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.

No comments: