Friday, March 22, 2013

Can Google be Trusted?

This isn't an article about trusting that Google will protect our information and not use it for their own benefit, besides we know they do and that we pay for the services Google offers with our personal information (it's a barter system).  This is more about Google wanting to shut down services that it has been offering for years and I'm starting to wonder what's next.  The big items to be shut down are:
  • Google Video (this is really YouTube now)
  • iGoogle - A widget based portal that's very useful, it'll be unfortunate to see it go.
  • Google Reader - An RSS reader services that I don't think can be easily replaced.
Google Note

Recently Google announced "Google Note", this is meant to be a competitor to the very popular Evernote reader.  The difference I'm assuming is that Google Note will be 100% free, while with Evernote you can pay to get extra services and space.  The problem with Google Note is that if I use it, I'm going to use it because I want to have my information in the same place in the next 10 years, so that when I go to look something up, it'll still be there.  Now there's nothing saying that Evernote will be around in 10 years, but given the recent culling of services from Google, I feel that Evernote has a better chance of surviving than Google Note.

What's next?

I'm sure that tools such as Google Search and Google Mail are safe, but what about Gtalk (Google Chat service) or Google Voice (Google's VOIP service).  If Google wants to push ad revenue maybe they'll shut off IMAP access to Gmail, this would force you to use the web client to see your mail or pay a premium to access services ad free.  I guess that's fair, but if they did that I'd hope that Google would then leave all my personal information alone (including their scanning of my emails and such).  It could be argued by the conspiracy theorists that Google has stood up some services to gather information about us, by now they should have a very good baseline of what users use and how they behave.

RIP Google Reader

Google Reader was more than just an RSS reader, it was an RSS aggregator that you could personalize with just about any free RSS feed.  I could access Google Reader using Reeder on my desktop or Flipboard on my iPad and have it sync the items I've read properly.  Both Reeder and Flipboard has said they will automatically migrate my feeds to their service, but what they most likely won't do is sync these feeds with each other (which makes them useless as RSS readers for me).  While I admit that I'm griping that a free service that I didn't pay the normal cost of viewing ads to use is going away, it's because this was such a simple service that behaved brilliantly and it's going to be very sad to see it go.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Decade of the SmartWatch


While 2000 could be called the decade of the smartphone, 2010 and beyond will be the decade that designers move beyond the phone and start developing peripheral devices.  We saw this in the 1980's/1990's with computers, computers did a lot, but people wanted to add items to the computer that didn't come stock, such as a faster CD/DVD or a bigger hard drive or plug in a TV.  In this decade we should see people start exploiting smart devices and connecting them in ways a few ways that are unique and practical and in many cases impractical.

Designers need to be careful, what people are looking for aren't devices that are self contained devices, but they want their device to be operating off a central hub and people want to be able to take their peripheral device and use it on multiple systems.

Google Nexus Q

Nexus Q was doomed to fail, maybe it was too early, maybe it wasn't well thought out, but it had problems.  The Nexus Q was announced by Google in 2012 at Google I/O, it was a device that could funnel all your music from the cloud and into your entertainment system.  The Nexus Q would also allow your friends to walk into your place, tap their phone to your Q and then start playing their music.  The big whole in this is that it depended on everyone having a device that supported NFC (Near Field Communications).  Nexus Q is a good start though because we know what people don't want.

Apple TV

With Apple TV I shouldn't really look at Apple TV, but instead look at AirPlay.  Apple TV works a bit better than the Nexus Q because it assumes that only you the people living with you will be using it and playing music on your system.  The trouble with Apple TV is that it really wants everything you own to be an Apple product.  Since it only needs to interface with your local environment this is good, but if you change from an iPhone to an Android then you'll need to say adios to your cool devices.

Google Glass

I'm not sure if anyone knows what to make of Google Glass yet.  My assumption is that it would talk via Bluetooth to your mobile device and use it for connectivity.  Google Glass is designed to be a pair of glasses that you would wear and would give you a small screen to look at and see what's going on around you.  This could be great for getting around town and have something that would project in front of you the place you're looking for.  In theory when connected to twitter or foursquare it could pinpoint friends in the crowd that you've never seen before.d 

Pebble SmartWatch

The latest of these cool devices is the Pebble SmartWatch.  The Pebble is meant to be worn on your wrist, it will display the time, but if you get a text message it'll show that.  It can also act as an exercise computer for those who like to run/walk/bike/hike and then keep your work out database up to date.  Pebble is meant to work with any device that you may have in your pocket (well any device as long as that device is an iPhone or Android device).  I can see apps written for the Pebble that would tell you when a metro train or bus is pulling into the station and that if you run you can make it.

Cars

The biggest group failing at properly integrating technology into their product are the car manufacturer.  They seem to be wanting to build proprietary systems or wanting to team up with one provider.  The problem with this is that if you don't like that provider or if it goes under, then you're stuck with a car that has old and possibly non-functioning technology that isn't easily upgradable.  Cars need to talk to the smart device and let the device to most of the heavy lifting.  The only connectivity a car should have to the outside world is for a parking app that will help you locate your car in a dark parking lot.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Technology for Christmas

This Christmas has been a Technology one in my house.  Now I did get several things that weren't tech and now that I'm older I do appreciate getting shirts, t-shirts and socks for Christmas.

MacBook Air

That special woman in my life received a MacBook Air.  She's been a Windows person until now and is a little tentative about moving to OSX, but she's willing to try (and hopefully succeed).  One of the problems she's had is in the controls to use a Mac, for example she wanted to insert a picture into a Word document, in Windows you'd double click the image and it would insert, on the Mac you drag and drop and it inserts the document.

Buying the MacBook was almost too easy, I walked into the Apple Store and walked out all set up with a new computer in under 10 minutes (of course I knew what I wanted).  I did get the extended warranty and up the RAM to 8GBs to help the laptop weather the next round of OS upgrades.

Dell Windows 8

My daughter received a Windows 8 computer from Dell, this may be the last Dell I buy since it seems that Dell wants to push online orders to speak to sales reps, I'd prefer not to do that.  The Dell was nice and despite my concerns my daughter liked Windows 8 and seemed to understand it very quickly.  I gave her a brief primer on how to use it and she was off.  What's interesting is that Microsoft allows you to set up a web based family account for the device, so now I can remotely manage her computer, including seeing how much time she's spent on the device, limit websites that she can use and set times on when she can use her computer, all from the web.

Bose Airplay Speaker

This was fairly easy to set up and cool to use.  I hooked it up to my computer to configure the network and airplay on the device and that's it.  Now it sits and waits for us to connect to it via our iPhones or computers.

Time Capsule

This is actually an old device, but I finally set it up as my primary wireless network.  What's cool about it is that it comes with a "Guest" network, so I can separate my private network and guest networks and feel free to give out a guest password without concerns that someone else can get on my network.  I don't use the time capsule to back up my computers, I've tried this and it took too long, instead I use an old fashioned USB Passport drive and Time Machine to accomplish my backups.

Eye-Fi Card

An eye-fi card is fairly cheap and it allows me to wirelessly connect my camera with my iPhone or iPad.  I was a bit skeptical, but it works pretty well.  This also requires you to set it up with a computer, but the set up was fairly painless.  With the iPhone/iPad I can also set up a direct network that will connect the camera with the iPhone/iPad without a wifi network present.  I tried to connect it with my Nexus 7 and realized that I would need a local wireless network, also the interface for Android isn't as good as it is for iOS.  Note that I have tried the eye-fi on both my Canon DSLR and on my Sony pocket camera (it works well in both).

Gloves

Finally some gloves that will allow me to use my phone outside when it's cold and keep my hands warm.  So far they seem to work, but with the wet windy cold we've had lately, they haven't done a great job at keeping my hands warm.

Trebuchet

Yes a desktop trebuchet, it's tech, even though it's old and I'm not just a "new" tech guy, but a "tech" guy in general.  Now the trebuchet is desk sized (so I won't be taking down castle walls any time soon).

Friday, December 7, 2012

New iOS Device - The iCloud!

I'm already starting to see people come to me with new iOS devices and wondering how they can move all of their information from one device to the other.  First you should always back up your phone locally via iTunes, nothing beats having a good backup to make sure all your images, music and everything is loaded in a worst case scenario.  Apple offers two items that you should look into if you have an iPhone/iPad and want to be able to easily move from device to device.  First of all, make sure you have the latest operating system on your iPhone/iPad (or at least iOS 5.x if you have an iPad 1 or a very old iPhone).

iCloud

By default Apple gives you 5GB of iCloud storage.  Depending on where your information is stored and how many devices you have on your iTunes account, this may be plenty of space for you.  For example I have both my iPhone/iPad using the same iCloud account, I purchased 20GB extra storage because both my devices have a lot of content on them, this gives me a total of 25GB of storage.  Between my two devices and in being in not backing my email up to the iCloud (most email uses IMAP or Exchange technologies, the content is normally stored on the server, if you're using POP for your email, then you may consider backing up your content to the iCloud or changing this to use IMAP if possible) I'm only using 11GB of my 25GB.  iCloud does not back up music.

iTunes Match

iTunes Match will store all of your MP3's in the cloud (but not in the iCloud), what iTunes Match does is it looks at your music, if your music matches the digital signature of music sold by Apple, then iTunes Match will use Apple's copy of your song, if the music doesn't exist in Apple's library, then Apple will store a copy of your song on their server for you.  What's cool about this is that you can now log into any iTunes enabled device and stream your music.  For example my AppleTV, iPad, Mac, iPhone all stream content from one resource that's stored on Apple's server.  You can still download local copies for use on that airplane trip, but you won't have that frustration of "That song is on my phone, but I want to listen to it on my computer, but I haven't put it there yet".  iTunes Match will cost you $25 regardless of the size of your digital music library.

New Device

OK, so the holidays are here and you just got that new device.  Now what?  If you're using the iCloud/iTunes Match, you make sure your old device is backed up to the iCloud, if you let your device backup automatically this will take about a minute.  You then turn on the new device, connect it to wifi (this is important actually, you don't want to restore using your cellular data, at least I don't), you log into the device using your iTunes account and restore it from the iCloud.  Depending on the amount of apps you have, this can take minutes or an hour (I have a lot of apps, it seems they take forever to load).  You should now have all of your contacts, emails, pictures, music, apps, etc... on the new device.  You mess up? Simply reset the device with the "Erase All Content and Settings" option and start again.

Note if you use your device for work and your device needs a certificate on it, you may not be able to use your new device for work email until it is OK'd by your IT department.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turkey Tech!

So it's Thanksgiving and you're starting to panic a bit about how to cook that turkey, with stuffing, mashed potatoes and at least two kinds of pie, well grab your iOS/Android device, head to the kitchen and start cooking (Note I'm an iOS kind of guy, so this will be tailored for iOS devices, but many of the same tools exist for Android).  Before you start, please don't use your iPad in the way the grandfather in the video below does.



Travel

If you're traveling and have an iPhone, then you can try to use Apple Maps, but it may be best not to trust it unless you know where you're headed (or unless you don't really want to go home for Christmas).  If you're using Android you should be set with Google Maps, but Apple has realized the deficiencies in it's mapping software and if you look in the App Store you'll find a section under the "Featured" tab that lists several mapping options.  One free app is Waze, Waze is crowdsourced, which means it depends on others using the app and reporting information, it will attempt to reroute you around problem areas and tell you where you can find cheap gas or where a County Mounty may be set up with his radar gun.  If you're flying, I love apps like TripIt and FlightTrack (Note that FlightTrack is also good if you're waiting for someone and want to know if their flight is on time).

Accessories

There are three cool accessories that will make your using the iPad more fun to use in the kitchen and a little more worry free.  Since I love William Sonoma I hope you don't mind me plugging them.  First I'd suggest getting a plastic shield for your device, if you've ever used an iPad in the kitchen, you'll realize it can get messy and since you shouldn't get your iPad wet, it'll be hard to clean, the shield should help protect your iPad from both direct and indirect kitchen splatters.  Second you'll want a stand at some point, the one a William Sonoma is just a little expensive for a stand, but it looks like it's small enough to fit in a drawer when you're not using it, the stand from Belkin comes with a stylus though (and is cheaper), so I'd look at using that one.  The third accessory is iGrill, iGrill is a temperature probe that works on iOS and Android devices and is claiming to work up to 200 feet away.  So while your turkey is cooking away you can be free to speak with your guests (or kick back and watch a parade or two).  The other cool thing about iGrill is that it has two probes, so you can monitor two different meats at once, so if Uncle Bob prefers roast instead of turkey, you'll be set.

Apps

My favorite cooking app is epicurious, though another suggested app is "Thanksgiving Menu Maker".  What I don't like about the latter is that it doesn't work in landscape mode, but with both you can go from recipes to shopping list to dinner very quick fashion.  The shopping list feature for Thanksgiving Menu Maker is much nicer than epicurious, mainly because epicurious doesn't add multiple items together, for example two of my recipes require onions and onions appear on my list twice.  The great (and possibly killer feature) with Thanksgiving Menu Maker is that it gives you a schedule to follow, so if you're not a great cook yet and don't know how to time everything so it all comes out at the same time, this app will help you out.

Apr├Ęs Turkey

So what should you do after Turkey? Well many of you will now be wanting to shed the turkey weight before Christmas party season, so RunKeeper should help you keep track of your workout.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Microsoft Surface Review

I received my Surface yesterday as I was about to leave the office, so I have obviously had a ton of experience with it (not!), so this will be my first look into the device.  If you don't know Surface is Microsoft Windows 8 tablet, what I'm using is the current product which runs Windows RT (I'll get to that in a bit).  It should be stated that I am an iPad user, though I also have a Blackberry Playbook, Kindle Fire, and Google Nexus in my collection of tablets.  I grew up a Windows user (From 1982-2009 I was ONLY a Windows user), but have been using OSX for the past 3 years, mainly due to iOS development efforts.

Hardware

It's hard to find fault with the Surface hardware, it's almost a little too wide (if you're a woman who's having a hard time fitting an iPad in your purse, then you don't want to get a Surface).  The Keyboard clips in very well, the device seems to be built needing this keyboard, so DON'T get one without it.  There are several buttons and ports around the edges of the device (which is one of the differences between Microsoft & Apple) and unfortunately Microsoft didn't learn the lesson that Apple did of making the power adapter for the device be usable in any direction (The old iPad plugs are this way and it makes it hard to plug in the device), also the plug is a plug, it doesn't have a USB plug (though the device does seem to have a USB port).  Without the plug I'd give the look and feel of the hard ware an A, with the plug I'd give it an A- to B+.

The keyboard is flat, but as I get use to it, it becomes easy to type on.  Despite it being a keyboard it isn't tactile, so if you're a touch typist you almost need to trust yourself.

Setup

The setup went easy, finally gave me a reason to use my old Hotmail email address.  I'd give it a B on setup, the iPad/Nexus/Fire are much easier to setup, but they are just tablets (this is a critical issue here, I'll get to it later).  My biggest disappointment is that in my corporate setting we use WPA2-Enterprise for wifi, the Surface doesn't seem to support this right out of the box.  At home I can connect with no issue, which is where I did the majority of my setup.

Navigation

The navigation takes a little bit to get use to, you can navigate by swipes or keyboard/mouse.  You swipe one direction and you change apps (note that the desktop behaves like an app that can then run programs), you swipe another direction and you get configuration settings, a third direction closes apps (but not on the desktop, since the desktop is an app that runs programs).  Getting use to this navigation is funky.  The missing start menu didn't bother me (at least not yet).

Metro Interface

The Metro interface is marketing, it looks OK, but it doesn't really serve a great function.  The combination of Metro with desktop is also confusing, I feel that the marketing department won the battle over this and the UX folks got left in the dust.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer suffers a sever case of schizophrenia and can get confusing.  It's an app that is also a program, the settings (such as picking a homepage) functions against both browsers (app and program version), I'm guessing this is so you don't need to modify your security settings twice.  The cookies are kept separate, so when I logged into my Google account on one browser, I still had to log into my Google account in the other.
Other than that, MSIE behaves like it would on your computer desktop (even though it's a tablet app).

Microsoft Office

Other than the hardware the other fantastic feature of the Surface is that it comes with Microsoft Office.  This is fantastic for those of us who have complex documents that are mangled by the various iPad apps.  In this area the Surface shines.  It doesn't come with Outlook (at least my RT version didn't), and the email it does come with isn't great.

No Chrome

This can be taken two ways, first is that the RT doesn't run Google Chrome (too bad), but also Microsoft is trying to minimize what's called "Chrome", this is the stuff around the window that tends to get in the way, things like toolbars and sliders are mostly gone or only show up when it feels you need them.  For example the ribbon for Word is mostly hidden, you can pin it open to show all the chrome, but then you have little room for editing.

More Schizophrenia

It's very clear that Windows 8 is a desktop OS that's been placed on a tablet, so while the Surface looks like a tablet, it's not, it's really a computer, but it doesn't work well as a computer, it works better as a tablet.  I know what I said is confusing, but it's what best describes Surface, it's confusing.  The fact that it's a desktop OS that's been placed on a tablet means that some items are too small to touch (which is why you need they keyboard/mouse cover), I've also found myself launching apps or following links because it's having some issues deciding what's a "touch" action and what's a "navigation" action.

I found similar issues in setting up the device.  Initially I found myself in the good old Control Panel, then I went home and had to search for the Control Panel, it seems if you open settings from the Metro window, you'll get a different set of tools than if you open settings from the desktop.  I guess if you remember "Metro==Easy" and "Desktop==Advanced" you'll be OK.

Another aspect of this, when I was trying to connect to my wifi, one suggestion I was given was to check my ethernet cable... The device doesn't have an ethernet port.

Apps

I was able to find two of my favorite apps (Kindle/Evernote), but I wasn't able to find Dropbox, this is critical to me.  I'm not sure if Dropbox will find it's way to the device, mainly because MS wants you to use their SkyDrive (which is like Dropbox).

RT vs Pro

To be honest I'm not sure why MS built the RT version, not sure I need to say more about it than that.  Wait for the pro version.

Compare to iPad

You can't really compare this to the iPad, it's a mini computer.  I think once the pro version gets out, it's going to make one hell of a laptop replacement, it's very thin and light and will do the work that most professionals need to do.  If you're crunching numbers or have big spreadsheets, I'd stick to a real computer.  I wouldn't get the Surface if I was looking for simply a tablet, it's too complex and I wouldn't get it if I was looking for a computer, it's not complex enough.  I would get it if I was doing basic word processing functions that I needed to take with me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tablet Wars

It looks like the tablet wars are heating up.  We have 2 new tablets from Apple, one from Microsoft, several others that would like to use Windows 8 on tablets and Google rumored to be releasing a Nexus 10" tablet.  What's interesting about all of this is that Blackberry is no where to be seen.  Let's do a rundown of tablets.

iPad 4

If you just put down money on an iPad 3, then you're out of luck, the iPad 4's biggest improvement is speed, it's running an A6 processor (the iPad 3 ran an accelerated A5 processor) and the iPad 4 now uses the new method of plugging in an iOS device, but that's about it.  If you have an iPad 2, I still don't see a strong reason to upgrade (unless you now have an iPhone 5 and would like to use the same plug on it).  Many are upset that an upgrade came out so quickly, but I think many didn't see a reason to upgrade from an iPad 2 to an iPad 3, now with the faster processor some may want to upgrade.  The problem is that the iPad 1 is still a "groovy" device and for most people it may be doing the job for them.

iPad mini

I, along with many others, was hoping the iPad mini would come in at around $200, instead it's $130 more than that.  At $200 the mini would have made a nice entry level device to give your kids, it would have cheap enough where you wouldn't get upset if they broke it (though I suggest you tell your kids what I told my daughter, if she breaks a computer, then she shouldn't expect a replacement right away).  At $320 it's not much cheaper than the iPad 4 (which is $499 for the base model), my belief is that the iPad mini is selling at $320 because they know it'll undercut the iPad and with over $1 Billion dollars in the bank, Apple can't afford to lose any market share (#snark).

The processor on the iPad is the A5, which is the older generation of chip that Apple uses, everything else on the device seems to be on par with the iPad 4 and better than the iPad 2.  If I were to choose between the iPad 4 and an iPad mini, I'd go with the iPad 4, but if it came down to the mini and the iPad 2, I'd go with the mini, mainly because the iPad 2 is antiquated technology that Apple is phasing out.  Other than kids the iPad mini will be good for reading and maybe for use as a mobile device you can keep in your purse or jacket pocket, other than that I have a hard time seeing a good use for it.  I think for women it would be ideal, since it should fit into a purse more easily than the iPad does.  The iPad mini should run every iPad app (though the app will look smaller).

Surface

I'm a bit excited over the new Surface tablet that Microsoft is building.  The Surface is running Windows 8 RT (runtime), RT was specifically written for ARM based devices (usually mobile devices) and RT won't be able to run legacy windows software that was written for Intel systems.  RT will ship with Office 2013, but it will most likely be a scaled down version that's designed for a touch interface, though for folks like me if it allows proper formatting of Word/Excel/PPT, it'll do most of what we need.  In the end I think this may be the perfect device for the road warrior, not because it's windows, but because it has Office on it (this is a huge missing piece for the iPad in the corporate space).

This is one of the few times that Microsoft has built out their own device, they are hinting that it won't be the last time.  It seems that Microsoft is taking a page out of Apple's book and taking control of their own destiny (instead of hoping that folks like Dell will produce well designed products).  One of the big questions with Windows 8 is that there aren't any apps written for it.  If it could run legacy software, then it would be a game changer, but you can't.  I'm guessing Microsoft is looking to it's hardware partners to fill the gap of a non-RT device.

Nexus

We haven't seen it yet, but the Nexus 10" is rumored to be announced next week.  This could be a great device, I have a Nexus 7" and I feel the hardware is well put together, but the Android ecosystem is one that's still growing.  I was bothered that I wasn't able to purchase a movie on my Nexus and watch it on my GoogleTV, but recently Google rectified that and now I can watch the movie on both.  I'm having a hard time understanding the Android platform, it's too fragmented, hard to develop for and because everything is a full screen app, the apps tend to be developed for a device (or set of devices).  I'm hoping in the near future Google will lock down the OS and only allow certain vendors to use it.