The will to reconnect
It doesn’t seem right to have the purchase of a new device be the reason for me to return to a long form blog post here on PIBC. I’d hoped it would be a return to art, music or poetry; still, an opportunity to share my thoughts about this needs to go beyond the restraints of micro blogging and, though long dormant, I still pay for this space.
Right before Christmas, my long suffering Blackberry Pearl 8120 went on a trip around the inside of an HE washer. Saturated and well spun, it took a few days for the moisture and confusion to begin departing the chassis. Like an elderly man, it recognized the media card, then didn’t, then did. It froze like a potted plant in Calgary. When it began to work again it would reboot in the middle of calls, the middle of words.
I spent more than a few years traveling the world with the spartan operating system, yanking out the battery on crashes and freezes, using other peoples workarounds in order to attempt to be real time with those on laptops and other devices. I can’t begin to tell you how amazed I was with the Blackberry push technology, the speed and reliability it had for email. I once found myself within a Roman Coliseum in Pula, Croatia in 2007, sending an email from my laptop and hearing the whoosh of the Apple Mail notification followed in one second by the vibration of my Blackberry. Think about the routing for a second; My laptop to the production office wifi to the local Croatian telco to the internet to Google in the states to Blackberry in Canada to Tmo to the cell provider in Pula to my Pearl in about one second. That’s insane.
The sad part began as the real time revolution began, some of us using Google Talk to follow our Twitter stream through a mysterious and legendary myth called “Track“. This would be May 2008 and I stood in Dublin, Ireland at the RDS Arena, an equestrian center used for concerts for many years. I put a few keywords into Track that day and watched in amazement as realtime tweets came out of the 20,000 people in front of me and into my phone. In experimenting with certain keywords in certain newscycles, I was able to crash my phone in some spectacular ways.
Well, now Track is just a story early adopters tell their grandchildren when they want them to fall asleep but it was a clear sign to me of how underpowered handheld devices were for the oncoming data stream. The Blackberry became clearly web challenged as the first iterations of the iPhone showed that the phone was (clearly) the least of its features. I, like many felt attached to the microscopic keyboard, the ability to have multiple conversations going on, IM, Text, Email, photos going out and coming in. I got to a point when I knew a crash was coming, a flash site locking the hourglass in an endless topple, the battery removal and reinsertion just another keystroke, doing it all without looking, the reboot period just a commercial break of sorts.
As contrarian as I was about the iPhone not being what I needed or wanted and ATT being what it is, I bought an iPod Touch last year for a two fold reason. First, I was going to use it as a Skype phone around the Pacific Rim (I did and it was quite able) and also so that I wouldn’t be totally ignorant of the OS experience. It’s a great media player, logical, small and reliable. The App aspect was slow to become as important but it was rather remarkable to have the mobile experience of getting the software you need when you needed it.
Oddly, I ended up using the Blackberry on my Pacific trip for 2 things and one was remarkable and the other, expensive. The Wifi/UMA section of the Pearl made it possible to turn off the cell broadcast antenna, hit free wifi on the streets in Australia and Japan and make all the free international calls I wanted. Find a McDonalds, stand outside, join the hotspot, wait for the red UMA indicator and dial away. The other was the casual data access I made in Australia over the cell system, which for YEARS in Europe never got metered or billed and created a wallet breaking roaming charge I’d never incurred before. Expensive lesson.
So here I am a week into my Android experience, comparing it to my BB experience (the Jensen Interceptor of the internet, minus the speed) and to my Apple knowledge (not a deity, not a demon, just a really well crafted only show in town). In my industry, we deal with multiple operating systems from many vendors. We have some standards like MIDI and some formats that became prevalent so that the competition would include it just in order to be used. The real parallel is to the digital rack gear of the 80′s and 90′s, when companies like Roland, Yamaha, Korg and Lexicon had very clear ideas of how you were to navigate through the endless pages of parameters with a 2 line LED screen and a scroll wheel and “enter” button.
It wasn’t unusual to work for people who stayed with one kind of gear because trying to figure out the OS was just such a waste of time. The use of the Atari ST computer along with the early Macs began to bring a more uniform GUI experience to musical gear. As music software for sequencing, programming and recording evolved, the Mac desktop became the palette that many techs and musicians became comfortable with (to be fair, some of the best keyboard techs I know were multi-platform and did a great deal of work on Windows, due to the huge market share they held in those days).
I mention this because there were moments back then when you had a moment of “oh, so THAT was what the programmer was thinking when he did it this way” when you went from a Yamaha piece to a Roland piece. I’ve had a few of those with the Nexus One and the Android platform.
There were early moments when the lack of uniformity and shortcuts built into the desktop, the browser and a few of the apps began to sour me from the N1 as I compared it to the soft key dance of the iPhone/iPod.
“Why move the clutch and the brake? I’ve always driven this way…”
In Formula One auto racing, the controlling of gear shifts have gone from the old school 3 pedal manual H pattern experience, to semi-automatic, sequential shifting to hand controller, computer clutching gear selection. The steering wheels on these cars are more like high end game controllers…
(take a look at this explanation…)
than what they were before…
A back button that can get you out of any path a step at a time is not a bad thing. You want to bail out, the home window button is always there. Having a dedicated menu button work on all areas is helpful and educational too. The trackball, though I’ve been using them for 20 years, is a little bit lost on this device but provides a 3D message indicator to see across the room.
I was really bugged by some of Google’s lack of widgets for the services I use. Then I realized that they use the browser as the engine for many things. Bookmark the mobile version of Google Reader for instance, put a shortcut on the desktop and you’re golden. No memory for a widget, nothing to load. It already lives on the cloud.
Google Voice has been mentioned as being the big draw here and I will not be a detractor. Being able to funnel your voicemail, texts and numbers into the Google eco-system for someone who travels as much as I do is a big winner. I’ve gone weeks without checking my voicemail overseas because I was afraid I’d lose my house for roaming charges. It’s a non-issue now as long as I have an internet connection at work or the hotel. Also in the very loud environment I exist in, seeing Google’s best guess at the transcription of the voicemail is very handy; you could put my phone through a Marshall amp an I’d still not get the message. Now I can…and the spamku errors of the lightly grayed guesses are very entertaining.
It’s interesting to see how Google’s apps differ from Loic’s or Amazons, let alone the developers who are giving it their best shot. There are those that are missing entirely at this point, Buddyfeed, Kindle, Tweetie and the like. With an increased user pool, developers will make it happen and Google will tweak more sugar in and out of their pastry named systems.
A few apps have been crashy like Ustream but for a person who carried a Crashberry for many years, it’s unreal to have gone a week without pulling the battery… though I could if I wanted to or needed to. I can also carry a second one for heavy data flow days…sorry.
I am a little disappointed that no accessories were ready when they released it; skins, spare batteries, chargers, cradles, etc.
I am enjoying having a high powered mobile device that does nearly everything I need it to. I’m about to give it a partial test by leaving the country and shifting to primarily wifi for a few weeks. I’ll let you know how that goes.