Switched from iPhone to Android this week

lg-g2I’ve been an iPhone user since the first release, and have upgraded my hardware faithfully at every opportunity. I did take a little detour to Windows Phone land for a short while.

But I flipped this week to an LG G2 android device. I’ve been running the developer previews of iOS7 for months so there was no real new excitement from Apple for me this week on the software front. And the new iPhone hardware is fine but nothing stunning about it. And most importantly, neither the hardware nor the software addresses my number one smartphone problem: battery life. I have struggled with my iPhone 5, needing to keep charging setups at home, in all cars, at work, and cables and car chargers with me at all times. I use the internet a lot and I would get at most a half day of use on a charge. And then iOS7 just make it horrible with the background tasks — Facebook and Maps in particular would just kill my battery, and this never got a lot better during the iOS7 betas. I had to constantly monitor what tasks were running and manually kill them. Smarter battery management is sorely lacking on these devices — there is no reason that Facebook should be nattering away in the background burning battery when the phone is in my pocket. Maybe the app developer thinks their app is so awesome that it should do this, but the OS should be smarter about managing the tradeoff between network usage and battery life.

So I am switching. I am looking for the full smartphone experience with better battery life. Several Android phones promise this, and I decided to try the LG based on other’s recommendations. I’m only in day 2 so I can’t be sure if it has solved the problem, but it does seem at first impression to survive longer on a charge. And it certainly has every app I need. The level of polish is so much better than the Android devices I toyed with 2 years ago. Way too many buttons and options but I am learning my way around all that. The input keyboard is way better than iOS thanks to Swype and also better autocorrect preview.

installed both ios7 and osx mavericks last night

ios7 first impressions:

  • the mail app i think i will like, seems a little easier to dispose of messages, and viewing messages is a lot cleaner
  • i never used game center, mostly because i don’t care about the feature, but a little bit because it was so horribly ugly. nice to see that fixed
  • sometimes you can be too subdued and too flat. the weather app doesn’t work for me, the difference between a sunny and rainy forecast is now so muted.
  • all the new swipe from the bottom, side, etc behavior will take a while to get used to. tho quick access to airplane mode is nice.
  • i’m interested in the new photo library features and sharing, tho at first glance, the whole collection thing doesn’t really work for me. collections are too small or too big.
  • i hope i can airdrop easily between my mac and my phone. haven’t tried that yet.

osx first impressions:

  • laggy. wish i hadn’t installed. i am sure it will get better.
  • maps app is cool i guess tho i will have to see how much i use it versus the browser alternatives. the “send to iOS” feature will be great, obviously not a new idea, but still i will be happy with.
  • i suspect i will like finder tabs a lot. tags? i just don’t know. evidence from other domains suggests i won’t use them.
  • books, keychain — yawn. hard to get excited about when there are great 3rd party solutions that work everywhere.

Why am I bothering with a Windows Phone?

Someone asked me this. A fair question.

At my core I am a learner. I read extensively. Try new technologies all the time. I am over-degreed and still aspire to a PhD someday (yes I know, tick tick tick…). I pretty much want to maximize the amount of learning in my day at all times.

Here is a nice quote from “The Atlantic”:http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/the-jig-is-up-time-to-get-past-facebook-and-invent-a-new-future/256046/:

On the mobile side, we’re working with almost the exact same toolset that we had on the 2007 iPhone, i.e. audio inputs, audio outputs, a camera, a GPS, an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen. That’s the palette that everyone has been working with — and I hate to say it, but we’re at the end of the line. The screen’s gotten better, but when’s the last time you saw an iPhone app do something that made you go, “Whoa! I didn’t know that was possible!?”

That is how I feel. I’ve had an iPhone for years and I am not learning much new with it. The hardware is static. iOS is static. The sea of icons is boring. And it makes my thinking boring, I fall into the trap like everyone else of believing that this is just the way mobile phones are, there is no different way for them to be.

Has my Windows Phone dramatically opened new vistas for me? Not yet but it does have new elements and forces me to think about new things. That is good.

When you are 10x behind in mobile apps, your tools probably ought to be 10x better

As part of “my Windows Phone trial”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/switching-to-the-nokia-lumia-900-for-a-while/, I am going to dig into the developer tools. I’ve written a little throwaway iOS app, and i’ve written one with “Parse”:https://parse.com/ (super easy!). So I’d like to understand the experience of writing a Windows Phone app.

“App Hub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-us/home/getting_started seems to be the starting place. Like a lot of marketing-driven websites, there are a lot of words up here, and indices of more words, and pointers to more words. Not a lot of help for me to actually do something — Parse is a nice constrast, sample Parse code on the landing page and a signup button right on the first page which leads to a very simple signup. You can get developing with Parse in literally a minute; not so with App Hub.

Anyway, I followed the pointers and installed the “winphone sdk”:http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=27570. There are some words up here that talk about getting a Visual Studio Express edition and I am thinking, thank goodness, because VS is kind of a beast. Well I was wrong, I seem to have gotten a pretty significant chunk of VS with templates for all kinds of code projects. It actually took me a while to figure out where the templates were for winphone projects, and I actually found several, and couldn’t figure out which was the right one to start with. (I did have a version of VS installed a year ago and uninstalled it, but perhaps it left some residue behind which made my VS Express look more complicated)

So I figure I should “sign up with apphub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-US/home/membership and get a developer account assuming there will be some guidance on what to do next. Well apparently tho that is a hard thing to do. My credit card transaction keeps getting turned down with no explanation. Munging thru forums and trading email with apphub support has revealed that this is a common issue, there is something very off with the Microsoft billing system. People wait for days to get their account approved. I’ve been told I need to use IE9 to sign up, that I have to visit 5 different subdomains and make sure my account information is 100% consistent across all those, that I may just want to give up and try again with a new account. I’ve tried everything to no avail. Oh and the billing site is incredibly slow.

So I struggle on. I have email in to several people for help. But some broad prescriptive advice for MSFT at this point: When you are 10x behind in mobile apps and mobile app developers, you should probably aspire to have tools and a developer program that are 10x easier to use. Some specific ideas:

* Fix billing. I’d argue to get rid of it all together, let any damn fool in the developer program, MSFT needs developers. The billing system has clearly been poor for years, it needs some energy applied to it.
* Radically simplify VS. If what I am seeing is what all developers see, it is too much. Too many templates, frameworks, language choices, etc.
* Make the developer website more about doing, less about telling. Developers should be developing code in seconds and minutes, not hours. They can go munge thru detailed technical material later, get them up and running in a dev environment with sample code fast.
* Melding the above two ideas, look at something like “Cloud9”:http://c9.io/. Host a dev environment right on the site, require no download or install, let people start coding in seconds. Cloud storage of code so they can pick up their coding anywhere, a cloud-based testing environment (I’m sure some of our portfolio companies like “Skytap”:www.skytap.com would be happy to help). Make it dramatically easier to get a dev and test environment set up.
* Talk with the “Parse”:http://parse.com guys, they have figured out how to make it super easy to develop mobile apps, solving a lot of the backend issues that many developers don’t need to deal with.

This is just the beginning. I am sure MSFT has plenty of smart folks who have ideas. It is not a time to hold back, I’d look hard at bold steps to really change the playing field.

UPDATE: Some nice folks at MSFT helped me get this solved, but in a nonscalable way. Appreciate the help but doesn’t solve the problem for the mass market.

My first 48 hours with the Nokia Lumia — mostly good

Ok so I am 48 hours into my Windows Phone trial with the Nokia Lumia 900 and so far the experience is pretty good. I think most people would be pretty happy with the phone and experience.

There are some things done very well:

* Placing snippets of content on the home screen, not just apps. A specific note out of evernote, a mail folder, a contact — this is so right. I can get my kids, my spouse right on my home screen and have quick access to calling them, texting them, seeing fb updates, etc. I can get the Evernote for a current project right on the one screen. The phone experience becomes much more personal, this is way better than an unending grid of app icons.
* Cyclic panes within an app. I can just keep swiping to the right or left and see all options, they are not lists with fixed beginnings and ends. This is highly useful.
* Most of the apps I need are there. Evernote, Spotify, WordPress, ESPN, I’m really not feeling bad about the depth of the app catalog. Plenty of nice games. I do need a Markdown/Dropbox editor.
* The AMOLED display is beautiful.

Some things I am undecided on:

* I am always fumbling around trying to figure out which end is up. No obvious physical guide like the iPhone home button. Maybe I will get used to using the camera lens as a guide.
* Tango video calling but no Skype? And you can’t even find Skype in the marketplace but have to know the URL? I don’t mind having Tango preinstalled but c’mon, I need reasonable access to Skype.
* The UI for apps has less decoration (icons, menus, bars, buttons) but way more whitespace and big fonts than iOS. Looks a little nicer than iOS but no denser, I’m not sure it is any more productive.

And some things are Wrong:

* I am one of the 7 people that have Zune subscriptions, no OTA sync of my music subscriptions, I have to plug into my PC? Lame. Of course no one else on the planet will see this because they will all be using Spotify which seems to work fine.
* Linking inboxes or contacts. I had to got thru and link my inboxes so that I could see all my mail in one place (thanks Henry) and I had to link my contacts with facebook contacts so that I could see facebook and contact details in one place. This was a PITA and should be automagic. (iOS links mail automagically but not contacts and doesn’t even have the Facebook integration)
* Browser. When resizing and dragging content, lots of repaint issues. Lots. There needs to be some substantial work done on this.
* Search buttons. Permanent button always goes to bing. App specific button with the same graphic goes to app search. Does anything search my whole phone — ie search across email and contacts and music and apps?
* The app marketplace needs some serious merchandising work. First I have an App Highlights app which seems to showcase good apps but has no search function. So not very helpful. Then I have the Marketplace which gives up premier placement to Nokia and AT&T which they both squander. And first page placement given to podcasts, seriously??? There is no clear editorial guidance on great apps. This thing is kind of a mess.
* And the biggest problem — my existing Shure mic/headset doesn’t work, apparently you have to buy headsets specific to this phone? Seriously Nokia? This is so f$&ked up. You are light years behind in the market and so you decide not to work with all the existing 3rd party headphones? Thanks guys. Really making switching from iOS easy.

Ok I don’t want to finish on a downer. Again most people will find this to be a pretty good experience — the hardware feels solid, the software is easy on the eye, there are plenty of apps covering most needs.

Switching to the Nokia Lumia 900 for a while

I’ve decided to move away from the iPhone for a while, I just got the new Nokia Lumia 900 and am filling it up with apps right now.

Why? Well, iOS is starting to feeling stale — I have an unending grid of apps, there have to be other ways to organize tasks and data. iOS has poor integration across apps, very limited integration between apps and the shell, little data sharing between apps, etc.

And only exposing myself to iOS makes my brain stale — I start to let myself be constrained by the iOS grid and app model. I need to experience are other ways to skin the cat, and Windows Phone is trying some different things which are worth understanding — the facebook integration, pinning of content to the shell, etc.

Switching to Windows Phone also appeals to the contrarian in me. How cool can it be to have an iPhone if everybody has one?

So off I go. Hanselman has a “good list of essential apps”:hnsl.mn/wyuZhY. And I’ve installed the WordPress, ESPN, and Starbucks apps. It is interesting that I can bill apps to either ATT or to a credit card on file with my Zune app — I wonder what the rev split is between carrier and MSFT and app developer for these two different models.

One very positive initial reaction — no stupid pair of crappy earbuds in the box. I’ve thrown so many of the useless Apple ones away.

Yes the retina display iPad is beautiful, but the software is starting to feel dated

OK I am completely conflating issues in this post but that accurately reflects my state of mind.

Like everyone else has said, the new screen is beautiful, the pad does run a little hot, the extra weight and thickness is a little noticeable, blah blah blah. Nothing new to add here. For me, the greatest impact is on the readability of text in retina-enabled apps, it really is easier n the eye. And kind of bizarrely, the few iPhone apps I use on the iPad now look really nice when blown up to full screen, they no longer look clunky.

To the point, tho, the iPad hardware continues to improve and I find myself using the iPad more and more.

However iOS is starting to feel dated. The iPad is delivering a Windows 3.x shell experience — a big beautiful screen and all it shows is a sea of spaced icons. And when you tap them, you get full screen apps, it is actually like earlier versions of Windows.

This works fine if you are basically just launching full screen games, videos, and books all day, which is admittedly the greatest part of iPad use for most people. But i actually have to do some real work in my life, I need to accomplish things. I need a tablet that is a little more productive. Right now if i want to work on a project, I have to navigate a sea of apps, and all the project details are spread around in a million places — I’ve got notes in Evernote and docs in Dropbox and Keynote/iCloud and relevant emails in Mail and todo lists in several places. It is not a great experience dealing with all this — hop into mail or evernote to see what I should be working on (and navigate the folder/tag hierarchies in those as necessary), then hop over somewhere else to work on a doc, meanwhile fighting off distractions from other incoming mail or whatever. My projects and my tasks take a distinct backseat to the app hierarchy and that seems wrong. I’d like to have a screen per project — slide over to my screen with all the things i am working on with respect to a portfolio company, and i could see the docs i need to work on, my todo list, upcoming meeting dates, and the latest email thread, and i could send notes and work on docs right there. or slide over to my maker project at home and work on that. or to home remodel project screen where i can see the plan docs, the latest email, the upcoming schedule and discussion items, etc.

I also want all my data to sync everywhere. If I have a project I am working on, I should be able to go to a folder on my desktop machine and see all the related files. And these should all be available on my work machine, my home machine, wherever. Right now I have content stored in Evernote and synced across all my machines, in Dropbox and synced across all my machines, in iCloud synced across all my machines. If I want to get all the content and files for a project, well good luck. None of these storage solutions are really working the way I want to work. Evernote does a nice job keeping everything ordered by folder and project, and has a nice UI, but it is work to get content in and out of evernote and into other apps. Dropbox has the very natural folder-on-the-desktop model which makes it super easy to use with a million apps, but my Dropbox folder is now chaos with all kinds of random stuff intermixed, apps creating their own confusing folder hierarchies (Byline I am looking at you), and it is just chaos. iCloud also keeps stuff stored by app, not by project, and is just further fracturing my storage.

So to summarize, I want a very project-centric experience, with transparent and complete syncing of project files and contents across all machines, and I want all my apps to work with the same project contents. I could use a web product like “OneHub”:www.onehub.com (an Ignition investment) and they have a good ipad app, and this may be the way to go, I am seriously considering. Box.net is too expensive, Basecamp doesn’t have an iPad app. All these solutions have a lot of great collaboration support but that is secondary for me — I just want to keep my own life in order and get my own stuff done. The iPad and current cloud storage solutions aren’t really helping me to focus, keep things ordered, and get things done.

The day you stop learning is the day you start dying

My grandfather once told me “The day you stop learning is the day you start dying.” I’ve had a lifelong commitment to education and I am still learning every day. There is so much going on in education, the choices are broader every day, with so many efforts to increase access and lower costs. Some things I’ve been learning about:

* played around this weekend with Apple’s new ibook publisher — Tons of coverage of the event announcing this week, see for instance http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/19/apple-textbook-event/. The goal is noble — allow millions of people to create textbooks, targeting the iPad of course, and dramatically cut the price of textbooks, and the carrying weight of textbooks. The tool works although it is a little buggy yet. I made a first textbook — basically i poured all the portfolio company summaries from the ignition partners website into a textbook format (a tool that would automatically pour CMS content into a textbook would be handy). These textbooks are really just another form of app for the iPad with a dev tool that is substantially friendlier to use than Xcode. If you can author a powerpoint presentation, you can author a textbook. There is nothing super revolutionary about the resultant products but this is a good step towards electronic textbooks.
* signed up for a course at udacity.com — We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Know Labs was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online for very low cost. A few weeks later, over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled in our first class, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” The class was twice profiled by the New York Times and also by other news media. Now we’re a growing team of educators and engineers, on a mission to change the future of education.
* thinking about taking a course at “Digipen”:https://www.digipen.edu/ as well. They’ve done great work, the team for Portal came out of Digipen.
* at Wolf’s advice, learning about the “Dalton research group at the UW”:http://depts.washington.edu/eooptic/. A traditional university setting but exciting content.

My brain’s a little tired but excited about the opportunities!

I’m struggling to understand why I would ever use iCloud storage.

I’m struggling to understand why I would ever use iCloud storage. After a couple days of tinkering, I have two sets of data in iCloud — device backups, and Pages/Keynote docs.

* I really don’t get the value of device backups. My apps are all recoverable from the iTunes store. I use primarily apps like Evernote that already store their data in the cloud so there is minimal non-replicated data on my iPhone and iPad. Music isn’t backed up, I will need iTunes Match for that some day. My photos aren’t backed up in iCloud, that is not something that is offered at all (and besides the photos on my device are a fraction of my photo content, I use smugmug and other paid services to back up all my photos). So what exactly is in these device backups that iCloud stores? and why is this substantially better than backups stored on my Mac — when will I ever use these backups? In sum — I’ve been explicit about choosing apps and configuring apps so that all my valuable data and state info is replicated and in the cloud, so that I don’t care if I lose a device (and can use multiple devices). So why should I care about device backups?

* The other files in my iCloud storage are docs. I have Pages and Keynote docs in iCloud from my iPad. If I was purely a Mac person, and didn’t collaborate at all with people in my office and business partners who use Office, then maybe I could just use Pages/Keynote on the Mac, and the iCloud doc storage might seem pretty simple. But I use a PC sometimes to edit my docs. And so I use Office so that I can work on my Mac or PC. And so that I can, with no fidelity loss, work with my colleagues on docs they have created in Office. I guess I could still move these docs in and out of iCloud storage, but if I am going to go to the trouble of moving docs around, why don’t I just move them into box.net or dropbox? They both have great iPad and iPhone interfaces, they work with Pages/Keynote on the iPad, I get 50G free on box.net, they both offer sharing options, I can create folders in them to organize my docs and control my sharing (Seriously, iCloud, no folders??), they let me store any kind of doc, they have great Mac/PC clients so that I can sync my collection with local folders easily, etc etc. If iCloud didn’t have the Apple brand, we would all be laughing at it.

* iCloud claims to store your music but practically doesn’t. I have 16,000 songs, 88G of music, in my iTunes library (and flac versions of all this but not in iTunes). 99% of it is from ripped CDs or purchased in mp3 format outside of iTunes. None of which iCloud handles, I have to wait for iTunes Match.

* iCloud stores your photostream but “I’ve already talked about why this isn’t very useful to me”:http://theludwigs.com/2011/10/icloud-photostream-and-dslrs-dont-seem-to-be-a-great-fit/.

* I don’t care about mail/calendar/contact backup as all mine is already stored on my Exchange server or Gmail server.

So iCloud storage is substantially worse than leading competitive alternatives for document storage; its only unique benefit is device backup, which I can’t figure out why I’d use; and it’s other features don’t really solve any problems. I am sure Apple will improve iCloud over time but as a storage solution it is underwhelming. Am I missing something? Does anyone find iCloud storage to be hugely helpful?

iCloud Photostream and DSLRs don’t seem to be a great fit

OK so I am diving into photostream. I’ve enabled on my iPhone 4 (don’t yet have a 4s), iPad 2, my MacBook Pro, my Win7 PC. So the dream was — some set of my photos would be magically replicated across all these machines. Magically.

I have two photo points of entry — the iPhone, and my DSLR (usually a Canon, sometimes an Olympus PEN). The DSLR photos enter through Aperture on the Mac where I manage my photo collection — filter out the good and bad, touch up, organization, etc. So the first challenge was getting Aperture to play with Photostream — needed to let software update patch Aperture, and then it was just a setting to turn on. Now a magic Photostream folder appears in my library, yay. And a test photo I took with the iPhone magically appeared in the folder, yay!

However…I shut the lid on the MacBook at this point and moved locations and thus wifi networks. Post move, I added a bunch of photos off the Canon into Aperture. Sadly the photos did not appear on the iPhone, Aperture showed a little broken connection icon next to Photostream and was unable to connect to iCloud even tho my net was fine. I brought the net up and down but didn’t help. Seems like maybe Aperture gets stuck in a broken iCloud mode. So i quit Aperture and immediately photos started propagating to my phone — apparently the Photostream replication works without needing Aperture to run, some background process is handling the sync. So sync is working fine.

But a couple oddities:

* First, I don’t really want every photo from my DSLR to immediately jump into my photostream. One of the great things about DSLRs are that you can quickly take 10-20 photos of a scene and then filter out the best later. But all of these show up in the photostream, and so my photostream gets polluted with many many variants of one photo. Not really what I want.
* Second, photos don’t seem to be removable from the photostream? This is strange. I can’t delete them on the iPhone. I can’t delete on the Mac. They are just stuck there forever? Until they age out (Photostream shows the last 30 days I believe)? This seems really unfortunate.

So I conclude using Photostream with DSLRs is not a great experience and not really the intent. Which is too bad, the automagic sync is nice. I can also use the old-style sync of a folder of photos but this is really suboptimal — I have to configure what folder to sync in iTunes, and then sync only happens when I plug in my phone to my Mac, or using the new wireless sync, when I plug the phone into power. Not nearly as nice.

I’d really like to be able to specify which folders to sync, Photostream-style, from within Aperture, and have that sync happen all the time. And I want to be able then to edit the folder contents so that I can add and remove photos from the stream.

My overall reaction to iOS5? Confusion.

OK like the rest of the working world I spent hours yesterday trying to upgrade my iPhone4 and iPad2 to iOS5. About a dozen retries for the phone, maybe half that for the iPad, and I finally got there. Not a great experience but no harm done, just a half day of my life wasted that I will never get back, Apple.

So now what? Well my iPhone 4 seems a little zippier but I suspect that is largely due to grinding the old OS off and laying down a bright new clean install. I like the tabs in the Safari. The Newstand seems like an utter waste and sadly cannot be off hidden in an “Utter Waste” folder, thanks Apple. Notifications are cleaner. Renaming the iPod app to Music is good.

and iCloud? Well this is just confusing. Settings spewed all over the control panel — in the iCloud section, but also in the mail/contacts/calendar section, the photos section, the notes section, the store section. Much discussion online about how to make this all work with exchange and how it does or doesn’t work with outlook — for instance http://daggle.com/outlook-icloud-google-calendar-sync-2748. I’ve no idea where things are actually stored in the cloud — the photostream for instance that I have turned on, where is it, can I go see it at a URL? Or Notes — they are associated with an account now, my gmail account. So when I create a new note does it go somewhere in the cloud? Where? The only thing that my cloud control panel lists as being stored is a backup of my phone — why exactly do I want to do this, I never had this in the cloud before, why do I want it in the cloud now?

The design compromises of iCloud — storage limits, and trying to work with a bunch of existing cloud services — seem to have led to a really fractured, incomplete experience. Not all my stuff is in the cloud, what is in the cloud is spewed across many services, and I don’t really know where anything is. Yay.

UPDATE: Ok, new Notes show up in a gmail folder named Notes. Which seems strange, why would I want my notes there? And not in Google Docs or Dropbox or Evernote or … ?