From Android to Apple – why, oh why?

For those who know me, I made what seemed like a big move this week – from Android to iOS.  In the past six years, I’ve been lucky to own and use as my main phone, at various times: Blackberry, Android, iPhone 4, back to Android (HTC One S, HTC One, and Moto X), and just this week, iPhone 5s.  My Android stint lasted over two years.  I came to love many things about the platform, which made it tough to leave but I felt that the move was necessary.

Mobile phones have relatively distinct parts: 1. Software, 2. Hardware.  Apple makes the best hardware, bar none. It’s software (iOS) leaves a lot to be desired.

Apple’s hardware is beautifully crafted using the best materials and technology available.  However, some Android makers (notably HTC, followed creatively by Motorola) have figured out how to make nice hardware.  It’s still not Apple quality but it’s close.  For me, this matters.  Unfortunately for Apple, a large number of people beautiful hardware does not matter.  ~90% of people put a case on their phone, which makes it just a screen.  I cringe every time I see a case on an iPhone but I digress.

Since a majority of people have a case on their phone that makes the phone just a screen.  For many users, if it’s just a screen and you have either big pockets, a purse, or your smartphone is your computer and iPad rolled into one, bigger is better.  Android has followed that market, which means, for my tastes, flagship Android hardware has become too big.  5 inches or more is the new norm (although Motorola did a perfect sizing job with the Moto X at 4.7inches and I would bet Apple will do the same with the iPhone 6).

When you have cases + screens, the only way to differentiate is through software. On that front, Apple has lost its way. iOS 7.1.1 is seemingly identical to the original iOS Steve Jobs debuted.  Sure, the colors are different. Skeumorphism is dramatically reduced. I can add apps but, in the end, I still have a big list of separate apps that stop running when I close them.  For battery life, this is good but for usability, this is embarrassing and messy.  It’s as if beautiful hardware can’t mate with beautiful software.  On Android, I had widgets for my most important information at a glance. No need to open apps. I loved playing with different launchers (Themer is the most fun semi-launcher). Android could automatically sort my apps so I could avoid the hour I spent just doing it on my iPhone. Quality search on both iPhone and Android reduce the need for a list of apps in the first place. Finally, on iPhone, why am I still required to use one keyboard? The security risk of using third party keyboards is one reason but Apple has billions of dollars saved up and a few thousand engineers.  They could buy Swype or SwiftKey or, like Google, develop their own knockoff.

Finally, Android makers have gone one step further – gestures.  Apple developed (or popularized at least) pinch & zoom, etc. However, that’s it and that was a long time ago in the mobile world. On my Moto X, I could shake my wrist to turn on the camera. Using Themer, I could do different gestures to launch my top apps or do an activity. All of this saved time. It seems as if Apple is caught in an Innovator’s Dilemma – changing up iOS may hurt their core user base so they are afraid of making any big changes.

So given that a) some Android makers have decent hardware, and, b) iOS has near zero new innovation (and a lot of catching up to do), why would I ever switch?

Android’s open world, widgets, and customizations make it wonderful.  However, those same customizations drain battery, open up security holes, and potentially break critical functions of the phone.  Second, my one big luxury item is buying the best new phone (I sell my old one on eBay for, generally, a very small loss so it works out cash-wise).  The best new Android phones are now too big for me, which relegates me to buying their mid-range phones.  My Moto X was only 6 months old so I could have kept using it.  However, for reasons I still cannot figure out, it started having issues with its clock.  This meant that, twice, my alarm simply did not go off.  Google Hangouts, which became my default SMS client, took forever to load each message.  My final reason: I took a job at the best Apple accessory maker – Henge Docks.  Since we build the beautiful Gravitas iPhone & iPad docks and I believe in eating one’s own dogfood, not being able to use a Gravitas was frustrating.

So here I am, staunch Android user making more mobile compromises by buying an iPhone. Amazing hardware with the iPhone combined with old, non-innovative software on iOS. The mobile world is still filled with tradeoffs.  I’m hoping someone – Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola or even Nokia (I actually love Windows phone but that’s for another post) will create the perfect device but I have yet to see it.

 

 

iPhone vs Android and Why I am back on Android

In the past two years, I have used every major phone OS except for Windows Mobile and every major carrier.

Two years ago I had a Blackberry.  When I first received it, I thought I had truly arrived heck, someone in the organization thought I was important enough to need to be in touch 24/7!  Wow!  J  My Blackberry service was through Sprint and also Verizon.  Zero issues.  Seriously, I found both services to be pretty comparable (this was in the DC metro area).

One and a half years ago, I got my first Android phone, which was on Verizon.  I loved it.  Part of my excitement stemmed from the fact that it simply seemed modern in comparison to Blackberry.  I could do so much more.  However, I’m a tech nerd at heart and I love modifying the tools I use.  When I receive a new phone, I find all the best apps and test them all.   I start modifying the phone to my liking.

What were some of the top things about Android:

  1. Widgets: the fun little boxes of information that are constantly updating
  2. Apps: these were pretty good and the selection seemed fine (granted, testing out comparative apps on iOS was not a perfect 1:1 since I could only do it on the iPod Touch I owned).  However, coming from Blackberry, Android was a revelation.
    1. Cheap apps: Android apps are much more likely to be free/lower cost than their iPhone brethren.
  3. Phone and carrier options: the wide array of phones at any and every price is great.
  4. Software: The Android OS, while far from perfect (and sometimes pretty buggy) feels modern.  Iterations are rapid (even if the carriers do not always send them out).  Andy Rubin and crew looked at the iPhone and its weaknesses and thought they could do it better.  In many ways, they did.
    1. Swype: Simple the fastest way to sw”type” on a smartphone.  Fast and easy and I think I make fewer errors than even using the iPhones pretty smart typing capability.
  5. Mods: Even as the hardware on my phone aged, with software mods and tweaks, I could keep my phone fresh and new feeling.
  6. Connection to Google, the Cloud, and contact management: I am a big user of Google products (namely Gmail, Greader, maps, and Picasa).  On Android, since it is built by Google, these apps are top and extremely well done.
    1. De-dupe is nearly perfect and, at least on my former HTC Incredible, an impressive unified contact list was built with my friend’s info from gmail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn so I could see everything they were doing.  Nice.

Android, like every piece of technology, has its drawbacks, as well:

  1. Battery: With all the widgets and multi-tasking, every Android phone drains its battery fast.  Charging during the day is a must (this is supposedly even more true if you have a 4G phone).
  2. Quality apps: fewer of them but really, with ~500k in both the iPhone and Android market, it’s easy to find a decent app for what you want.
  3. A more challenging developer market: this is more important for the people building what I like to use/test but when you have hundreds (if not thousands) of different configurations of phones, it is tough to build just one perfect and beautiful app.
  4. Security: Android is less secure than the iPhone if for no other reason than that the iTunes store is locked and closed by Apple.  Your app must be approved.  Android’s app store is open (although I believe Amazon’s Android app store does vet apps, which makes it a great alternative).
  5. Software: Because it’s newer and has had less time to mature, Android has bugs.  I had to restart my phone because it froze.
    1. Software 2: because the Android OS is open, carriers are free to install whatever bloatware they want on it and they do (note: Verizon is the worst offender).  You cannot easily delete this bloatware.

Seven months ago, when my old company was acquired, the acquiring company forced all users [who received a phone paid for by the company] to either move to an iPhone or Blackberry.  Given the lack of innovation from RIM in about 24 months, I did not see that as a viable option.  Hence, to the iPhone I went.

Top things I love about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: this is simply the most beautiful piece of phone hardware (any hardware?) on the market today.  I love looking at it.  I love how it feels in my hand. It screams quality, craftsmanship, and a love of design over anything else.  It is pretty much perfect (until the iPhone 5 launches, at least!).
    1. Screen: up until about five months ago, no Android manufacturer could come close to matching the quality of the iPhone 4’s retina display.  It looks great and I quickly became spoiled.  Colors are bright and vibrant.  Pixels are basically nonexistent.
    2. Apps: the newest and best apps are still released on the iPhone.  If you want them, then you need an iPhone.  Simple.  Note that this is beginning to change and may be flipped in 12-24 months due to the simply much larger market represented by Android.
      1. Due to a few reasons: 1. A lot of the app developers are in silicon valley.  This place loves Apple. 2. Easier development environment – one screen (sort of two now with the iPad).  3. Higher payment rates – i.e. iPhone users are much more likely to pay for the app.
      2. Software: in nearly every situation, the iPhone OS simply works.  No questions.  It just does.  Of course, when it breaks or freezes (rare), you don’t know why but you likely didn’t lose anything so it is not a huge deal.
      3. Battery: 95% of the time, I can get through an entire day of use.  This includes a few hours of calls plus moderate email/internet browsing and probably a little GPS map use.

Top things I dislike about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: it feels slow and that slowdown is noticeable (maybe a software issue).  The iPhone4’s processor is now outdated (although, granted, the iPhone 4S has rectified this issue but since I only have a regular iPhone 4, that is what I am comparing).
  2. Software: the iPhone OS simply seems and looks old.  In many ways it is the same OS that Steve Jobs launchedat MacWorld 2007.  Sure, notifications and a version of multitasking were launched.  Both were catchups to Android.  Oh, and I can put my apps in folders! Wee… (sarcasm ensues).  The iPhone OS is functional, secure, and stable.  It works.  However, it is no longer modern.
    1. As a side note: the iOS software sometimes does things I simply cannot figure out like when it beeps like I have new mail or some other notification (despite all sounds for all notifications being turned off) but when nothing worth notifying me about has occurred.  Still not sure what is going on.
  3. Contact management and the Cloud: Apple has iCloud.  It is supposed to backup everything on your iOS devices.  Great idea.  However, in Apple’s drive towards simplicity, this tool doesn’t in fact work well.  With both my iPhone and iPad backing up to the Cloud, iCoud is out of space.  This is much more challenging to manage than it should be.
    1. Contact management is worse: on Android, de-dupe is nearly flawless and connecting y contacts to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is easy.  It’s called a unified contact list.   The iPhone doesn’t do this.  It is probably a control thing.  Instead, you have to go through an imperfect workaround to get your friend’s photos in your contact list and these photos do not seem to update regularly without your manual involvement.  I also had contacts on my old computer plus a few other places.  Apple decided to suck all of them into my phone without any de-dupe.  Now I have about 4-5 different contacts for the same people.  There is NO way to de-dupe (although yes, you can link accounts but over a few thousand contacts, this isn’t really an option), which leads me to…
  4. iTunes: Apple, with iCloud, now lets you bypass iTunes, which is a blessing.  However, it is still one of the main ways to get your music, photos, and backups completed/updated, etc.  This is a major problem when you have two different iOS devices (like an iPad and iPhone).  iTunes copies apps that were installed and downloaded for one device onto the other, which means wasted time deleting those apps where they are not wanted.  #Inefficient.
        1. iTunes is also bloated and slow.  Move it all to the Cloud (like Spotify + Netlifx) and you will have solved the problem.  I don’t want this on my computer and your updates and new terms of service (TOS) are annoying.
        2. Closed system: Apple locks you in.  They don’t let you make changes.  You are behind their firewall and you have to go with the choices they make.  This actually is both a positive and negative thing.  Some people love it due to the inherent security and simplicity of this approach.  Others hate or at least dislike it.  Since I am in the latter camp, I’m putting this one here.
        3. AT&T: I’ve never had major dropped call issues with AT&T (rare but it does occur and it never really happened on Verizon or Sprint).  However, I do find their network to be super slow (despite their advertising campaigns stating otherwise).  When you need to start driving somewhere but also need a map of where to go and nothing shows up for minutes, that is a problem.

Since I am starting my own company, I needed a new phone.  Which to choose, iPhone (4S since I was buying new) or Android??  In the end, the choice was simple – Android but that was driven primarily because I choose T-Mobile as my carrier.  TMobile had the best deal around by a lot and they do not carry the iPhone.  However, if I had a choice, it would have been much more challenging.

All the best Android phones are HUGE (i.e. screens that are massive).  I have an iPad and a laptop.  I don’t need a mini iPad in my pocket.  I prefer the smaller iPhone screen.  The iPhone 4S is also much faster than the original 4 (the one I currently have) plus has probably the best camera (plus photo software) on any mobile smart phone.  That is compelling.

Android has a lot of variety and software that I prefer. It also has 4G speeds, which, I actually don’t care that much about – I just want the data plan to work when I need it.  A little slower but greater reliability is fine by me plus, 4G eats battery.

So what should you choose – that depends on a) carrier choice, b) whether screen size matters, c) whether price matters (although this is less so with some type of iPhone being available at just about every price point), d) whether apps matter (this goes both ways…quality (iPhone) vs price (Android) since selection is mostly similar unless you need the best and newest).  Good luck choosing – choice is wonderful to have so enjoy it!

Side note: I think Windows Mobile 7 is the best OS out on the market.  It looks the best and it is the best combination of the iPhone and Android.  It is the most modern.  However, it lacks app and or the killer phone hardware (although the Nokia 900 might change that).  If apps don’t matter too much to you but working on MS office does, then go Windows mobile. 🙂

p.s. Which Android phone did I buy?  Samsung Galaxy SII on T-Mobile.

p.p.s. sorry for the formatting issues.  Wrote this post originally on world while flying.  Too late in the night to deal with HTML.

Android Fail – Battery Issues galore

I have a Droid 2 Global.  It is about three months old.  It is supposedly one of the best Android phones on the market.  Verizon rates it at 500 minutes of use (or nearly 8.5 hrs) of active use battery life or 230 hours in standby.  I am not sure where they come up with these numbers.  If you do anything with your phone, the battery will [quickly] fail.  Or, put another way, Android phones do not seem to understand “standby” or, if they do, Verizon’s definition of standby is a far cry from actual normal use.

My first Android phone was the Droid 2 regular.  I returned it.  Why?  Two reasons: 1. The Droid 2 Global launched with a “better” processor and global abilities.  2. The Droid 2 regular’s battery failed almost right away each day.  All day long (i.e. until the battery died), it would heat up to a nearly burning point in my pocket.  It didn’t matter that no major programs were running or that the screen was off – something was working…working very very hard and draining the battery.  Fail.  Return to Verizon.

I am fairly technical.  I enjoy playing around with my phone.  I dig into the settings.  When I first received the Droid 2 Global, it thankfully did not burn a hole in my pocket (although it becomes oddly warm while completely “off” and just sitting in my pocket) but by noon (starting at 6:30am), the battery was at less than 50% with minimal use.  I dug and dug into settings.

Now, I have my phone set to force quit nearly every program.  Nothing except for my work email is supposed to update in the background (unless on WiFi).  Sadly, despite this setting existing, it does not work.  Some programs do update (such as Facebook (not today though since not logged in), BBC, Pulse, and Google Finance).  Of course, other programs that I do want to update do not – Weather and my Google Voicemail are two key ones.

What happens when this occurs – battery fail! I am now prepared for this outcome and assume it will happen.  I bring a charger with me to work and keep it on me nearly all the time.  I have an extra battery.  Today, however, I forgot the charger, which led me to do a forced test.  How long would my battery last now that I have done everything I can possibly imagine to conserve it?

Answer – 8.5 hours after taking it off the charger, I was at 20% remaining charge.  To reach this point, one would assume I actually used my phone.  Sadly, that was not the case.  Here is my usage: about 20 text messages (10 sent, 10 received).  Exactly 15 minutes on the phone (for work, I should add!).  2 NYTimes articles read while waiting for something….nothing more.  Since I knew I would be hurting for power, I did not look at my work or personal email (Gmail) although they were syncing (until I attempted to turn off sync…and my attempt also failed since the button did not work).

I have looked for the battery culprit but to no avail.  None of the diagnostic programs I have run can point it out perfectly.  The best one, Spare Parts, says that 60% of my battery went to “other” programs.  It does not specify.  6% went to the screen. 3% went to the phone.  The processor was barely used for battery drain.

By comparison, my colleague joined me on the train home.  She has a Droid X.  She took it off the charger this morning.  It is her personal phone so she didn’t use it at all during the work day.  She received a few texts and it is syncing with Gmail (but not work email).  She had about 80% of her battery remaining.

What does mean?  Simply put, a few things:

  1. The Droid line of phones (Droid 2 or Droid 2 Global) have some issue.  All you have to do is read the comments on Verizon about the phone to confirm that.
  2. Motorola, Verizon FAIL (I do not specifically think it is an Android issue).
  3. I believe that some software Motorola (or, less likely, Verizon) installed is at fault.  I’ve seriously contemplated rooting my phone.  I am nearly at the last straw.
  4. Companies like Motorola need to focus on smart, efficient software.  Crapware and MotoBlur do exactly zero for me except to dislike your company’s products more (I should add that my battery life did improve once I got rid of MotoBlur).  Most regular users probably do not know you have a special skin.  They DO know, however, that they have a failure of a phone from Motorola.  Is that a worthwhile tradeoff?
  5. Battery life is key.  See Louis Gray’s blog post.
  6. Finally…fail fail fail.  I know these phones are powerful.  I know they can do a huge amount.  I love smartphones.  I hate phones that are warming up in my pocket when supposedly asleep. Fail.

A few side notes:

  1. My iPad last for days of usage.  While it is not using 3G, it is updating my work email account all day long (via WiFi).  Its screen is on, usually, for at least two hours a day (typing emails, on the Internet, listening to music, reading books, etc).  My Motorola Droid 2 – The screen is actually on for less than an hour each day and yet it cannot do 8 full hours.  Moto Fail.  Moto Fail.  Moto Fail.
  2. I beat up on Motorola a lot since I think it is mostly their fault – hardware issues plus all the crap they add on top in an inane attempt to differentiate (although I definitely understand why they want to try).  A know a lot of people on various Android devices from HTC, Samsung and more who have similar issue.  Android definitely needs some work on this front.  Multitasking is a culprit but not the only one (at least make the kill task switch work) and there is no reason why a phone that is supposed to be sleeping is in fact heating up my leg.
  3. My Verizon 3G mobile hotspot also died today.  It was fully charged yesterday and off all day today.  Why – poor design.  The “on/off” button: a) is in a place where it is easily knocked, b) doesn’t actually turn off half the time I attempt to turn it off.  A hotspot (and paying for the service) is no use when it doesn’t work.

Google CR-48 Chrome Computer review

I recently received Google’s Chrome OS computer, the CR-48. In one sentence, this is the future BUT we are already there (and just don’t know it).

Many of the reviews of the CR-48 discuss the hardware and the software’s shortcoming but from the perspective of a hardcore computer user.  I’ll do something groundbreakingly different (joke) – write a review for the rest of us.  By the “rest of us,” I mean people who spend 99% of their computing time already in the cloud.  They are likely using massively overpowered computers to check their email, Facebook page, and shop on Amazon.  It is likely that the only non-Internet apps you currently use are Microsoft office-type products.  Of course, via Google, Microsoft and others, you can do that in the “Cloud,” as well.

Since I have established that the large majority of users already spend most of their computer time within a web browser, I can commence with the review.

Software

The CR-48 runs a special version of Google’s Chrome web browser.  That is it.  While a somewhat jarring experience at first (since there is no “start” bar or application bar, Google, via a simple and professional intro FAQ shows you how to start using the computer.  At its very basic, you just open up your normal websites.  This is exactly the same as you would do when using any other computer.  You can open new tabs or new windows.  Right now, as an example, I have Gmail, Facebook, Pandora, Google Reader, Hotmail, Twitter, a search page, and WordPress open.  Were I open my home computer (Macbook Pro), I would frankly have all the same pages open and I would be doing the same thing in those pages.

The pages run well albeit a bit more slowly than on more powerful computers.  However, I have to assume that is because the processor is fairly weak (Atom).  I had some trouble with Hulu but YouTube (at least the HTML-5 videos) worked fine.  Flash is obviously an issue but I have read that is being worked on.  The apps that you can use are, in most cases, just a quick link to a webpage.  Not much there, sadly. Install an app from the Chromse store on your home computer Chrome browser and you will know what I mean.

Because the software is only a web browser, the computer is very fast to startup – essentially instant.  Of course, I do not think this is so special since I almost never shut down my MacPro and whenever I open back up the screen the computer is ready to go.  However, since the “hard drive” is actually flash memory drive, everything on that front is speedy.

A few issues: if you want to download things, that will be challenging.  You can download items but you don’t really have control over where they are stored or how they are used.  If you cannot open the file you downloaded within a browser, then you are out of luck.  As an example, I downloaded a Gmail produced zip of a number of .pdf files – Chrome would not open that file. However, if I downloaded each pdf separately, I could open and view them.  The same would go for just about any file.  Probably the largest issue that the Web/Cloud generation (who most of us are now) by living within Chrome would have to do with photos and other self-produced media.  You can connect your camera to the computer via USB but then save your files where? Picasa (from Google) works but is not ideal if you want to save all of your photos (since they only provide a relatively small amount of free storage space).  You would also have trouble with Chrome if you wanted to manage the content of your Apple produced products, which, sadly (and I believe for not much longer) need iTunes.

A few benefits: since you are already living in the Cloud, the CR-48 is just another way to embrace this more fully. No more viruses!!!  Since you essentially cannot download anything, you cannot have a virus (until they start infecting the browser directly).  However, since Chrome is constantly updated by Google, I assume (and hope) that any viri or other dangerous issues will be fixed almost immediately.  Again – you already live in the Cloud.  Why do you need all of your old files?  I dont touch any of them anymore except for my photos.  I still have not found a great, cheap way to view all my media online and therefore need a large hard drive.  However, once a good solution comes out (and there are some already), I could probably ditch the regular computer altogether.  A few more things you already do in the cloud – gaming (Cityville anyone), listening to music (I have gigs upon gigs of music but only listen to Pandora), movie watching (streaming from Netflix, Amazon and so forth…which do not fully work with the CR-48 but probably will in short order).  I even do my reading online – Instapaper, Kindle and multiple websites.

In other words, if you are anything like me, you need a keyboard, a screen, and a wifi connection to do 99% of your daily electronic tasks. End of story.  In that respect, CR-48 is ideal.  It takes out the clutter that you pay a ton for in any other computer and gives you just what you need. In fact, I would say that the CR-48 is a taste of the future albeit one that is already here since you are already spending your electronic life within a browser anyways. Within the next few years, I predict we will see many many more “computers that are simply dumb terminals/gateways to the Internet.”  In fact, what is most likely to happen is that you will connect your smartphone to a larger screen and keyboard and go from there via wifi or 4G.

 

Hardware

I think this is very very secondary to the idea of the CR-48 and what it shows for the future.  However, since the reading public loves to know about the hardware, below is a brief overview.

The matte black (with no markings) and slightly rubberized feel works well.  It is functional and seems like a high-quality build.  Mainly, you do not notice the computer itself – which is precisely the point.  This is about the Chrome software, not the computer technology.  The screen is decent and very usable.  The webcam doesnt seem great but what do you expect?!  The speaker is the same – usable, not great.

The keyboard is just like one of the new Macs — i.e. Chicle keys. I like it a lot (and in fact wrote this entire review using the CR-48.  The layout is very different (i.e. no CAPS) lock key but instead a search key. I could easily get used to that although I do sometimes like responding to long emails in-line via CAPS.  The biggest issue is the mousepad.  It is large.  It does not handle two different touches well.  As an example, when I am typing this, if my palm hits the mousepad, it moves the mouse and clicks somewhere else.  Then, if I try to move it back using my finger but my palm is still touching it, there is major interference and confusion. You also use the mousepad for clicking (the entire area is clickable) – I like the idea but that is a lot of finger touches that the software has difficulty separating out.

A few other notes: the battery life seems great.  It is rated at 8 hours and I feel confident it will hit that mark.  The computer is insanely quiet.  I hate noisy computer (i.e. loud fans) – this thing is silent.  Of course, it has no running parts, is running a low-power processor, and only runs one program so it should be quiet.  It is pretty light and not overly warm on my lap (I have been sitting on the couch for this writeup). My iPad is a bit annoying to hold up for long reading.  I could see myself using the CR-48 instead plus I can actually do my emails or IMs on it while reading.

Anyways – time for dinner and I think this covers things pretty well.  Enjoyable.  Great start Google and a great view of the future when we are all using our mobile phones to connect larger screens and keyboards to the Internet.  I’m looking forward to it.  The cloud is easier, safer (in my view), and always updated.

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!

Droid Doesn’t

Update: I believe the issues discussed below were caused some faulty hardware from initial, first day shipments.  With an updated Droid (i.e. new hardware), the issues below have disappeared.

Have you seen all those signs and advertisements about the Motorola Droid and how the Droid “Does” while hinting at how the iPhone does not?  I am here to report that after a week of playing with a Droid, it most certainly does not do what one would expect.  Read below although my thoughts are summed up beautifully by Stewart Alsop here.

The Droid promised many things – Android 2.0, beautiful hardware, tons of apps.  Sadly, it only partially delivered.

The machine (it is no longer just a phone) is slow: It takes a very long time to search for information (this is powered by Google, right?), taking photos or making videos is nearly impossible (holiday example: I wanted to make a video of my brother jumping in a lake after his golf ball — the video only started working once he was out of the lake…thanks, Droid, for messing up that opportunity), and the phone constantly brings up inane error messages requesting me to wait or force quit.  I hate to say this, but didn’t we move past crazy error messages now that Vista is gone?  Apple just works.  Google (online) just works.  I shudder to think about a mobile machine that fails — ex: 911 emergency and your phone requests that you wait or force quit to make a call.  Please.

Android 2.0 – this is where the Droid [likely] fails as the machine itself is filled with power.  Android is still for power users (i.e. the tinkerers and guys who like to dig into their software).  No regular user wants error messages.  They just want their phone to work.  Android 2.0 is impressive when it comes to things like Maps (the driving directions are wonderful and death knell to the GPS companies such as Garvin).

Hardware: Pros – beautiful screen and slim profile.  Cons – useless keyboard, terrible camera, heavy.  The battery lasts for less than half a day.  NOTE: I force quit a huge number of programs to try and a) speed things up and b) save battery.  It does not help.

I was rooting for the Droid.  I want Moto to succeed (I like underdogs and I think competition is good).  I want Google to succeed (someone needs to compete against the iPhone).  However, the Droid, in its current form (and before any major software updates), is a failure.

Blackberry 8830 versus iPhone (and most other smartphones)

My company gave me a Blackberry 8830 (thank you!).  Despite my pleas, my company is Blackberry only.  However, I thought that since the Blackberry 8830 was a smartphone (and a popular one at that), I would be able to customize it to my heart’s content.  I was wrong.  

As a gadget loving tinkerer, I enjoy finding great new programs for my electronic  toys (i.e. phone and computer).  By great, I almost always mean easy to use, useful, and, most important, free.  Sadly for all the developers out there, I have found almost no reason to purchase most pieces of software.  A legal, free alternative is usually viable and available.  If there is no alternative, I pay but it is rare that I actually need said software enough to buy it.  I just do without.  

Back to the berry — I started finding great programs for my phone.  Many seemed useful and fun.  Of course, the options for the Blackberry 8830 are not as easily found or as good as those for the iPhone.  Despite this fact, I was able to find many things that interested me.  I downloaded them.

I quickly ran into a problem that many Blackberry owners have found — lack of memory = messed up Blackberry.  I soon ran out of memory.  Suddenly, most of my messages, past call history, and other important items were deleted.  My berry took forever to open up programs.  I did not get it.  I added a memory card.  At least in the 8830, memory cards do not actually help in the memory department unless you only want to store photos or music.  All programs are stored on the internal memory.  

What did this mean?  Simple — my smartphone is a lot less smart than the competitors (i.e. iphone).   Besides the normal bberry programs, I have Gmail, Google Maps, Viigo, Beyond411, Wall Street Journal program, and an icon for the New York Times and WashingtonPost.  Anything more and my memory would run out.  

I can somewhat forgive RIM for shipping my phone with such a minimal amount of memory.  However, it is unforgivable on the newer Berrys (such as the Bold and new Curve).  On the new phones, memory cards can store programs but this is still ridiculous.  Memory is very cheap.  For the same price as an 8GB iPhone, you can purchase a Bold.  From a memory and program option perspective, the choice is clear (iPhone).  Obviously, some people love BlackBerrys but if you want programs that make your phone truly smart – an iPhone or any phone with real internal memory is the winner.