what phone you’re using.

I don’t get all the bashing by mostly people that don’t even own an iPhone 4 based on solely connectivity issues.  I use my phone with my left hand.  Yes, I notice and can reproduce the reduced signal, but it simply isn’t that bad.  Especially contrasted to all the other amazing features I get from the phone.  Yet at the same time, Consumer Reports admits they didn’t even test it with the recommended case that Apple suggested all iPhone 4 users purchase.  Since Apple suggests that to fix the connectivity issues, I would definitely just consider that as part of the purchase price – it’s still a cheap phone!

I don’t understand all the negativity and targeting of the iPhone, asking for recalls and such because of simple connectivity problems.  I still think most of the vocal critics are all people that don’t even own the phone.  For those that do, go get a bumper, for goodness sakes!

And if you still refuse – I remain to ask: Name a better phone.

When that phone comes I’ll be all over it.

The Virtuous Cycle of Choice and Momentum

Here we go again.  We’ve been here before.  History always repeats itself.

In the early days of the desktop computer, it was the Wild West.  No computer was dominant because they all simply had not been around long enough.  The movie, “The Pirates of Silicon Valley”, described this era well, and was a time of company after company innovating, stealing features from their competitors that they lacked, and then their competitors innovating and doing the same.  It’s a virtuous cycle that continues to repeat itself even today, resulting in more competition and better technology as a result.  As we move from platform to platform this cycle will continue, over and over again, and consumers will always end up, as a majority, choosing the most popular player that provides “choice”, without regard to any potential benefit the less popular player may give them when it comes to a more close environment at the benefit of a better experience.

Microsoft’s Platform: Choice, at the Sacrifice of Experience

As Microsoft began to gain a handle on the market, taking the software route and letting go of the hardware market, Apple, the other consumer desktop player was trying to control the hardware experience, and Microsoft’s business took off.  Microsoft was unstoppable, momentum pushing them faster and faster to the point of almost Monopoly.  It even got to the point where markets they never even considered competing in, such as the web browser, had no chance because Microsoft had control of the operating system where those markets ran.

Microsoft’s entire platform was about choice. You chose the hardware you ran.  You chose the software you ran on it.  Heck, the hardware was open enough you could also run other operating systems such as Linux on it.  The Microsoft environment promoted this type of mentality, and, like it or not, perhaps was part of the cause and motivation towards the Free Software and Open Source Software movement that is so prevalent today.

Apple’s Platform: Closed, at the Advantage of Experience

During the entire time Microsoft was growing and booming into the company it is today, Apple maintained its consistency.  It wasn’t going to give up the tightly-integrated hardware and software experience at the risk of losing the full experience Apple was known for.  When you bought an Apple product, you knew the software on the product was going to work well with the hardware it was built on.  The software was designed specifically for that hardware.  In return the customer got an experience that made that customer the die-hard Apple fanboy you see today.  They gained a loyal, devout following as a result, “The Cult of Mac”.

The Cycle Continues

So here we are today.  It took an entirely new device to start the cycle over again – a music device, the iPod, which eventually turned into a phone and Apple was able to gain control of the music industry in the process through iTunes (which is, in essence, a cloud based product that downloads files to your computer).  This gave them the advantage they needed to innovate and bring new customers in at a faster rate than ever before.

Soon competitors emerged.  Palm released WebOS.  Google released Android.  Microsoft released the Zune and will soon be releasing Windows Phone 7.  Now we are in an exactly similar battle we saw in the early desktop days, companies fighting on choice.  Companies fighting to gain momentum.  The companies who chose choice gaining the most momentum.  The companies choosing to remain consistent losing that momentum, but maintaining a reliable reputation and great experience.

Are the Fanboys Learning?

There was a large group of people who chose the consistent, closed, better experience without ever having taste of the choice.  This group of people are now tasting that as what used to be neutral ground, Google, has built Android and entered this battle themselves on the premise of choice.  Now these users, who were users of both, are being forced to make a choice, and they’re experiencing something they’ve never experienced before: freedom.

I read fascinating posts like Louis Gray’s and his reasons for switching to Android, yet battling to leave Apple entirely, and I notice a struggle to leave that experience entirely.  He knows the good taste of the experience Apple provides.  At the same time he finally sees the choice the decoupling of software and hardware can provide.  He’s finally seeing the advantages of an Operating System embraced by the masses.  He’s not alone in this struggle.

The “Choosers” Finally Taste Experience

It goes the other way too though.  There are many out there (such as Robert Scoble), myself included somewhat, that finally realized what a beautiful thing Apple was from the iPhone.  We went with the masses over to the device and discovered what a beautiful thing having a nicely coupled experience could be.  We were brought over to Macs and iBooks and MacBooks and iPads, and were brought to wonder what in the world we were missing in our world of “choice” before.

At the same time we’ve seen the “choice” world.  We know what choice means, and we know it means more struggle.  We know it means more configuration and more bugs and more problems with the OS not always working properly with the hardware it was installed on.  We know not all the applications will have the same consistant experience we get with the Apple experience.  We haven’t given it up, but we do know which one we like better.

We’re at an interesting crossroads right now.  Right now I carry at all times in my pockets an iPhone 4 and an Android-based Evo.  My wife runs a Pre, which I also carried on my person for quite awhile.  While, as a developer and blogger, I choose all of them, I always fall back to one.  I always fall back to the one that’s most convenient.  I always fall back to the one where my applications will be most reliable.  I always fall back to the one that works best with the overall experience of technology in my home and in my life.  I fall back to the one whose batteries aren’t dead.  No matter how hard I try, the Apple experience seems to keep winning me over.

I don’t care if any company has momentum.  I’ve stopped caring about Choice.  In the end it’s about efficiency.  It’s about productivity.  It’s about what makes me the best person I can be and what I can feel most comfortable using with the least amount of effort.  It’s about “choosing” the best experience that I know will continue to be reliable over time, and has a reliable track record in doing so.  For this user, at least so far, I will continue to fall back on experience.

Image courtesy

Review: The MINI Microphone for the iPhone and Android

I’m a sucker for good sound.  I actually have a pretty nice Microphone I use with my computer for production use in podcasts, or when I get interviewed, and I love to have a good sound to go with the things I create.  That’s why when I saw Chris Pirillo promote the MINI Microphone for the iPhone, I had to try it.

The MINI Microphone looks like a little black egg, and you can take the case off (the case you could add a string to and tie it to something if you’re worried about losing it), revealing the Microphone jack you can connect to your iPhone, Android, or similar device that accepts a Microphone jack.  You pop it in, and immediately you have a microphone with better sound quality for your recordings, or so they say.

When I tried it it wasn’t quite as good a change as I thought.  In fact, speaking through the built-in Microphone, I noticed a much wider range of sounds than with the Microphone plugged in.  The main advantage that the MINI Microphone gave me was a reduction of outside noises and a stronger focus on my own voice.  If I had the choice, I would probably stick with my iPhone 4’s nice, built in microphone over the MINI.  In the end, there is a higher range of Bass and Treble in the built in sound than what the MINI provides.  If I were in a room full of noisy people however, I might try the MINI Microphone to reduce some of the outside noise.

That said, the Microphone is only $2.82 on so you may want to try for yourself.  Regardless, I’ll let you be the judge – check out this clip I did on where I compare the difference:

When the Choice is Mobile, My Choice is "All of Them"

The web is a competitive landscape.  It’s an environment with lots and lots of type-A personalities all competing to be the dominant players.  It’s full of opinionated people, entrepreneurs, and bloggers, who all have their opinion on a subject.  Everyone wants to be right.  That’s why, when you see a landscape, such as mobile, where a single player such as Apple has such a passionate community that will fight tooth and nail for it, it’s a big target for critics, and those behind it will fight back.  When a player such as Android comes along with a serious threat to the popular guy, people will do all they can to choose sides and either go with the popular guy, or pick the underdog.  On the web, it seems it always has to be one or the other.  However, I think you’ll find the true, perhaps more silent Geeks, will be the ones on the sidelines choosing “All of the above”.

I grew up in a home where we couldn’t afford a Mac.  We had Apple IIs at school, and I had several distant relatives with Macs and I’d play thoroughly with those when I had the chance.  In fact, a lot of my first programming experience, learning BASIC, was on those very Apple II machines I got to use in elementary school.  At the same time I remember playing Commodore 64 at my friends’ homes and being fascinated with the different types of architectures and different styles of programming that went with those architectures.  I was fascinated that some systems took cartridges, some took floppy disks, and others took tape to read (and eventually store) data.  In those days it didn’t really matter what system I was on.  It mattered that I was able to get the job done and learn from each.  I was fascinated!

Later on in High School, I remember some of the classrooms having PCs, some having Macs, and all of them having varying different operating systems and computer architectures.  I’d come home to an even cheaper system that I would then spend hours upon hours trying to read other peoples’ programs and try to understand what they were doing in languages such as Pascal, Assembly, BASIC, and even a little C++.  The thing is, as a developer and passionate geek it didn’t really matter to me what system we were using.  It mattered that I was learning new things and studying new architectures and figuring out how to code and what those architectures did.

I took that same mentality as I went to college.  I sold computers at a Tandy-owned Computer City store (they later went out of business), and I remember always being jealous of the people that could afford the one or two Macs that we sold.  They were so cool!  They could read text aloud in a human-sounding voice, and had such a different look and feel that fascinated me!  At the same time, I remember vivid conversations with co-workers about the release of IBM’s OS 2 Warp we were getting ready to sell, and how cool it was to finally have a 32-bit operating system on the market.  We had similar discussions and envy about Windows 95, and I remember having fun beta testing it with a friend of mine (who now works for Microsoft, ironically).  I remember how cool the SGI machines we sold were and how cool they were for rendering graphics and other high-end stuff.

Later on I discovered this thing called Linux.  I remember wanting to know all I could about it.  Finally, an operating system I could afford that let me tinker with its insides and see what it did underneath.  I wasn’t this excited since the old 8080 kits you used to be able to build your own computers from!  I remember learning how to compile the entire OS from scratch and the difficulties that entailed, yet at the same time how I could do so many cool things that I just couldn’t do on Windows.  Later on I even remember tinkering around with the short-lived BeOS.

Finally, only about 5 or 6 years ago I finally bought my first Mac (an iBook).  It was probably the first time I could actually afford one.  It was a beautiful experience!  It was one I will never forget.  Everything, from the packaging, to the operating system, to the little fading light when it went to sleep had me hooked.  It was the perfect desktop operating system for me at the time.  I learned all about packaging, branding, and experience from that.

Today, you’ll find me using all kinds of different operating systems and technologies.  Technology fascinates me!  While you may find me using Mac on my desktop, and trying out my new iPad, you’ll also see me setting up Windows 7 for my kids and my family.  You’ll see me tinkering with the parental controls and helping them understand this world called Windows.  At the same time you’ll see me using Linux for my web servers, and at various companies I’ve worked for it made even more sense to use Windows for those servers.  Some day I might even use Google on my desktop or even on a server.  I will certainly try each and every one out, oodling at all the cool features and unique pieces of each.  Let’s face it – new technology, no matter where it is, is pretty dang cool!

While I may carry an iPhone today, and I will probably buy the iPhone 4, I also own a Palm Pre.  You can also find me carrying and trying various flavored devices of Android through work.  I just asked Sprint for a demo unit of the Evo I could review for you guys.  You may even catch me carrying a Blackberry device, or even Windows Mobile (which at one time was my favorite phone as a user).  You may see me tethering my iPad off my Palm Pre, or using an Android tablet device with a jailbroken iPhone.  The fact is, as a developer, a blogger, and an entrepreneur, but mostly a geek, I need to understand all of them.  I need to learn how each operating system works.  I need to know the basics of coding on each so I can make educated decisions.

I will never pick just one.  I will never pick just 2.  As a true geek, I have an obligation to try them all and enjoy the cool features of each.  Will I disagree or be negative about specific components of each? Certainly, but as with any technology, I will always have elements of each I particularly like and really admire.  I would be hurting myself, and those I write for (both from a blog and software standpoint) if I ever picked just one.  Picking one would be the negative choice.

Next time you see a Geek, ask to see their phones – you will always know the true Geek as the one that pulls out each and every phone or embedded device they’re playing with at the moment.  That’s the type of Geek I want to be.

Google Axing Windows Makes Total Sense (and It’s Not For Security)

Several articles have come out recently criticizing Google for their recent policy, removing the Windows Operating System from their currently approved list of OSes that employees can use.  One might expect that I would be against this move, considering the recent criticism I’ve given of Google employees deleting their Facebook accounts.  I think this situation is different though, and I actually support it.  Of all companies, I think Google is most prepared to make such a move and I think we’ll see a lot of innovation come as a result.

Companies Have Tried This Before

Several years ago I worked for as an engineer.  While there, our engineering department had a policy, making Linux and open source tools the default, while only allowing other operating systems (including Mac OS X) on an as-needed basis.  We found this saved us a ton of money, and, as engineers it made sense because we were able to completely alter the systems we were writing on as we needed.  It also made it so we could completely duplicate the server environments we were developing for on our local machines if we needed to.

We decided while there to take this to another level, and while I was there we started to push this policy throughout the company.  We got a lot of push back, and it took us, as engineers and developers, to help out the rest of the company as they adapted.  We started using Zimbra for e-mail, Bugzilla for bug tracking, and everything we could do we tried to do with open source tools.  We saved a ton of money.

There was one fatal flaw to this, though.  Where we were not an engineering-specific company (our bottom line was probably our buyers, who secured really good deals on outdoor gear, or even our customer support team, where we preached “We use the gear we sell”), we simply did not have enough resources to keep this going and be able to support it all whenever the company had a need that open source software could not solve.  The main benefit to open source software (which security is only a minor benefit) is that, as developers, you can get in and alter the software if it doesn’t meet your needs.  Then the code you altered could be shared with the rest of the world and others that also might have that need.  That’s a great benefit.

However, not having resources to constantly do that whenever there is a need means you’re always going to have weaknesses in your systems, and those systems are likely to fail.  I think that became a problem for, because I heard that shortly after I left they were forced back into a closed-source, Microsoft-backed Exchange system, which probably means back to Windows for most employees.  The simple fact is Microsoft, when it comes to Enterprise systems, can’t be beat.  Exchange is by far the best e-mail system there is out there.  Linux pales in comparison, and has always had problems competing against Exchange and the desktop.  Not to mention general user experience and understanding of the OS by a mass audience.  Most companies don’t have the time or money to devote resources towards replacing these COTS systems.

Why Google is Axing Windows

So one would think that making a similar move by Google may be prone to similar risks.  Google’s hacker culture I’m sure has developers begging to be on Linux or Mac OS X, and higher executives wondering how they’re going to get along without Windows.  There’s one thing different about Google though that completely sets them apart from any other company out there that might try such a thing: Google’s base is developers.  Not only that, but Google has a vested interest in creating an operating system that works.

My guess is that Google is using “security” as a front to put a jab up against Microsoft, hoping others might try to make the same decision.  Google is hoping that the bad stigma Microsoft has had in the past regarding security (Windows 7 is actually pretty secure) might dwell in the minds of others considering similar decisions.  However, I bet the real reason is that this will force all employees, in this hacker culture, to truly understand what they’re missing when there are no Exchange servers, when there are no Active Directory databases, and when Executives can’t use the operating system or tools all their colleagues at other companies are using.

Google wants their employees to hurt from this.  When you make a hacker culture that actually has a monetary benefit (Chrome OS) to fix problems that arise as a result, problems get solved, and people stop being lazy.  I expect that as Google makes this move we’re going to see a much higher rate of bug fixes and User Experience enhancements on Chrome OS and Linux, and possibly even Android.  I expect better user experiences on the server.  I expect finally an e-mail solution that works up to par with Microsoft Exchange, and a directory services solution that works up to par with Active Directory.

I argue Google Axing Windows as a company is a good thing!  I hope it’s only temporary, or on an “as needed” basis so employees that need to create Windows clients that interact and drivers that work together with Google devices, that the company can still understand and work with such devices.  Yet at the same time I think doing everything they can to challenge employees to truly understand the weaknesses their new operating systems and web services provide will challenge the thousands of developers working them to produce solutions.  While I think security is a lame excuse and PR ploy for Google to remove Windows from their network architecture, I still think this is one of the best things the company has done in a long time.

Google’s move here could be the best thing to happen to Linux, and the open source enterprise world, in a long, long time.