A Couple of Months with Android

For the last few years I’ve found myself putting away the iPhone about once a year, for a couple of months of trying out the latest Android device. I do it mostly for work reasons to see how our various integrations behave on Android, but I’m also curious to see how Android is continuing it’s march of rapid innovation and improvement.

So I took a few notes the last couple of months, and then today saw this post, “Android is Better” – which I’m not sure I fully agree with the conclusion, but it offers up the best arguments I’ve seen on why you should give Android a second look if you haven’t tried it recently.

So go read that post, and then jump back for a few extra thoughts:

The Good:

  • I picked up a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (aka “Phablet“) from AT&T – after some words of encouragement by Peter Pham a couple of months back. The form factor is actually pretty awesome — it still fits in your pocket — and for maps, reading, and web browsing it’s pretty amazing VS an iPhone screen.
  • samsung-galaxy-note-2-xlI live in a Google world — google apps, voice, maps, contacts, docs, etc — and all of that stuff “just works” on Android.
  • On Android there is an app for everything including customizing the lock screen.
  • Apps are much more polished than they were a year ago.
  • Overall Android interface is faster and more responsive.
  • Notifications rock — you can reply to an email or tweet right from within the notification.
  • Little things like choosing which app runs a certain action is very liberating. Annoyed that on iOS it launches Apple Maps from various map links. On Android it asks for your preference, and you decide.

The Bad:

  • The new user experience was terrible compared to a pure Google device such as a Nexus4. AT&T loads up so many useless apps that it’s hard to know who actually uses them. I saw a wacky contact manager, a wifi app (why ?), AT&T Locker (no idea), AT&T Navigator (I’m a Waze guy), and more. Reminds me of Walt Mossberg’s craplets issue that still haunts PCs.
  • Can’t stand that the power button is on the right side of the phone. I nearly turn off the device 5 times/day by accident.  iPhone has the perfect button placement IMO, others should follow that model.
  • The device is still running Android 4.1.2 b/c Samsung hasn’t updated Android yet. That’s a problem.
  • Overall UI still feels about 80% polished compared to iPhone. Little things like the settings screen are intuitive on iOS, almost a throwaway on Android.
  • Couple of things I rely on don’t work – like Spotify working on AirPlay.

So what’s next ? Waiting to see what Apple rolls out in September, but also keeping an eye on The Google Play Edition phones, which are made by partners, but run pure Android. That Galaxy S4 looks like the phone to get if you are shopping for one right now.

Every device needs a guest mode

How many times have you handed over your iPhone or iPad and wished it had a guest mode that allowed that person to use Safari and other apps but w/o your credentials, and without all your alerts, settings, etc ?

Seems like a super useful & social thing, and with alerts, check-ins and other 1-click actions on a device — it’s harder and harder to use someone elses’s device without it buzzing and interrupting every 30 seconds.

The only device I’ve seen so far that had a guest mode was an early Chromebook prototype that I received a couple of years ago:

And looks like they kept that feature:

Chromebooks also offer the ability to browse without signing in. We call this function Guest Mode. When Guest Mode is used, Chrome runs with the usual privacy measures of incognito mode, but none of the browsing data, including downloads, will stick around. When you exit Guest Mode or reboot your Chromebook, the browsing data is deleted.

Strange that iOS doesn’t have this built-in.

The Winners of SXSW 2012: Mophie & Eventbrite

I’m back from SXSW, which was fantastic this year. Each year I go I meet great new people and get a good vibe for what people are working on and are excited about.

But unlike previous years that had breakout startups (Twitter, FourSquare), this year nothing major took over.

Highlight was poised to be the big winner with a ton of installs the week before SXSW, but battery draining and not enough of a value-ad to the SXSW experience made most people who had installed the app switch it to “pause” mode.

So who did win ?

In my mind it was Mophie and EventBrite.

Mophie, the external battery/case for iPhone – was something I picked up on Brian Lam’s suggestion, and it was awesome and very popular at SXSW. With battery life at a premium, and outlets even more so, having an extra 75% charge on demand meant I never ended up with a dead phone. At SXSW you are constantly on your phone — checking-in, tweeting, posting photos to your blog, etc.

Eventbrite was used for probably 90% of the parties and events that I attended. With it’s super slick and simplified iPhone app, I never had to print out tickets or check for some random email to see a location of an event. In a crowded space, feels like Eventbrite is becoming the standard. My only wish list is that it had slightly better google calendar integration — right now it’s event by event as best I can tell, instead of a full feed the way Tripit and others work.

Why I’m not interested in a Kindle Fire

The Kindle, and really the Kindle apps, have completely changed my reading habits. I was stuck in a rut of not reading (technically not finishing) many books – and I had a Kindle device collecting dust.

Then I installed the Kindle iPhone app about a year ago, and my reading took off. The idea that you can sync your reading location was the bait — and then the ability to read in 5-10 minute bursts on the iPhone gave me the momentum that I needed. I read exclusively non-fiction, so not sure this would work with fiction where usually you want longer reading periods.

I’m now reading 4 or 5 books at once, and finishing nearly all of them, reading about 3/4 of the time on the dedicated Kindle device, and the other 1/4 on a combination of the iPhone, iPad, and even on the MacBook Air sometimes. Plus with the iPhone in hand, I’m buying books while in mid conversation with someone about a great book that they are reading, or while watching a book author interviewed on Charlie Rose or Daily Show — it’s awesome to have that 1-click experience.

So how does this relate to the Kindle Fire and not wanting to buy one ?

The Kindle Fire to me appear to be competing with the iPad with a lower price point (but no 3G, no camera, slower processor) – with the upside of the full Amazon goodness for e-books, videos, etc.

Maybe b/c it’s called a “Kindle”, I’m evaluating the Kindle Fire for reading books 🙂 And not all that other stuff.

My big argument is that I think reading is so different than other experiences in it’s singular focus and strong requirement for a “distraction-free zone”, that I simply cannot understand why you would want a general purpose device for reading.

I love that the regular Kindle is a single app device, has a battery that last weeks and not hours — and more importantly that email, web browsing, and Angry Birds aren’t trying to distract me. I also find that working 16 hr days in front of screens, makes me enjoy the e-ink nature of the Kindle screen — just feels different and a bit easier on the eyes.

Of the new Kindle devices that are coming out, I’m excited about the Kindle Touch 3G – and will probably pick that up soon. I have the original 1st generation Kindle, and find the keyboard totally unused, and the overall button placements a bit odd, so a touch screen and a more streamlined design looks appealing.

It will be interesting to see if people’s reading habits change if they switch from a regular Kindle to a Kindle Fire and now have all these other things they can do.

It’s also true that historically software wins in the long run, and dedicated hardware eventually gets replaces or absorbed. iPod -> iPhone is a good example, but a different experience b/c of the lack of screen focus. If the screens get much better on these iPad like devices, and the weight comes way down — I could see changing my mind and learning some discipline to avoid distractions/work. But for now, I’m sticking to my guns that a dedicated reading app is a good thing.

The Making of WordPress for iPad

Back in late February I met up with Raven Zachary and his team from Small Society as well as our own Matt Mullenweg, to figure out if we could get an iPad app for WordPress ready in less than 30 days.

We sketched out a rough plan that I captured from my iPhone:

Whiteboard sketch from initial meeting re: WordPress iPad app

We were committed to getting the app out for the iPad launch, and leveraged much of what was already in the popular WordPress for iPhone app functionality wise, but completely redid the UI and interactions for the iPad version. Matt Thomas who did a ton of great work on this app and redesigned iphone.wordpress.org, described the goals of the initial app like this:

So what’s new for the iPad? In order to ensure that using WordPress on your iPad would be a great experience from day one, we decided not to add any new features. Nada. This release is all about taking advantage of a huge 9.7″ touchscreen. Writing and editing posts is far easier than before. Skimming through your comments and moderating them is far faster than before. And using the app is simply more beautiful than before. “

And thankfully, after hundreds of trac tickets and around the clock testing, our universal iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch WordPress app is now available via iTunes:

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On a personal note, I’m excited to get my iPad tomorrow and ditch the simulator for a while 🙂 I’m eager to see what my usage patterns will be with a device that clearly falls in between my iPhone and MacBook Pro. I’m already seeing positive anticipation from top bloggers as well, such as Om Malik — and my hunch is that for content consumption and drafting of new content, this will be a killer device. And no question that for managing your WordPress site — managing comments, editing posts, and even writing some long form posts — this will be an experience unlike any other.

reMail Pays foursquare a Compliment

I’ve been using reMail, a great little email search app for the iPhone, and it’s proven very handy. It has all the features you wished the built-in iPhone mail search would have, and the app is now free for google apps/gmail users.

The reMail app was updated recently with a new UI and some other new features, and I noticed a new screen called “Usage” which I took a screen shot of below (and edited out the bottom portion which shows the most popular email addresses for emails searched):

Notice anything familiar ? 🙂 Seems like reMail has copied the whole ‘game’ aspect of the popular foursquare service, where app/search usage equates to different levels, much as foursquare does:

I like the direction of showing usage stats in reMail, as it feeds into all of our obsessive thirst for stats.  But in this particular instance, I think reMail could have focused on a more interesting sets of stats instead of putting in work to make it a game — but who knows, maybe this is helping with their usage numbers.

In any event, if imitation is the highest form of a compliment, foursquare should be feeling pretty good 🙂

WordPress.com: The Hero Is In Your Pocket

We had our company off-site last week, and we worked on a ton of really interesting projects that will be launching in the coming weeks.

The first project is now live, and it’s the launch of mobile themes on WordPress.com to specifically format the blogs for smart phones, and also for standard mobile phones. It works automatically to detect mobile visitors, and even pulls in a custom header to make the look & feel unique:

So if you have a mobile device handy, check out raanan.com on your mobile browser to see it in action.

WordPress for iPhone App Development Update

Lots of activity on the WordPress for iPhone app lately as you can see from the timeline.

A ton of work has gone on behind the scenes to make the app faster and make it work with nearly any WordPress theme, something the current app struggles with when it doesn’t find the required XMLRPC/RSD info. In addition, the app is receiving a pretty big UI update, as you can see from this screenshot below that I took tonight running the latest version in trunk. Keep an eye on http://iphone.wordpress.org for more details soon:

Upgraded to iPhone 3GS from 3G. Veridct: Worth it !

Read lots of coverage last week that for those with iPhone 3Gs, you may want to hold off on the 3GS upgrade. Most reviewers had two rationals — 1) the upgrade price with how at&t works wasn’t very attractive and 2) that the spec upgrade wasn’t dramatic.

So a few thoughts on the upgrade and the whole 3G vs 3Gs debate:

On the pricing, it is true that at&t handled this pretty poorly and “penalized” those who bought the 3G in that they weren’t eligible for the new 3Gs pricing. On the other hand early adopters have traditionally always paid a premium. But more importantly, even at the non-upgrade price, if you look at the annual “cost of ownership” with monthly cell bills easily in the $100+ range, adding $200 to a device price isn’t as dramatic as one would think. I have a few accounts with at&t, and was lucky that one of them was upgradeable, so I got the better price.

Re: the spec upgrade. For anyone like me who started with a TI99, moved to the Apple IIe world, and then upgraded to 286s, 386, 486DX, etc — you remember what a big deal it was when the processor got a speed bump. It made tasks that once took 10 second takes just 2 secs.

It was with that in mind that I read the excellent blog by John Gruber, Daring Fireball, and his post titled “The Next iPhone” that I knew I would upgrade:

So, that guy was the first one on the team to get a Pentium-based machine, running at, if I recall correctly, 90 MHz. (The rest of us all had 486-based machines.) A few hours after he’d started using the new machine, word started to spread about just how fast it was. “You should see him do a build.” Soon there were a dozen of us crowded into his office, marveling, maybe even slobbering, at the speed of his C compiler’s progress bar.

A new computer almost always feels faster than the one it replaces. In the old days, though, every few years you’d get a computer with not just a faster processor but a next-generation processor, and the resulting performance increase was dramatic. For the Mac, those were bumps like the first 68030s and 68040s, or the first batch of PowerPCs. For the PC, the 386, 486, and Pentium.

Based on information from informed sources, I believe the processor in the next-generation iPhone is going to be that kind of upgrade.

(emphasis mine).

So last week I ordered the new 3GS, and after going through a day where all my phones were bricked as at&t sorted out the activation ( 3 phone calls to “611”, 2 trips to the at&t store, and 4 sim cards ! ) I can now safely report that the processor upgrade makes a huge difference.

The way I use the device I’m often switching between applications, clicking on links, etc — and things now just bounce right open without delay. Search is snappy, and that annoying text entry lag that still popped up on occasion is totally gone. Browsing is faster too, and many iPhone optimized sites like Google Apps actually feel like native apps now. Add in the video feature which rivals Flip for quality (original, not Flip HD) and the 32 gigs of space, and it’s a big upgrade.

Bottom line — just the speed improvement of the processor and the underlying performance makes this a worthwhile upgrade for heavy users out there. Speed wise, everyone I’ve shown the new device to who also has the original 3G , comments that it’s hard to go back to the original 3G after using the 3GS for a few minutes.