Category Archives: Gadgets

An iPhone Story

Last Sunday I purchased an iPhone. This was not my plan, but a couple of things came up to prompt this move. This thing is incredible for the most part, but with only one complaint:

The Purchase

First of all, my expectation was that I’d wait until a second generation release came about. I was quite content with my old Sony Ericsson semaphoring to the bimmer’s Bluetooth interface connection, and the old 3G iPod was the hurdy gurdy churning away at the iPod interface in the glove compartment. And these were good times. It all worked just fine – contacts loaded to the dash, control both from the steering wheel, phone call comes in and the iPod pauses until my conversation completes.

Until last week, when the phone died.

It had been dying a slow but natural death. To be honest, the only thing that was wrong with it was that the battery was able to hold less and less of a charge. The thing on my last business trip would last for maybe one phone conversation after a charge, and certainly wouldn’t make it through a couple of hours away from its power leash. But finally it ceased to work while connected to the charger. It couldn’t even hold enough juice to muster up a single phone call connected to power. Clearly it was time for a change.

And then the urgency occurred when a loved one wound up in the hospital, and my phone wasn’t working to receive the calls for assistance. What timing. Friday night in a hospital I had become all too familiar with recently, to the point where you know half the staff by name. Ugh. I need to do something about this quick.

I had two choices: Get a replacement battery for my Sony Ericsson for around $20 to hold me over until a 2G iPhone appeared, or jump on the technology bandwagon early and get an iPhone for upwards of $700 including tax and AppleCare. Naturally I went for the irrational choice and got the iPhone.

I owned the 1st gen Treo 180 when that first came out, and I loved it despite all its flaws. It was a PDA and a phone, and it was highly functional. But somehow the Treo line got confused and didn’t go quite where I was hoping it would, Palm support for Mac was off and on, and the rumors of an Apple phone began. My next phone would be a cheap-ass one with Bluetooth just to hold me over a cycle until something decent appeared. So with the iPhone finally coming out and the glowing reviews, I was placing myself in line for one of these babies.

The Initial Experience

If I may gush…

The purchase took minutes, the unboxing and activation was effortless, and I didn’t find the keyboard too difficult to operate even with my fat, round thumbs and long guitar-player fingernails. The initial sync was a bit lengthy over the USB connection for about 6 GB of data I had ready to go, and I had to rerun it a couple of times to get my contacts list right and to get the software updated on the unit. But once running, it just worked like a hot knife through warm butter.

Every application on this thing works extremely well, and well together. Syncing with my Mac, browsing through contacts, dialing numbers, watching vids from iPod or YouTube, email, calendar, and the rest of it – all very nice. The browser picks up phone numbers and converts them to hyperlinks to dial. Nice. I am sure that this is the finest mobile device created to date – very elegant.

The Browser

I’m going to get this out of the way. At the risk of being unpopular, I really am not a huge fan of the Safari web browser on the iPhone. Here’s why: I can’t resize fonts beyond tilting the screen – unless the page itself has font resizing baked in to the controls – a rarity. Zooming in on the content is inadequate, because I wind up scrolling horizontally as well as veritcally. The default page width for the iPhone is too wide and makes font scales too small as a result.

Now that I’ve had the iPhone for a couple of days, I want the handheld media type even more. This is an effing handheld device – support the handheld media type and prod developers to use it for your world domination goals instead of having to get people to fork their code. Web page layouts are too big by default for this size screen, and the web developer is confronted with the choice of either writing a version of their website just for the iPhone, or they have to install some greasemonkey-style hack. And I’m seeing plenty of websites offering iPhone-optimized versions of their sites so don’t tell me you’re doing this to offer the big giant World Wide Web in all its splendor. Boo. This would be so much better with an option to load the handheld css as an option somewhere. So much. Heck, even on a per-site basis as a preference in the bookmark or something.

What Safari on iPhone does, it does well – zoom in, hyperlinked phone numbers, and highly usable for a PDA web browser. Give me font resizing and the option to load the handheld stylesheet associated with the given web page and I’ll be happy. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a Flash plugin.

The Money Shot

OK this part I’m about to tell you was entirely unexpected. I went in to the Apple Store with no expectation that this thing would want to have anything to do with my BMW’s iPod and/or Bluetooth interfaces. It was created in 1995. This is emerging 1st generation technology two years later – snowball’s chance in hell of working with my car I thought.

I thought wrong.

This thing is sick. I tried plugging it in to the iPod interface and it just worked. OK cool – I can listen to tunes on this thing in my car if I need to. But surely this won’t pair up with my bimmer, right? No – it works effing perfectly. I pair it up, it connects just fine, it syncs my contacts, and I can place and receive calls in my car. iPhone gets charged up in the meantime – bonus points.

This thing just rocks. I am very impressed with the elegance of this innovative and highly usable design. Well done! Just fix Safari for me and we’ll be good.

AppleTV and iTMS

I had my first look at an AppleTV yesterday. Two things I could say right off the bat:

  1. The user interface is spectacular
  2. Why would you want to show sub-par quality videos on HDTV??

The user interface was incredibly easy to use. The only complaint I have is that the remote is small and feels cheap. On the other hand, it’s probably cheap to replace… those things have got to have a lifespan when small children are involved. In fact, the user interface was just startling – it was so simple to get at just about every bit of digital media I wanted to on the system. Very impressive. Selecting things to listen to or watch was such a piece of cake. And the Photos features were spectacular – very cool stuff.

So now really my complaint is the downloads from the iTunes Music Store, which is no longer solely a music store, nor does the “tunes” part really fit the iTunes brand. But I digres… the main point is that the quality of the videos one downloads from the iTMS are obviously not HDTV quality – the are jagged and grainy. The target market here cannot be the traditional Mac-using designer base, because obviously those folks all have their high-resolution monitors and are used to looking at imagery in excruciating detail. But even a casual user should notice that these downloaded video files, be they music videos, TV shows, or movies, all look poor on HDTV systems. The HDTV actually amplifies the poor quality of the media. These things look spectacular on iPod Videos, and presumably will do so as well on the iPhones, but that’s about the limit. Thinks like podcasts I can understand. But for movies, I really don’t see the point in downloading from iTMS for a low-quality video at this point.

Another thing I don’t like about the downloads is the lack of subtitles and closed captioning. This is an enormous omission for persons who cannot hear or speak different languages. Even an English language track with English subtitles can help someone who does not speak English all that well get more comprehension from the show, and I am seriously concerned about deaf users being completely left out of the loop on this one.

What I’d like to see on the iTunes Music Store includes:

  • An option to get a discounted purchase the full commercial DVD-version of the programming.
  • Video downloads with subtitle tracks and closed-captioning functionality
  • Higher-quality video downloads

While I’m a big fan of the music offerings of iTMS, I think the video offerings leave a lot to be desired.

New Treo Soon?

Rumor is that the long-awaited next-generation Treo is on it’s way: PalmInfocenter.com: Rumor: Treo 650 Production Started

A new report out of Taiwan claims that the contract manufacturer for the upcoming Treo 650 Smartphone has stated volume shipments of the new model.

Digitimes, is reporting that High Tech Computer (HTC) began volume shipments of a new PDA phone model to PalmOne this month and is slated to enter mass shipments in October, according to market sources. It was reported in May, that HTC had won a contract for the next upgrade of the Treo 600.

According to current speculation, the next Treo will retain the same basic form factor and layout with a number of refinements and improvements, most notably a new high resolution 320×320 pixel 65k color TFT display and integrated Bluetooth. It will be powered by Palm OS 5.x, have 32MB of RAM and run on a 312 MHz ARM processor.

The upcoming smartphone will also have a improved 1.3 Megapixel camera with digital zoom and video capture, new dedicated answer and disconnect phone buttons and a SD/MMC expansion slot with SD I/O.

OK nice – we have our Bluetooth for syncing to my PowerBook and for a potential headset. We have our upgraded camera that might actually be useful. The bonus features of video capture, a higher-resolution display, and a faster processor are nice. If the rumors are correct, then I’m in. This is likely the smartphone I’m looking for. But 32 MB RAM seems a bit shy. I would have hoped for at least 64 MB RAM on the default. But I suppose the SD card expansion slot permits a few gigabytes of memory storage, so perhaps this isn’t such a big deal.

Motorola v400: Took It Back

Since my vintage Treo 180 has been a bit sketchy lately – randomly shutting itself off or freezing up – I decided it was time to get myself a more modern phone that wouldn’t fail me, at least not as much.

That phone was not to be the Motorola v400.

My first impression was that this was a very cool little compact phone. It featured all the usual suspects: GPRS, camera, phonebook, text and MMS messaging. Plus it had a calendar app, and Apple claimed it would work with iSync. Yea. So I gave this thing a whirl.

First of all, the phone operating system itself left much to be desired. I found some of the commands to be not terribly intuitive, and sometimes spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find out how to do something that should have been simple. Reading the manual was little help, and didn’t cover things that I needed. Settings for mywirelesswindow.com were hard to find – I should say, I never was able to find exactly what I needed, the interface provided few clues, and setup never happened in the long run. It shouldn’t have been that complicated.

The camera itself wasn’t too bad. The 640×480 resolution seemed decent enough on the phone’s screen and made some nice desktops. But alas, we’ll never know how those pictures really look on a computer screen or embedded in a web page because despite two calls to Cingular support we could never get MMS to work.

Finally, syncing via iSync was an outright failure. Despite my best efforts, I could never get iSync to recognize this phone. I don’t know if the overpriced USB cable was the culprit or if it was the phone’s port itself, but at this point I was turned off enough that it didn’t matter. This stuff is supposed to work out of the box, and I don’t have a ton of time to troubleshoot every damn feature that the device ships with. At some point, something just has to work the way you expect them to the first time, and the v400 was not meeting any of my expectations by now. Even if I had managed to achieve a synchronization, from what I learned on message boards about this turd is that getting your photos off the device and onto your Mac required emailing each individual photo as an attachment to yourself. It has a USB cable, so WTF not? And since internet messaging setup was a failure anyway, the point was moot.

Now that I’ve sent the thing back to the Cingular store, I’ve had time to evaluate what I really want in my next phone:

  • First of all, I have decided that I really want Bluetooth. My PowerBook has it, ready and waiting, so why bother with the hassle of a USB cable anymore? I want to set up a bridge via BlueTooth to my PowerBook so I can have a GPRS modem without having to take my phone out of my bag. (The 12″ PowerBook G4 lacks a PCMCIA card slot, so the option to put a GPRS card in there isn’t available.)
  • Next, I want to be able to pull down my images from my camera-enabled phone directly to my computer. I don’t want to have to deal with sending one message for each photo. This is a must.
  • Regarding that camera – surely I can do better than 640×480 pixels. I will probably seek out the maximum resolution I can get away with for my next device. As a designer, I will use this feature frequently.
  • Stereo headphone jack. Or better yet, stereo bluetooth headset option. Even better: noise-canceling stereo bluetooth headset. There – that oughtta do it..
  • The device itself needs to be stable and sturdy. No flimsy moveable parts. Flip phones do not interest me as much as a more solid body casing. I have a three year old son who likes to pick up shiny objects that might be lying around, push all the buttons, and perform quantum mechanics experiments by smashing said device against hard objects to see what particles fly off.
  • Finally, everything needs to just work. I don’t want to spend anything more than a minimal amount of time setting this thing up. If the software sucks or it isn’t interoperable with whatever else I’m using, I will return it.

I realize that this might seem a bit picky. But the Treo 600 costs upwards of $600. I can find PCs for cheaper than that. It better work, dammit!

I hear rumors that a Treo successor may be in the works, that sports the one thing missing from this device that I want: Bluetooth. If we see Bluetooth in the next rev, I may upgrade. The only thing about the Treo 600 is that it’s still just a bit bulky. When I compared my friend’s Treo 600 to my 180, the dimensions were about the same.

Mobile Dreams

Apple strikes cell phone music deal | CNET News.com

Outstanding move:

Apple Computer and Motorola announced a deal Monday that will let customers of the iTunes music store transfer songs onto the next generation of MP3-enabled phones from the handset maker.

Now that is a cool idea.

The holy grail of mobile technology is the ultimate all-in-one device. No-one wants to carry around a mobile phone, a pager, an MP3 player, and a PDA. Adding a little iTunes browsability and some music playback is a brilliant little move that would definitley get my attention when selecting my next phone. Let’s indulge in a bit of geek-struck fantasy for a moment, shall we?

Features

Our ideal mobile device would have these features: GSM/GPRS phone, SMS, web browser with text-only preference and media="handheld" understanding, Bluetooth, basic contacts/calendar/task reminders apps, AIM, camera, and music player. The device would have a bright and easily-read touch screen that makes efficient use of a very compact form factor, the battery would be durable and long-lasting, and all the data would synchronize effortlessly with my Mac. The device accepts flash-based media cards. Most importantly, the device would have a minimum of moving parts and be shock and moisture resistant. (I have kids…)

For the camera, would over the top to ask for a wide-angle and telephoto lenses? Why yes, yes it would. Let’s not ask for that. But what about two (or more) megapixels? Yeah, sure, why not…

Accessories

Any fashion girl knows that the key to looking sharp is knowing how to accessorize. The same goes for your garden variety geek. The perfect mobile device would offer a wide array of accessories to maximize productivity, ease of use, and l33t h4x0r d00d status. First off, nothing says “geek” like a nice Bluetooth stereo noise-cancelling headset. This unit doubles as microphone and stereo headphones, and has no wires to trip up on, and features incredible audio sound while cancelling out unwanted noise. Next, we want USB power. A simple, compact cable that will recharge the device from any USB source and will facilitate synchronization for the poor huddled masses who have not yet aquired Bluetooth. And finally, a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard. And no, not a full-size keyboard. We want a tiny, pocket-sized keyboard – even possibly a thumb keyboard like on the Treo, that could slip into a pocket, purse, or backpack, and be pulled out for setting reminders or creating text pages.

Service

Finally, the device must come with an always-on GPRS flat-rate internet access plan that is affordably priced at $10 per month. Nobody wants to pay $40 per month for metered internet access for a screen the size of a half-dollar. Make your extra ducats by offering services such as stock trades, ringtones, app downloads (i.e. games), and songs from the iTunes music store. Add to that natinowide free long distance, international roaming, free SMS and voicemail, and three-way calling.

Singing: And a partridge in a pear tree….