Monday, November 02, 2009

Motorola Names its Comeback Kid: Droid

Droid Details Announced

I've mentioned Droid a couple of times recently and my last word on it was that it was probably going to be a line of Verizon phones instead of a single phone. Fortunately, it looks like that's not true and there is an actual Droid phone from Motorola that's due out later this week. Other than the gold colored square on the keyboard that I still haven't figured out, this is a pretty attractive phone and the first to market with Android 2.0. I personally don't think the aesthetics are as solid as the Pre, but it sounds like it feels solid and features a physical (landscape) and virtual keyboard. Plus, the screen looks like it's pretty awesome quality.

PC Magazine already has a review up and they sound somewhat impressed with it. They point out some pretty big failings in the physical keyboard, call quality, and slowdowns despite the powerful guts of the Droid, but it does sound like the multimedia software is strong as is the camcorder. Even though this may not be the most impressive phone on the block, I think it can do well if Verizon's marketing works and people do perceive it to be a good alternative to the iPhone, and I'm sure that it is a worthy alternative.

This is the first big release from Motorola in quite a while. I'm not counting the Cliq since it's not out yet and doesn't sound like it's as well-rounded of a smartphone as Droid. It's pretty clear that Motorola is changing their tune so that they can start making real money again and jumping in bed with Anrdoid. Their plans for 2010 are pretty firmly rooted in Android, and it's quickly starting to look like 2010 may be the year of Android for mobile phones, in general. The iPhone will still be popular, but I predict Android phones to pick up steam and could outsell iPhones as an aggregate. Given that Droid doesn't really undercut the iPhone on cost I don't think it's going to be a huge hit, but as the first worthy Android phone on Verizon I think it's the start of a crusade from Verizon to strike back at AT&T in the wake of AT&T chipping away at Verizon's subscriber base differential.

Google Navigation

One big feature of Android 2.0 that I neglected to mention above is the inclusion of free turn-by-turn directions. Given the ridiculous price of turn-by-turn on the iPhone, this is a pretty decent leg up that Android now has on the iPhone OS. I don't have a read on how much people care about turn-by-turn on their phone since I have a dedicated GPS, but I can see people using a feature like that to help justify buying a new phone. As demonstrated by the stock market, this is a pretty big blow to Garmin and Tom Tom as this application has a robotic voice, POIs, traffic and other common, rich navigation features, plus Street View (though the usefulness of that is debatable). If more Android 2.0 phones have car docks (like the Droid does), this could end up being a pretty popular feature, especially given that Android has voice recognition.

The only catch is that it sounds like this application requires data access, which is the only thing giving the GPS companies a fighting chance. When you're taking trips outside major cities and you have spotty 3G, you definitely don't want to get lost because you need Internet access. Of course, if you could pre-load the data you need for your journey and destination surroundings this wouldn't be so bad, but may be an expensive burden on the network.

The really good news about this though is that it's a pretty aggressive move that's going to really benefit consumers. This is going to drive down the prices of competing cell phone navigation products and probably of dedicated GPS devices, as well. Plus, you'll see more innovation across the board now that everyone knows Google is going to try to give them a run for their money.

Other Google Releases

There were a few other releases from Google last week.

You now get a link in image search results to find images similar to a given result, which is a pretty complicated feature when you consider the problem of establishing links between images.

Less surprising but still cool was the release of Google Music Search, which allows you to preview songs directly from your results and subsequently buy them.

The last thing Google talked about last week was that you can actually set up Google Voice on an existing number if you're ok with the fact that it's a lighter version of Google Voice with only a subset of the features. The main features it looks like you get are international calling and Google Voicemail (including transcription and usage of the online interface for managing it). I love the transcription and think it makes Google Voice valuable all on its own, so I tihnk it's cool that they're able to pull this off.

The Case Against Net Neutrality

I've spoken a lot in favor of net neutrality recently, with this picture being a pretty good depiction of what the world could be like without net neutrality, but there's definitely been a lot of concern with allowing the FCC step in. CNet posted an editorial that I don't agree with but I think poses some worthwhile alternate points. The jurisdiction argument is a tough one since the FCC is skating on thin ice in trying to legislate the Internet, but I definitely don't think such protection would be as paranoid as the CNet editorial seems to hint at.

Congress is starting to side with the dark side though an both houses are putting up bills to kill any possible net neutrality legislation, one of which was authored by John McCain (one of the reasons why I was really against him last year). Their motivations are definitely misled claiming that regulation kills innovation, in which case you could argue that monopolies should be allowed because they foster innovation being unregulated. Their bills sound a bit heavy-handed and I think you go to an extreme opposite the FCC in possible overstepping its bounds. I'm not sure how well either bill will do, but hopefully not very in a Democrat-run Congress.


I'm literally at the point of dozing off here so time for the last bits I have here.

Joel Spolsky put up a really good essay about capstone projects that mostly hones in on how undergraduate CS programs are not focusing enough on skills needed in the industry with regard to time management and some of the biggest parts of the software development process (almost feels like an extension of my recent essay). It's misguided at times but still great overall.

Did you know there was a new Magic Mouse with multi-touch gesturing functionality? Cool. Not sure if I really need gesturing in my mouse, but still nifty.

This is a pretty awesome, comprehensive guide to using HTML 5.

The UN has approved a universal cell phone charger, which could be a great win for consumers tired of being over-charged for their charger should the lose/forget theirs on a trip away from home.

You can now buy stuff on Amazon and some other partners with just a single phrase to confirm who you are. It's a pretty cool concept and adds a layer of security on top of normal 1-click so go set up your phrase. If you don't pick a good phrase though then it's just adding a weakness to your security, so be careful.

Inglourious Basterds on Blu-ray is now $20, which is cheaper than its DVD equivalent. Times have really changed! This is almost certainly a pricing strategy to encourage Blu-ray sales in the holiday season, and I hope it works because I love my Blu-rays and wish more people had the players.

Have a great week!

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