Cool Random Tech Stuff

Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Tip the Web

I was wondering if anyone has heard of the Tip the Web Foundation? It is a Non-Profit that encourages people to leave small donations for sites and content that they believe is valuable.

It seems like a crowd sourcing of voting for good content through small payments. This could encourage the better authors to create more content if people like it. It also reminds me of the good old days of the internet before a bunch of pay-walls.

Take a look and see if you guys think there is a benefit to small content producers.

http://tiptheweb.org/

HP WebOS Pivot App Discovery

FULL PRESS RELEASE

HP Announces webOS Pivot for HP TouchPad Company enhances webOS Developer Program with new updates

PALO ALTO, Calif., June 23, 2011 –HP today announced HP webOS Pivot, providing users an entertaining and informative editorial resource for discovering webOS 3.0 applications for the HP TouchPad, which launches July 1.

Designed to complement the HP webOS App Catalog, Pivot will showcase a broad range of applications –and the developers who create them –by providing customers the freedom to explore based on their interests and lifestyles. It’s just one of the new ways HP is enhancing the webOS Developer Program and investing further in the success of the growing ecosystem.

“Pivot brings app discovery to a new level for customers and developers alike,” said Richard Kerris, vice president, webOS Worldwide Developer Relations, HP. “We want our partners to experience webOS as the growing platform of opportunity, and we’re investing in new ways to help market their applications on our platform.”

Published on a monthly basis, Pivot is designed to broaden developer exposure and create a dynamic marketplace for the burgeoning webOS developer community. Consisting of original content by journalists and photographers affiliated with leading publications, Pivot will include visually driven editorial pieces, columns from notable guest writers sharing their perspectives on digital culture, feature stories focused on applications around specific topics, and in-depth reviews –all accompanied by vibrant photos and illustrations on HP TouchPad’s brilliant screen. Content will be catered to the specific interests and requirements of a given region, appealing to a wide range of international customers.

Pivot will publish initially for English, French, German and Spanish languages and will be updated over the air directly to all HP TouchPad customers.

“Pivot has the right focus,” said Joe Simon, chief technology officer, Conde Nast. “It provides an enriching experience for customers and is a great environment for developers considering the platform.”

Investing in webOS developer success

The webOS Developer Program enhancements also include a new discount structure. Developers will have access to this pricing model based on their years in the Palm developer program and active applications in the webOS App Catalog.

“Working with HP and the webOS ecosystem has been fantastic,” said Haden Blackman, co-president and chief creative officer of Fearless Studios, a game company recently started by Blackman and fellow LucasArts alum, Cedrick Collomb. “It’s a perfect fit with our core values as a company –creative risks mitigated by smart technology choices. Because the platform is so accessible and developer-friendly, we’ve been able to build the game we want to build.”

“We love the TouchPad and the webOS platform for game development,” added Collomb, chief technology officer, Fearless Studios. “It’s built from the ground up for seamless connectivity between devices and it’s an open platform, which makes development that much easier.”

HP TouchPad availability

The Wi-Fi version of HP TouchPad(1) will be available in stores and online in the United States on July 1 with the option of either 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage(2) for $499.99 and $599.99, respectively.(3) HP TouchPad will be available in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Germany on July 2 and in Canada on July 15, with availability scheduled to follow later this year in Australia, Hong Kong, Italy, New Zealand, Singapore and Spain.

More information about HP TouchPad is available at http://www.hp.com/touchpad.

HP webOS Developer Program

Complete details about the updated developer programs will be available on the HP webOS Developer Portal beginning July 1

Topic Suggestions

If you are interested in a particular topic that I should write about, please leave a comment on this post. I’ll try to cover the topic and my opinion on it.

What Apple Does Exceptionally Well At

I’ve been a critic of Apple’s policies and practices at times but I want to take some time and write about what I think Apple does well, because there are a lot of those things. Chief among them are getting people excited about technology through marketing and the ease of use compared to other computing devices.

Please feel free to add your comments about anything I may have missed in this post.

System Integration

If you want to buy products from a single company that will integrate with one another, choose Apple. Apple makes products that just work, at least work with other Apple devices. Want to stream content from your iPhone to your Apple TV? Done, easy! Music management to your iDevice? Done, easy to use without confusing file browsers.

iTunes can sync to your iPod or iPhone and back it up. This can be done over the cloud after iOS 5 is released. AirPlay is a service Apple created that works to stream content to other Apple products and does a better job at it than DLNA does. These technologies are in no ways an easy thing to pull off with such good integration and I think that has to be part of the reason they only release them for their own products. They control the experience and make the tight integration possible.

Industry influence not seen before

Apple as a company has incredible influence over other industry players. This includes the music industry, the wireless carriers, and hardware manufacturers.

Music Industry

Apple presented the music industry a way to capitalize on the digital music craze of the early 2000’s. The music industry welcomed this change from the common practice of illegal file sharing which began with Napster. The music industry was losing a lot of money because people stopped buying their $20 CDs, so when Apple came in and started selling digital copies of music singles the industry did not have a lot of choice. This also gave the common people a lower cost alternative to acquiring music than those expensive CDs, and an avenue away from the RIAA lawsuits for illegal file sharing.

The music industry may not be completely happy that Apple has such a large market share in digital music, but the connections to that industry provide Apple advantages in other ventures. The fact that Apple secured the cloud music licensing when Google and Amazon could not shows that advantage. Google and Amazon are very large companies with plenty of money to through around, but Apple is the one to secure the deals first. Google and Amazon have cloud music storage based on uploading instead of scanning music and storing a single copy for multiple users. This will provide a major advantage in reducing server space and network usage on the server side of these technologies.

Wireless Carriers

The American wireless carriers are notorious for controlling the devices that work on their network. Prior to the iPhone, carriers would add their software offerings on devices such as Verizon’s VCast as well as have handset manufacturers adjust designs to the carrier’s likings. When Apple was looking for a carrier to put the iPhone on, they wanted complete control of their handset. There was no AT&T logo, there was no added bloat-ware on the phone, and it was originally sold only through Apple stores. This shift of control was reported to be the reason Verizon declined having the iPhone originally.

I applaud Apple for their success here. It’s still a place where Google Anroid gives up control to manufacturers and carriers. If you have bought an Android phone with all those fun apps that you cannot remove, such as CityID, purchased an Android phone with Bing as the search engine, or seen the carrier logo on the handset then you know what I mean.

If Apple were to release an unlocked iPhone 5 that supports CDMA for Verizon and Sprint as well as GSM for AT&T and T-Mobile in one device, it will be a monumental achievement for wireless handsets. Purchasing an unlocked phone off contract will provide you a phone you can take with you to any carrier without being locked into a contract or having to buy a new phone when you do switch. This has been a dream of many for years. Even with the current system, an off-contract phone will not allow you to easily transfer to another carrier because of communications limitations. It is something that most of the rest of the world is a bit more familiar with.

Product Usability

Apple has stated that it wants to hide the technical and confusing details of computing from the user. This is great for usability to common users. I studied designing computers in college and some of the stuff is still confusing to me. This is where Apple is hands down better than other developers of operating systems.

Conventional PCs running Windows have increased functionality and utility over a Mac device, but at the cost of complicated menus and command lines to access the options. Mac OSX is much easier to use. Uninstalling a program is simple and does not involve removing files after uninstall. Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) are simplified as well. Compared to Windows Mobile (prior to Windows Phone 7) and Android phones, Apple far outpaces them on ease of use by simplifying options and even hiding the file systems from the user. This is not good for power users, but I think there are millions of iOS users that are okay with not seeing the file system.

The animations and overall design of Mac OSX and iOS made Microsoft and Google aware of the need to simplify designs for users and make them more eye-pleasing. Windows Vista and subsequently Windows 7 were vast improvements to how Windows looked and felt. These were probably improvements focused on because of the increased popularity in Mac products. Google is also heading improvements to its Android OS to compete with other mobile operating systems. Android is still a power user’s interface and not simple to navigate, and thus Google hired an ex-Palm user experience expert, Matias Duarte.

Marketing

There is nothing else like it. Honestly, Apple has one of the best marketing strategies in the entire world. If you study marketing in college, you will probably study something about Apple. The choice in words they use is remarkable as well as the fact that everyone presenting at their grand product releases stick to the company line and use terminology to extract emotion from everyone watching.

Commercials are designed to make viewers happy and excited. They use light colors for the feeling of “good” as well as the music selection being upbeat. They are usually simple, with iPhone and iPad commercials showing someone’s fingers touching and navigating the screens. Simple, clear, and concise. If you are in a bar with loud music and see an Apple commercial, you can still get the point that navigating on your iPhone you can get the latest app out. It is also no coincidence that the very successful Mac vs PC television spots showed two characters in a white background with the Mac being hip and the PC being old with glasses. They also used humor very well to reach audiences.

Apple has tremendous brand recognition in the market. I previously mentioned something about an iDevice in this post. There is no coincidence that Apple names most of their products using the “i” before it: iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iCloud. These “i” originally meant that the devices were Internet devices, but now they mostly serve as brand recognition.

The closest naming scheme I have seen in the mobile industry is the Verizon branding of Droid. They have branded high-end devices as Droid so as to allow people an easy way to categorize their phones. Apple has a much better brand recognition because the user experience across the different iDevices is more consistent than on Droid phones. A Droid Incredible 2, a Droid 2, and a Droid Charge have completely different user interfaces let alone from factors.

Final Thoughts

For as much as I disagree with some of Apple’s policies, I do realize that their products are top notch in usability and the company can be innovative in both consumer electronics and software as well as marketing and business deals. I am a big fan of their push in separating mobile handsets from carriers as it provides a cleaner user experience to me. I do not think Apple will be going anywhere with these strengths.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review – Available Nationwide June 17th

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a tablet designed to compete with the design and sleek look of the Apple iPad 2. It was redesigned after the announcement of the iPad 2 and the old version is now the Galaxy Tab 10.1v. The newly designed Galaxy Tab 10.1 really does make an impression with how thin and light it is.
Bottom Line

At $499 for the 16GB WiFi version and $599 for the 32GB version, this is definitely a top runner for tablets in the market. It is sleek, stylish, and has the full web experience with Adobe Flash technology. It also runs Android Honeycomb 3.1, which is lacking in the quality app selection of the iPad 2. The differences between the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 come down to what you use them for. I think the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is more of a laptop replacement than the iPad, but neither complete the transition for me.

Specs

10.1” Widescreen (1280×800 WXGA TFT LCD)
Android Honeycomb 3.1 OS
1 GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor
WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz (no cellular modem)
Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR Connectivity
3-Megapixel rear camera with auto-focus and flash
2-Megapixel front camera
7000 mAh battery
A-GPS (Assisted GPS)
10.1” (W) x 6.9” (H) x 0.34” (D)

Review

Software

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 ships without TouchWiz, instead shipping with stock Android Honeycomb 3.1. This means a lot to me just because I am not a fan of manufacturer software customizations on Android. There are some improvements, but the updates usually are slow compared to stock Android devices. The only custom features that I could find were the camera application, the keyboard, and the Samsung Hub.

The camera application looks out of place with the Honeycomb UI but also brings hidden features to the forefront. The camera application swap out seems like a user preference to me. The interface different between stock Honeycomb does not make a difference to me.

The keyboard and Samsung Hub are two “enhancements” that I would prefer being left off. I changed the keyboard to the stock version and liked it much more than the Samsung customization. One thing about Android is customization. You can choose the keyboard that works for you or get another one to install. The Samsung Hub is easily not used as you can use the Android Market or Amazon Appstore.

Games and Apps

This thing plays games like a champ. With a Tegra 2 chip this tablet is designed for gaming and flawless video processing playback. I played Gun Bros, Dungeon Defenders, Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies. All of them seemed to play very well. The only hiccup I saw was Plants vs Zombies. The graphics seemed to be pixelated since the screen is just blown up, whereas the other games played just fine. The Plants vs Zombies app would also need to reload or resume when you would change the volume or tap the notification area in Honeycomb. This is more a critique of the app with use in Honeycomb rather than the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

On the apps side of things, I really enjoyed the News360 app for reading news as well as TweetComb to interact with Twitter. They both used fragments very well to show different panes of content on a larger screen instead of scaling up a phone interface. There are not as many app selections in the Android Market as there are in the Apple App Store. There are plenty of opportunities for Honeycomb optimized apps, utilizing the big touchscreen devices. At the time of this writing though, quality app selection has to go to the iPad 2.

Hardware

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is slightly thinner than the iPad 2, but it is not noticeable without a caliper. It is lighter though, and pretty easy to tell the difference on weight. With the screen being a beautiful HD widescreen, it can be awkward to hold the device in landscape mode while trying to type and hold a conversation as in Google Talk. Typing in portrait mode is slightly easier than the iPad because of the less height on the product, but still felt uncomfortable with longer conversations. The widescreen aspect ratio and vivid screen makes for good viewing experience for movies.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a power button, volume rocker, and a headphone jack that support the earbuds included with the unit. The headphones are of decent quality, and come with three different sized rubber in-ear pieces. The built-in speakers are heard through two small slits on either side of the tablet in landscape mode. They are nothing special as speakers go. You can enjoy the music or movies you play through the speakers, but the true sound quality can be heard through the included headphones.

The cameras on the tablet are about par for tablets. They’re there to video chat and take pictures when no other device is available. You won’t get stunning pictures as you would from a regular camera, or even decent camera phones, but it will allow you to capture life moments when no other devices is there. A note about the quality, they did seem better than the iPad 2 cameras but that does not mean too much.

The tablet also has assisted GPS which helps better locate your devices for all those favorite location tracking services you use. Checking in on Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, Urban Spoon, and Latitude. All of these services benefit from the GPS even on the WiFi models.

This Honeycomb tablet has integrated flash in the browser. This allows for the complete web experience to be seen, at least on sites that do not block mobile devices such as Hulu. You can view restaurant menus, fashion websites, awesome flash ads, and any other Flash content you like to look at, even the questionable stuff. This is in stark contrast to Apple’s philosophy of withholding flash content from its mobile devices. The reasons behind that can be many, including some performance issues (that can be minimized by hardware acceleration) as well as Apple wanting to control their platform and money stream for apps. If you are looking for a laptop replacement, consider the Tab 10.1 over the iPad 2 because of the Flash aspect.

The notable hardware that are missing from the devices are a USB port and HDMI port for external video viewing. These two major features of the Motorola Xoom are missing from the Galaxy Tab 10.1 mostly because of thickness limitations and cost control. The Tab uses a proprietary cable to charge and connect the device to a computer for file transfer. The cable seems cheap, similar to other Apple iPod devices. The proprietary port also supports extra add-ons similar to the iPad 2. You can currently buy an expansion for a USB port through the connector, which will enable the USB hosting of Honeycomb 3.1. This means you can put a camera in the slot or a flash drive and read the data on the tablet.

Common user recommendation

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is very feasible as a common user device. The interface is slick and pleasant to use. The device itself is thin and light and what I consider fashionable. It’s a great alternative to the iPad 2, but the app selection on the iPad 2 is still far better. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a great way to enjoy the new tablet ease of use while staying out of the Apple walled garden.

Power user recommendation

Power users may want to stay away from this device just because of the USB and HDMI built-in option not there. The Xoom might be a better full featured option. This comes at the cost of size and weight though. Android is definitely the option for operating system if you are a power user. The customization far exceeds anything available for iOS.

HD7S Review – Available June 5th from AT&T

The HTC HD7S is a new 4.3” Windows Phone being offered for $199 on contract at AT&T. I was able to spend the last week with phone and I was pleasantly surprised by it. This was my first Windows Phone 7 review device but I will try to limit this review to more of a handset review than software review.

Bottom Line
At $199 on a 2-year contract, this phone is a good alternative to the walled garden of iOS and the fragmentation of Android. The operating system is very smooth and the hardware seemed adequate to handle what I could throw at it. However, it is lacking the app support and advanced features of the other two major phone operating systems. There are other phones at this same price point that may provide a more mainstream alternative, such as the iPhone or Droid X2.

If you are making the switch to Windows Phone 7, then the HD7S on AT&T is a good option with a good screen and phone built for media consumption.

Specs
Windows Phone 7 OS, with “No-Do” update (copy and paste)
GSM/GPRS/EDGE Quad-band (world phone)
4.3″ SuperLCD Display (800 x 480 WVGA)
1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Processor (QSD 8250)
576MB of RAM
512MB ROM
16GB internal memory
5 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
720P video recording camcorder
1230 mAh battery
Kickstand

This phone has a single core processor and does not have 4G, nor does it have a front facing camera.

Review
The HTC HD7S will ship with the Windows Phone 7 operating system, with the No-Do update that provides copy and paste functionality along with performance updates. Copy and paste worked very well everywhere that I tried it on the phone. It did take some getting used to with selecting and editing text from my personal Android phone, but was easy to learn.

With the being a Windows Phone, there are a lot of integration with the various Microsoft services such as Windows Live, Exchange Server ActiveSync, Office, SharePoint, Xbox Live, and Zune. The Windows Live features allow you to sync pictures and One Notes to the cloud and view them from a desktop browser. You can also locate the phone when lost, as well as ring it, lock it, and remotely erase it. These are nice features to have on increasingly important pocket devices, which usually will cost money on other platforms.

I am a fan of the Zune music player on Windows and thus Windows Phone integration with it is a positive for me. Syncing music is done similar to iTunes and thus is an improvement over the Android music mess, even with Google’s launch of their cloud music service. Music, movies, podcasts, and marketplace purchases can be accessed through the phones “Music + Videos” app.

The major drawbacks of the operating system are the lack of multitasking and the lack of third party app support. Multitasking was noticeably missing when trying to use the TuneIn radio app while then attempting to go to the browser. The radio application does not play in the background and stops playing when returning to the main screen. However, preloaded music will continue to play through the “Music+Videos” app. The lack of third party apps was noticeable for me when looking for Dropbox, Evernote, SiriusXM, and Angry Birds applications. There is a paid app for a Dropbox client, but it is not created by the website itself. I did not find an Evernote application in the market, but the phone does come with Microsoft One Note. This is a good product, but would be locked down to only Windows Phones and require a change of software if you already use Evernote. Angry Birds is said to be releasing a Windows Phone app in the very near future, but nonetheless it is not released yet.

The keyboard on this phone was pleasant to use. The 4.3” screen provides a big surface to type on the nicely laid out keys. I was able to efficiently type in portrait mode at high speeds even with my slightly larger than normal fingers. The landscape keyboard was also pleasant, as the keys did not simply stretch to fit the wide portion of the screen. Menus adjusted and keys were pretty square on the screen, unlock some Android keyboards. Editing text involves either clicking at the beginning or ends of a word or to long press the screen until a cursor pops up and then you are able to select which letter to edit.

The HTC Hub is included on this phone since it is an HTC phone. This includes a weather animation similar to Sense on their Android devices, as well as a list of featured apps available to HTC phones. These animations are nice eye candy but seem to be misplaced on a Windows Phone. The pièce de résistance for Windows Phone is its simplicity and the weather animations detract from that.

The kickstand on the phone is a nice feature to have when you want to play that YouTube video for a couple of friends. Having the 4.3” Super LCD screen with the kickstand really make this a media consumption product. I did experience a feeling of the phone tipping over while reading articles with the kickstand and trying to scroll up and down. You’ll have to be careful to scroll lightly or use two hands to make sure the phone doesn’t fall off the surface it is on or slide too much.

The display was sufficiently bright and clear and seemed okay in the sunlight. It performed better than my Incredible in daylight with both displays turned up to the maximum. Neither were as clear as they are inside but the HD7S seemed to be brighter.

Sound quality on the headphones was better from the HD7S than the Incredible, especially when the HTC sound application was installed and Dolby Mobile was turned on. It seemed clearer with more bass than did the same sample songs on the Incredible. However, sound from the speaker left something to be desired. It is a phone, but the sound seemed saturated quickly when turning up the volume while playing media. It’ll play media and let you hear phone calls, but it is not the best speaker setup out there.

The three physical buttons on the device are the power button on the top right, the volume rocker on the upper right, and the camera button on the lower right. The power and camera buttons seemed too flush with the edge and sometimes difficult to press. The camera was easy to focus with the button but at times required precise pressing of the camera button to snap the photo, which can get frustrating. However, the phone would start the camera application once the camera button was pressed even when locked. This allowed for quicker snapshots, especially in those moments where time is of the essence. The camera is 5MP and does okay for a phone, and has dual-LED flash to help with lighting. It will capture the moments that you don’t have a camera but won’t replace a dedicated camera. I liked the placements of the headphone jack on the bottom of the phone since it allows you greatest length of headphone cable while the phone is on a desk, unlike the top placement on the Incredible.

The battery life on the phone seemed okay. I could go the majority of a day using the phone for average use of text messages, web browsing, light phone, and light game usage. It does have a smaller battery compared to other devices in its size class (the EVO has a 1500 mAh battery and Thunderbolt has a 1400 mAh battery while the HD7S has a 1230 mAh battery). It is considerably smaller in physical size than my Incredible battery, which is 1300 mAh.

HD7S battery (black) compared to Incredible battery (red)

Common User Recommendation
The HD7S is a good device for the common user. The hardware may be slightly outdated compared to newer Android devices, but it still works well with the Windows Phone operating system. It is a device that still has a lot of room for improvement through future software updates so you would be on the beginning wave if you bought into Windows Phone with this device (Windows Phone 7 came out in October of 2010). That said, not all applications will be designed for it yet. It provides a great experience that is smoother than Android without the obtrusive notifications of iOS.

This device would also be good for business integration for Exchange ActiveSync. It does lack the staple data encryption that BlackBerry has been known for and Apple implemented in 2009.

Power User Recommendation
I would not recommend this phone for true power users. Android still provides the ultimate experience for users who will customize anything and everything. Windows Phone is a platform that fits between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in that it has tight control of the OS but licenses it to hardware manufacturers to produce various form factors. Microsoft also puts constraints on specs to help fight fragmentation and user experience, but you are able to get a Windows Phone with a physical keyboard, or one with a big screen and a kickstand.

One caveat of Windows Phone is that even with the bloat-ware that can be preinstalled, such as some of the AT&T apps, can also be easily removed through uninstalling. This is in contrast to Android where you sometimes have to root a phone to remove unwanted apps.