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….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!

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.

Why I can finally use Google Voice

I was a beta tester of Grand Central.  It was a great service but one that I could not directly use.  Why? I could not port my number.  Without number porting, I could send calls to my Grand Central account but could not dial out.  In practice, this meant that I would give my friends and family my Grand Central number but if I ever called them back, they would see my cell number provided by my carrier.  This meant that these people would be required to have two numbers for me, which was more work and confusion than I wanted them to bear.  Due to this, my Grand Central account received almost no usage.

Google bought Grand Central in what, about three years later (might be off by a bit), is turning into a prescient move.  Google is slowly but surely making Grand Central (now Google Voice) into the pre-eminent, centralized place for all of my calling that is outside of the carriers control.  This should (and does) scare the carriers.  It is a powerful idea, which will force innovation (avoided like the plague by carriers).  However, Google Voice, despite all the rucus earlier this year when they were slowly opening the beta, changing names and launching their cell phone apps (and being rejected by Apple/ATT), still had the one glaring flaw carried over from Grand Central – number portability (and the subsequent hassle required).

What changed today that incentivizes me to finally use Google Voice?! Enablement of non-Google numbers for usage with Google Voice.  Read about it here, here, and here.  I enabled call forwarding on my cell phone and now all calls that are not answered go to Google voice.  Goodbye Verizon voicemail and hello, in no particular order (since they are all great features, none of them offered by VZ on my phone), my new Google Voicemail: 1. Voicemail transcription, 2. Automatic email of the transcript (plus the voice message), 3. Customized answer messages for different people.

The first two options are great and will now allow me to actually manage my voice messages (instead of listening to each and every saved message to find the one I want).  However, it is the third option (answer messages for different people) that has me the most excited (even though it has the least utility).  I can now make specific messages for my brother, mother, father, girlfriend, boss, friend abc, and so forth.  It is personalized and fun.  This is the wave of the future.  In five to ten years, everyone will be able to customize their voice messages (assuming we are still leaving them).

Thank you, Google, for innovating and pushing the boundaries.  My life just became easier and more fun.

p.s. Google is going to fix the glaring number portability problem.  It is on the way (supposedly sometime soon).

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.

iPhone vs. Nintendo DS vs. Playstation Portable (PSP)

I just wrote this long, elegant (not really) post about the above title.  Somehow it was deleted.  I don’t have the energy to re-write it.

Here is a rundown:

  • iPhone’s multi-touch + gyroscope/accelerometer + software version 2.0 (and the download website) make it an amazing gaming platform.  I speak from experience with my “cracked” iPod Touch.
  • The iPhone is what the next DS should have been (and maybe will be):  the iPhone is the mini-Wii.
  • When it comes to portability, would you rather have many devices that do 1 thing really well or one device that does all the things pretty well (and in the Iphones case, maybe better)?  I would rather have one.  My pocket will thank me.
  • What does the future hold?  Nintendo and Sony (and probably Microsoft albeit through a software/zune gaming solution), will launch multi-touch, accelerometered gaming cell phones.  If they are marketed as gaming cell-phones, a-la Nokia’s Ngage, they will fail.  However, the PSP next is just an amazing looking (and working) Sony/Ericsonn phone that also happens to play playstation games, then it could succeed.
  • Microsoft will spend a lot of time making Windows Mobile gaming a reality
  • I might be wrong on Nintendo DS Next’s future — knowing Nintendo, they will keep it just as a gaming platform.
  • One thing is certain, the iPhone is about to steal the portable gaming market’s thunder the same way it stole the smartphone market’s thunder.  Cue the slapping your head “duh” moment from Nintendo/Sony/MS executives and fanboys alike (minus Nokia, they saw it coming although they couldn’t get it really right).

Check out this video from IGN.

Now I wish Randi could finish her work (it is 11:47pm and my twenty minutes of non-bar thought is up.  Time to go to bar dreams…evidence, crimpro, property — snore).

Sprint-Clearwire-Google-Intel-Cable Companies create WiMonster

The big news last week as I was graduating and taking my final law school exam was a consortium’s creation of a WiMax network.

The consortium is made up of Sprint/Nextel, Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner, and Clearwire.  The deal is valued at $12 billion.  For basics on the deal, read this from the New York Times.  Why did this deal happen?  Simple — economics.  Sprint was attempting to build their own WiMax network, Xohm, with a spectrum footprint that covered about 60% of the US (that number is not precise).  Clearwire was attempting to do the same using spectrum that covered the other 40%.

Sprint was planning on spending $5 billion to build out their 60%.  However, there was one problem with this scenario — imagine spending $5 billion to build a wireless network that did not work everywhere in the US.  Would you buy a cellphone service plan that only worked in certain areas?  Some people would (see Metro PCS) and frankly there might be a business plan for someone to come out with local only wireless broadband (see any of the failed municipal WiFi networks).  Unfortunately, as the failed WiFi networks illustrate, the time is not yet ripe for local wireless broadband.

Consumers need devices that will make them want to go online anywhere (see the iPhone or a Nokia Internet tablet).  Those devices are just starting to proliferate as people begin to need the internet anytime, anywhere.  As relatively early adopter, I don’t know what I would do without internet/email on my phone.  Once everyone else gets a taste, they will need it as well.  The problem with the Sprint or Clearwire plan when standing alone is that few people would want to buy a device that only works in part of the country.  Imagine taking your $300 WiMax Sprint enabled device from DC to Seattle only to find that you will have to sign up for Clearwire service to use the device.  Bummer and a barrier to entry.

Sprint and Clearwire needed to merge their WiMax divisions.  WiMax investment is not cheap (although Sprint’s original $5 billion is much cheaper than the $18 billion Verizon is spending to roll out FiOS).  Plus, you need devices with WiMax chips built in (Intel) with awesome cloud software to make the experience worthwhile (Google).  Throw in some marketing partners (Comcast/Time Warner with a nice quad-play offering) and you have a WiMonster.

Why a WiMonster rather than a WiPrincess (or maybe a WiiMaximus to be very vogue)?  Well, operational HQ for the new venture is in Virginia (Sprint), while strategic HQ is in Seattle (Clearwire).  Intel, Google, Cable guys are also located all over, have strong leaders with strong opinions, and disparate interests.  This deal holds plenty of potential but also myriad risks.  The new leaders need vision and strength.

I hope for the best (plus I like rooting for the underdog, aka Sprint).  I want WiMax everywhere as I am tired of being tied to my home Wifi connection and I won’t pay for a 3G connection.  I want every device I own to be connected — from my computer to TV to my fridge to my AC.   Cross your fingers and prepare for the future!