Review of the Logitech Revue with Google TV

logitech_google_tvConclusion: It’s not ready.

Having gotten rid of my Verizon FiOS television service some time ago, I’ve been eager to try out the new TV solutions from Apple and Google. I reviewed the new Apple TV about a month ago, and really liked it. Last night, I spent the evening with the Logitech Revue with Google TV, and all I can say is that it’s really not ready yet.

Here’s a summary of my experience so far:

  • The first thing I had to do was go through a 12-step setup process which probably took about 15 minutes. I didn’t have any trouble with it, but I’m guessing the proverbial mom might have called her son or daughter to come over and help.
  • The good thing about the setup process was that it gave me time to read the manual on the keyboard. I actually had to look at the included documentation in order to understand all its functionality. To be fair, the keyboard does make Google TV potentially very powerful, and if you’re going to do things like surf the web, it’s actually a great accessory to have. I got used to it very quickly, and as soon as I accepted it as a powerful universal remote rather than an additional clumsy remote, I actually liked it.
  • Once my Google TV was all set up, the first thing I did was go to Hulu only to find that it doesn’t work with Google TV. Thinking I was more clever than Hulu, I changed my user agent to spoof a Chrome browser on Mac. That got me further into the site, but when I tried to play to a video, I was presented with yet another error message which essentially said: “Hulu is for computers, not for TVs. Nice try, though.” (The Flash Hulu player seems to be using some property from the Flash Capabilities class to determine that the client is a Google TV — huge bummer.) So after 15 minutes of setup and a remote control learning curve, the very first thing I was hoping to do was a complete wash. This isn’t Google’s or Logitech’s fault, of course — this is just Hulu (and the television networks) continuing to protect their traditional television advertising revenue.
  • I then decided to do ultimate test: I wanted to see how easy it was to go from a search for a television show to actually watching that show, so I brought up the search box and typed in “The Office”. I got results from NBC’s site (which claimed I could watch full episodes), and for Amazon Video On Demand. The NBC site refused to work with Google TV just like Hulu, and Amazon wanted to charge me $2.99 for one 20-minute episode. Conclusion: test failed. (I did get to watch some very funny previews, though.)
  • Realizing that I wasn’t going to be watching much TV with my Google TV, I decided to surf the web instead. I decided with a keyboard, mouse, and a 52″ monitor, the Google TV might be a great way to kick back on my couch and read some news and check out some blogs. Unfortunately, the hardware is so inadequate that surfing the web is actually much better on my phone. Pages load slowly, and any page with Flash content not only has rendering issues, but scrolling is painfully laggy.
  • The last hope for my Google TV was BBC news. BBC is probably the only thing I miss after having canceled my Verizon FiOS service, so I figured if I could catch some video clips on BBC’s site, my Google TV would still add some value. The problem was that navigating the site was way too painful (primarily because Flash content made it so slow), and every time I watched a video clip, I had to sit through an advertisement before the actual news began. I don’t mind some ads (I don’t expect content to be free — just reasonable), but to watch 15 short video clips (which is about what it would take to get a good sense of the day’s news), I would have to sit through 15 ads over the course of about 20 to 30 minutes, most of which would be the very same ad. (I watched about four video clips, and got the same ad three out of four times). Again, not Google’s fault, but a clear indication of technologies and business models not being aligned yet.

That’s about when it occurred to me that the Google TV was creating what was probably the worst TV watching experience I’d ever had. So I turned it off and picked up my laptop.

To be fair, I should point out two very important things:

  1. I don’t have a TV service, and part of the magic of Google TV is probably integrating it with a paid TV service. That said, even if I still had FiOS, the only thing Google TV could do for me is put a better interface on top of it. That’s not necessarily a small thing (both Comcast’s and Verizon’s DVRs are atrocious examples user experience), but it’s still probably not compelling enough to add another box to my living room setup. And to be frank, I’m looking for an alternative to traditional TV service — not another piece of hardware to augment it.
  2. It’s not Google’s fault that Hulu and NBC don’t allow access from Google TV. Of course, as a consumer, I don’t really care whose fault it is — I only care about the fact that my new (and not inexpensive) device isn’t very useful.

In summary, the Logitech Revue with Google TV feels like an early prototype to me. The hardware is way too slow and the partnerships and business models aren’t in place to make it even remotely useful yet (for me, anyway). Until one or both of these things change, I recommend the following:

  • The Apple TV. It actually has less functionality, but it’s cheaper, smaller, faster, and as of right now, I would say it’s generally more useful.
  • A Mac Mini and a bluetooth keyboard (or the equivalent in the Windows world). I may end up going this route yet.
  • A laptop or even a phone. You probably don’t want to cuddle up with your friends on your couch and watch something on a small screen, but with a significant other or by yourself, it’s fine.
  • Do something else with your time other than watch TV. Permit me to recommend some good science fiction.

Update: Richard’s comment has inspired me to make a quick update. First, just because Google TV isn’t working out for me, it is working well for others. If you’re thinking of getting one, analyze your particular TV watching needs and habits, and you might find that it works great for you. Second, I actually have very high hopes for Google TV in the future. I believe in what Google is trying to do — I just don’t think the hardware, software, and the partnerships are there yet. As the various pieces fall into place, I will continue to experiment with Google TV, and I will work it into my TV-watching routine as its features and functionality permit.

How to Read EPUB Files on Your Amazon Kindle

I'm a big fan of the Amazon Kindle, but one of the issues I've had with it is that it doesn't support EPUB files natively. Fortunately, there's a free and relatively easy way to convert EPUB files into the Kindle's native Mobipocket file format.

The easiest way I've found to read EPUB files on the Kindle is to use Amazon's free tool, KindleGen, to convert EPUB files into the Mobipocket format. KindleGen is a tool for publishers designed to convert existing HTML and EPUB files into the Kindle's native file format. You can download it for free from Amazon and use it yourself to convert EPUB files into a Kindle-friendly format.

To read EPUB files on your Kindle, follow these steps:

  1. Download KindleGen for your platform (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux — thank you, Amazon, for cross-platform support).
  2. Follow the instructions for converting your EPUB files into the Mobipocket format.
  3. Connect your Kindle to your computer via USB. It should appear as a mounted drive or volume.
  4. Drag your new EPUB files into your Kindle's "documents" directory.
  5. Eject or unmount your Kindle, and you should find your books available in your library.

There are several other EPUB readers out there that support EPUB files natively and don't require you to go through a conversion process, but I really like the Kindle platform for other reasons, so it's worth the additional step for me.

Review of the Apple Magic Trackpad

I know there have been a lot of posts and reviews of Apple’s new Magic Trackpad already, but most of them lack one critical element: actual experience with it. After using Apple’s newest pointing device exclusively for two weeks straight both at work and at home, here are my impressions:

Pros:

  • Very large surface — much larger than the trackpad built into your MacBook.
  • Great click action. Clicking works through the rubber feet on the bottom and feels great. Just like with the built-in trackpad on my MacBooks, sometimes I tap and sometimes I click.
  • Good gesture support. I’m a big believer in gesture and touch-based computing (which is only in its infancy), and the Magic Trackpad is definitely a step in the right direction.
  • Good battery life. I use rechargeable batteries for my mice, remotes, and other devices (the Energizer Family Battery Charger rather than Apple’s), so I don’t worry about having to replace batteries, but I also don’t want to have to do it weekly. I’ve been using two Magic Trackpads extensively for two weeks, and the batteries are still strong.
  • Integrates nicely with Mac keyboards. The size and shape make it a natural extension of your Apple bluetooth keyboard. I use a USB keyboard (fewer batteries to have to keep charged), but it still integrates well. (Note that if you prefer “tap to click,” keyboard integration can also be a con as noted below.)
  • Looks brilliant. As we’ve come to expect from Apple, the design is great. And unlike some other Apple devices I’ve used in the past, functionality wasn’t sacrificed for aesthetics.

Cons:

  • When too close to your keyboard (its form factor suggests that it should be positioned as a keyboard extension), it’s way too easy to inadvertently tap which means your cursor jumps away from where you’re typing. For this reason alone, I experimented with turning off “tap to click,” but eventually ended up just moving the trackpad further away.
  • No USB version. Although the battery life seems good, I would have probably bought a USB version for $10 or $20 less if it had been an option. I actually find USB peripherals more convenient since you don’t have to keep batteries in the charger at all times and in your bag when you travel.
  • Still not as precise as a mouse. Of course, this isn’t really the fault of the Magic Trackpad itself. In my experience, this is simply the nature of trackpads. They’re excellent for when you don’t have a mouse, and I’m happy to use one all day or even for several days in a row while on the road, however eventually, you start to realize that you’re just slightly less productive than you are with a mouse.

mouse_trackpad_workspace

Conclusion:

I’ve gone back to using the Magic Mouse (by far the best mouse Apple has ever made, and probably my favorite mouse of all time — if you’re not convinced, read my review) for most things simply because I’m more accurate with it which means I’m more productive. However, I’ve also incorporated the Magic Trackpad into my workspace, as well (along with my Hexbug Nano). I use the mouse as my primary pointing device, and I use the trackpad for gestures and for scrolling. Maybe I’ll experiment with having one on either side of the keyboard at some point so that I look like I’m piloting a macha rather than just moving a pointer.

In general, I really like the new Magic Trackpad, and I’m glad to see Apple move us one step closer to touch-based computing. But don’t put your Magic Mouse up on eBay just yet.

The Real Media Revolution Must Come From Content Creators

As I was watching TV on my iPad last night, I was struck by two things:

  1. How far hardware and software have come over the last few years.
  2. How far media distribution still has to go.

Media distribution will be broken until it reaches one single and very simple objective: anyone should be able to watch or read anything at any time on almost any device. What’s interesting about this objective is that it’s 100% achievable today in terms of technology; it’s media distribution that makes it laughably unrealistic.

As much as I like my iPad, I just don’t find it all that useful because of the incredible lack of media options. First of all, I think we call agree that the iPad is designed primarily for media consumption rather than creation. Yes, you can do some creative things on the device, but for the most part, if you really want to make something, most of us are better off using our computers or cameras or whatever it is we use to create. But for media consumption — reading, watching video, and playing games — the iPad is fantastic.

In theory, anyway. In practice, it’s hugely lacking. Rather than watching and reading the books and shows I’m interested in, I find myself having to pick from very limited selections carefully designed not cannibalize other revenue streams. A good example is my recent interest in Modern Family (the show which recently set a new standard in product placement and shilling, but which is a good show nonetheless). I got into the show very late in the season which means that I’ve missed about ten episodes, and there’s no practical way for me to get caught up. In the year 2010, while surrounded by some of the most advanced devices on the planet and having massive amounts of bandwidth at my disposal, the only options I have available are:

Continue reading

Is Verizon the new AT&T?

If you thought AT&T’s exclusive access to the iPhone has made them brazen, check out what happened at the Verizon store on Friday while I was checking out the new Motorola Droid:

  1. The first thing I confirmed was that Verizon does expect you to pay $45/mo for data if you want to use Exchange. I’m guessing you don’t actually have to buy a corporate plan to use Exchange, but they certainly want to make you think you do. Since my company doesn’t pay for my phone, but I still want to use it to access my corporate email, there’s no way I’m paying $15/mo more just for Exchange access. To be fair, I believe AT&T also offers corporate plans, but nobody ever tried to sell me one, and Exchange works fine with the regular $30/mo plan.
  2. I also confirmed that Verizon is raising their early termination fee on November 15th from $175 (somewhat reasonable) to $350 (absolutely absurd). That means after November 15th, pretty much nothing will be able to get me to buy a Verizon phone (until AT&T does the same thing, that is, which I’m sure is coming).
  3. The most atrocious thing I saw was a salesperson tell a customer that he just found out that the Droid was going to have all the apps that the iPhone has. I chuckled, but let it pass until I heard him use the same line on someone else standing next to me as I played with the display model. That was too much. When I called it on him, he assured me that all iPhone applications were being ported to Android. He wasn’t happy when I explained to him (and the other customer) that there was no way that was going to happen. Nor was he particular receptive when I suggested that he pitch the Droid on its own merits (of which it has plenty) rather than misrepresenting it. I really hope this was a sales tactic employed by this salesperson alone, and not something he was instructed to say during sales training.

Part of the reason I was so interested in the Droid was to get away from AT&T which I feel has abused their exclusive access to the iPhone, however from what I can tell so far, Verizon isn’t going to be much better. My inclination at this point is to stick with the devil that I know.

The Phone Itself

My impressions of the Droid were pretty positive in general, but I don’t feel like the keyboard was done well enough to justify the additional size, weight, and moving parts. The four primary problems I found with the keyboard were:

  1. It’s not centered. Because of the D pad on the right, you have to really stretch your right thumb for it to be in position which throws everything off. In my experience, keyboards need to be symmetrical to be usable.
  2. The keys aren’t offset. In order to save space, they keys are in a tight grid rather than an actual keyboard pattern. This seems subtle, but it really slows down typing.
  3. There’s no dedicated number row. Having to use meta keys frequently on a thumb board really slows me down.
  4. The keys aren’t raised enough. I made as many mistakes on the physical keyboard as I did on the software keyboard, and more than I make on my iPhone’s virtual keyboard. Maybe I’d adjust to it eventually, but then again, maybe I wouldn’t.

Google, Motorola, and Verizon are right to focus on a phone that has things that people want, but that Apple isn’t interested in providing (like keyboards), but that doesn’t mean we’ll be happy with a substandard implementation. We’re all so accustomed to the virtual keyboard on the iPhone by now that a physical keyboard has to be done extremely well for it to qualify as an advantage. It really baffles me why so few phones get keyboards right. Here’s a hint: get an old Sidekick 2 or 3, and do exactly what they did. That’s it. Don’t compromise, and don’t even try to make improvements. A keyboard as good as the Sidekick’s on a device as powerful as the Droid would be hugely compelling, and would certainly be enough to make me switch.

The State of the Mobile Industry

So what is ultimately going to save us from this mess that passes as the mobile industry in this country? In the short term, government regulation that makes all these anti-competitive practices (huge early termination fees, unrealistically long contracts, arbitrary software approval processes, etc.) unlawful. And in the long term, our best hope is ubiquitous Wi-Fi (or whatever the name will be for Wi-Fi that’s everywhere). Having ubiquitous and affordable Wi-Fi instantly transforms the mobile industry into what the PC market is today. In other words, rather than being locked into contracts, being forced to pay exorbitant monthly rates, and having your hardware purchases tightly controlled by poorly run service providers, consumers will be able to purchase any type of hardware they want right off the shelf running whichever operating system they like best, then do anything they want with it, including making as many VoIP calls as they want to whomever they want, installing any application they want, and buying as many different devices as they want. Unfortunately, we’re still a long ways away from what’s best for consumers as my trip to the Verizon store reminded me.

Review of the Magic Mouse

I’ve been pretty critical of Apple’s mice over the years, primarily due to Apple’s refusal to embrace the right mouse button. Technically, this changed with the Mighty Mouse in 2005, though I never found the right-click to work particularly well on all four (two wired, two Bluetooth) that I had over the years. Hence my skepticism when Apple announced yet another attempt at the device that they themselves were responsible for introducing to the computing mainstream with the Apple Macintosh all the way back in 1984.

What intrigued me about the Magic Mouse initially was the gesture support. I’ve been doing a lot of work with gestures in Adobe AIR 2 and I’d started using my MacBook’s multi-touch trackpad full-time in order to really try to incorporate gestures into my workflow. The Magic Mouse seemed like a good way to keep using (some) gestures while having the advantages of an external pointing device.

Enough background. On to the facts:

What’s good about the Magic Mouse:

  • Right-click support finally works great. I don’t think I’ve had any missed right-clicks yet (which happened probably 20% of the time with the Mighty Mouse).
  • Swiping also works great. I adapted to the swipe gesture instantly. It’s entirely intuitive, and works exactly like it should. And it works with all applications (at least all I’ve tried it with), and not just Apple apps (in other words, the momentum effect is implemented at the OS level, so it works everywhere).
  • The movement is very smooth. It seems to glide better than the Mighty Mouse, and better than my Logitech optical mouse (though it might just be that it hasn’t had time to accumulate dust and lint yet).

What’s not good about the Magic Mouse:

  • It’s not very ergonomic. I find it a bit on the small side and not as comfortable to use for long periods of time as my Logitech. Although the gestures are very practical and usable, the shape of the mouse is not. I think Apple focused just a little too much on the aesthetics of this device and not enough on the functionality. (Even the old Mighty Mouse is slightly more comfortable for me to use, though not nearly as fun.)
  • It’s all white. I happen to be a frequent hand-washer, so I’ve never had a problem with my keyboards or trackpads getting dirty, but before you buy a Magic Mouse, look down at your computer. If your laptop, keyboard, or mouse has accumulated grime from petting the dog, reading the newspaper, or eating sandwiches, consider getting a good black Logitech optical mouse rather than the pure white Magic Mouse.
  • Price. $69 + tax is a lot to drop on a mouse. I wanted to buy two — one for home, and one for the office — but I didn’t want to spend all that money. I was also hoping to buy a corded USB version, but as of right now, the only version available is the Bluetooth model. In general, I prefer USB mice because they are cheaper, and I don’t have to worry about battery life (I switched to rechargeable batteries a while back, but it’s still much easier just to plug in and forget about it).

I can’t really recommend or advise against the Magic Mouse. I’ll keep using mine on one computer, but I don’t think I’m going to make a special effort to replace all my mice with Magic Mice. Now if Apple came out with an ergonomic USB version, I would happily retire all my Logitech mice to the plastic hardware bin in the basement, but that time has not yet come. I actually think it’s more likely that Logitech will incorporate gesture support and deliver the options that many of us want.

The Apple tablet can save comic books

As I was reading V for Vendetta the other night, it occurred to me that if this Apple tablet device is real, it could reinvigorate comics and graphic novels even more than all the recent film adaptations. Imagine reading Watchmen and other graphic novels on a big, bright, interactive screen, and having new issues of comics automatically and wirelessly delivered (like newspapers on your Amazon Kindle). Imagine zooming in on panels, listening to voice-overs, and reading comments left by other readers.

Hopefully both Apple and the comic book industry are pursuing this opportunity without any of the obsolete preconceptions of traditional media. I believe if this is done right, the Apple tablet can revolutionize comics every bit as much as the iPod revolutionized digital music.

Although the last thing the internet needs are more rumors of what Apple is going to release, while I'm on the topic, I might as well present my predictions:

  • 10" – 13" multi-touch screen.
  • iPhone OS.
  • App Store, naturally (which, as a side note, I expect to come to the desktop eventually).
  • Focus on music, video, magazines, newspapers, hopefully comics, web browsing, and gaming (both 3D and simple virtual multi-player board games).
  • Nice "page-flip" animations and gestures to make you feel like you're reading physical media.
  • Wireless delivery, probably through Verizon rather than AT&T.
  • On-screen keyboard and voice commands.
  • No optical media, and perhaps no way to connect a keyboard (after all, Apple can't allow it to replace your MacBook).
  • Remote control for your iTV, perhaps.
  • Accelerometer, GPS, and camera (although these could come as upgrades in later models).
  • 64GB of storage capacity (must be bigger than the iPod Touch, but not so big that they can't sell you higher-capacity models in the future).
  • Non-removable battery (naturally — now that they've gotten away with it, why go back?).
  • Name: the Apple iPad.
  • Price: $800.

Anything I left out?

Review of the Amazon Kindle 2

I bought the first Kindle the second it was available (and gave it a thorough review, naturally), but sold it to a fanatical Oprah watcher the moment I saw leaked pictures of the Kindle 2. I liked my Kindle, but I found I was still more likely to reach for paper books for several reasons:

  • The battery life was really bad, probably because I kept the wireless on all the time, but having to remember to activate it in order to receive daily content kind of defeated the purpose of the incognito "Whispernet."
  • The famously poorly designed buttons were very annoying. Amazon says they want the Kindle to disappear in your hands, but when you’re always worried about accidentally hitting the wrong button, it’s hard to relax and let your guard down.
  • It was slow. I didn’t mind the refresh rate of turning a page since you can get into a good rhythm, but otherwise navigating the device was cumbersome.
  • Most of the books I wanted to read weren’t available, and despite the Kindle’s versatile capabilities, it really is designed much more for books than magazines, newspapers, or anything that comes from the web or is accompanied by images.
  • The first book I read on the Kindle (1984 — George Bush and our impending economic situation inspired me to reread several such classics) was full of OCR mistakes — so much so that it was distracting. Fortunately, the more modern books I read didn’t have the same issue.
  • The case and the way it attached to the Kindle was just plain strange. The two often came apart, and the power and network switches in the back were obscured by the back of the cover. Very curious design.

But all that’s in the past. Here are my thoughts on the Kindle 2 so far:

  • The new form factor is a huge improvement. The action of the buttons has been reversed so they need to be pressed on the inside rather than on the outside which is where you tend to grasp the device. The metal back makes it feel more substantial, and the keyboard has been dramatically improved. It’s also thinner which is a bonus when traveling.
  • The 5-way button is a significant improvement over the LCD "gutter" of the old model. It allows for much more efficient navigation which will, in turn, make some of the great features of the Kindle (dictionary, notes, etc.) far more accessible.
  • It didn’t come with a case which bummed me out. I guess I should have realized that, but in my haste to purchase one before they sold out, I didn’t read about everything that comes in the box. The first Kindle came with a basic case (poor as it was), so I assumed the second one would have a case or a sleeve, too. But in a tribute to the iPod, the Kindle 2 comes with nothing but the device itself, and a cable. Cases and other accessories are additional revenue streams.
  • The Kindle 2 does away with the external network switch. The single power switch is on the top of the device (where it won’t be covered by your case or sleeve), and control of the network is now done through a software menu. Very smart change.
  • Despite some criticism I’ve seen online, the Kindle 2 is definitely faster than the first. It’s still e-ink, so it’s not instantaneous, but there’s a noticeable improvement over the first version.
  • All my books from my first Kindle experience were waiting for me on my Kindle 2. I just had to select them from the archive section, and they immediately downloaded for free. This is an important reminder that, like the iPhone, the Kindle isn’t a standalone device. It’s part of an ecosystem which is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.
  • I haven’t been able to put the battery through its paces yet, but it’s supposed to be 25% better. I don’t think I’ll have any battery problems this time, though, because I don’t think I’m going to buy any subscriptions which means I won’t have to leave the wireless on. I’m so accustomed to reading the news on my phone or in a feed reader now that I think I’ll use the Kindle exclusively for books.
  • Amazon still charges to email documents to yourself ($0.10 each), and to aggregate blogs (about $1.99 each). I understand why Amazon does this (the cost of the wireless connection is paid for every time you buy a book, but not when you wirelessly transfer documents or aggregate blogs), but I just can’t imagine doing this when you can easily connect your Kindle via USB (on Mac and Windows), and there are so many better ways to read blogs. But just because these features don’t appeal to me doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to others, so I officially reserve judgment.

Other features of the Kindle 2 that I haven’t mentioned yet:

  • More storage. The Kindle 2 will hold over 1,500 books.
  • A new text-to-speech feature allows the Kindle to read to you. I wasn’t expecting much out of this feature, but it actually works surprisingly well. The voice and the flow are quite natural.
  • Better selection. Amazon claims there are over 240,000 books available now. I did a quick search for the next four or five books I intend to read, and they were all available which already puts me off to a better start than with the first Kindle.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with my upgrade thus far, and would recommend the Kindle 2 both to original Kindle owners, and to anyone who thought the first Kindle wasn’t ready for prime time yet. I think this time, I’m going to stick with it — at least until I see leaked photos of the Kindle 3.

Rediscovering Bluetooth

When bluetooth first started to appear in laptops and devices, I used it as much as I could. I replaced everything with a wire or a cable with its bluetooth equivalent: headset, mouse, keyboard, printer, etc. Several years later, I have almost entirely given up on bluetooth for the following reasons:

  1. I couldn’t find a headset with acceptable quality. Although they probably exist now, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to walk around with a headset attached to my head anymore. Maybe I’m afraid of brain cancer, or worse, looking really silly.
  2. I’m tired of using batteries. I’ve started using rechargeable batteries at home for things like noise canceling headphones (which I wear when I write), but replacing batteries in bluetooth devices and/or recharging them got old. What’s the point of eliminating the wire when you still have to have a charger? Having an iPhone has allowed me to reduce the number of devices I carry around with me, so I’m pretty determined to reduce the number of devices I have to keep powered, as well.
  3. Bluetooth just isn’t that much better than wires and cables. The headset that comes with the iPhone is actually really nice, and far better than any bluetooth headset I’ve seen. Not only is it extremely small and portable (it’s just earbuds with a tiny built-in mic that picks up surprisingly well) — it also doesn’t require charging and allows you to listen to conversations in stereo.

That said, I have recently found my favorite bluetooth device in the world: my new car. I just bought a Nissan Versa for commuting into the office three days a week since trying to get by with just a motorcycle in the winter was getting (c)old. Although the Versa is, by any standard, a straight-up economy car, I decided to get the SL version which comes with a few nice features: continuously variable transmission (smoother ride and better fuel efficiency), the Nissan intelligent keyless system (as long as the RFID device is in your pocket, the car unlocks and starts without requiring a key), an auxiliary-in for my phone (they actually call that a feature!), 6-CD changer (which I’ll never use), and bluetooth hands-free. (I couldn’t bring myself to get a built-in navigation system since I love my Garmin devices so much, and although I love satellite radio, I decided to try to get by with podcasts.) Of course, I realize that none of this is exactly earth-shatter new technology, but for someone whose nicest car ever was a Jeep Wrangler (without power windows), it feels pretty fancy to me.

The best part of the car, other than the fuel efficiency, is definitely the bluetooth support. The entire system works with voice commands, and can accept incoming calls and make outgoing calls given either a number, or just an address book entry. On my way home from the dealership, I called three people I hadn’t talked to in months, just because I could. I think I’m going to do a much better job of staying in touch with friends and family now — at least on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Of course, with convenience comes great responsibility, and even great peril. My wife borrowed the car last night to pick up some friends in a vehicle not-yet-covered in dog hair. While she was gone, I was talking with a friend of mine about a New Years Eve party when the call suddenly dropped. A moment later, my wife came in and asked me to elaborate on something my friend had just said. As soon as she pulled into the driveway, the call switched over to the car without my friend knowing, and suddenly he was talking to my wife instead of me. Fortunately, no secrets were inadvertently divulged, but next time, I must remember to go out to the car to make the call, or turn bluetooth off. I don’t worry about the NSA listening in on my conversations, but your wife catching fragments of New Years Eve stories can be disastrously incriminating.

So with a renewed interest in bluetooth, I decided to see what else I could do with my iPhone this morning only to find that the answer is pretty much nothing. Address Book (the app) used to have the ability to send SMS messages through a paired mobile phone via bluetooth, but it doesn’t work with the iPhone. Seriously. Nokia, yes — the iPhone, no. Nor is there any way to make calls using my MacBook’s speakers through my phone. I had envisioned using my iPhone’s headset to listen to music on my Mac while making or taking calls at the same time. Nope.

Considering the fact that Apple is now selling iPhones in Walmart, it’s clear that their target market isn’t exactly those with complicated bluetooth ambitions, but come on. They own all the hardware and all the software between the Mac and the iPhone, and the only integration is through a serial cable or subscription-based MobileMe? Lame, to put it politely.

I’ve always argued that the iPhone doesn’t have to be an open platform as long as it’s a comprehensive platform. Sort of like the idea of the Benevolent Dictator. But we’re clearly not there yet. I look forward to seeing what the next iPhone firmware update will bring along with Snow Leopard. Before Apple can claim to have completely reinvented the mobile phone, they must first finish recreating what the world already had. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Flash support. Until I can watch Fail Blog videos on my phone, it ain’t the "real web."

I have been vindicated by Android

I spent many years singing the praises of the Sidekick (though not so much the Sidekick 3) which I found was usually met with consternation. I heard everything from "Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard of that" to "what does it run, Windows Mobile?" to "1980 called and said they wanted their Sidekick back" (my favorite) to "Isn’t that a phone for teenagers?" to which I would respond that the Sidekick was misguidedly only marketed to teenagers by T-Mobile, but was, in fact, arguably the best mobile experience right up until the launch of the first iPhone (which is what finally made me give up my Sidekick 3), with the possible exception of the Blackberry for "enterprise" users.

Although I managed to convert a few people, most happily went back to their Nokia S60s or Windows Mobile abominations. But now, with the launch of the first Android powered phone yesterday, I feel I have finally been vindicated.

So what does the Sidekick have to do with Android? A great deal! In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Sidekick is the father of Android. Here’s why:

  • Andy Rubin, the founder and pioneer of Android, first founded and pioneered Danger, Inc. which created the Danger Hiptop (aka, the T-Mobile Sidekick). The significance of Andy having founded both Danger, Inc. and Android was not lost on Microsoft who acquired Danger, Inc. not long after Android was purchased by Google.
  • The Hiptop OS is based on Java, and apps are authored in the Java programming language, just as they are on Android.
  • The new T-Mobile G1 (the first Android phone) looks very similar to the Sidekick right down to the sliding screen (the Sidekick is primarily know for its flip screen, but there are models that slide, too). The G1’s keyboard looks almost identical to the Sidekick’s (the Sidekick’s keyboard was one of the best things about it — anyone who thinks a virtual keyboard is better for typing has never used a decent mobile keyboard), and the G1’s trackball was clearly inspired by the Sidekick 3.
  • I’m sure it’s no accident that Google’s launch partner is none other than T-Mobile. T-Mobile and Andy Rubin are teaming up again, and, with Google behind them this time, they are sure to get much further than the Sidekick ever did.

All this is not to say that Sidekick devices are comparable to Android phones. Clearly, the G1 (and Android in general) are far superior. My point is simple that while we praise Android and G1, we should remember our history, and all acknowledge Android’s evolutionary roots.

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