Quick Tip For BlackBerry Users When Calling Phone Numbers with Letters

OK — very quick tip to share that I just assumed everyone knew – but I find that few do.

If you are calling a number like Fedex’s “1.800.GoFedEx”, and you are using a BlackBerry, you can simply type in the letters into the dialing screen and it will automaically convert it to the appropriate numbers. Since the BlackBerry doesn’t have the numeric keys of a regular phone, going through this process in your head can be a bit time consuming 🙂

This works on my 8300 Curve and I believe with older versions as well.

The Great Sync on OS X: Google Calendar, Plaxo, address book, PocketMac and BlackBerry

While many people, including myself, can find plenty to gripe about with Outlook & MS Exchange , one thing that is rock solid is the over-the-air syncing with BlackBerry devices. Both email and calendar appointments sync fairly effortlessly and reliably.

In the non MS Exchange world syncing hasn’t been so easy, especially on the Mac side of the world. But with a bit of testing that I did recently with the google calendar mobile sync I think I’m finally in good shape.

Here is my setup.
for contacts: The Plaxo Mac OS X app keeps my OS X address book and plaxo.com in sync. My contacts don’t sync over the air to my BlackBerry curve, but when I plug my blackberry in to charge ( using a USB cable ) I run PocketMac which then syncs the contacts. I expect a plaxo blackberry sync client to come out in the future.
for email: The blackberry push email system does this all automatically, so no need to do anything extra.
for calendar: This was a serious pain point for me. I use Google Calendar and for the last few months I’ve been forced to basically use the WAP site for Google Calendar when I was on the go. It worked OK, but it meant no offline support. Now that Google Sync has been released my calendar updates in real time on my Blackberry — and works the other way — updating Google Calendar OTA if I make changes on my BlackBerry.

So there you have it. Definitely not as elegant as it could be, but finally everything is in sync !

BlackBerry update: battery died, google maps update and google calendar sync

* I was in DC wrapping up a trip last week when I couldn’t get my blackberry curve 8300 to boot-up. I figured the battery just drained to zero, but after plugging it in I quickly realized the battery was dead. Luckily I had access to another blackberry curve and was able to borrow that battery for a day. I called around to a few at&t stores in DC, and to my surprise they did not sell batteries. Anyway, long story short, after calling at&t customer care, they fedexed me a new battery and I’m back in action !

* The new google maps update came out a week or so ago ( from your mobile browser: http://google.com/gmm ) and it now has “My Location” which is pretty sweet. If you don’t have GPS, it can now use cell tower triangulation to approximate your location. When I was in NYC, it was accurate within a block. In DC it was within 500 meters or so, and in SF it seems to be within 1000 meters on average. So it’s by no means a replacement for GPS, but when doing a search for a cafe for example, it’s great that you can search within your area without putting in the street or zip code.

* Google Calendar Sync was just released. It syncs your google calendar to your blackberry’s native calendar – which for me has been a wish-list item for a long time. After running the initial sync, you may want to hop into the the options menu on the mobile app and make sure it’s grabbing all the calendars you wish to have. In my setup I have a few different calendars being imported into gCal, and the mobile app appears to default to only one calendar. So far it seems to work really well.

My AT&T Blackberry Curve 8300 Review

8300 CurveI have one of the very first Blackberry 8700C models, and I’ve been itching to upgrade for a while. At first I was convinced I’d pickup an iPhone, but managed to hold out. Next I was going to wait for a Blackberry with 3G, WiFi, GPS, and a camera. Once it became clear that this combo was still a couple of revisions away from launching, I settled in on looking for a good deal on the Curve. I called AT&T and got a really good deal, ordered it, and then saw that the new Curve was just announced in Europe with GPS 🙂

Unphased I eagerly unpacked my new phone a couple days later, and have been happily using it for the past couple of weeks. Here is my take on it, with a very strong emphasis on how it compares to the 8700.

The good:
– Form factor is much better ! The slightly smaller keyboard really makes a difference — the phone is also much slimmer and not as bulky. It actually feels like you are carrying a phone again.

– Keyboard is actually better too. The feedback/response from the keys is stronger, and within a day I was used to the somewhat more narrow, but still full QWERTY, keyboard.

– The scroll wheel replacement with the joystick is a good thing. I thought I’d miss the scroll wheel, but the way the joystick is implemented actually opens up many new uses, and makes navigating much easier.

– Having a camera again is great. I missed having a camera ever since I switched from Nokia phones to the Blackberry. The 2 megapixel camera on the Curve takes surprisingly good photos, and combine it with email->Flickr and it’s really useful.

The not so good:

– AT&T loads up the phone with all kinds of extra icons for the “ATT Mall” to shop for themes, ringtones, etc. Not a big deal to hide them, but depending on which theme you run, it can add all kinds of extra icons that simply get in the way. Not quite as bad as PC “craplets“, but for a high end phone, I would have much preferred some kind of gift certificate in the box that would let me try out some premium “shopping” items — not a bunch of icons that really shouldn’t be there.

– Battery life. Definitely not as good as the 8700. I somewhat expected it with the camera usage, and I do use lots of data applications (see “going 100% mobile” post) — but I find that by the end of the day I can be down to just 1 bar. My solution – I carry the charger with me in my bag, and charge up at various times during the day.

– OS stability. I probably had my 8700 freeze-up maybe 4 or 5 times over the course of a year with heavy usage. So far, the Curve has frozen up on me twice in 2 weeks. Both times it happened while using the camera application — so I need to see if it’s a storage issue perhaps.

– Lack of bundled apps. Would have been nice to see a solid IM app like JiveTalk bundled in. I am now running the google mobile pack — Google Maps, gmail, Google News, Google Search, and mobile gTalk. I then added in Yahoo!Go, and also an RSS reader Viigo (my Viigo review here)

The bad:

– Really nothing to complain about. I wish it was 3G, Wifi, and had GPS support 🙂 But otherwise this is a great upgrade to the 8700, and should hold me over for a few more months.

iPhone Sights & Sounds

iPhone A few thoughts on what is undoubtedly “iPhone week”:

* I was at the 5th ave Apple (AAPL) store the other day, and actually saw people camping out waiting for the iPhone nearly 100 hours prior to availability.

* Inside the the impressive store on 5th ave, the sales guy i talked to had a couple of interesting things to say:
1) The dollar is so weak VS other currencies, that he sees international tourists buying up everything, and often buying 2 or 3 of each item. ( They were sold out of the mac book and mac book pros I was looking at ).
2) They anticipate a ton of people buying Macs when they purchase the iPhone. Reminded me of the iPod sales habits of a few years ago.

* The reviews are in !:
1) Walt Mossberg just posted his review, and also posted a q&a with Steve Jobs, plus I’m including the video below:
2) David Pogue has a nice complete review as well as multimedia content.

* Biggest take away for me so far from all these reviews: Mossberg, unlike David Pogue of the nytimes, is positive about the touch screen keyboard:

The iPhone’s most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt — who did most of the testing for this review — was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly.

I think for people like me who are die hard blackberry users, this keyboard question is the biggest issue that has to be settled — and the only way that can be done is by using the iPhone for a few days. Or maybe I’m just trying to convince myself why I must buy an iPhone and not wait for the 2nd generation version as I would normally do 🙂

Skype for BlackBerry plus others news from WES

Bunch of interesting news out of the WES conference ( The Wireless Enterprise Symposium) today.

* Skype for blackberry got announced. Requires a SkypeOut $30/yr plan

* Next gen Pearl rumors floating around ? ( via blackberrycool.com ):

* BlackBerry 8830 Curve has a release date in Canada. No word yet on a US date beyond “Spring 2007”.

for more WES info, BoyGenius is live blogging the event

RSS reader for mobile review: Viigo

Last night I clicked over from GoogleReader, where I was catching up on some of my RSS feeds, notably blackberrycool.com, when I saw this promo on blackberrycool.com for ‘blackberrycool to go”:

Now I tend to try out at least one or two downloadble mobile apps a week, so i clicked through, put in my email and did a quick OTA (over-the-air) install on my blackberry 8700c. Not knowing exactly what it would look like, I was surprised and happy to see a very light-weight, fast RSS reader powered by a product called Viigo. (The blackberrycool version seems identical to the regular product – just a few extra pre loaded mobile oriented feeds)

So a quick review:

– ease of use: A+

– layout/format: A-. It supports images, and even displays Feedburner feedflares, but they aren’t really active

– connectivity: A. It downloads in the background so off-line use isn’t that bad. It doesn’t pull down images in the background, but other than that it feels snappy.

– RSS support: A-. Here is the funny part. It worked with EVERY feed I tried except when I tried to pull my own raanan.com RSS feed. My suspicion is that it doesn’t like the redirect I do from raanan.com/feed to http://feeds.feedburner.com/raanan. I use Steve Smith’s wordpress feedburner plugin which is great, but maybe Viigo can’t handle that. (UPDATE #1: Feedburner actually “adopted” this plugin a few days ago – props to the feedburner team for doing so. So I updated the plugin but still having the same problem. Need to do a bit more testing to see what the issue is.) (UPDATE #3: Viigo now supports the feed redirect, so my site and others that use this method are finally working — yey ! ) )

Extras: B+ A. It has delicious support built in ( very cool ! ), but no OPML import option. It also has a “full article” mode which strips out most of everything and pulls the full page — it’s somewhat useful. (UPDATE #2: Via the Viigo web account manager, you can not only import OPML, you can import your bloglines, and your MyYahoo setup )

Overall: A-. Definitely using this over the WAP/i-google mobile googlereader widget, which is what I was using up until now.

I posted earlier about going 100% mobile, and now I’m one step closer with this RSS reader. I’ve also been testing a killer mobile IM client that I will post about when it’s out of private alpha mode.

Update: So after 3 months of usage here are some ideas that would make this app even better:

– Instead of auto updating the feed every X minutes, the app should hook into a ping server to update the feeds
– Not sure the network providers would love this, but an option to download images in the background would be great.
– I obviously have lots of overlap with my web based Google Reader, and would like to see a way to sync back, so that any items that I read on Viigo would show up as read on Google Reader as well.
– Offline delicious support would be nice.   Right now you can only use delicious when online.
– Finding that I often want to follow a link — an option for links to open up in browser would be great.  Right now clicking on a link just brings up the menu within the app.
– Tag support.  example usage: would like to tag a few feeds as “sports” and then just read the “sports” feeds.
– Alerts.  Wold be great if it could alert me when a feed is updated via my blackberry inbox ( gTalk does a great job with this. )  For feeds with time sensitive info – like craigslist feeds – this would be a killer feature.

Why I love in-car GPS, and how it can be made better

GPSLast week I drove down to DC and made sure the Hertz rental car had GPS.

The drive from new york to DC is fairly straightforward, but I still don’t know my way around DC that well, and after living in new york all these years, any city that’s not setup as a grid of streets and avenues just seems extra difficult to navigate 🙂

So the GPS unit — I believe called NeverLost V3 — worked pretty well, although it got a bit confused on 95 a few times reminding me to “keep to the left FOLLOWED by a keep to the left” even though there weren’t any exits or turns to take.

But I really do love GPS navigation. Not having to be on the lookout for exits that have a starbucks ( it’s all displayed in the GPS dashboard ) is huge, and also not needing anyone else in the car to help navigate is a big win.

But the big missing feature is traffic info. Selecting “shortest time” really is just a guess. Google Maps on my blackberry includes some traffic info, but not enough to help me avoid delays. A few companies like Dash have introduced traffic info in their GPS devices by using historical traffic information, and adding a novel approach of getting traffic info from other cars on the highway that use the Dash system — very cool. ( update: Dash is looking for beta testers )

The flaw with this system is that you need everyone using the same manufacturers GPS system, and that’s just not going to be a reality anytime soon given all the various companies that are putting out GPS devices.

What we need, in my opinion, is an opt-in, open standard for sharing in-car/traffic information that any device and any opted-in person can tap into, plus a commercial consortium or W3C style governing body to maintain and evolve a standard. This data would then be stored centrally or perhaps in a non-central torrent style cloud of people within a 50 miles radius ( this needs more thinking and flushing out 🙂 ).

And as GPS is incorporated more and more into our mobile phone devices, that should give us a huge installed user base of in-car and mobile devices sharing information about traffic and other conditions. That would be infinitely better than participating in the manufacturers small group of users, and would dramatically increase the chances of having tons of good data on the highway you were looking to avoid b/c of traffic.

The manufacturers would then compete on interface design, features, UI, etc. In addition I would require people to share info from their car if they wanted to get access to the data – think bittorrent like in that you can’t get data without sharing data. That way you could opt-out and simply not get traffic info if you were worried about privacy/tracking.

ringtones: ideas on making them more useful

ringtonesRingtones are a huge business. According to BMI (via wired.com’s Listening Post blog), revenue exceeded $600M in 2006, but is now in a slight decline for 2007.

So why the downturn, and does this model of charging for a short clip of music makes sense ?

I think people love to customize and personalize their phone, and ringtones in that vein make a lot of sense. We see this phenomena of personalization every day in line @ starbucks when someone calmly asks for an “extra hot, double latte with no foam, half skim half 2%” 🙂

so why the downturn ? some possible reasons:

1) with any new product, the people who consume the product eventually fatigue, and the pool of new customers begins to dry up

2) smartphones make it easy to transfer music to your phone. I’m in this camp – never purchased a ringtone, and now move WAV and MP3 files to my phone if I want some new ring.

3) bluetooth headsets. Ok, maybe this isn’t a biggy, but I see more people being “always on” their own phone and not needing a ring, but simply “click” to turn on their headset.

4) free alternatives. lots of activity in this space.

But what about the model of charging for a ringtone, and often charging for a short clip of a song you already have paid for ? I think in this case, the mobile carriers have been providing a solid service and the market has dictated the value of this service — but I see a larger opportunity for other services.

A ringtone is a public performance in many cases. It’s very common for your phone to ring with many people within earshot, and at the very least you yourself are listening to that ringtone. Given that, shouldn’t we treat it as such and not hear the same ring over and over again ?

With the full understanding that this could become annoying if abused, here are some ideas:

1) free updated ringtones with your favorite sports / news / RSS headlines. If you are a Mets fan, how cool would it be to get the 8th inning score when your phone rings ? Or the latest headline from techcrunch !

2) new product launches. Give away a fun ringtone that also conveys what your new product is good for. This could work really well for products that have a very loyal/fanatical customer base (think apple, toyota, or a new music album) which already blogs about products, created elaborate message forum signatures, etc. Example: “<jingle> – 2008 Prius just broke 100MPG“.

3) Political ads. This could work as both attack ads, and endorsement type of ads. I could see inside the beltway staff in DC having ringtones of “I voted for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it

4) customized ringtones pulling in RSS. Example: If a friend calls, pull in their latest RSS headline from their blog/facebook/mysspace/etc and convert it to speech. That way you have something timely to talk about when they call you 🙂

5) and this one is in the category of I hope it doesn’t get abused, but probably will — build a marketplace for paying people to use your ringtone. Ideally people would be shamed into not getting paid for really lousy and annoying ringtones, but if a company like Coke is spending millions on marketing, why not pay people to play your new jingle ! Or on a thursday before a big movie opening, pay people for ringtones promoting the new flick.

Then again, maybe we’ll see a trend in phone etiquette where people will use non intrusive means for getting alerted to a call …. unlikely, but one can hope 🙂