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June 17, 2013

My new Pebble e-watch reviewed

My Pebble watch arrived a week ago. It’s a programmable wristwatch that talks to your Android phone or iPhone. When it arrived, I was a little disappointed. I’m happier with it now.

I didn’t make it into the Kickstarter in time, but I was in the first wave of buyers after that. Pebble has done an outstanding job of blogging about the process by which it has gone from concept to shipping product, and I’ve generally liked the choices they’ve made. Ever since my Casio AE-20, I’ve wanted a digital representation of analog hands. Plus I very much like the idea of being able to download watch faces that are open source and designed by, well, anyone. Plus, there can be and will be apps.

But I was disappointed because it’s ugly. It’s too big on my wrist. Not exactly sleek. Plus, I hate the band it ships with: resin (or some other type of plastic), plain, and irritating to my skin. (Of course this is a personal reaction. It’s a blog, people!) But I replaced the band with a blue leather band — I got the black version of the watch — and I think it looks much better, In fact, now I like the way it looks.

Also, I began by downloading a set of fake analog faces, and I like them ok, but I’ve started using a default face that spells out the time in words. It’s a little harder to parse than a set of hands, and it doesn’t have the date on it, but if Project Runway has taught me anything, it is that one must make sacrifices for fashion. (PLus now I found a variant with the date on it.)

There are not a lot of apps yet, an I haven’t even found a stopwatch/countdown timer that I like. But I will. Also, I was surprised that after I’d downloaded about six watch faces, it told me that it was out of memory. (To delete a face, you use the Pebble app on your smart phone.)

So, I haven’t gotten to the basics yet. It’s got a readable display that’s more like e-paper than the usual LCD; it’s fine in bright light and the night light works well. A charged battery is supposed to last a week, and mine has so far. You need a special cable to charge it; it plugs into any normal USB charger on the wall side, but the watch side holds itself to the watch via the magic of magnetism. I know Pebble considered using a normal USB socket, but then it wouldn’t be waterproof, so it seems like a reasonable trade-off, although I’m pretty sure I’ve already lost the cable. I hope they sell them by the dozen.

The watch sync’ed incredibly easily via Bluetooth with my Android phone. By default it sends the text of emails and SMS texts to your watch. Since it buzzes every time, and since I get maybe 150 emails a day, I turned off the email syncing. But since I get very few texts, and they’re almost always from my family, I’ve left that notification on. It buzzes your wrist, and you can use the watch buttons to scroll through the message. You can’t compose text on your watch.

It also comes ready to pause or skip forward or backward your phone’s music. I’ve found this useful while listening to podcasts; a click of a watch button and I can hear the bus driver telling me us to duck. (The ol’ 66 is a pretty tough bus route.)

This is definitely a 1.0 release. It’s fully functional, and with a new band it looks pretty snappy. If I were you, I’d wait for the next release, by which time it may have some strong competition. It’s also a little expensive at $150. Still, I like the watch, I like the integration with Android, and I like the company’s transparency. It’s bringing me pleasure.

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January 4, 2011

PacMap

As Gianluca Baccanico (who pointed me to this) says: What do you get when you mashup Google Maps, GPS, and PacMan?

From the SourceForge page on the project:

PacMap as a location based game for Android devices. To play the game you need a GPS signal and a working internet connection. There also have to be some streets nearby. Your goal is to eat all the dots. For each dot you will get a point. But beware!

What next: Google Theft Auto?

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June 25, 2010

Google vs. Apple control freakism

Rich Cannings, Android security lead, blogged about remotely removing an app from people’s Android phones [excerpted]:

Recently, we became aware of two free applications built by a security researcher for research purposes. These applications intentionally misrepresented their purpose in order to encourage user downloads, but they were not designed to be used maliciously, and did not have permission to access private data — or system resources beyond permission. As the applications were practically useless, most users uninstalled the applications shortly after downloading them.

After the researcher voluntarily removed these applications from Android Market, we decided, per the Android Market Terms of Service, to exercise our remote application removal feature on the remaining installed copies to complete the cleanup.

I’m not sure what terms of service the app maker violated, although I’d guess there’s something in there about not purposefully misrepresenting your app. But John Gruber at Daring Fireball concludes that this is:

…proof that while Android Market is significantly less regulated than Apple’s App Store, it’s not a Wild West free-for-all.

Well, sure. But there seems to me to be a difference in kind, and not just degree, between Google removing an app that’s purposefully misleading and Apple removing apps because it doesn’t meet some vague standard for inoffensive content.

Does this matter? Well, it sure does to Dan Gillmor, who’s switching from Mac to Linux because he doesn’t like Apple’s control over his computer. Dan has been a leading indicator before. I’m not willing to leave my Mac yet, mainly because Apple hasn’t AppStored it yet. (Also, I’m still finding Linux — Ubuntu 10.04 — to be high maintenance, at least for my desktop activities.) But the competition between Apple and Google, and the continued progress made by desktop Linux, makes me very happy.

See, the system works!

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June 3, 2010

Steve Jobs: Artist and unintentional Big Brother?

Robert Wright’s post about Steve Jobs seems to me to be exactly right: Jobs is an artist who would rather create the perfect product than rule the world. (Doc has been saying for over ten years that the best way to understand Jobs is as an artist.)

I am not completely relieved, however. The AppStore is such an appealing business model that what Jobs created for artistic reasons may spread for economic ones. That’s one reason that the competition from Android is so important.

(By the way, the second comment on the Wright column is great, and is from my old friend Evelyn Walsh.)

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May 28, 2010

Linux on a stick

I’m excited. On the plane ride today, I got Linux loaded onto a USB stick which I then used to boot my Acer One netbook into Linux. Nothing special about that, but because Linux saves onto a 4G section of my USB stick, I now have a tiny, portable OS that saves the stuff I download and create.

My netbook comes loaded with Windows XP on one partition and Android on another. But it’s a particular sucky version of Android, and I’ve found I’m not using it for anything. But I’d rather not be running Windows when I don’t have to. So, the portable USB-ized Ubuntu is perfect for me.

It took me a few tries to get it so that the USB saves the stuff I create while running Linux, and I’m not entirely sure why the slider that sets up the save area was grayed out. Eventually I booted into Linux off of another USB stick, and then used Linux’s own “create startup disk” feature to erase (and format?) the USB stick, which then, at last, let me set aside a save area.

Unfortunately, I have not yet found a way to tether the netbook to my Droid so I can avoid the $15/day Net access charge at the hotel while running Linux. So, for now I’m booting into Windows and using the fabulous PDAnet app.

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December 21, 2009

[droid] Owned-by app for lost Droids

After five days with my Droid, I listed some things I liked and didn’t like. Among the didn’ts: No way to put your contact info on the lock screen so that if someone finds it, she can notify you.

Well, there’s an app for that. At the Market, search for “Owner Information.” It displays a small block of text above the dot pattern on your lock screen. Exactly what I was looking for. (It’s free. Thanks!)

Among other apps I’m using with some frequency: WordPlayer (ebook reader), NewsRob (RSS reader), Twidroid (twitter client), Dolphin browser, and when I need to bend people to my will, Hypnotic Spiral.

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November 7, 2009

Google plays the openness card

While Apple has blocked the Someecards app because some of the cards have made fun of public figures, Google has asked the app to port on over to Android phones.

(BTW, I got a Droid today.)

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October 29, 2009

Taking sides with Droid: Hippies vs. Geeks

I’m finding the cultural politics of Droid‘s marketing to be fascinating.

Droid is Motorola’s competitor to the iPhone, based on Google’s open source Android operating system. Of course it’s marketing itself head-to-head against the iPhone. Verizon’s “iDon’t” ad was totally in iPhone’s face: iPhone doesn’t do x, y, and z, but Droid does.

But Droid isn’t just going against iPhone’s features. It’s drawing a cultural line. Apple is for hippies, it’s saying. Droid is for power geeks.

For example, at Verizon’s “Droid Does” page, if you click on “Open Development,” the message is:

Droid doesn’t judge app makers. We don’t care about their politics, their lifestyles or their attitude. If they make a great app, we will share it. That’s how we have over 10,000 apps in Android Marketâ„¢. Simple, isn’t it?

This is cross-over geek and business trash talk.

At “Hardcore,” the text is:

This is no granola crunching, flower child phone. It’s more powerful than you need and faster than you can handle. Basically, it’s everything you’ve ever wanted. And it’s ready to do your bidding. What shall you have it do first.

Weird anti-hippie, geek power lord, high-performance sports car, S&M vibe.

“Power” continues the sports car trope:

Look under the hood of this machine if you dare. There’s a fast CortextA8 processor, 16gb of memory expandable to 32gb and a WVGA 854×480 screen. Now step back. It’s revving up.

Out of my way, hippie!

And perhaps: Out of my way, girls! The Droid marketing is hitting a lot of (traditionally) male notes.

The cultural alignment will be fascinating to watch.

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October 18, 2009

Tales of technolust: the appStoreless Droid

My Blackberry 8830 does what it needs to do. I can type on it. I can take it to Europe. With the Gmail app installed, I can read and delete emails and have them deleted from my gmail inbox. I an view web pages through a keyhole. I can recharge it off of my laptop. I can run the vaguely accurate Verizon GPS on it. I can fit a couple of downloads on it.

But I don’t love. I’m very glad to have it. But it does nothing for my hormone levels.

My eye now is roving. Verizon has announced it will be offering the Motorola Droid in November, which runs Google’s Android operating system. Unless there are some gotchas — if it has half of what we’re expecting, can we call it the Hemodrhoid? — I’m going to be explaining to my BBerry that the problem is really with me, not it, and then making the switch.

I don’t expect it the Droid to be as beautiful as the iPhone. Nor will there be as many apps. But, it will be beautiful enough, and as people write more skins for it, it may get better with age. And there are already more than enough Android apps, which is exactly how many I need.

Most of all, though, there won’t be an AppStore. The AppStore is the seductive angel of death for computing. It enables Apple to keep quality up and, more important, to keep support costs down. But a computer that can’t be programmed except by its manufacturer (or with the permission of its manufacturer) isn’t a real computer. The success of the AppStore is a gloomy, scary harbinger. From controlling the apps that can go on its mobile phone, it’s a short step for Apple to decide to control the apps that can go on its rumored slate/netbook device. And since so much of the future of computing will occur on mobiles and netbooks, this portends a serious de-generation of computing, as predicted by Jonathan Zittrain in The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.

So, some of my technolust for a phone I haven’t even seen yet is due to the political hope it promises. Rally ’round the Droid, boys and girls!

Unless, of course, it sucks.

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