Monday, June 29, 2009

Open Source Phones FTW

Mobile Platform Should Be Open

I'm not one of those people who thinks that everything should be open source and all proprietary software is evil. I follow the philosophy that there are certain technologies that just don't work as well being open source. When it comes to a mobile platform though (primarily cell phones), I think that operating systems that aren't open suck, and being open source just gets you extra brownie points (being open means that anyone can develop for it, being open source means that the source code is available and contributions to it can be made to a central body for organized releases).

The iPhone OS is very much locked down and you're probably thinking, "why does an open platform matter since the iPhone is dominating the market and it's not?" Actually, the iPhone only has on the order of 10% of the smartphone market with nearly half going to Nokia, so Nokia is the more appropriate example. However, parts of the Symbian OS, Nokia's posterchild, are open source. RIM beats Apple, too, in the smartphone market with Blackberry OS. Though Blackberry OS is 100% proprietary, anyone can develop for it (using certain restricted pieces do require RIM approval, however).

Enter Android (from Google) and webOS (from Palm). Both of these are latecomers to the game with a lot to prove, but they hold a lot of promise. Why? Android is fully open source and webOS is largely open source, and obviously anyone is welcome to develop applications for them and make them available to the public. I really like Tech Republic's rundown of why this matters. The primary gain you get is really open standards - the idea that lots of sites and developers can agree on common ground. Comparing what the iPhone and other locked down platforms have to Android and the Pre is like comparing a benevolent dictatorship to a democracy. Sure, the dictator may mean well, but that doesn't justify his position.

The other big gain you get from being open source/open is attracting more developers. I think a big flaw with Palm OS and the iPhone OS was that Palm and Apple decided to all but abandon the needs of their developers. Apple is obviously big on the app store, but only inasmuch as you play by their rules, which could mean that you spend maybe $30,000 developing an application that Apple won't let you release. That's a huge risk. When there's no other game in town though, what can you do? Sure, there's Symbian OS and Blackberry OS, but they're not as robust and have begun to show their age. Let's face it, much like Palm OS they're just way too utilitarian. The beauty of an open source platform is that you can help tweak it to meet your needs. If it's an open platform, then you also no longer have the risk of flushing money down the toilet. Also, I think it's lame that Apple charges you for the privilege of making applications for them and, thus, helping make the iPhone better. What's wrong with just taking a cut off the sales of the applications? Anyway, that's besides the point of this discussion, so I'll move on. The point is that being developer friendly is going to help you stay competitive in the long run. If a whole line of Android and webOS phones come out in the next year, then you can sell your applications to a wider audience (read: multiple carriers) outside the rule of a dictatorship on a budding platform (aside from the fact that Java and Javascript are easier to swallow than Objective C).

Security is going to become a larger issue for phones over the next few years. The writing is on the wall: buying stuff with/on your phone is here and soon people will be as comfortable with it as they are buying stuff off A open source platform is going to be more secure because, aside from having the community to help you develop patches and find vulnerabilities you can also plug holes much faster. With major outbreaks, time is critical.

The last big thing I'd like to touch on here is syncing. Only being to sync with some proprietary software sucks. Even though the Pre can only sync by USB or iTunes, that's actually enough. By being able to access it by USB, you can develop applications around that very easily to handle syncing.

I firmly believe that open source platforms will have longer lifetimes of being popular and usable because of these things and many more. They're bound to be more customizable and more robust, and so unlike with the iPhone 3GS you can come up with huge improvements rather than just evolutionary tweaks much more easily. I'm a bit tired so I know I've been kind of all over the place with this, but I feel like this new generation of mobile platforms is our chance to get right what we've done wrong in personal computing. It's our opportunity to make these devices more user-friendly, user-customizable, and just plain useful. When you lock down your phone and you hide the source code I feel like it's totally contrary to that idea and is almost greedy. A band is nothing without all the people in it, and a mobile platform is nothing without the community of developers who nurture it. If you make their lives harder, then how can you sustain long-term success. That's why I'm so passionate about this.

Burn Notice on Blu-ray

Let's switch gears for a minute so I can talk about Burn Notice - which I think anyone who knows me has heard me rave about. I recently got Season 2 on Blu-ray.

Content-wise, this was an incredible season. I thought that it was a very good show in Season 1 that I would recommend to people with the caveat that it's not the best show on television, but it's a lot of fun to watch. With the second season, amidst the other shows on television this spring, it was clearly one of the top 5 shows on television, in my opinion. It went from just being a methodical, serialized spy show to really digging in deeper into the characters it revolves around and a more concrete driving plot towards the main character's main goal.

It follows burned (fired) spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) as he works for the people who burned him while trying to get his freedom back from them and figure out exactly who issued the burn notice and why. All the while, he's moonlighting in really fun situations. The writing got better this season, and the acting was as solid as ever from Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar (Fiona), and Bruce Campbell (Sam Axe). Donovan really shines, but everyone holds their own. To sweeten the pot, the season finale was one of the best season finales I've ever seen. I've never seen a season come to such a satisfying end while leaving me wanting more. For example, the last season of Lost left me wanting more, but I was pissed because it's sole purpose was almost to cheat me into watching next season by not wrapping barely anything up. Anyway, I highly recommend watching this show. Season 1 is a great season, don't get me wrong, but this season was like having your cake and eating it, too. It never ceases to amaze me how creative this show gets - it's not your standard formulaic cop show like every other cable television show out there, it really does make you think and you learn some pretty neat things.

As far as the Blu-ray set: it's as unimpressive as Fox's television DVD sets normally are. There's commentary and deleted scenes on a handful of episodes, a blooper reel, and a short behind-the-scenes featurette. What I found very tacky, though it's a common practice nowadays, is that it starts out each disk with an advertisement for this very set as well as the upcoming season. This is a touch better than advertising other shows, but I feel like I should get back some of the money I paid for having to watch their advertising. By the way, the advertising is in sub-standard definition - it's terrible quality. The behind-the-scenes featurette and blooper reel were pretty neat, and some of the commentary was alright but I didn't listen to all of it. The deleted scenes were in pretty terrible quality, but they're just nice to have on there. The actual episodes had pretty decent sound quality and really spotty video quality.

A lot of people have been bashing the video quality, but I think they're being spoiled. I'm sorry, but this isn't Lost or Heroes. These folks don't get big budgets to put on stunning visuals for you. I'll admit that it's overpriced as a Blu-ray to not have near-perfect colors and sharpness and such, but it's definitely not that bad. I felt that it was plenty sharp and some scenes had really beautiful colors. Several scenes tended to have a lot of grain - typically in the background though. The people usually looked pretty good, but sometimes a black background would be speckled with white. This wouldn't bother anyone except for people like me who walk to the television to look for imperfections like that for reviews like these or people who watch way too much high definition content. I'm used to watching Burn Notice in standard definition, so I can vouch for this being significantly better than that, and whether or not it's better than what you see on USA HD is debatable because I didn't see Season 2 in HD but Season 3 doesn't seem to look a whole lot better than what I see on my Blu-ray. It is, however, much prettier than Season 1 on DVD. The graininess thing is really not that bad though - there were plenty of scenes that really do look good. My TV is fairly top-of-the-line, also, so maybe that's why I'm not seeing it as bad some others are. I do think it lives up to being a Blu-ray disc, just on the lower end. We have the same issue with DVDs: the best looking DVDs look a lot better than the terrible ones, and that's just how it is. You're going to have that with any high definition format, the point is that it's still a lot better than the previous generation.

Should you get this season? Absolutely. This show bears watching again and again. Should you get it on Blu-ray? That's a judgement call. I think the DVDs for Season 1 looked bad enough to spring for Blu-ray for Season 2 (especially with the excerpts of Miami scenery), but if you only want Blu-rays that look in line with Planet Earth then you should stick with the DVD.

By the way, the Blu-ray format still isn't doing so hot and it looks to me like prices are still a determining factor of its success. Until we reach the point where a number of Blu-ray discs are priced below $20 and players are readily available at low prices, it's not going to take off.

New Android Phones

Back to mobile phones: two new Android phones have been announced. The first was the T-Mobile myTouch 3G, also known as the Google Ion to some developers or the HTC Magic to Europeans. It has no physical keyboard (so it's thinner than the G1) and it's extremely customizable. Its TFT LCD display does not support multi-touch, but its camera does have autofocus and it does include a microSD slot.

I'm actually more interested though in the HTC Hero, which also is a touchscreen phone with no physical keyboard and has a teflon coating to protect it from the dangers of your hand. Interestingly enough, it also includes a trackball to lure away Blackberry users. Anyway, the video posted in that article is actually pretty cool and promotes the user customizability that the myTouch also boasts via "widgets". A lot of the other features are pretty standard, but I really liked footprints, which allows you to place landmarks on your map application with pictures taken on the phone. Oh, and the icing on top is that it'll supposedly support Flash out of the box. In the fall though, several platforms will be getting a beta of Flash 10 including webOS, Symbian, Android, and Windows Mobile, but not the iPhone.

Google Voice Ramping Up

There's been a lot of buzz recently for Google Voice as more journalists get their hands on it, and it sounds like it's really cool. It's basically a portal for your phone needs: you can have one phone number that manages all your numbers, and that's just the start of it. Having voicemail transcription sounds awesome and so does easily routing and screening your phone calls, but it will require a new phone number (which is ironic since it's supposed to simplifying your voice needs). Ars Technica posted their thoughts on it including a feature that a friend told me was his million dollar idea (everyone has one) a few years ago, though Google didn't get this one from him: scheduling your ringer. That way, your phone will never go off during regular meetings or at church.

What I really like about Google Voice is the idea of aliasing yourself. I've come across this a lot at work, actually, so it's cool that I'm seeing it more and more in the real world. An alias is just another name for a pointer for those who are tech-minded. Being able to change your work number without changing your Google Voice number, is pretty awesome. You could have one number for all your phone numbers forever.

Facebook has also come around to aliasing with their landrush for custom URLs. Facebook clearly wants to become the phonebook for the Internet like Twitter has started to become, but they may be a little late to that game.

The Rest

Ok, it's like 2 hours past my bedtime now. Time to wrap up!

Windows 7 prices for Home Premium and Professional will be half off ($50 and %100, respectively) if your pre-order and already have XP or Vista, and you get a Home Premium upgrade for free on any new computer you buy. These are awesome deals.

I regret not having time to talk about The Register's article on YouTube's strategy, because it is good. In essence, becoming gatekeeper of online video is going to provide for cross-pollination into Google services that do make them plenty of money.

Comcast and Time Warner have teamed up for TV Everywhere, but I don't understand what that means from reading their press release. It sounds like non-exclusive on demand online content to supplement what's already on television at no additional charge. Trials start next month.

China mandated that all computers sold there must include the government's security software, which is buggy and insecure on its own. Amidst public outrage the government has oddly decided to not make it mandatory but that it must be included in the box with any new computer sold even if the user decides not to install it.

The Pre app store has reached 1 million downloads less than 3 weeks after launch with a library of just 30 applications. Clearly, the users of the Pre are enthusiastic about the app store (from just this metric, moreso than iPhone users at its app store launch), and the end of summer (SDK release) can't come soon enough.

Sprint has come out swinging against Apple with a print ad that indirectly, but clearly, places the Pre above the iPhone. Let the battle begin! I'm still a fan of the Flow ad myself.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson. The new networks criticizing him on the eve of his death for accusations of being a pedophile irritated me - can't we spend a few days celebrating the good things he's brought to the world? Like the patented Smooth Criminal lean.

MySpace is downsizing. My prayers go out to those laid off, but this shows that the social networking of yore is really past its prime.

Apple has sold more than 1 million iPhone 3GS phones. That's crazy.

Lifehacker has a rundown of the top 10 features to look forward to in Firefox 3.5, and I'm personally really excited for TraceMonkey, smarter session restore, and HTML 5 support.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Palm Pre Battery Life Tips


Before I start this post I just wanted to apologize for missing last week's post and explain how this post is going to work. Things got crazy at work for Monday and Tuesday last week and so it made more sense for me to catch up on sleep by Wednesday than throw together a quick post. So this week I have some original content for you (battery life tips), and then I'll round out the rest of the post with only the bigger highlights from the past couple of weeks, carefully pruned from my large pool of tagged articles.

Oh, by the way, I got Burn Notice: Season Two on Blu-ray last week and wanted to review it today but I haven't had time to watch it enough for a review. I'll definitely have something for you guys on it to headline next week's post though (especially since no one else seems to have one up).

Pre Battery Tips

The two most common questions I get about my Pre are if it can cut cheese and how the battery life is. The first question was fine the first few times but just like when people call me "Elton John", it gets old real fast. For the record, it's not as dangerously sharp as Gizmodo would have you believe - it's not really as hard to cut cheese as you'd think. Anyway, I'm really here to talk to the second question: battery life. This is definitely a legitimate concern, but I really hope that people aren't asking it because Steve Jobs and Tim Cook would have you believe that it's physically impossible for the iPhone's battery to sustain background processes (it's sad that I've talk to computer scientists who believe this). Can you imagine if tomorrow HP told people that they were only going to sell laptops that could do one thing at a time because that's the only way you can get good battery life? But I digress.

For me to give you any sort of a quantified battery rating wouldn't really make sense, as Gizmodo pointed out last week regarding some hokey claims that AMD made (for shame, AMD - you're better than that). Something I learned a long time ago is that benchmark tests suck because they're not really all that impartial and there's almost never a test to accurately reflect your daily activities because people use their computers for different reasons on a regular basis. After all, cell phones are just small computers. There are a couple of good ways to do this. One way, also pointed out by Gizmodo in that article, is to give the figure for the lowest possible usage to see the idle battery life and then give the figure for pushing the processor/computer to its limit and see what that gives you. Of course, you'd have to get everyone to agree on this or else people wouldn't understand and would perceive your machines as being worse. The other way is to just gauge battery life in certain specific applications with all others under control, which is much harder to do on a laptop than a mobile phone. This is best done by customers and some at the Palm forums have taken to doing this.

I don't really have a good way to give you a battery life rating on the Pre after 2 weeks of usage because I haven't been that meticulous. However, I've found it more than adequate compared to my old Treo, especially given the things that I can do with it that I couldn't before. I charge it every night but if I didn't I could easily get 2 days of usage out of it if I wasn't pushing it too hard with the select few applications that are absolutely unruly with the battery. On weekends, I tend to use it more than on weekdays (where I spend most of the day in front of a computer), but even then I can easily go a day without charging while I use it to help me find a store while chatting with a friend over Google Talk and fielding Bluetooth calls, on occasion. I don't use my phone for talking to people a whole lot though, to be fair. I imagine I could get a good 2-3 hours of talk time out of it, though, while still doing other stuff on the phone throughout the day without killing it. What I find interesting is that I've had a couple of days where my battery inexplicable seems to do terribly. I'm wondering if some of the early software on the Pre has memory leaks, or if a bad combination of applications is especially detrimental for no good reason to my battery life for the day.

What I have been doing, admittedly, is researching general cell phone battery tips and frequently checking the battery indicator during my usage juts to see what hurts it the most. I have some interesting results for you:

  • Charge it often. I've heard from some people that when you get the phone you should first run it down to less than 10% and then charge it without interruption to 100%. That's fine, but after that you should top off regularly. Some people like to hold off on charging their phones and other portable electronics until they're near empty, but they're thinking of Nickel Cadmium (NiCD) batteries, which have "memory" and work better if charged after full discharges but are rarely used nowadays because of environmental concerns. In fact, if you discharge a Lithium Ion (Li-on) battery, like the Pre one, past a certain point, it damages it. So try to avoid pushing it below 10-20%, I'd say.

  • Keep the GPS off. This is defaulted to "On" under "Location Services" on the last page of the launcher. Unless you plan on using it a lot during the day (and most people don't), keep it off. I've discovered that when I was actively using it with Google Maps in walking somewhere it wasn't that bad, but when your phone is idle it does try to keep a signal, and when you're in a building (as I mostly am) or in a tunnel this will really tank the battery. It's easy to get to this menu anyhow, so you might as well keep it off until you need it.

  • Turn on Wi-Fi when you have it and only when you have it. That would've been a perfect place to use "iff", but I don't think I have enough math nerds reading so I'll restrain myself. Anyway, the Pre's data usage is quite performant if you turn on Wi-Fi and have it readily available. Unlike most other phones, it's better on your battery to use Wi-Fi than EVDO (Sprint's data network protocol). However, if you don't have Wi-Fi then this is going to really eat away at your battery since it's going to regularly poll for network connectivity (although I'm not sure how often it will poll). I usually only keep it on at home or when I'm at the gym.

  • Turn off Bluetooth when you don't need it. It makes sense to have Bluetooth one when you're in the car or when you have your hands busy (like cooking) and want to be prepared for a call, but keeping it on all the time is just silly and, just like the previous two points, means that it's expensively listening for Bluetooth connections. I don't think using Bluetooth when you need it is especially bad on battery though as I'll often use it when tidying up my apartment and chatting, and it can find my headset in under 10 seconds once I turn it on.

  • Turn on airplane mode when you have poor coverage. If you're in a tunnel or underground, keeping your Pre on means that it's trying fairly often to get on Sprint's network since having a voice network is, you know, fairly critical to most people's usage of a phone. If your coverage is terrible somewhere though and you don't need your phone, you'll get big gains from turning on airplane mode (accessible from tapping the top right corner of the screen) in those situations. I know I do in the bus tunnel.

  • Turn off AIM/Google Talk when you don't need it. If you're on your computer or you're at the gym and can't really chat, do you honestly need to be available on IM? I've had mixed battery experiences with Google Talk (I've had long chats before without a serious battery hit), but I've heard bad things about the battery life on AIM (which they may have recently improved). Don't go out of your way to turn it off if you're on the go and honestly would be interested in chatting with someone, but it's worth considering when you don't need it.

  • Dial down your e-mail updates. If you go to the menu in the top left corner in the e-mail application you can easily get to your accounts' setting and set how often you check for updates on each account. Most people don't check e-mail once an hour anyway, not counting the annoying pop-ups that Outlook gives you if you don't disable them, so updating your e-mail automatically more than once an hour is going to just needlessly take away some of your battery life that much more often. Forcing it to check e-mail in a folder is easy anyway: just open that folder!

  • Close out cards you don't need. This probably goes without saying, but we're so used to laptops and desktops where you're plugged in and don't need to worry about this that it's easy to lose sight of. If you have a card open that you don't need, hit the bottom button and toss it. I actually have fun doing this so I do it pretty often. It's ok to persist a couple of cards for hours at a time, but just be aware that some applications will take that as a signal that you want them to update regularly (like Tweed).

  • Be on the lookout for applications that are really bad on battery life. I know that's kind of a generic tip, but if you notice an application is really harsh on your battery then don't use it so much. I've found that many of the core applications that came with the phone (contacts, messaging, e-mail, web, memos, tasks, clock, etc.) are very good on battery life. I know for a fact that Sprint Navigation is terrible though, and I imagine that Sprint TV is taxing, but I've had mixed experiences with Google Maps, pictures, Pandora, and YouTube.

  • Update your phone regularly. I usually go to the "Updates" application before I go to brush my teeth because I'm anxiously awaiting webOS updates, and the last one actually did have battery performance improvements (although I'm not sure where since the update just came out on Friday). Mobile applications often do try to improve their battery life though, and that application will try to update not only webOS but all your installed applications.

That's obviously not an exhaustive list of what you can do, but I just really wanted to highlight the fact that battery life on a phone is really all relative to what you need it for and how you use it. It's easy for someone to bash a phone's battery life simply because they don't do fairly basic things to hint to the phone as to what they need it for. A cell phone manufacturer honestly can't do a whole lot to help you if you don't help them help you. So just temper the things you good/bad things you hear about the Pre or any other smartphone's battery life with some cold hard reality.

Rubinstein Takes the Reins of Palm

I don't want to talk a whole lot more about the Pre, but there are a couple of stories that I did want to mention. Sprint broke its records of first day sales and first weekend sales for any cell phone they've ever sold with the Pre. When you think of the selection of phones on Sprint historically, this really isn't that hard to believe. The Instinct was their last exclusive phone and while it captured the imaginations of many consumers it did not captivate tech journalists like the Pre did. The lines were shorter than any of the prior iPhone releases, but it sold out in most places and Engadget documented some of the lines. There have been a small number of new applications released since the launch (including, thankfully, Evernote) with more promised in the near future, but still no release date for the SDK (I'm guessing late July or early August).

In the midst of all this, Jon Rubinstein, formerly the SVP over Apple's iPod division, was named CEO of Palm less than a week after the Pre's launch. The former CEO of Palm had been there for 16 years and is moving on to Elevation Partners, a major Palm investor. In my opinion, this is a huge deal. I believe that the CEO of a company is there to drive vision, first and foremost, and having someone who helped transform the way we listen to music in charge is going to be a very different perspective from someone who was largely focused on popularizing the PDA and then fitting it into a cell phone, which is now old news.

Ars Technica has brought up the really cool point that Palm has now finally edged itself into the smartphone market with its own dominion, of sorts. The iPhone rules over multimedia-centric cell phones (and digital e-commerce) while the Blackberry reigns supreme over enterprise-focused cell phones (if you don't believe me, poll your friends that work at large companies), so what niche can the Pre fit in? Easy: syncing together the disparate parts of your life. With synergy it acknowledges that you have contacts in different places and would like to bring them together automatically. With messaging it understands that you text people over SMS and via IM, so it brings that together. With the calendar it knows that you have calendars for personal matters and for work, so it brings those together, too (especially nice since you can subscribe to friends/family on Google Calendar and easily toggle them on/off on the Pre). Once Palm fixes its issues with Exchange ActiveSync, it can compete with Blackberry over the enterprise, and once it releases its SDK it can compete with Apple's app store. It definitely has a bright future if Rubinstein plays their cards right.

Apple Releases the iPhone 3GS

Last week I was going to go into detail about the Apple keynote at WWDC, but it's old news now and there's plenty of coverage on it by now. People seemed somewhat disappointed in the iPhone 3GS in that it was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but I don't think we were led to believe that it would be anything other than evolutionary. Being speedier is I think just what people want nowadays on their cell phones since applications on the go are less useful if they take forever to load, and the 3GS does that. You can see videos on that and get more detailed impressions from Gizmodo's review, which I liked better than the other reviews I read out there on the 3GS. I think touch-to-focus on the camera was a very smart addition as was video, and my brother (who got one for his wife) tells me that the voice control works really well. Voice commands aren't really a new idea, but it opens a huge door to applications on the iPhone. The hardware looks nice, too, by the way.

The catch is that AT&T sucks. I may not be Sprint's biggest fan, but I'm glad I'm on Sprint and not AT&T - it's super annoying that I can't send pictures to a lot of my friends since they're on AT&T, and even though the 3GS supports this, AT&T doesn't. This may be the beginning of the end of Apple's relationship of AT&T since they seemed to really make a point of this feature at the keynote but that AT&T wasn't one of the carriers supporting it, or tethering (which the 3GS also supports). To add fuel to the fire, existing AT&T customers already in a contract have to pay $200 more for an iPhone 3GS than new contracts (including existing customers not in a contract). The hatred is really palpable on the Internets. A lot of people have rightly said that this is glorified whining from a group of people that just happens to be fairly large - this isn't a new pricing concept for expensive smartphones, so why did it take so long for people to become so outraged by it? I agree with the general discontent regarding buying cell phones, but people should be acting out against all the carriers, not just AT&T. I will grant iPhone users one thing: they're totally getting ripped off on data charges. I'm pretty happy with my Everything Plan on Sprint. They may have terrible customer service, but at least they have reasonable plans for mid-weight to heavy-weight voice and data users.

There was one more big thing that came out of WWDC: a new MacBook Pro. There's now a 13-inch MacBook Pro at $1200 with the 15" and 17" models at $1700 and $2500, respectively, but the real selling point is that they boast up to 7 hours of battery life. They basically designed their lithium polymer battery to integrate more tightly with the system and optimize appropriately, which has given them the largest gain in battery life of any laptop in years.

The Small Stuff

Alright, I've spent over an hour longer on this post than I intended, so it's time to wrap things up! Here are a few other articles I found interesting enough that I couldn't bring myself to cut them out of tonight's post.

Joel Spolsky has a really fun read on Inc. that points out the big differences in culture between Microsoft and Google and raises questions on inefficiencies in large companies.

I've talked a lot about Net Neutrality, but what about reverse-neutrality? The American Cable Association is trying to protect themselves from content providers like that will only work on ISPs who pay them. Personally, I think that this only hurts the original intention of the Internet as being free and open. Why not charge users of the site rather than the ISPs?

Aaron Greenspan wrote a really long article for the Huffington Post about how he had to take Google to court to get the customer service answer on why his AdSense account was canceled, and I think it's worth reading it just for the last few paragraphs on taking to task companies with terrible customer service.

If you've ever had to toy with your BIOS then you're going to love this guide. If you don't know what the means then hopefully you'll never have to!

I love Wired's lists of ways to provoke geek arguments - it's just too much fun.

Being a gamer, I adored Tech Radar's look at the history of video game graphics. I feel like I've lived through some piece of history in experiencing all these waves of games first hand, and I feel like video games definitely drive a lot of innovation in technology that people don't realize (just like the adult film industry does with multimedia).

HTML 5 is still a ways out, but this is a good look at what we have to look forward to, including embedded video (natively) and application caches, which I think are the biggest wins.

RIAA won its first lawsuit, against poor Jammie Thomas, for an exorbitant $1.92 million. It's not the fact that she lost that's shocking, it's the unreasonable award to the RIAA. I really hope she continues to appeal.

Lastly, Microsoft put out a really stupid checklist of things they claimed Internet Explorer 8 had over other browsers, and plenty of people took it to task. I liked this one the best.

Have a great week everyone!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Paying for Hulu

Note: scroll down to yesterday's post for my impressions of the Palm Pre and review of Up. Consider this a continuation of that post - I'm not covering today's stories.

The Future of Hulu

There's not a whole lot really exciting stories from last week. just a bunch of little ones (not counting the Pre). There was a lot going on at E3, but I think too much for me to effectively condense down here. I was actually pretty impressed by G4's coverage.

What I want to start out with here is that Chief Digital Officer of Hulu has stated that he envisions premium subscription content on Hulu in the future. I guess this isn't really a huge shocker, but I find a couple of things really funny about this. It seems to somewhat parallel TV as we know it today where it started out low quality, free, and to a limited audience (black and white broadcast television vs. beta Hulu), then we got color TVs (compare to Hulu in HD), and now we're approaching what we know as cable TV today: content that costs you a bit extra.

The question is: will people pay? How deep is Hulu's market penetration? I think it's inevitable for this to happen, and I think that it's going to involve some messy interference from the cable companies. It may even result in breaking net neutrality to provide higher speed access to premium Hulu subscribers. Ultimately, if it's cheaper than what people pay for cable right now and it becomes available on more set top boxes (like Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand already are), I think it'll definitely do well. You could even rope in more subscribers by providing Hulu content readily available on multiple mobile platforms (aside from just the iPhone).

I think this is where the future of television is. Not necessarily in just Hulu, but online on-demand content. Just look at the Xbox 360. They announced a number of improvements at E3 to make your Xbox the center of your home entertainment experience, right down to having TV available on demand. Times are definitely changing, and the bar is constantly being raised as far as what entertains us - I'm excited to see what comes out of it all in the next 5 years. I mean can you imagine that just 3 years ago there was no such thing as an iPhone and now it's hard to enter a room without seeing a smartphone?

Google Wave and Squared

I briefly touched on Google Wave last week but didn't have time to watch the 60+ minute presentation that Google had put together on it. Mashable was kind enough to condense it down into its 6 key features, and it actually looks like a pretty awesome platform. I imagine that they'll try to integrate it with Android - can you imagine being away from work but still being able to collaborate in a meeting with your colleagues no matter where you are with this?

The real big Google story coming out of last week (there has to be at least one each week) was Google Squared, which allows you to get your search results in a spreadsheet format. This allows you to work with your results much like you would an Excel spreadsheet and may have been intended to help research into linked data. It's probably not a big deal to the average person, but definitely not a bad addition.

HDMI 1.4

The next version of the popular HDMI cable, 1.4, was revealed last week and should be available to device manufacturers next month so that we can start seeing cables and compatible products using them as early as next summer. I love HDMI because it's just one simple cable to handle your high definition video and audio, and it's easily affordable. 1.4 will support 3D, an audio return channel (think microphones), an ethernet channel (for Internet connectivity), higher resolution (up to 4 times that of 1080p), a system for automotive HD content delivery, and mnicro-HDMI connectors. The downside of all this is that it'll result in 5 types of cables instead of today's single type of HDMI, which gives way to manufacturers (like Monster) for confusing customers and charging higher prices for cables that don't cost more to make. I'm definitely disappointd in that decision, but I can appreciate how difficult putting together an international standard like this can be so I just hope that it ends up being as cool as it sounds right now.

Digging for Ads

Digg announced that they're planning to roll out an advertising system that takes the concepts of supply and demand further using the concept behind Digg: charging advertisers more money for ads that are dugg higher by people as being more interesting. I'm really impressed by this idea - they've taken an audience that is really anti-advertising and are trying to engage them in ads with an interface they already understand and enjoy. Facebook has played around with this, but I think that they bombard their users with changes and experiments so often that no one really cared.

The Rest

I'm running out of juice here (very exhausting day), but I have a bunch of quick stories that are worth mentioning (pared down from an even longer list!).

Dailymotion has launched a video platform to compete with Flash by allowing developers to simply use "

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Palm Pre Impressions and Up

Note: I was too busy with work to put together a full post tonight. I'll put together all the news from last week on Monday night, instead (I hope).

Palm Pre Impressions

I was asked to put together a video about the gestures on the Pre and how the UI is, so I thought I'd do my best at a "quick" rundown of the phone. It ended up being longer than I hoped, but I hope you guys like it, all the same. One of the drawbacks of the Flip Mino HD is that you can't focus it, and I just had it on a tripod so filming this was hard - just bear with me here.

I'll do a review later, but so far some of the pros are:

* Very intuitive gesturing that doesn't take long to get into.
* The multi-tasking works extremely well, as do having notifications be visible but out of the way. I was even able to take and send a picture while having someone on speakerphone without a drop in call quality.
* Synergy works fantastically! It brought together all my accounts almost seamless, including the pictures I had of people before (or what they have for themselves on Facebook).
* Build quality is wonderful! The screen is ridiculously sharp. It makes texting a joy.
* The keyboard isn't as bad as people say it is - I was able to get used to it literally within a couple of hours. I like it a lot now!

My main gripes are:

* Syncing to your computer isn't easy. It does sync to the cloud, but you can sync your media easily (though I haven't tried it with iTunes since I hate iTunes).
* There is sometimes lag with opening up applications.
* Battery life is a mixed bag. Sometimes it can be really awesome and other times it just tanks - it really depends on how you're using it.

I can't wait until they release the SDK (it will be open and free, they've already said) and the app store really fills in. I think that webOS is totally a home run for Palm. The Pre is only a first iteration and it has blown me away. Whether or not it's better than the iPhone or any other smartphone is a subjective decision based on how you use your phone and how your brain works. My brain is optimized for paralellizing tasks, so this is a joy for me. Your mileage may vary.

I'll try to come up with a full-fledged review after a while, but feel free to ask me any questions you have. I can even try to put up another video answering people's questions. My favorite review that's already out there is the Engadget one, but Gizmodo has a really harsh one
if you're looking for biting criticism (much of which I totally disagree with). I'm definitely excited about the forthcoming ad campaign, by the way. Really creative stuff, and a visual treat.


I thought I'd also give my review of Up since this is a solid original content post. This is the latest entry from Pixar (their last film was Wall-E, one of my favorite animated films ever), and it's built on the simple premise of an elderly man who wants to go on an adventure (why is explained in the movie). He decides to get there by lifting his house with a bunch of balloons. The opening short film is really cute and is about how clouds make babies for different animals and give them to storks, most of which are cute and harmless except for the one cloud that makes the babies of dangerous animals. Hilarity ensues.

Anyway, this film is definitely a triumph in many senses of the word. It's really an uplifting kind of story and it has several really loveable characters. The animation is as solid as any of their other movies and the writing is impressive. I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie from the trailers, but it feels surprisingly real. Despite the fact that the house moving around is clearly a violation of the laws of physics, the interactions between the characters and their emotions is often more convincing than many live action movies these days. I guess it goes without saying that the voice acting was awesome featuring the talented Edward Asner along with Christopher Plummer and several Pixar voice actors that aren't well-known though you'd probably know their voices if you heard them.

It's really hard for me to say more about this movie without giving out the nuances of the plot that I find really endearing, but I do want to mention that the humor is as strong as in most other Pixar movies. Anyone who likes/owns a dog will definitely get a kick out of a lot of jokes in this movie. It's also worth mentioning that it's probably too complicated of a film for a small child to understand, but older children should get along just fine.

This is a solid A+ movie and I highly recommend going and checking it out. It's one of those movies that may actually make you feel better if you're in a bad mood and it's just really a heart-warming story.

Addendum: We saw it at the Cinebarre in Mountlake Terrace, which is only 8 miles or so from the city, and really enjoyed the experience! I have to say that I definitely like the indie film-ish feel of the Alamo Drafthouse better (and its special events, which I don't know if the Cinebarre will have), but the theaters are a decent size, it's 21+ only (i.e. no crying babies), and the food actually isn't bad. Maybe somewhat smaller portions than what you may get at a restaurant, but definitely not bad. Quite a bit of wine and beer on tap, and cocktails as well. You have a table in front of your row and you just write out your choices and stick it in front for the waiter (just like at the Drafthouse), and the service is fairly quick. If you've never eaten at the movies before, definitely check it out. If you're from Austin or Houston: it's not the Drafthouse but it's definitely worthwhile if you don't mind driving a few miles out of your way.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Microsoft Takes on Google...For Real This Time


Before I start, does "Bing" really give you that positive a connotation? Yeah, it was the last name of a character on "Friends", but that doesn't amount to much. Anyway, Microsoft has had a hell of a time trying to compete with Google's chokehold on search with Live Search and MSN, so they decided to try out something new in Bing. They're investing $80 to $100 million in advertising on it to try to make people aware that the search experience they have right now could be so much better with Bing. It actually isn't too bad of an idea since people really use Google for the brand name - it's not like they compared it to many competitors.

The reviews of Bing so far aren't that bad. It's a clean interface and it gives you a sidebar with smart spinoff searches that try to get at what you want (for example, type in a TV show and one of the things on the left sidebar will be "Theme Song"). The results aren't always on par or better than Google, but the search experience is definitely decidedly different. It tries to encourage you to help it refine down to what you're really looking for and has customized ways to do this for different subjects. Try a type of food and it'll have a Local tab that will let you filter by atmosphere, price range, etc. Try videos and you can play videos on rollover rather than having to open them in new tabs or hit "play" and wait for them to load. The little things like that are kind of neat.

The reason I decided to highlight Bing today, besides the fact that it was a slow news week, is that it's just funny that Google has been a big deal for over 10 years now and Microsoft still hasn't been able to put a sizable enough dent in its market share. To be fair, neither has Yahoo. I think search is a fascinating market because people are so complacent - they like Google only because it's familiar and simple. I don't know whether or not Bing stands a chance or not, but I think that a lot of advertising is definitely going to be necessary for it to get off the ground. If Microsoft were really smart though, they'd be going after mobile phones. Put out strong search applications and appliances for major cell phone releases soon after they come out and try pushing that. Mobile search is the one place people are going to be more picky because time is important to them. If you're searching for a restaurant nearby and your friend is driving, time is super important. Google has some great mobile applications, but I think it's somewhere that Bing can get their foot in the door and make a name for themselves if they can really answer users' mobile needs.

Microsoft's Netbook Limitation

This is another quirky Microsoft story: there are rumors that they're planning on limiting the cheap version of Windows 7 to laptops no bigger than 10.2 inches. This could, in effect, limit the largest netbook you'll see to 10.2 inches since any bigger and the manufacturer will not be able to keep a competitive price due to the Windows 7 licensing fees. Of course, they could sell Linux netbooks in any size, but people are going to be more interested in a familiar OS, and Apple hasn't shown an interest in netbooks because they think it's beneath them (seriously, they think they're too high-end to sell netbooks, I don't have the time to hunt for the article but they've said something to this effect), so that just leaves Windows machines.

Is this fair? To be honest, I think so. The fact that they're selling a cheaper version of Windows 7 to netbooks is already sort of a concession, and they have to protect themselves against the slippery slope of normal laptops being called netbooks and manufacturers shaking them down for lower prices. Also, any bigger than 10.2" seriously is a laptop. I have co-workers with 13" laptops and they don't call them netbooks because they're not designed for people with child-like hands (I kid, I kid - netbook keyboards aren't that bad).

Zune HD Announced

Here's a story I'm excited about: Microsoft finally validated all the rumors about the Zune HD by just coming clean about it. It looks pretty sexy, in my opinion:

It's a full-on touch screen mp3 player (like the iPod Touch) with a few important additions. It has an OLED screen, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that OLED screens are beyond gorgeous. It's shocking how great they look even in small forms. It allows you to output via HDMI, which is a very forward-thinking step with digital distribution growing in the HD realm since you can't otherwise carry digital copies of movies easily to friends' places. Playing on the HD name, it will also broadcast HD radio, which usually carries more artist and track information than you can get from terrestrial radio and is, supposedly, much better quality. I don't think it ever really caught on, but it's a neat little feature to throw in there. It's also WiFi enabled with a full web browser.

As you can tell, it's definitely a direct competitor with the iPod Touch much like the previous Zune was to the scroll wheel iPods. I really want this device to not fail miserably, because I like seeing companies try to innovate and compete with Apple. I don't think this is the most innovative thing Microsoft could've come up with, but it does look slick, and I'm really interested to see how it'll integrate with Xbox Live. If they handle it well, it could be a killer app feature. Microsoft has no handheld gaming system, so maybe they want this to be it? They'll be revealing more on the Xbox Live integration this week at E3, so I'm sure I'll have more to talk about next Sunday.

Pre Syncs with iTunes, and More Randomness

Yep, Jon Rubinstein announced last week at All Things D (a conference put on by the Wall Street Journal) that the Pre can sync with iTunes. I wonder how many rules they broke by doing that. There's no way that's sanctioned by Apple, and Rubinstein was SVP of the iPod division until he left in 2006 (and subsequently joined Palm's Board in 2007), so am I crazy or can't Apple just sue him for sharing trade secrets? I'm sure his NDA only lasted for like 18 months (which makes me wonder how he was allowed to work for Palm since he definitely knew about the iPhone before he left Apple), but it's still secret information as far as being able to have a third party device identifies as an iPod by iTunes. In any case, you can sync your Pre to iTunes until Tim Cook leads Apple's legal team to Palm's doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

The real shocker (for some, at least) is that Verizon claims they'll be getting the Pre in January. They are a CDMA network so it's not a huge technological leap. I think we already heard that Sprint's exclusivity would be short-lived, but I wonder how much of a boost the Pre will give them if people on competing carriers will be getting webOS phones (AT&T and Verizon, at least) before this time next year. Anyway, Verizon will also be getting the Storm 2 in January, which is supposed to be a huge improvement over the Storm, but I don't think improving over a terrible phone is a huge challenge. I've messed with a Storm and the haptic feedback thing doesn't help at all with typing.

Lastly, Gizmodo has a pretty comprehensive guide to everything you could want to know about the Pre if you know nothing about it right now (or not enough, in your own opinion). If you want to learn even more though, the manual and some other documents from the upcoming launch were leaked in the middle of last week.

H-1Bs Outnumber the Unemployed

The issue of immigrant workers is a very sensitive subject for a number of reasons. Adding fuel to the fire though is the recent revelation that there are more H-1B workers in the U.S. tech industry than unemployed Americans in tech. Apparently, the government has been going after companies with fraudulent visas. While I agree that it's unfair for subpar foreign talent to displace great domestic talent, but I don't think that's happening. I don't think there's anything wrong with highly qualified and motivated foreigners displacing lazy, stupid programmers. It's going to hurt us in the long-run to protect employees who suck at their job and would be better off in another industry. It's a delicate balance though because there has to be a cap, especially in education if talented Americans are getting sidled out of top programs by foreign workers. We have to give the people here who want to excel a fair shake, and doing that is really hard. It's not fair to read a headline that there are more H-1Bs than unemployed techies and become outraged, because companies shouldn't fire good employees because they're from abroad.

Identity Theft and Spam

I don't want to go too in depth on this because I could easily put together a entire post on identity theft, but I definitely wanted to plug New Scientist's story on the subject because it's a really well-written and exhaustive explanation of the dire situation we find ourselves in. "Identities", which are really just someone's credit card numbers, social security number, date of birth, and mother's maiden name (to name a few) are traded readily online at fairly affordable prices. What really sucks is that even if you avoid phishing and social engineering attacks and all that stuff, the people you trust when you do business could be incompetent and lose your data. Thinking that you're going to go cash only and abandon plastic is not the safety net people think it is, it only is likely to make you less careful in situations where a credit card may make you more paranoid (in a good way).

What can you do about it? To start with, here are some Firefox extensions that would really help your cause. If you're not using Firefox 3, then that's your first problem. Those extensions are seriously awesome though and cover some of the most common attacks you could run into, like forms that go to malicious third parties, hidden Javascript code that could re-configure your router, password sniffing and cracking, and hidden trackers.

Semantic revealed last week that 90% of all e-mail sent over corporate networks is spam. 58% of this spam is coming from botnets, which means that there are a lot of people sending spam who don't even know it. It's a dismal statistic, but it's pretty rare to see good news in security, to be perfectly honest.

Hulu on Your Desktop

Hulu has released a desktop application to better jive with home media PCs and laptops with remote controls in the side of them. In other words, it's what Joost should've been if it had better content and was less CPU and memory intensive.

I've been so busy with work that I didn't get a chance to test drive it, but Ars Technica has some great thoughts on it and I always trust their reviews. It's interesting that they don't want to be a part of Boxee and yet the content providers are ok with Hulu's own homegrown desktop application. This is a big step towards putting a nail in the coffin of cable television as we know it (i.e. watching shows at a pre-determined time) and helping coax Hulu into the mainstream.

Final Notes

Ok, I've really got to get a good night's rest tonight so it's time to wrap up with some quickies.

Google Chrome now has extensions! It's long overdue and small in selection, but Google is aiming to make them easy to develop to help ramp up in comparison to Firefox's expansive add-on library.

Google also announced a new online collaboration tool called Wave (in beta, as always) at their I/O conference, and it seems like the next evolution of Google Docs.

Dell's earnings dropped 63% last quarter, but they're expecting a solid rise this winter due to Windows 7. It looks like until then they'll have to try to dial down their cost structure.

If your computer has become considerably sluggish, then this article has your name written all over it. It's a pretty solid article of easy tweaks to make your computer perform better (analogous to a tune-up for your car).

Have a great week everyone! I know it's going to be very long for me as I await the Palm Pre, and hopefully I'll be able to actually get one.