Of Device and Men

In the 1990s (when exactly I cannot say because the their archive has no search function) Suck.com declared that the American cure for depression was the consumption of consumer electronics. Feel blue? Buy a Palm Pilot. Feeling stupid? Buy the folding external keyboard and the wireless data modem for that Palm Pilot. 3D televisions, gaming consoles, the latest Call of Duty, handheld weather stations, binnacle mounted GPS-Nav Chart Plotters with integrated radar and XM Satellite radio …. Then there is the whole Apple addiction, with something from Cupertino to pine for at least every six months. Add in all those iTunes downloads, Kindle books, Netflix, paid apps, online subscriptions to get through costwalls: I need to do a digital audit of my finances. Off the top of my head — from DSL to DirectTV to cell phone subscriptions, the big ticket recurring items, I’m spending $500 a month on digital services and easily $1000 a year family wide on new devices. I guess all those days picking through Garry Ray’s discards in the PC Week lab infected me with the need to try new stuff.

When will it end? I joke that in my retirement there will be no PCs. But what about cell phones? When my eyesight really goes and I start reading large-font books (thank god for the Kindle’s font sizer), will I own a large font cell phone like a Jitterbug? (note to self, burgeoning market in elderly CE devices).

It didn’t end today. I killed the Blackberry after four years of Lotus Notes/RIM BES mediocrity and embraced my inner Google ecosystem and bought my first real App phone, an HTC Evo running on Sprint’s 4G network. Why no iPhone? I get the iPhone experience and know full well the Apple ecosystem of iTunes, AppleTV, iPods, and now my iPad. Great experience, wonderful design …. but:

  • Android is going to pull away in terms of share very quickly.
  • I am a Google person: Chrome is my browser. Gmail is how I read my churbuck.com email. I use Gmail’s contact manager. I use Google calendar.  Google Docs. Google News ….pretty much everything except Google Talk and Google Voice. Android loves Google and Google loves Andy Ruben. It all works together, and had I lived on a Mac I’d probably a MobileMe person, or whatever it that Apple calls its cloud suite.
  • The iPhone 4 is on AT&T and I want to get off AT&T. AT&T’s Android offerings are weak compared to Verizon (Droid X) and Sprint (EVO)
  • Sprint’s 4G sounds cool but it will come to Cape Cod after I adopt a unicorn and teach it to fart glitter. For now, it’s an urban phenomenon.
  • Kindle for Android
  • No Skype. No ooVo. Guess I’ll wait for Adobe’s new “facetime” video call app.

So, to Best Buy for the EVO. I asked the clerk about the memory, and she said 32 GB. Wrong, it has eight. The porting of my number off of AT&T and onto Sprint was the usual Kafka Samsa Cockroach dive into “wait while I transfer you to technical support” but eventually I was out the door and on my way. The phone is nice, more a handheld mobile internet device than a phone really. Portable Wifi (I am retiring my Verizon MiFi) hot spot so I can tether my ThinkPad and iPad off it; decent camera, and a hardware build about what you would expect. Not Apple level, but not too bad either. If one handset maker would try to hit Apple in the build-quality space they could carve a good segment out of the Android market. HTC is no Apple, but they are going great guns after famously being Google’s hardware partner for the first Android phone, the G1 and then the recently discontinued Nexus One. The Taiwanese company’s rise to the forefront (it helps to be a Tour de France fan as HTC is cosponsoring a pro bike team this summer) in handsets is pretty remarkable and due in large part to their position as Google’s favored nation for building reference platforms.

I configured the following apps on the Evo

  • Dropbox because Dropbox is still far and away the best “hard drive in the sky” that there is. I save ALL my files to my Dropbox folder and can get them from the iPad, the EVO, and via any browser on any device.
  • Doubletwist for music management. First to free my music from the tyranny of iTunes, second because it has the same slick synch integration that iTunes does, but with any device.
  • Evernote for being a packrat and saving notes, voice memos, snapshots, and URLs
  • Pandora internet radio because everyone raves about it and I didn’t have it on my Blackberry
  • MLB.com “At Bat,” now the third time I have paid the only major league sport that  truly understands digital apps another stack for cash  get scores, watch highlights, and read stats
  • And several utilities, widgets, etc.

What else to say? In the end, it just something to deliver a little more noise and as the Fake Steve Jobs would say, a “little more shittiness” in our lives. But what am I complaining about? I dig little computers.

So with all of six hours on Android, let me make the comparisons to Apple  — at least the iPad experience which is needless to say a stupid basis to talk a slate form factor versus an app phone. But nevertheless — there is a lot of similarities and differences that have me persuaded that people will focus their online lives on three devices:  app phone, pad, and clamshell notebook/netbook. The three macro use-cases are obvious. Smartphone for rapid response communications and idle-moment-diversions; pad for consumption of film, book, newspaper, blog, and games; clamshell-keyboard notebook for writing long-winded blog posts and the Powerpoint Forced March. Right now Apple has the wide lead on seamlessly integrating all three. Heck, the non-Apple pad market is totally nascent and no Wintel hardware company has brought a successful tablet/pad to market. Yet. There will be a flood of Android tablets leading up to CES, some total clones of the iPad, others laden with proprietary skins and some with a nod to the commercial/enterprise market. The Linux variants and sideplayers like JoliCloud will fall to wayside as Android integration proceed across increasingly bigger screens, culminating with Chrome OS on netbooks.  If Google can control a seamless experience even with the code projects in the open domain, then every hardware manufacturer can dive in and do the “brown bananas” game of competing on price and driving average margins down to a brutal 1%.

Apple has a beautiful interface with rabid attention to detail that Android lacks. There’s something spare and elegant in Apple’s user interface. Android’s is … not as clean. Clean, and the usual gestures of swipe and pinch work well … but still.

Android is very Volkswagen to Apple’s BMW.

So, enough devices, my depression is lifted, my phone number is the same and … farewell Blackberry and onwards into standing astride the dominant mobile internet architectures, slightly schizo but always enlightened.

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