Palm Pre quick review

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Palm made no secret that the Pre is to be compared to the iPhone, so I’ll do so here. I’m a little stunned to say: it’s as good or better than iPhone on most fronts. It’s that good. Loaded with wow factor. Of course, most of what I write here today could be moot this coming week when (if?) Apple announces its new models.

Is it an “iPhone killer”? No, because that’s a trick question (a very common one). I’m working with a prominent VC firm who’s asked “what would it take to unseat the iPhone?”, and the answer is quite complicated– the device itself is only one factor. A huge applications and music store is a big reason for the iPhone’s success, plus verticals with other Apple products, etc. But this quick review is only observations about the Pre vs iPhone devices.

Better Q: would I heartily recommend it to someone wanting a phone today as an iPhone alternative? Emphatically: yes.

Here’s my most-notable feature list, comparing Pre to iPhone:
Just feels better in your hand. Less like a piece of jewelry, no metal. Screen looks almost an inch shorter, though if your eyes are good, you quickly get used to it (more condensed). Screen not quite as radiant as the iPhone’s, but pretty close, partly due to plastic screen instead of glass, which will scratch easier (get a protector) but won’t shatter (a huge plus).

1-handed operation feels natural. Hasn’t crashed for me. Sound is slightly better (audio and calls). Physical keyboard (f**k yeah, albeit Lilliputian), better camera, removable battery (important due to others’ batt life complaints). An actual flat mirror on back when phone is opened, about 1.5×3″: this would be particularly popular in Asia– too bad the phone won’t work there (CDMA/US only)! Network speedtests mostly out-performed iPhone/ATT, though this was ad-hoc and not conclusive. The Pre OS does feel fast, and without the annoying and widespread slight delays on iPhone when typing or changing tasks. Comes w/ (only?) 8GB. Music synched via iTunes (if non-DRM’ed) or Amazon Music Store.

The UI/UX is also a bit more advanced, feels more like the future. Deck and card views are great and more interesting than on iPhone, you can flick an app away to trash it or reorganize. This is the part that’s toughest to describe and best experienced.

Apps: weakness for now. Hey, it’s a new device and new platform: Developers Wanted. It will take time and resources and faith in the platform to build a thriving apposphere. My thought is Palm’s done it before (and lost it before, a few times) and could do it again. And yes there’s still room even despite Apple having become such a mobile force. Smartly, Palm came up with WebOS, an environment that is based on common web tools. This promises to impose upon developers far less specialization and learning than with other mobile platforms. Japan’s DoCoMo i-mode used such a strategy with great success 10 years ago. (sidenote re iNames: i-mode predates iPod by > 2 years. Coincidence?).

And luckily, the phone comes with a great array of apps to start with– Pandora, Gmaps, etc, pretty much the essentials.

[By-the-ways (not really disclosures)]:
1. One of my current foci, http://eastagile.com, an awesomely gifted dev shop, is developing for WebOS.
2. A former company I co-founded (Interactive Web Concepts) was sold to Palm/3COM in 2000.

Quote from “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live”

Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.

from http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604,00.html

Google Voice: why it works so well for me

I’ve been very vocal about my excitement for Google Voice. This is not so much a product review as some pointers on why I’m so happy with it.

It’s not a replacement for any voice service you have, it complements them all. It’s a big forwarding service, and that is very useful.

You get a real phone number assigned to you. I have a 415 that maps in the real world to San Francisco. People can call *OR* text this number. That second feature makes GV the first service I know of to allow this. My problem up to now is that I’ve used a Vonage virtual number (actually two: a 415 and a 212) and tell folks this is the one number that will ring through to wherever I am. The problem is that many folks assume it’s a mobile and try to text me, which then gets lost, often without an error message.

You set the service up to forward calls to your various phones based on rules. You can have it ring through to your office landline during business hours. It can ring through sequentially to each phone you have until you pick one up, or go to voicemail. I carry multiple mobile phones, and often have numbers that are given to me on a temporary/trial basis. Up until now, any time I called someone from the temp cell, or texted them, that phone’s SIM number shows up, confusing the person I’m calling.

The problem is now solved for me. From now on, I can just hand everyone this 1 number. When I make a call, instead of using the phone’s dialer, I launch the Google Voice app (it’s web-based for now, iPhone and other apps coming shortly), bring up my contacts list or punch in a number and I can sms or call. When I initiate a call via the web interface, my phone rings, I answer, then the call rings through. GV takes care of the charge for whatever US call I make (international is available for a charge).

But wait– since I never need to make any outgoing calls anymore, the service also once and for all obviates the need for long distance service. So I can ditch my Vonage line too, (or use it in conjunction with this if I really want, but all the Vonage features I use have now been duplicated by GV).

I can now also manage all my SMS from a computer. All SMS’s appear on the website and can also be fwded to a mobile. I can then respond by typing into my laptop’s web browser. And the texting is FREE. I’ve also heard it works without charge for international SMS (haven’t confirmed). It also assigns a 406 area code phone number to each non-GV caller you text, to which you can text back and they will get your GV caller id.

The voicemail service also does voice transcriptions. When a caller leaves a message, you get emailed or sms’ed a written message of what the caller allegedly said. My results have shown it to be *vastly* inferior to other services such as Phonetag (Simulscribe) and Spinvox– it makes many errors and often does not get numbers correct (arguably the most important part of a message). I wish GV would work with them, or perhaps things will improve over time.

Announcing East Agile

This is way overdue for me to announce here, but for more than a year I’ve been working with Lawrence Sinclair on something we’re calling East Agile.

East Agile is an elite development team with most developers (for now) in Saigon, Vietnam. We’re doing cutting edge dev work for robust web, iPhone and a few other platforms, mostly in Ruby on Rails under extreme programming. This is not easy to pull off overseas, but it’s really exceeding expectations; we’re hand-picking the top brightest engineers and sticking to disciplined methodologies. The idea we hope will always appeal, but especially in current economic times, is to offer unusual cutting-edge Silicon Valley quality at offshore prices.

Our latest client is Twitter and we are building out some key back-end tools and functionality for them. It’s really fun work, and really fun for me helping build a company again and making clients happy.

I’m headed back to the Vietnam labs next week and very much looking forward to being blown away again.

NY Tech Meetup organizer runoff- vote for Sanford!

Sanford Dickert is running for NY Tech meetup lead and needs our help.
He is, in all candor, the best candidate on the roster by far.

If you are involved in the east coast tech scene, I urge you to see http://nytechvision.com for the call to action and how to vote.

Vlingo: new killer app for iPhone


Vlingo is a killer app for the iPhone and Blackberry. It starts to solve the main issue I have with the iPhone: I can hardly use the tiny virtual onscreen keyboard. With Vlingo, for some key uses, I no longer have to.

You can choose ‘Maps’ and tell it to search for a place. Choose ‘Search’ and ask Google or Yahoo a question. Choose ‘Phone’ and have it search your contacts by name. Choose ‘Social’ and have it update your Facebook or Twitter status. Or just choose ‘Home’ and have it search what it guesses you’re after.

Unlike voice search in Google Mobile App, with Vlingo you must press a button and speak into the phone’s mic rather than simply lift the phone to your head to start and remove from ear to end. But unlike Google mobile app, Vlingo works astoundingly well! It had much better comprehension much more often for many obscure tests that I ran. And it works very fast. And is free.

If you have an iPhone or Blackberry I highly recommend checking it out. The iPhone version is available on the App Store (pending notoriously flakey app release schedules), and the Blackberry version is at http://vlingo.com

Embargos are such a tease (Voice search for iPhone)

So, Google mobile search for iPhone, including voice search ability is finally out.

It’s very good: you don’t have to press any buttons, lifting to your ear starts it and removing from ear stops it. But it only works w/ straight-up search, not maps or contacts. And its success rate at understanding clear spoken English is not too stellar.

I’m jaded because I’m testing another app, which so far kicks the G-app’s butt. Will write (rave) about it as soon as the embargo lifts.

What’s w/ the term ‘embargo’, anyway? Thought that was for rogue countries…

Quote of the Year (first said in the 1930′s)

I made a killing on Wall Street… I shot my broker.

-Groucho Marx

Shazam for iPhone– jaw dropping app with business case

For all the dissing I’ve done about the iPhone (see previous posts), it’s true that as with any platform, it’s all about the apps.

MS DOS was nothing until spreadsheets and word processing ran on it.
Apple was nothing until home publishing ran on it.
Heck, even the TV was of questionable use until a killer app showed up: The Milton Berle Show.

Not sure if this belongs in the same exact category, but SHAZAM for iPhone and Android G1 is MIND-BLOWING.

When you hear a song you like but can’t identify, you launch the app, point the phone’s mic at the nearest speaker for less than a minute, and it identifies what’s playing. The album cover appears on your phone, along w/ artist, song, and album info. It also points you to related YouTube videos, and to iTunes where you can buy the track and related songs. Not a bad business case.

Shazam scrnshot

The server seems to have an uncanny knack for getting it right, no matter what part of the song, and a deep rich database that recognized some obscure tunes.

You also become a walking evangelist for it when people give you the puzzled “what are you doing?” as you’re standing there at a cafe pointing a device upward like you’re reading a meter or something.

Google Android T-Mobile G1 launch event

I had the chance to attend this. You can hear me ask a question (“how really locked is sim-locked?”) here at 36:30 http://www.t-mobileg1.com/g1-announcement.aspx

My question stems from the big obvious drawback to “open” here: that as with the iPhone, this product is stuck to one carrier. However, once the platform actually goes open source, we could look forward to seeing entire new devices that work on other networks. Engadget talks a bit more about this: they expanded upon my question in private afterwards, and got a more encouraging answer. I’m still dubious as to how other carriers may take to this or fight it, but this is a big start.

Also to note: The word “iPhone” must be taboo amongst the companies involved. In the response to my question, where I mention iPhone by name, he says “the device you mention”. :)

Re the device itself, I don’t have much more than what’s already been said. I’m definitely impressed that for something that came out so relatively quickly, and it being just the 1.0 version, it’s a very slick-looking and -feeling gadget. Not quite as sexy as iPhone’s screen and pinch functions, but it’s close and adds a real keyboard.

Also, re core PIM apps and messaging: At the moment, I love Windows Mobile, mostly because since I’m already bought into the Microsoft vertical (Exchange), it’s a seamless experience. Similarly, the G1 launches really optimized around gmail, gCal, etc, and for now your experience will likely be dictated by how tied your life is tied to the Google vertical. But give it a chance to launch and attract some developers (Good Technology-type outfits, and indy developers) to write Exchange clients etc, and this platform could be promising long-term.