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Death in the family

Apple I-phone 4s, Sprint, WebOS and Android

This is pretty much a rant about mobile phones. I've always been a bit of a gadget fanboy and over the years, I've had a number of them. Even though I will uses the same computer or TV for 10 years or more, with phones, I've always been driven to try and get the latest and greatest every upgrade. Out of all gadgets, it's the one that I can say has always been within arms reach at all times for over 12 years. Before that it was a pager. I tend to be very passionate about my phones and rather hard on them. So this really isn't a review as much as a bit of a love song to my favorite form of gadget. 


Yesterday I took the kid to Best Buy to get a new phone and picked out an older Android Nexus S that was free. Sure it is about a year old but I think it is a good fit for him and a nice upgrade from his old feature phone.  The two of us have been off our Sprint contract since June but I was holding out to see what would happen with WebOS and HP. I think everyone that really cared about Palm has heard the story by now. So with no new WebOS phone in the feature it's put me at a cross roads. To be one honest one of the reasons I decided to get Quinn a  new phone was I had already heard enough about the Apple announcement today to know that chances are the iPhone was coming to the Now Network. Mainly because I didn't really want to have that decision about my dislike of Apple with him in the coming months though he is a good kid and I think he is pretty happy with his new phone.


I bought the Pre a few days after launch and have been very happy with it. Sure there have been hardware problems from the start and even though I've been through a number of phones, I've been pretty damn happy with the experience. I could go on and on about all the many reasons why I loved the OS. There was the smoothness of the UI, the fact that I felt that I could uses it much like I did a computer with multitasking and for about the first 6 months, I noticed that I was going to my phone for a number of things that I would usually go to the laptop for. I loved the fact that the platform was open and in fact that Palm took a stance completely different from the industry of not only allowing home brewing but flat out encouraging and thanking those that we doing it. Unlike other platforms, you were encouraged to "Jailbreak" your phone and through the hard work of other, customize your phone through patches and apps that were all free and outside of their app catalog. 


I have to say that for the most part I was a happy WebOS user and had no plan of changing platforms, at least until I really started getting a craving for a new device around a year ago. The year that followed was a very frustrating time, I think for the first time in my life I really understand what it is like to be an Chicago Cubs fan. I will state even after everything that has happened that WebOS it is by far the best mobile OS out there. Palm had fine tuned an OS that really was usable out of the box and sexy to look at. The hardware really wasn't close to the OS but the platform had so much potential. 


The frustration with Palm started with the launch and the general lack of education of the sales staff at Sprint and other retailers. It just seemed that they had no idea what they had or where the platform could go. I watched in person, a number of sales reps talk customers out of the Pre to other phones like the much out dated Blackberry phones. I've never understood sales people that don't know the products they are selling. Sure for most, it's just a job but what happened to being the best you could be at your job? In fact, when my sis got her upgrade she asked the reps what they used and over half of the Sprint employees said iPhones and then even though she asked for a Pre they pushed her into a HTC Hero.


I won't even go into how much was lacking from the Hero but going from the Pre to it was like stepping back in time to a feature phone. Android when held next to WebOS seemed sloppy and confusing and after playing with my son's phone yesterday, I have to say that it still is though not as bad as it was. Even with the much prized apple products, I caught myself trying to swipe to close apps, trying to open other apps and switch back and forth from one to the other. Oh and do get me started on finding the settings. With WebOS it was tapping on the top of the screen and just about everything you ever wanted was right there. Quick, fast and easy.


I think it was around the launch of the Pre Plus on Verizon that I began to get that feeling of Anxiety when it wasn't launched on Sprint and there seemed to be no mention of it happening. Even during the launch of the first Pre on Sprint there was official releases from both Verizon and AT&T stating that they would be releasing WebOS devices in the next year. Thus helping to slow down customers from leaving to head to the cheaper Sprint for the Pre. Then came the selling of Palm to HP and additional product delays. It seemed like great news and I foresaw a world filled with devices running WebOS. I had a great deal of hope for the future. 


It seemed like a decade of interviews with Jon Rubinstein saying over and over, "Coming Soon". He was such a cock tease but then in February there was the Palm event announcing 4 new devices. The Pre 2 on Verizon, the Touch Pad, the Veer and the Pre 3. I remember scanning the internet and news sources for just a hint of release dates and if any of the phones would be released on Sprint. All I came up with is more, "Coming Soon." and "In the Coming Months." Then they announced they wouldn't be upgrading older devices and that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach came back. It would another 4 or 5 months until any of the devices saw the light of day and by the time they hit the market all the excitement had long since escaped the room. Oh and not a mention of Sprint to be found.


By May, I began playing with the idea of leaving Sprint to AT&T or Verizon even if it meant an increase in my monthly bill. I decided that I would wait and see where the Pre3 showed up. The death blow came within a day or two of Pre 3s quietly showing up in Europe. HP announced that they we killing off their WebOS devices and spinning off their personal computer group. The stories over the following week or so included warehouses full of AT&T Pre 3 that would never see the light of day. Also there was the million $99 Touch Pad that sold within a day or two. Proving my belief that tablet prices are too high for the market with Laptops prices where they are.


I noticed that I was in a way going through some level of grieving over the idea that I would not get the shinny new WebOS that I was promised in the coming months. Now let make this clear it was not in the same way that it would be if I lost someone close to me which I had the displeasure of experience a number of times last year but there was a deep sense of loss. The closest I can compare it to what I felt when Shannon Boxx miss that penalty shot in the Women's World Cup finial. It's that tribal instinct that causes us to invest our emotions in something that we have no control over. Then when the team or in Palm's case the product fails, you feel like you lost too. Kind of like that band you love so much puts out a new record that completely sucks, you fill let down and a little like a sucker. 


For a while there was a point were I had the "Pried from my dead cold hands" attitude about my Pre but lately I've been thinking it's time to move around. I'm sure years from now, I'll be talking to someone about phones and the Pre will be brought up and we will both agree that it was before it's time. See that's the thing that is was the most frustrating part of the whole WebOS experience, the cutting is never polished. Just like birth, evolution and revolution. There edge is ugly and held together with a thin string. Maybe if Palm would have released the Pre a year later better built and more polished, the end of the WebOS story would have been different but they didn't.


See that's what Apple does. The thing most people don't seem to grasp about them is they are never the first to market with any device. The MAC was not the first PC, the iPod was not the first MP3 player, the iPhone was not the first mobile smart phone and the iPad was not the first tablet computer. The fact is that most of Apple's products are years behind in features when they were released. For example the iPhone 4s now has speech activation which was a standard feature on even feature phones for over 10 years.  Granted speech activation was mainly for calling features but Google has been offering many of the same app services for some time. It is nothing new.


So how does Apple come across as the cutting edge? Marketing, Marketing and more Marketing. Ever noticed how many times the Apple logo shows up on the back of Notebooks in TV shows and movies? In the future, when they begin digging through our media to try to get a feel for the information ages, they are going to think everyone had a MacBook even though the Mac only has about 3% of the world market. 


The other thing that Apple does is they mask a closed system in the idea of ease of use. Their biggest success in this has been iTunes and the app store. By tying all of their devices into one market place that not only has made them one of the largest sellers of digital media but making it so easy to buy from them and next to impossible to buy anywhere else. 


Lastly it's the polish and ease of use. If you are allowed to sit on features for long periods of time, it allows you to prefect the interface. Also, limiting how you can access features or information and customization, creates a streamlined interface and limits the chances for the user to make mistakes and bog down the system. Thus why the Mac has one button and Apple has drug it's feet and resisted silly things like using the volume button on the iPhone as a camera button. It is the dumbing down of a product to make it easier to use and has been at the heart of the growth of Apple's consumer products. 


The problem is as a consumer, I don't want to pay a premium for outdated technology regardless of how well it works or how easy it is to use. Maybe I get this from my parents but when I buy something, especially make an investment in an expensive item, it needs to be something that is going to have a long uses life. For example, when I buy jeans I buy unwashed jeans because they are going to last longer. The same with shoes and other clothing. You buy something of quality that is going to last a long time and often I'm willing to pay a little extra for that.


When it comes to electronics, weather it's a TV, a computer or a mobile phone, I want the cutting edge and not a "new" device that is using technology from 2 or 3 years ago. When buying a phone, I want something that will be usable for 2 to 3 years. With Apple you have a company that seems to follow the product lines system that American cars followed well into the 80s. They would slowly each year release minor upgrades to their product. Many of the upgrades were decades old when they were released but through the magic of marketing and limited competition these upgrades seemed ground breaking.


When I think of this business practice two things come to mind. The famous quote from Henry Ford, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black." Which was the only color Ford offered until the competition in the market forced Ford to start offering other colors. The other is Preston Tucker, who regardless of some of his business practices, wanted to introduce a car with many new features like padded dashboards,  and safety glass long before the big 3 offered them.  You could say that his business practices may have been his down fall but there is a lot of evidence that the big three did their collective best to pressure the US government to make sure the revolutionary Tucker cars never made it to market. 


Apple has been doing business in much the same way as the big three did from the years after the end of WW2 till the 80s. Releasing minor upgrade each year while fostering after market upgrades aka apps. Just like the big three instead of offering the cutting edge, they have choose to try and reduce competition in the market against it competition by bringing countless law suits against mobile phone manufactures. These lawsuits are usually based on vague software pattens. In the end, it's the consumer that looses. 


So, now I'm faced with a choice. Go with the old technology that works or go with the cutting edge that works most of the time aka Android. Though Android has more to do with the death of WebOS than Apple, they are still some what open and are bring upgrades to the market at a vastly faster pace then Apple. At this point, the only real disadvantage to buying Android is that the device maybe outdated in a week.


If you noticed, I really didn't talk about Apps. That race has been lost to Apple for sometime and a lot of that comes down to their user base of their three flagship devices the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. There seems to be an app for about everything but the thing that has bugged me from the beginning of the rise of the Apps, is that a majority of what most non-game apps, involves the distribution of information that you could easily find on a web site. The thing is that the demand for apps has had more to do with the iPhone and other devices lack of rendering web pages well and web browsers inability to read different file types on websites. The biggest being the memory hogging flash files. 


Though WebOS had the least amounts of Apps of any of the platforms I've talked about, the fact that the OS was html and java base allowed easy rendering of web pages making most apps un-needed. Apple tends to only want to use it's only file types that can only be opened with Apple software. The most common would be media files. While the rest of the world uses completely different formats. One thing that you will never see on the iPhone, iPod or the iPad is the ability to watch flash videos without an app. You can go here to drink the Apple flavored cool aid on the subject - However by not allowing flash, Apple has closed off it's users from alternatives to iTunes and re-enforced it's closed market.


So like New Wave, Apps don't mean Shit. I'm still holding out for a bit to see what comes down the pike but it looks like Google for me. I hope a few of you reading this learned a little bit about Apple and will put that information to good uses because Apple's core customer base is the uneducated consumer. Their target is those that think a MP3 player is called an iPod regardless of the manufacture. I didn't really talk about Windows phone at all because I just haven't seen that phone that makes me want one but I have to say the new UI is really beautiful compared to the old Windows phone I had.


Still as I was playing with Quinn's new Android phone, I kept finding myself getting frustrated that I couldn't just swipe and jump from app to app. Maybe some of those former Palm employees that left the Palm sinking ship can at last pretty up that Android UI.


All for now,

DaVo 10/04/2011

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