Apple – Stay N Alive

In the Internet of Things, the Server in Your Pocket Fills the Room

I’m going to go on record – the name “server” is going extinct. From servers that filled up entire rooms and buildings to just add simple numbers, we have evolved into a world where I can store a server in the closet of my office to do things like stream TV to the Xboxes in each room of my house. And with the Cloud, I don’t even have to do that. My Nest, my Fitbit, my Sonos, and other devices all use the Cloud to access the internet and sync with each other. But now with Google Glass and wearable computing I’m finding we’re moving to a new type of Server — the server in your pocket called your phone.

For the last several years if you wanted your portable devices to connect to the internet they needed to each have their own SIM card and Cellphone contract. With the many devices in our lives, that prices adds up more and more as I add a Kindle and/or a Nexus 7 for my 6 kids, an iPad for me and my wife, smartphones, and things like Chromebook and other similar devices that use cell connections to get internet. There’s a better way to do it and I think Google Glass is headed there – it’s through the server in your pocket.

Glass decided to take an approach that doesn’t use a cell connection or SIM card to get internet access. Instead, it uses either the bluetooth or WiFi tethering of your phone to get to the internet. It’s not perfect, nor is it ideal, and in fact I see it as one of the biggest complaints amongst users of the device. However, I think that’s a cultural issue that is going to change.

As I head out places now with Google Glass, there’s a process I go through. I check the battery on my phone and my Glass, make sure I have a backup battery, and then I turn on the Wireless Hotspot on my Samsung Galaxy S3 because it doesn’t support Bluetooth tethering. It’s not ideal, but you can see how just a few tweaks to the phone and a recognition that the phone is now the center of all devices around it will fix these issues. I can really see where Google is going with this.

I think you’ll see companies like Google and Apple improve your phone as not just another device on your home network, but the device that powers all of the “things” around you. You’ll see bluetooth profiles emerge where multiple devices can all connect to your phone at once and use the connection. You’ll see automatic awareness of the devices your phone is familiar with, without any user intervention. You’ll see better battery life and I bet you’ll rarely even take your phone out of your pocket, unless you need to truly draw or type something you just can’t speak out loud.

I’ve touched lightly on this subject before with the release of the iPad and integration of Airplay between Apple devices back in 2010 – we’re moving into a world where you’ll have many types of monitors that will automatically sync with your phone. One could be Google Glass. One could be the monitor on your desk. Another could be an iPad or tablet device. Others could be the windows on your car. Or how about Billboards on the side of the road? Or what about syncing with your brain waves and sending you signals with no monitor at all? Believe it or not, we’re almost there. Your phone will be your personal “server” and everything around you will automatically become aware of the presence of your phone.

To do this, Google needs to start improving the Android experience to do this – I expect they’re headed that direction. Apple does too. In the meantime, start practicing getting the word “server” out of your vocabulary – you are the server now.

The future is here.

Path’s Privacy Problems Aren’t Path’s – They’re Apple’s

The world is up in arms about how the mobile application Path, which I covered here as one of the next social networks to watch, has been sending users’ phone directory data back to the service. As someone that knows the founders and trusts what they’ll do with the data, I didn’t give it a second thought, but the concern is valid. I’d like to suggest that the problem isn’t Path’s though. In fact I warned about this before.

4 years ago, back in 2008, as Apple launched their own app platform and directory for developers to the public, the mobile app Loopt went through a similar controversy where it automatically sent an SMS to everyone in the user’s phone directory, without their permission. In this case, just like Path, the service assumed that users would be okay with sharing this data in order to make the service better. In both cases, there were many offended that this was happening.

I responded with an article of my own (again, this was in 2008!), suggesting that Apple needs privacy controls on their devices. Before any application can access phone numbers and other sensitive data from the phone, the operating system itself should be warning users that data is being retrieved, and ask the user’s permission. In fact, Android devices already do this to an extent, and services like Facebook do this before any application can access sensitive data about an individual.

It’s hard to believe that Apple has taken 4 years, and still hasn’t implemented any such controls. It’s, to me, not too much of a worry that apps like Loopt and Path are accessing this data, as both apps are good companies run by good people that have good intentions for this data. However, there are many applications out there that may not have such good intentions. In every case, it should be up to the user to decide, and know when their personal data is being transferred to a 3rd party application on their device.

So I’d like to turn the argument back around to Apple, not Path – why are you allowing 3rd party applications to access my data without my permission? It’s time well overdue to give users some control over their sensitive data.

The Solution to Offshore Manufacturing is Technology, Not Politics

In The Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, it talked about a meeting Steve Jobs had with President Obama. Jobs was quoted saying, ‘“You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.’ 

It was clear in tonight’s State of the Union address that this particular conversation weighed on President Obama’s mind, as he addressed it directly. In the Address, President Obama talked about solutions to fix our current American manufacturing processes. He mentioned possibilities such as reducing taxes for companies willing to manufacture in America, and making it more expensive for companies that chose to manufacture overseas. I argue that this is not enough though, perhaps not even necessary, as in an era of technology and brilliant minds technology itself will replace the need for offshore manufacturing.

Silicon Angle has a great post about “The Era of the Physible”, a take on a new category of the file sharing website, Pirate Bay, that shares 3D designs for printers that can print objects in 3D. In it they discuss the future of 3D printing, and how we are getting near the real possibility of Star Trek-like “replicators”, which can manufacture just about anything you can imagine.

I believe the future of manufacturing is in these devices. I think we are just years away from replacing entire factory lines with simple, polymer ink-based printers not much bigger than the printer that prints on paper in your own house. Here’s the best part: each of these “factory-in-a-box” devices will be in every home in America. (They’re already on their way in simple forms – see Cubify for example)

I predict, in the not too distant future, not only will you be able to shop, buy, and order phones, devices, and gadgets online (most likely through a mobile device if current trends have their way), but you’ll also be able to print those devices out, right in your home, just like you do a piece of paper right now. That’s right – the future of manufacturing exists in the homes of every single American, and every person in the world. We won’t need those offshore factories in the future! It’s an industry that, just like the automotive industry, just like just about any mechanical, human-powered industry, is quickly being replaced by computers!

Apple’s meticulous about its manufacturing processes. Steve Jobs instilled a culture where even the factories of Apple themselves were decorated in pristine white design, beautiful, well-functioning processes that got things out quick. With Apple’s focus on end-to-end solutions and control over the entire process, Apple could very well move in this direction.

Imagine a world where Apple, like their current factories, made beautiful 3D printers that created their devices in the homes of every customer, instead of building expensive factories in China. Imagine if Apple could reduce that cost, and give complete, full control to the manufacturing process of their phones in the homes of their customers. What if they put one of these in each Apple Store for customers that couldn’t buy their own 3D printers?  And guess what? Government doesn’t have to do anything to make this happen (other than making it cheaper and easier for businesses to do this). Because it’s a cheaper, more efficient process, businesses will do this for Government.
I truly believe this is the future of manufacturing, not factories and jobs of blue-collar workers. We need to be preparing for this, rather than worrying where our manufacturing is taking place. The next President’s 4 year term will start to see this major shift in manufacturing, and if they’re not prepared it’s going to hurt the American economy.
I’m concerned that we’re focusing too much on where our factories are located, and finding ways to hire more blue collar workers, when we should instead be finding more ways to get those blue collar workers interested in more white collar jobs, giving them the education they need to do them. In the future, we won’t have a need for blue collar factory jobs, period – the trends are showing that. We’ll have a need for white collar engineers, software developers, and those that can design the devices, yes, devices, that will manufacture every product created by corporate America.
In an era of the computer, internet, and mobile device, my kids aren’t even getting simple computer classes in their schools. Many children aren’t even learning how to type. I learned how to program when I was 10, in elementary school (part of this was due to lack of laws such as COPA) – I fear we’re losing this focus in America, and that’s why we’re seeing a severe shortage in high knowledge engineering talent. Kids simply aren’t seeing the importance or value of this stuff, so they don’t want to learn it.
My hope is the next President of the United States can keep this in mind as they plan their job creation strategy. Instill a love of computers and engineering in our kids. Get rid of laws like COPA that prevent kids from looking things up on their own and take the power away from parents. Bring computer and engineering education back into our school system, from elementary school age! This is a huge wick that has been lit and is heading towards a big stick of dynamite waiting to blow up. Once it does, this whole offshore factory problem won’t be an issue any more. I’m afraid none of the current USA Presidential candidates realize this.
See the above video for an example of Cubify at CES this year

iCloud Will Do For the Cloud as iPod Did for MP3s

In the days where MP3 players were a dime a dozen, everyone was scrambling to pick the best device. There were dozens of, perhaps too many choices – some had large storage. Others had better interfaces, or supported different file formats. Some even played (gasp) CDs. But when Apple released the iPod that all changed. Apple made it dirt simple for anyone to plug in an MP3 Player, and nobody had to manually copy files to get them to sync. It worked across multiple operating systems and “just worked.” Soon Apple added a music store to make it easy for music labels to get their music onto these devices, and people were sold everywhere on what an amazing device this was. I’m going to make a prediction, but knowing Apple I don’t think it’s very bold to say: iCloud, which launches tomorrow, will do the same for “the Cloud” as the iPod did for MP3s.

Think about it – there are dozens of cloud options available out there. Microsoft started with their Mesh platform for syncing files across multiple devices and servers. Soon, services like Dropbox came about, making it possible to sync files to the internet. Now we see dozens of “cloud” music services popping up. Google just launched Google Music. Amazon has their Cloud Player. I use a service called Spotify, which isn’t even available in the USA yet. We’re in a similar era to the MP3 right now.

However, right now all these Cloud services are hacks. With Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player I have to manually upload all my music to them to use their Cloud service (unless I buy the music from them, in Amazon’s case). On services like Dropbox I have to manually set up the file syncing, and it gets expensive the more I upload. Like the MP3 players of old, there’s simply too much work to get “the Cloud” to work on any of these services.

However, Apple has the ability and the talent to build a system that, just like the iPod, “just works.” Imagine turning on your Apple TV and being able to buy a movie, but never having to worry about downloading it anywhere. Add to that just inserting a DVD into your superdrive, having it recognize such, and having it added to your library, which doesn’t matter if it’s on your computer’s hard disk or in the cloud. Or what about photo storage? What about the apps you run on your iPhone, or on your computer, and the files they store on those devices?

As of tomorrow, the concept of a “disk” will be gone. You won’t even think about where on your computer you need to store things – they will just save, and you’ll be able to access them with ease, from wherever you are, whatever computer or device you are on. You won’t have to think about that part of your computer again – no “My Computer”. No C: drive or root directory or user directory. No “My Documents”. No “My Pictures”. Heck, maybe even no “Applications.” It will just be “save” and “search”. Nothing else to ever think about again.

It could be bigger though – think of my “web with no login button” concept I’ve mentioned before. Imagine an operating system that detected the files and apps and music and media on your personal “cloud”, and brought those things into each website’s experience as you visit from site to site. Or what if you’re walking down the street, it detects the NFC from your phone, and pulls those files into the signs and places you’re walking past (all hopefully with privacy controls, of course). That’s where an interconnected Apple based on the cloud could take us.

Of course, we have yet to see what Apple releases tomorrow, but no matter what happens, we know Apple will innovate. They will likely take us to a new understanding of “cloud”, and it will “just work,” just like every other product they produce. I can’t wait to see what they have come up with.

Apple is Creating a "Social Network" the Right Way

Today Apple did one of the most powerful things they have done since the launch of the iPod.  Notice that I didn’t say “revolutionary”.  There’s nothing new about it.  Note that I didn’t say “innovative”.  There’s nothing unique about it.  Today Apple launched, quite simply, a “Social Network for Music”.  What’s so powerful is that they’re not really trying to create a social network at all.  Apple realizes the Social Graph is just a complement to something bigger.  Instead, Apple focused on one of the biggest strengths they have – their music, and made it social.  I think this is powerful, and here’s why:

I think Dave Winer got it right earlier today – this is only the beginning for Apple.  You see, the secret to a successful anything on the web (not just “social”) is to focus on what you do best, and revolve around that.  Google’s strength was search.  Microsoft’s strength was the consumer OS that could be installed on almost any affordable PC, and has since become Exchange and Outlook and Enterprise apps.  Oracle’s strength is the database.  Facebook’s is the Social Graph.  No one does these things better than these guys, and it has been their focus that has made them big.  The moment they lose that focus is the moment they start to fizzle.

That’s why I question when I hear people saying “we’re creating another Social Network.”  Or, “so and so is competing against Facebook” (even though I did say earlier today this is a threat to Facebook – I’ll explain that in a second).  The minute I hear that I immediately tune out.  The age of “Social Networks” is gone.  Social has become ubiquitous, or at least it should be with all the tools available to us now.  It’s time to focus on your core, and Apple has done that brilliantly with this new Ping launch.  They will sell boat-loads of music from this because now rather than trying to find new music through search, people are going to be finding new music through the things their friends are interested in, an even more powerful factor in the purchasing process.  That’s just the start.

As Dave Winer implied, this social experience will eventually expand across every service Apple operates.  Apple is only building the Social Graph right now.  You’ll build your list of friends to learn of their music, even import your Facebook friends in the process to help port that Social Graph over to Apple, and you’ll start to build conversations and spend time in iTunes in multiple environments.  It won’t be long before you see Apple bringing your friends into the entire iTunes experience, showing Apps as well as music, along with, right next to Albums you want to purchase, other friends that have liked or purchased those Albums.  Soon Apple will let you take those friends into Mobile Me to share photos with each other.  They’ll let you take those friends into your contact lists on your iPhone.  They’ll build it into the camera app on the iPhone and iPod devices.  You’ll be able to see what your friends are watching on your AppleTV and you’ll be able to pull that entire experience into the operating system – both OS X and iOS.  All of these elements will go into the Ping experience, and I bet that eventually branches out into the browser.  Keep in mind these aren’t just anonymous friends – these are real-life connections.  My Mom uses iTunes.  I bet many of your Grandparents use iTunes.  This is perhaps bigger than Facebook (According to Wired, iTunes in just 2005 had over 200 million users – anyone have a more recent number?).

Now, for the pinnacle event – the equivalent of Facebook’s F8: the Platform.  You can count on it.  Eventually Apple will integrate these connections into the SDK and you’ll now be able to bring over your Ping friends to the applications you use and the games you play.  I think it’s no accident the ability to play against friends in the SDK was mentioned in today’s announcement.  Now Ping’s Social Graph becomes a standard, something all apps will be fighting for, and they’ve all of the sudden hit the caliber of Facebook Platform.  They’ll be able to port those connections to the web, and now Apple has just as powerful a search and recommendation algorithm as both Facebook, and perhaps more than Google currently.

Today’s move was inevitable, but genius on the part of Apple.  I’m glad they didn’t try to build an entire Social Network out of the box.  Start small, and gradually bring your users along for the ride as you expand that experience.  I think perhaps that’s where Google went wrong – where’s my news feed in Picasa?  Where can I see what things my friends are searching for and have opted me to see?  How do I port my Facebook Social Graph over to those experiences?  Google’s focusing too broadly – I think they realize that.  I hope they don’t rush to a large social network, but rather start slowly and gradually bring it all together.

I’ve talked about building on your core – your core is key.  Apple, quite literally, showed its core today as it stayed focused on one of the things they do best right now – Music.  Everything else is just a complement, and that is totally evident in Ping.  I think Apple just confirmed what we all knew up to this point – “Social” is now just a commodity.

Want to Follow Steve Jobs? "No Soup for You!"

Evidently a few of my friends have found Steve Jobs’ profile and followed him.  Apple must have discovered that, because whenever I click on his profile, I get the following popup, saying, “Your Ping Account is Disabled.”  Of course my account isn’t disabled because I can still follow other people, but it’s definitely interesting.  I can only reproduce this with Steve Jobs himself.  This brings up the question, is Apple going to need to do the “real person” and “fake person/brand” thing that Facebook is doing with personal profiles and Pages?

What if Steve Jobs wants to share his music with only his close friends and family, but he wants to maintain a more public demeanor to the world?  Will the 2 profile system be allowed?  Does Apple need more privacy preferences?

Steve, I understand if you don’t want me following you, but please don’t disable my account!

Mobile, Tablets, and the Need for an Extended E-Reading Experience

Imagine buying a book from the book store and only being allowed to use a yellow highlighter to highlight that book and not being able to add any notes as you read it.  Seems pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Yet we’re forced into that with today’s default readers on devices such as the iPhone and iPad, or even Amazon’s Kindle or many readers on Android devices.  Right now when you read books, you’re forced into the experience the manufacturer of the device you’re reading on has decided they want you to experience.

On the iPhone and iPad, we’re provided with iBooks, a beautiful reading experience and great store to go with it that will even let you import PDFs and ePub-formatted books and documents.  However, for the static content we read on these devices, we’re stuck with only the ability to highlight in the colors they give us, copy, select, and a limited set of features to extend that reading experience.  What if I want to draw a picture on the book?  What if I want to add a text note?  What if I want to share the text I just highlighted to Facebook?  The same goes for other devices like the Kindle, and even Android, and I bet the same for upcoming Windows smart phones.  It has been this way on PDA Readers since Palm and Handspring even.  The reading experience on these readers of static, published content simply isn’t extendible, and it hasn’t evolved much in ages.

We need a Reader that has an API attached to it.  The API should tie into the highlighting, the selecting, the turning of the pages, the rendering of the content, the bookmarking, and more, so app developers can alter the reading experience beyond what comes with the device.  I’m talking about a plugin-type architecture for Reader apps that render static content.

Currently just about all modern web browsers support plugins.  If I want to render a website in a slightly different manner than what the website owner intended for my personal uses, I can do so, and it sticks to my browser and my browsing experience.  Currently, in Gmail I use Rapportive to provide more information about the people who are e-mailing me.  It uses a simple browser plugin that reads, identifies, and alters the content of Gmail in a manner that is relevant to me, in a manner that the makers of Gmail probably never considered (nor did the makers of my browser).

Imagine as you’re reading a book, being able to pull in the relevant Tweets of other people reading that book at the same time.  Imagine being able to share bits about what you’re reading with your Twitter and Facebook friends.  Imagine reading a book, and having it automatically notice your Facebook account, it reads information about you from that Facebook account, and it alters the content of the book based on who you are, perhaps even bringing you into the experience.  Imagine the ramifications of this for Text Books that can learn about you as they present information you can learn from.

Currently we’re reinventing the wheel over and over again as developers create new mobile apps that recreate the reader experience in various ways.  My publisher, O’Reilly, for instance, is creating individual applications in the app store just so they can have more control over the publishing experience for their books (at least I’m guessing that’s why they do it), and their readers get the experience they want to provide. (search for “FBML Essentials” in the app store to find my book)  What would happen if Apple instead provided the basic reader, and O’Reilly could then provide just the extension necessary for that basic reader to customize the experience for their readers.

By extending the basic book reader on mobile and tablet devices, I think we’ll see a new revolution in the way books are published that print books simply cannot provide.  It’s time we break out of the static book reading experience and provide an open, extendible experience that any developer can use to alter the way your books are presented to you, and at the same time you, the reader get to choose the best way you want to read that book.  This is the future.  This is the future with no log in button I talked about earlier.  It’s the Building Block Web, applied to books.

I wonder if Kynetx could power such an experience.

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.

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