July 31 2014

Why You Should Delete All Facebook Mobile Apps Right Now

fblogoIt’s nice that Facebook is so generous and they give us their service and apps for free. One should never look a gift horse in the mouth, right? Well, if the gift horse is stomping through my bedroom and texting all of my friends while I’m not looking, I think it bears my attention.  And yours. So tell me why Facebook needs these permissions on my Android phone:

  • read calendar events plus confidential information
  • add or modify calendar events and send email to guests without owners’ knowledge
  • read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • directly call phone numbers
  • create accounts and set passwords
  • change network connectivity
  • connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi

This is a cut and pasted subset of the list, which you can peruse at the Facebook app page on Google Play. Just scroll down to the “Additional Information” section and click the “View Details” link under the “Permissions” header. Consider:

  • Many of these are invitations for identify theft.  Facebook can place phone calls, send emails, and schedule appointments without your advance knowledge or explicit permission.
  • With full internet access and the ability to create accounts and set passwords, Facebook could theoretically lock you out of your device and set up an account for someone else.

Now, I’m not paranoid — I don’t think that the Facebook app is doing a lot of these things.  But I have no idea why it requires the permissions to do all of this, and the idea that an app might communicate with my contacts without my explicit okay causes me great concern. Sure, I want to be able to set up events on my tablet.  But I want a box to pop up saying that the app will now send the invites to Joe, Mary and Grace; and then ask “Is that okay?” before it actually does it.  I maintain some sensitive business relationships in my contacts.  I don’t think it’s a reasonable thing for Facebook to have the ability to manage them for me.

This is all the more reason to be worried about Facebook’s plan to remove the messaging features from the Facebook app and insist that we all install Facebook Messenger if we want to share mobile pictures or chat with our friends.  Because this means well have two apps with outrageous permissions if we want to use Facebook on the go.

I’ve always considered Facebook’s proposition to be a bit insidious. My family and friends are all on there.  I could announce that I’m moving over to Google Plus, but most of them would not follow me there.  That is the sole reason that I continue to use Facebook.

But it’s clear to me that Facebook is building it’s profit model on sharing a lot of what makes me a unique individual.  I share my thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes, and relationships on their platform. They, in turn, let their advertisers know that they have far more insight into who I am, what I’ll buy, and what my friends will buy than the average website.  Google’s proposition is quite similar, but Google seems to be more upfront and respectful about it, and the lure I get from Google is “we’ll give you very useful tools in return”.  Google respects me enough to show some constraint: the Google+ app on Play requires none of the permissions listed above. So I don’t consider Facebook to be a company that has much respect for me in the first place.  And that’s all the more reason to not trust  them with my entire reputation on my devices.

Do you agree? Use the hashtag #CloseTheBook to share this message online.

July 11 2014

The Future Of Technology

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_01…is the name of the track that I am co-facilitating at NTEN’s Leading Change Summit. I’m a late addition, there to support Tracy Kronzak and Tanya Tarr. Unlike the popular Nonprofit Technology Conference, LCS (not to be confused with LSC, as the company I work for is commonly called, or LSC, my wife’s initials) is a smaller, more focused affair with three tracks: Impact Leadership, Digital Strategy, and The Future of Technology. The expectation is that attendees will pick a track and stick with it.  Nine hours of interactive sessions on each topic will be followed by a day spent at the Idea Accelerator, a workshop designed to jump-start each attendee’s work in their areas. I’m flattered that they asked me to help out, and excited about what we can do to help resource and energize emerging nptech leaders at this event.

The future of technology is also something that I think about often (hey, I’m paid to!) Both in terms of what’s coming, and how we (LSC and the nonprofit sector) are going to adapt to it. Here are some of the ideas that I’m bringing to LCS this fall:

  • At a tactical level, no surprise, the future is in the cloud; it’s mobile; it’s software as a service and apps, not server rooms and applications.
  • The current gap between enterprise and personal software is going to go away, and “bring your own app” is going to be the computing norm.
  • Software evaluation will look more at interoperability, mobile, and user interface than advanced functionality.  In a world where staff are more independent in their software use, with less standardization, usability will trump sophistication.  We’ll expect less of our software, but we’ll expect to use it without any training.
  • We’ll expect the same access to information and ability to work with it from every location and every device. There will still be desktop computers, and they’ll have more sophisticated software, but there will be less people using them.
  • A big step will be coming within a year or two, when mobile manufacturers solve the input problem. Today, it’s difficult to do serious content creation on mobile devices, due primarily to the clumsiness of the keyboards and, also, the small screens. They will come up with something creative to address this.
  • IT staffing requirements will change.  And they’ll change dramatically.  But here’s what won’t happen: the percentage of technology labor won’t be reduced.  The type of work will change, and the distribution of tech responsibility will be spread out, but there will still be a high demand for technology expertise.
  • The lines between individual networks will fade. We’ll do business on shared platforms like Salesforce, Box, and {insert your favorite social media platform here}.  Sharing content with external partners and constituents will be far simpler. One network, pervasive computing, no more firewalls (well, not literally — security is still a huge thing that needs to be managed).

This all sounds good! Less IT controlling what you can and can’t do. Consumerization demystifying technology and making it more usable.  No more need to toss around acronyms like “VPN.”

Of course, long after this future arrives, many nonprofits will still be doing things the old-fashioned ways.  Adapting to and adopting these new technologies will require some changes in our organizational cultures.  If technology is going to become less of a specialty and more of a commodity, then technical competency and comfort using new tools need to be common attributes of every employee. Here are the stereotypes that must go away today:

  1. The technophobic executive. It is no longer allowable to say you are qualified to lead an organization or a department if you aren’t comfortable thinking about how technology supports your work.  It disqualifies you.
  2. The control freak techie.  They will fight the adoption of consumer technology with tooth and claw, and use the potential security risks to justify their approach. Well, yes, security is a real concern.  But the risk of data breaches has to be balanced against the lost business opportunities we face when we restrict all technology innovation. I blogged about that here.
  3. The paper-pushing staffer. All staff should have basic data management skills; enough to use a spreadsheet to analyze information and understand when the spreadsheet won’t work as well as a database would.
  4. Silos, big and small. The key benefit of our tech future is the ability to collaborate, both inside our company walls and out. So data needs to be public by default; secured only when necessary.  Policy and planning has to cross department lines.
  5. The “technology as savior” trope. Technology can’t solve your problems.  You can solve your problems, and technology can facilitate your solution. It needs to be understood that big technology implementations have to be preceded by business process analysis.  Otherwise, you’re simply automating bad or outdated processes.

I’m looking forward to the future, and I can’t wait to dive into these ideas and more about how we use tech to enhance our operations, collaborate with our community and constituents, and change the world for the better.   Does this all sound right to you? What have I got wrong, and what have I missed?

March 15 2013

Google Made Me Cry

Well, not real tears. But the announcement that Google Reader will no longer be available as of July 1st was personally updating news.  Like many people,  over the last eight years, this application has become as central a part of my online life as email. It is easily the web site that I spend the most time on, likely more than all of the other sites I frequent combined, including Facebook.

What do I do there? Learn. Laugh. Research. Spy. Reminisce. Observe. Ogle. Be outraged. Get motivated. Get inspired. Pinpoint trends. Predict the future.

With a diverse feed of nptech blogs,  traditional news,  entertainment, tech, LinkedIn updates, comic strips and anything else that I could figure out how to subscribe to,  this is the center of my information flow. I read the Washington Post every day,  but I skim the articles because they’re often old news. I don’t have a TV (well, I do have Amazon Prime and Hulu).

And I share the really good stuff.  You might say, “what’s the big deal? You can get news from Twitter and Facebook”  or “There are other feed readers.”

The big deal is that the other feed readers fall in three categories:

  1. Too smart: Fever
  2. Too pretty: Feedly, Pulse
  3. Too beta: Newsblur, TheOldReader
“Smart” readers hide posts that aren’t popular, assuming that I want to know what everyone likes, instead of research topics or discover information on my own. There’s a great value to knowing what others are reading; I use Twitter and Facebook to both share what I find and read what my friends and nptech peers recommend.  I use my feed reader to discover things.
Pretty readers present feed items in a glossy magazine format that’s hard to navigate through quickly and hell on my data plan.
The beta readers are the ones that look pretty good to me, until I have to wait 45 seconds for a small feed to refresh or note that their mobile client is the desktop website, not even an HTML5 variant.

What made Google Reader the reader for most of us was the sheer utility.  My 143 feeds generate about 1000 posts a day.  On breaks or commutes, I scan through them, starring anything that looks interesting as I go.  When I get home from work, and again in the morning, I go through the starred items, finding the gems.

Key functionality for me is the mobile support. Just like the web site, the Google Reader Android app wins no beauty contests, but it’s fast and simple and supports my workflow.

At this point, I’m putting my hopes on Feedly, listed above as a “too pretty” candidate.  It does have a list view that works more like reader does.  The mobile client has a list view that is still too graphical, but I’m optimistic that they’ll offer a fix for that before July.  Currently, they are a front-end to Google’s servers, which means that there is no need to export/import your feeds to join, and your actions stay synced with Google Reader (Feedly’s Saved Items are Google’s Starred, wherever you mark them).  Sometime before July, Feedly plans to move to their own back-end and the change should be seamless.

July is three months away. I’m keeping my eyes open.  Assuming that anyone who’s read this far is wrestling with the same challenge, please share your thoughts and solutions in the comments.

 

 

Category: Mobile, Technology, Web | 1 Comment
July 21 2011

One Size Fits

Here’s a rant aimed at Apple and Microsoft.

Mac OSX Lion came out today, and it sports a lot of new features cribbed from IOS, the iPhone/iPad operating system. Steve Jobs has pretty much decided that the days of the PC are waning, and we want a mobile OS everywhere we go. He said that a year ago, and Microsoft was listening. Reports are that Windows 8 will be one operating system (that looks a lot like the boxy new Windows Mobile 7) for all platforms. I imagine that I’ll be running to Linux soon…

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of convergence. I like watching TV on my laptop and I appreciate the ability to do email on my phone. I anticipate that, within a year, I’ll be commuting with a tablet (I’m waiting for the Android technology to mature a bit). But what’s wrong with letting the tools go with their strengths?

This is almost the reverse error that Microsoft made with the first Windows mobile, an OS for phones that had a start button, Programs folder and dropdown task list. And zero usability. Microsoft thought the same thing they’re thinking today: one size fits all; our users want standardization, and are willing to sacrifice usability in order to get the same interface on every device. WRONG. Users want tools that are good at getting jobs done. Neutering the PC, or making the phone too obtuse to navigate, in order to standardize the interface is more like servicing your branding needs at your customers expense.

Of course, what concerns me more about these moves are the fundamental differences between the sophisticated computer OSes (Windows 7, Snow Leopard) and the mobile OSes. Mobile OSes are, somewhat justifiably, rigid. You can’t offer the same level of customization on a low-powered, small screen device that you can on a powerful PC or laptop. Apple, of course, has taken this a step further by tightly controlling the flow of content via iTunes. And taking the additional, controversial step of censoring the content available via iTunes and the app store. While most of us (I think) aren’t upset by a vendor-imposed restriction on pornography, Apple has also censored Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonists, adaptations of classic literature, and magazines about competing products. We now have an app store for MacOS and one for Windows under development, and Microsoft has looked, once again, like an Apple-wannabee with their recent product moves.

So are we moving into an era where our major computing tools providers have graduated to content managers and censors? It sure looks that way. There’s a lot of easy money to be made — as Apple’s string of record-breaking profit quarters will attest — in taking the computing out of computing, and turning convergence into simply entertainment-delivery, while user content creation tools and environments get the back seat at the drive-in. I’m not happy with the trend.

Category: Mobile, Technology | Comments Off
April 22 2010

Hearts and Mobiles

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in March of 2010.

731269699_ecfbab54a3_m.jpg

Are Microsoft and Apple using the mobile web to dictate how we use technology? And, if so, what does that mean for us?

Last week, John Herlihy, Google’s Chief of Sales, made a bold prediction:

“In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant.”

Herlihy’s argument was based on research indicating that, in Japan, more people now use smartphones for internet entertainment and research than desktops. It’s hard to dispute that the long predicted “year of the smartphone” has arrived in the U.S., with iPhones, Blackberries and Android devices hitting record sales figures, and Apple’s “magical” iPad leading a slue of mini-computing devices out of the gate.

We’ve noted Apple’s belligerence in allowing applications on their mobile platform that don’t pass a fairly restrictive and controversial screening process. It’s disturbing that big corporations like Playboy get a pass from a broad “no nudity” policy on iPhone apps that a swimwear store doesn’t. But it’s more disturbing that competing technology providers, like Google and Opera, can’t get their call routing and web browsing applications approved either. It’s Apple’s world, and iPhone owners have to live in it (or play dodgeball with each upgrade on their jailbroken devices). And now Microsoft has announced their intention to play the same game. Windows Mobile 7, their “from the ground up” rewrite of their mobile OS, will have an app store, and you will not be able to install applications from anywhere else.

iPhone adherents tell me that the consistency and stability of Apple’s tightly-controlled platform is better than the potentially messy open platforms. You might get a virus. Or you might see nudity. And your experience will vary dramatically from phone to phone, as the telcos modify the user interface and sub in their own applications for the standard ones. There are plenty of industry experts defending Apple’s policies.

What they don’t crow about is the fact that, using the Apple and Microsoft devices, you are largely locked into DRM-only options for multimedia at their stores for buying digital content. They will make most of their smartphone profits on the media that they sell you (music, movies, ebooks), and they tightly control the the information and data flow, as well as the devices you play their content on. How comfortable are you with letting the major software manufacturers control not only what software you can install on your systems, but what kind of media is available to them, as well?

The latest reports on the iPad are that, in addition to not supporting Adobe’s popular Flash format, Google’s Picasa image management software won’t work as well. If you keep your photos with Google, you’d better quickly get them to an Apple-friendly storage service like Apple’s MobileMe or Flickr, and get ready to use iPhoto to manage them.

If your organization, has invested heavily in a vendor or product that Apple and/or Microsoft are crossing off their list, you face a dilemma. Can you just ignore the people using their popular products? Should you immediately redesign your Flash-heavy website with something that you hope Apple will continue to support? If your cause is controversial, are you going to be locked out of a strategic mobile market for advocacy and development because the nature of your work can’t get past the company censors?

I’m nervous to see a major computing trend like mobile computing arise with such disregard for the open nature of the internet that the companies releasing these devices pioneered and grew up in. And I’m concerned that there will be repercussions to moving to a model where single vendors are competing to be one stop hardware, software and content providers. It’s not likely that Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or anyone else is really qualified to determine what each of us want and don’t want to read, watch and listen to. And it’s frightening to think that the future of our media consumption might be tied to their idiosyncratic and/or profit-driven choices.

Category: Mobile, Technology | Comments Off
March 5 2010

Blogging from my phone

Okay, I like to brag that I can blog from my Nexus One, but, until today, I’ve never done it. What’s different? I installed a beta version of Swype, an alternate keyboard that lets you type by dragging your finger from letter to letter on the keyboard instead of pressing on the keys. The software is very good at guessing what you mean, so you can move pretty quickly and still be reasonably accurate. It’s somewhat amazing, and a godsend for people like me who are used to having physical keyboards on our phones.

To join the Android beta, sign up here.

I’ve only had this installed for a few hours, and I’m already faster than I was with the standard keyboard. Swype boasts that trained users can hit 50 words per minute. When I get there, I might have to give up the laptop altogether.

Category: Blogging, Mobile | Comments Off
February 13 2010

About that Nexus One

Nexus OneTwo weeks ago, I bit an expensive bullet and bought a new Nexus One phone, directly from Google. I’m a T-Mobile customer, and, as long-time readers know, an early adopter of the T-Mobile G1, the first publicly-available Android phone. I went for the unlocked version of the Nexus One (at $529 before taxes) rather than the $279 upgrade. My analysis of what the cost would have been, under the arcane T-Mobile condition that I can’t get a Nexus One and maintain my family plan at that price, was that it would have cost hundreds more over the two year contract term.

Here’s the short review: Fast, fast, fast, fast and shiny!

Here’s the long one:

My critique of the G1 has always been that it is mediocre hardware sporting an awesome operating system. I love Android; I loved it before there were any decent apps available. Maybe it’s because I appreciate a mobile OS that acts like a desktop OS when it makes sense to and doesn’t when it doesn’t, which is about the opposite of Windows Mobile with it’s “start menu” and “Program Manager” metaphors carried over from the PC and the incessant pop-ups interrupting whatever you’re trying to do. Android is like a computer OS in it that it is highly configurable, whereas every other mobile OS is tightly structured.  Android features unobtrusive notifications and a cloud-based approach to managing the phone’s data that makes it far simpler to deal with than something that requires Activesync or iTunes.

The Nexus one erases almost all of my G1 hardware peeves, with one big exception: it has no physical keyboard. That I miss, and I would gladly add an eighth of an inch to the thickness in order to have one. But, that said, the soft keyboard is much better than earlier Android soft keyboards and it’s not stopping me from using the phone. Another saving grace is that the Nexus supports voice input (as well as voice searching and dialing), so I can input an email by speaking into the phone, clean it up a bit, and send, rather than type the whole thing. The voice dictation isn’t perfect, but it’s really not bad.

The battery lasts exactly a day for me. That’s with GPS and Bluetooth turned off unless I have need for them, and average use. It’s about half a day less than I had after I impregnated my G1 with a fat replacement from Seidio. Seidio has one for the Nexus One, too, but I’m not willing to fatten it up for it, as opposed to just keeping a sync cable handy.

So that’s the bad news: no keyboard and a battery that’s as good as the iPhone’s. Everything else is awesome!

The 1Ghz Snapdragon processor — the fastest in any phone on the market today — just pops. The only time I ever see any churning is on occasional loads of the Android Market, and I know that those are on the server’s end. Email, games, maps, and most web pages are so snappy I have to blink and wonder if I’m really on a mobile phone. The snapdragon also features 512MB RAM and 512MB flash storage, which is worlds more than the G1. One of the liberating things is the ability to install and try out apps without having to first scrutinize what I have installed and remove a thing or two, another killer flaw for the G1.

The 3.7″ 480×800 resolution screen is beautiful. Unless you have a Verizon Droid, which is the same size with slightly higher resolution, you’ve never seen a screen this nice. Along with the multi-touch (added to my phone in an update that arrived on the same day that I got the phone), you can really read web pages and view photos. And the camera — 500 megapixel; flash; auto-adjusting. I finally have a better camera phone than my wife, who has the excellent Blackberry Curve 8900.

The phone itself sports two microphones, one that captures voice and background noise, and another that catches only the background noise and filters it out of the broadcast. this makes the Nexus One a very clear phone. This is big for me, because in my cubicle culture workplace, I often duck into the noisy server room in order to have conversations with my wife and kid.

I use all five home screens on the phone, with icons, folders and widgets. A handy included widget let me toggle the wifi, GPS, bluetooth, etc. I may ditch the ubiquitous Google search box widget because one of the four buttons on the phone pops it up. I’ll probably remove the pretty live wallpaper that shows autumn leaves falling behinds the icons in order to preserve a little more battery, but it has too much of a show-off factor right now to disable.

I’m appreciating a couple of apps that I never bothered to try on my stuffed G1. Seesmic’s twitter client is faster, stabler and better than Twidroid. There, I said it. I stood by Twidroid for over a year, but Seesmic includes bit.ly links in it’s free version (there is no paid one yet) and just seems to be more logically laid out. GDocs has replaced my beloved Wikinotes. I’m losing the Wiki, but I now have a notepad that integrates with my Google Docs account, allowing me to sync notes I write to the web and edit them in either place. That’s very cool.

I had MyBackupPro on the G1, and it lived up to it’s claims, restoring all of my Android preferences when I first set up the phone. And Bluetooth File Transfer and PDANet both seem to do what they claim, allowing me to transfer files to and from my Mac when a sync cable isn’t handy; and to use my phone as a 3G modem if I’m stuck without WiFi available for my Mac.

One issue I’m experiencing is that the phone won’t accept subbing in Google Voice as my voicemail carrier, but this might be because I have yet to make it down to T-Mobile and tell them that I’ve made this swap. I anticipate that they’ll tell me that i have to pay $5 more a month for their “Android plan”, which is somehow different from the “G1 plan”, but I also need to drop a monthly $5 equipment insurance fee that I doubt they’ll honor on a phone that they didn’t sell me.

I downloaded the WordPress app as well, but I’m cheating and typing this post on my computer. Next one, I’ll dictate into the phone. :-)

There have been widespread reports of 3G connectivity problems with Nexus Ones. I’m crossing my fingers as I type, but I haven’t seen any of them.

My friends with iPhones still all believe that they’re better off because they have 50 million apps to choose from. And a phone that’s half as fast, with a smaller screen at half the resolution, a lousy camera, an operating system that they can’t customize, AT&T 3G, poor call quality and no ability to multitask. They have full iPods, yes, and I considered that significant for some time, but now that there’s Doubletwist, which can sync your own — or your iTunes — playlists to an Android phone, that’s not so big an advantage.

I’m confidant that the Nexus One is the best smartphone, period — I can’t recommend it enough. Android has come of age.

Category: Mobile, Technology | Comments Off
June 28 2009

Smartphone Talk

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in June of 2009.

The last few weeks saw some big announcements in the smartphone world:

  • Palm released the phone that they’ve been promising us for years, the Palm Pre, with it’s new WebOS, to reviews that were mostly favorable and summed up as “The iPhone’s baby brother“.
  • Apple stole some of Palm’s thunder by dominating the press two days later with news of their relatively unexciting new phones and 3.0 software.
  • In the weeks prior, news came out that about 18 more Android phones should be out in calendar 2009 and that, by early 2010, all of the major carriers will have them.
  • And Nokia’s E71 hit our shores, an incredibly full-featured phone that you can get for just over $300 unlocked, and use the carrier of your choice. While this isn’t a touchscreen, and is therefore suspect in terms of it’s ease of use, it is an amazingly full-featured product.

Left in the wings were Blackberry, who keep producing phones, including their iPhone competitor, the Storm — to yawns from the press, and Microsoft, who are talking a lot about Windows Mobile 6.5 and 7.0, but seem to have really been decimated by the ugliness of their mobile OS when compared to just about anyone else’s.

What’s clear is that a few things differentiate smartphones these days, and the gap between the ones that get it and the ones that don’t are huge. They are:

Responsive Touchscreen Interfaces. The UI’s of the iPhone, Android and Palm’s WebOS get around the sticky problem that phones were just to small to support anything but simple functionality without requiring an oppressive amount of taps and clicks. This is why Microsoft has fallen down the smartphone food chain so far and fast — their mobile OS is just like their desktop OS, with no flagship phone that does the touchscreen nearly as well as the new competition.

Desktop-Class Web Browsers. This is where Apple and Google have drawn a huge line, and it looks like Palm might have joined them. All three use browser’s based on Webkit, the same technology that fuels Safari and Chrome. On a 3G phone, this makes for a fast and complete experience that puts the Blackberry, Mobile Internet Explorer and the Treo’s hideous Blazer. Add Google’s voice activation (native on Android and available for iPhone), and their smartphone-optimized results (which don’t work on the non-webkit browsers) and the task of finding a Starbucks or hotel on the road takes seconds, instead of the average ten to 15 minutes on the old, lousy browsers, which simply choke on the graphics.

Push Email. If you connect to Exchange servers, the iPhone and Pre have Activesync built in. If your mail is with Google, you’re connected to it as soon as you tell an Android phone your login and password. And the Android phone app is the best out there, with Apple’s mail running close behind it. What’s ironic is that Microsoft targeted their biggest threat with Activesync — the Blackberry’s kludgy, but, at the time, unparalleled email forwarding — and gave it wings by licensing it to Palm, Apple and others. This is fueling corporate acceptance of the iPhone and Pre, meaning that this Blackberry-beating strategy might have worked, but more likely it did it for Apple and Palm, not Microsoft.

Music. The iPhone is an iPod; everything else isn’t, meaning that, if having a high quality phone and music experience on one device is a priority, you’re not going to go wrong with the iPhone. I love my G1, but I weigh my value of the real keyboard and awesome, open source OS on T-Mobile over the iPhone’s built-in iPod and Activesync on AT&T. As OSes go, Android is only marginally better than Apple, but the Apple hardware is much better than the G1. Newer Android phones are going to show that up.

People make a lot of noise about the apps available for the iPhone (and Windows/Blackberry) as opposed to the newer Android and Pre. I think that’s a defining question for the Pre, but it looks like companies are jumping on board. For Android, it’s quite arguably a wash. All of the important things are available for Android and, given that it’s open source, most of them are free. And with those 18 phones due out by year end on every carrier, the discrepancies will be short-lived.

I have to wonder how long it will take Microsoft to “get” mobile. They have a heavy foot in the market as the commodity OS on the smartphones that can’t get any buzz. But the choice to bring the worst things about the Windows Desktop experience to their mobile OS was unfortunate. Should I really get a pop-up that has to be manually dismissed every time I get an email or encounter a wireless network? Do I have to pull out the stylus and click on Start every time I want to do anything? What’s even more worrisome is that Windows Mobile is a separate OS from Windows, that merely emulates it, as opposed to sharing a code base. Apple’s OS is the same OSX that you get on a MacBook, just stripped down, and Google’s OS is already starting to appear on Netbooks and other devices, and will likely fuel full desktops within a year or two — it is, after all, Linux.

So, the state of the smartphone market is easily broken into the haves and have-nots, meaning that some phones have far more usable and exciting functionality, while most phones don’t. There’s a whole second post dealing with the choice of carriers and their rankings in the race to offer the most customer disservice, and it does play into your smartphone decision, as Verizon might be a very stable network, but their phone selection is miserable, and AT&T might have the best selection but, well, they’re AT&T. I love Android, so, were I looking, I’d hold out until four or five of those new sets are out. But I don’t know anyone with an iPhone who’s unsatisfied (and I know lots of people with iPhones).

Category: Mobile, Technology | Comments Off
December 26 2008

Greening Your Gadgets

This was originally published on the Earthjustice Blog in December of 2008.

It’s a conundrum: how can you reduce your carbon footprint without giving up all of your nifty electronic gadgets?  And, if this isn’t your conundrum, it’s surely your spouse’s, or your kid’s or your cousin’s, right? Cell phones, iPods,  PCs, laptops, TVs, DVDs, VCRs, DVRs, GPSs, radios, stereos, and home entertainment systems are just a fraction of the energy leaking devices we all have a mix of these days.  While selling them all on Ebay is an option, it might not be the preferred solution.  So here are some tips on how to reduce the energy output of those gadgets.

Shop Smart.  Look for energy-saving features supported by the product, some of which will be listed as such, some not.

1.    Energy Star compliance.  Dell and HP sell lots of systems, and some are designed to operate more efficiently.  The Energy Star program sets environmental standards for technology and certifies them for compliance.  You can browse Energy-Star compliant products at their web site.

2.    EPEAT. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool is a website that, like Energy Star, rates products according to environmental standards.  Focused on computers, laptops and monitors, this is another great resource for identifying green products.

Use Only What you Have To.  Most electronics continue to draw power after you turn them off.  This “feature” is designed to allow them to boot up faster and be more responsive, but it’s been widely deployed with no sensitivity to environmental or even budgetary concerns about idle power use.

1.    Truly turn off devices. Newer electronics, such as DVD Players and stereos, offer options to truly turn off when the power isn’t on, with an accompanying warning that the product might take longer to start up.  It’s worth the wait.

2.    Convenient, green charging. Of course, when you charge your phone or iPod, you don’t leave the charger plugged in when you’re done. But this makes it dangerously easy to plug a cord into your phone without remembering to plug in the other end.  Look for devices that can charge via the USB ports on your computer, instead of a wall charger, not because that takes less energy to charge them, but because it eliminates the need to plug and unplug the wall charger.

Be Virtual.  If there’s a way to do what you want to do without buying another electrical device, go for it!

1.    Backup online. Instead of buying a backup machine or drive for your computer, use an online backup service like Mozy or Carbonite (There are many more online backup options, as well – these are two popular ones).

2.    Squeeze multiple computers into one.  Sound like magic?  It’s not.  If you use a Mac and a PC (say, because you love the Mac but need a Windows machine for work compatibility), pick up Parallels or VMWare Fusion, programs that allow you to run multiple computer operating systems on one computer, and retire the second machine.

Go Solar. Costco, Target and other retailers are starting to carry affordable solar chargers, $30 to $50 devices that can replace your wall sockets as the power sources to charge your phones and iPods.

Be Vigilant.  Turn things off when they’re not in use, aggressively tweak the power settings on your systems, and make green computing a habit, not a special project.

Take it from a techie like me: we don’t want to abandon the 21st century in order to insure that there’s a 22nd.  But we do want to curtail our energy use as much as possible.  These are relatively easy first steps in our personal efforts to stop global warming.

Category: Green Computing, Mobile, Technology | Comments Off
November 26 2008

About that Google Phone

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in November of 2008.

After my highfalutin post on mobile operating systems, I thought I’d step back and post a quick review of my T-Mobile G1, the first phone running Google’s Android Mobile OS.  Mind you, I’m not posting this from my phone, but I could… :)

Hardware Specs for the G1

In order to discuss this phone, it’s important to separate the phone from the operating system.  Android is open source, based on the Linux kernel with a JAVA software development approach.   The G1 is an HTC mobile phone with Android installed on it.  Android is designed to run on everything from the simplest flip phone to a mini-computer, so how well it works will often depend on the hardware platform choices.

That said, HTC made many good choices and a few flat-out poor choices.  Since it’s impossible to not compare this phone to the iPhone, then it’s obvious that they could have provided a bigger screen or included a standard audio jack (the G1 comes with a mini-USB headset; otherwise, you need an adapter).  The iPhone, of course, is thinner, but that design choice was facilitated by the lack of a hardware keyboard.  No G1 owner is going to complain that it’s modest increase in heft is due to the availability of a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.  That’s one of the clear advantages over Apple’s ubiquitous competition.  Apple makes it’s virtual keyboard somewhat acceptable by offering auto-suggest and auto-correct as you type, features that Android currently lacks, but should have by early 2009 (per the Android roadmap).  But I find – as do many of my friends – that a physical keyboard is a less error-prone device than the virtual one, particularly without a stylus.  I have some nits about the Android keyboard — the right side is slightly impeded by the stub of the phone, making it hard to type and “o” without also typing “p”, but it’s overall a very functional and responsive keyboard, and I do sometimes blog from my phone, so it was a critical consideration for me.

The hardware has some other limitations as well. It sports a 2MP camera; 3 or 4 would have been preferable.  And they made an interesting choice on the memory, including 2GB on board, with expansion available on MicroSD cards up to 8GB.  This has led to what seem like some of the major potential issues with the phone and OS, discussed below.

Overall, the design is deceptively unsexy.  While the G1 isn’t as sporty as the iPhone, it is highly functional.  It’s easy to hold; the curved “chin” actually supports talking on the phone in a way that my flat Treos and Wing never did; the Keyboard slides easily and quickly, making it’s use less awkward when you need it in a hurry, and the decision to include a Blackberry-style trackball, which some have criticized as extraneous, was actually sharp – I find it useful to navigate text fields when editing, and as an alternate to finger-scrolling.  My favorite Solitaire game uses a trackball press to deal more cards.  It’s actually handy and intuitive. Unlike other smartphones, I took immediately to the functionality of the buttons; they’re well-designed. Also nice – one handed operation on this phone for basic tasks like making calls, checking email and voicemail is really easy.

A Versatile Desktop

Unlike the iPhone and Windows Mobile, a big emphasis has been put on customization.  You can put shortcuts to just about anything on the desktop, and you can create folders there to better organize them.  I keep shortcuts to the dialer, calendar and my twitter client there, along with shortcuts to the people I call most, and folders for apps, games and settings.  You can also set up keyboard shortcuts to applications.  This, again, makes the phone a pleasure to use – the things I want access to are always a few taps away, at most.

It’s a Google Phone

The Android OS is young, but elegant.  The primary thing to know, though, is that this is a Google phone.  If you use GMail and Google Calendar as your primary email and calendaring applications, you’ll love the push email and no-nonsense synchronization.  The pull down menu for notifications, with visual cues in the bar, is awesome; the GMail client is so good that I often use it to label messages because that function is simpler than it is in the web client.  But if your primary groupware is Exchange/Outlook, then you might want to stop reading here.  As of this writing, there are a few applications that – under the right circumstances – can sync your Exchange and GMail contacts.  There’s no application that syncs with Outlook on your desktop.  If you run on Windows, Google has a calendar sync.  But your options for non-Google email are either POP or IMAP in the G1’s “other” email application, which is pretty lame, or some scheme that forwards all of your Exchange mail to GMail (my choice, discussed here).  Google search is well-integrated, too, with a widget on the phone’s desktop, a dedicated search key on the keyboard, and a “when in doubt, search” default that pretty much starts a Google search whenever you start typing something in an app that doesn’t expect input.  For example, in the browser, you just type to go to a web site, no need for a URL bar; from the desktop, typing will search contacts for a match to call, but if one isn’t found, it will switch to a Google search. And that browser is excellent, much like the iPhone’s, but lacking the multi-touch gestures.  All the same, it;s a pseudo-tabbed browser that renders all but Flash-based web sites as well as the desktop, and puts Palm, Microsoft and RIM’s browser’s to shame.

Multimedia

Multimedia support also pales in comparison to the iPhone, which is no surprise.  there’s a functional media player, and an app that, like iTunes, connects to the Amazon music store.  there’s no support for flash, and the only installed media player is the Youtube app, but you can download other media players. You can store music and movies on an SD card (a 1GB card comes with the phone, but, if you plan to use it for music, you’ll want to purchase a 4, 6 or 8 GB card). All applications are downloaded to the internal drive, which means that there’s a limit on how many apps you can install – most of the 2GB is in use by the OS.  I’m hoping that OS fixes and updates — which are delivered over the air – will address this, as it’s a potentially serious limitation.

Maps and Apps

Another compelling thing Maps and GPS functionality.  While it doesn’t
do voice directions, the mapping features are powerful and extensible.
Street View features a compass, so you can see where you are going as
you walk, and there are already a number of apps doing great
integration with maps and multimedia, as you’d expect from a Google phone.

Since Android is so new, and the G1 is the only phone that we’ll see in 2008, it will be a while before the third party market for applications grows up to something competitive with Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Apple.  While I have almost everything I need to do the things I do on a phone (and I’m a power user), those apps are pretty rudimentary in their functionality, and there isn’t a big variety to choose from.  I have no worries that the market won’t grow – it’s already growing quickly.  But another consideration is that Android is still for early adopters who are dying for the Google integration, or, like me, want an iPhone-class web browser, but require a keyboard.

Application Recommendations

I get all of my applications from the market, accessible via the phone.  A lot of third-party markets are popping up, but they are either offering things that are on the Android Market or selling items (the Android Market only offers free software – this will change in January).  I have yet to see something for sale that looked worth paying for, versus the range of freely available apps.

Apps I’m using include Twitli, a Twitter client.  TwiDroid seems to have better marketing, but Twitli seems faster and stabler, as of this writing, and presents tweets in a larger font, which my old eyes appreciate.

Anycut – this is a must have OS enhancer that broadens the number of things that you can make shortcuts to, including phone contacts, text messages, settings screens and more.  Essential, as having contacts right on the screen is the fastest speed dial feature ever.

Compare Everywhere is an app that reads bar codes and then finds matching product prices online.  How handy is that?  But I think the ability to scan barcodes from the phone, with no add-on attachments, is pretty powerful, and something that the nonprofit industry could make use of (campaign tracking, asset management, inventory).

Connectbot is an SSH client – I once reset a web server in order to get an online donation form working on Christmas Eve from 3000 miles away.  Essential for a geek like me.  :)

OI or AK Notepad – simple notepad apps.  Ridiculously, there isn’t one included with Andriod.

Password Safe – encrypted lockbox.  Splashdata has one, too, but Password Safe is more flexible, as of this writing.

WPtoGo is a handy WordPress Blog publishing app, for those brave enough to post from a phone without spellcheck (I’ll only post to my personal blog with this – I have higher standards for Idealware readers!)

And the Solitaire game up on the Market is very nice.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m loving this phone and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else on the market – even an iPhone, because I live and die by that keyboard.  If it sounds good to you, I’m assuming that you use GMail; you actually write on your smartphone, or would if it had a good keyboard; and that you don’t mind being a bit on the bleeding edge.  Otherwise, keep your eye on Android – this is the first of what will be many smartphones, and it’s all brand new.  For the first iteration, it’s already, at worst, the second best smartphone on the market.  It can only get better.

Category: Mobile | 3 Comments