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28Feb/14Off

From WebOS to Android: 60 days in

TechOps Guy: Nate

About a month ago I wrote about my experience on the first 30 days of switching from a WebOS ecosystem to a Android Ecosystem. Specifically from the never-officially-released HP Pre3 to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

There were a few outstanding issues at the time, and I just wanted to write/rant a little bit about one of them.

Wireless Charging

Inductive charging technology has been with the WebOS platform since day one I believe(2009). I had become accustomed to using it, and any future phone really would need to have this for me to feel satisfied. Long ago it fell away from the "nice to have" categories to "cannot live without much pain". Fortunately some other folks have picked up on wireless charging over recent years though sadly it's still far from universal.

One of the reasons I liked the Note 3 was it was going to get(and did get) official wireless charging from Samsung. I suppose that is where my happiness came to an end.

I suppose it is semi obvious I wouldn't be writing about it if my experience was flawless :)

Samsung charging accessories

What seems like a month ago now I went to my local Frys and picked up the one wireless charging back cover that I liked for the Note 3, along with a Samsung charging base station. I didn't want to risk generating an unstable magnetic field in my bedroom and a rip in the space time continuum by buying a second or third rate wireless charger.

There are other back cover(s) available but the other one(s) I saw also included a wrap around front cover which I did not want. This cover looks identical to the stock cover(same color even, and seems like the same size as well though I could be wrong my perception is far from precise).

The Note 3 is a big phone, and it is fairly heavy too (slightly heavier than the HP Pre3) with a stock configuration. With the regular back cover it was fine, with the new back cover I can't help but think of the word brick come to mind. I mean it is a stark difference - I would say at least 25% heavier than stock. There are no specs that I can find online or on the packaging that talk about the weight of the cover but it's heavy.  I have gotten used to that heft over the weeks though. The HP Pre3 (and some of the WebOS phones before it I believe with specific exception at least to the original Pre which I owned as well) all came with charging covers built in, so I never had a comparison to make with/without them at the time.

Anyway so I'm past the heft of the new back cover (though compared to a co-workers HTC One with a fancier back cover his phone I think is heavier than mine even though it is smaller, he has a big cover on it though).

Charging experience

UPDATE 2014: after a month of frustration I finally figured out the solution to this problem. I had to remove the back cover, placing it face down on a table and compressing it before putting it back on the phone. The connection from the cover to the phone wasn't good enough. Since I started doing this whenever I remove the back cover(rare) I haven't had any issues with the phone not charging.

The next problem came with charging on the pad, it was spotty. There is a green light on the pad that is supposed to tell you when the pad is mated with the phone and is charging. Don't believe it because it lies to me often. Most of the time it would charge fine, other times it would not. In my earlier days(before I learned that the green light lies to me) I tried just leaving it on the pad overnight with the green light on, woke up the next day with the battery at 10%.

The phone does indicate when it is charging wirelessly. Many times (including right now which prompted me to write this now) the phone just refuses to sit still and charge wirelessly. It will go in and out of charge mode every few seconds, then eventually it seems to give up and does not charge at all, unless of course I hook it to a USB cable. I don't understand how it could give up like that it doesn't make any sense to me unless there is a software component, but how could the software component refuse electricity ? I don't know.

I have spent literally 10 minutes trying every possible position on the pad to have the phone not want to charge. Then other times it works 100% of the time for a day or so.

So I thought hey maybe it's the crappy Samsung pad, I had read and heard some good things about the Tylt Vu, specifically they claim that they have a better charging area, meaning you can have the phone pretty much at any angle and it will charge. They have wide compatibility but did not specifically mention Note 3 at the time (I assume because the charging covers for Note 3 are still new).

So I ordered two Vus, and tried my phone on the first one - did not charge. I tried again for 5 minutes or so every possible position and it would not charge. Took it to the Samsung pad and I believe it would not charge there either. Filed support ticket with Tylt to see if they had any ideas, meanwhile the Samsung pad started working again with the phone. It charged all night. I got up the next day, battery was full - I played some games for a few minutes battery drained to ~93% - took the phone to the Vu and it would not charge. Took the phone back to the Samsung charger and it would not charge.

Rinse and repeat several times.....eventually I got both the Vus to charge my phone, though it is still sporadic. Tylt was going to replace the Vu but I don't think it's the Vu's fault. Samsung support wasn't very helpful. I suppose it could be the back cover, but I mean how complex can that be? I'm suspecting more of a design flaw or perhaps a software problem preventing the charging from working. I don't know. All three chargers have semi sporadic charging results, so I suppose I can rule the chargers out as a cause of the problem.

Next up..

Android day dream

One of the long time cool features of the WebOS devices is a feature called exhibition mode. Basically means when the phone is charging it can launch a screen saver of sorts on the screen, default is a clock but it can do photo slide show as well as some other apps. The HP Touchpad took this to the next level and used a form of NFC to uniquely identify charging stations so the device could launch a different mode depending on what station it is charging off of.

I use this a lot with my Touchpads still they make great digital picture frames, just sit them in the charger and the slide show fires right up. If I want to use it I just pick it up, no wires and off I go..

Android has something similar called day dream. However a flaw in either Android or in Samsung's code prevents it from working correctly. When day dream is running, the configured application loads, which in my case is a slide show of sorts, and while the battery charges the slide show shows like it should.

The problem comes with the battery gets full - the OS kicks day dream off line and brings back the home screen and shows a notification the battery is full - disconnect the charger. The wireless charging unit stops charging for a minute or so - then the charging kicks in again, and day dream fires up again for about a minute perhaps then is booted off again and well rinse and repeat.

It gets worse though - if I want to use daydream I have to turn it on during the day and turn it off before I goto sleep. Because if daydream is in use at night, I hit the power button to turn off the screen before I go to sleep. Then guess what - when the battery is full the screen lights up and shows that same stupid battery is full message(and the screen does not turn off again). Without daydream the device turns the screen off automatically and stays off until I turn it on or remove it from the charging pad.

Stupid - I would of thought these would be basic things that would of been solved a while ago.

The only problem I really EVER had with wireless charging on WebOS was with the HP Pre3 and the original wireless pucks as they were called(base stations). The design of the Pre3 is slightly different so they don't fit the older charging stations precisely, even with the built in magnet to help align the phone to the charger sometimes it gets out of alignment and goes into a charging/beeping loop until corrected. Understandable since they were not designed for each other. HP was going to release a newer, significantly more sophisticated charging station for the Pre3(which included wireless audio out too) but of course it never made it to market.

As far as I know, the WebOS phones did not ever "stop" charging when the battery was full, they just keep going. I realize this is not good for the battery but I'll live with having to replace the battery every year or something if it means the above stuff worked right. In fact I never replaced a battery on a WebOS device in the roughly four years I used them.

Other thoughts

All in all I'm still pretty happy with the Note 3. I mean my phone usage has gone up significantly. I think I can compare it to moving from a feature phone to a smart phone originally. I really did not use the Pre3 very much anymore towards the end. The battery life is not to my expectations. Video playback battery life is excellent(I think CNET recently rated the Note 3 as something like 14 hours). But drive that CPU a bunch and it will chew through battery quick, I think I could fairly easily chew through 30% in an hour at high usage. I haven't used any new apps since my last blog post, and in fact other than the two games I mentioned that I do play I haven't touched any of the other games that I had installed either. I have loaded the thing up with pictures though easily 15,000. Also have all of my music on there, lots of video and still have about 25GB available (96GB total).

I also edited the Superbowl to a 19 minute video and have watched that tons of times on my phone(looks amazing). There is another video - an episode of NFL Films presents on the Superbowl I put that on my phone too - also looks incredible(and the episode itself is just awesome). I purchased a pair of Braven bluetooth speakers (originally bought one then got another) which can be paired to each other for stereo playback, they work quite well(and have NFC too).

My mobile data usage has been tiny though since the bulk of my time is either at home or the office where I use wifi. With the HP Pre3 for the most part I kept wifi off all the time because it would interfere with bluetooth. The phone claims from Jan 21 - Feb 21 I used only 136MB of mobile data (I have a 5GB plan - mainly for travel with the phone's mifi hotspot mode).

Anyway that's enough for now.

30Jan/14Off

From WebOS to Android: first 30 days

TechOps Guy: Nate

So as all 9 readers of my blog know I have been a long time WebOS user. Really it was my first real smart phone back in 2009 the Palm Pre. The first and only Palm branded product I have ever owned (other than Pre accessories - my next WebOS device was post HP acquisition).

RIP WebOS

Anyway as I have written about in the past, for a while after HP killed the hardware I was holding out some degree of hope that the software would find a new home, obviously that hope dwindled as time went on and as of about probably 9-10 months ago I decided to kill off whatever hope that was left in me. The current state of WebOS is quite poor, I felt even while HP owned WebOS - every day that went by it was falling further and further behind, they had some unique technology advantages that still shine today but that wasn't nearly enough to make up for the shortfalls. HP later sold the WebOS hardware group to LG to make smart TVs (which seemed to debut at CES this month), and more recently HP sold the remaining patents that they had involving Palm and WebOS to Qualcomm.

Honestly it was somewhat depressing to see the die hard WebOS fans say on what is probably one of the very few WebOS community sites left. Some held really high hopes of what was to come. It didn't(and doesn't make sense to me). The maintainers of the site even stopped posting news articles more than six months ago because there was just nothing to write about (and the six months prior the articles were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for content).

Deciding to jump ship

Around the middle of last year I was getting tired of the software glitches in WebOS that I have endured over the years, knowing they will never be fixed, and Open WebOS is even today little more than a pipe dream (from the comments I've read I'd wager it's at least 2-3 years away from anything usable as a phone and by then it will have even more catching up to do, so really it seems to be a waste of time for anything other than tinkering). I thought about it off and on and decided that the likely candidate replacement was going to be the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, whenever it was going to be released.

Factors going into my decision were I wanted it to be fast, have plenty of storage, have a big enough screen so my big fingers could type on it, and decent battery life. I also wanted it to be Linux friendly as I use Linux on my laptop and desktops.   The specs of the Note 3 weren't released at the time so I decided to wait to see what else came about just in case I think I would want something different. Finally the Note 3 was announced and released and had strong reviews across the board.

I saw a bunch of other devices but none of them stood out to me more than the Note 3.

Keep in mind I have never used an Android or IOS device for more than say 5 minutes so my knowledge of either was extremely limited.  One thing I did like about the Note 3 was it's support for 64GB of internal flash in addition to 64GB of MicroSD expansion. So I decided to wait until I could get a 64GB Note3 to have 128GB of local storage, that would be pretty nice. Searching is annoying because so many results come from people mentioning the Note 3 with 64GB of microSD storage..

So I waited, and waited. Looked around a lot, plenty of news sites reporting 64GB was supported but could not find a sign of anyone -- not even one person in the world -- saying that they had it or knew where to buy it. Even now, doing a very casual search I do not see anyone with a 64GB Note 3.

So December 22nd comes around and I'm at a bar watching a football game, and thinking about going to Best buy across the street to buy it after the game as they were offering it at $199 which is $100 less than anyone else obvious that I saw, and I could walk away with it that day.

So I went and bought the 32GB version, with a 64GB Micro SD card.

First impressions

It's a big phone for sure, the Pre3 has a 3.58" screen and the Note 3 has a 5.7" screen. The Pre3 is a slider phone with a real keyboard so that adds extra heft. In fact the Note 3 is only 13 grams heavier than the Pre3 - a difference I can't even feel.

Obviously the Pre3 is outclassed in every way:

  • I have six times more storage(16GB vs 96GB)
  • I have six times more memory(512MB vs 3GB)
  • I have quad core 2.3Ghz vs single core 1.4Ghz
  • GPU I'm sure is significantly better
  • I have 1.7 million more pixels on the screen (800x480 vs 1920x1080)
  • I have full LTE support (AFAIK no WebOS device had LTE) - and hey - I'm already paying  an extra $40 or $50/mo for 5GB of data with a Mifi data plan, so might as well leverage LTE right?
  • Significantly better camera (and camera fuctions)
  • I can actually use Bluetooth and 2.4Ghz wifi at the same time (could not do that on the Pre3, would get massive interference on Bluetooth)
  • Much bigger battery and I believe much better battery life
  • I can have tons of photos without the OS crapping out (several hundred supported in WebOS, so far I have more than 12,000 on my Note 3 and I got plenty of room to grow I think)

I could go on...

Anyway, from an overall user experience perspective I have found making the adjustment from WebOS to Android much easier than I had originally expected.  I do like having a plethora of options to play with, that is something WebOS did not have (though out of the box WebOS had a good user experience other than being slow).

Thirty days or so into my purchase there are really only three things I miss from my WebOS days:

  • Wireless charging (this is a huge one for me, I had been using wireless charging for the previous four years -- I know Note 3 has wireless charging support so I will have that soon)
  • Unable to quickly silence notification alarm. Working in operations my phone acts as a pager. I have a very loud, long, and annoying notification message for alerts. The first time that noise went off waking me up at 2AM I about had a heart attack(click the link to listen to it). With my WebOS phones I could just hit the power button and the sound would mute immediately. Not so on this Note 3. I have looked online and this not an uncommon complaint about Android (though some device manufacturers offer this ability). I have seen people requesting this feature going back at least three years. This is quite annoying to not have....

Speaking of which the placement of the power button exactly opposite to that of the volume rocker is not good in my opinion, I find myself pressing the volume button on accident just to press the power button(which I think causes problems for trying to take a screen shot more details on that below). On the WebOS phones the power button is on the top.

  • The Note 3 is not smart enough to determine where to put a phone call. On WebOS for example if I have a bluetooth headset paired with the phone, and a call comes in -- and I answer the call with the phone (not the headset) the call is placed on the phone. On the Note 3 (also noticed this on my last "feature" phone) if a headset is paired(and connected) the call always goes to the headset. I've had several occasions where people have hung up on me with me saying hello???? not realizing that the call had been sent to the headset. So I have to answer the call, and wait a second(to see if the headset is paired, since they auto pair when in range often times) then hit the headset button to transfer the call back to the phone if I am not in immediate reaching range of one of my many bluetooth headsets. That process takes a good 3-5 seconds where the caller is left in limbo.

None of them are deal breakers of course, overall the experience is positive, and I'm glad I made the switch. I could go on for quite a while with the issues I have had with WebOS over the years but that's all in the past now. I still use my WebOS tablets, though these days the browser is so old and decrepit that I really only use them for about 4 different web sites(in all cases I disable javascript to get passable performance). They do still make great digital picture frames (as long as you have less than say 1,000 images). They also are good video playback devices with good audio (though the headset volume is really low, too low to use on an airplane to watch video).

On the Note 3 I really like the stylus (or S-Pen as they call it). I use it tons of times throughout the day. It's really good for precision. It's also the only way I've been able to take a screen shot in Android. I've found a few websites that have upwards of a half dozen ways to take a screen shot and none of them work for me(I think my timing in pressing the buttons is not perfect, but it shouldn't have to be).  But the S-pen has a function that I just click on and it works every time.  The S-pen has a bunch of other functions that for the most part I haven't used yet.

The camera is quite good as well it has so many features (the Pre3 camera had literally one feature - the flash - on/off/auto). I took a couple panoramic shots on my recent holiday road trip. One thing I liked about the Pre3 camera was it was fast. You press the button and instantly you have a picture - the Note 3 at least in auto mode (again haven't messed with it much) you press the button and it tries to focus and then take the picture. You can do burst mode and take tons of pictures (whereas with Pre3 you have to keep hitting the button but it is fast! - though focus isn't always right).

Battery life isn't quite as good as I was expecting given the rave reviews I have seen since the Note 3 was released. It can be confusing, I could watch a 45 minute video and the battery will drop 4-5%, or I could play a game for 10-15 minutes and the battery drops 8-10%. I have been so used to wireless charging and just having my phone charge constantly I find myself plugging and unplugging my Note 3 a half dozen or more times a day just to keep the battery up(I'm obviously worried about the durability of the micro USB connector). I haven't had it drop much below 50%. I'm sure it could go a full day with typical use, but I just don't like seeing it below 70-80% if I'm close to a charger.

My Pre3 on a regular day probably spent 60% or more of the day/night sitting on a charger. The Note 3 will do the same once I get wireless charging hooked up. Though it's going to cost a bit of $ - maybe $250 or so to get enough good charging stations and the charging backplate. Sort of surprised the price of wireless charging hasn't really moved much in the past four years..

I don't have any protective cover or case on the phone. I don't plan to get any, I treat my electronics with a good amount of care.

I do miss the USB drive mode of the WebOS devices though, just plug it in to any computer and it turns into a USB drive (though all phone functions are off during this). With the Note 3 it uses that strange media standard and at least at the moment I can only connect it to a windows computer to copy files onto it (and it doesn't get a drive letter either). It works fine from within VMware workstation though. I can of course copy files other ways like through Owncloud or something, but it's not as efficient if I want to copy several hundred files at once. Windows in VMware works though so I use that when I need that function.

Apps/Games I use

I kept hearing about how awesome the apps are and stuff.. My needs are pretty basic. I have a bunch of apps installed, but I have found that for the most part very few of them get used. Really I think the only application that is not included on the phone that I fire up more than once a day is Firefox. I use the built-in email client for work email, as well as the built in SMS client for text messages.

Other 3rd party apps I use on a semi regular basis

  • Nova launcher - I use this alternative launcher all the time, works very well.
  • Oceans HD live wallpaper - looks really nice
  • F-stop image gallery (seems to be pretty good, I like the dynamic albums it provides, I split my pictures up into portrait and landscape albums so I can get maximum viewing pixels without having to constantly flip the phone back and forth as I view the images)
  • MX Player (video player) works quite well too
  • Skype - roughly 80% of all work communications go through skype

Yet more 3rd apps I use on a less regular basis

  • K-9 Mail (used for personal email, when not traveling I fire it up maybe a couple times a week) - I use the built in email client for my work email(Exchange). Most of the time I just read personal email from a regular laptop or desktop in a webmail client.
  • Owncloud (access my colo server file storage)

Speaking of Owncloud, I am using DAVdroid (and the workaround) to sync contacts between the phone and my owncloud server, that is handy. I don't like the idea of sharing contacts with google or other service providers. The last time I stored contacts on exchange I forgot to take them off before I nuked my exchange account(when leaving the company) and I lost all of them so I decided that was not a good idea to try again. WebOS had a Synergy feature where it could integrate with the likes of LinkedIn directly to your contacts (and it had no ad tracking or anything it was pretty basic but it worked). I will not install the LinkedIn app for Android, too invasive.

As for games, I installed a few first person shooters and a Mech RTS game, I played the FPS games for about 2 minutes and haven't touched them since(sort of afraid my thumb is going to go through the screen with them). The Mech RTS game (MechCom) was pretty fun, though haven't touched it in about 3 weeks.

I have been playing the Simpsons Tapped out and Megapolis quite a bit, they are entertaining. Though I'd like to see a real Sim City game for Android(if there is one I haven't seen it). I poked around for a bunch of other apps/games but didn't see much that interested me. One thing I do note however is it seems like the Google play store could use a lot more categories, with so many apps/games it seems difficult to find something just by browsing around.

I have made sure to limit the apps based on the permissions, there are tons of apps out there that just want too many permissions and I won't take 'em. There's been quite a bit of talk about improving the permissions system of Android I do hope more work is done in that area especially being able to provide "fake" information to apps that are asking for too much. The phone came with the app (I think it came with it I might of downloaded it though) called Lookout Labs Ad Network Detector. Not sure how good it is but it scans all the apps and shows what the major categories of ad networks and what they do and what installed apps are using them. For me there are only 3 Ad Networks detected (Admob, Tapjoy and Millennial) and they don't collect a whole lot of info. Certainly I reject anything that wants to touch contacts, or take pictures, or send/read SMS, collect personal information etc..

I have a bunch more apps and some more games installed but they've all gotten minimal usage at this point.

Work related apps

One thing I could never do on the Pre3 was really anything work related outside of e-mail. Not a problem anymore.

  • Dell SonicWall VPN - while my main VPN is Citrix Access Gateway, there is no mobile app for that, I have Sonicwalls as well though(mainly used for site to site VPN). There is an Android (and IOS) app for them and it works quite well on Android.
  • Citrix XenApp Reciever - we have a very small XenApp server for operations purposes (some windows management software packages etc). This package(especially with the S-Pen for precision) works quite well on Android. I can fire up vCenter, or the 3PAR GUI tools(I don't use them much), or Firefox most recently I fired up Firefox to reconfigure our production load balancers(Citrix Netscaler) from my phone a few weeks ago. Being that the load balancers use Java applets those would not run directly on the phone(I don't think anyway).
  • iVMControl - vSphere interface though not very useful to me. Waaaay too slow to use over a 3-5,000 mile WAN connection. Much faster/easier/better to use XenApp and the regular vCenter client.
  • Microsoft Remote Desktop - haven't used this app yet, may not use it unless I have problems with XenApp, but it's there.
  • HP Storefront mobile access - interesting little app that grants me read only access into my 3PAR arrays. I don't need to login to them very often, but it's there if I need to view an alert or something.
  • HP Support - access to HP support cases. Only used it once to see what it did.
  • iLO Console - access to iLO I guess, doesn't seem too useful, I suppose if I want to access the console(can't remember the last time I had to do that), it doesn't seem to have an Android experience to access iLO functions for that it relies on the iLO web interface which I can otherwise just load in Firefox once I am on VPN.

I suppose the biggest thing I have NOT setup yet is SSH. I have a couple SSH clients installed but have not gone through setting them up with my keys(or generating new keys). None of my systems accept password authentication for SSH.  I was never able to SSH from my Palm phones so this is nothing new to me.

I have also not setup OpenVPN so I can VPN to my colo server. I have an OpenVPN client but it wants a config file in a special format that I haven't spent the time to figure out how to do yet. I did for a brief time have a command line OpenVPN client on my HP Touchpad but long since lost it. There were no Citrix, or Sonicwall or GUI OpenVPN clients that I was aware of for WebOS anyway.

GPS Navigation on Android

The first time I used mobile GPS navigation was back in I think it was 2001 with my Handspring Visor and a GPS Springboard expansion module along with a PalmOS GPS navigation app. It was fun, things have evolved a crazy amount since then.

Over the holidays I went on another road trip - covering just over 2,500 miles driving to Orange County, then to Tuscon, then to the Phoenix area and back home to the bay area. I was in my own car so I used the Kenwood/Garmin Stereo/Navigation system that I had installed just after I bought the car rather than the phone.

Picture of my car's trip meter from my 2013 holiday road trip.

Picture of my car's trip meter from my 2013 holiday road trip.

(thought this post could use some color so added the pic)

I did use the phone on a few occasions to find things, but did not use it for navigation itself. One thing I pretty quickly saw was lacking on the Android apps that at least I was using (which were Mapquest and Google maps) were two key functions that I frequently use on my car navigation:

  • Find places along my route (bonus points if you can limit the distance from the route, my car's nav system has some sort of default limit that is not adjustable)
  • Find places near my destination

Neither Google maps nor Mapquest seemed to have a similar function, which is too bad.  I'm sure you can do something similar with either perhaps just by zooming out along the route and searching, but that seems like more trouble than it should be.

I installed a bunch of other travel/road/traffic condition apps but I never used any of them on my trip (or since for that matter -- road conditions were fine anyway). My car nav system does not have any traffic info.

I'm going on another trip in March to Atlanta(to visit my company's colo for the first time in over two years), and probably will go to either Seattle or Washington DC as part of that trip, so I will certainly need navigation there as I don't know the area. At this point I've decided to take along a TomTom I bought a while back to do Navigation on that trip rather than rely on the phone. I used it on my last trip to DC and it worked well, I have a stand for it and it sits well on the dashboard etc. It also has the two functions above that I use quite frequently (though last time I was in DC the TomTom spent 30 minutes trying to convince me to go on a highway that was shut down for construction, that was frustrating ...)

I know there is a TomTom app for Android but after reading up on it I think for now I'll stick to the stand alone unit.

Conclusion

Overall I am very satisfied with the user experience and capabilities of my new Android phone. There is not much I miss from WebOS. I find the size & weight of the Note 3 to be very reasonable(more so than I was expecting). It performs well, and really gives me an order of magnitude more flexibility from a mobile perspective than I ever had on WebOS. I still do sort of wish I could of gotten a 64GB Note3, but it's not a huge deal, next time I guess!

I just ordered a Braven 710 bluetooth speaker (mainly for my upcoming trip), and that will likely be my first experience using NFC.

I guess that is enough writing for now.

18Sep/13Off

RIP Blackberry – Android is the Windows of the mobile world

TechOps Guy: Nate

You can certainly count me as in the camp of folks that believed RIM/Blackberry had a chance to come back. However more recently I no longer feel this is possible.

While the news today of Blackberry possibly cutting upwards of 40% of their staff before the end of the year, is not the reason I don't think it is possible, it just gave me an excuse to write about something..

The problem stems mainly from the incredibly fast paced maturation (can't believe I just used that word) of the smart phone industry especially in the past three years. There was an opportunity for the likes of Blackberry, WebOS, and even Windows Phone to participate but they were not in the right place at the right time.

I can speak most accurately about WebOS so I'll cover a bit on that. WebOS had tons of cool concepts and ideas, but they lacked the resources to put together a fully solid product - it was always a work in progress (fix coming next version). I felt even before HP bought them (and the feeling has never gone away even in the days of HP's big product announcements etc) - that every day that went by WebOS fell further and further behind(obviously some of WebOS' key technologies took years for the competition to copy, go outside that narrow niche of cool stuff and it's pretty deserted). As much as I wanted to believe they had a chance in hell of catching up again (throw enough money at anything and you can do it) - there just wasn't (and isn't) anyone willing to commit to that level - and it makes sense too - I mean really the last major player left willing to commit to that level is Microsoft - their business is software and operating systems.

Though even before WebOS was released Palm was obviously a mess when they went through their various spin offs, splitting the company divisions up, licensing things around etc. They floundered without a workable (new) operating system for many years. Myself I did not become a customer of Palm until I puchased a Pre back in 2009. So don't look at me as some Palm die hard because I was not. I did own a few Handspring Visors a long time ago and the PalmOS compatibility layer that was available as an App on the Pre is what drove me to the Pre to begin with.

So onto a bit of RIM. I briefly used a Blackberry back in 2006-2008 - I forget the model it was a strange sort of color device, I want to say monochrome-like color(I think this was it). It was great for email. I used it for a bit of basic web browsing but that was it - didn't use it as a phone ever. I don't have personal experience supporting BIS/BES or whatever it's called but have read/heard almost universal hatred for those systems over the years. RIM obviously sat on their hands too long and the market got away from them. They tried to come up with something great with QNX and BB10 but the market has spoken - it's not great enough to stem the tide of switchers, or to bring (enough) customers back to make a difference.

Windows Phone..or is it Windows Mobile.. Pocket PC anyone? Microsoft has been in the mobile game for a really long time obviously (it annoys me that press reporters often don't realize exactly how long Microsoft has been doing mobile -- and tablets for - not that they were good products but they have been in the market). They kept re-inventing themselves and breaking backwards compatibility every time. Even after all that effort - what do they have to show for themselves? ~3.5% global market share? Isn't that about what Apple Mac has ? (maybe Mac is a bit higher).

The mobile problem is compounded further though. At least with PCs there are (and have been for a long time) standards. Things were open & compatible. You can take a computer from HP or from Dell or from some local whitebox company and they'll all be able to run pretty much the same stuff, and even have a lot of similar components.

Mobile is different though, with ARM SoCs while having a common ancestor in the ARM instruction sets really seem to be quite a bit different enough that it makes compatibility a real issue between platforms. Add on top of that the disaster of the lack of a stable Linux driver ABI which complicates things for developers even more (this is in large part why I believe I read FirefoxOS and/or Ubuntu phone run on top of Android's kernel/drivers).

All of that just means the barrier to entry is really high even at the most basic level of a handset. This obviously wasn't the case with the standardized form factor components(and software) of the PC era.

So with regards to the maturation of the market the signs are clear now - with Apple and Samsung having absolutely dominated the revenues and profits in the mobile handset space for years now - both players have shown for probably the past year to 18 months that growth is really levelling out.

With no other players showing even the slightest hint of competition against these behemoths with that levelling of growth that tells me, sadly enough that the opportunity for the most part is gone now. The market is becoming a commodity certainly faster than I thought would happen and I think many others feel the same way.

I don't believe Blackberry - or Nokia for that matter would of been very successful as Android OEMs.  Certainly at least not at the scale that they were at - perhaps with drastically reduced workforces they could of gotten by with a very small market share - but they would of been a shadow of their former selves regardless. Both companies made big bets going it alone and I admire them for trying - though neither worked out in the end.

Samsung may even go out as well the likes of Xiaomi (never heard of them till last week) or perhaps Huawei or Lenovo coming in and butchering margins below where anyone can make money on the hardware front.

What really prompted this line of thinking though was re-watching the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago following the release of that movie about Steve Jobs. I watched Pirates a long time ago but hadn't seen it since, this quote from the end of the movie really sticks with me when it comes to the whole mobile space:

Jobs, fresh from the launch of the Macintosh, is pitching a fit after realizing that Microsoft’s new Windows software utilizes his stolen interface and ideas. As Gates retreats from Jobs’ tantrum, Jobs screeches, “We have better stuff!

Gates, turning, simply responds, “You don’t get it. That doesn’t matter.

(the whole concepts really gives me the chills to think about, really)

Android is the Windows of the mobile generation (just look at the rash of security-related news events reported about Android..). Ironically enough the more successful Android is the more licensing revenue Microsoft gets from it.

I suppose in part I should feel happy being that it is based on top of Linux - but for some reason I am not.

I suppose I should feel happy that Microsoft is stuck at 3-4% market share despite all of the efforts of the world's largest software company. But for some reason I am not.

I don't know if it's because of Google and their data gathering stuff, or if it's because I didn't want to see any one platform dominate as much as Android (and previously IOS) was.

I suppose there is a shimmer of hope in the incorporation of the Cyanogen folks to become a more formalized alternative to the Android that comes out of Google.

All that said I do plan to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 soon as mentioned before. I've severed the attachment I had to WebOS and am ready to move on.

3Sep/13Off

Microsoft buys Nokia division – was Nokia about to jump ship?

TechOps Guy: Nate

So obviously the big news of the day is Microsoft buying Nokia's handset division for a big chunk of change. Both seem to be spinning it as a good thing, a logical next step in their partnership. For Nokia it probably is a good thing as it gives them an exit strategy from that business which hasn't been doing so hot. For Microsoft the deal is less attractive with investors obviously agreeing sending their stock down ~5% on the day.

Some folks are saying a big reason for this was perhaps Nokia's patents, which Microsoft apparently gets a ten year license to, they don't acquire them outright (I can only wonder what that would of done for their war on Android), many folks speculate that the CEO of Nokia may be the successor to Ballmer who recently announced his retirement.

I'm going to go out on a limb here as I have nothing to lose and say this is because Nokia was seriously looking at throwing in the towel on the Windows Phone platform.

I think that because there really was no reason for Microsoft to buy Nokia (YET). Nokia was doing Microsoft's bidding, taking all the risk and reaping none of the rewards. They were sacrificing themselves slowly on the sword of Microsoft, and the investors were getting upset. I fully believe(d) that they would be acquired by Microsoft but not until the viability of Nokia was called into question or perhaps if Nokia was going to give up. I suppose the optimistic point of view would be Windows Phone is about to catapult and the acquisition cost is cheap relative to where it would be in the future. I'm not an optimist like that though! Microsoft obviously has a ton of money and has a strong track record of paying a large premium for companies. So I don't think value played a key role here.

More commentary from someone on CNBC this morning asked why didn't Ballmer leave an acquisition of this magnitude to his successor(this being at least the 2nd largest in the company's history) - someone who will be driving the future of the company. Though if Ballmer seriously things this Elop fella is the one to take the reigns, I think that would probably be a mistake - with Elop's recent track record of basically burning the company to the ground to make a bet on a new platform. Microsoft has a ton of businesses, and they need to not burn them to the ground in an effort to chase after the next shiny. Elop sounds like a great leader for devices. I don't know who would make a good MS CEO. That's not an area I try to claim any level of expertise to!

So I think Nokia was at least talking seriously about a major shift in strategy internally -- perhaps just calling Microsoft's bluff - in  order to get Microsoft to finally move and acquire them while their share price is where it's at now.

In the end it doesn't matter to me of course, I'm not an investor regardless, I'm not vested for or against the platform. I do admire Microsoft a bit for not giving up though. They have had some major adoption issues with their new platform forcing Nokia to make  major price cuts. They've also been able to capitalize on the chaos at Blackberry and wrestle the #3 spot from them. Though globally that #3 spot as it stands today, is still a rounding error in the grand scheme of things.

I just hope for the sake of their users they don't do to Windows Phone 8 what they did to 7, and 6.x, and perhaps prior versions in basically abandoning them and making the newer versions completely incompatible. Windows on desktops has been able to sustain such a large presence in a big part due to such massive amounts of compatibility. I'm honestly still shocked I can run a game that came out in 1995 on a modern 64-bit Windows 7 system without any modifications. To even propose such an idea for the Linux platform just makes me laugh, or cry, or maybe a little bit of both.

5Sep/12Off

Setting expectations for WP8 and BB10

TechOps Guy: Nate

The more I read about Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry 10 the more I am reminded of WebOS, especially the die hard community around both platforms.

I like WebOS myself, I still use my devices daily, despite my fondness for the platform I was not delusional about it - if HP had released the Pre3 when they were planning on it last year (right about this time last year), it would of been destroyed by the iPhone (I believed this long before I owned the hardware, now that I've been using it for the past year my thoughts haven't changed at all). It would of been just embarrassing to see. Especially after the lackluster performance of the HP Veer, the world's smallest smart phone at the time (perhaps still is), as far as I know the Veer never received even a single software update post launch which was sad(and there are some bad bugs in it). By contrast the Pre3 received several software updates even though it was never officially launched in the U.S. and had a tiny launch in Europe.

Anyways back on topic, Windows Phone. I have been loosely following the Windows Phone Central site where many of the die hard WP8 fans seem to hang out at for good reason. They were so excited about the launch of the newest Nokia phone, they raged against users who had lost faith in the platform, even raged against manufacturers that seem to be losing faith in the platform.

Microsoft and Nokia have tried to hype up the announcement that came today, and as I'm sure many expected, they over promised and way under delivered. This is the exact same thing HP/Palm was doing (I remember one comment from a HP/Palm person forgot who it was, who said they weren't going to launch a product that wasn't perfect - of course the only time they did that was when they shut down the Pre3 before it fully launched).

I feel they failed to truly impress at this event. All the leaks ruined it for me personally. All the new info was boring IMHO

Another user posted

So basically waking up and watching this event was pointless. Nearly everything that was "announced" has already been leaked anyways...seriously, their employees and partners are like swiss cheese when it comes to non-disclosure agreements.

In another article people reacted to the fact that there is no release date, no price, and no firm date for the release of Windows Phone 8 itself. The WP Central site tries to spin the news as positively as it can (much as the Pre Central, oh I'm sorry WebOS Nation site does and did for WebOS). One user wrote

this reveal was choreographed and edited to death.  really a bad demo.  Joe Belfiore just pisses me off the more he comes on stage.  Build 2012 in F-ing november...that's over a month's loss of sales opportunities.

I just don't understand why these other players think announcing (or releasing) products around the time Apple does so is a good idea, it sounded incredibly stupid to me for HP and the Pre3 last year, and it's even worse this year with Microsoft, Amazon and others trying to steal Apple's thunder. Samsung did a great job in their latest Galaxy SIII releasing it in June. I have to assume it's because they have been unable to adjust their product cycles to off set them enough with Apple, or perhaps they just want to try to drive some hype around the holiday season, but if your going up against Apple you really have to bring it. Microsoft/Nokia talk the talk, but they haven't shown they can hold a candle up to an Apple product launch, so it's sad to see them even try.

I just saw an interview with the Nokia CEO on CNBC and the only phone he picked up and sort of showed off was not a phone that was announced today, he seemed to focus on their dwindling leadership in the low end phone race.

RIM was sort of saved by further product delays, they did want to launch this fall, but due to problems with the platform they've had to postpone the launch yet again to sometime in 2013, more than a year later than the dates I heard originally tossed around a while ago. RIM is busy trying to keep their hype machine primed, offering to essentially bail out (for lack of a better term) developers that make $1,000 or more on applications to the tune of up to $9,000 (for a total of $10,000). If that doesn't tell you they are bleeding developers like crazy I'm not sure what will. But kudos to them for going the extra mile to try to retain them.

Hopefully, for their sake, RIM can over deliver on their promises, but given how they've been for the past year I wouldn't hold my breath. Nokia seemed to let out another massive disappointment with their announcement today, knecapping Windows Phone 8 before it even gets out of the gate.

One thing Nokia fans can get excited about I suppose is the Nokia touchstone, I mean wireless charging. The Palm wireless charging technology I've been using for the past three years is one of the key things I like about the platform. The main downside to it from a mass market perspective from HP/Palm at least is the wireless charging base station was not a cheap accessory, so I suspect many non techies did not opt for it due to the price (which could easily be $50-60 at product launch).

I really would like one of these platforms to do well, trust me I am not a fan of Android nor iOS, it's just sad to see history repeating itself.

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14Jun/12Off

Nokia’s dark future

TechOps Guy: Nate

Nokia made some headlines today, chopping a bunch of jobs, closing factories and stuff. With sales crashing and market share continuing to slip, their reliance on Windows Phone has been a bet that has gone bad, at least so far.

What I find more interesting though is what Microsoft has gotten Nokia to inflict upon itself. It's basically investing much of it's remaining resources to turn into a Microsoft shop. Meanwhile their revenues decline, and their market valuation plunges. There was apparently talks last year about Microsoft buying Nokia outright, but they fell through. For good reason, I mean all Microsoft has to do is wait, Nokia is doing their bidding already, and making the valuation of the company even less as time goes on. From a brand name standpoint Nokia doesn't exist in the smart phone world (really), so there really isn't much to lose (other than the really good employees that may be jumping ship in the meantime - though I'm sure Nokia keeps MS aware of who is leaving so MS can contact them in the event they want to try to hire them back).

At some point barring a miracle, Nokia will get acquired. By so heavily investing itself in Microsoft technologies now, and until that acquisition happens they are naturally preparing themselves for assimilation - and at the same time making themselves less attractive to most other buyers because they are so committed to the Microsoft platform. Other buyers may come in and say we want to buy the patents or this piece or that piece. But then Microsoft can come in and offer a much higher price because all of the other parts of the company have much more value to them.

Not that I think going the Microsoft way was a mistake. All too often I see people say all Nokia had to do is embrace Android and they'd be fine. I don't agree at all here. Look at the Android market place, there are a very few select standouts, Samsung (Apple and Samsung receive 90%+ of the mobile phone profits) being the main one these days (though I believe as recently as perhaps one year ago it was HTC though they have fallen from grace as well). There's not enough to differentiate in the Android world, there are tons of handset makers, most of them are absolute crap(very cheap components, breaks easily, names you've never heard of), the tablets aren't much better.

So the point here is just being another me too supplier of Android wasn't going to cut it. To support an organization that large they needed something more extraordinary. Of course that is really hard to come up with, so they went to Microsoft. It's too bad that Nokia, like RIM and even Palm(despite me being a WebOS fan and user, the WebOS products were the only Palm-branded products I have ever owned) floundered so long before they came up with a real strategy.

HP obviously realized this as well given the HP Touchpad was originally supposed to run Android - before the Palm acquisition. Which would explain the random Touchpad showing up (from RMA) in customer's hands running Android.

Palm's time of course prematurely ran out last year (HP's original plan had a three year runway for Palm), Nokia and RIM still have a decent amount of cash on hand and it remains to be seen if they have enough time to execute on their plans. I suspect they won't, with Nokia ending up at Microsoft, and RIM I don't know. I think it would make another good MS fit primarily for the enterprise subscribers, though by the time the valuation is good enough (keeping in mind MS will acquire Nokia) there may not be enough of them left. Unless RIM breaks apart, sells the enterprise biz to someone like MS, and maintains a smaller global organization supporting users where they still have a lot of growth which seems to be in emerging markets.

Of course Nokia is not the only one making Windows Phone handsets, but at least that market is still so new (at least with the latest platform) that there was a better opportunity for them to stand out amongst the other players.

Speaking of the downfall of Nokia and RIM, there was a fascinating blog post a while back about the decline of Apple since the founder is gone now. It generated a ton of buzz, I think the person makes a lot of very good and valid points.

Now that I've written that maybe my mind can move on to something else.

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23Apr/12Off

MS Shooting themselves in their mobile feet again?

TechOps Guy: Nate

I've started to feel sorry for Microsoft recently. Back in the 90s and early 00s I was firmly in the anti MS camp, but the past few years I have slowly moved out of that camp mainly because MS isn't the beast that it used to be. It's a company that just fumbles about at what it does now and doesn't appear to be much of a threat anymore. It has a massive amount of cash still but for some reason can't figure out how to use it. I suppose the potential is still there.

Anyways I was reading this article on slashdot just now about Skype on Windows phone 7. The most immediate complaint was the design of WP7 prevents skype from receiving calls while in the background because with few exceptions like streaming media and stuff any background app is suspended. There is no multi tasking on WP7? As some others I have seen notice - I haven't seen a WP7 phone on anyone yet, so haven't seen the platform in action. Back when what was Palm was gutted last year and the hardware divisions shut down many people were saying how WP7 was a good platform to go to from WebOS, especially the 7.5 release which was pretty new at the time.

I don't multi task too much on my phone or tablets, but it's certainly nice to have the option there. WebOS has a nice messaging interface with full skype integration so skype can run completely in the background. I don't use it in this way mainly because the company I'm at uses Skype as a sort of full on chat client, so the device would be hammered by people talking (to other people) in group chats which is really distracting. Add to that the audible notifications for messaging on WebOS applies to all protocols, so I use a very loud panic alarm for SMS messages for my on call stuff, and having that sound off every couple of seconds when a skype discussion is going is not workable! So I keep it off unless I specifically need it. 99.9% of my skype activity is work related. Otherwise I wouldn't even use the thing. Multi tasking has been one of the biggest selling points of WebOS since it was released several years ago, really seeming to be the first platform to support it (why it took even that long sort of baffles me).

So no multi tasking, and apparently no major upgrades coming either - I've come across a few articles like this one that say it is very unlikely that WP7 users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8/WP8. Though lack of mobile phone upgrades seems pretty common, Android in particular has had some investigations done to illustrate the varying degrees when or if the various handsets get upgrades. WebOS was in the same boat here, with the original phones not getting past version 1.4.5 or something, the next generation of phones not getting past 2.x, and only the Touchpad (with a mostly incompatible UI for phones apparently) having 3.x. For me, I don't see anything in WebOS 3.x that I would need on my WebOS 2.x devices, and I remember when I was on WebOS 1.x I didn't see anything in 2.x that made me really want to upgrade, the phone worked pretty well as it was. iOS seems to shine the best in this case providing longer term updates for what (has got to be) is a very mature OS at this point.

But for a company that has as much resources as Microsoft, especially given the fact that they seem to be maintaining tighter control over the hardware the phones run on, it's really unfortunate that they may not be willing/able to provide the major update to WP8.

Then there was the apparent ban Microsoft put on all players, preventing them from releasing multi core phones in order to give Nokia time to make one themselves, instead of giving even more resources to making sure they could succeed they held the other players back, which not only hurts all of their partners (minus Nokia, or not?) but of course hurt the platform as a whole.

I'm stocked up on WebOS devices to last me a while on a GSM network. So I don't have to think about what I may upgrade to in the future, I suspect my phones might outlive the network technologies they use.

To come back to the original topic - lack of multi tasking - specifically the inability for Skype to operate in the background is really sad. Perhaps the only thing worse is it took this long for Skype to show up on the platform in the first place. Even the zombie'd WebOS has had Skype for almost a year on the Touchpad, and if you happened to have a Verizon Pre2 phone at the time, Skype for that was released just over a year ago(again with full background support). I would of thought given Microsoft bought Skype about a year ago that they would of/ could of had a release for WP7 within a very short period of time(30 days?). But at least it's here for the 8 people that use the phone, even if the version is crippled by the design of the OS. Even Linux has had Skype (which I use daily) for longer. There have been some big bugs in Skype on WebOS - most of them I think related to video/audio, doesn't really impact me since most of my skype usage is for text chat.

While I'm here chatting about mobile I find it really funny, and ironic that apparently Microsoft makes more money off of Android than it does it's own platform(estimated to be five times more last year), and Google apparently makes four times more money off of iOS than it's own platform.

While there are no new plans for WebOS hardware at this point - it wouldn't surprise me at all if people inside HP were working to make the new ARM-based WP8 tablets hackable in some way to get a future version of WebOS on them, even though MS is going to do everything they can to prevent that from happening.

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8Feb/11Off

New WebOS announcements tomorrow

TechOps Guy: Nate

Looking forward myself to the new WebOS announcements coming from HP/Palm, seem to be at about noon tomorrow. I've been using a Palm Pre for almost two years now I think, and recently the keyboard on it stopped working, so hoping to see some good stuff announced tomorrow. Not sure what I will do - I don't trust Google or Apple or Microsoft, so for smart phones it's Palm and Blackberry. WebOS is a really nice software platform from a user experience standpoint it's quite polished. I've read a lot of complaints about the hardware from some folks, until recently my experience has been pretty good though. As an email device the blackberry rocked, though I really don't have to deal with much email (or SMS for that matter).

Maybe I'll go back to a 'feature phone' and get a WebOS tablet, combined with my 3G/4G Mifi and use that as my web-connected portable device or something. My previous Sanyo phones worked really well. Not sure where I'm at with my Sprint contract for my phone, and Sprint no longer carries the Pre and doesn't look like it will carry the Pre 2. I tried the Pixi when it first came out but the keyboard keys were too small for my fingers even when using the tips of my fingers.

I found a virtual keyboard app which lets me hobble along on my Pre in the meantime while I figure out what to do.

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