My excellent iPad adventure in the land of Les Habitants

During the past couple of weeks I have been using an iPad and trying to figure out where it fits in my digital hierarchy.  For the record my technical stack includes an iMac , a  MacBook,  a netbook and, an HTC Droid Incredible and a Kindle.   While at home the iPad was a toy.  It was something to use while watching television.  Thus it was slightly more convenient than having a macbook or net book  for light browsing and email.  As a book reader it was much nicer than my Kindle (which I still like).  I installed the Kindle app on the iPad and read  a couple of books on it.   It was aggravating that movies that I can watch online easily with my Droid phone cannot be watched on the iPad due to the lack of Flash support.  When will we have an Android Pad?

The interesting part of my iPad experience came when I had a business trip last week.  Instead of taking my laptop I went cold turkey and just took the iPad as my second device, in addition to my Droid phone.  This decision shocked my colleagues, including the one who lent me the iPad to try out!

The iPad did well on the plane as I read the New York Times.  This was especially interesting since the person next to me had the paper version and lusted after my alternative format.  After finishing the Times, I read USA Today, played a couple of games and started to read one of the books I had downloaded via the Kindle app.

I could also imagine that the iPad would make a great personal Video device for longer flights.

At the business meeting I was the cool kid at the table.  After all, what do you really do with a laptop at a meeting? You browse the web, check email and possibly access a presentation.  Since I did not have a presentation to show, the later two were just fine.  For the record if you want to display a power point presentation on your iPad the easiest way is to upload it to Google Docs and then access it directly from the Web.   The iPad is really shines as a net connected device and thus using cloud services is the way to go.  If you don’t have Web access then converting the presentation to JPG images or video also works.  I also installed dropbox on the iPad and it worked great giving me access to my Cloud virtual drive.

The funny part of my day occurred as I was leaving to fly home.  My meeting was in Montreal and that day was also the first day of  iPad sales in Canada.  At an airport sports bar I was killing about an hour why reading on my iPad.  I attracted a crowd of very interested on lookers.  The waitress even brought her boss out to have a gander (Canadian Goose reference…)  Again, I was the cool kid.    This was similar to elementary kids who have their school lunch sandwiches cut on the diagonal, instead of squares.  (Or at least that is what I was told by my kids)

When I passed through Canadian security I was asked if   I had a laptop and I of course proudly proclaimed, no – I have an iPad.  At that point Ihad no less than 4 inspectors handling my device.  They made me turn it on for “security” reasons.  Once I had it on I demonstrated some apps and the book reader.  I was decl

ared safe.   It was a slow day in Montreal for air travel.  This had the makings of a real live Apple commercial.

Note to Steve Jobs:  Get that security tape and air it – great publicity.

When convinced that I no longer was a threat to Canadian airspace with my iPad, I proceeded to the gate.  The flight was an hour late and I began to read my book on the iPad.  Again I drew a crowd when a little kid pointed and yelled – Look DAD, that’s an iPad , cool! I was then obligated to give another demonstration and let some of my fellow passengers check it out.    Just when I was feeling my coolest someone asked me – “hey it looks cool, what does it do?”  All I could thing of was – “It will do whatever you want, once someone figures out what you want”

Understand ? Ehh?

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Augmented Reality? Really?

I have tried over 100 apps on my new Super-Droid, the HTC Incredible.  One of the more interesting and  hyped areas is that of Augmented Reality.  Here is the  Wikipedia definition for AR –

Augmented reality (AR) `is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”

On my Droid, most AR applications are a mash-up of GPS, Google search, camera viewing, compass heading and overlay visuals.   The overlays are anything from tourist locations, buildings, roads, bars, restaurants, and of course Starbucks.   You look at your phone as the phone’s camera looks at the world and adds its own heads up display (HUD).

While these apps have an “Ubber-Cool” factor, AR does not yet seem to have found its mainstream raison d’être.  Its fun to show your friends and get them to say  -“ooo”, and “ah”, but then what?

Who is going to walk around holding their 4 inch screen in front of them while looking for something and following an arrow in their AR world?  All sorts of enhanced navigation programs, either for driving, walking, hiking or public transit already exist with great mapping displays.  The potential fro AR is likely huge in the future as the applications further develop.  But for now, it is early days.

If you want to try out AR for and judge for yourself here are 5 programs you can download for free on a Droid.

-Layar

A Legal Neighbor listed as a "Bar" - needs some work..

Layar  (get it –  LayAR) is an environment that permits others to development AR functionality on displays and maps. It is in essence an AR aggregation platform – an AR browser- that is mostly ad supported with some premium subscription services.  I can use my virtual Droid HUD to find everything from apartments, nearby Tweeters, Foursquare locations,  local wikipedia entries and even the weather.  Weather?  Yep – look through the HUD and see an AR cloud superimposed in your view with the temperature on it.  There is even a weather app for tornado warnings.   If you have to look through the phone to determine you are looking at a Tornado, its may be Darwin Award time.

A Landmark on Foursquare

Just because you can do something with technology does not mean you have to do it!  Similar to overall smartphone apps, let a million apps bloom and something good will happen.

Here is the web catalog of all Layar powered AR apps.

-Laser Level

The program superimposes perpendicular red “laser” lines in your HUD to help you straighten that picture you just hung.  The app works pretty good, but not really efficient for hanging pictures and I would still want my contractors to use a physical level.

-3D Compass

This app floats a compass and a map on your screen, along with speed and altitude.

Its fun to play with this app when I take NJ Transit into NYC.  For the record, the trains hit a top speed of around 60 mph, New York is east of New Jersey, and the train rarely gets airborne.

-Zagat NRU

This is a curious app that displays all Zagat rated venues within circular range bands, arranged by compass heading.  Its great to showpeople, but then what?  Okay gang lets go to this new Italian restaurant; we have to walk at 37.6 degrees  NNE for 1.5 km?

-NYC Wayfinder

Hold up your HUD display and it will point out subway entrances.  Does it also paint a target on your back and add a European carry-all to you, virtually?

The potential for AR applications exists and like any technology in its early phases, many potential uses will be explored.  What is amazing is how relatively easy it is to make this apps with the basic tools and capabilities of the Android (and yes, iPhone too)

What will the killer AR apps be?  I have two predictions for AR apps.

My first prediction is for massive multi-user, AR enhanced games.  Pick your favorite version of Human/Zombie, Capture the Flag, etc –   and have all the players be able to track each other in an AR enhanced world and even “shoot” each other and record “hits”, all in augmented reality.  This can take the collaborative gaming experience of the XBOX 360 and get everyone outside actually running around and exercising.  Just like kids did before computer games.  Ironic…..  Of course this is what he U.S. military does, for real. So who would be most motivated to fund and produce such an app?

Another interesting app, assuming the key development enabler of cheap AR viewing glasses will be virtual tours.  Instead of holding a small screen, view the AR world all the time?  I could easily see tourists using these to get around various venues and even have embedded virtual tour guides pointing out local areas of interest.  Imagine visiting the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in Israel and having your virtual guide enhance your view to show you what it really looked like 2000 years ago – virtually. For Real.

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“Where” is that Secret Facility on Foursquare?

One of the really interesting aspects of smartphone apps is the innovation and product mutation process.  Over the past couple of weeks I have downloaded over 100 apps on my Droid.  Some apps were good, many were not.  With the exception of Skydroid (99 cents), all were free.  For the record the Skydroid golf GPS program worked really well on my recent golf outing.  It did not help my game at all, but it was useful ad fun to use.

"Where" Local Information Portal

One of the more interesting and useful apps I have been using is “Where”.   “Where” aggregates all the most important mobile search and information functions in one app that utilizes your location for giving you the most relevant results.    Weather, News (including micro local news!), Places (a combination of restaurants, hotels, shopping, bars, etc), Movies, Gas prices, Yellow Pages, Traffic, and even a dedicated icon for the nearest Starbucks.  For the city-folk, it includes an app to locate a Zip Car.  All of these come with easy lists, or are searchable via text or voice input.

Instead of going into several dedicated apps to do the same “on the fly” searches, you can just stay within the “Where” dashboard.   They also have a widget for the Droid that will give you the latest alert on any of the categories you have displayed.  The widget still needs some work, but is useful.

There is a similar function to “FourSquare” that encourages venue checkin and reviews. Foursquare is  the much bigger app for the “hey look where I’ve been crowd”, but “Where” should be watched.

What is interesting about both “Where” and “Foursquare” is how they took a

Foursquare places near me - Interesting...

working model on mobile and morphed it into something more useful.   “Where” actually went backwards to go forward.  They observed that the single function search and LBS apps were good but cumbersome to use in a real life use case.  For example, let’s find a movie to see, a place to eat and maybe a club later on.  “Where” handles that use case.  “Where” re-invented the information portal.

For the record I have no idea what the top secret Delta Facility or the Mothership are in my list.  But I will now have to check them out!  If this is my last blog article you will know why!

My Mother's Day Trip - on Foursquare

Foursquare capitalized on the fascination with Twitter and tweeting your status and focused it on venues.  This creates a social scene network.  Where are your friends?  Do you want to see them?  What do they think of that bar, restaurant, deli, etc?  It is a real time social networking app that is part Twitter, part Zagat’s, and part dating and hook-up.  Foursquare also uses location based services to locate you and give you a list of close by venues for you to check-in.

Both of these apps are using geo-located search technology to make their apps very easy to use.  They are both ad supported.  “Where” has a coupon tray for local coupons on products and services.  They both provide functionality that is superior to a vanilla Google search.

So what do they need to move to the big time?

Foursquare is clearly in the Zagat space.  Foursquare is what the mobile version of Zagat should be.  Foursquare and Zagat announced a partnership in February.  The combined application should be interesting!  To the leading edge augmented reality crowd –  yes I have tried Zagat on NRU – its very cool and the whole subject of augmented reality will be the topic of a future article.

“Where” needs the venue reviews and overall utilization that Foursquare and Zagat enjoy.  Additionally “Where” can benefit from the social networking features of Foursquare.   What I am not to subtly suggesting is that while Foursquare and “Where” have definitely moved the bar (no pun intended 🙂 ) , they are much more compelling together, and eventually even more compelling in a real partnership with Zagat.

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HTC Incredible – The Bright Side

After getting lots of comments on the frank discussion of my new Droid, I decided it was time to give the other part of the story.  In general, I really like this new superphone.  Yes, I’m still having battery issues.  I  recently had a day in NYC, away from my home office, and I was down to 15% by noon.  But lets not dwell on that.

I have downloaded about 30 free apps for my phone.  I have kept about half of them and trashed the rest.  My advice is to stick to brand name content and carefully reviewed apps.  If you just browse and download whatever you like, you will have many apps that don’t work or worse…

While the HTC Friends widget gets lots of publicity, the individual Facebook and Twitter Apps are better for me.  For the record I use “Peep” for Twitter.  The Foursquare app works well, the LinkedIn app – not.

Many of the most useful apps are targeted at managing your Droid phone.  Among these I recommend “Lookout”.  This is a combined virus scan, backup and lost phone locater – and is presently free.   As I mentioned in my first review a Droid is more like a PC.  When you download  “Caveat Emptor”   For the lost phone feature, you can locate your phone on a Google Map on the Web and even have it emit a siren sound.  Warning- don’t give your web lookout password to anyone or you will likely have a siren in your pocket at the worst possible time!

The widgets that come prepackaged for managing Bluetooth, WIFI , GPS and mobile networking are very useful in managing battery life.  Just keep everything off that you really don’t need.  I have found the GPS is a particular battery hog.

For syncing music, I finally got SallingMedia to work.  The trick is to create playlists for anything you want to sync and then to just sync those lists.  For video you can just drag an mp4 into the video folder on your phone.

One of the pleasant battery surprises was that I was able to watch a 2-hour movie on my phone and still have over 50% battery left!  There are a couple of decent free video players in the app store.  You should try mvideoplayer or stream media player. ( A free shout out to anyone who correctly guesses which movie I debuted on my droid –  there is a hint in this article)

A key to the usability of my Droid is mastering the notification pull down.  Just slide down your finger from the top Verizon logo and you bring down a list of recent emails, messages, program alerts, etc.

For sheer fun there are many “soundboards” in the app store.  These soundboards provide famous sound clips for many movies and TV shows.  I downloaded several and keep them in a folder.

Another app that I like is “barcode”.  It is a build in barcode reader that auto generates a search and shopper price comparison.  Don’t know if I ever will really use it “in real life”- but it’s pretty slick.

I also downloaded “SkyDroid”.  This is the one paid app I have.  It cost 99 cents.  It provides a GPS function linked to golf courses.  I am playing a round on Friday, so I’ll let you know how it works.  The website has a nice interface to map out any golf course that is not yet in their database, and of course it uses Google maps.  It took me about 30 minutes to enter the local course.  I am sure it will not help my golf game, but it is a cool thing to have.

There are apps that are un-Verizon-like in the store.  These include porn, a way to download “free” mp3s and a program to turn your Droid into a broadband modem for your laptop.  The former is surprising for the normally protective Carrier, the later 2 are ways to violate your contact TOS and bypass Verizon’s own broadband connect service.  The world of openness has its consequences.  You have to exert personal responsibility – just like the real world.  Just be careful if you give one of these to a minor.

Lastly, my absolute favorite feature on my Droid is the voice recognition with speech to text.   This is really great.  I thought my biggest issue would be with the virtual keyboard – however I respond to most messages and emails by speaking into the phone.  Imagine – a phone you can speak to!  What a concept.  The voice recognition can be used for almost any text input field. I have used it for emails, SMS, Google searches and contact searches.  Its accuracy is very good – although it needs a little work on its Yiddish!

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HTC Droid Incredible – The Rest of the Story (Spoiler Alert!)

What Droid Incredible Really Does – and Does Not (Unofficial Review)

After resisting Droid-Rage during the holiday season, I succumbed to the uber- hyped latest Android super phone – the HTC Incredible.  My venerable Blackberry Curve just was not as sleek or sexy and clearly did not have the cool robot graphics.

There are numerous blog reviews and YouTube videos that will espouse all the virtues of Verizon’s number 1 smartphone.  While they are largely correct, they do not tell the whole story.  Yes it is fast, works on a great network, has more features that a human can possibly comprehend, or use – and even makes phone calls.   I will provide another article with my fav Droid features – this article is about the other side.

To quote Paul Harvey  – “And now the rest of the story….”  Here are my top six issues with my Droid.

1. Speed comes at a cost – The Achilles Heal of the Incredible

All the blazing application response and connectivity comes at a cost in battery utilization.  The first day I had my Droid I had to charge it 2 times.  What good is all that capability if the phone is dead?  If you get a Droid you must stay close to a charging source and become an active energy manager.  You should turn-off the GPS when not needed, limit the number of running applications and even re-consider all of those really cool active widgets which use periodic connectivity to update themselves.   If you need an icon of the sun to let you know its sunny outside, perhaps you need more than a new phone.

2. The display rocks – unless you want to use it outside during the day

The AMOLED technology used in the HTC screen is the latest, but not quite the greatest.  The display is great when used inside.  I just got back from a round of golf and the phone was practically unusable in the sunlight.  The bigger issue is using the super Google driving directions app with a map view.  The map will not be viewable in a car during the day!

3. Its not the number of Apps that matters – its having the right ones and ones that actually work

I never got that impressed with the claims of absolute number of apps on device platforms.  If the iPhone has 300K and the Android 30K , what does that really mean?  It’s a little like counting the number of Nukes that the U.S. and Russia have in their arsenals. .  Quality, not quantity really matters. Android has the basic Facebook and Skype apps.  Its the other 30K that may need some help.  My impression is that the apps on the iPhone are not just more numerous, but are generally of higher quality.   Perhaps the Android platform chased absolute numbers to claim lots of apps without as much quality consideration.  Several apps just did not work at all and others just stopped working.  I tried to download the linkedIn app and had a failure.  This is an area that the Android platform will likely get right at some point.

I want quality apps for the handful I will actually use.  Android has to close the app quality gap with Apple.

4. iTunes Integration – Music and Video – ???

The iPhone clearly excels at music and video desktop integration.  The challenge for any other platform is to create seamless integration for their platforms with the defacto standard for online music. Given the critical nature of this feature, one might assume that HTC or Verizon would provide a solution that makes this happen.

And you would assume wrong.  There are a couple of solutions that purported to achieve this function.  I tried both SailingMedia and DoubleTwist.  Both of these third-party solutions did not work.  While I could probably play with them for another hour or so and figure out what the issue is – why should I have to do that?  I did load my music directly by dragging my music to the mp3 folder on my device.  The music plays fine and the external speaker is loud –if that matters to you.  There does not appear to be a pre-loaded video player and I have yet to get a video, other than YouTube to play successfully.  Again, I’m sure I will figure it out – but why should I have to?

5. Gmail Good – Gmail Bad

I use gmail for my personal email domain, I figured that the Android platform would be a good choice for my use.  For the record my Blackberry worked perfectly with my gmail account.  As expected my gmail account integrated easily with my Droid.  My issue with email is the rather poor gmail app on the device.  I tried to use the HTC mail app and for whatever reason it does not seem to work when my gmail application is active.  As with my other issues, I am sure with a little time I can get it to work.

6. Steve Jobs is right – One button is enough

The Incredible Droid has 7 physical buttons -Home, Menu, Back, Search, optical trackball with click, volume and power/wake-up.  In addition to these physical inputs the standard screen has four soft keys – an up arrow to access all programs, a phone button (yes it can make a phone call!), a “+” key for adding widgets, programs and folders to a screen, and lastly a hidden slide down at the top of the screen that gives a list of alerts and running programs.  Wow – that’s a lot of things to keep straight!.  The really annoying input is the totally useless optical track ball and click selector that just happens to occupy the same spot as the single “home” key on the iPhone.  Needless to say, I have been pushing that click selector by accident through pure muscle memory from my iPhone and iTouch.  An optical trackball on a touch screen device?  Why?

Despite these issues, I am sure I will get around the downsides of this device and make it into a very useful tool for business and personal use.  However, how many customers will take the time to become an I.T. manager for their phone?

For the past several years I carried my Blackberry for phone use and light Internet use and an iTouch for fun.  The true test will be if I go to one device.

The iPhone, like all Apple products – just works out of the box.  The Droid can work, and even do more, but you have to know what you are doing and be willing to investigate the necessary solutions.  The Droid is clearly still rough around the edges.

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HP answers Palm Code Blue

New Icon on Palm Web OS Smartphone?

The Smartphone business has been very busy this week.  One day before Verizon officially releases the Droid Incredible (I am tracking mine via Federal Express), HP scoops in and acquires Palm.  Palm does have some pretty good technology and mobile handset know-how.  Do they have $1.2 Billion worth?  HP says yes and, anyway – that’s just a rounding error for them.

If you have seen the Web OS on Palm’s devices you have to be impressed.  Why this really makes sense for HP is that it is so much more than Smart Phones.  Perhaps you noticed that Apple iPad launch last month?  Tablet and netbook computing are the next disruptive technologies.   The Palm OS will likely make a bigger near term impact on HPs tablet and netbook devices.    This is not good news for Microsoft.

The OS landscape for the sub-laptop market is rapidly fragmenting.    Android from Google, Chrome OS (Google competing with itself?), Web OS from Palm, Apple OS4, Windows 7,  Windows 7 mobile,  RIM and Symbian (Nokia).   The environments that appear limited in scope are RIM and Windows 7 mobile (just SmartPhone) and Windows7, Chrome OS (Netbooks). Android, Palm Web OS, Apple OS and Symbian all provide (in theory) a unified sub-laptop platform.

What’s a developer to do?    Can an OS thrive with a single hardware vendor – Steve Jobs would certainly say yes, so why not HP?

The near term loser is likely Microsoft.  By the time they have Windows Mobile 7 devices in the market, HP/Palm should have been able to iterate an upgraded device and spend significant marketing bucks attracting both consumers and developers.

All of this competition is good for innovation and good for consumer price points.  It will take at least another 3-4 years for this market to shake out completely.  When the dust settles you can count on Apple and Microsoft still standing – their present overall positions in OS technology are virtually unassailable.  What will be interesting is their relative market strength in this very interesting sub-laptop market.

If you dominate this new market you are THE company for the next generation.

HP has placed their chips on the table.  Who is next?

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Appvertainment from Jobs-Apple and the iAd

The announcement of iPhone OS4 changes the Smartphone  world – yet again.  As Steve Jobs described the 7 tent poles of the new iPhone/iTouch/Ipad OS, it was clear that the tent was not quite large enough for everyone. The center pole of this tent is clearly– iAds.

The raison-d’etre  for the much heralded multi-tasking feature is Appvertainment.  (e.g. iAds).    Do not be distracted by the fact that he introduced multi-tasking first and iAds last.  They are intimately linked.

Apple is pursuing their app centric  vs. search (Apple vs. Google) strategy for smartphones  through the introduction of their own OS integrated  ad serving technology.  Multi-tasking is the key component in this ad strategy to permit a user to return to an app after an ADHD moment is fulfilled by playing with a cool appvertainment.  Without multitasking you lose your application state/status and have to start over again.  Jobs is trying to change user behavior and reward users for clicking on an ad with an engaging experience, instead of punishing them by having them have to re-start their app.

Appvertainment targeting was not discussed. The social  and geolocation information that the host apps maintain on users will most likely be used for targeting purposes.  The Apple social game network API will no doubt  be used for providing this targeting information for game hosted appvertainments .    Apple is betting that App hosted ads will be valuable than Internet style search ads.

Jobs boosted that the Apple platforms would be capable of serving 1 billion app-ads per day by the summer of 2010.  Even if we cut that number in half and apply a modest $10/CPM ad rate – that represents daily gross appvertainment revenue of  $5M.  Apple’s vig on the ad revenue is 40%.  This is easily approaching a $1B+ annual revenue opportunity for Apple.

Click for full commercial

Another interesting aspect of this strategy is that Apple is clearly focusing on large brands and advertising agencies – in other words, the folks with the largest budgets.   This clearly makes sense.  The cost of an appvertainment production can easily be in excess of $250K+.  The inclusion of integrated and compelling video with engaging interactivity is not the domain of amateurs, but rather professional digital agencies.  The examples that Jobs demonstrated during his presentation (Nike, Disney and Target) are all major national brands with large budgets and big Madison Avenue agencies.

As I watched the presentation another thought came to mind –  “Is this legal?”  What would happen if Microsoft integrated a proprietary ad serving system in their OS and demanded 40% of the revenue of every ad served on a Windows machine?  This topic will clearly be discussed in the blogosphere and perhaps courtrooms in the future.

Did anyone hear a mention of sharing ad revenue with Mobile Carriers?

Another  “pole” of significance is the enhanced suite of enterprise features. Corporate CIOs have had a set of killer issues that prohibited the iPhone from significant corporate sanctioned and supported utilization.  Apple is trying to remove these roadblocks with OS4.  In addition to the enhanced  security and email capabilities is device management.  Device management includes the feature of permitting corporations to load their own private apps on the iPhone.    The execs at RIM should be concerned about their Blackberry franchise.

Apple would not be investing in enterprise features while maintaining an exclusive relationship with AT&T.  OS4 changes Apple from the Trojan Horse of a sexy consumer device on AT&T to a machine poised for world domination.

The competition between Google and their Android platform and Apple will only get fiercer.  Nokia is the only other global player who can play at this level.   Palm, RIM and even Microsoft will fight for the leftover niches.  It is a battle of the controlled and planed eco-system of Apple vs. the Open-Source world of Android.

The Apple tent has room for enterprise applications, has a new revenue source for app developers, and embraces big brands, ad agencies and publishers.  Adobe (no Flash support) and Google are outside the tent of OS4.  Microsoft got the biggest slight in this announcement as their mobile efforts were ignored as though not relevant.  And what about the mobile carriers?  Do they exist in the Apple world? Continue reading

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