This Spells Trouble

When Kim began using her iPad more than her iPhone, I wondered how much more data she’d use. AT&T’s 4 GB/month tethering plan came in handy on our vacation to Utah. I assumed her data usage would increase, but wasn’t sure how much.

This morning, I pulled the following data usage chart going back a months for her account. This covers the two weeks we spent in Utah (July 27 – August 8).

WhimData

Likely Reasons for Jump in Data Usage

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My Favorite iPad Apps

A few months into iPad ownership and I’m as excited as Beavis with a bowl full of nachos.

I keep my iPad screens quite tidy. In fact, I now keep all my apps on one screen and remove those I don’t use often. Those I use regularly but not each day go in a folder. Those apps I use almost each day, gain a spot in the upper four fifths of the screen. And finally, those I have open all the time, are pinned to the lower bottom.

Here’s the run down on my favorites:

Alarm Clock Pro – Made for the iPhone but works on the iPad. Simple but gorgeous. 99 cents

Weather HD – The best look weather app I’ve found. 99 cents

Speed Test – Tests Wi-Fi and 3G speeds such as Ping, download and upload speeds. free

Writings – You may never go back to Word again. Love this simple text editor. 99 cents

ABC Player – Catch up on Modern Family, the Bachelor or, my favorite, the Shark Tank. free

Slacker – Check out my full review, but this is how music apps should be done. app is free, subscriptions run $3.99 to $9.99/month

Daily – Cancelled local paper and bought the daily, the newspaper designed for the iPad. app is free, annual subscription is $39.99

60 Minutes – Always something to watch in the archives. Brings out my inner news junkie. $4.99

Air Video – Amazing app allows me to stream video from my PC to my iPad. Get your nerd on. $2.99

NPR – You could waste months diving into this app, but you’d be a lot smarter. free

Video Time Machine – Just download this now. Seriously. Stop reading and do it. 99 cents

Car Buzz – Everything you wanted to know about cars from total car nuts. free

MyPad+ – If you’re on Facebook, you’ll want this. 99 cents

Twitter – I prefer TweetDeck on Windows, but Twitter on iPad and iPhone. free

Diigio Browser – Do you wish your iPad browser looked and acted like Google Chrome? free

Week Calendar – A major upgrade to the default calendar. Love this app. $1.99

Reeder – Saved the best for last. My favorite app. Makes reading RSS feeds fun, and syncs with Google Reader. I spend more time in this app than any other. $4.99

iPadScreen

iPhone Comparison Chart

One can’t visit a tech blog these days without the obligatory iPhone comparison chart pitting the Verizon iPhone vs. the AT&T iPhone. I decided to create a chart for those who are still on the fence.

I’m one of those AT&T customers who foolishly believed I was purchasing a phone. In reality, I bought ultra-portable computer that plays Angry Birds and fart sounds for about a hundred bucks a month.

I’ve owned an iPhone on the AT&T network for nearly three years and, just this week, I was moments away from completing a phone call in the remote, out-in-the-boonies village called Seattle. After four straight dropped calls, I got tired of speaking to myself and drove to my friend’s home to speak with him face to face. If you’re in the same boat, I suggest creating a personalized voicemail greeting that starts with, “I’m sorry. I’m an AT&T customer and voice calls are not part of my current plan. Please leave me your email and I’ll be in touch as soon as I find a WIFI hotspot”.

For those of you who have yet to select a carrier for your mobile Facebook status updater, consider the the following chart in making your selection.

iPhonecomparison

Calling Apple Technical Support

My son handed me his iPod Touch, and I could tell by his expression that something was wrong. He couldn’t get it to turn on and neither could I. I figured the battery was dead so I plugged it into my computer and waited. But no luck. It still refused to turn on 30 minutes later.

Although I’ve owned a number of Apple products, I’ve never called their technical support. I avoid calling support unless I’m down to my last option given past experiences. A while back I called Dell’s technical support line. It took 25 minutes before I spoke with an agent, and when I finally did he tried to sell me additional services instead of helping solve my problem. It took another three or four calls before I finally reached someone who could help solve my problem. I wasted several hours and the entire process soured my feelings towards Dell.

That incident was on my mind as I navigated to Apple’s website. I quickly found a link called Apple Support Express Lane. I selected support for the iPod touch  and typed my serial number. I was then presented with a few options, one of which was for an Apple rep to call my home. Under this option were the words, “Wait time less than 1 minute”. That can’t be right. What company would provide assistance almost immediately on a Sunday evening?

I decided to give it a try. I typed my phone number and the phone rang 30 seconds later. Apple must employ an auto-dialer? But no, it was a support engineer on the line and I could understand every word he said. He jumped right into helping me fix the the problem. He didn’t try to sell me anything. He didn’t pass me off to another tier of support. He didn’t even make me recite my serial number.

Within two minutes my son’s iPod Touch was back to normal. The entire process was smooth and unlike any other support call I’ve made. Based on this experience, I’m lead to believe that part of the premium I pay as an Apple customer goes into providing top-notch technical support.

Learning by Breaking

I learned about computers by breaking them.

Not intentionally. But by experimenting. Which lead to breaking them.

I bought my first computer in 1993 from a mail order business called Zeos. It didn’t come with a soundcard. So I bought one and tried to install it. I did the same with a CD ROM. Neither installation went well. Luckily I have an uncle who is a computer whiz.

Have you ever disassembled a washing machine or another appliance and you get to that point where you’re less concerned in fixing the problem as much as you are about getting it back together?

I was well past that point with my computer. I had wires and cables and cards littering my PC case. I didn’t dare plug it in because I figured there was a high probability it would explode.

My uncle is very methodical. He’d place my computer on the table. Then he’d begin removing those parts that were not in the right place. Once that was done, he’d read the directions for the items I was attempting to install. I know that sound crazy but it always worked. He never made me feel stupid. Maybe he enjoyed the company. But I always come away from those visits with a lot of newfound computer knowledge.

Over time and after many mistakes, I could repair most problems my computer tossed at me. I enjoyed building a new system every few years. From picking the motherboard to researching which chips I could overclock, it was not just fun but educational. Even today, when I interview a candidate for a technical position, I ask, “Have you built your own computer?” That often leads to an interesting discussion. If you’re a nerd.

But things have changed, and I blame the iPhone.

Well, maybe age has something to do with it. Or having four children and less free time on the weekends.  But the iPhone shoulders some of the blame.

Let me explain.

Until I owned an iPhone, a day didn’t go by when I felt like tossing my phone against the wall. I’ve owned phones from all the major brands, and they made a day at the dentist feel like a vacation in comparison to using even the phone’s most basic features.

I’ve never owned a Mac. I was a iPod laggard who finally jumped on the bandwagon when the fifth generation iPod arrived. But out of sheer desperation, I bought an iPhone before giving up on all phones.

And that’s when things changed. I no longer had to tinker with dozens of complicated geeky settings to get it working. I wasn’t looking back to the manual to see how to retrieve my voicemail. I just plugged it in, and it WORKED. And not only did it work but it was fun to use. It had personality. It had flair. It didn’t require me to reset it every 30 minutes. What do you mean all the available applications are neatly housed under the iTunes umbrella? Get outta here.

My problem is now I expect other gadgets to “just work”. As much as I learned by installing my own soundcard, I’d rather spend time watching my daughter kick my butt in a game of Boggle or Angry Birds. I understand that Apple is a “closed system” but I don’t care. If the end result is my device works, then that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Apple’s success with the iPhone has encouraged competitors  to pick up their game and offer comparable devices. Google’s Android phones are selling like crazy. RIM devices are still loved by those who compose a lot of email, and Microsoft is on the verge of launching Windows Phone 7 which looks great and has been garnering good reviews. The smartphone market is still young with fewer than 20% penetration in the US.

With a number of high quality phones being offered today or around the corner, we as consumers are the big winners.

The iPhone Has Reduced My Reliance on Windows

Kim took the kids to Longbeach, WA last week. While she was gone I kept in touch with her by phone, but also SMS and email.

We both used Facebook to update our friends and family. We both updated Twitter a few times each day. We watch YouTube videos and read blogs in Google Reader.

Kim took pictures of the kids and sent them to me over email where I optimized and cropped them before posting to Posterous or Facebook.

We both checked the weather and played a few games. I updated my blog and listened to music. I even traced her route back to Auburn using Google Maps.

None of these activities are unusual. I suspect many families use similar technology to keep in touch. 

But here’s what I realized this weekend: At no point did either of us use any Microsoft software. image

We used our iPhones. Having an iPhone has reduced our reliance on Microsoft software. Not only did the iPhone replace our Windows Mobile phones but it’s also replacing many activities that used to require a PC.

Should Microsoft be concerned?

Kim and I will spend more on iPhone apps this MONTH than we will on Microsoft software this YEAR.

It’s not that we’re intentionally avoiding using Microsoft software. It’s just that we don’t need it very much.

The iPhone isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn close. Each week I see more iPhones show up on Microsoft campus. What does it say about Windows Mobile if your own employees are leaving it for the iPhone?

The game has changed. But does Microsoft realize it?

Lucky 7: The iPhone Apps I Use Every Day

Now that I’ve had a iPhone a few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to try a number of apps. Although a few of them failed to live up to expectations, I’ve enjoyed most of them, especially those recommended to me by friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Naturally, I’m using a few of the most popular apps such as NY Times, USA Today and Facebook. Everyone knows about those. For that reason, I’ll focus on a few lesser know apps that I’m using each day. Links open in iTunes.

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Byline
I use this app more than any other because it provide true two-way synch with Google Reader. It grabs all my feeds so I can read them when I know I’ll be offline. Even includes a built in web browser for those blogs that provide only a partial feed. Well worth the $4.99

frenzic

Frenzic
One of the most addictive puzzle I’ve played since Bejeweled. I love the sounds and the colors and the polished feel of this simple, fast paced game. The touch screen controls are perfect. The perfect time waster. $4.99

quickvoicerecorderfree

QuickVoice Recorder
A very simple to use voice recorder. No useless features. Just does what it says. If I’m driving home from work and an idea for a blog post hits me, I use this app to record it.  Free

shovel

Shovel
If you’re a Digg addict, this is a must have app. Pulls in posts from Digg in their Popular, Top Stories, Movers and Shakers and Brand New categories. Digg is my favorite place for tech related news and odd stories that don’t hit mainstream outlets. Free

craigslist

Craigsphone
Sure this app lets you search for an apartment, job or girlfriend but I’m putting it on this list for one reason: Best of Craigslist. It never fails to make me laugh. You’ll find it under the “Featured” section. Free

sportacular

Sportacular
This is crack for the sports junkie. I can drill down to game, team and season stats for any team or league. Updates on all the major sports every 30 seconds in an easy to use and responsive program. No banned substances required. Free

lastfm

Last.FM
As much as I admire Pandora, I prefer Last.FM for a couple of reasons: 1. Better Windows desktop player 2. Advanced social features. I like being able to see what my friends are listening too. You can’t go wrong with either, but give Last.FM a try if you want to see the future of music. Free

What apps do you use on your iPhone or iPod Touch each day?

The Operating System Shouldn’t Matter

Do you care what operating system runs your Tivo, DVR or cable box?

Do you care what operating system your phone company employs to connect your calls?

What about your mp3 player and car stereo?

Do you care about the system that runs many of today’s cars such as the one found in the Toyota Prius?

If you’ve had an MRI or used any number of medical imaging devices, did you ask your doctor what operating system it runs on?

Do you care which operating system keeps your cell phone running? (or crashing)

What about the systems running many of today’s high tech appliances like washers and refrigerators?

Does it matter what system runs your home security or sprinkler system?

What about your gaming console? Did you ask what OS it runs before you bought it?

Do you care what operating system runs the self checkout station at the grocery store? How about the check-in/check-out stations found in airports and hotels?

Do you care what operating system your ISP uses to connect you to the internet? What about that cable modem/DSL modem and wireless gateway found in many homes?

So why all the fuss over Windows vs. OSX vs. Linux? Why does it matter what operating system my computer runs?

IT SHOULDN’T MATTER

When the system works, as in the case of my Tivo, I don’t care what operating system it runs. It just works. I don’t have to baby-sit it. I don’t have to worry about making updates to it in order to keep it running. No patches, no downloads, no manual rebooting. When it comes time to update, DirecTV takes care of it during the night and it’s up and running by morning.

I hope my kids won’t have to choose between Windows, Linux or whatever. If enough services move to the cloud and broadband is available anywhere, they should be able to use whatever they want without penalty. The operating system should remain in the background and take care of its tasks in silence and stop calling attention to itself.

In short, I want my operating system to act more like my Tivo and my sprinkler system. The idea of getting excited over a new operating system release seems absurd to me. We need to expect more from Apple and Microsoft. Why do people wait in line to pay money for something that’s supposed to fix the product they sold us a few years ago?

Hold me up by my feet and shake me down for a few more bucks.

I’ve wondered what incentive Duracell or Energizer have to sell us a battery that lasts longer than previous models. It would seem that the sweet spot for battery performance would be to figure out how to sell us a battery only a little better than their competitor but no more. Why would they sell us one that lasts 5x as long even if they could?

I wonder if the same idea can be applied to consumer operating systems? What’s the incentive for Microsoft or Apple to provide us with one that doesn’t need to be upgraded for 10 years?

Saying No

This month’s Fortune Magazine has an interview with Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, who’s company Fortune named the most innovative in the same issue. Jobs is a master at answering the question he wish had been asked. But this time he kept on topic and gave direct answers most of the time. One idea he mentioned struck a chord when he discussed where where Apple places its focus:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.

As the company I work for makes a play into new opportunities, I’m left to wonder if that’s such a good idea. It’s tempting to run after the new technology and convince yourself that gaining "first mover advantage" is worth the investment and risks. It had better be something where we can not just be a player, but be the best. Otherwise, we’ll be mediocre players in many markets. Boring.

Apple knows what it does well and it executes near flawless campaigns that ignite consumer passion and excitement. They don’t make dozens of computer models like Dell or HP. They don’t feel they have to be involved in every single software and service niche like Microsoft does. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. They are focused on those products where they shine brightest. What they end up with are iconic products like the iPod which kick ass and take names.

Where does your company focus it’s people and investments? Does it know what it does better than anyone else?

Link to Jobs interview

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Bill Gates 2008 CES keynote review

About 30 minutes into Bill Gates keynote, I realized that the one thing I would take away from Bill’s final CES keynote was this: Grown men shouldn’t wear sweaters that look like they came straight from The Gap’s Spring Collection. Bill wore a light purple number while VP of Entertainment and Devices, Robbie Bach, wore a light blue sweater that would make Martha Stewart proud.

As I watched this one big Microsoft commercial it became clear that Microsoft is obsessed with entering every market, even those that appear to have a tenuous need for Microsoft created software.

Take the Zune demo tonight. The hardware is basically an afterthought. What we saw were the “social” features of the Zune software that brought nothing new to the table. If you’ve seen Last.FM , you’ve already seen tonight’s Zune demo. Even if Last.FM wasn’t around, the social features of the Zune aren’t all that useful when most of your friends own an iPod.

One huge improvement over past years was Bill’s slide deck. I’m convinced Microsoft paid someone from Apple big bucks to create the deck. It was simple and clean to the point that it supported rather than distracted from his keynote.

A few more quick takes from the evenings events:

Best Demo: Microsoft Surface which showed Bill creating a design on his new snowboard. The demo was easy to follow. Surface still costs way to much, but it looked cool. Bill even made a sly Surface plug to casino owners at the very end of the demo.

Worst Demo: Who decided it would be a good idea to demo the Microsoft/Ford Sync from inside a car? It was much too dark, and they didn’t show off the coolest feature (Wireless syncing cars music with owner’s music collection on computer). Get out of the car or bring more light so we can see what’s going on in there. The lighting was so bad the silver Ford  looked like the Delorean in Back to the Future. I felt claustrophobic watching from home.

Weirdest Word Creation: Robbie Back actually used the word “carinfotainment” on stage when talking about Sync. I nearly spit my Diet Coke.

Best use of a Celebrity: Lots to choose from here including Slash, Hillary, Bono and Obama to name a few. But my favorite was Jay-Z watching Bill try his hand at creating a rap song. Jay-Z looks into the camera and says, “Will someone tell Bill he’s not very good?” Very funny stuff.

Strangest Product Placement: When I worked at Microsoft years ago, we were not allowed to have Sony products such as laptop or monitors in view of the cameras, especially at large keynote events. If a Sony monitor happened to sneak into an event, the logo would be taped over. Yet tonight, the cameras panned across a table with multiple Sony VAIO laptops in plain view.

Best Quote: Bach and Bill were showing a demo of “MediaRoom” that allowed the user to bring up tagged videos, one of which was the 2005 CES keynote that included a comedy bit with Conan O’ Brian interviewing Gates. As the video began to play Bach quipped, “This was the year none of the demos worked“.

Worst Quote: Bach saying, “Vista is a great OS for gaming

Best Smokescreen: Bach again when he’s comparing the Xbox to the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3. Bach says, “Xbox has had tremendous success as well. 17.7m consoles shipped to date — in the US through November we did $3.5 billion in business, more than the Wii and PS3.. more than the spending on Wii and PS3 combined”

Notice here that he’s careful not to give number of actual consoles sold YTD for PS3 or the Wii, only how much has been spent. The Xbox 360 console, games and peripherals cost more than the Nintendo offerings. Microsoft could be losing money on every console sold. We don’t know. We do know that Nintendo is making a profit on each Wii sold and they are still difficult to find after a year on the market.This is like General Motors saying car buyers spent more money on the Chevy Malibu than Porsche Cayman.

Biggest Non-Starter: Bach announcing that Microsoft will begin selling the Zune outside the US….in Canada. I guess not many Canadians were in attendance because you could hear a pin drop when this was announced.

Best Stating of the Obvious: Bach’s demo gal who I refer to as Nervous Molly started off her Zune demo by stating, “Music is an inherently social experience, and that’s why we made Zune Social”. This line came off like a bad Saturday Night Live skit where the guest host reads every line off the cue cards.

Best Solution looking for a Problem: Nervous Molly showing Bach this crazy new technology that allows one to order movie tickets with a phone. No way! It must be 2025!

Ugliest Device of the Night: The big black brick that Bill showed off near the end of the keynote. He referred to the thing as “contextual camera recognition” but it looked like a huge remote control tethered to a line of coax cable. The demo wasn’t setup very well so I really have no idea what its supposed to do. Maybe in the future our devices are so power hungry they require a full time power supply?

We are Not Guitar Heroes: I was hoping to see Bill jam out on Guitar Hero with Bach at the very end of the presentation, but they wimped out and brought Slash and an experienced GH girl on stage to jam in proxy. Welcome to the Jungle!

Microsoft wants so badly to be the cool kid on the block. Bill and company attempt to toss in jokes here and there, especially during the video that showed Bill trying to figure out what to do once he retires from Microsoft. As usual, the videos are well made, but the focus of the products is on the partners, suppliers, and big media like NBC. Contrast that with Apple whose products themselves are just cool because they are created with a FOCUS ON THE CONSUMER. One could hear it during the short demo of Windows Mobile. The words and delivery Bill used were geared to the companies who license Windows Mobile, not on the people in the audience who actually buy the phones.