Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nashville airport sux!!!

Nashville airport sux!!!

No cell phone reception, so the aircard won't connect. Their wi-fi is through Boingo for $4.95 an hour, and Boingo can't even seem to take my frickin money! And they are making me install some ridiculous Boingo connection manager. And my connection stength is VERY LOW! Give me a freakin break! Did I mention that there are only two restaurants in my gate area and both are jam packed?

So, I am typing this blog from my phone that's got a half bar of signal strength, just so I can rant and let Nashvillians know that they should not accept this crap! This is worse than LAX and that place is a pit! Out...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Online streaming music continues to grow!

I am well aware of the fact that Satellite Radio is the current media darling. In fact, after six weeks of traveling across the country for my new gig, I have fallen passionately in love with Sirius Radio Channel 43 - BackSpin. All oldschool hip-hop, all the time. Driving out of Atlanta airport in my rental car a couple of weeks ago, I tuned in randomly to BackSpin only to hear the almighty Kurtis Blow introduce the next track: Public Enemy - Night of the Living Baseheads. He had me at hello. Now I can't live without it. Great DJ's, no commecials, and no edits!!! Seriously, life doesn't get any better.

Or does it? After being suitably impressed by my alternative music options in the car, what's a guy to do when he's sitting on the tarmac for an hour on a delayed flight to Baltimore? Streaming internet radio on my trusty Palm Centro, that's what! I didn't even know the Centro *did* internet radio! As a consummate underground hip-hop fan, I was more than gratified to see listed under the station list. But there was also a newcomer: Live365's Hip-hop Lounge. Between these two stations, I have been in music bliss during my airport downtime. The DJ's at these stations clearly have a true passion for their chosen genre. They transition effortlessly from Diggable Planets to Gangstarr, Jurrasic 5 to Pete Rock, Murs to Common. Please, please, please give them a listen. Support something, ANYTHING other than big radio. I assure you, great music is still out there!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to return to this Goodie Mob track...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The two faces of Apple

I would like to extend a heartfelt "thank you" to all of my new readers from Urban Thought Collective! I am sincerely proud and humbled to be a part of this community. Now, on to the tech!

Last week, I gave you an overview of the major players in the coming mobile-phone slugfest that's about to hit the market. Apple vs. Google vs. the handset manufacturers (Motorola, Samsung, et al). If I were to portray this market conflict in terms of a boxing analogy, I would invite you to recall the Tyson vs. Spinks fight circa 1988. I was all of 14-years-old and I vividly recall watching the pay-per-view event at a friends' house. We were glued to the screen as my buddy's mother got up to fix herself a drink in the kitchen about 30 seconds into Round 1. When she returned ONE MINUTE later, the fight was OVER!!! Iron Mike had knocked Michael Spinks into dreamland at 1:30 in the first round. I remember seeing Spinks' eyes roll up into his head and thinking, " Damn Tyson hits hard!" while listening to my buddy's mother say, "You're KIDDING me! The fight is OVER??? And I missed it???"

In this case, Apple is Mike Tyson, and the rest of the industry is Spinks. When the iPhone hit the market in June of 2007, it literally knocked the industry on it's collective ass. It had an intuitive touchscreen that would respond to finger touches as opposed to random other knocks and jostles. The applications included a shockingly cool webbrowser! (check it)

For the first time, a phone could display regular (as opposed to mobile-formatted) websites, either portrait or landscape, and with touch-driven zoom options! And that was just the tip of the iceberg. ITunes was seamlessly integrated making this a truly multimedia phone. There was GPS, wi-fi, instant messaging, video, and more all driven through a miniature version of Mac's much-lauded operating system. There were even select 3rd party applications you could buy (more on this later).

But even as the early-adopter segment cleaned AT&T and Apple stores out of their inventory, there was a growing discontent among some of the fanboi's. To give you some perspective on the origins of this anti-Apple angst, I invite you to take a trip with me back to the year 2001. Steve Jobs was in the 4th year of his second go-round as CEO at Apple, Pixar Studios (Jobs' baby) was still riding high on Toy Story, and a new digital audio player called the iPod had just debuted to the general public. The iPod, although slow to pick up steam, proved to be a gadget juggernaut and within three years it was a pop-cultural darling. Uber-trendy Apple was revered for creating a device that "just worked" for the average consumer. The iPod was simple and intuitive; a stark contrast to Microsoft and the Windows gauntlet. However, the blissful Apple experience came with a hefty price tag: thirty percent more $$ on average than it's competitors. And then there was the dreaded vendor lock-in.

(SIGH) This is where things get complicated. Although Apple's iPod was revolutionary in the digital music player market, many a consumer had no idea that upon purchasing it, the music they purchased via the iTunes music store was largely playable ONLY on the iPod. The actual songs were copy-protected and encoded in a format NOT playable by other MP3 players! Many consumers were shocked to find out that they could not share their iTunes music with a friend, or even back it up to another computer. Apple kept tight control over every aspect of purchasing and playback, all in the name of "stability and usability" for the consumer. It was like buying a car that comes with a driver. But that driver will only take you to destinations he deems appropriate or safe.

Fast-forward to 2007, and the iPhone is attracting the same criticism as it's iPod brethren. Only this time, the lockdown is positively stifling. Although consumers have the power of a portable computer in the palm of their hands, only "Apple approved" applications can be sold via the iPhone application store.
Hackers ultimately produced a "jailbreak" application to open the iPhone so that consumers could use features the way *they* wanted, not necessarily the way Apple wanted. Observe. So easy, a caveman can do it:

In under 60 seconds, a plethora of non-Apple approved applications became available to iPhone owners. Thus began the war between Apple and the Hackers. You see, the one constant about Apple, Inc. is that they *MUST* be in control at all times. Hackers jailbreak the iPod, Apple updates and overrrides the jailbreak, Hackers patch the override, and so on ad nauseum. It is a never-ending war to either keep the iPhone locked down or open it for all.

And that is the real decision that potential iPhone consumers must ultimately make. Do you want Apple to drive? Or would you like to be in the driver's seat, constantly vigilant for Apple updates or killswitches that will replace you at the helm? Do you trust Apple to always accept the "best of breed" applications into their store? Or would you rather "roll the dice" and figure out what works for you while dodging sniper shots from Apple?

Next time, I'll be discussing Google's new Android operating systems and the first phones running on that platform. There is so much COOL innovation happening with cell phones right now, I can't stand it!!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The coming Mobile Phone Wars!

Sounds ominous, right? Well, it should. Most tech shootouts do more harm than good to the consumer. Anybody remember Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD? Lasting for over two years, this Hi-Def DVD format face-off split the entertainment content community and left consumers standing on the sidelines scratching their heads. And Blu-ray's eventual victory earlier this year surely tasted of ashes. They were left with either angry customers who had spent hundreds on HD-DVD boxes and its respective media, or hopelessly confused customers who still didn't know that simply owning a Play Station 3 had put them in the winners' circle.

What does that mean for the looming Mobile Phone slug-fest? More of the same consumer confusion. Perhaps I should explain. Recently, in a test market, smart-phone owners were asked about the capabilities of their phones and how they used them. It was determined that, although the smart-phone owners confidently claimed to use 100% of their phones' features such as texting and pictures, on average the group was *really* only using 40% of their phone's true capabilities. Advanced features like email, web-browsing, calendaring, instant messaging and mp3's were largely unused. In fact, some of these consumers carried multiple devices to accomplish the other tasks, completely oblivious to the fact that their phones could do all of these things and more!

So, what's the big deal? Who cares if you've got a Blackberry Curve that you only use for texting??? Well, I contend that YOU should care. Really good convergent devices do a couple of things to improve your life. If you live a mobile lifestyle (real estate agent, pharma sales, home office, small business, etc.) the smart-phone allows you to turn downtime into productive time, ultimately making you more efficient. It also allows you to (if you're smart) get closer to that holy grail that we all call work/life balance. Picture this: While you were standing in line at the bathroom for the Brewer game for 10 minutes, you could have read and responded to four emails, updated a meeting in your calendar, edited that staffing spreadsheet, streamed a youtube video of the Sausage Race you missed while you were waiting in line, and sent an IM to your wife telling her you're running late because your boss told you to finish those TPS reports TONIGHT! By the time you get home, your work is done, and family time is REALLY family time.

That should be enough to whet any gadget-consumer's appetite. But what about this war? Even if you're on-board to squeeze more stuff out of your smart-phone, the market is about to change soooooo dramatically, that you'll need a ringside announcer just to keep up.

In one corner, we've got the iPhone. Pretty, sleek, thin, intuitive, and feature rich. In a market run by the carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, et al), this was the first major push to market by a handset manufacturer (Apple) where THEY actually dictated the terms to a carrier. Apple *pwned* AT&T for every penny, charging full price for the phone as well as demanding kickbacks from every 2-year contract. AT&T was left to salvage scraps from the table. Although Apple is widely criticized for their restrictive design and barriers to 3rd party developers, everyone can clearly agree that the iPhone is an 11 on a usability scale of 1-10. In fact, one can say that Apple has set a new bar for smart-phone usability.

On the other side of phone design is Google. Yes, the same Google that is a search engine. As software developers and handset manufacturers look to push the carriers firmly into the backseat, non-traditional companies like Google are looking for a piece of the action. They envision an "open" phone where everyone is free to develop applications, and online content is ad-supported. The problem is that as far as anyone can tell, only a few prototypes exist. Check the video below. If you can get past the ridiculous level of excitement (you'll see) from the narrators, there are some really cool phone demos.

The final player is represented by the handset manufacturers themselves. Motorola, Samsung, and a few others got together one day and called themselves a foundation. The LiMo Foundation, to be exact. Similar to Google, their goal is to create an industry-standard open phone design, so that application developers can "write once, and run anywhere," as opposed to supporting many different versions of the same program. Unlike Google, LiMo's got some product in the market. Not much in the way of smart-phones yet, but it's still a good start.

Over my next few blog entries, I'll be doing an in-depth review of each of the three major players in this market. This will include a comparison of some of their handsets, as well as their market strategies and what it means to us as consumers. For those who are new to my blog, these won't be traditional reviews. Want a teaser? Watch this iPhone usability video...

Man, I love this video. Something about a puree'd iPhone that makes my toes tingle...