Category Archives: Tech

Three Months with Seoul, or How I Fell in Love with iPhone Again

I had been using the iPhone 4 since it’s original launch, circa June 2010. Around 2012 it started feeling sluggish. Knowing that the iPhone 5 was surely to launch in the coming year, I was determined to stick it out. Then I won a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to put the Android phone to the test, thus began my three month foray.

What I’d like to share here are the pros and cons I found in each ecosystem. But first, I’d like to mention that each phone, iPhone and Android, are both great phones, they both simply excel in some areas and fall behind in others.

Form factor

Lets begin with my biggest issue with the Android phone, it’s form factor. It’s really very simple: the Galaxy Nexus, and it’s sister phones, were designed to have a larger screen than the iPhone. Makes sense, bigger screen = better? Maybe not. The problem is that screen is too big, physically, for our hands. I constantly had to either fumble with my phone, or revert to holding the phone two-handed. Size is not everything. One of the latest commercials from Apple really sums it up better than I can:

App Quality

Simply said: the app quality on the Apple App Store, is better than the quality of the apps on the Google Play store. At this point, the Google store has had enough time and install base to mature, so in my opinoin it has no excuse. Here’s a sampling of apps I use(d) on iOS.

For the most part there were couterparts on the Android, but I all but stopped using them anymore when presented with an inferior experience. Please note that this technically is the fault of the app builder, but it’s up to Google to foster their own app store.

  • “Messages” or SMS: Android treats photos like weird email attachments that you have to click to download. It’s quite cumbersome compared to the iOS experience that treats them as just part of the conversation. Additionally, the Android phone doesn’t appear to handle SMSes over 140 characters nicely like iOS does. It was difficult to stitch the multiple messages back together in my head.
  • “Mail”: iOS does a really good job of keeping you accounts separate, but making it all one seamless experience. On the Android, if you have multiple email accounts, you’ll need to get used to jumping through a bunch of clicks to check everything.
  • Twitter: “Tweetbot” on iOS is just awesome. The best alternative I found on Android was the official Twitter app. It really sucked in comparison
  • Google Reader: I use “Reeder” on iOS, it really is just superb. Best alternative on Android was the official Google Reader app. This app was difficult to use, often had sync issues, and had poor UI.
  • Facebook: Same experience on iOS and Android. Good job Facebook.
  • Instragram: Same here, great job IG team.
  • Stocks: Native stock app on iOS, it’s decent, but I wish it did more. The Android app sync’ed with my Google Finance, which was awesome, but the app looked like a mobile web page from 2003.
  • Foursquare: Great app all around. Yay Foursquare!
  • Reddit: There is an insanely awesome all for Reddit on iOS: Alien Blue. The Andorid alternative is really just sad in comparison. Lots of features there, like Alien Blue, but it’s as if no thought is put into usability and ui. For example: it often takes me 5+ tries to drill down into a link posted into a comment. Very frustrating.
  • Alarm Clock: Native on both iOS and Android. Android shines here, it’s got the big clock on the dashboard, and then when you turn on an alarm it tells you how many hours:minutes until it’s going to wake you up, great feature.
  • Sigalert, Keepass, Native Calendar, Camera, Maps: All of these apps are significantly better on iOS
  • iCloud: Or the lack thereof. The ability to back up my entire phone to the cloud is awesome. The other features are a wash (ie. Music streaming), but the backup options are killer with iCloud.

I’ll leave it there. Some diamonds in the rough on Android, but you’re largely going to find a better experience on iOS.

OS UI / Usability

Using an Android phone feels like you’re walking around with a really extendable and powerful mini computer in your pocket. It really can do about anything you want, but the experience may be clunky. One particular item of note is the complete lack of uniformity with the native “back” button. There are three native buttons on Android that are shown on the touch screen 90% of the time, the left-most is a sort of “back” button. The issue here is that the app developers do not implement this back button uniformly across all apps. You never know what you’re going to get. To make it works, some apps implement their own iOS-like back button (ui piece, typically in the top-left of the screen). It can be frustrating to when hitting that back button and it quits the app to Dashboard, and sometimes even the last app you were using.

Using an iPhone feels like one tight knit experience. The phone hardware melds with the phone software in a way that makes you forget you’re using a mini computer. Apps generally all have a similar look and feel. There aren’t any “gotcha” ui interactions, like on Android.

Where Android Excels

  • Google Authentication: The Android OS has some kind of tokenized authentication, where you sign into a Google account once, and it’s authentication can be shared across all apps that use that same account. It really is awesome. It’s not quite killer, but it’s definitely really convenient.
  • Key Vibrations / Tactileness: When you have the phone silent, and interact with the touch screen (like typing), the phone will slightly vibrate. It gives a sense of tactile response that, until now, touching a screen to interact, has lacked.
  • Dashboard Widgets: A percentage of apps also give you the ability to drop an informational widget onto your dashboard. For example: you can have your calendar show upcoming appointments, or the twitter app show recent tweets. It’s nifty, and I kinda enjoy it.

Summary

The Android phone is a great phone and much of what I’ve talked about can be boiled down to personal preference. I do have over five years of iOS indoctrination under my belt. But knowing what looks and feels good is also part of my job. My objective here isn’t to convert new koolaid drinkers, it’s more to educate the differences and express my opinion. And my opinion is that the iPhone is slightly superior to the Android phone.

What do you think of iPhone vs Android?

Why RSS (aka “non-social syndication”) is better & here to stay

Over the last two years (longer?) I’ve seen a debate pop up that usually starts with a comment like this:

RSS is dead! Long live Twitter/Facebook!

Most recently on TechCrunch (via HN). What I don’t understand is why people are missing the point of how people use social networks. The argument that “RSS is dead” centers around the twitter streams being so well curated, so they don’t need RSS Readers to deliver them content or news. Did you miss that? These people are deciding to use social networks as their means of news syndication. Doesn’t anyone else think that’s backwards?

I see two streams of content. On one side I have my social graph, all the people or companies that I think are so dang interesting I must hang on their every word. Then on the other side I have my news syndication, all the websites that I think are reliable enough to deliver enough well edited news. The way I see these two streams is oil and water. You can put them in the same bucket, but they aren’t going to mix.

Social networks may be driving more traffic than traditional article syndication, but in my opinion putting all your eggs into the social graph is folly. Consider this: when people interact with the content stream you are in, you now compete with every one of their relatives and friends that are also in that stream. Personally, I would rather someone opt-in to my content in a Reader fashion, where I’m competing with only other news, and not Granma’s new puppy, Farmville updates, or my buddy’s drunken photos. If/when content providers realize that, they will continue to push rss/email subscription over twitter followers.

“RSS is here to stay you say?” yep. It’s here to stay. Maybe it won’t be “RSS”, maybe it won’t be in a “Reader”, but people are going to continue to gravitate to a content stream that is only content, and not social. Not all of us have a “curated” social steam, or the interest to build one. Anyway someone has to find all that content in the first place. We can’t all survive on just stuff that goes “viral”. It may be an ebb and flow. But as one stream provides less quality people will move back to the other. But go away? No, never. Wane in traffic percentage? Duh, don’t be stupid.

Productivity Pitfalls

Our lives are complex.  Our jobs are complex.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that your job is more complex than most of the jobs at NASA in the 60′s.  We’ve got project schedules, implementation goals, deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines.  Business is moving faster and pushing harder than ever.  Fortunately, we have a bevy of tools to help us stay on top of things…right?

Because I couldn’t execute on a project without Microsoft Project, and I couldn’t get through my day without an inbox and a ticketing system and about a thousand ever-so-slightly-tweaked drafts of this plan or that diagram, all piled in a corner to make room for this other diagram or that other plan which was, for the moment, higher priority, oh and you do remember which revision was the most recent, right?  After all you did print five copies in 20 minutes last week and now it’s Tuesday and you need final sign-off on the updated diagram and business plan before you can launch Phase 1, and the meeting is upstairs but there’s a new high priority ticket that just came into the system, so maybe if you just….

It feels like it’s easier to reach critical mass these days.  All the tools that are supposed to be making it easier to communicate and easier to stay on top of things can take on lives of their own, and before you know it you’re buried by the very things that are meant to save you from ever having been buried again.

I just watched an exceptional speech on Inbox Management by Merlin Mann, I highly recommend it for anyone who, like me, has no idea what’s at the bottom of their inbox, or how to make sense of it.

The video got me thinking about productivity pitfalls.  The biggest one for me is this: often, I get lost in the woods.  Instead of identifying the path and then doing the work of putting one foot in front of the other, I’m overwhelmed by the size of the trees, the density of the forest, or the roughness of the terrain.  I seize up, and where I could be taking the first small step of many, I only stand and stare at the massive task in front of me, as if my only options are to finish it all at once or to quit altogether.

What are your productivity pitfalls?

Anatomy of a Switcher

Hello, My name is David, and I’m a PC…Oh, if only it were that simple.

I’ve been working in IT for over a decade, and in that time I’ve had experience with just about every computing platform out there.  My first Linux variant was Redhat 5.1, “Manhattan”, which was brand new when I installed it in mid-1998.  I’ve used Windows predominantly on the job.  In the mid-2000′s I bought my wife, who is a teacher, a Macbook.  This was her first laptop, and I did it because I wanted one, but I couldn’t justify it for myself.  Why couldn’t I?  At that point, I perceived disparity in the core functionality.  My job at the time was managing a Windows 2003 based Datacenter, and I couldn’t justify a divergence into an operating system that would take away some of the tools I used daily.

In addition to some loss of functionality, the Cost to Hardware Spec ratio made me cringe.  I know how to comparison shop, and like any good geek I know how to price parts.  Looking at a Mac and a comparably equipped PC is an experience that will make even the faithful waver.  In fact, it’s one of the most commonly cited arguments against the Mac in those internet pubs and coffee shops that we call “Forums”.

It’s a lot easier to ignore cost when you’re buying a gift, and a schoolteacher has no functionality gaps when considering Mac OS.

It goes without saying that, since the release of OS X, the Mac has edged the PC out on security, on reliability, and on visual appeal.  These facts certainly contributed to that purchase.  Who among us, whatever job they have, wants to come home from work and do more of what they just did for 8 hours?  In that sense, buying my wife a Mac was a win.  My “Tech-support” time for her computers in the last 5 years (she’s on her second Macbook now) is under 5 hours.  Total. That is compelling.

While it was easy to buy one for her, I couldn’t overcome my objections to buying one for myself.  That is, until a week ago.

The penny-pincher in me struggled with the purchase.  I agonized over specs, I even let my eye stray to the Dell website and compared price with some identically equipped Windows machines.  Temptation to go down the cheap road was strong, but I’ve realized something important about Apple over the last year.  If you listen to the podcast, you’ll have heard me talk about it a time or two.  Vendors of Windows machines sell hardware and software, Apple sells a single product.  The distinction may seem irrelevant at first, but I assure you, it makes all the difference in the world.

Windows is a software platform that is robust, capable and universally available.  A Mac is a product, owned by a single company from soup to nuts (or salad to cake…or perhaps, Amuse-bouche to mille fueille).  The point is, with a Windows operating system there’s someone in charge of ensuring that user experience is top notch, provided the work to make it top notch fits within the development budget.  With the Dell (or HP or Sony (God help you)) computer running Windows there’s someone in charge of ensuring that user experience (which includes such consideration as hardware specification and build quality) is top notch, provided they can sell the device under a certain price point. There are two problems with this model.  First, there’s no central figure held responsible for user experience from a holistic perspective…that is to say, no one person owns the whole “PC”.  No on at Dell is held responsible for OS functionality when they say “I believe this product is adequate, and can carry our Logo.”  Second, and more importantly, neither the development budget for Windows nor the competitive PC market allow much room for going “Above and Beyond” on build quality or functionality.

Whenever I talk about the Mac advantage with Rev, our conversation turns back to two things over and over again.  ”Build quality” and “polish”.  Build quality, in the sense that we use the term, refers to the hardware and manufacturing methods used when creating a Mac computer.  Build quality on Macs, especially in the last 7 years, has been consistently superb.  Polish is a little more subjective.  Things like ambient light sensors that dim displays and keyboard backlighting are a start.  A minimalist GUI with intuitive controls contributes to the image of “polish”.  Even the experience of buying a Mac is clean, from the moment you walk into a Mac store or log onto the website, there’s a casual yet sophisticated atmosphere.  Straightforward, smooth, self confident, unencumbered.  This didn’t happen by accident.  It’s part of an image.  Apple is a company that takes their image so seriously that, when hiring for each Apple Store location, they choose employees by personality, appearance, and background that best coincide with the target audience in that geographic region.

All of this quality and image is pretty expensive.  In fact, Mac’s have an average 20% markup over a similarly equipped PC in most cases.  It’s this markup that allows Apple to create a top of the line product with superb build quality, and the best user experience currently available in consumer computing.  It’s their superb build quality and peerless user experience which keep people coming back year after year to pay 20% more than they have to.

The title of this post is “Anatomy of a Switcher”, so there’s one question I’m obliged to answer before I end.  Why did I switch?  Anyone who still complains about feature parity between Macs and PC’s is either a hardcore PC gamer, or just not paying attention.  Gaming aside, PC’s and Macs are capable of the same performance, they can run the same applications or ones that are so similar you wouldn’t know it.  That is no longer an issue.

If feature parity isn’t an issue, what are the remaining barriers?  Personal preference and cost.  I don’t know anyone who’s ever driven a Honda, then driven a Mercedes, and said “I prefer the driving experience of the Honda.”  People like Hondas for a lot of reasons.  Cost, reliability, cost, reputation, cost, fuel economy, cost…the list goes on.  But if you eliminate cost from the equation, the comparison is a no-brainer.  Mercedes Benz has built a very successful business around selling a product with the same core functionality, superior build quality, and a peerless user experience, to customers who don’t mind paying a premium.

As a geek, I’m on the computer a lot.  I’m definitely a power user.  Because I’m on the computer so much, I have no problem buying expensive peripherals.  My keyboard is what connects me to my computer.  My mouse is an extension of my hand.  There’s no question of deriving value from the slight premiums that a cordless rechargeable laser mouse will extract from my bank account, I use it more than 8 hours a day.  Likewise, when I really consider the satisfaction I get using this MacBook Pro, from the solid feel to the beautiful physical design, to the BSD based operating system and flawless UI, do I need to worry about that 20% premium being squandered?  Do I need to be concerned that I won’t appreciate it enough to justify the additional cost?  No.

If I prioritize user experience over cost (as I believe all power users, and maybe all geeks, should), I don’t mind the luxury tax.  The markup is irrelevant.  The product is superb, and I’m happy because of all those things that Windows users “can totally live without.”  I made the switch, and I haven’t found a reason to look back.

Incidentally, it’s about a 14% markup from a Luxury Accord to a Luxury Mercedes C series sedan.

You can follow David Eagle on twitter, or email cdeagle [at] gmail [dot] com.

iPad, some apps [review]

So I just wanted to share some of the apps I’ve been playing with and how they’ve treated me.

Marvel App

In execution, I love the Marvel Comic Book app. The transitions, quality, comic browser all great. My problem is that, literally, all of the comics I care to spend my money on digitally (entire other conversation) are Dark Horse. Ok yeah that’s not a mark against the app, but against Marvel, but I still think it’s relevant.

Secondly, I found a comic I was interested in: Wolverine: Origin. The trouble however was twofold. First of all if you’ve read a trade vs the entire series bundled, you know that it’s much more enjoyable to just buy and handle the one piece of merchandise. However with the app you have to buy each trade separately. So for wolverine, to prepare myself to read the entire thing, I had to purchase all 6 trades, 1.99 each. That brings me to my last gripe: price. Why in the world am I being charged the same amount of money as if I buy off amazon? Yeah, $12 digitally or $11.50 off amazon free shipping. That right there prevented me from bothering. If it’s cheaper in non digital form I’m going to buy non digital.

Get the Marvel Comics app in iTunes

Headline

This is a really beautiful and well executed Google Reader app. It let’s you sync so you can read your blogs offline. I’ve only got two issues with it. First of all you can filter by unread. This wouldn’t be an issue if it ordered by date of publication but Google doesn’t always update every feed all the time so often there will be 5 or so posts buried somewhere in the mass of posts I’ve already cycled through. And secondly the only share option is email. You at least need share to google friends, let alone Twitter and Facebook. If those two issues were fixed this app would be a must buy, as of right now it’s just nice.

Get the Headline app in iTunes

Netflix

This app is still crashing on me but I’m going to temporarily write that off as growing pains. Really my only issue with the netflix app is that the movie browsing interface is seemingly just an implanted safari window. This produces a few annoying issues. Namely it’s slow. Now I haven’t tested netflix.com in true safari, but in the app the experience feels unnaturally slow. You also can’t do things like star movies. It just feels clunky. But to be honest, I have streaming video from a large library of movies and television, why should I be complaining… right?

Get the Netflix app in iTunes

ABC App

I wanted to drop as quick one on the ABC App. Really my only issue is that they limit you to the 5 most recent shows (I guess it’s this way on the website as well?). Really ABC? This makes the app completely useless to me. I was going to use this to explore new shows to watch, but if I’m mid season and I have to watch some random episode, I’m out. They’ve even got commercials! It really just feels like a baseless executive decision, which really turns me off to this app.

Get the ABC Player app in iTunes

WordPress App

I’m really enjoying this app. I’ve used it to actually write all of my iPad blogposts (although to finish this post i had to use a pc). Only issues are lack of any kind of formatting options (bold, italic, headline) and the inability to resize photos. Now you can write HTML in here for formatting, but the keyboard layout makes it highly frustrating. Other than that I also use it to moderate and reply to comments. You can save local drafts, publish them, and even setup pretty much every wordpress blog you have access to. Oh and there is an annoying bug that 90% of the time the cut/copy/paste dialog doesn’t show up. I’ve found some tricks to force it to show up, but they’re not reliable, and i shouldn’t be relied on to hack the planet to use an app.

Get the WordPress app in iTunes

That’s it. I’m hoping to go over more obscure apps, or some games, next time. The iPad app store still feels really bare. I’m not sure if it’s just too early or if some app makers are waiting for OS 4, but the selection really feels lacking right now.