Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Why do you hate the iPhone so much?"

People always ask me why I hate the iPhone.
The truth is, I don't.
The iPhone has many positive qualities, such as being an aesthetically pleasing piece of hardware and a beautifully polished OS that Apple fans have come to expect from their products.

I've played with them, and found them fun. I even recommend them to some people. However, what I don't like about them is what they represent and what they are continuing to do to the Smartphone industry.

Allow me to explain... I'm a hardcore power user who likes to push everything the limits of what is physically possible. I very often know exactly what I want, and if my computer or phone or car stereo or game system doesn't do something the way I think it should, I have no choice but to modify it and/or install software to make it work properly.

Heck, I hacked and installed a DVD player on my Wii because the Wii is capable of reading DVD discs, even though Nintendo didn't intend it to. Do I use it to play DVDs? Maybe once or twice... the point is, people shouldn't NEED to have another seperate DVD player if they already own a Wii. I sleep better at night knowing it works.

But I didn't come up with that on my own. There's a community of Wii users who felt the same way and developed and wrote a DVD player application. If the Wii weren't a popular device that had a large following already, the folks who put their heads together to do this probably never would have.

What's this got to do with phones? I'll get to that...

Another point: I didn't like it that my wife's netbook would go into hibernate when you closed the lid. Sometimes we wanted to just close it for a second and move to the other room without losing our connection, and when the computer goes into standby/hibernate, your internet does too, effectively ending your Skype, IM, etc, conversation. Very frustrating.
However, if I set it to stay on indefinitely when you close the lid, we may accidentally forget about it and run the battery dead.
So, I decided the best solution for us is to close and stay on, but if after 2 minutes it is STILL closed, then hibernate or shut off. The hardware is perfectly capable of this, its just a matter of software controllling it.
Well, quite frankly, there's no option like that in settings. Thankfully, there is a large user base for the EEE pc (since it was one of the first netbooks), and someone out there had located how the lid closing behavior works, and posted on a forum the script that dictates what then happens when it is closed.
Since the EEE also runs Linux, it was fairly easy to edit and write in BASH script to do the following:
When the lid is closed, Wait 120 seconds
Is the lid still closed? If yes, shut down. If no, stay on and exit script.

Worked perfectly. I didn't expect this kind of behavior out of the box since most people don't use the laptop the same way we do. Every user has different needs. However, the ability to modify it and tweak it and make it MINE, and work the way I want it to, is something very empowering and how all technology should work. After all, that's what technology is for.

What's all this got to do with phones?

Simple. Smartphones are like computers in your pocket. They are extremely versatile devices that should really be capable of just about anything. The only limitations usually are the software that is allowed to run on them.

The problem is, as was the case with the laptop above, manufacturers need to cater to the largest common denominator. Most people probably don't want the laptop lid to have a complicated if/else routine that waits 2 minutes before closing down. So, out of the box, it doesn't do that. But if I want to, I'm very much able to change it.
Now, the question is, how does one make change it if the manufacturer didn't think to give you that option?
Well, this is were I'd normally have to start figuring out how things work and hack it. But I didn't have to, because there was a large community of users who had figured out how the lid closing behavior works, and even helped me write my little script.
In fact, I think after I posted about this and got help on the EEE-user forum, someone else realized that this might be a common request, so they wrote an application for people to easily change how the lid works. Now anyone can do it.

My phone 2 generations of hardware ago had a major bluetooth bug that would cause quality problems and disconnect. A group of users, including myself, found that it was caused by a buffering problem in the BT driver stack. So, I went ahead and pulled drivers from a device that didn't have this problem, mixed and matched certain things while throwing ideas back and forth with each other, and eventually we solved the problem. About 3 weeks after releasing our solution to the message boards and Windows Mobile community, Sprint released an official update that fixed Bluetooth, and their solution looked very similar to ours.
Coincidence? Perhaps. The point was that even if Sprint hadn't updated anything, we had the power to fix and tweak and create our own solutions.

This is why the iPhone will never be a good choice for me. Apple is famous for their walled gardens with this device, not allowing users to control and tweak things without their permission.
Their phones are created for the largest common denominator, and quite frankly, that doesn't work for people like me. There are things I do on a normal basis that are not possible on the iPhone.

Apple fans will tell you that it is because they don't want the UI to become too complicated. Keep it simple, don't let people do anything that could mess it up, and you create a large happy user base.
The problem is, choices are the spice of life... what the best choice is for me, is not necessarily the best choice for someone else.
Look at desktop browsers- Windows users hated how buggy the old Internet Explorer 6 was, so some folks got together and created Firefox. And there's more than just that... nowadays, any type of computer can be running Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, etc...
What works for you might not work so well for someone else. I love Chrome, my wife still prefers Firefox. But we all agree that the default Internet Explorer is not for us. But Apple is not catering to that crowd. The iPhone is only allowed to run Safari. They will not allow any other browser to pass the app store. If I wanted to just write my own browser, for my own personal use, Apple won't let me. It has to go through their store. I can't even release a beta test for other iPhone users to try before submitting to the store. They want their equipment to "just work", and apparently the way to do that is to limit innovation and customizability.
Sure, you can hack your iPhone and jailbreak it, but they keep taking new counter-measures to prevent and discourage that, often breaking functionality for those who tread those murky waters.
This is interesting coming from a company who dares us to "Think Different" in their ad campaign. It would appear now that Apple is asking us not to think at all, but rather just take what they give us and like it no matter what.

If that is the mentality that the iPhone represents, well there is something for me to hate about that.

"But what has it done to the smartphone community that has you so angry?"
Well, if you notice in my little examples above, in most cases I wasn't alone in my endeavors. I relied on the help of other people, often much smarter than I, to work together and find solutions. If I had bought some cheesy off-brand Chinese netbook for $100, I would not have found a user group that already discovered where the lid closing script was.
If the wii weren't as popular as it is, I wouldn't have found people working together to figure out how to make it play DVDs.
If Sprint and Windows Mobile didn't have a cult following, I probably wouldn't have been able to find people to work together with in solving the bluetooth bug.

The iPhone is wildly popular, and has created a whole new breed of Smartphone users... users who were never interested in the complexity of a Smartphone before. As my dear friend Justin Oberman (creator of says, the iPhone works for his mom. There is no other phone that would work like that for her.

And I will agree with him for that part. The iPhone is simple and straight forward like that. So were simple phones like the Motorola RAZR, however. If the iPhone only attracted people who were never into Smartphones before, I would be fine with it. They deserve to have a nice feature set like that.
The problem, however, is that it has become a social status. Everyone wants to be on the winning team, and people who might otherwise be using and innovating and developing for other more capable Smartphones are confining themselves to the walled gardens of Apple.
Why is this a problem?

That means that devices and platforms with far more potential than Apple are in danger of losing their community. And if that happens, I fear that users as a whole will lose their drive to innovate and join the hordes of mindlessly being spoon-fed from Apple's silver platter.
If everyone joins Apple, the few of us who want more than they offer, and are on the quest for a perfect phone will never get it. I can assure you, that perfect phone if it ever exists will not come from the closed minded model that Apple has shown.
Also, remember that Apple innovates to be competitive. Despite how iCulture views things, Apple is not in this to make the world a better place. They're in to make money, just like everyone else is. If the competition becomes a joke, they will cease to innovate. Its just how business works.

THAT is what I hate about the iPhone. Apple- give us back our communities, allow people to do more on your phones, and I will have no fight with you. There is no reason for any one device to dominate the market.
Yes, this is a personal battle.
As I said before, I still recommend the iPhone to people who would be too confused by the choices and options on a more open Smartphone. I just don't like what the iPhone represents, and how people treat it like it is the best thing that's ever happened.
More like the best that's ever happened for non-tech savvy folks who want to feel like they are down with technology.
Perhaps that's going too far...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sprint rumored to be offering free call forwarding on all their plans...

Reposted from what I wrote yesterday on

Sprint There has been a rumor circulating that Sprint will begin offering unlimited conditional call forwarding (meaning forward when no answer or busy) on Nov. 8th.
Until now Sprint has charged 20 cents a minute for forwarding any kind of calls, which has made alternative Voice Mail systems such as Google Voice impractical.
In fact, according to an anonymous source, Google Voice is the very reason for this policy change: Sprint has decided to create some sort of working agreement with Google to offer their enhanced Voice Mail service (visual voice mail, messages sent as email attachments, transcribed messages so you can read them like a text message, etc) instead of the boring old call-to-listen voice mail system most of us have been stuck with.
I didn't post this right away because I was skeptical at first. With all the policies Sprint has been tightening lately, adding a new service for free on every plan (not just their new "Everything Plans") didn't seem too likely. However, a recent update on the official Google Voice webpage has confirmed the following:
Starting mid-November 2009, Sprint is enabling free conditional call forwarding on its network, allowing you to use Google voicemail with your Sprint phone number. (Standard charges will continue to apply for immediate call forwarding.)

Sounds pretty legit to me.
The potential uses for this go far beyond Google Voice, however. In poor reception areas, or at home/work you can have your Sprint number forward to your landline or even a VOIP line when you don't answer, and save yourself from using minutes. In fact, technically, if you've got a VOIP app on your smartphone, you can forward the call and then receive it using data instead of minutes... I actually experimented with this concept on T-Mobile a couple of years ago, and you can read more about that here.
How will you use YOUR free forwarding calls?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Samsung Moment and SERO - Thoughts


picture-9.pngRemember when Sprint started requiring folks to give up their old grandfathered plans in favor of more expensive ones for new “popular” handsets?

As I pointed out on Mopocket, the policy is not consistent with all new handsets- Windows Mobile and Blackberries, for example, do not have this requirement- in fact, you can buy a Windows Mobile phone without even a data plan at all. We were hoping the new Android-powered HTC Hero would be part of this category, but alas, it appears the new “Everything Plan” policy is in effect for that as well.

The theory is that Sprint enforces this policy on their “exclusive” handsets. That is, the Palm Pre, Samsung Instinct, andHTC Hero are all exclusive to Sprint and therefore may be attracting new customers. These new customers are probably willing to pay a little more monthly for the phone (especially since the new plans are still cheaper than what they were probably paying before). Windows Mobile and Blackberry, however, exist on every carrier already. There has been no official response from Sprint confirming or denying this, however the pattern seems awfully clear.

So when Sprint released the new Samsung Moment, which is perhaps what became of the fabled Samsung InstinctQ, it seemed silly to get our hopes up. The Instinct brand of handsets have all required the new Everything plans up until now, so between that and the decision to make the Hero an everything phone, it would seem that the Moment is clearly going to have this requirement as well.

But wait, here’s something we weren’t expecting…

As fellow blogger Morts pointed out to me this evening, the online phone upgrade system warns you that you may have to change your plan when you select the Palm Pre, HTC Hero or Instinct. But when you select the Samsung Moment, it allows you to process the order without any mention of plan changes. Morts actually tried to do this from his old grandfathered SERO account (, which Sprint has been trying to phase out and getting very strict about lately.

Now, this doesn’t prove anything… many disgruntled users have been sold the Instinct or Pre by tele-sales only to find out they weren’t able to activate it on their plan once they received it. What’s different here is that if you order it online it usually warns you first with a popup before you proceed to the shopping cart. It doesn’t for the Moment.

This might actually fit with our theory regarding Sprint’s policy: The HTC Hero has an exclusive award-winning HTC Sense-UI interface on it, which is currently exclusive to Sprint. The Moment has the same stock Google Experience that the T-Mobile G1 and MyTouch have, which means it is hardly an exclusive experience.

So, will the Moment be compatible with grandfathered plans such as SERO? We haven’t had any confirmation yet as the phone was just released today, but we will try and find out tomorrow and report back. Meanwhile, any legacy/grandfathered plans out there want to chime in with your experience?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sprint's obnoxious "EVERYTHING" policy...

Hey, I'm all for a great deal. Sprint's new "Everything" plans that debuted with the first Samsung Instinct are a great deal for the services offered - Unlimited data, text, pic mail, GPS (telenav), Blackberry services, Sprint TV, you name it. The top tier plan even includes unlimited minutes, and at only $99 is far less than any similar spec'ed plan on any other carrier.

The problem is, its not a great deal for everyone.
Some people don't want to pay for services they don't need. Maybe someone already has a GPS and doesn't care for Telenav, or doesn't beleive in the power of SMS. Heck, some people just want a smartphone for use as a PDA, and don't even want a data package for it!

Apparently, Sprint doesn't care about those people when it comes to their new line up. The Instinct requires that you have one of their "Everything" plans, or else they won't allow your phone on the network. Even if you paid full retail for it.
Perhaps that is because the Instinct was originally designed to directly combat the iPhone, and the primary selling point is that it was able to do things the iPhone couldn't at the time (3G, GPS, record and share video, etc). If they wanted iPhone customers to be impressed, they need every Instinct to be able to show off everything it can do.
Don't like that? Don't buy an Instinct!

The problem is, it didn't end there... The new Palm Pre also requires an Everything plan to be active on the network. That means that if you've owned a Palm for years, waiting for that big new OS overhaul they've been talking about, you're going to need a new plan- even if you love your grandfathered plan that you've had for years.

Some people don't WANT Telenav GPS or Sprint TV... maybe people don't even use texts, or want Data on their line (there are, beleive it or not, people who just bought Palm Treos to use as an organizer while also being a phone- not necessarily interested in the "Smartphone" aspects of it). Some people have been with Sprint for years because they have an old plan that suits them like a glove and don't want to change anything!
Sprint doesn't care about people like that, apparently.

Sprint will tell you that in order to get the most out of your new popular high-end phone, you MUST have an unlimited services plan... implying that it is for your own good, and not worth having without it. Besides, its such a great deal... and I won't argue that, it IS a great deal. But only if you are in the market for such services.

Many business professionals I know have been drooling over the Palm Pre, but currently only pay for minutes and data (a $15 add on). Some of them would have to pay almost double their current monthly bill for the privelage of using the new Palm phone, just to use it the same way they are using their older devices now.
That just doesn't seem fair... since when is it a requirement that we take advantage of EVERY feature a phone has?

Why don't they just require every Samsung Rant or Moto RAZR to have data, sms and Navigation?
Better yet, why is it that new Windows Mobile handsets, such as the Touch Pro, which rivals the feature set of the Pre or Instinct (and then some), does NOT require an Everything plan?

The answer, I think, is because people wouldn't pay it. They'd jump ship to another carrier and pay less to use the same phone with the only features they care about. So why enforce the policy on certain handsets?

Although they've never officially explained their policy, I think I may understand Sprint's logic behind it:
The only other popular phone to date that has special plan requirements like this is the iPhone, on AT&T. Since the iPhone is exclusive to AT&T, the carrier charges whatever they want for it because people can't get it anywhere else.

The Instinct and Pre are currently exclusive to Sprint. Sprint is pulling the same shtick, albeit charging less for more features than AT&T.

So, the good news about this is that the Palm Pre will not be exclusive to Sprint for long... Verizon is slated to get it by the end of the year. The question is, what will Sprint do then? Will they lift the requirement and allow grandfathered users or plain ol' minutes-only plans to upgrade?

An even more interesting question is how they will view the upcoming Android handsets announced... Android is already available in 2 variations on T-Mobile. The operating system isn't exclusive to Sprint. However, the hardware will be, at least in the US.
The two rumored handsets are the HTC Hero, which has been winning hearts of reviewers over in Europe for a while already, and a new Samsung called the InstinctQ.
I would go out on a limb here and guess that Sprint won't enforce the new plans since people can satisfy their Android itch on another carrier. However, Samsung's title of "Instinct" concerns me. The previous Instinct models were exclusive and required the new plans... Is the name here a sign of things to come?
And the HTC Hero is not the same Google-branded version of the OS that T-mobile has... the HERO sports HTC's new Sense-UI that has gadget nerds swooning. Sprint may be the exclusive carrier of that, as well.

So what's it going to be, Sprint? At least there's always the new Windows Mobile handsets for the rest of us... it'd be nice to have options, though.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quest For the Perfect Phone

After reading up on the Touch Pro 2 and discussing the cons (they took out the flash and D-pad?!)with some of my fellow mobile enthusiasts, I've come to an odd realization:
Every phone manufacturer seems to have been missing the point ever since the iPhone came along and royally screwed up the market and its demographic.

It seems to me that each new design tries to fix things that aren't broke, and make themselves something they're not.

I've decided that I need to vent a little bit on this subject. Its a little bit different than the style of posts I've been writing here, so I'm going to keep it separate over at

I'll still post my opinions on mobile tech here, but for now I'm going to reserve my phone criticism for that site.
Check it out and let me know what you think...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Android on Sprint! Good news and bad news...

Its official! Sprint is getting at least one Android phone in 2009!

Its hard to believe that it was almost 1 year ago that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse proclaimed that Google's Android OS wasn't "good enough" for the Sprint brand, despite Sprint being part of the Open Handset Alliance that is backing the Google phone OS (and releasing buggy phones all the time- who are we kidding, Dan?).
I personally think Mr. Hesse is making up excuses for T-mobile getting it first...
But whatever the case may be, this is good news, especially for those of us on Sprint who have been waiting for a peice of the Open-Source pie!

Now for the bad news...
Well, its not bad news for everyone, but I'll just call it less-than-good-news.

Lately, Sprint has developed a bad habit of forcing anticipated hot new phones to be on special "everything" plans, like the Palm Pre and the Samsung Instinct.
While some smartphones, like HTC's Windows Mobile handsets, seem to be immune to this phenomenon, I have reason to beleive that this handset will not be an exception.

There have been rumors of a new Samsung phone running Android called the InstinctQ, which just passed WiFi certification. So far, the other two Samsung phones called "Instinct" were exclusive to Sprint, so if this rumor is true, it points to what may very well be the new Android handset Mr. Hesse was referring to.
The problem is, like other handsets marked "Instinct" (original Instinct and Instinct S30), Sprint has them exclusively and forces them to work only on their more expensive plans.

This is surely bad news for anyone on a budget plan, family plan, or grandfathered plan (SERO users, I feel your pain). You heard it here first, folks- I do hope I'm wrong about this... please, if anyone finds anything that shows I may be wrong, let me know!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Thoughts re: The Touch Pro 2

As the current owner of an HTC Touch Pro, I've been eagerly anticipating the Touch Pro 2's release in the states.

That is, until I started reading more about it...

There are quite a few improvements made over the current generation, including a new widescreen display which tilts, and a dedicated conference calling system on the back (as opposed to a standard speakerphone). They also managed to make it a bit slimmer despite it being wider and longer to facilitate the huge 3.6 inch display, and improved battery life (the T-Mobile literature claims 8.5 days of standby!).

The strange thing is, they didn't seem to really change it much under the hood- RAM, CPU, even the camera megapixels, are all about the same as the Touch Pro.

Not that there's anything wrong with that- the Touch Pro takes great pictures and has plenty of memory to go around, but you have to ask yourself why they didn't make this device more of an upgrade. Its the same complaint people have with the 3GS- its just not necessarily significant enough an upgrade from the 3G to buy a new device now.
Then the real con:
It appears that they removed the D-pad! One of my biggest gripes with the Touch Pro is its lack of buttons compared to other (older generation) Windows Mobile devices. It makes the OS harder to navigate, but at least you always have the D-pad when you want precision input. Alas, Touch Pro2 took even that away!

At least the HTC put a couple of hardware buttons on the bottom (which the Touch Pro did not have), but it really seems silly that we can't have a D-pad AND buttons! What's wrong with having our cake and eating it too, HTC? Why does it have to be one or the other?

As far as the OS goes, HTC is planning a WM6.5 official upgrade, which is nice, and a new TouchFLo interface that works in landscape mode.

Now, I'd like to point something out about TouchFlo...
I don't like it.

In fact, I did some slightly scientific studies of my own, and found that it took more steps to navigate the OS and get the information you need with TouchFlo than just the plain old Windows Mobile today screen!
The new TouchFlo might be better, but I've found the same is true of all touch-friendly mobile interfaces. But I'll save that for my next post... until next time.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Palm Pre "faster" than iPhone 3GS

...or, at least according to ZodTTD, creator of infamous game system emulators for handheld-devices.

As many of us know, Apple announced a new iPhone, the 3GS, within days of the Palm Pre's launch. The release was widely beleived to be something to steal some of Palm's thunder since the Pre seems to be treading on all sorts of Apple's turf (syncing with itunes comes to mind).

So what did Apple do?
They made the iPhone, um, Speedier (hence the "S" in the name?). Yes, the primary difference between the iPhone 3G and the new 3GS is the speed of the CPU and graphics. Most of the time, end users won't notice any performance difference (the platform was already pretty speedy), however it is widely beleived that this speed boost will spark a whole new set of high end games, further pushing the iPhone platform as a gaming device.

Ready for the irony?
ZodTTD, developer of PSX4all (an app that plays full-blown Playstation games), has just released a Palm Pre version of his game platform. And you know what? The Pre outperforms the iPhone 3GS!

Read more about it here:

Sorry Apple, you will always have your fans, but maybe you should have made the 3GS more than a marginal upgrade, at best.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Palm Pre syncs with iTunes?!

Wow. Just wow.
Some other "reputable" mobile bloggers have been calling the new Palm Pre too little and too late, and predicting that it will, despite all its fan fare, sink into the depths of relative obscurity in a market where Palm has become obsolete.

In fact, CrunchGear went as far as to call the Pre an Also Ran (a term I wasn't familiar with).
To quote:

An “also-ran” is, literally, “a horse that does not win, place, or show in a race.” The world loves an underdog but it never loves an also-ran. It forgets about an also-ran.

And so we reach nearly the end of Palm Pre madness and I’m afraid to report that after all the magic, all the tears, all the joy the Palm Pre will be just another phone. It won’t save Palm, it won’t change paradigms, and it won’t send the iPhone hegemony crashing to its knees. The Palm Pre will launch with a whisper, not a bang.

I must admit that up until the announcement of the Pre's feature set, I was also convinced of Palm's imminent failure, although now I see a bright future possible.

Those other bloggers may argue with me, but this little tidbit announced today may sway the few unconverted souls:

The Pre will sync music and photos with Apple's iTunes.

If this isn't now the most likely candidate to give the iPhone a run for its money, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Windows Mobile 6.5 - Step in the right direction

Windows Mobile 6.5 has been leaked and floating around the interwebs for a while already (months?). However, since the initial ported versions weren't stable enough and no official devices had been released with it, I didn't have any first hand experience to report about.
Until now.

With the HTC Rhodium around the corner (a wm6.5 successor to the HTC Touch Pro), it appears that the gurus at and have finally ported semi-stable editions of the new operating system for many current HTC devices.

I took the plunge (for the sake of science?) and tried a cooked up 6.5 OS on the HTC Touch Pro, and I must say- this is a big step in the right direction for Microsoft.
The new things I noticed that impressed me are as follows:

-Native kinetic scrolling works and is smooth - that is, you can now swipe your finger in just about any application and it will scroll as you'd expect it to (ala iPhone, Android, etc). Yes, we had this ability before with HTC's bio-touchflo and some available third party applications, however it was inconsistant and not very smooth (Some applications did it properly, others would scroll too fast, some too slow, some didn't work at all). Now, its integrated into the OS, and appears they've got it right.

-New today screen widget system "Titanium" - Sure, HTC had Manilla (TouchFlo3D), but it was a resource hog and not really well integrated into the system in my opinion (each tab on Manilla/TF3D may as well have been its own running application since you could only see what was on the screen at a time). Titanium is native, integrated into the OS, and TOTALLY CUSTOMIZABLE with a widget system Microsoft is implementing to create new plugins. One thing I didn't like about Manilla/TF3D on my Touch Pro is that I was missing my RSS feed and active tasks PIM displayed on the today screen. With Titanium, I could develop my own plugin (or hope someone else beats me to it).
(See image of Titanium + custom weather plugin already developed on right)

-Graphic Overhaul - In order to modernize the look of the OS, many of the system graphics and UI elements have been redesigned.
This includes system icons, the start menu, scroll bars, heck even the context menu windows are now larger, scrollable, and more finger friendly (see image on left).

Many haters out there are complaining that this is "nothing more than a skin atop WM6.1", just as 6.1 was to 6.0. The underlying workings of the OS haven't really changed much (although as I mentioned, it does seem snappier). However I think those people are missing the point.

Unlike certain other platforms (*cough* PALM *cough*), a entire overhaul of the system is NOT what is needed. That is, Windows Mobile is a completely competant, feature packed multi-tasking system that other platforms are still trying to catch up with (Notice how all of Apple's new feature announcements are things WM has always been able to do?). The only problem with it, is the interface. The UI is getting long in the tooth, especially compared to ground breaking new UIs on other platforms. A fresh new look is EXACTLY was Microsoft needs, and 6.5 (or at least the ported unofficial version I had the opportunity to play with), is a huge step in the right direction.

Sure, Windows 7 will have some nice new media integration and what not, but in my opinion Windows Mobile is doing just fine. It just hasn't been so pretty until now. Its still not going to win over an iPhone loyalists, but its enough that you shouldn't feel like you have to choose between a capable platform and a pretty one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bill and the Reality Distortion Field

This is a direct copy of my recent post on

iphone-os-preview-hero20090317.pngSo the iPhone is getting another long awaited update. This time, they've addressed more wish-list items, such as copy/paste and MMS messaging, sending iPhone users all over the world into fits of fanatic rejoicing.
The list could have ended there, however it goes on to include a whole bunch of new features many had almost given up waiting for, including:

- Some sort of A2DP the details at this point are still vague- but I'm severely disturbed that the "quintessential music phone" didn't even support this until now
- Voice memo, finally in a native integrated application
- A landscape keyboard that works not only in Safari, but in any application
- Turn by Turn navigation apparently not native, but they will finally allow third parties to access and offer such applications- most likely they will be carrier-controlled turn-by-turn features (ala Telenav, etc)

There are more, but these are the ones that have been on most people's wishlist since the first iPhone. Why these features didn't exist until now is anyone's guess, but better late then never I suppose. The funny thing is, these aren't new or revolutionary features... in fact, things like Telenav, A2DP, MMS, and Voice Memo are available on virtually every standard issue phone you can buy, even the ones that are free on contract. And features like Copy/Paste and universal keyboard input methods (as well as working push email, another thing they claim will be improved in 3.0) are available on virtually every device that can be called a Smartphone.

While I'm happy to see Apple finally catching up, the press coverage and enthusiastic fans' response to it leaves me with an odd feeling.
To quote a disgruntled reader:

I don't believe the press how they are all so positive about some company that is actually fixing their mistakes months after the release of the product!

Could you imagine that i.e. Nokia would put their flagship phone on the market without it having MMS, copy/paste or multitasking? I don't think that the press would like that at all, but in the case of iPhone everyone is treating this failure as some success. What are the Apple marketing people doing to your heads?

Am I the only one, who finds this very late "fixes" rather embarrassing and incompetent?

I'd chaulk this one up as another example of Steve's infamous Reality Distortion Field.

I'd like to also point out that there are many things the iPhone is still lacking after this update, and although Apple has some sort of excuse for each one, I'm not buying any of them:
- Tethering Apple claims the carriers won't allow this, however why do other "Smartphones" allow this without a problem?
- Voice Command Not sure what the excuse is on this one, although you can purchase third party apps if you really want this feature. Still sort of lame that its not integrated.
- Background processing Apple claims it eats up to 80 percent of the iPhone's standby battery life, so they left it out. I call shenanigans on this one, as Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile do this without a problem, and average better battery life than the iPhone. If this is true, it is the fault of the OS for not knowing how to process background threads efficiently.
- Video recording Anyone's guess, however I'm guessing that the company is more interested in keeping things simple and user-friendly. Still, plenty of plain old camera phones offer editing features.
- Flash support For a device that claims "the real internet" is in your pocket, its surprising that they are one of the ONLY Smartphones not to offer some form of flash in a browser.

As far as Apple's excuses go, does anyone remember when Apple said they won't allow third party applications because they make the user experience unstable (back in iPhone 1.0)? Look at the App Store now. Its sort of amazing how once they found a way to profit with the concept, it was OK to allow third party development.

The bottom line as far as I'm concerned, is that this a very worthy update for iPhone users and I'm happy Apple is finally supporting all this. Perhaps not to the extent that the rest of the media world and Apple fans are, however I possibly missed drinking the same Kool-Aid as everyone else.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thoughts re: Remote Wipe of Prototype Phone from MWC

As some of you may already know, a prototype WM6.5 device (according to reports, a Diamond 2 or Touch Pro 2) was stolen from Mobile World Congress last week.

Industrial espionage expert Les Goldsmith already told the Daily Telegraph that this could be very bad for Microsoft if the beta's bugs are reported before the final product is released (does anyone really expect MS to release something that is 100% bug free??).

Luckily for MS, they have reportedly performed a "Remote Wipe" of the data, including the OS, as soon as the phone was reported stolen.
Whew, that was a close one, Microsoft!

However, this is raising a lot of eyebrows in the mobile user community. Remote wipe of data is nothing new- its already possible if you are set up to sync with an Exchange Server, as a security precaution. That's an understandable data security feature for private info- a corporate exec or celebrity loses their phone, it can be remotely hard-reset (storage card included) before anyone can copy the sensitive info out of it. It won't return your lost hardware, but at least your data is safe. In some cases, devices have the option to be rendered useless, as a theft deterrent system (marking an ESN or IMEI number as "bad" so that networks won't activate it).

However, how does an OS-wipe work?
Do they remotely send a command to wipe out the ROM? Does it format its own EPROM chips so that you can't even get to the bootloader? This is entirely new- and, I might add, entirely unlikely.

First of all, why would this feature exist? Aside from the current situation (in which Microsoft is preventing its unreleased OS from falling into the wrong hands), when else would a remote wipe of the OS EVER be necessary? Would a user EVER want this done?
It seems very unlikely that Microsoft would go through the trouble of devoting R&D time to this kind of safety feature, just for the MWC. Clearly Microsoft is taking its sweet time innovating for the OS as a whole (judging by how far away the legendary version 7 is slated to be), so are we to beleive that development is being slowed because they are wasting their time with temporarily useful security precautions?

No, I think there may be something very fishy about this story.
Here's what I think may have happened:

Sol's phone was stolen, but they can't really remotely wipe the ROM. Its possible that they only did a remote wipe of user data using standard Exchange features. This means the ROM and 6.5 OS are still at large, however the press and/or MS Employee quoted heard the term "remote wipe" and assumed the Microsoft secrets were secured as well.

Sol's phone was stolen, and the MS code can be extracted and leaked. Microsoft comes forward and claims that the ROM is "remotely wiped", which will make people less interested in trying to find the leaked ROM online.

Sol's phone was never stolen, however there are already unofficial early betas of 6.5 floating around the net since before MWC. Microsoft, in fear of having the bugs reported before the software could be ironed out, claims that the ROM was stolen, but "remotely wiped", which will make people assume 6.5 roms floating around are merely unofficial hacks trying to get publicity, or at worst able to be remotely wiped by Microsoft! This may keep more people waiting for official 6.5 release devices.

Its also possible that this whole thing is a publicity stunt to show how versatile and synchronized the new OS is. Lose your phone? No problem- we can remotely do things you never dreamed possible. Does this feature really exist, though? Perhaps, although I still find it unlikely.

Now, its possible that Sol's phone was stolen, and that MS was able to lock out the phone using a remote bomb command to prevent potential theives from using the phone. Betas of 6.1 used to have a timebomb built in as I recall- to avoid it being leaked out and used on a large scale, they included a snippet of code that would prevent the OS from operating after a certain date. The final version of the OS could easily have this snippet of code omitted, leaving everything else intact.
Its entirely possible that MS included a remote-bomb along the same principles... namely, send a command to lock the user out of the phone. Such a command would NOT format the ROM however, and much less prevent someone from dumping the ROM, finding the lock and removing it (as someone did for 6.1, if I recall correctly).
It could also be an exposed new feature for OTA updates- it could be pretty useful to have portions of the OS update over the air with carrier updates (MS has included Windows Update on WM devices, but to my knowledge nothing has ever appeared on it). If stolen, perhaps they rolled out a bogus update that fried the bootloader. Unlikely, but possible.

Perhaps Microsoft really DOES have this feature, and if so its a very scary one indeed. This raises the same questionable practices Apple instituted with its "kill switch", namely that they have the ability to remotely lock/shut off/wipe portions of the code running on your phone. Now, in Apple's case they claimed it was to help prevent rogue code or faulty apps that might do damage to your handset, but of course that's what they would claim. No one wants to beleive in the whole "big brother" controlling their device, and many people are happy enough just assuming its for their own benefit.

Are there any other theories out there anyone would care to share?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Windows Mobile 6.5 (For real this time)

Ok, so maybe the video I posted last time was a bit lame (not an official 6.5 debut, but rather another leaked 6.5 beta hacked to work on a Touch HD)... but today at Mobile World Congress, MS dropped the real deal on us with a demo running atop some hot new HTC hardware (The Diamond 2 and Touch Pro 2 were announced and put on display at the event as well- HTC has been busy).

I haven't had any first hand experience with the OS so I can't really share my thoughts with you yet... however, you can read more on it at WMExperts, and see a video captured at the event by the Endgadget crew.

Looking forward to this when it comes our way...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

WM 6.5 Features Leaked

Well, I'm looking forward to seeing where MS goes with Windows Mobile to stay competitive in this emerging era of commonplace smartphones...

A brief look at version 6.5 of the OS has been "leaked" according to many tech blogs, but it appears to be simply the buggy beta that got out a few weeks ago, but hacked to run on a Touch HD.
Lame, if you ask me, but if you haven't been following the 6.5 news, this is an interesting look at things to come.

Keep in mind, its buggy as all heck and the final version will be MUCH smoother (hopefully?)...

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Saga of HTC's Video Performance...

...Or, why doesn't video play smoothly on my Diamond or Touch Pro???

Not so long ago, there existed a Smartphone manufacturer named HTC. HTC always used standard tried-and-true CPU architecture from companies like Intel and TI, until the dark lord Qualcomm arrived and changed everything. Qualcomm, an accomplished temptress, offered HTC a "device-on-a-chip", which would drastically reduce manufacturing costs while delivering top-notch performance for mobile devices. All they had to do was sign on the dotted line...
What HTC may not have realized at the time is that Qualcomm's promised performance came at a price- their graphics drivers required proprietary code with high-priced licensing fees! Oh, woe is HTC!
The decision was made to release the devices without proper video acceleration- after all, they are supposed to be WORK/CORPORATE devices, and have no business playing video or games! Surely the kingdom would be happy with this compromise...

So began the saga of the failed video performance on the most recent wave of HTC devices. This problem first reared its ugly head with the HTC Kaiser (Tilt*), Titan (Mogul*), and Vogue (Touch*). The lack of proper video drivers was often so bad, it would make the entire OS seem sluggish compared to the previous generation of devices with "slower" processors. This inspired many angry letters and even a couple of websites petitioning for HTC to release proper drivers, or threats of class action law suits.
(Note: Previously I mentioned Samsung included better drivers for their Omnia, but it appears they just avoided Qualcomm's MSM chipset entirely and went with the Marvell chip. The Verizon literature implies that they are incorrectly using a Qualcomm CPU)

HTC apparently listened a little, and announced that the NEXT set of devices would have 3D acceleration for some nifty new TouchFlo interface. The Diamond and Touch Pro were released with much fanfare shortly thereafter.
However, as I blogged about previously, the Touch Pro (which I've recently made my primary phone) had some minor performance issues out of the box, reminiscent of the previous generation of Qualcomm based devices.

While swapping to a later version of Windows Mobile alleviates almost all of the slow-downs (stock version is sort of laggy in general), the video STILL seems to have trouble keeping up when playing back movies at full sized VGA resolution.

The reason for this, is the missing peice of the Qualcomm Puzzle: Qtv

Qtv is a display driver specifically designed by Qualcomm to deliver high performance video to small screens that are powered by their chips. This is part of what Qualcomm has been dangling over the heads of OEMs for royalty fees. Unlike D3D, DirectDraw or GDI, it is NOT a standard video driver and the code to make it work can only be obtained from Qualcomm directly, and only by paying for the licensing rights to it. This means that while the new Diamond and Touch Pro devices have beautifully flowing menus and 3D effects, actual plain-old video playback still lags.

So how do I get the best video playback on a Diamond or Touch Pro?

In order to get full video acceleration, you're going to need to use the Qtv driver. However, since it is proprietary, most popular video playing applications (TCPMP, divxMobile, etc) DON'T support it, offering the industry standard DirectDraw method at best. DirectDraw support has improved since the first wave of Qualcomm based devices (which originally barely worked at ALL), but it still seems to have trouble drawing VGA video smoothly. In other words, if you're using DirectDraw, you're probably NOT going to get smooth full-resolution video.

For the Diamond/Touch Pro, HTC decided to cave in and license Qtv for their new HTC Album (which is normally used to play back video taken with the device's camera), and it appears to have trickled down to the bundled Windows Media Player as well. This may mark the first time that a video plays smoother in the bloated WMP than something like the open-source TCPMP.

In fact, the hardcore users over at XDA-Developers have even developed a tool to convert videos to high quality Mp4 that HTC Album can play, citing it as "the best way to watch full sized videos on the Touch Pro". They even go on to say not to bother complaining if you are using CorePlayer or some other player, since they do not contain the full Qtv support.

NOTE: I did a little comparison myself to see the difference, and found an mp4 of a TV show played PERFECTLY in HTC Album (had to place the video into the "storage card\my videos" dir for it to show up) in full VGA, whereas TCPMP could barely keep up with the frame rate, delivering 10-12 frames per second (as opposed to the nearly 30fps it was encoded at).

But doesn't CorePlayer now support Qtv?

Sort of.
Qtv is propietary, and the folks at Core haven't paid for the code, so they don't have it. However, what they DID do is figure out how to call the video routine overlay. This is similar to how desktop-based DVD player apps tend to work on hardware accelerated PCs- they paint a box of a specific shade which the renderer uses to overlay the video, thus taking the rest of the work away from the OS.
This works pretty darned well, although from my testing, it doesn't play mp4 as well as HTC Album which has "real" qtv acceleration.

Still, Coreplayer supports DivX avi files, which I've always found a great deal more efficient than mp4 video. In fact, I was able to take DivX videos directly from my computer and drag them over to my Touch Pro (no conversion/encoding needed) and play them surprisingly well when set to Qtv (benchmark reported playback at about 90% full speed, which means only some frames dropped and there). Still, HTC Album seemed to do this more effortlessly.

The only problem with using CorePlayer's Qtv is when using the video out function. The overlay doesn't translate well, and creates a flickering blue screen every few seconds, which is VERY annoying. Hopefully the team at Core is going to come up with a workaround, but for now the best option especially for video out is using HTC Album (or... *Gulp* Windows Media Player!).

Hopefully more workarounds will come out soon. Personally, I'd love to see someone rebuild TCPMP with full Qtv display drivers... Perhaps one day.


*When listing alternate names for the Kaiser, Titan and Vogue, I picked the most common carrier branded versions so that people may recognize them more easily. In this case, the AT&T Tilt, Sprint Mogul, and Sprint Touch, respectively. These have many other names on various carriers, as I am very well aware. No need to point out alternative instantiations.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nokias from the eyes of a WM user

A Rant/Personal reflection:

Here in the states, I spend most of my mobile time on CDMA devices. However, I recently took a trip overseas for a week so I brought along some GSM counterparts to use with local SIM cards.

While I have access to some older Windows Mobile GSM phones, I opted to take some more modern Nokia Symbian devices courtesy of my connection with Its been a while since I used GSM, and I always felt they had better devices due to the larger market demand. So, this was exciting to me.

I'm familiar enough with Symbian to use it comfortably, however I really did miss some of the integration that Windows Mobile offers. Let's set the record straight: Symbian is a great and surprisingly powerful platform, and I've always been impressed playing with it... but I'm not exactly running to convert from Windows Mobile.
However, one thing I must admit- Nokia builds EXCELLENT hardware.

The devices I brought with me, an N95 and E71, are both superb examples of Nokia's smartphone design experience, giving you just enough power to replace a PDA while not forgetting to be a phone first. Touch screen would have enhanced form factors like the N95, but I didn't really miss it. Key navigation was easy to perform one-handed without looking, even after using it for just a couple of hours. I consider this further proof that touchscreens aren't always better (makes me more interested to see how Nokia's touch devices will fare).

The N95 is already considered older hardware, yet it sports TV out, GPS, a real 3.5mm headphone jack, dedicated media keys, and a Carl Zeis lens 5 MegaPixel Camera!

I actually found myself taking most of the pictures on my trip with the N95 since it was easily accessible from my hip as opposed to taking out my Canon shooter each time. The pictures are indiscernible from those taken by a "real" camera, with the exception of low-light situations (the flash isn't really bright enough for a normal camera).

On the plane, I found I was able to watch an mp4 encoded video at 700kpbs that my HTC Titan was too weak to play smoothly through normal headphones, and even use a splitter if my wife wanted to watch. I also found that the 3D game support left behind from the days of the N-Gage made some pretty compelling arguments to call it a gaming platform. Suddenly my WM handsets, with their inadequate gaming keys, driver-related poor video performance, and proprietary headset jacks didn't seem so great.

I'm still a fan of Windows Mobile.
But all I'm saying is that if Nokia didn't completely ignore the CDMA market with S60 devices, I would be OK with one.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Palm Pre - rebirth of a mobile giant?

...or, "holy #$@%, I'm actually EXCITED about an upcoming Palm device??"

Most of my friends know that I currently prefer Windows Mobile devices for their balance of power and features. What most of them don't realize is that I always felt that I'd switch in a heartbeat if something better came out... but sadly that hasn't happened yet.
Android is still missing some features I use on a regular basis, iPhone's OSx is far too limiting and crippled... Symbian comes close, and has a pretty competitive feature set, however arguably not any better than Windows Mobile. Blackberry shouldn't even be considered a Smartphone to begin with (its a messaging device, not the same thing).

But never in a million years did I think I would ever consider Palm to possibly be my next Smartphone OS.
Most of us gadget junkies got started on Palm Pilots back in the day, but they've been something of a joke for the last few generations of handsets. Their extrememly limiting OS has had no major updates in a decade (note, I said MAJOR, not the little things they added here and there over the years- those don't count), which has caused many industry anylists to predict its demise.

But, as I mentioned earlier, Palm seems to have been secretly workin on something behind closed doors.
Apparently hiring top device and OS design gurus from competeing companies (such as Apple, for example), the project has been stirring up Treo fans all over the interweb.
As an enthusiast, I heard about the OS they were working on (Nova) and the device (Palm Castle), but never really gave it more than a glance and possibly a mention.
I was predicting Palm's efforts as too little too late.

Well, that all changed this CES.

I'm actually really impressed at what I'm seeing and reading.
I now regret any moment in which I dismissed this effort as "same old Palm". This is NOT same old Palm. In fact, forget everything you knew about Palm. This new company is like the Chuck-Norris-Ninja-Pirate of Palm, which makes everything Palm did until now pale in comparison.
Yes, this could really be what brings them back from the proverbial dead (or at least, proverbial "no-one-cares-what-you-release-anymore").

The OS, which is based on some sort of Web rendering engine, can be easily customized by anyone who knows basic web programming (html, xml, etc), not to mention appears to support some killer over-the-air sync services, A2DP, and advanced multitasking. Basically, all the things wrong with the old Palm OS and then some.

Then there's the hardware. Internally known as the Castle, the Palm Pre (pre? Pre-what?) seems to also have listened to everything people disliked about older Palms:
  • No more cramped screen, display is now a majority of the device, while the KB slides out from underneath (a pet peeve of mine was a device as large as a Treo had a screen size barely larger than a standard phone).
  • Standard mini-USB port (no propietary connector)
  • 3.5mm standard stereo jack!! (about time)
  • Sleek and thin device design (no more clunky Treo form factor)
The problems I forsee with this offering, however, is that it will not be compatible with older Palm Apps (this is a whole new Palm, remember?), so real Palm fanboys may be upset about that. The Palm haters will have a hard time adopting this as well, which means I predict it may have a slower launch than they'd like.
Also, the hardware looks great, but there are a few top-of-the-line devices already out with higher specs in some areas. For example, the Omnia is pushing a killer 5mpixel camera, while this is still sporting only 3. The HTC Touch Pro also sports only 3mpixels, but it has a higher resolution screen (640x480). And both the Touch Pro and Omnia are available for a while already now, while this is not slated to release for a couple of months.
What does that mean? It means that when the Pre is finally available, these specs will be considered standard already and no longer high-end as the next wave of devices is announced.

What I could see happening, however, is that this will be offered at a mid-to-low tier price point, to compete directly with the G1 and iPhone 3G (under $200). If Palm manages to do that, we could have a winner here.

Things in the mobile space are about to get a lot more interesting...