Recently in Wireless Category

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I just wrote up a lengthy review of Motorola's webtop-enabled, dual-core processor-packing, qHD display-toting, monster of an Android phone, the DROID Bionic, available now on Verizon.

The full review is up at The Gadgeteer.
As is now a tradition, it's time to revisit our GearBits' predictions for 2010 to see if we were anywhere close to accurate. 
 
1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously. We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect. I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result. Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

thumbs-down.gifI'm REALLY happy that I got this one wrong. That is, of course, if you ignore the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies, and you don't consider WikiLeaks' activity "cyberterrorism" (I don't) or the "hacktivism" it prompted. Frankly, I was expecting some major outage -- a stock exchange taken down, a city's electrical grid compromised, or something on that order -- and it's great that that didn't happen in 2010. 
 
2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile. Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares. Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5. I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?). It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

thumbs-up.gifYep...mostly. Windows Phone 7 did not come out seeming "stale," but it was roundly criticized for lacking a long list of features found on other platforms (e.g., copy & paste, tethering, multitasking, etc.). While it certainly doesn't have the fleet of handsets that Android boasts, WP7 has launched on an impressive number of devices and carriers across the globe. Add to that the fact that WP7, just a few months after launch, already has more apps than webOS does after more than 18 months, Microsoft appears to have gotten more right than wrong and certainly enough to keep their seat at the smartphone table. 
 
3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010. Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

thumbs-up.gifBy any measure, 3D TV has been talked about in the press more than it's been brought into consumers' homes. In 2010, the combination of scant high-quality content and expensive/uncomfortable/incompatible gear failed to make 3D a compelling experience, and slow sales was the result.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010. I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users). However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

thumbs-up.gifThere's been relatively little discussion in 2010 of how social media should change search. While we saw a lot of sites become more integrated into social media, such as via Facebook's nearly ubiquitous "Like" button, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s attempts to add a social component to their search products never really gained traction. Clearly, it's harder than it seems to glean those rare nuggets of helpful, timely information from the vast noise of the social web.

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas. Coming soon to theaters near you.

thumbs-down.gifLooking back at 2010, I don't see any noticeable increase in "trans-genre" movies and TV shows. And maybe that's for the best, really. But, if the forthcoming "Cowboys & Aliens" is any indication, I just might've been a year early on this prediction. 
 
6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die. It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen. I just think it will. Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off. Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

thumbs-up.gifPretty much, yeah. ;-) 
 
7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010. Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing. As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.
thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give this one to me, but I'll admit that USB 3.0 adoption has been a bit softer than I thought it would be. I mean, we do now have motherboards, PCs, external external hard drives, and flash drives that all use USB 3.0, but it's clearly not ubiquitous yet. Wireless USB went nowhere in 2010, unfortunately, just as predicted. 
 
8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

thumbs-up.gifClearly a thumbs-up. You don't think Steve would've missed the grand unveiling of his "magical" iPad, now would you? 
 
9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market. The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

thumbs-down.gifBzzt! Wrong...thanks for playing. Sprint never got a buyout offer, but it did end 2010 on a much stronger note than it started the year. Not only has it met all its WiMax/4G rollout milestones, it is now being lauded for having among the best customer service in the US cellular market. Not that that's saying much ("tallest pygmy" and all that), but it's something. 
 
10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009. This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users). It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right. The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

thumbs-up.gifTwitter grew a lot in 2010, but not as quickly as it did in 2009. Two stats support this assessment. In 2009, Twitter grew from an Alexa "reach" rating of essentially zero to about a 5; in 2010, it grew from a 5 to about an 8. While that's another big increase, it's a smaller increase than in 2009. Also, in 2009, Twitter grew from 100 million tweets per quarter to 2 billion, a 1900% growth rate. In 2010, it grew from 2 billion to a around 8 billion quarterly posts, a 400% increase. So, while Twitter is still growing hugely, 2010 just wasn't as blockbuster of a year as 2009 was.
   

For 2010, things look pretty good: we got 7 right and 3 wrong.

Here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:

2004:Predictions,No Results
2006:Predictions,Results
2007:Predictions,Results
2008:Predictions,Results
2009:Predictions,Results
When I suggested to Don Ferguson that he and I should co-write a Palm Pre vs. HTC EVO 4G comparison article, I didn't expect (a) for it to end up being nearly 16,000 words, and (b) for it to be published over on AndroidCentral.com.  But, it did and it was:  The Sprint Palm Pre vs. the HTC Evo 4G -- 2 Guys, 2 Phones, 2 Decisions.

Reading through the many excellent comments, I found several contained really useful tips on making an Android phone more useful.  Here are the ones I pulled out (sorry for not giving attribution...check out the original article for who said what):

Muting the ringer- If you receive a call in meeting, all you have to do is push the power button and the ringer will go silent. This function works on the Pre also.

Ringer Switch- Just download the Silent Mode On/Off by CurveFish in the Android Market. Then add this Widget to your home screen. If you tap it once the phone goes to vibrate, tap it twice it goes to all silent with no vibrate, tap it again and the ringer is back on.

Speed Dial- Instead of using speed dial, I just created shortcuts to the people I call most on one of my home screens. Just click on add shortcut, then select People, then select the person, and select call Mobile. Then all you have to is tap on the shortcut for the person and it dials automatically. I prefer this option over dealing with holding down speed dial buttons like on the Pre.

If your phone rings you can turn it on its face to silence the ringer.

You CAN tap to close the notification shade. Tap the bar at the bottom, and it rolls right up without having to be dragged.

Regarding a password program, I suggest LastPass.com. It's fantastic on the PC and syncs well to the Evo.

To set a speed dial, just go into the contact info and long press on the contact's phone number and choose a assigned spot for speed dial.

A tip for deleting multiple emails at once (which wasn't available on webOS): open the email app and go to listing view, then tap Menu, select Delete, it will bring you to the same listing of emails but you will see boxes to the right with a grey "X". Simply tap the boxes next to the emails you want to delete and the "X" will turn red. Then tap Delete and they are all deleted at once.

Gameloft does make some of their high quality 3d games for Android, you just have to to to their website as they don't have them in the market yet.

Gtasks is a serviceable tasks or to-do list app that lets you sync with Google tasks / GCal.

Get Swype (www.swype.com).
As I have for several years now, below are my predictions for 2010.  Near the end of the year, I'll come back and evaluate how accurate I was.

1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously.  We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect.  I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result.  Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile.  Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares.  Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5.  I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?).  It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

3dtv.jpg3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010.  Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010.  I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users).  However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas.  Coming soon to theaters near you.

6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die.  It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen.  I just think it will.  Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off.  Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

superspeed-usb.jpg7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010.  Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing.  As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.

8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market.  The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

twitter-logo.jpg10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009.  This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users).  It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right.  The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

So that's it for my 2010 predictions.  What do you think will happen in the upcoming year?

palmpre_small.jpgMy Palm Real Reviewer stint, which lasts for about 6 months, started a couple weeks ago. The device they currently have me using is the Palm Pre, the first smartphone running Palm's all-new webOS handheld operating system.

As a long-time (since early 1996) veteran of Palm OS devices -- really, I can honestly say that I can count on two hands the number of days since May of 1996 that I've gone without relying on a Palm OS device for something -- adapting to an entirely new platform had me a bit apprehensive. But, as Palm OS is going the way of OS/2 and CP/M, I'm forced to move to something, and the Pre is pretty enticing. So, this is my first attempt at summarizing some of the highs and lows of the Palm Pre and webOS, especially as it compares to my previous phone, the Palm Centro.

1. Man, the Palm Pre is teensy! Coming from Treos weighing down my pants over the past several years, I thought the Centro was rather petite, but the Pre makes the Centro look downright beefy. Shorter, narrower, thinner, and lighter, the Pre is very compact and feels nice in the hand.

2. The slider is a bit of a hassle. Having been on Treos and a Centro since the Treo 300 first came out in late 2002, I've gotten used to having a physical QWERTY keyboard on my phone. In fact, that's reason #1 why I didn't consider getting an iPhone. Having used one (my sister's) a fair amount, plus hands-on time in the Apple store, I just didn't feel comfortable with the virtual keyboard. When it comes to typing speed and tactile feedback, there's no substitute for physical buttons. However, when closed, the Pre has only one button (which brings up the cards view) visible. To access the keyboard, it has to be slid out from underneath the display. Yes, that's reasonably easy to do and I'm getting increasingly used to doing it, but it's still not as convenient as having the keys accessible all the time. The trade-off, of course, is the extra height of the display that might have to be given up. Those extra 160 pixels are very handy, so I'm not sure this isn't a great trade-off. More time is needed for me to make up my mind on this aspect. I do like the keyboard, however...very easy and comfortable to type on, in my opinion.

3. Multitasking FTW! Seriously...I had no idea how much I'd come to love multitasking on the Palm Pre. The card view in webOS makes it incredibly easy to switch between tasks, something my old Palm OS devices never did. Opening a new app closed the previous one, sometimes losing state information, which made it less than convenient. For example, if I wanted to add a phone number for someone to a calendar entry, I'd have to stop editing the calendar item, open the addressbook, find the person, copy the phone number, open the calendar back up, navigate back to the day and event I was editing, open it for editing again, and paste the number in. With the Pre, when I use Universal Search to find the contact, I can open that entry and copy the phone number while keeping the calendar event open for editing. This is so much more efficient and convenient than non-multitasking Palm OS was. And, as I have used Windows Mobile devices off and on over the years, even though WinMo does multitask, it doesn't let the user switch among running tasks nearly as fluidly as webOS does.

4. Comparing the Pre to the Centro is interesting. There are loads of really cool things the Pre can do that the Centro cannot (e.g., GPS, multitasking, widescreen video, Synergy-based PIM syncing, etc.). However, there are several little things the Centro can do that the Pre cannot...yet. For example, here's a short list of functions that come to mind as missing on the Pre (although I'm entirely optimistic that all these minor issues will be resolved in due time, either by Palm or by a developer):
    • Can't copy text or images from websites and emails (the browser and email app don't permit that).
    • Controlling the email client with keyboard shortcuts (I was a dedicated Snappermail user, which has very powerful keyboard commands to facilitate rapid processing of one's Inbox...the Pre is missing all that and relies entirely on gestures and on-screen button presses, which are slower).
    • Heavy customization via 3rd party apps/hacks (For example, one app I always used on my Treos and Centro was KeyCaps600, which let you capitalize a letter when typing by using a long key press and get the symbol for a key by hitting it twice quickly. That's an incredibly convenient function and one I still miss dearly on the Pre).
    • Video recording. Why is that not enabled on the Pre? It has a much better camera and loads more storage space than my Centro...so why no video recording?
    • Miscellaneous settings (e.g., font size) in most apps
    • Emoticons in chat (my wife and I both thought the ones on Palm OS were cute...why'd they go away?)
    • Universal search into email messages, calendar events, tasks, and memos (this seems like a pretty obvious "to be added" item on Palm's engineering checklist)

5. The camera is WONDERFUL. I use the camera on my phone a lot...over a thousand photos in my personal collection show up as having been taken on a Pre or Centro. The 3-megapixel camera (with LED flash, even) on the Pre is terrific. Here's a shot I took out my front door just now as an example:

CIMG0118.jpg

6. So far, I miss my expansion storage slot much less than I thought I would. I always used the SD card in my Treos very heavily, such as for capturing photos and video, storing off-board apps, and keeping some media handy. One use case where I missed it so far was when I wanted to copy a bunch of photos I took with the Pre's camera to my PC. I had to break out the USB cable, which I don't always have with me. Before, I could just pop out the SD or MicroSD card and insert that into my PC's card reader. Maybe they're equally convenient, but my laptop has an SD card reader built in, yet I'd have to carry a microUSB cable with me to connect the Pre. One offsetting feature the Pre has is the ability to upload to photo-sharing websites, such as Photobucket and Facebook, directly from the photo viewer. My Centro could kinda-sorta do that with Facebook, but not as simply and elegantly as the Pre does.

7. It's a really FUN device to use. The UI is gorgeous and nearly everything is quite intuitive, so it's no problem getting the hang of operating the phone. I can hand it to people and most can do whatever they like with minimal intervention/instruction from me. Getting it back from them is usually the hardest part. :-)

8. Unified IM/SMS is quite nice. Being able to easily switch back and forth between IM (e.g., Google Talk or AIM) and texting/SMS is nifty, especially since it shows each of your contacts as a threaded "conversation" regardless of how each message was sent or received.

Touchstone9. Battery life could be better. I've found some settings (e.g., set email polling to "as messages arrive" to rely on push rather than an "every 15 minutes" type pull) that give better performance for me and am now able to get through a full day with room to spare on the battery meter. I can't go 2 days like I did with the Centro, but I tend to charge nightly anyway. Given all the tech the Pre has that the Centro doesn't (e.g., Wi-Fi, 8GB of RAM, GPS, an HVGA screen, etc.), yet they use the same 1150mAh battery, it's not surprising that the Pre's battery life is a bit worse. But that just gives me an excuse to get one of those nifty Touchstone wireless chargers. And, hey, at least I can swap in a new battery in a pinch.

10. Included out-of-the-box is a pretty nice variety of apps. One I was especially surprised and pleased by is Sprint Navigation, which basically is all the best features of a GPS unit (e.g., real-time 3-D and 2-D mapping with street name pronunciation and multiple route calculation modes). But, there's so much potential here that I cannot WAIT for the flood of apps to hit once the webOS SDK is officially launched and Palm's App Catalog is opened to the public. Based on talking with some devs I know who have access to the SDK, it's really easy to get an app fleshed out and working, so I expect we'll see a small tidal wave of stuff come out in the latter parts of 2009. And that's about when Palm and Adobe should be bringing Flash support to the Pre, which will make some really interesting apps (especially games) possible.

Overall, based on about 2 weeks of having a Palm Pre in my pocket every day, I think it is a very, very promising piece of gear and webOS is poised to be a major platform for years to come. If you have specific questions about the user experience you'd like me to address in future posts, please leave a comment. And, if you're a Twitter user, you can catch some of my shorter comments about the Pre by following CRA1G. Thanks!

Sprint sent out a rather innocuous-looking notice dated February 16, which arrived at our house yesterday. Opening it reveals two interesting bits of information:

1) Sprint will be increasing the replacement fees it charges to its Total Equipment Protection (TEP) program customers based on a two-tier system; pricier phones, including all Palm devices (which, strangely, are listed under the old PalmOne brand), Blackberries, and assorted other smartphones are listed as Tier 2, meaning a $100 replacement fee (versus the $50 fee it previously charged). These changes go into effect April 19, 2009.

2) Listed among the PalmOne [sic] devices is a model I've not previously heard of: The "TREO Jones". Anyone have any idea what that is? My guess is that it's the forthcoming Treo Pro.

treo_jones.jpg

It's also interesting that they refer to the Palm Centro by its much less common name, the Treo 690p, which seems odd for a document meant to be read by non-technical customers.

Sloppy work, Sprint...and disappointing.

my_chumby.jpgAs a longtime ClearSync subscriber (see my review of ClearSync 1.0 from 2006 here), I was excited when John Tanner, the company's CEO, announced that a ClearSync client for Chumby was forthcoming.

Remember Chumby, that quirky, plush nightstand/desk/kitchen counter companion that streams Internet content to its touchscreen? Chumby is an ideal device for places where you need access to online content but where a laptop just doesn't fit or is "too much" machine (not that I'm sure that's ever possible). To the right is Chumby on my bedside table.

Here's a screenshot of what ClearSync on Chumby looks like:

cs_chumby1.gif

You get access to some key ClearSync Calendars features, including:
• Viewing multiple calendars in a single, color-coded view
• The ability to enable/disable any combination of calendars
• Date selection (just tap the time/date header to bring up a calendar-style date picker)
• Automatic cloud-sync with your online/handheld calendar updates

Those of you who live and die by your daily calendar know how critical it is to always have it within arm's reach. Now, it can be right in front of you at all times, even when you're sleeping (which is important if you're like me and have literally woken up in the middle of the night in a mild panic because you can't remember what time an important meeting is the next day).

ClearSync for Chumby is available for free to all ClearSync subscribers who own Chumbys.

If you're just as curious as I was how all the press coverage of Palm's Pre / webOS launch was so overwhelmingly positive, watch the entire presentation on Palm's website and you'll soon see why everyone loved it.

palmpreces.jpg

Today at CES 2009 in Las Vegas, Palm launched their new mobile operating system, webOS, and promised the first device running webOS, the "Pre" smartphone, will be available on Sprint sometime in the first half of 2009. Exact timing depends at least partly on FCC and carrier certification, but you can bet Sprint will be eager to get this thing into its stores.

palmpre_side.jpgpalmpre_sprint.jpgpalmpre_front.jpg

Some key features of the new webOS, according to Palm's presentation:
• Apps can developed using just CSS, HTML, and/or JavaScript
• Multi-tasking
• Internet-centric, integrated throughout all functions (e.g., search)
Synergy technology combines contacts from online accounts (e.g., Facebook, Gmail) and local applications (e.g., Outlook), aggregates and syncs them on the phone, and eliminates duplicates
• All-new multi-instance web browser (buh-bye, Blazer)
• A notifications bar
• Integrated SMS and IM (via Synergy)

palmpre_horiz.jpg

The Pre smartphone lists some impressive hardware specs:
• 320x480 HVGA multi-touch screen
• Slide-out QWERTY keyboard
• Rollerball for one-handed input
• 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
• Bluetooth with A2DP wireless audio
• 8GB of internal flash memory (can act as USB host)
• Texas Instruments' latest OMAP processor
• GPS
• EV-DO Rev. A
• Full-sized 3.5mm headphone jack
• 3MP camera with flash
• Removable battery (take that, Apple!)

And to just round out the wow factor, the Pre will come with be compatible with an optional wireless charger. Yes, wireless charger. You won't "plug in" the Pre, you'll just sit it on the Touchstone charging base and, through the magic of inductive power transmission, the phone will be recharged.

touchstone.jpg

All in all, a very impressive new offering for Palm. If they can execute on this and get it into Sprint's stores quickly, they'll be well-positioned for a comeback.

Here's the full press release.

Each year, we at GearBits post some predictions for the coming year. And then, in the interest of honesty, fairness, and self-deprecation, we take a look back to see how we did. Each of our predictions for 2008 are listed below, along with an update on what actually happened.

1) Blu-Ray Wins the Format War
Yep, I'm going to pick a winner and it's going to be Blu-Ray. The one-two punch of Warner Brothers's move to Blu-Ray exclusivity (from its Switzerland-like neutrality of supporting both formats) later in 2008 and Apple's announcement that BD will be the only HD format available in its products will cement HD DVD's demise. And none too soon. I don't really care which wins...just make it snappy so that prices on players and media can plummet, thanks.

thumbs-up.gifAs of now, the end of 2008, it seems like forever since Blu-Ray trounced HD DVD in the format war. But back in early January, it was anyone's guess. But then, on February 18th, Toshiba officially threw in the towel. Interestingly, the Warner Bros. move I thought would happen eventually was actually announced the day after I posted my predictions. Of course, Apple hasn't yet released any products with any form of HD optical drive, so that bit wasn't exactly spot on. And I'm still waiting for my $99 Blu-Ray player. But, overall, this prediction looks pretty solid.

2) Google's Android Shakes Up Phone Industry
For a while now, the cellphone industry has been fairly static. A few smartphone and mobile OS makers have generally tussled for market share, but the overall industry has been pretty evolutionary. Google's entry will prove to be a watershed moment, with open source finally making a big impact in the handheld space (and no, I don't consider the Zaurus to be a big deal...sorry). Actual handsets running Android will be announced, if not available, before the end of 2008.

thumbs-up.gifDepending on your threshold for "shaking up" the phone industry, I think most people would agree that Android made quite a splash in 2008 when the HTC G1 was launched on T-Mobile in the US on September 23rd. And we've already heard of around a dozen hardware makers signed on to release Android handsets. While handset sales still pale in comparison to the iPhone, 2009 looks like it just might be the year of the Android.

3) Palm Supports Android
This is more of a hope than an actual prediction, as I just don't know whether the egos at Palm will let the company do the right thing and admit that their next-generation OS (which has been under development since 2004!) will be a viable contender against Android (which has essentially the same technical details but scads more developer support). But, if cooler, more rational heads prevail at Palm, they'll announce that they're plans will be to produce at least one Android-based product (probably to come out sometime in 2012 :-/ ).

thumbs-down.gifOuch...I couldn't have been more wrong. While I still think Palm would have been smart to advance their product refurbishment by a full year (maybe more) by going with Android instead of continuing to pursue Nova, the company stuck to its original, go-it-alone plans. We'll see how well that pans out in 2009.

4) Microsoft's HD Photo Replacement for JPEG Image Standard Goes Nowhere
I'm not saying it's a bad idea technically; I'm just saying that JPEG is so entrenched now that replacing it would be about as reasonable a thing to try as would be replacing MP3 with any of the multitudes of better formats. JPEG, like MP3, isn't great, but it's adequate (at least for consumers) and ubiquitous. We'll still be saving all our photos in JPG (and maybe RAW) at the end of 2008...and likely long after that.

thumbs-up.gifJPEG XR, the official name of Microsoft's HD Photo format, has generated essentially zero traction in the camera industry. Part of that is Microsoft's less-than-swift transition of JPEG XR into its quasi-open licensing portfolio, a move that will have to happen for camera makers and developers to trust that they won't be bitten by huge licensing fees in the future if they move their products away from RAW to JPEG XR.

5) Subnotes Will Explode in Availability (and Maybe Popularity)
I've always been a fan of tiny, sub-3-pound laptops, but I think 2008 will see a huge number of these clamshell devices come out of every corner of the consumer electronics space. The Asus EeePC and the OLPC XO Laptop are two examples. While Microsoft had a good idea in its UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) concept, the hardware was just never executed all that well. Frankly, I think a 7" touchscreen for Windows is just too difficult. But, going with the traditional clamshell design and using cheaper and/or smaller technologies (e.g., flash memory instead of a HDD) will bring us a raft of interesting (and some good) designs at <$500 price points. Bring 'em on! And I think we'll start to see a lot more people toting these things along that traditionally avoided laptops for whatever reason (cost, weight, etc.).

thumbs-up.gifBingo. If the shelves at Best Buy and Circuit City are any indication, these "netbooks" (the now-favored term...at least by everyone except Psion) have multiplied faster than Tribbles on Cialis. One glance at the huuuge list of netbooks over at small-notebooks.com is enough evidence to suggest that this prediction was spot on.

6) The GPS War Heats Up
TomTom, Nokia, and Garmin will exchange hostile fire over the GPS market due to convuluted agreements regarding mapping data as well as market-share for hardware. Products will continue to decline in price and improve in functionality, and >50% of cellphones will have some form of GPS functionality available on them. I guess that's two predictions in one...oh well.

thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give myself this one. While we haven't heard that much more about the complex licensing agreements involving the big three, you need only walk through a Staples, Radio Shack, or Target to see a vast assortment of portable GPS units now available for under $150, most even having text-to-speech and other advanced functions. That's in direct comparison to late last year, when it was difficult to find a decent unit for under $300.

7) DRM Hits Choppy Water
2007 saw some movement away from DRM (digital rights management), especially in the music industry, but I expect we'll see similar initiatives in all areas of media. DRM has been proven again and again to be little more than an expensive technological boondoggle, and the leading innovators at the consumer media interface (e.g., Apple, Amazon, and Google) will make some headway into reversing the trend of more encumbrance for our media. The RIAA and MPAA will continue to fight it...they know how to do nothing else...but economic results will start to demonstrate that DRM actually hurts profitability.

thumbs-down.gifNope...we didn't hear much consistent with my prediction. While some markets moved towards offering DRM-free downloads, most are still heavily laden. And the RIAA actually reversed its strategy and is now no longer suing everyone and their mother for alleged downloading. So that's two different ways I was off on this one. Just goes to show that there's no telling what the content owners are thinking.

8) Major Tech Stocks End 2008 Up Significantly
These are bound to be wrong, but what the heck...nobody pays me for stock tips. I think Apple will end 2008 at 235, Google will be at 960, and Microsoft will finish the year at 50. As for other stocks, iRobot will end up at either 46 or 12 (can you tell I'm a cynical shareholder?), IBM will show tepid growth to 112, and RIM, hurt by the continued weak US dollar and facing increasing competition, will struggle to match its 1-year high of 127.

thumbs-down.gifUh, no. While I doubt many saw the massive downturn in stocks coming, tech stocks are decidedly not even slightly better off than most. Let's see how my specific price predictions held up:
  • Apple (AAPL): Predicted = 235; Actual = 86.29
  • Google (GOOG): Predicted = 960; Actual = 303.11
  • Microsoft (MSFT): Predicted = 50; Actual = 19.34
  • iRobot (IRBT): Predicted = 46 or 12; Actual = 8.95
  • IBM (IBM): Predicted = 112; Actual = 83.55
  • Research in Motion (RIMM): Predicted = 127; Actual = 38.77
In summary, do not ask me to manage your stock portfolio...you would be better served by setting your money on fire, as then you could at least stay warm for a while.

9) I Buy a New Laptop and Am Disappointed
My Panasonic CF-W2 is now three-and-a-half-years-old and I'm starting to cringe every time I turn it on (my luck with hard drives makes me skeptical of many living past their 4th birthday). I've been looking at possible replacements (e.g., Toshiba R500, Panasonic W7, maybe the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 or the rumored Apple subnote) and so far every single one has some significant trade-offs. So, I expect I'll get one and it will turn out to be not significantly better than my aging Toughbook. You'd think in nearly four years that two grand would buy something markedly superior. We'll see...

thumbs-up.gifUnfortunately, I was right on this. The Fujitsu LifeBook P8010 I ended up purchasing in February is a good laptop...don't get me wrong. It's just not a heads-and-shoulders better laptop than my ToughBook was, and that's what I was expecting given the nearly 4 years newer technology and the $2500 it cost. And, given that I've already had to send it in for a repair (the power button broke off), I'm guessing the durability won't even come close to that of the Panasonic (which I still use regularly around the house).

10) Major Changes in Automotive Industry Announced
While the car business makes actual change only very slowly, we'll see some huge announcements in 2008 that will fundamentally change the future of that industry. Things like record oil prices, an increasing attention to sustainable/green technology, and significant ownership changes will substantially change the competitive landscape. Make no mistake; Toyota will continue its ascent and eclipse GM as #1 car-maker in the world. But, we will see several major announcements that will start affecting actual consumers in 2009 and beyond.

thumbs-up.gifWhile I didn't get the stock predictions exactly right (OK, not even close), I think it's safe to say that the US automotive industry has been shaken up with major changes during 2008. We saw record oil prices (check!), more attention to green tech (check!), and the bottom dropping out of US consumption didn't leave them anywhere to go except to the Congress for help. And Toyota did indeed become the biggest carmaker in the world in 2008, just as predicted. Let's hope the Volt truly is something special...for all our sakes.

So, there you have it: our final score is 7 winners and 3 losers. I'll take it. :-)

In a couple of days, I'll be posting GearBits' predictions for 2009, so make sure you come back and check those out, m'kay?

In some ways, my German heritage makes me a penny pincher and a tech laggard. For example, I finally bought my first digital television to make sure the guests can watch football over the Thanksgiving holidays. (A cheap 46" Sharp AQUOS LC-46C55U 1080p 60Hz LCD from Costco.)

Step 1 Buy TV. Check!
Step 2, Order FiOS HD DVR box. (I'm too cheap to buy a HD Tivo, at least for now.) Arrived in 24 hours! Check. Hey, this FiOS "On Demand" is nice. Save that topic for another blog post.
Step 3, Hook up computer for 46" home office monitor goodness. Doh! My wired keyboard looks terrible here. Time to go cordless.

What's up with all these wireless keyboard and mouse combos? Who can mouse well on a couch? Wireless mouse at a desk, sure. But Wireless keyboard at a desk? Are cables inherently evil? If you're at a desk, use a corded keyboard and save some batteries.

I'm an unashamed ThinkPad trackpoint fanboy, but I can't find wireless keyboard with a trackpoint. Bummer. I'm stuck with either a trackpad or a trackball. The Logitech diNovo Edge looks extemely cool, but (a) it's pricey, (b) needs space to sit and charge in a cradle and (c) some people don't like its touchdisc whatzit.

DiNovo Edge touch disc?

Then I happened across this Logitech PS3 Mediaboard Pro. No "keyboard" in the product name, so it didn't show up on many of my earlier product searches. Don't be scared by the "PS3" -- it also supports PCs over Bluetooth.

While it looks only 2/3 as cool as the diNovo Edge, it's 1/3 the price of the Edge, doesn't need a charging cradle, and received good reviews. People even liked the Mediaboard's trackpad. "One click" on Amazon, and here it comes.

Did I screw up ordering this? Chime in if you have a favorite media keyboard.

Logitech PS3 Mediaboard Pro

cancer.jpgAnother medical professional has come out publicly warning those who will listen that cellphones may cause cancer. Or they may not. They're not sure, but why risk it, right?

"I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe."
   -- Devra Lee Davis, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Environmental Oncology

Next week, the University of Pittsburgh will be issuing warnings about the possible cancer-causing side effects of:
• Cheddar cheese
• Paperclips
• Lingering too long in the grocery's produce aisle
• Sudoku
• Your aunt's meatloaf (actually, that's probably true), and
• Reading medical news stories late at night

Check out the full article (CNN.com)

sprint.gifI opened up my Sprint PCS bill to find an $18 charge described as "Handset upgrade fee." Wha?

Sure, last month, a few weeks after our 2-year indentured servitude contract with the carrier ended (we're now month-to-month), my wife needed a new phone. We got her a new Centro and paid full price for it because I didn't want to go back under contract. But nobody said anything about a fee just for buying a new phone.

So I called up Sprint customer service this morning and, after discussing it with both the rep and her manager, they basically told me there was nothing they could do about it (at which point I asked why they were called "customer service") and that I'd have to go back to the store to argue about the charge.

Who in their right minds would insult a customer who isn't under an active contract (i.e., who is free to leave for a competitor at the drop of a hat) by asking for an extra $18 on top of the $300 he just spent in your store, especially given that he's already paying you nearly $100 a month? And why, oh why, would you trust some random clerk in some random store to salvage what is a very profitable, long-term relationship when the customer has already taken the time to call your service department and talk to you?

It all clearly reminded me why Sprint is nearly universally loathed by its customers and former customers alike.

I then dragged myself into the local Sprint store, girding for yet another fruitless battle over $18. At this point, it wasn't so much the money as it was the principle. Surprisingly, after a 30-second explanation, the store rep said, "Oh, no, that's a mistake...I'll take it right off." And that was that. Awesome.

So, while all's well that ends well, this little experience reminded me quite clearly why I didn't renew my contract with Sprint. Any company who makes such poor decisions about how it manages its customer relationships does not adequately desire, or deserve, my patronage. When the new Android devices, or whatever else that satisfies my requirements, come out, I'll be ready, and eager, to switch carriers as needed.

airport-extreme.gifI apologize for the recent 3 days of GearBits.com outage. The cause was my shift from an old Netgear 802.11g router/access point to a shiny new Apple Airport Extreme 802.11n router.

The problems were several, but suffice to say that the main unresolved issue lays in the AE's inability to suck down DHCP information from my ISP. Is it the AE's fault or my ISP's fault? I don't know...it just doesn't work. So, after figuring that out and entering in all the data manually, I now have to reset the broadband modem each time I update the router's configuration.

Sure it's a pain-in-the-ass, but now we have 802.11n (my laptop says it's connected at 144mbps) and I'll soon be adding an external drive to the AE for some inexpensive NAS action.

Anyway, things are back up and they should pretty much stay that way until I switch out the webserver sometime in the next week or so (the 5+-year-old WinXP machine, which is powered by a 1.2GHz AMD Athlon with 512 megs of RAM will soon be replaced by a new dual-core Mac Mini, so the site should be a bit more responsive).

So, sorry again...I'll now return you to your arguments over how much Time Warner Cable sucks, griping about FedEx Smartpost, and reminiscing about TV shows from your childhood.

Mitch, seeing my Hot/Not list from yesterday, compiled his own, so here it is:

HOT

  • iPod Touch - I tried the Archos 605 Wi-Fi first and its mediocrity makes the Touch that much more delightful. I really love well done user interfaces and this one is first rate. My only complaint is its picky eating habits when it comes to video formats.
  • iMac - I waited longer than any other tech purchase to finally go with Apple's all-in-one desktop PC. I opted for the top of the line 3.06 GHz 24" model and have been completely blown away by it. So far I have found no flaws. It is stunning.
  • High Gas Prices - Innovation rocks and if it takes $5/gallon gasoline to get us out of this oil addiction then I'm more than willing to pay my dues. Fewer SUVs and pickups, electric cars, solar energy, alternative fuels, more big butts on bicycles, less traffic congestion; I'm all for it. Let's drop our consumption by half and let OPEC drink their devalued crude.
  • Synology - A NAS will soon be as ubiquitous on a home network as the router is today. The clever, feature-filled offerings from Synology are the best of the breed. I'll have a DS508 please!
  • Subaru - Totally agree with Craig here. I've been
    in Imprezas now going on six years and I still feel like I'm cheating when I share the road with normal cars. Scoobys are fabulous.
  • Ken Follett's Historical Novels - "The Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" are two of my favorite books of all time and I just took them in this Spring. I listened to both on my iPod (over 40 hours each) after downloading them from Audible and they made a month of 1000 mile weekly commutes totally enjoyable. Masterful stuff.
  • CrossFit - I was in good shape 20 years ago and at 44 I can wipe the floor with my 24 year old self (if that was possible). I've been CrossFitting for almost a year now and some of the things I can do now would have seemed outlandish back then.

NOT

  • General Motors - If you Google dinosaur, out of touch, lethargic, and unimaginative you should pull up GM's home page. I used to be a fan, but they have been disappointing me for 25 years now and don't seem to be planning any big changes. The sooner they finish themselves off, the better off we'll be.
  • Labor Unions - Working in the industrial world I cross paths with unions
    of all sorts way more than I would like. I completely understand why our manufacturing sector is fleeing to other countries. I have never seen such a lazy, selfish, destructive, regressive bunch of people in my life. They can't all be like that, but the ones I've met surely are.
  • Sheeple-Filled Corporate IT Departments - My 26,000 strong corporation is going to switch to Vista because they don't want to be left with no anti-virus support for their XP platform. Goodbye nice warm frying pan and hello fire.
  • Cable/Satellite TV - I'm SO tired of paying $80 a month for a bunch of
    garbage that I would never watch even if I had the time. It won't be long until I cut that cord and start rolling my own TV. If I could just decide which way I want to do it!
  • Global Markets - I realize that even the lowliest trader in/on most investment banks/trading floors/commodities exchanges is smarter than I am, but I would really love to see them use those brains rather than run with every emotion that riffles through the world markets. Do investors even pay attention to P/E ratios or supply and demand or is it all about what the hot analyst is saying or the sheeple are doing?