Thursday, October 20, 2011

Apple and Starbucks - a partnership

People who frequent Starbucks have long experienced many iPhone related partnership featured:
  • AT&T wireless providing free and seamless internet access
  • free music - a song of the day from iTunes
Apple works hard on its image and so does Starbucks.  The partnership made sense to me as it was from two branding titans.

The new partnership is mostly great, but not all:

  • AT&T providing free internet access for all, but not the seamless iPhone access - you have to go to a web browser and ok the terms now...
  • free music - a song of the week from iTunes
  • free apps - an app of the week from iTunes
The free apps are fun.  I've gotten Shazam, Momento, and The Monster at the End of this Book.  

It keeps me interested and not forgetting to look for apps in the app store.  It gives me one more reason to go to Starbucks a tad more often.  

I can't help it: Comparing iPhone experience to Android

Update 10/27:  This article puts some of my concerns well: Andoid Orphans


I have to start by saying this: I'm not an Android user.  What I have comes from marketing aimed at me, users around me, and some news on the net.  But I have these thoughts and this blog is where they come out.

Who else is successful at making a reasonable experience?  Palm and RIM.  They made the OS and sold the hardware but still the cellular carrier got their mitts on the user experience and OS a bit.

Apple came along and pried just about the entire experience away from the carriers.  The carriers do not focus on "the best user experience" the way Apple does.  AT&T did contribute something great - a network that supports being on the phone while using your cellular data plan.  Apple and AT&T partnered - AT&T got something - all iPhones have a data plan.  That was really new at the time.

This is what I see of the Android experience...

First, a lack of control of the experience:

  • Google makes the OS
  • Someone makes the hardware
  • The cellular carrier controls part of the experience (this is the old-school way of things)
Second, changes in direction that fly in the face of their marketing:

Google has aggressively marketed how Android is open source, and how much better that is than Apple's ways.  It is now closed source.  I feel lied to by Google's marketing, and I'm not even an Android user.

Third, a lack of updates:

I have heard from people around me and from news stories that people cannot upgrade to the newest Android OS version.  This sounds related to the first point.  This article says it pretty well towards the end: Apple aggressively markets IOS5 upgrades

Fourth is just general confusion:

If I wanted an Android phone, what should I pick?  Which is best for screen, battery life, and more?  There are so many choices... Is the best phone on all carriers?  When will who come out with the next one?  Does it have the right OS version?  Do any have any special integration with some features?  Are any missing any Google features?  Ugh.

Fifth is what I call "total packaging" and is perhaps an extension of point 1 in some ways:

This is perhaps an extension of control of the experience.  With an iPhone I know how I am going to:
  • Put music, movies, podcasts on my phone, and share them with my computer and immediate family
  • Buy music and share with my immediate family as needed
  • Make sure my phone is backed up and recoverable should I replace my phone even if I upgrade in 2 years - the path is already confidently defined.
  • Get support - at the Apple store (NOT THE CELLULAR CARRIER)
  • secure my phone (find remotely, wipe remotely, encrypt if I want to)
  • Get apps - a walled garden with some vetting by Apple for security
With Android I know I have more choices.  I have more ways to "normally" buy music and apps, sync data, tinker and possibly fix problems with my data I cannot fix on my iPhone.    

Google has all kinds of great services - like:
  • gmail
  • maps
  • google voice
  • search
  • google+
  • blogger
  • reader
Having them available on iPhone makes sense - it is a marketing tool for Google and drives traffic to Google search and other ways Google makes money.  But I do not know how there are special integration capabilities for Android and Google services that are better than they are for iPhone like there could be, flowing between them.

And if there is a problem, whose fault is it?  The manufacturer?  The carrier and their special additions to the OS?  Google?  Who is accountable?

Android phones just don't have the total packaging that Apple phones have.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How the iPhone has made me go wow before IOS5

I have to start by talking about my previous experience - It was a Treo 650.  In fact that phone started me blogging!  With that phone I could:

  • Listen to MP3s (but it was hard to set up, nearly impossible to manage play lists)
  • Watch movies (hard doesn't begin to describe it, plus it crashed all the time and the screen was tiny)
  • Download apps from the internet and use them (again, very very very hard to do)
  • Read RSS feeds, have access to podcasts (hard but doable)
  • Tether to the cellular-based internet (slow, buggy, but doable)
  • Play games (rudimentary, like chess - not action games)
  • VPN to the corporate network, use other admin tools like ssh
  • read emails, have access to my address book synced with my computer - PDA stuff
  • task lists
  • I even read project Gutenberg books on my Treo!
  • maps - Google maps actually worked on this thing, without GPS of course...
  • camera in a cell phone - it was more like a toy and not SO useful, but a start
I could not really do two things at once.  No multi-tasking on the Treo 650.  Well, you could listen to music and maybe do something else.  Mostly that was buggy.

Much of what I use my iPhone for today is that list but refined.  What do I not do from that list?
  • tether - I just haven't been willing to pay more for that ability.  The iPhone is good enough to make me have to have it and there is enough WiFi availability now otherwise to make tethering not mission critical thus far.
Why did the Treo/palm guys not take things to the next level?  They did use a phone OS image warped a bit and hindered by the cellular carriers for one thing...  The rest - I don't know.  There was a lot that was bad about that experience - battery life was very bad while I watched movies and used my Treo for so many things, the screen was tiny, and everything was hard.

Apple took what I used my tree 650 for and made it all oh so much better.
  • iTunes let me manage my music and playlists, but later I could just buy music on my phone or on my computer and it is easy, oh so easy!  (And with DRM-free tunes I can make CDs for when I want my iPhone for other things.)  Oh, even before Apple supported multi-tasking, Apple made listening to music while doing other things work and made it easy.
  • iTunes makes buying movies easy.  I have a Mac and that has made getting my DVDs onto my iPhone pretty easy, but that's a story for another day.
  • Netflix watch it now on my iPhone has been a game changer!  Wow!
  • iTunes has made things like podcasts really easy!
  • The iPhone App store has made getting new apps really easy, as the world knows.
  • Email - vastly better and with Exchange-style sync and more I can read personal and corporate email and - it is all easy.  VPN to work - easy.  
  • A camera eventually taking video and even enabling on-camera video editing!  That blows me away and they keep making it better even on slightly older phones!
  • Google maps with GPS integration and now even a rudimentary compass and turn-by-turn directions!
  • News, RSS feeds (I use reeder), weather info built-in app, 
  • I now have so many options for music - Pandora for example, Bing music search.  The ability to use my headphone controls to turn music on and off from different apps has been amazing.
  • Voice command - the most impressive part to me is asking to call people and mostly have my iPhone understand who I mean without training the iPhone.
Once I play with IOS5 I'll share those experiences.

Cautionary tale about IOS5 and iCloud from someone who made mistakes

If you have multiple iPhone devices being upgraded to IOS5 for the first time, learn, think, and be careful. I will tell you a tale of long avoidable hours...

I upgraded my iPhone first, on the first day of the official IOS5 release.  It went swimmingly.  I only had to restart the upgrade 5 times to get through and I was done.  I switched to syncing with iCloud, syncing some content with my macbook air via wifi; I was really using the features, I felt.

Then, I upgraded my wife's iPhone to IOS5:

  1. Started with a sync for a backup
  2. I did the upgrade (which also takes a backup - a full one this time I believe)
  3. I set it to back up to iCloud (and promptly forgot I did this)
  4. Synced with my laptop for a backup (which it was not because of the iCloud setting)
  5. set for iCloud sync
  6. merged all of my 8 gazillion contacts and hugely numerous calendar items with my own
  7. Turned off iCloud sync
  8. Deleted all contacts and calendar entries
  9. A recovery to the last known backup (related to the upgrade I thought but seemingly no) - still no calendar or contact entries.
  10. Resync all contacts and deleted all of my contacts (various times for hours during one day)
  11. Manually copied calendar entries from mine (hours during the next day)
You cannot sync the iCloud Photo Stream to and from multiple iPhones and have a separate calendar also synced to iCloud from those phones.  Point learned.  

So in the end we chose separate iCloud accounts and no Photo Stream sharing to each other.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What's new and great about OS X Lion

There are hundreds of new features.  The features below are the ones that immediately hit home for me:
  • Full page apps (3 finger swipe left/right) - they aren't for every app or every instance, but having mail and safari full-screen in an even more-than-ever full-screen mode has been great so far.  It puts it into another space into effect (I hear you can have up to 18 spaces/desktops).   Here's a place to learn more about how to use spaces.  
  • Mission control (four finger swipe up) - it lets you see all of your spaces and running apps.  It is the new form of exposé.  You can bind apps to specific spaces to keep a permanent layout that works for you.
  • Hold a key for alternative characters.  àáâęö -- I didn't have to hunt to type that accent grave, aigu, circonflexe, cédille, and umlaut.  OK I don't use them all the time but that is the point; I can use them on the rare occasions I want to because I can find them.
  • Launchpad (4 fingers crunch towards middle) - it makes an interface much like IOS for running apps.  It has been lambasted because it puts all apps the OS finds into the interface, and you cannot remove apps except by uninstalling them.  I put in the time to organize my apps into groups and pages, and hid all the apps I do not want to delete but do not want to see far to the right, and it is now very very useful.  I used to put apps I frequently wanted to run in my dock to stay.  I now have a clean mostly empty dock that only fills when I run apps.  That little dot under an app in the doc is much less important - if an app is there it is running.
  • Filevault 2 - I have an encrypted hard drive and encrypted time machine backup drive!  It is simple.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How apple laptops and OSs make me go WOW!

Apple does novel things or takes old things others (or they) have done and do it better.  They make me go, "WOW!"  They try doing things in new ways others think are wrong and makes them work.  Here's a few off the top of my head on the laptop and OS side:

  • Laptops with nearly zero options, that always come with SSD (Macbook Air)
  • Magnets on laptops!  The magnetic plug which has saved me from several laptop falls as well as for keeping the screen closed.  
  • Hinge fully opening the screen to the laptop rear - I've never seen an apple laptop hinge break.  I've seen many many other laptop hinges break and I've seen the clasp mechanism to keep them closed break also.  Not apples.
  • Wacky high-end ports: They started with firewire and now thunderbolt.
  • Touch pad - I now have an external touchpad to use when I'm "docked" even - this touchpad with gestures is unlike any other computer experience I've had.  A mouse I don't really have to even click, but can if I really want to?  Wow.
  • Spaces - other OSs have had different virtual desktop spaces, but this one feels done right, now that I can access them with touchpad gestures and mission control/Expose.
  • Mail - and smart mailboxes have revolutionized desktop email to me.  I no longer sort email into folders, ever.  I also never regret putting it into one folder and not another.  Search folders put it in every folder that makes sense at the same time, and Apple's built in desktop and thus mail search capabilities make it all work for me so I do not need to think about it.
  • Time machine - the first desktop backups I'll actually use at home because they are just that easy.
  • Better wifi information - snow leopard and lion only - option-click on the wifi icon in your tool bar and you can find out the hardware address of the wireless access point you are connecting to as well as how you are connecting to it.  This has been incredibly useful to me at work and at home.  No, I was not using "N", but once I knew that, I could fix it...
  • Whole disk encryption - file vault 2 - Lion only - with time machine disk encryption too!  It just works!  The first whole disk encryption I will use at home.
  • iLife - this amazing suite of built-in products changed my life.  They really have blown me away and they keep getting better.
    •  iPhoto with face recognition lets me organize my photos, set them up for instant slide shows with any number of categories - WOW!
    • garageband is teaching me to play guitar and let me create files about music creation I could share with others, and use an on-screen keyboard to make mp3s to share with friends and family... WOW!
    • iMovie lets me edit home movies - no other software needed!  WOW!
  • UNIX underneath - I write perl scripts, use ssh/scp that are built-in, and use other UNIX utilities all the time.  I can install tools and do it with windows, but with my mac they are just already there.
  • iTunes - ok this is not a mac exclusive.  It is the best all around personal music (and media - I have some movies too!) management app I've used.  Podcasts!   I have many I listen to.  WOW!
I'm sure there are many many more reasons.  This is just off of the top of my head.  But it was very easy to make this list.  

My history with Mac products

I played with Apple II, IIc, and III computers in the 80's.  I learned to program on them, among other systems.  More interestingly to me, I had an assignment to write a simple graphics editor on one in BASIC, and it was actually possible.

I had friends in college in the late 80's using Macintosh computers. Some colleges recommended or required these first Macs. Dartmouth was among them. A visit to Dartmouth taught me that the GUI-based interface did not preclude access to programming. Macs were easy to use, had advanced features (SCSI - very advanced for the time), and heck even sound.  Anyone who played with early Macintoshes heard the funny sounds of Dark Castle.

I worked at Atari Corporation in the early 90's.  Some graphics editing happened on PCs, and some on SGI workstations, but some happened on Apples.  But they were rare.

It wasn't until after iPhones came out, until something like 2007, when I had my first Mac laptop.  OS X and Intel based, it replaced a PC laptop that the vendor could not make work.  I had replacements of RAM, hard drive, mother board, RAM again, and finally they replaced the whole thing.  This process took 6 weeks.  During the 6 weeks, I moved to a macbook pro 15".  I quickly ran VMWare Fusion and had a virtualized version of windows with all the data from my laptop.  I had the best of both worlds - both mac and PC in the same footprint!  I never looked back.  My whole department converted to macs.  Time machine backups revolutionized switching machines.  We had our share of laptop failures, but time machine made them minimally painful.

I also switched to MacBooks for home.  For the first time, I was practicing at home what I did at work and had backups.  I had a failed hard drive and and easy easy replacement with all my data intact!  MS just never made that work the same way - easy.

Now I use a macbook Air with SSD storage.  My biggest gripe had become (about my macbook pro) that I was always waiting for the system to finish doing something with disk.  We have a small mountain of administrative programs like virus scanners, configuration verifiers, and so forth at work that are just ALWAYS looking at my hard drive.  This problem is no more.  Only Apple could get me to move to a laptop configuration that did not require the most CPU power and the most RAM that were available on the market and keep me happy, and thus make me happy using the form factor that I now find so pleasing in the air.  It is so small it almost feels like a toy.  But I have more power than I had in my slightly older macbook pro.  Wow!

Apple literally makes me happy with less.  The Macbook Air is cheaper than the Macbook Pros we would order.  The entire package and its usability, portability, ability to be easily backed up and recovered, integration with other products (iPhone), and cost effectiveness is revolutionary.

This has also been true in other markets - see the iPad price point analysis.
Steve Jobs has died.  May he rest in peace.  May his family find solace in the many years he spent with them.

iphone 4S - gem or dud?

Apple announced the iPhone 4S yesterday.  There was so so much speculation and hype.  People are making money making fake news (speculation) about what Apple might be doing.  This is the first recent time I have successfully ignored the hype and just waited to hear what was coming from Apple.  I think because of this I view this launch differently than some people who have been swimming in the stream of the launch.

I have had a concept I call "packaging" in my business life practically since it started.  I worked at Atari testing games way back when.  Some games had good packaging.  It meant that the graphics, music, story, difficulty level, and everything worked so well together that the product could sell itself.  This kind of packaging is what Apple does.  They take services others might offer but puts them together in ways that end up with unique value.

Iphone 4S highlights:
  • Sprint as a new carrier - good for stockholders and Sprint customers.  Maybe Sprint too.  The reputed contract to guarantee purchase of tens of millions of units is really great from this perspective.
  • Dual core faster CPU - predictable and needed improvement that nonetheless is spectacular
  • Better camera - Apple keeps a strong focus in this area.  It is indeed important to people.  I think this will have more value over time than people realize
  • Siri personal assistant - talk about packaging!  By leveraging "the cloud" when needed, the product can be very useful in a way not easily replicated by others.  I look forward to using these features
IOS5 will be out as well - making existing iPhones interestingly better, and making the 4S stand out that much more.

It is not really about any one of these features.  It is about the complete package.  It works well, it feels good.  I can buy apps and enjoy them.  I can use built-in features.  Everything keeps getting more and more convenient as a whole.  For example (AT&T network only) I can be on the phone and use my cellular data plan at the same time.  I always wanted that, and I have it.  I get to keep it but get more and more added on....

People have started comparing the 4S to other phones (Android-based) with some better specifications like better front camera, bigger screen, 3D cameras, and more.  However, these phones are made by one company, the OS is from another company, and they use the old cellular carrier model and have a software/service footprint from the carrier too.  They end up feeling to me like a bit of a hodgepodge with one step in the old way of doing things.  Do people really demand and need any specific feature on other phones not on the 4S now?  Apple clearly does not think so.

I believe the nay sayers are very interested in their loud voices, but Apple's iPhone 4S will be bought by tens of millions and be a gigantic success in the marketplace.  The nay sayers will be largely forgotten.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New blog - my Apple experience

I'm starting a new blog - my Apple experience.  Why?  I used to feel quite passionately about my palm and Treo products and started blogging in this area.

I used my personal experiences to choose a stock to invest a bit in - Apple.  At work and at home I was buying Apple laptops, music players, and phones.  I use my iPhone at times to even buy coffee.  Apple is involved in many parts of my life.

I want the opportunity to say and record some of my experiences in this important role in my life.