The BlackBerry Storm is Verizon’s Vietnam

You’re probably sick of hearing me complain about how the iPhone is only available on the craptacular AT&T network and therefore not available to North Dakotans, and I don’t blame you. Hell, I’m sick of hearing me complain about it.

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The iPhone on Verizon: Break My Heart Again, Apple

It has been over two years since Apple announced the original iPhone, and Apple fans everywhere are expecting the 3rd generation iPhone to be introduced at next month’s WWDC keynote, or shortly after. Having gone through the five stages of grief, I eventually accepted the fact that while Steve Jobs doesn’t actually hate North Dakota, there was no reason to believe we’d be able to buy and use one in our state anytime soon. Since then, I’ve been a happy user of Verizon’s premium smartphone platform, the Blackberry (the Pearl 8130 to be exact) and have been looking to the upcoming Blackberry Tour as my next phone upgrade.

Rumors of an iPhone on the Verizon network just won’t go away, however. The latest one comes via Scott Bourne on this week’s Macbreak Weekly podcast:

I had a conversation yesterday – on Memorial Day – with an extremely high-up Verizon employee who told me flat out, they are getting an iPhone. …He said as soon as June, it will be announced.

You can listen to Scott’s quote and the ensuing discussion in this trimmed-down audio clip.

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Casey’s Dell Mini 9 Hackintosh Netbook

Casey got her 12 inch PowerBook G4 shortly after it was announced back in January 2003 and up until a couple of months ago, it had been her reliable companion. Eventually, however, it simply wasn’t able to keep up with new programs and technologies. JavaScript intensive web applications slowed the browser to a crawl and streaming video ended up looking more like a slideshow.

So recently we looked at how Casey uses her laptop and realized that except for streaming music through iTunes, she does everything in a web browser. This meant that while a Macbook would be very nice, it’d also be a little overkill for daily use. Instead, it turned out that a netbook was a near perfect fit for her.

A photo of a pink Dell Mini 9 netbook computer

A photo of a pink Dell Mini 9 netbook computer

After reading reviews and searching for deals, we ended up buying a Inspiron Mini 9 notebook from Dell. Except for upgrading the color to Promise Pink, we opted for the base configuration (1 GB RAM, 4 GB solid state hard drive, Ubuntu Linux operating system). I immediately doubled the memory to 2 GB for just $20 and then, after being backorderd for a couple of months, installed a 16 GB RunCore SSD to replace the stock Dell hard drive.

The Ubuntu operating system that came installed on the Mini is completely usable for most tasks, but my plan all along was to install Mac OS Leopard (10.5) to turn it into a very portable Mac laptop. There are a small number of netbooks that run Mac OS with few issues, and the Mini 9 currently tops the compatibility list.

Armed with a very complete set of how-to instructions and a few free pieces of software, I had Leopard running on Casey’s Mini in a single evening. I did run into a couple of problems during the installation, but they were addressed in the instructions as known issues with workarounds and fixes.

The end result? This is one fast laptop. Because there are no traditional hard disks spinning, it boots off the solid-state drive in just seconds and programs open almost instantly. There are tradeoffs, however. Because the Mini is so small, the screen and keyboard take some getting used to. Casey tells me that typing wasn’t a problem after a couple of days of practice, and I’ll take her word for it since I’ve only handled it sporadically.

So, for about $350 and a few hours of work, Casey now has a netbook that is dramatically faster than her six year old PowerBook it replaced. Most importantly, it does just what she needs it to.

Steve Jobs Still Hates North Dakota

The New iPhone 3G
Well, another Worldwide Developers Conference kicked-off and another Stevenote wrapped up. The announcements were pretty well covered in the previous week by the Apple rumor squad, the *big one being the release of the iPhone 3G next month (July 2008). Among other things, It has a faster connection, built-in GPS, and a price tag that is about half of what the previous generation sold for.

Still AT&T Only. North Dakota Still Out of Luck.

When I wrote about the first iPhone announcement 1 1/2 years ago, I mentioned how it was going to only be available for the AT&T (then Cingular) wireless network. This is still the case, and the wireless provider still has no presence in North Dakota, so us North Dakotans are out of luck yet again.

With Verizon’s purchase of Alltel last week, North Dakota will effectively have one statewide wireless provider, creating a monopoly for Verizon in the state. And while I’ve had terrific luck with their service and coverage, more competition is always better. So, maybe we’ll see AT&T move in to challenge them, but I’m not holding my breathe.

I think the best chance of us seeing an iPhone in the upper midwest would be for Apple to make a CDMA compatible version. But, this could be years out, if ever, due to their exclusivity contract with AT&T. Or, maybe our dreams will finally be realized when all the wireless carriers migrate over to Long Term Evolution (3GPP LTE) in a few years.

Or, maybe not.

Getting Back Into Shape With My New iPod Nano

(red) iPod Nano

This Christmas, my big gift from Casey and the boys was a shiny new (red) iPod nano that replaces the 3+ year old 3rd generation iPod that died on me over six months ago. It was a great surprise, and is an amazing piece of technology. Seeing Cover Flow on a tiny 2-inch screen is unbelievable.

One of the features currently exclusive to the iPod Nano is the ability to use the Nike + iPod add-on. This kit has two pieces – a transmitter that you stick in your shoe and a receiver that plugs into the bottom of the Nano. While you run/walk, it lets your iPod keep track of the details of your workout: time, distance, estimated calories burnt, etc. Then, when you sync your iPod with iTunes, your workout data is automatically uploaded to the Nike+ website, where it is logged against your goals and graphed to give you a visual view of your run.

Overall, Nike + iPod is a very well designed product that actually manages to provide extra motivation in achieving those fitness goals. Sure, there are a few things that could be improved, like being able to use PowerSongs while listening to podcasts and finding some way to track heart rate, but if you already have a Nano, the kit is well worth the $30 extra dollars.

Nike+

The Open Handset Alliance, or Why Open Standards are for Losers

Google Logo

So Google made a big announcement on Monday about the much hyped gPhone, or lack thereof. For what seems like years now, people have been speculating about an ad-supported phone to be given away by Google. Reality turned out to be a little more boring, but much more significant than a free phone.

Android

The Open Handset Alliance that was announced, along with its Android project, represent a very important moment in the history of the mobile phone industry. This is a business built on lock-in, so when over 30 companies come together to support an open platform for mobile phones, that’s big news. Mobile phones are just dying to be standardized and opened up, and Android might be what gets us there.

It will be quite awhile before anything tangible materializes out of Android, and details are still pretty thin, but a software development kit is due out next week, so it won’t be long before any programmer can take a peak at the project’s code. I’m expecting we’ll hear lots of technical details by the end of next week.

Android

Cue the Haters

I was pretty surprised to read the vast amount of negative coverage of the Android announcement. Some had their hopes dashed when the free gPhone wasn’t released. Others say this project is strictly vaporware until an actual product ships. Still others say a consortium of 30+ companies can’t possibly create anything meaningful and useful. Where is most of the hate coming from? Apple fanatics.

For some reason, lots of Apple fans seem to think that project Android is aimed to be an “iPhone killer”. iPhone owners must still be pretty defensive about their big purchase too, because according to some of them, nothing can ever dream to measure up to Apple’s mobile phone, so there’s no point in even trying. Plus, no one has Apple’s sense of design and style, so an Android-powered phone is surely going to suck, right?

I think it depends on how your prospective. I’m positive that the OSA won’t position Android phones at the top of the market to compete head-to-head with the iPhone. The whole point of a free, open, standardized platform is to lower costs, which makes this ideal for less expensive devices. Plus, these Android detractors are missing the real competitor Google is always gunning for.

Target: Microsoft

If we know anything about Google, it’s that it loves to take on Microsoft. MS has been steadily pushing into the mobile phone market over the last several years, and aims to get its Windows Mobile software on as many handsets as it possibly can. So, Android is the free, open alternative to the Microsoft mobile platform, just as Linux is a clear competitor to Windows in the server market.

Open Standards are for Losers (OK, the Underdog)

If there’s one thing that history has consistently proven, it’s that the industry underdogs are the first to flock to open standards in an attempt to gain traction against the companies at the top. It’s comfortable at the top, which is why you don’t see the names Verizon, AT&T, Nokia, and Apple (among others) listed as members of the Open Handset Alliance. After all, lock-in and proprietary software are what got them to where they are, so there’s no obvious benefit to them gambling their market position on standards that level the playing field.

If there’s another thing that history has taught us about open standards, it’s that eventually, they win. Sure, there will always be room for the Apples and the Microsofts of the world, but everything seems to trend toward being a commodity, especially in the software industry. Open source infrastructure and development platforms are a game-changer in an industry that has been building walled gardens for decades. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

The Apple Difference? Polish.

If you’re an Apple fan, you probably know that today is the big release date for the latest version of the Mac OS, 10.5, a.k.a Leopard. The two and a half year span since the release of Tiger is short by Microsoft standards, but is the longest Mac users have had to wait for a major release in the six year existence of Mac OS X. From early reviews however, it appears to be well worth the extra time.

I’m not going to attempt to write a review (haven’t had my hands on it yet) or rehash features here – both have already been done more times than I care to count. Apple is advertising over 300 new big and small features in Leopard, but I want to talk about a couple that have similar implementations on other operating systems but are transformed by the polish, execution, and attention to detail that Apple is famous for. Those two features are Time Machine and Spaces.

Time Machine vs. Volume Shadow Copy

Time Machine Logo

The most talked about new feature in Leopard has got to be Time Machine, the built-in automated backup and restore application. I’ll be the first to admit that disaster recovery is unsexy and complicated for most, which is why hardly anyone actually does it. People shouldn’t have to learn the difference between incremental and differential backups, or go through the trouble of scheduling jobs and deciding what files to include. I’ve sporadically burned CD-ROMs of documents and copied important files to my USB thumb drive, but a full system crash would be big trouble for our family. Time Machine ends the need for these ad hoc backup methods by automatically copying files to an external hard drive whenever they’re changed and keeping a version history of them. It removes every excuse for not backing up your Mac, except for spending the cash to get an external hard drive.

The main functionality of Time Machine has been around for decades: In the end, it’s just a backup program. Microsoft has similar technology in the last couple of editions of Windows called Volume Shadow Copy that basically does the same thing. But, because it’s hidden so well in the operating system, I’m guessing that 9 out of 10 people have never even heard of it. Unfortunately, the feature is largely inaccessible to home users since it requires either a Ultimate, Business, or Enterprise edition of Vista, or a combination of Windows XP and a server running Windows 2003. Also, shadow copies in Vista appear to be stored on the same disk as the operating system by default – an absolutely horrible idea if your goal is keeping a safe backup.

So, the idea is the same, but Apple’s execution and attention to detail are way, way better than Microsoft’s. Just look at these two screens: Which one would you rather interact with?

Volume Shadow Copy
Time Machine Screenshot

Spaces vs. Virtual Desktops

Spaces Icon

The other new feature I want to hit on is what Apple calls Spaces, an easy way to create separate workspaces to organize your applications and windows. This functionality too, is nothing new. Users of UNIX and Linux based OSes using the X Window System have been able to take advantage of virtual desktops for decades. Historically, these features have been poorly implemented and directed toward advanced computer users.

Apple appears to have put a lot of thought and work into Spaces, making it what is probably the most polished implementation of the virtual desktop idea we’ve seen so far. Take a look at this video to see how it works in action.

Getting to the Point

Under the hood, modern operating systems all provide the same types of services and functionality. What makes OS X different is that it’s polished. Apple has paid attention to the small details and taken much effort to make things easy and intuitive for users. So, it’s true that Apple has copied ideas from Windows, and from Linux too. They didn’t just do quick ripoffs though – they dramatically improved the experience. And, when Windows and the Mac OS seem to be looking more and more alike, that polish, those small details, can make a big difference.

On the iPhone Hype

I have Talk of the Nation on in the background here at work right now, and it seems that even NPR is getting in on the iPhone hype. Momentum has been building for Friday’s launch of Apple’s first mobile phone for months now — something you’ve likely seen if you’ve recently read websites devoted to Apple, gadgets, phones, or any sort of technology for that matter.

The iPhone hype has gotten so out of hand that I thought there was no way for it to live up to expectations. Early review say otherwise, however: Walt Mossberg gives it a thumbs-up, as does David Pogue and USA Today.

Everyone’s biggest letdown so far: AT&T’s craptacular EDGE wireless network. It’s slow — way too slow to actually do anything useful, apparently. Good thing it’s got built-in WiFi.

I’ve been watching the iPhone with peripheral interest, always with the knowledge that I won’t have one for years, if ever. As I said when it was first announced back in January, the fact that it’s AT&T (Cingular) only is a deal-killer for me, as it is for many others. Setting aside the fact that they have a reputation for horrible customer service, they don’t even have real coverage in North Dakota or northern Minnesota.

So personally, the best thing about the iPhone is that it’ll force everyone else to wake up and start making phone that have both good hardware and software. For example, if Verizon offered a smart phone with Z1 text input, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Take a look at these demo videos (QuickTime required) to see what could possibly be the way you’ll write on your phone or PDA in the future. It’s an amazing idea that seems really obvious once you see how it works…

Music Wants to be DRM Free!

Digital music fans received some great news this morning: EMI (one of the largest record labels) is going to start offering DRM-free songs on iTunes. This is big, big, big.

I’ve written about my extreme distaste of DRM before, but I didn’t think we’d see the beginning of its death so soon. I fully expected that entertainment companies would resort to increasingly draconian means of “protecting” its content from the very people who buy it. That had been the recent trend — see Amazon’s Unboxed movie downloads and Microsoft’s Zune player.

I believe Steve Jobs’ recent essay on digital rights management and music will go down in history as the catalyst for this dramatic turn of events. Many others have been fighting DRM for years, but Steve has major clout with iTunes and the iPod — when he talks, people listen.

To have EMI’s entire digital music library for sale on iTunes is a turning point for customers. We’ll now have the choice between the current $.99 DRM’ed version, or the higher quality $1.29 unDRM’ed copy. EMI says early tests show people preferring the non-copy-protected versions 10 to 1, so I hope that’s validated in the sales numbers.

My only gripe: I don’t know, and shouldn’t have to care, who is and isn’t an EMI artist. I don’t think Apple has shown how they’ll handle the different versions in the iTunes interface, but I hope they make the non-DRM music easy to find.

That said, this is a starting point, and a good one. If all goes well, this will be a big success and the other labels will play follow the leader shortly.

Goodbye DRM: You won’t be missed.

Wow – A Free Apple iPhone!

I had to laugh at this email message that got through my spam filter earlier today:

Free iPhone Spam

It’s hard to read in this smaller version, but the subject line reads “larry, our 2nd shipment of iPhones has arrived. Claim yours today.”, and the highlighted text in the body says “Get your revolutionary mobile iPhone – Free of Charge”.

This is quite the accomplishment, because there are only three iPhones known to be working today and Apple says the first ones will likely ship in June 2007.

Nice to see that spammers have jumped on the iPhone bandwagon too…