Verizon iPhone and why I simply do not care

Tomorrow is [supposedly] the big iPhone Verizon announcement.  Verizon is holding a big, fully media covered, event in NYC.  Tech bloggers from the major publications are headed to the Big Apple (Techcrunch, as an example).   This is a major.big.deal….in a post-CES techworld where there is nothing much else going on.

A few facts (as we currently know them): the Verizon iPhone 4 will be essentially identical to its GSM-cousin except that, and this is my guess (i.e. I have not read it anywhere else), it will be a worldphone, which means it will work on essentially any network anywhere (except for 4G/WiMax networks).  Cool.  The iPhone is an amazing piece of hardware.  It is the best hardware on the market (assuming you do not want a keyboard).  Its software (iOS) just works and has ~150,000 more apps than its nearest competitor (the Android market).

I recently purchased a Droid 2 Global on Verizon, which means that I essentially have the “best” smartphone currently available on Verizon.  “Best” is clearly subjective but it has the fastest available processor, a great screen, and is a world phone.  Most importantly, it is running the latest publicly release build of Android (2.2 except for those Nexus S customers on T-Mobile with 2.3).  However, the phone is far from perfect – the software is sometimes sluggish, it tends to reset on me every time I plug it into my computer, and it is heavy (partially due to the keyboard), and battery life is so-so.  Despite years of false rumors, I was fairly confident that the iPhone 4 was going to launch on Verizon in winter 2011.  So why didn’t I wait and why is all this extra hype a bit bothersome?

1. I have bought into the Google ecosystem in most ways (although I try to use Bing here and there).  Outside of work, Gmail is my main email program.  Google maps is my go-to map program on nearly a daily basis.  Google voice is awesome.  Google calendar is my personal calendar system. On the iPhone, these [mostly] work but not nearly as well nor do they receive the fastest updates.  As these are my daily go-to programs, I want the best.

2. Lack of control.  I have an iPad, which is essentially the same iOS running on the iPhone, and while it is great, the lack of control over the system and how I use it, bothers me.  Granted, if you are willing to give up a lot of control over your main computing device (i.e. your smartphone) in exchange for a rock-solid OS, then the iPhone is a good choice.  I like to modify things to suite me so the iPhone is no way to go.  Note that on the iPad, which I really only use to consume media, I care less about control.  My phone is simply a more important device, which means I care more about how it works.

3. Apple hype – I am sort of annoyed by the Apple hype. Don’t get me wrong, I love many Apple products and own four of them (iPad, iPod touch gen 1, Macbook Pro, and MacMini hooked up to my TV).  They almost always tend to work.  However, so do things in the Cloud (see my review of Google CR-48).  No smartphone works really well without a connection to the Internet and the Cloud.  Apple makes beautifully designed gadgets but that does not make them inherently better. The hype is simply overblown.  This is the launch of a phone you have already seen on a network you may already use.  Sure, the network is ten times better than AT&T but this isn’t groundbreaking.  Really, why do you care?  Are you going to break your two year contract with your carrier to upgrade early or switch to Verizon?  Waste of money but go ahead.

4. Apps – Apple has the most apps by a good margin.  However, Android has a huge number of Apps, as well.  Every App I have needed, I can find.  There are a few that I would want that I cannot but this has not bothered me greatly.  The best apps do launch on Apple but, once again, how many apps do you need?  I am a power user and I am happy with Android.  Having the best and most recent apps (except for Google apps) is a big plus but not a game changer.

5. Keyboard & Swype – this isn’t a major reason since plenty of Android phones do not have physical keyboards.  However, slowly typing out messages on a virtual keyboard without any assistance is tough (even on a much larger iPad).  If you are on an Apple device, since Steve Jobs controls the market, you only have one keyboard to choose from — the stock one.  However, if you are on Android, you not only can choose a hardware keyboard (like I have) but you can also use different keyboards like Swype, which makes “typing” on a touchscreen much much faster.

In the end, I am happy that there is more competition in the smartphone market since it simply means better devices for all of us.  The lack of the iPhone on Verizon and other major US carriers has been a huge boon for Android, which, now that it is a viable and stable platform, creates even more competition.  However, remember, the Verizon iPhone, while great, is still just a closed-system beautifully designed Apple device.  It is tempting to want one but Android is at least just as good and offers plenty more hardware options.

Enjoy the insane news coverage tomorrow!

 

A few side notes/edits: 1. Verizon generally does have a slower but much more robust network.  If you prefer fewer dropped calls, go with Verizon. 2. AT&T is faster – I did a simple test this morning.  iPhone 4 with two bars of service vs Verizon Droid 2 Global with full bars of service: AT&T iPhone = 1.5Gbs up and 1Gbps down with a ~300ping.  Verizon Droid: 800Mbps up and 800 Mbps down with ~300 ping.  AT&T is faster.  Plus, I should add that you can talk and use the Internet at the same time on AT&T, which is sort of nice if you don’t really want to pay attention to your conversation!

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Laptop Surgery – installing a new hard drive on my Macbook Pro

My Macbook Pro (~2006 edition) came with a 120GB HD.  At the time, I knew this was likely too small but that I could handle it.  I keep most of my music and video files on an external drive.  Of course, I also have a 34GB Windows Vista partition, which means only ~86GB Mac HD.  Despite careful use of my space, I only have 4GB free.  I cannot clean out any more files but I now no longer even have enough space for automatic updates from Apple.  This is a problem.

Solution = buy a new hard drive and install it on my computer.  This is much easier said than done.  I thought about doing this in the past but decided against it given the potential for error on my part and what that would mean (i.e. broken computer that could become expensive to fix).  The pros of more space did not outweigh the cons.  However, with only 4GB left, the pros have it and my laptop surgery has begun.

Some details about my MacBook Pro: 4GB of RAM (user installed but that was easy), 2.2 Core Duo 2, 128MB GeForce 8600.  Four years of use and it is still fast and runs well.

Installing a new hard drive on these computers is no easy feat.  There are a number of guides out there such as this one from ExtremeTech or this one from iFixit.  Both are pretty detailed but to do a full HD install on my type (i.e. not the newer ones) of MacBook Pro, you are basically taking the computer completely apart.

I write this mini guide to provide an overview of what I did to those who may follow and as a mini-journal.

1. Buy a new HD and a 2.5inch external enclosure – I choose a 250GB 7200 RPM drive.  I think this is already too little space.  Ugh – why didn’t I splurge a bit and buy another 100gigs?  I went for the 7200RPM because I like the idea of making my computer a bit faster wherever possible.  The 2.5 inch external enclosure has dual purposes: 1. use it to copy all of your old HD data to the new drive, 2. put your old drive in it when all is done and you have a new external backup HD.  I purchased both items from Newegg.

2. Download and install SuperDuper and Winclone (for those who have a Windows Partition they would like to keep).  Note: Winclone is a bit confusing (and the developer’s website seems to be down) but here is a decent description and outline.

3. Run SuperDuper to backup all of your data onto your new hard drive (sitting in its external enclosure).  Once backed up fully, reboot your computer and load the computer from your new hard drive (the one that is still external).  If it loads, then you should be in good shape to install the new drive.   Do the same backup with Winclone –> Winclone needs some explanation since there is no FAQ or detailed description of how to use it.  Basics: You create an image of your Bootcamp Windows drive somewhere on your Mac hard drive or an external hard drive (I put it on an external drive but NOT my new hard drive).  Don’t do anything else with the image until after you install your new drive.

4. Install the new hard drive.  Here is the scary part — one wrong move and my computer could be fried.  I carefully followed the instructions from iFixit and, as I had hoped, the installation was easier than expected.  Sure, you always have to be careful opening up a beautiful piece of hardware but there is something beautiful looking at everything that makes it work.  I followed iFixit’s instructions, then reversed them and the entire process took about 20 minutes.  Phew.  Now for the real test: turning my computer back on.  Voila, it worked (although it was a bit slow at first).

5. Reinstalling Windows.  Run Bootcamp Assistant and create a new partition.  If you don’t mind losing everything on your old Window’s partition, then install Windows brand new.  However, if you do want the old information, you can once again use Winclone.  However, this time around, click on the “Restore” tab, select your backup image, and then restore it to your new Bootcamp partition.  If you are lucky, this will work no problem (although Windows may ask you to verify that you have a valid copy).

If all goes well, despite the slight trepidation you may feel about opening up your MacBook Pro, you will have a faster and bigger new hard drive.

A few small things I learned:

1. Opening up my computer was not nearly as scary as it seemed.  Me and my computer lived to tell the tale and we are both better for it.  I can now not only play around with the software (which I already do) but the hardware, as well…anyone know if it is possible to upgrade my graphics card (note…that is rhetorical since I am 99% sure the answer is no).

2. Be careful, go slow and be methodical.  Each screw I took out I laid out in a line, in order of when I took it out.  When I had to put everything back together, it was simple to know which screw to use when.

3. Have fun!

Hope this helps.

Picasa Facial Recognition

A few months ago, I downloaded an update to Picasa, Google’s photo organization tool.  The update included the ability to let the system use facial recognition technology.

I spent about an hour going through my photos and pairing names with facing. The system is relatively easy to use and user friendly (i.e. my mom could probably figure it out).  Picasa, based upon the name/face pairing, began scanning the rest of my album for matches.  It found many but I had to close the program.

I just returned from an amazing vacation — San Fran, road trip from Calgary to Vancouver stopping at five of the best ski areas in NA (Banff – Sunshine & Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke (most vertical in NA), and Whistler), then opening ceremonies of the Olympics and Cancun for a wedding.  As one might imagine, I took a lot of photos.

I plugged in my camera and turned on Picasa and WHOA — at some point (when I assume the program was running), Picasa had identified nearly 300 more pictures of me and multiple ones of other folks.  I was impressed, very impressed but a little bit scared (plus it was fun to see where the program became confused — apparently (and not shockingly) my brother and I look similar as do me and my friend Jay.

If Picasa, free desktop program, with a little “teaching” from me, can identify me in hundreds of pictures with different backgrounds, lighting, and poses, imagine what security companies using more powerful technology and computers can do.  I don’t say this because I am scared or terribly bothered by the prospect (so long as it is used in a responsible manner to keep us safe) or that this is really news.  My main point is this — Picasa’s facial recognition technology was impressive and really brought home, right here to my desk, the power of computers and constantly improving technology (Moore’s law…).

From a product perspective, this is just one more reason for me to migrate away from my native Mac Apps such as iPhoto and iTunes in favor of free software (via download or cloud).  I already like Picasa much more than iPhoto and it constantly has news features added for free.  The latest version of iPhoto also has facial recognition technology but I would have to pay for the update (specifically $80 to Apple here).  Why pay when I have a better, free (and constantly updated) alternative?  Same goes with iTunes (I’ll save a rant for later) but simply put — iTunes is slow and bloated.  Pandora and the slew of free alternatives is better, cheaper, portable (i.e. via the Cloud and an Internet connection) and does not tie me to a platform/program.

Moving to the “Cloud”

I recently wrote a post about my favorite programs for the Mac (here).  While writing it, I realized how outdated it sounded.

The reason: a very large percentage of the programs that I now use live in the “Cloud.”  The “Cloud” as described by Walt Mossberg in today’s Wall Street Journal (here), is a combination of nebulous server farms around the world that store your information and run your programs.  The programs that I run which do not live in the cloud, either could or soon will.

When using my personal computer, I spend 95% of my time on the internet and in the “Cloud.”  That means I am running everything via a browser (in my case, I prefer Firefox).  The “programs” I run via the “Cloud” include Gmail, Gtalk/AIM, Google Reader, GoogleMaps, Bing shopping, WordPress, NYTimes, WashingtonPost, Techmeme, and Pandora.  “Programs” is in quotes because these are not really programs as much as they are websites that run programs and provide relevant information.  When I am at work, I may spend ~30% of my time in the “Cloud” because I spending the rest of it using Microsoft Office.  However, my company could easily choose Google Apps and/or Zoho Office to replace Microsoft Office.  Except for Excel, I have found Google Apps to be as good as MS Office.  When it comes to collaboration and email, Google easily beats Microsoft.  For the price (i.e. free for personal use and $50/yr for enterprises), Google Apps is a no-brainer.

Microsoft is slowly and grudgingly moving in this direction.  They are in no rush as this could destroy their business model but competition is forcing their hand.

For a company (and personal use) the metrics/ROI for moving to the “Cloud” are too hard to pass up.  The programs are just as good.  They are more robust (due to automatic updates).  They are available anywhere in the world with an internet connection (and even offline).  They are priced right — 1. cost of use is negligible (i.e. free), 2. computing resources are minimal (i.e. only a computer that can run a browser), which lowers hardware expenditures, and 3. IT costs are minimized.  A personal example of the ease of the “Cloud” is when I coaxed my mother to move to Yahoo Mail (I had my reasons but it was a mistake but that is another story).  She used to have major issues with her email.  Now, no issues and no phone calls to me. The same goes for IT Help Desks in a company. The PC, as a truly personal computer, is slowly withering away (see Forbe article here).

With 2010 only a few hours away, here are a few predictions of what the “Cloud” means for the future of computing: 1. Everything becomes easier but slightly less secure, 2. computer prices will continue to drop because you will not need to buy a powerful new computer.  One of the most power-hungry applications, gaming, is heading to the “Cloud.”  In 12 months, so long as you have a fast broadband connection, you will be able to play even the most hardcore games via the “Cloud.”  3. Content rental/streaming continues its fast growth.  Netflix streaming, movie rental via Amazon and others is quickly becoming a major force.  Its growth will only continue.  Why buy a movie for $15 when you can rent it for $3.  You can watch it again every few months for another $3.  If you watch a DVD fewer than 5 times, then renting is the way to go.  You can also watch it on anything with a screen (who will continue to need a DVD player built into their computer?).  4. Music streaming overtakes music buying.  I have many gigs worth of music in my iTunes folder.  How often do I listen to it?  Maybe once a month.  How often do I listen to Pandora/AOL Music?  Daily.  How much do I pay?  Zero.  Louise Gray had an interesting article on this topic here.  5. Mobile — this is the biggie that stands over all of the other predictions (and is not so much a prediction as a statement of fact). See below…

Mobile is one of the main driving forces / enablers of the “Cloud” (plus, of course, cheap fiber/broadband, massive and low-cost server farms).  Why is mobile a driver?  Your phone is not powerful enough to truly be smart (even if it is a “smartphone”).  However, when plugged into the Internet, a cellphone/smartphone becomes nearly as powerful as my laptop.  On my phone, I can do 99% of the things I can do on my computer such as send, receive, and write emails or documents.  I can view just about any website, read books, and listen to streaming music.  My phone is my GPS device (even though my current, terrible BlackBerry 8800 has its GPS disabled by Verizon but triangulation thanks to Google works well enough).  I can make restaurant reservations via Opentable and so forth.  My next computer purchase may only be for a screen and a keyboard with a USB cable plug for my phone.  With everything in the “Cloud,” the phone becomes just another device to connect.  It enables the “Cloud.”

I am excited for the future…welcome to 2010!

Top Mac Programs

This post goes out to my long lost Indian friend Azeem “the dream” Zainulbhai.  Come back to the US sometime soon!

When I last saw Zeemer, he had finally taken my advice and bought a Mac.  He said, “Adam, now that I have a Mac, you have to tell me your top 10 programs that I need to download.”

Side note to my application choices: I don’t like to spend a lot of money on programs.  There is too much great free choice out there.  With that said, I never steal or download illegal programs.  If it can’t be had for free, then I either pay or do without.

Without further ado:

1. Firefox – I go back and forth on this.  My previous posts showed a newfound love of Safari.  Safari never saved my open webpages, didnt work well with Feedly, had an annoying bookmark manager, didnt work with all the sites I tried, and does not have many ad-0ns (come on, Apple, get with the program — isnt the iPhone App store one of the strongest points about the iPhone?  Couldn’t the same be true for Safari?).  With Firefox 3.0, the processor overuse extra heat (and subsequent) fan annoyances are drastically reduced.  Firefox 3.0 seems to be nearly on par with Safari for processor/memory use.  I dont care about speed so much as I care about heat and noisy fans (no desk means very hot legs with a computer on them).

2. 1Password – for a person who lives much of his computer life online (and cares about security), remembering all my passwords becomes a challenge.  1Password remembers my passwords and is secure.  A lot of other people have recommended this program.  I held back.  I finally “bought” it when there was a one week special to receive a copy for free (legit deal, don’t worry).  I jumped at the chance.  For anyone reading this (and who uses more than two passwords/log in names online), get this program.  If you are lucky, 1Pw will offer the program for free again sometime this holiday season.  If not, buy it.  Worth every penny.

3. AppDelete – this used to be free but then an upgrade forced me to choose — do I pay or do I do without.  I paid.  It is worth $5.  What it does: it really deletes programs.  In a Mac, you can drag an app to the trash and most of its associated files are deleted.  However, a few lingering pieces stick around.  Over time, your computer will become filled with old random programs.  On a Mac, this is not nearly as bad as on a windows PC.  However, it does happen.  AppDelete stops it from happening (mostly).  I want to keep my computer feeling fresh and ready to go.

4. iStatpro – great way to keep track of what is going on inside your Mac.  I personally enjoy a detailed view of what is going on with various programs (and why they are overheating my computer).

5. Perian – this is the “Swiss Army Knife” of Quicktime components.  It allows Quicktime to play just about any format out there.  Until I started this Snow Leopard cleaning, I forgot that it was installed.  Then again, I have not run into any video issues for a very long time so I guess this is working.

6. Mint.com – great way to track finances.

7. Feedly.com – Makes every webpage into something you can tag, track, and share.

8. Google Reader/Gmail/Google Maps/Bing – I use these more than anything else on this list.  If you don’t know what they are, then I can’t even begin to imagine how you find this page.

9. Desktoptopia – way to keep your desktop background fresh and interesting.  This program automatically switches between hundreds of different photos they keep in their system.

10. Rapidweaver – This is a super easy way to create great looking websites.  I have minimal html skills (or none…) but I needed to create a site for my charity (www.adoptacoral.org).  I tried iWeb but quickly ran into its limitations.  I received Rapidweaver via one of those package deals (can’t remember the name now).  It took a little bit of time to learn but once I did, I was up and running pretty well.  Of course, the powers that be at my charity decided to turn over the web design duties to a pro who has time (my main job plus my life things in the past year sort of got in the way).  However, while the site was up, it was awesome (in my mind).  If you aren’t a pro web designer but don’t want to pay someone, this is a good program to use.

11. BOINC Manager – this is a program that allows you to donate your idle computer time to charity.  It essentially cuts up major jobs that need supercomputers into small pieces that can be handled by your computer.  I sometimes let it run but I also have a thing about excess heat and fan noise so this is run much less often than it should be.  Donating computer power is one of the easiest things I could do.

Random ones that are great but that I rarely use:

1. Sitesucker – great for the road warriors out there and any programs that don’t run Google gears. explain…

2. Dropbox (and its cousin my Microsoft – Sync)

3. TimesRead – Okay, I never use this one but I saw it when I was cleaning out my computer.  It is actually good.  I may start using it.

Duplicate Programs in User Folder

The installation of Snow Leopard prompted me to do something semi-dangerous — delete a bunch of duplicate programs.

These duplicate programs resided in my “Users” folder under the folder “Adam” (the other folder is “shared”).  Because I have this inane trust in Apple, I assumed that these programs were supposed to be there and that they were not in fact true duplicates.  I thought that they were just a link to the main file.

I was wrong.

Snow Leopard made me look at my old Mac programs, which I thought would have been deleted during Snow Leopard installation.  The old Mac programs were not deleted.  I copied to new Snow Leopard Mac program version into my “Apple” folder.

I then looked at the “user –> Adam” folder.  All the programs in that file were the older (sometimes much older) version of the most recent version of a given program.  The most up-to-date version of the program resided in my “Application” folder.

I have no idea how these programs came to reside in this location.  I never directed them to install here.  My guess is that they installed in this location at the same time of the original program installation.  As I updated the file that also resided in the “application folder” these files did not change or update.  My assumption (giving Apple the benefit of the doubt) is that these files reside here as a backup in case your main application version becomes corrupted somehow.  This is smart except for one problem — if you do a spotlight search for a program, it is not clear which version is the updated one and you may end up using the older one.  Apple should delineate the the backup file as such.  Of course, this is only speculation.  Maybe this is something that is wrong with my machine.

With that said, I have Time Machine so I deleted away.  I deleted 90% of the programs (about 80 files).  I recovered about 3 gigs of space.  My computer is still running fine without any issues (yet). If you are worried about doing this, don’t worry too much.  No problems here thus far.

Next time I install a file, I will check to see if it copies to the “user –> Adam” folder.

Has anyone else seen this occur?  Is this normal?  Is there a way to turn this off?

Apple Snow Leopard

My Macbook Pro has a horribly small hard drive — 120gb.  With Windows Vista taking up 32 gigs, I was not left with much.  With some music and a bunch of random applications, I was left with little extra space.  As of last week, I had about 3gigs of free space.

When Snow Leopard, the new operating system from Apple, was announced, I was curious.  I am a tech guy so new OS’s interest me.  However, I am not usually one to jump at version 1 of most products.

Snow Leopard promised something that I could not pass up — more free space on my hard drive (8 gigs was promised).  I pre-ordered Snow Leopard via Amazon.  Choosing free super saver shipping, Amazon took exactly 14 days to deliver my item.  Super Saver shipping is never usually that slow (although they claim it could take 10 business days and it did).

I immediately installed Snow Leopard.  My main goal: free up hard drive space.  The installation requires 5 free gigs.  I found some files to move to my external backup drive and had 5.15 free gigs.  Installation proceeded and took a little over an hour.

At the end — 18.5 free gigs.  In other words, Snow Leopard gave me back ~13.5 gigs.  Thank you, Apple.  This one improvement is huge.  [If only MS was promising the same with Windows 7.  My Windows Vista partition is completely out of space — only 32 megs of space free, seriously].

With a few days of light use, I have only found one major problem with Snow Leopard.  It installed new versions of many the main Mac programs such as Quicktime and iChat.  However, it did not delete the older versions.  This may be due to the fact that I have the older versions in folders other than the “Application” folder.  Either way, I am about to delete the older programs and hope it does not some how corrupt the newer programs (which are clearly using data from the older programs).  Wish me luck.

Side note: my computer seems to run at about the same speed as before.  No changes there but the free gigs are huge.