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I Stole the HTC Incredible for $99. OMG.

Wow, talk about luck, apparently I caught a discount that barely existed for hours.  I’ve long waited for a decent smartphone available @ Verizon, be it the iPhone, Nexus One or whatever else … so raving reviews of the HTC Incredible certainly did not leave me cold. Still somewhat hesitating, I started to look for deals.  Verizon offers the new superphone for $199 with a two-year contract, but I’ve quickly quickly found some outlets selling it for $149. Then it occurred to me I should check my new default shopping destination, Amazon.  Bingo!

htc 99

I could not resist the $99 price, so I quickly ordered it.  This morning I wondered why people are saying Amazon sells it for $149 … a quick check on the pricing:

htc 149

Wow – was the $99 an introductory promotion ( not that they needed it, the first shipment sold out in hours), or an honest mistake by Amazon?  I don’t know, but am certainly happy that I grabbed it while it lasted :-)

Now, if only HTC had a better name for it: saying HTC Droid Incredible is quite a mouthful – compared to the elegant simplicity (simple elegance?) of just saying iPHone.  Perhaps they should follow this advice:

If you have the audacity to name your new smartphone Incredible, it had darn well better live up to its name. Based on the reviews from CNET, LAPTOP magazine, PC Magazine, and PC World, the new HTC Droid Incredible does just that. In fact, the Android 2.1-based Verizon phone ($200 with two-year contract) could just as well be named Awesome. Stupefying. Maybe even OMG.

OMG.  I like it.  Now, please, Holy Amazon, just ship it soon.

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Time for Device Independent Data Plans

The Apple iPad event is still on, and the Internet is crumbling… Twitter barely crawls, CoveritLive isn’t exactly live, the major sites providing blog coverage are barely accessible… this is iKill – the day Apple Killed The Net. :-(

But I want to talk about something more important:

iPad data plan

It’s a screenshot from Engadget’s coverage.  Yes, reasonable data plan prices. Except… how many of them do you need?  An iPhone data plan, too?   A data plan for your USB stick for the times you do need a “regular” notebook to work on?

Remember this?

rotaryphone

Yes, phones looked like that.  And there was a time when phone companies (Ma Bell) charged extra when you had more then one outlet in your home….

Remember the early days of cable TV?   You had to ( well, were supposed to) pay extra for each additional cable outlet.

How about the early days of the Internet, before wireless became pervasive?  Yes, ISPs expected us to pay extra for each outlet.

These anachronistic charges are all gone – we pay for the service, no matter what device we use to access it.

So why would wireless access be any different?  We will soon have an increasing number of devices, but the underlying service is the same.  In fact chances are when I use my iPad (which I don’t have), I will not be using my Netbook / Notebook, or browse the Net on iPhone, Google Nexus One … as a consumer I may own a variety of devices, but chances are I will only use them one at a time.

It’s time wireless providers wake up to the 21st century and charge for consumption on a per account (person) basis, not per device.

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Disconnect – the Generation Gap

This cartoon by Agent X feels appropriate before the next post by Chirag

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Who Says the iPHone is Not for Business When SAP Runs on It?

Well, SAP Executives, for starters .. just ask Vinnie Mirchandani or Larry Dignan. SAP Execs and key customers were quite dismissive of the iPhone as a business communication platform.  But like I’ve said before discussing Oracle’s SaaS offering, it’s not what they say … it’s where they put their money. smile_wink

Granted, the SAP – Sybase partnership just being announced at these very moments (webcast) isn’t all about the iPhone: it’s about making the SAP Business Suite 7 available on iPhone, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.  Still, it’s nice to see they chose the “right phone” for the video. smile_wink (hat tip: Jeff Nolan)

(Cross-posted from CloudAve. To stay abreast of news, analysis and just plain opinion on Cloud Computing, SaaS, Business grab the CloudAve Feed here.)

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CrunchPad: a Keyboard-less Netbook

I admit I was skeptical when Mike Arrington first announced he wanted to build a  lightweight  Web Tablet.  Skeptical partly because I had just witnessed Ismael Ghalimi of the Office 2.0 fame feverishly work on the Redux Model 1.  I had been doubtful about his effort, too, but his energy level was just radiating, he actually convinced me, I started to believe…  But in the end, all the effort (and quite some money Ismael spent along the way) came down to nothing, he nuked the device, and the Office 2.0 Conference gadget became an HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.

Fast-forward half a year, and TecCrunch is showing off a prototype.  Granted, it’s not as cool-looking as the initial sketch above, but this one is working.

Continue reading

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Nokia? Forget it …Kim Basinger’s Lifeline Would be an iPhone Today.

The 2004 thriller Cellular features three stars: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and a Nokia 6660 video-phone. The kidnapped school-teacher played by Kim Basinger pieces together a broken phone and reaches a random dude, Ryan (Chris Evans) on cell-phone – this call literally becomes her lifeline.

Ryan effortlessly uses his Nokia miracle-phone in the middle of a wild race in his (stolen) Porsche, even produces the video evidence that will put the bad guys away at the Happy End.

But are Nokia phones really so easy to use in real life?   Read on to find out

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Netbooks or Notebooks? It’s Not Only About Size.

Hardly a day goes by without another new Netbook announcement, at lower and lower prices.  The first baby eee PC by ASUS was toy-like ( I returned it after a day), but the current crop are quite usable mobile computing devices. 

These new Netbooks are flying off the shelf, so much so that sometimes you wonder if manufacturers rush to re-label their notebooks to netbooks, just to ride the wave.  Whereas the first model had a puny 7” screen, the current standard is a minimum of 8.9, but 10” is becoming widely available, and when Dell recently announced their Inspiron Mini 12, ZDNet’s Larry Dignan rightfully noted that the netbook-notebook-laptop lines have just become blurry.

Dell’s divider line may very well be at the 12” screen size, considering anything beyond that a notebook.  ASUS CEO Jerry Shen clearly draws the line at 10” – a definition that fits his own eee PC line.  I think all these size-based definitions are meaningless. Size truly matters, but for another reason: when you pick a travel n*tbook,  you clearly need something small and lightweight, yet with a decent keyboard and screen.  But that’s not what differentiates Netbooks from any other computer.

The real divider is how you use it.  A Netbook is a light mobile computing device that allows you to process information, access the Internet, and that does not store a bundle of bloated programs or data

When computers first became personal, most of us only got one at the workplace, then years later the family PC appeared– one expensive computer shared by the entire family.  Now we often have individual PC’s for just about anyone at home, including the kids, and are moving to a new pattern, where individuals will have a number of purpose-oriented computing devices, be it a desktop, workhorse laptop, netbook or smartphone.  The fundamental change is that we’re not really working on the computer itself, but on the Net: the computer (keyboard, screen) is just our way to access the net. As Coding Horror’s Jeff Atwood says in The Web Browser is the New Laptop :

After spending some time with a netbook, I realized that calling them "small laptops" is a mistake. Netbooks are an entirely different breed of animal. They are cheap, portable web browsers.

We’re getting to the point where for most productivity task the computer’s performance or even the operating system won’t matter anymore: all we need is a decent screen and keyboard to get online. 

But computer manufacturers while jumping on this hot new trend, seem to be confused.  Minor flavors aside they typically offer two major configurations:

  • The uber-geek netbook:
    • Linux
    • Solid-state drive (SSD)
  • For the rest of the world:
    • Windows XP
    • Traditional hard drive

That’s not a very smart combination, if you ask me.  Statistics show the return rate of Linux vs. Windows based netbooks is 4 to 1. Buyers of the cute little netbooks are happy first, then they become frustrated that they can’t instantly do things they are used to – and a learning curve with a $400  $200 device is unacceptable.  Let’s face it, Linux is not friendly enough for most non-geeks – including yours truly.  But why can I not have a netbook with XP and SSD?

Typical netbook SSD’s are still in the 8-16GB range, while harddisks are up to 160GB.  That’s a trap that vendor themselves fall into: my sexy little netbook (an Acer Aspire One) came loaded with crapware, including trial versions of MS Office, MS Works, Intervideo WinDVD (on a DVD-less computer!) and who knows what else.  Once the pattern is established, and you have large storage, you will start installing your own programs and data, too, the temptation is just too hard to resist.  You no longer have a netbook, it just became a noteboook.

The New York Times ran an article this week: In Age of Impatience, Cutting Computer Start Time, discussing the problem of slow boot times.  Anyone who ever had a Windows computer knows this tends to get worse over time.  My own Vista desktop had a sub-minute startup time a year ago when new, not it takes 3-4 minute to boot it.  The two older XP-based laptops take 6-7 minutes to reboot.  This well-known Windows disease can only be cured by refreshing your system from time to time. It’s an ugly process, requires wiping out your harddisk’s content, re-installing Windows, then your programs and data.  PC manufacturers don’t exactly help by providing “restore disks” instead of proper OS CD’s: why would you start with a pre- SP1 copy of WinXP and reinstall a bunch of years-old obsolete crapware   when the objective was to cleanup your system in the first place?

If you want to avoid the pain, keep your netbook free of applications and data: use it as a NETbook, and it will stay nimble and fast (sort of).

Talk about fast, there’s a neat solution to reduce boot-up time: Splashtop, a quick-load platform by startup company DeviceVM can put you online within seconds, without loading the main operating system. Chances are you’d be using it 80% of the time, relegating full Windows to an as-needed basis.  DeviceVM charges manufacturers about $1 per system, so why is it that it’s often found in high-end notebooks, but not in the netbooks by the same manufacturer?   Splashtop should be a must on any netbook.

 Finally, a word on connectivity and prices:  Wifi gets you online almost, but not all the time, so obviously a 3G connection is a useful addition to your netbook.  But you will pay for 3G data usage, so why don’t carriers subsidize your netbook purchase, like they do with cell phones?   The day will come, as the WSJ reports, HP may be one of the first to introduce such a model:  H-P Mulls Service Bundles for Netbooks. When that happens, your notebook will not be too different from a smartphone, just with a larger keyboard and display.

 

(Cross-posted from CloudAve.)

 

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iPhone Battery Power: Worthless Comparisons.

PC World, Gizmodo, 9 to 5 Mac, Mobility Site , jkOnTheRun and probably a bunch of others happily report that while the iPhone 3g battery life can’t be compared to the first-gen one, it’s still better than any other 3G phones on the market today.

This is a worthless comparison without adding the important fact that other phones have replaceable batteries.  C’mon, spare batteries are so slim, you can easily carry one, and use your phone without any interruption  – except on the iPhone: when it’s gone, in about 5 hours, you’re dead.

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Microsoft’s Echoes Does NOT Eliminate Phone Numbers

Grand title for a grand plan: Mary Jo Foley reports about Microsoft’s grand plan to eliminate phone numbers .

The problem is, it really does not eliminate phone numbers, just makes them more convenient for use. It’s not Mary Jo’s fault, she just quotes Bill Gates:

“Right now the mobile phone, the desktop phone, the e-mail that you have on the PC, or instant messaging, these are all very different things, and the issues about how much of your information or your schedule, your current activity you share with people who communicate with you is not well designed…. By bringing together all of these kinds of communication, we can greatly simplify them. We can get rid of phone numbers, have it so when you say you want to contact someone, based on who you are and where that person is, they can decide whether to take the call or take a message about that, and so a great efficiency improvement that can be made there.”

Microsoft’s new Echoes service platform will indeed assign a mobile number to Windows Live contacts, and synchronize everything with everythingsmile_wink allowing communication via voice call, email, SMS.. you name it.

Nice. But let’s think for a minute.

When I grew up we had rotary phones, I probably knew a few dozen phone numbers by heart, since every time I called a friend I had to manually dial it. For the rest, there was the big thick phone book.

Along came the first push-button phones and we could program a few numbers into speed-dial. The issue was no longer knowing all he phone numbers, but remembering which button was which.

Don’t worry, I am not about to walk through all the technology improvements in such detail, as most of my readers remember the rest. Phones with more memory, LCD screens, directories, cell-phones, PDA’s, PC-based programs..etc all have one thing in common: they still use phone numbers, we just don’t have to remember them. Heck, I don’t know all my own phone numbers (but GrandCentral doessmile_regular)

These devices did not eliminate phone numbers; they just made it more convenient to use them. Just like Microsoft’s Echoes (supposedly) will.

All that said, convenience is important, so Echoes is a great plan if and when it works and gets universal acceptance. Of course the flip-side is it’s reliance on Windows Live. Anyone smells lock-in? Let’s not forget for many people Windows Live log-in is their former Microsoft Passport login. The infamous Passport that went down so often depriving users access to basic services, including their own finances. The Passport that Microsoft handles a bit too casually. Here’s a little anecdote just to make the point:

A few months ago I wanted to try Microsoft’s Health Vault ( a system so over-complicated that I can almost guarantee patients won’t be able to use it) and it required my Live (formerly Passport) login. Then it told me my password was not secure enough and forced me to change it. I thought I was changing my vault access only, there was no warning whatsoever that this would change my login to all other systems requiring Live login. I only found out when I could not log in to Microsoft Money, where I manage all my finances.

Conclusion: Echoes sounds like a good, useful plan, just beware what it means to be locked in to a Microsoft platform.

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The Cell-Phone Aware PC May Be a PC-less PC

Mike Egan @ Computerworld makes the case for PC’s to be smarter, with improved awareness of cell-phones, which means of their owners.

PCs would benefit greatly from awareness about the location of the user. Is she sitting in front of me? Is she out of the building? Imagine if your PC performed routine maintenance, or kicked into security mode when it knew you weren’t around. Since we take them wherever we go, cell phones are ideal devices to inform our PCs whether we’re in the room or not.

We like to set up our PCs just so, with color schemes and specific files and applications we like to use. Imagine if our phones could carry sets of configurations around and magically transform any PC we happen to be using into one set up just like the computer at home or in the office.

We work on documents, then go home and work on them some more. Why don’t phones automatically carry the latest version and upload it to whichever PC we’re using? Why do most of us still use e-mail for this?

A recent Gartner study discusses similar concepts named “Portable Personality Solutions.” Whether the media is thumb drives as in the Gartner study, or cell phones as in Egan’s vision, the core idea is the same: your preferences, your “digital personality” is always with you in your device, and is uploaded and downloaded wirelessly and automatically to whatever computer you want to use.

I like the concept, but it involves unnecessary steps: far too many uploads and downloads, a sure sign that it’s based on today’s computing model, instead of tomorrow’s. I laid out a similar but more far-reaching concept last year:

  • the mobile phone brings the connectivity, browser and some personalization
  • the actual work devices are the cheap displays, keyboards easily found anywhere.
  • the apps and data are on the Net

Can you spot the key difference? There is no computer. Yes, the PC is gone, the display and keyboard are there for convenience reasons (who doesn’t like large displays?) the mobile device can do the minimal processing I need since the heavy workload is carried in the Cloud. Granted this is not the solution for 3-D Modeling, Video Editing and the like, just for regular productivity work, which is what most of us use computers for anyway.

Now, to be fair, this is not really my concept, I was just interpreting Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu’s personal computing nirvana vision. Recently he developed his vision a step further (actually, it’s not him dreaming further, it’s the technology that advances fast):

Given how mobile phones pack a whole lot of functionality in a tiny package, I have wondered if the ideal server farm is just tens of thousands of mobile phones packed together. It seems to me that the semiconductor technology behind mobile devices is far, far more power efficient than the stuff that goes in servers. Partly it is a backwards compatibility issue, with servers having to run code written all the way back to 1980s, while mobile phones simply didn’t exist that far back. Partly, it is also a function of how traditional client-server applications were architectural monoliths, compared to the deeply distributed “service-oriented architecture” that is common in web applications today.

With mobile phones approaching very respectable CPU & memory capacity, packaging them together as a server cluster makes a lot of sense. Linux can run on almost all of the modern CPUs common in cell-phones, and the mobile version of Java seems actually well-suited for server use, particularly for deeply partitioned, distributed applications. Lightweightness is actually an advantage in server software, just as it is in mobile software.

I wonder how far-fetched this vision is, but have to say this former Qualcomm engineer who just spent a few millions of dollars to create two data centers which will soon provide automatic failover might just know what he is talking about… smile_shades

Update: “Spanning Sync” Charlie is thinking along similar lines: Will Your Next PC be an iPhone?

Update (4/13): Is it Time For a Portable Dumb Terminal?