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Android at Google I/O 2011 – GearMonk #003

Press Q&A

We’re at Google I/O this week and after the day one keynotes, Stephen and I sit down and go over the Android related news (plus Google Music and Movies). In addition to just going over the news with our commentary; we discuss why this platform play might work better for Google than it did for Sun, Adobe, Microsoft, and the others who’ve tried and are trying; we wrap-up by exploring what Google’s “grand strategy” might be with all this stuff that doesn’t seem directly tied to revenue.

Download the episode directly right here, subscribe to the feed in iTunes or other podcatcher to have episodes downloaded automatically, or just click play below to listen to it right here:

We’ll try to get a recording in of day two, which we predict will be mostly about Chrome, Google’s platform for (web) application development, more or less.

Disclosure: See the RedMonk client list for clients mentioned.

Categories: Podcast, Smartphones, Tablets, Uncategorized.

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First Pass at Amazon’s Cloud Drive

The Good

  • Pricing is excellent. More generous with free storage (5 GB) and substantially cheaper ($140 less per year than Dropbox at 100 GB) than the competition. Options are straightforward and fairly tiered.
  • There’s no new Cloud Drive Android client: it’s just an update to the existing Amazon MP3 store application. Interestingly, it will play your existing music as well as streams from Cloud Drive. The interface is clean, but the store integration adds clutter and an extra click.
  • Cloud Player played the sample MP3 (Think You Can Wait by The National) I loaded via Chrome without incident both on the browser and Android (Xoom). Network connection was DSL.
  • Music purchased through the Amazon MP3 store does not count against your storage capacity.

The Bad

  • As far as I can tell, at present Cloud Drive offers no synchronization, meaning that you have to load Cloud Drive manually. This alone makes Cloud Drive a non-starter for me. Expecting users to load files and media by hand – after every purchase or update to local files – just isn’t realistic. Sync is what makes Dropbox worth paying for.
  • Service is US only, apparently. Or more accurately, anything but the 5 GB free plan is. Terms for Cloud Player aren’t as clear, but my Twitter stream is full of frustrated non-US voices.
  • No video locker. The ability to store and stream my hundreds of gigabytes of movies and TV would have been worth paying for. Music, on the other hand, is a mostly solved problem.
  • Music previously purchased through the Amazon MP3 store is not automatically inserted in your library: it has to be reuploaded.

The Ugly

  • The Android application explicitly warns users that it streams audio at its original bitrate, reminding them that they’re responsible for all data charges. In addition, the application allows users to set both delivery and streaming preferences, including wifi only. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: streaming services and mobile data pricing are on a collision course, and it’s going to get ugly. Many users will either not be aware of the difference between mobile data streaming and wifi or ignorant of the potential cost of overages, with the inevitable result being some potentially outrageous overage charges.

    None of which is Amazon’s fault, of course. But it seems likely that some portion of their user base will at some point hold Amazon partially responsible for an ugly monthly bill from their carrier.

The Net

  • Amazon Cloud Drive is interesting, and certainly the first of many streaming services to come, but the lack of sync is a full stop omission for my usage. It just isn’t compelling enough at this point to for me to consider leaving Dropbox. Ideally, Amazon’s entrance will apply some downward pricing pressure to the market, but it projects to have little utility for me otherwise.

Categories: Mobile Data, Streaming.

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The tablet round-up: iPad, Xoom, Streak – GearMonk #002

We sit down and go over the state of tablets, looking at three specific ones, the iPad, Xoom, and Dell Streak.

Download the episode directly right here, subscribe to the feed in iTunes or other podcatcher to have episodes downloaded automatically, or just click play below to listen to it right here:

Some of the topics we cover are:

  • Tablet-scape
  • What are the use cases for tablets? Reading stuff, mostly.
  • iPad 2 – does it have enough new to buy if you already have an iPad?
  • Xoom – Stephen’s gonna keep it! And, see the write-up of his first seven days.
  • How does tablet Android compare to Android for phones? Multi-tasking stands out as a big difference.
  • Media on the Xoom – generally pretty bad.
  • Then, the Dell Streak – more of a fun curiosity than a practical device?
  • …and, finally: pricing across tablets.

Disclosure: Dell sent us a few Streaks to look at and is a client.

Categories: Podcast, Tablets.

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Old-school & faceless – Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate

Das Keyboard, opening

Two things can be said about the Das Keyboard:

  1. It exactly the old school feel it advertises itself as and feels really comforting to use if you grew up with old, IBM keyboards.
  2. It’s loud.

This is the keyboard that’s modeled after old keyboards, spec’ed out with all sorts of mechanical keys, a full key-set, and much mentioned “German Engineering.” There’s even gold involved! It’s the anti-Apple keyboard, and it delivers on the tactical feel of an old IBM keyboard like you wouldn’t believe. With this comes a loud “clacking” (there’s a softer version). The loudness and the expense ($129) are the only negatives, really.

I checked out the Ultimate keyboard, the one without letters printed on it. I mean, isn’t that what you really want to know: can I type on a blank keyboard? In addition to myself, I lent it to two other people who tried it out, a programmer and a startup CEO. I used this with my MacBookAir: all I needed to do was remap the control and alt keys to match the Apple-layout using OS X’s keyboard preferences.

Using It

The full, 104 key keyboard is something of a spiritual opposite of the keyboard I usually use, and Apple wireless chopped keyboard. I’m no trained touched-typist, having learned some odd, fore-fingers, pinkies and thumbs style long ago. Nonetheless, typing without the letter printed on each key was surprisingly easy. There’s the lesser used secondary keys that I’d have to look up or hunt out some times (quick, which key is “^” on?) and not being a user of anything beyond the core keys I have no idea what’s over on the right side of the keyboard.

The programmer I loaned it out to liked the idea of a blank keyboard to help him learn Dvorak. However, that same coder bemoaned the lack of volume and other “media” keys. Arguably, those can just be mapped to various function keys. Nonetheless, given the $129 price-point he compared it to a “$30 Dell keyboard” that had a volume knob and such. If you’re out for all that whiz-bangery on your keyboard, this is definitely not the keyboard for you.

The feel of the keyboard is the main thing here, though. After all, you can get a Das Keyboard with letters printed on it (which is what I’d probably do if I got one, actually). The keyboard has the heft of one of those old beasts that you could pound nails in with – it makes me think of the hefty (metal encased?) keyboards that my dad had with his IBM XT and then AT “machines,” as he’d call those early desk-tops.

There’s a two port hub built into the keyboard which I didn’t get a chance to test. That’s a nice addition, though.

Clicking

The clicking is more than audible, it’s loud once you “get going.” In fact, the CEO I lent it to said he didn’t even get a chance to plug the keyboard in because his co-workers heard him fiddling with it and said “dude, that’s too loud.” When I showed the keyboard to another coder in my building, he said an old co-worker of his had one and that he’d have to put earphones on when the keyboard started up.

I didn’t mind the clicking too much, really, but I sit in my own office.

The Gist

After using the keyboard, I went back to using my Apple keyboard. I like the Apple keyboard because of it’s size: it’s the size of a laptop keyboard without the number-pad and friends. I don’t use the number-pad or other keys and that part of the keyboard takes up the space I’d rather have my mouse on. I really did like the feel of the Das Keyboard – it felt like doing real “work,” not just typing. Serious business, click, click, CLICK!. I definitely wouldn’t pay $129 for it, but if you’re the type of person who lusts for this kind of keyboard, I don’t think that amount would be too rich: the feel of the Das Keyboard is exactly what you’re hoping it will be.

Side-note: if you’re at SXSW, check out the Das Keyboard IronGeek event they’re having (see the fancier, official page for it). One of the contestants insisted on Dvorak even.

Categories: Accessories.

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Seven Days with a Xoom

the Xoom

First impressions are fine. But I prefer the seven day take, at least when we’re talking about hardware. A week later, then, here’s my review of the Motorola Xoom. For ease of consumption, I’ve broken it up by category, and further by good/bad. If you just want an executive summary, the gist is at the bottom.

Apps

  • The Good:
    The apps that are there are solid. Tablet sized Gmail is tremendous, whoever built the new Calendar app deserves a raise, and you’ll be happy to know that Angry Birds looks pixel perfect at 1280×800. Likewise the blown up versions of Maps, Music, and a few non-Google apps like the Kindle look great. And while apps like MLB At Bat 2011 are not tablet optimized – and therefore look very odd on the larger format screen – they are at least present and functional.
  • The Bad:
    There are 16 applications in the Android Apps for Tablets category. That’s not remotely competitive with the 65,000 strong stable of preexisting iPad applications, let alone the brand new built-for-touchscreens GarageBand and iMovie that debuted Wednesday. How important this is to you depends, obviously, on how important apps are to you. For Scoble, they are make or break: “no apps, no sale.” Which is fair enough, and possibly representative of the market at large.

    Personally, this isn’t an important part of my decision. First, because I just don’t use that many applications – most of my day is spent in a browser. Second, because I know that Google knows it’s got a problem with the app volume, and is doing what they did before to rectify the situation: handing out free gear. I expect this to work, over time, so the app vacuum is not likely to be a permanent problem for me. Your mileage may vary, obviously.

Battery

  • The Good:
    Battery life appears to be mostly as advertised. I’m getting about a day out of a charge – day and a half if my usage is light. Wednesday, I left for Boston at 9:30 AM and charged the device on the two hour trip down. Apart from a forty minute charge at a Starbucks in the afternoon, that was all the juice the device got until I got home a little after 11 PM. The remaining voltage at that point? 46%. My biggest problem with the battery life, in fact, is psychological: I’m conditioned not to trust it, and reflexively charge at every given opportunity, whether I need to or not.

    Charge time, likewise, is reasonably quick: I can add 50% to the battery in about an hour, a full charge in a little over two. That’s a marked improvement over my laptop.

  • The Bad:
    Walt Mossberg’s tests contradict AnandTech’s: the latter says it’s comparable to the original iPad’s battery life, the former says you get seven and a half hours of video rather than Motorola’s claimed 10. If true, that’s a mild disappointment.

Browser

  • The Good:
    Easily my favorite part of the device to date. Basically because the browser is more or less like Chrome on a desktop. The browser is fast and tabbed, and you can even load tabs in the background. One of my biggest issues with the iPad just as it was with the original iPhone was its need to reload when browsing between open pages. On the Xoom, you can load tabs in the background, open incognito pages for testing or logging in as different user IDs, and generally treat it like you would your desktop equivalent. Which is welcome. The AnandTech guys have some numbers for you on browser performance if you’re so inclined.
  • The Bad:
    Sencha has evaluated the Xoom for HTML5 compatibility, and it performed poorly. By contrast, the RIM PlayBook reportedly scored much better by their metrics. The question for potential buyers is what impact the questionable support for HTML5 audio/video and issues with CSS3 animations and transitions means in practical terms. With the caveat that my sample size is websites visited in the last seven days, I can say that it’s had little impact on my usage thus far. But it’s worth noting.

Charger

  • The Good:
    As mentioned previously, the device charges relatively quickly.
  • The Bad:
    Whatever the reasoning, the inability to charge the device via micro-USB is a minus. While the Xoom leverages that format for media transfer – itself an issue – it will not charge over it. Instead, the Xoom charges via its own proprietary charger. The Motorola explanation for this choice is that USB doesn’t provide sufficient voltage to charge the device. Which is plausible, but suboptimal.

    1. This means carrying a second charger, which adds weight and one more item to be lost/damaged/etc.
    2. With no aftermarket chargers available at present, your only option for secondary chargers is Motorola or Verizon, at a cost of $30.
    3. The device cannot be charged off anything but a plug. The iPad will only trickle charge off USB, but even that would be preferable to the current situation.

Cost

  • The Good:
    With Verizon’s subsidy, the device cost ($599) is acceptable if not ideal.
  • The Bad:
    As Senor Churbuck put it, Apple threw down the gauntlet yesterday by keeping its pricing static. And Samsung, at least, sees the problem. Given that Apple has a 65+ thousand lead in app volume, has the most impressive hardware on the market with the most mature tablet OS, Android tablet manufacturers are going to have to undercut Apple on price to be competitive in mainstream markets. Which will become increasingly difficult as Apple heavily leverages its available capital and the economies of scale created by the runaway success of the first device to realize a cost per component that will be difficult for other manufacturers to match. Loss leaders are almost certainly in iPad competitors futures.

Hardware

  • The Good:
    As other reviewers have stated, the Xoom is a well constructed device. It fits well in the hand and is nicely balanced. Many have complained about the placement of the power button; I’ve had no real issue with this myself.
  • The Bad:
    At 1.6 pounds – or almost the same weight as the first iPad – the Xoom is at the fringe of what’s comfortable to carry. The forthcoming Samsung 10″ tablet and the iPad 2 are both almost a third of a pound lighter, and that is an improvement, but the utility of the devices will really jump when they crack the pound barrier.

Keyboard

  • The Good:
    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the keyboard. It’s not comparable to a physical keyboard and isn’t suitable for extending typing, but I’m quite a lot faster and more accurate on the Xoom’s keyboard than I am on my Nexus One. Interestingly, I’m substantially more accurate on the Xoom’s keyboard than the original iPad’s.
  • The Bad:
    The keyboard does an inconsistent job of picking up stray contact from the palm, which can jump the cursor during typing. The autosuggest function is only mediocre relative to Apple’s version. Non-touch typists may have difficulty as their hands will obscure the keys.

Media

  • The Good:
    Once you’ve populated the device with media, the Music application is excellent. The animations in scrolling through albums are smooth, the notification window control widget is simple and responsive, and the speakers are acceptable. I’ve used the tablet to play music while cooking dinner and such, and it’s been better than anticipated.
  • The Bad:
    For devices which are at least partially marketed as multimedia portals, Honeycomb’s half-baked music and movies story is a real surprise. To start with, Honeycomb deprecated USB storage in favor of the Media Transfer Protocol. Like the inability to charge over USB, while there are technical justifications for this decision the list of unintended consequences is long. Of the three most popular desktop operating systems, only Windows supports MTP natively. Mac users will need to download this utility, because Mac does not support MTP and as far as I can tell the device packaging does not include that software. Linux users may install mtp-tools and/or mtpfs, but I have not gotten either package to work consistently and have been forced to load my device via a Mac. Which is ironic because one of my reasons for not buying an iPad was its strict Mac/Windows only compatibility.

    Once the media is transferred, the Music application works without incident. Movies, on the other hand, are far more challenging. First, the Xoom will only play certain formats: .avi, .mov, and .ogg are all out (though you can try RockPlayer, which is like the VLC of the Android ecosystem). If you wish to transfer and play movies, you must contend with the bewildering maze of video codes, formats and framerates. If you care to use Handbrake – on video you own the copyright to, of course – the iPad preset will work, but the video may seem slightly off. I’ve had reasonable luck with MPEG-4 at a QP of 4 as well. But really, if users are arguing over Handbrake presets, the platform has failed. This is one of Honeycomb’s biggest issues at present.

    Presuming that you are able to reformat your video in a manner acceptable to Honeycomb, you may have still have difficulty playing it. For reasons that are not clear, Android does not surface Movies – its default video player – in the catalog of available applications. I only discovered it when I used Astro – a file manager for Android – to try and play video I’d loaded onto the device. Movies, rather inexplicably, are made available under the Gallery application; your movies are stored alongside your photos, in other words.

    Not only does Google or a partner need to introduce a movie rental/purchase service for Android to more effectively compete with Apple, they need to rethink the way that video is handled in the UI at present because it could not be less intuitive.

Network / Mobile Data

  • The Good:
    Thus far, Verizon’s 3G has performed well, and the transition to/from wifi and cellular networks is relatively painless.
  • The Bad:
    Verizon’s mobile bandwidth is expensive [coverage], and the fact that the LTE upgrade requires that the tablet be shipped back to the factory is unfortunate.

Operating System

  • The Good:
    More than any other aspect to the product, impressions of the operating system are something of a Rorschach. Reactions to Honeycomb – positive and negative – are highly personal. For my part, I find Honeycomb to be aesthetically attractive and performant. From a user interaction perspective, navigation is generally intuitive, and the animations are responsive with no observable latency. The two areas where Honeycomb really shines are notifications and multitasking. Honeycomb has jettisoned the pull down ribbon common to all prior versions of Android, but while I was initially skeptical of this decision, the new notifications mechanism is excellent. It’s not distracting, and the notifications can be individually dismissed. Multitasking, meanwhile, has its own dedicated button, and moving between open applications is effectively seamless, particularly compared to the old return-to-home iOS model.
  • The Bad:
    Besides multi-tasking and notifications, Android enjoys few if any advantages next to iOS which is both more polished and more intuitive. Worse, Honeycomb appears to have been prematurely released to market, as the early reports of it being less stable with consistent application failures have proven correct for me. Some applications – Twitter, most notably – have stablized post upgrade, but in general the operating system and baked in applications like the Market have been more characteristic of beta quality offerings.

Screen

  • The Good:
    The extra resolution of the screen is useful, whether the usage is watching movies or browsing the web.
  • The Bad:
    The two primary issues with the screen are not its brightness – it apparently suffers in comparison to devices like the Samsung 10″ Tab – but rather the glare and its tendency to retain oils from the hands. Particularly in well lit conditions, the glare to the screen is substantial and can result in the tablet taking on mirror-like qualities. And like many touchscreen devices, the Xoom has a tendency to collect oils from the hand which mar the surface when the device is placed in direct light.

The Gist

It seems clear that the Xoom, at least, was introduced before it was ready in an attempt to avoid getting buried in the wake of iPad 2 discussion. The limited tablet application volume, the baffling multimedia setup, the non-functional Flash/SDcard/LTE and the general lack of stability of the platform point to a product rushed to market. The question is whether this matters.

For the first wave of users, it may. These issues and others may yield higher than average product return rates, though determining which returns were a consequence of Xoom product issues versus the subsequent iPad 2 product features will be a challenging exercise indeed. But shipping is a feature: I’d rather have the imperfect Xoom today, for example, than hold off for the long awaited HP or RIM tablets.

As for the iPad 2, it is gorgeous, both thinner and lighter than the Xoom. iOS is not only (likely) more stable and (provably) backed by an application market with 4000X more choices available. It is also a device explicitly tied to one of two desktop operating systems that I don’t use. More importantly, it seems reasonable to suspect the reason that Apple chose not to disclose the iPad 2′s available memory at launch time is because it does not compare favorably to the shipping Android alternatives. The latter of which is an issue for me, given my primary use case: browsing.

Your calculus may be – probably is – different than mine. The iPad may be – probably is – a better option for you at present. But that’s not the interesting question to me. What I’ll be watching is how they compare in the future, because most of the things wrong with Xoom right now, well, they’re just software. And software, unlike hardware, can be fixed after the fact.

With the notable exception of issues such as the weight or the proprietary power cable, the majority of my complaints about the Xoom are software related. Michael Gartenberg is right to say that we should not praise Motorola for the Xoom’s lack of Flash, not yet operable SD card functionality and so on. But neither should their pending introduction be fully discounted. If the hardware doesn’t include an SD card slot, I’m not likely to have that functionality during the life of the device. If it’s present on the hardware, however, well, the rest is just software. Like most of the Xoom’s problems at present. For me, anyhow.

It took Android approximately five versions, in my opinion, to be competitive on the handset – FroYo being the first legitimate alternative [coverage]. I expect it to progress much more rapidly on tablets, if for no other reason than the fact that the community is exponentially larger than it was in September 2008 when Android 1.0 launched. As a result, I’m willing to give Honeycomb the benefit of the doubt. Will regular customers extend Android the same courtesy? I doubt it.

The greater concern for the Android ecosystem, however, should be Apple. Honeycomb is a 1.0 release; current performance is not likely to be predictive of future potential. Certainly it was not with handsets. Apple, however, is increasingly using the iPad’s success as an engine to drive and reinforce its dominant market position. Remember that Apple is more than willing to put its capital to work to secure its supply of vital components, the byproduct of which is shortages and thus higher costs for competitors. The more successful the iPad is – and make no mistake, it’s been absurdly successful – the more challenging this becomes.

As a user, of course, none of that is my concern. I just want the best tool for the job, and for me that’s looking like the Xoom, the warts notwithstanding. But ask me again in seven days.

Categories: Apps, Mobile Data, Tablets.

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Windows Phone 7 – GearMonk #001

WP7 - Samsung Focus

Earlier this week, Stephen and I sat down to go over our experiences with the Windows Phone 7 smart phones we’ve been sent for review, the Samsung Focus.

You can download the episode directly, subscribe to the podcast feed, or listen to the episode by clicking play below:

The experience was good and matches the “it was better than I thought it’d be” reaction most people have. We spend a lot of time detailing the problems and missing items from the phone: we wanted to see more services and apps integrated and available on the the phone. We also relate what some other folks we’ve lent the phone out to said. We’ve both gone back to using our previous phones (me, an iPhone, Stephen, a Nexus One/Android) – at the end we say what it’d take to get us to switch to WP7.

In addition to this (and the first impressions), I’m writing up a more detailed “report” (gasp!) on the Windows Phone 7. Stay tuned for that!

Transcript

As usual with these un-sponsored episodes, I haven’t spent time to clean up the transcript. If you see us saying something crazy, check the original audio first. There are time-codes where there were transcription problems.

Michael Coté: Well, hello everybody! It’s the 14th of February 2011, and this is the RedMonk, our new RedMonk podcast called over around our blog GearMonk. It’s episode number one with — this is one of your co-hosts Michael Coté and I’m joined by the other co-host.

Stephen O’Grady: Stephen O’Grady.

Michael Coté: And you know after Nokia and Microsoft decided to join forces last week with their partnership, I was thinking, man, we need to get on talking about these Windows Phone 7s we’ve had for a while.

Stephen O’Grady: Exactly right.

Michael Coté: So I thought I’d round up Stephen and we just – you know I’m sure we’ll write some more and have some more stuff, and I certainly – I’ve got way too much content from friends I have lent the phone out to, to put in one podcast.

But anyways, I thought for our first episode we capture at least what are some initial takes on the Windows Phone 7.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, we should probably mention that the folks of Microsoft were kind of nice to send us samples, which you have the same monk around you, Samsung Focus?

Michael Coté: Yeah, yeah, I think we were given a choice between – I forget all of the phones. There was four that we could choose I think, and we were given a choice between the Samsung Focus and the Samsung Ultimate, and then there was — there was two other ones, but I think Steve you and I were kind of limited because they didn’t give us an unlocked phone. They gave us locked phones and we have AT&T, so we could just – those were the two that I think work on AT&T.

And if I remember the — I think the Ultimate one has like faster video playing or something, and it look like it also has like a fun little stand that you can set up the phone to watch a video, but you know and we kind of, you know I was thinking like oh, that’s kind of cool but I don’t really care.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah.

Michael Coté: About it that much.

Stephen O’Grady: The Ultimate have a physical keyword as well, I don’t even remember.

Michael Coté: It might, yeah, I don’t remember. But at least one of them that they offered did have a keyboard. And I think James — James got a different one, the Focus.

Well, I don’t know. We’ll all gotten Focuses, anyhow that’s the one that we have. And I think there is one version of Windows Phone 7 software out at the moment.

So that’s obviously the one that we’ve been using. So I mean, what’s, what’s the quick take you have to give it at the top here Stephen? What do you think of it?

Stephen O’Grady: The quick take I think is that it certainly exceeded my expectations. It’s somebody who has basically seen some of the Windows CE prices in the past, frankly my expectations for the platform were really pretty minimal.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

Stephen O’Grady: I happened to see David Young worked for Joyent had gotten Windows Phone, I don’t know, one of the last times I saw those guys out in San Francisco, so I’d seen the platform a little bit and knew enough to say, okay, we don’t kind of look reasonably you know kind of attractive, and it’s not terribly derivative, which I think is one of the nice things in the sense that they didn’t just go out and replicate either the Android or iPod or iPhone rather. They borrowed heavily certainly from those UIs, but there are — certainly twist to it, which I think are kind of unique to Microsoft.

But ultimately, as kind of interesting as a platform might be, it just didn’t work for me, and my basic objections that I have, and this is one of the things I mentioned to Scoble who had posted something basically saying that the Windows is a better platform than Android.

The most difficult part of it for me is that on a standalone basis, the hardware is excellent, the Samsung Focus is a really nice phone.

And as I said that we are — the Windows mobile is a nice platform, but what does it for me is the services. The fact that I have to plug-in a Hotmail address when I start up, and it’s tied back to a whole variety of Microsoft-centric stuff, that ultimately is the – that’s kind of the deal-breaker for me.

Michael Coté: Yeah, yeah. I mean my — it’s funny because my take is pretty similar in the — there are two people my wife and my friend Charles who I have lent the phone out to for a few days. I mean they have, they have their own subtleties.

But there is kind of — that’s the take a lot of people have is, that it is the phone — what is it, the kind of the hardware and the software is actually kind of nice and they like it and both of them described as responsive. And now I would say the same thing like even – I have an iPhone 3GS compared to that the phone is really fast, and it definitely — the software and then also the hardware does exceed your expectations coming from.

I don’t really know what people’s expectations of Samsung are probably not much just because it’s an electronics dealer, it’s not really like differentiated too often. But yeah, most people don’t expect that much from the Windows Phone 7, but it is, it pretty much exceeds your expectations. And then I think — I think there is that — you have to — when you set it up as Stephen was saying, you have to set it up to a live account or a Hotmail account or an x, there is some sort of Microsoft ID that you have to use, or you have to use some sort of Microsoft ID and that is, that is a little weird that you have to do that, and then it also –

(00:05:00)

Stephen O’Grady: I don’t know that it’s weird, because in other words at least in the Android world that’s a standard. I think that the challenge is, at least from my perspective and talking to people is that my Hotmail account is effectively my spam account. I’ve had it forever and that’s the address and I know sort of on an anecdotal basis a lot of people would do the same thing.

Michael Coté: Yes.

Stephen O’Grady: Whereas Gmail is much more current for me. That’s what uses my primary –

Michael Coté: I guess it’s not that weird to connect it to A account, but to like limit it to only Microsoft accounts is kind of annoying. I mean, to be frank if Gmail wasn’t so normal and popular, it will be annoying on Android that you had to do that.

Stephen O’Grady: Absolutely.

Michael Coté: Like on the iPhone – and the iPhone doesn’t — you don’t have to connect any account, but it is — and the Windows phone is like this too, but it’s kind of — it’s a little bit MobileMe agnostic, but not that much. I mean it’s funny like looking at — I pretty much ignore the MobileMe stuff in the iPhone, but there is this weird similarity — what am I trying to say? I think the way that Microsoft is trying to force its services on you is a little bit more liberal than the way Apple was trying to force MobileMe on you. In the Apple world it doesn’t really matter, because MobileMe is so, I am trying to be diplomatic in my phrasing. But it’s so something I am not interested in that it doesn’t even annoy me that it’s there, if that makes sense.

Whereas the problem with the Microsoft stuff is it’s a little like, for example, if you use the Office apps that come with it, which is it’s kind of cool that you get Office apps because that’s kind of a nice high-value thing. Essentially, you don’t have to buy an extra thing to view Word docs, and I guess you don’t have to, but anyhow.

Like it wants to use your — I forget what it is, but the equivalent of Live.com’s Dropbox; their shared file thing.

b Yeah, the Live Mesh.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I mean it would be so much more helpful. I mean the Windows were just at the beginning, but there’s so many things were like if the Windows Phone 7 just did this one — these five just one things it would make it a much better phone, but it doesn’t do it. And like one of them for example would be like why not work with like Dropbox or like Drop I/O and also the Windows Live thing. Like work with any of these things, like be more open than the iPhone is.

I tried to get like that live, I’m forgetting what it’s called, but the sky driver or whatever and it’s just a little wonky with the way that it works especially for a Mac person.

Stephen O’Grady: Well, and that’s — I think the difficulty — Microsoft traditionally has — essentially a software firm taken this approach. They have called it Integrated Invasion, where they take a bunch of their pieces and they hook them together in an efficient manner and so on. The challenge is that when you try to do that in the context of a consumer device it’s a lot more problematic, because consumers have much more of a mishmash of different services relative to sort of enterprise folks which tend to be at least somewhat more standardized.

As you know whether it’s Dropbox or a variety of other sort of pieces like, for example, they have Facebook integration in here, but no Twitter integration, which I felt was a little odd.

Michael Coté: I’ve been reading the Tim Anderson, who’s actually the guy who did that. He is the one who demoed me a Windows Phone 7 that made me think maybe I should check it out just like you had someone. He is at Mobile World Congress and he was twitting that they announced that they will have Twitter in the next version. So there is at least that. But that’s like footnoted like digging down on that, that’s a huge thing that I missed from that integration. But go on.

Stephen O’Grady: Well, I was just going to say, I mean, in other words when you look at the integration of other services even where they’ve tried to do that, it’s confusing. So in other words, if you go into the apps, you go to try to buy an app and there is a bunch of different options in there. Okay, which one am I looking for? It’s the same with music. What is — I don’t use Zune, what am I buying or where is this?

So that’s the problem is that the tie-ins — Apple for example can sell an iPhone and be reasonably confident that somebody — maybe they are not an iTunes user, but they’ve certainly heard of it. They are familiar with it. They know kind of the ins and outs of the service, because one of their friends uses it.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

Stephen O’Grady: Much as Google can you provide Android with hooks into the Gmail, because a lot of people uses service, a lot of people regard it as sort of competitive and current and weather it’s Zune or sort of Live/Hotmail, Microsoft services at least for me personally, they’re not relevant in the same way and therefore tying a phone to those really is kind of off-putting. It just didn’t work for me.

(00:09:55)

So the funny thing is that people tend to focus on apps. A lot of the criticisms I’ve seen of the platform have been, well, they don’t have this app, they don’t have that app.

And certainly they are deal breakers for me. They don’t have the one I always joke about which is major league baseballs at bad application which is out for both iPhone and Android and it’s just an absolutely killer application if you are a baseball fan.

So there are definitely missing holes but they have a lot of the pieces that I went out and looked for, just basic things. There is for example a Twitter application that you can go out and install and so on. So you have these, a lot of the applications, kind of the basic ones, they certainly don’t have the application volumes.

The applications are there. The challenge is like as I said for me is basically what ties to the backend services because Microsoft really hasn’t been competitive in terms of the user experience for — there are online offerings whether that’s music or document storage or email; I mean, collaboration. So that’s the thing is, is that I think ultimately that’s going to be the challenge for a lot of folks.

Michael Coté: Yeah, yeah. I mean it is, I forget who came up with this metaphor but you know like I think this idea of looking at your phone or your Smartphone as like a remote control for the cloud is pretty accurate in the sense that –

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah.

Michael Coté: – and to the point of what you’re saying like any given consumer at least, any given nerdy consumer like ourselves and I would assume it’s the same for non-nerdy people. There is this variety of services that aren’t any allegiance to any particular brand and that they’ve either chosen to use or just ended up using and whether it’s email or music services, and I think — I don’t know, I mean it feels like technologically there is not really a big reason for the phone to be locked down from that respect.

It’s all about the choice of Microsoft or whoever to integrate with these other services, and I guess to some extent the other services can also make it difficult to integrate with, like I was talking with — before we were recording I was talking with my friend Charles here who I gave the phone for a few days, and he is a software developer, does a lot of UI stuff and he does a lot of IOS development as well.

He was saying, it was annoying that he couldn’t hook it up to iTunes to get his music, and I was reminding him that that may not be as easy as it seems because I remember when Palm was trying to hookup to iTunes and Apple kept doing something to mess that up so that like you couldn’t sync your Palm via iTunes, which is like that’s a whole another layer of crappiness. But still it is kind of — I think on the base of the phone is really good and it’s just like I wanted to integrate with these other services, that for the iPhone doesn’t always integrate with other services as well but it kind of, I forget what they call it but they have that thing where you can like send files, you can pull things from Dropbox or you can send things to different apps, and that stuff is kind of nice.

I mean there is all sorts of, the iPhone fails on this pretty heavily as well. But, I don’t know you at least have the sense that it’s going to work with the things that you need to, and I think the music is a huge issue like there really should be something beyond working with Zune. I mean, if they — I almost feel like if they made the Windows Phone 7 work with iTunes it would like kind of put, I’d be able to put up with a lot more stuff that I don’t like about the Windows Phone 7.

Stephen O’Grady: I think that would be huge, I mean obviously I think you are right. In a sense that, some service providers would be really in favor of those levels of integrations and others wouldn’t. So in other words I would imagine that Dropbox would certainly be in favor of being integrated in these platforms and so on and thereby extending their reach and so on. Apple on the other hand is competitive on a number of fronts.

So yeah, there probably would not be sort of open to that level of integration. So Microsoft certainly has challenges in terms of pursuing service level partnerships with some of the providers, but as I said, I mean I think the basic problem that they have is that if you look at the different devices, in other words if you look at the iPhone or if you look at the various Android devices. They have kind of something that they do well from a service background, and Apple obviously has music and video and so on and they do a great job at that.

They sold million and billions probably of tracks at this point and you know a lot of people as I said are familiar with that, that sort of primary music library, as a primary purchase vehicle and so on. So integration would add service as a plus, and on the flip-side from an Android perspective, Google certainly doesn’t have the music chops. They have tried to, they have a lightweight integration on the Android with the Amazon MP3 store but as I said, it’s very lightweight, it’s not nearly as comprehensive or it doesn’t have the just works factor that Apple’s iTunes.

(00:15:02)

Michael Coté: And then Android’s like Podcast Manager is, I don’t even understand what they are doing with it, it’s complete –

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, Google list. But on the flip-side, Android does — as I said, the integration with Gmail, Gmail is really pretty well regarded as an email system. So at least they have that going for them, but on the Microsoft side, when you look at the services what would you call out that they do really well that’s really popular, and that I think ultimately is one of the problems.

Michael Coté: No, I like this theory you have, this explanation you have built up, because it’s kind of matching like in retrospect the issue I had, it’s like, I feel like the Windows Phone 7 is like an excellent phone. There’s issues with it, but it’s like got good UI and UIX and it’s responsive, it’s like a good phone on its own, but it’s lacking like, to use another word, it’s lacking content.

Like there is not like — in the same way that like with Google there is sort of like email and the web and stuff as the content and openness, and then in the Apple world, it’s like your music and movies and stuff is your starting content.

But when I was using the Windows Phone 7, there’s not like something new that I got, that I didn’t have previous, other than a really good phone, which kind of — and I think maybe that’s also part of what makes the lack of apps be a bigger issue.

I am kind of two minds in this; on the one hand I kind of think like well Windows Phone 7 is pretty new, so it’s like a cart and a horse issue, like if it’s successful, people will write apps for it. It’s not like — it’s a different programming language and all this other stuff, but the iPhone itself is a good example of like who cares, no one wants to write in Objective C or like weird native stuff, but tons of people do because there is a market for it. So if there is a market for it, developers will write for it.

So I don’t feel like people won’t write apps for Windows Phone 7 if there is that draw. So it makes me more sympathetic I guess is what I am getting towards, towards people saying, oh, there is not apps on there.

But then on the other hand I kind of feel like, well, since there is no service or content that’s new, that’s like the thing it needs, it needs apps. Yeah, it is kind of like, I feel like there needs to be that thing that you can go it that you can’t get on other phones and I don’t really know what they would have to offer with it.

Stephen O’Grady: Well, that’s the thing, I mean, ultimately I think, going back to the point about market writing apps and so on, Microsoft was at a very difficult position prior to the Nokia deal. In the sense that they didn’t have — their market share effectively has been miniscule where Apple on the one hand has the advantage, they were first to market with this style of device. It was so impressive that everybody had to have what everybody had to develop for one and had to have apps on them and so on and the marketplace is sold, I don’t know whatever two billion applications or something to that effect. So they were out early.

Android on the other hand was kind of a fast follower, came afterwards and has had the benefit of working with a ton of partners. So they have been able to get to the point where they are now, the last figure I saw was their shipping 300,000 of these devices a day. So again, from a developer perspective you have that incentive, look, even if you don’t like the platform as much as you like iOS, you have really the volume incentive.

And from Microsoft perspective, prior to Nokia deal, you had a nice set of tools, the developer experience is really pretty solid, as it always is with Microsoft products, but on the flip-side what was your incentive from a marketplace perspective, it was really difficult.

Now, Nokia gives them at least a potential to reach a massive market, simply because Nokia is everywhere. I mean, particularly as you go down market from the Smartphone category into sort of basic feature phones and so on, they have really quite substantial market share on a global basis.

So to the extent that Windows is able to tap into that, that’s a plus. The challenge after that however is the timeframe. In other words, even with this deal, when are we going to start seeing these phones emerge, and the answer is months and months and months.

So again, that’s a problem, do you want to develop for a platform that’s really not going to be widely distributed until the back half of this year? It’s a tough call.

Michael Coté: Yeah. I mean, I think the Smartphone area is where there is a strong first and second mover advantage and then after that — I mean, like you have webOS and HP had a — I mean, they showed some impressive stuff last week as well. So there is all sorts of platforms out there to target. I don’t know, it’s difficult to figure out how as a developer you — I guess this is the app argument, but how you figure out where you deploy these apps, or where you spend your time to integrate a service with these other phones and it’s sort of like, I mean this is a problem of the Web.

(00:20:11)

It is like — the web is inherently like very open and flexible and technologically you can do anything but you’re constrained by the time you have. So you only integrate with so many different services and if all these different services use the same standard then you would just write the code for one to integrate with them but that doesn’t happen, and it’s certainly not going to happen in the mobile space.

So yeah, I mean it is — it’s almost as if – it’s funny like, like listen you go through the — sort of the history of the Apple led Smartphone renaissance or whatever there, but it’s almost like now Microsoft actually has to compete on functionality, not just arrival time of market, whereas, like Apple and Android they had to have a compelling experience and features but there was just nothing else out there. So there were no other choices, but now that there are many other choices Microsoft actually has to like compete on having killer features and good stuff, not just being the only option.

Michael Coté: Yeah, and the tough thing too is that I mean I think they have, for example, the potential differentiators if you are Microsoft, so you mentioned Office earlier. So in other words it is pretty sweet to have Office access and so on in the phone, and you can open Word documents on — and even spreadsheets I believe on platforms like Android, and iPhone, but it’s not going to be the same as, sort of you’ve experienced that Microsoft is able to provide On the flipside, how compelling is that to consumers. Right?

Stephen O’Grady: Right, in another words, nobody that I know anyhow is going to buy phone for that feature. I mean that’s potentially attracted to businesses and certainly that’s a market that I’m sure Microsoft will look at to tap into, but from a consumer’s perspective it’s not terrible compelling. And then the other thing and I’m interested here, what Kim’s experiences have been, but when I gave the phone to Kate, the challenges is that some of the user interface decisions that Microsoft has made are very intuitive from an Android perspective. So for example, you have the notion of a Back button and a Menu button at the bottom of the phone factor, that’s very similar to what Android uses, Android has a Back button, Android has a Menu button and so on. So those were relatively intuitive, but for Kate who is an iPhone user, those weren’t intuitive at all.

So there was kind of the challenge of adapting to a new environment and where I think a lot of people get by — get around that and I know a bunch of people have done that iPhone-Android switch to get around it because it mostly looks, there is a lot add up to Apple’s credit. They have done a great job of kind of setting the expectations from a user experience perspective and a UI perspective to the extent that lot of people have been critical of Android because they have adhered pretty closely to that model and it looks a lot like what you’d see in Android or an iPhone look like.

So you have that similarity of experience, or even if the buttons are a little different, well it kind of looks like an iPhone where for the Windows platform, the buttons are different and the UI is very different.

The tiling and so on and even the way that the animations run, very laterally and so on, it’s aesthetically pleasing. On of the flipside I think for users who really have only used an iPhone, I think it will be a tough sale.

Michael Coté: Now, Kim had a similar experience with the Back button where it was, it got confusing to use between the apps and then navigating between the phones. Like she was telling me, she would be an Internet Explorer IE on the phone, the Web Browser and she would want to use the Back button to go back in IE but every now and then, or often she would end up back at the Home screen.

Like you would exit Internet Explorer and so they’re like, that was one of the issues that she had with navigating the buttons and — the other thing with the button is like I swear I went to that Bing search like probably 50 times I’m exaggerating, but I ended up hitting that Search button by accident, which like opens up a Bing thing and like, so the other guy gave the phone to Charles, he liked the idea that you have this Search button you can use anywhere which I didn’t want to tell him that from what I read the search doesn’t actually work in every app.

It only works in contacts and a few other apps, like hit the Search button to do a search. But I mean the hardware buttons are kind of — I don’t know I’m personally, I think I like them. I don’t know. I feel like what I was just complaining about the search like, if the search was actually like in every application it goes to the search then I think it will be worth having the button there, but it’s not quite like that and the Back button is a little weird to have because it does jump between the two but it does take some getting used to.

(00:25:05)

Like on that note, I was talking with someone else about the Windows Phone 7 stuff and they were saying that it’s a little easier for Android people to understand the navigation in the Windows Phone than for iPhone people.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, I think that’s definitely true.

Michael Coté: The other thing that’s slightly Androidish is, I don’t know what they call it, but there is like the Home screen of apps and then there is what I would call the Junk Drawer, there is like everything else, and it’s divided into two columns essentially that you swipe through.

And it is — I don’t know like I guess all of this is based on like years of iPhone usage, but I am kind of used to — and Charles complained about this too, I am kind of used to being able to arrange the apps that I have across many different screens. I think I kind of like that better than the Windows Phone thing.

The flipside of that, I think the Windows Phone 7 ad campaign they have at least — I don’t know if they have it outside of the U.S. market, but is all about like, it’s kind of like it’s one of these — it’s good and bad, it’s one of these things like spend less time on your phone, because it’s more productive and effective of what you are doing

And on that side I feel like maybe I don’t need to have all these apps, like I don’t really need to be interacting with my phone that much and I am wasting my time and all that. Like walking across the field, like in the commercial where my kid is playing soccer, but then on the other side maybe I do want all those apps and this limited interface isn’t really working out for me.

So I have to make it like how hard core I want to be about phone usage. Like if I just wanted to be a casual phone user and I wasn’t on it all the time, like I feel like that choice on the Windows Phone 7 wouldn’t be great. But it’s not, I don’t know, it’s not –

Stephen O’Grady: That’s the thing though. I mean, in other words, and I would have to see sort of more hard data on this, but I know lot of folks that have — well, I mean, you can judge this by the number of applications that are consumed on either the Android market but certainly the iTunes App market, which is, people buy a ton of apps and all those two billion apps aren’t just bought by kind of geeky people that want to use your phone, because people use all kinds of things.

They have apps that basically bring up their favorite comics or they use things like Shazam or whatever. So I think that the point is, is that there is a lot of applications out there that are being consumed everyday by sort of ordinary consumers and so on. The whole, there is an app for that cliché, which is super-entertaining.

But that’s the problem, it’s says that I would agree, I think the user interface for the Windows platform is not oriented properly towards lots of apps. That single screen rather than multiple screens, which certainly the iPhone started and Android has replicated is just I think an easier way to navigate it where otherwise you are going over, as you refer to, kind of looking through the juncture of where are all these things that I put.

I think a lot of that too is also the out of the box experience, which goes back to what we were talking about before in terms of the services. Because you boot up the phone the first time and you have a whole bunch of icons for AT&T U-verse and Xbox LIVE and IE and Zune, and so on, and these are, with the exception of Xbox, which is obviously popular from a consumer brand perspective, lot of these services are basically things that consumers have not shown attraction for.

In other words, Bing is a perfect example. Bing from a market share perspective is in the single digits and yet that’s the sort of basis for the phone.

That’s the problem, I think ultimately what I am curious about for a lot of the manufacturers, and this is not just Microsoft, but I think it’s very pertinent in this case is, are they going to make the same mistakes the Sony did with essentially missing the iPod market, right?

Michael Coté: Oh, right.

Stephen O’Grady: Because Sony obviously came up with the first walkman, so they were in a position to really dominate the — Sony came up with the market for sort of portable audio and so on. now what happened is, about the time that MP3 players began to be popular, Sony Music began to dictate the requirements of the Sony hardware device, such that if you wanted to put your music onto a Sony’s equivalent of the iPod, you had to convert it to their proprietary DRM format and so on, and in that process they basically killed that device and they killed the possibility for Sony to own that category.

So I am curious for Microsoft here, in terms of letting or basically force feeding this platform with a bunch of brands, from Bing to Zune to whatever, that have not shown a lot of consumer attraction, who is dictating the requirements, right? What’s the purpose? Is the purpose to make a device that is successful on a standalone basis and popular or is the purpose to send other services?

(00:30:06)

And that’s ultimately that’s what I’ve said. I said that the biggest question for me – there’s a lot of questions around at the platform. I think that the volume of applications available I think is one. The browser which we haven’t even talked about I think is another. IE was not running a lot of sites that I use properly. So I think there are a lot of issues — those and user interfaces and so on. But at the end of the day, I think it comes down — comes back to services. It comes back to, this is advantaging of a bunch of Microsoft services that at least for the public metrics that we can see are not terribly popular.

Michael Coté: Yeah, and then there is this little crap where apps that come on there. Like you said U-verse and other things, I mean it’s funny like one of the things that Kim mentions every time I ask what she thought about it is there — Samsung, one of their little crap apps is like this Now application that shows you like Reuters news and weather. She really liked that.

It’s like looks up the weather and news and everything. So I guess that app is not so bad, but I actually liked it a little bit, but it was to your point it was limited in what it would integrate with. Like it would only show me the weather and Reuters’ news feeds. I think this kind of gets into one of the things — I don’t know whether it’s called the hubs or whatever, but one of the things that they try to do in the Windows Phone 7 and that’s kind of like have these – like the people app. Like have these integrations of a bunch of services to one app, and by a bunch at the moment it’s just I guess one, Facebook essentially.

But like if you go to the — that’s one of the things that I actually liked about the phone is, if you go to; they call it the People App, but it’s like your contact, your address book essentially. If you give it your Facebook credentials, it will pull in people’s status updates and their photos and it’s basically like a Facebook browser, which I don’t really spend a lot of time browsing on Facebook as much as other people do, but I did find myself actually getting value out of using Facebook in that interface.

For example, because like when you call someone you can immediately go to look at what their Facebook status is. I think that kind of integration if they added in other services would be actually pretty handy to have on your phone. Like there’s this service called Gist, Gist.com, which it has a lot of potential, I try to use it every now and then I just find it not helpful. So maybe this is a bad idea, but it plugs into your email and it looks at — you’re emailing this person, here’s like other emails you’ve sent and their most recent Twitter stuff or something like that.

I can see how that would be helpful if I used email in a different kind of way, but on the phone it does — I don’t know there is something a little more interesting about. I just called this person or I am about to call them. Let me look at their Facebook stuff, and it’s just right there.

I think I really like the people thing and interesting — Kim said she didn’t really understand what was going on there and then Charles didn’t mention anything about it, but I think if they — like I said, they announced there is going to be Twitter integration there, but I could find myself using that all the time for just looking at people’s Twitter in Facebook stuff.

I mean that service, the way that service is technically integrated there is good. They just — to your point they need to have more services in there and definitely — this is like everyone’s dream for decades, I was going to say centuries to exaggerate, but it’s just like. I just don’t want that weird carrier and handset crap shipped on my phone.

Stephen O’Grady: No, no, no.

Michael Coté: Right? I was talking with Charles about that and he was like, you know on my iPhone I have like AT&T’s myWireless app, because I chose to go install it and I look at it like I look at my bill and my usage, it’s fine, but like I don’t want them forcing that on me, like I don’t need the U-verse thing and all that.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, you know what, I think that’s one of the things that I think a lot of the both software and hardware manufacturers and carriers for that matter kind of mess, which is the success of the iPhone, I take is largely attributable, I mean there is obviously lots of factors that go into it, but I think largely attributable to the fact that is not designed by committee.

The most important factor in determining what’s going to go on in iPhone and how things are designed is the customer. I think the challenge with — Microsoft certainly here in this case and phones are shipped to particular carriers and so on is you’re trying to service things that have nothing to do with the customer. Because you have the odd example here and there where somebody would like the Reuters app, or hey, maybe I am a U-verse customer, that’s great. But everyone of those people there is probably nine or ten or more that find it irritating.

So try to be prescriptive in terms of what you put on there is really — it’s a long-term challenge. We’ve seen it on the desktop, the PC manufacturers have typically shipped their machines with tons of stuff and users generally speaking hate it.

(00:35:07)

So that’s the challenge is that people kind of wonder why Apple is successful and on some level it’s basically just that they prioritize the user, they prioritize the user over the experience, because yeah, for example, Apple has MobileMe and it’s certainly a precedence on, but you are not required to sign-up for that to activate it in iPhone and most things have radically changed.

Michael Coté: Now you only have to sign-up for it if you want the Locate My iPhone feature, which is now free.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, so in other words, that’s the kind of a thing that — I mean for example, in this case, you have to have essentially a Hotmail or Live account to basically start using this phone.

Michael Coté: Yeah. Well just – I wanted to talk about the browser before we wrap up, but you did remind me that there is one nice thing, well no, there are many nice things.

But one of the nicer things that Charles reminded me when I was talking with him, is despite the fact that you have to have a Microsoft account to sign-up, it is nice that you don’t have to hook the machine up to your computer and then clone up your computer to get up and running.

Like when you set up an iPhone you have to like hook it up into iTunes to get it registered, but it is like — you kind of don’t even notice it with this phone, that’s how nice it is, is that you basically turn the phone on, give it your Microsoft account or sign-out for one, and there is probably some other thing. You have to agree to a shrink-wrap of course or whatever.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah.

Michael Coté: But then like you can just start using it. Like you don’t have to hook it up to your computer, which makes you realize how stupid that is, that the iPhone does.

Stephen O’Grady: Well, and that’s the thing, I mean up in U-verse you can see kind of how Apple handles are moving forward, because it was funny. I was talking on Twitter with one of the technical guys the other day about Tablets, and frankly, as you know Coté I’ve been kind of in the market for Tablet for travel and sort of demoing applications and so on.

And you know that the real challenge from my perspective with an iPad is that I don’t use a Mac on a day-to-day basis. I have one if I need to run applications and so on, but I don’t have one, I don’t use it, I also don’t have a Windows machine handy. So a device that’s explicitly tied to a desktop, just really doesn’t work for me.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

Stephen O’Grady: Based on the fact that with my desktop usages, and that was I think you’re right, an interesting choice in the part of Microsoft, a good choice in that part.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, there are exceptions in other words, if you want to load a music, you have to connect to a PC and so on and so forth, at least that tells you that you do.

But they have been good in the sense that they have not tied the activation process and the on-boarding process to a physical machine, much in the same way that Android works the same. You basically feed your credentials fired up and you are off to the races. There is no connecting back to PC.

So it would be interesting to see how Apple handles that longer-term, because that’s something that, if people, even Mac fans, if they complain about one thing related to the iPhone and the iPad that’s it, which is that, like I am sick of this and it takes 30 minutes to back up my phone and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So I’ll be interested to see how to handle that.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I mean they definitely need to keep that — the computer-less use. I mean it really feeds into that fantasy idea of like living off of your phone. You don’t even need a desktop, but –

Stephen O’Grady: Yeah, yeah.

Michael Coté: But you mentioned the Web Browser, so it comes with IE on it, and you’re saying that some sites didn’t load and — I thought that, I don’t know it’s just the fonts. I mean I always think different web browsers look a little weird, but I thought it’s interesting, I don’t really have any big complaints about the Web Browser other than just some sites looked a little strange.

And so when I talked with Charles, the app developer guy, he actually, he was funny, he said that in his opinion after looking through sites as a Ajax kind of guy, like the phone, the IE on the phone that was much better than the desktop IE as far as rendering. What was your experience?

Stephen O’Grady: Well, I am trying to remember, unfortunately, I don’t have listed the sites, and it was only, it wasn’t like a ton. A lot of them did look weird, because the difference is that obviously if you are using Android or if you are using the iPhone, you are using different branches, but you’re using essentially the same technologies using WebKit-based browsers.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

Stephen O’Grady: Rather Mobile Safari or the browser that ships with Android. So you get some consistency in terms of rendering things generally speaking work, the same way and so on, where with the version of IE that ships with the phone it’s just — I think you put it best.

It can look — certain things look weird, the fonts are little off and I did have a couple of sites, and I really wish I can remember what they were, it just didn’t render. It just got appeared to get confused and say, I don’t know what this is and I can’t handle it.

(00:39:59)

So the browser I think is going to be an issue, because in terms of designing — obviously a lot of the sites are doing mobile detection now and a lot of the mobile detection is optimized for essentially WebKit browsers, because that’s between Android and iPhone, that’s the majority of the mobile market.

So when you look at IE, which is shipping on a real small percentage of machines at this point or devices at this point, I think it will be interesting to watch at least how web developers handle making sure that their sites and their content renders properly in that Browser, or more to the point, if in fact they care.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I mean, that’s making me remember, that was one of the bigger problems I had with the phone in general is, a lot of the mobile websites I normally go to, they were giving me, I guess like the WAP or the feature phone interface or something, the ones where like options will be like 0, 1-9, and then a pound sign to like jump to those things, and like the Evernote Mobile version look like this and the Google Reader Mobile version, which I use a lot on my iPhone, looks like that.

It’s the kind of thing where it’s like I really — if you could just send a different agent header and fake it out to make Google Reader think it was an iPhone, it would probably work just fine. But it’s kind of like another — it’s another phase of the service issue of just getting these people to work with the phone, but it did lessen my experience.

I mean, I think that that kind of gets to the last thing I was going to say, so if you could choose like two or three things, like what are the two or three things that the Windows Phone 7 would do that would make you start using it instead of, you use an iPhone now, right, like what would make you switch to using it?

Stephen O’Grady: Well, I am actually – I am on Android, but the –

Michael Coté: Oh, that’s right, you have that gigantic screen that I am always envious of.

Stephen O’Grady: Well the Nexus One actually I think is pretty comparable, but we also have the Dell Streak, which we’ll have to review at some point.

Michael Coté: Oh yeah, that’s right.

Stephen O’Grady: Which is the 5-inch phone, it’s a ginormous phone. But I think the things honestly that would make me switch would be basically a cut of the ties to a lot of the Microsoft services.

I mean, in other words, the phone lets me connect to Google Mail accounts. So in other words, I can retrieve my mail and that worked fine. They have that set up and that’s to their credit. But at the same time, I don’t want to have to have the primary account for the phone be a Hotmail address or Live or whatever.

So cut the ties for that, and then I would like ties back to other independent services. So for example, give Dropbox sort of front and center position on the phone. Integrate that as effectively the de facto file system for the phone.

Give me the option to integrate with sort of music, MP3s that I have around and let me kind of suck those into the phone, whether that’s something like, what’s the, there is an Android music application and I am blanking on the name of it, that’s by Jon Lech Johansen, the DVD Jon guy, it’s for Android and it does essentially over the air syncing of music desktop to the phone. So it’s really pretty neat. It only works on Windows or Mac.

But those are the kinds of features that are great. The challenge is, is that if Microsoft rolls those out, it’s going to be attached to Zune, and Zune doesn’t interests me at all.

So ultimately, if they are going to do one thing, it would be, if you want to include those as optional, that’s fine, because clearly you are in business and you want to allow integration between your different properties, but give me choices, like don’t make me use Bing; I am used to using Google. I don’t want to have to use Microsoft services strictly because I got this phone. But what about you?

Michael Coté: Yeah, I think my issues are pretty similar. I mean, I think — these are more or less in order, but I feel like the thing that I miss the most on the phone, like I really like the phone more or less, but there is a few things that I miss that –and one of them was music and podcast.

Like I actually found, I am a Mac user, and I actually found they have like a Zune download thing that you can put on your Mac, which I didn’t find — it’s funny how difficult they make to find it. So it looked like that would be solvable, if you will, but it’s like I don’t really love iTunes or anything — like in fact, I think iTunes is a terrible piece of software, given the way I think it should be working. So I would be happy to switch to something else.

(00:44:54)

Like if there was like — like I need to go look at that Songbird thing, if that’s what it’s called again. But if there was like a real multi-platform music and podcast management thing that work, that sync to phones, like I would love that. That I could use on, that I could have my core music and podcast collection on any machine that I have access to and blah, blah, blah, that would sync with my phones, it would be nice. And like I think if they solve that problem on the Windows, I don’t know what that solution would look like, whether it — even if it’s just like stole a stuff from iTunes, that would be fine, but I didn’t really even mess with any of that.

But I mean having podcast and music is important to be on a phone and then the other thing is just like there is lots of apps that I use all the time that just were not available and even the mobile version like I was talking about like forever note Google Reader were just not really usable.

So at the very least if for some reason if they could fix the mobile web versions, that would be good, but even better would be if the apps were released at the same frequency in Cadence says the iPhone, because that’s a nice thing about apps on the iPhone. It’s sort of like — it feels like it’s the first mobile platform that developers release functionally to.

So like I started using Posterous a while ago and the Posterous app on the iPhone is actually pretty fully, is functional enough, it could be a little better. But I don’t really feel like by being on the iPhone I am going to miss out on functionality on apps because they’re released on another platform.

So I know I will get access to new functionality on apps right-away, and then I think the third thing a little more abstract is kind of like what you’re saying, is like, I wish it was a bit more open in the services that it would use and for example like I said they are announcing they’re coming out with this, but I wish it would use Twitter and the People app in addition to Facebook, and I wish like instead of having to use the SkyDrive thing I could hook it up to maybe any WebDAV thing or any Dropbox thing.

There is like storage things that will be great, like one thing that it does that’s interesting that the iPhone doesn’t do is it will automatically sync your photos to your SkyDrive if you turn that on, and that’s an interesting prospect, like it would be nice if it would automatically sync to Flickr like already like if I told it to like building in notes integration I think would be good.

And those are just — there is no standard like I was talking about before, but I think there are some like your top five photo-sharing sites and it would be nice for them just to work with that, because I think ultimately that’s like the whole punch-line for me for all, this is like I feel like Android, I haven’t used Android as much as you have but I feel like Android is kind of like, I don’t know, to be frank kind of an ugly user experience, like I always feel like I am using a Google product.

I mean, that is like a Mac guy, right? It’s like, it’s key functional, it works really well, it’s effective, it’s productive but it’s just like, it’s like shopping at IKEA, like I know I am going to get what I wanted. If I had more money and time I could get something much better, right?

So I feel like if Microsoft took like the openness of Android with their really great — that they have on Windows Phone 7, they would definitely have a phone that was better than the iPhone. But it’s getting that openness, that they don’t quite seem to want to do.

But anyway, I mean that’s my three things there. But yeah like I was saying at the beginning, dear listeners, thanks for listening to the first episode and we are over at redmonk.com/gearmonk, all one word of course because we don’t want to have percent 20s in our URL. And we’ll probably write up some more stuff, I want to write up a more formal sort of overview of Windows Phone 7 of my use and Steven’s use and a couple of other — but you know, that’s overall it was a nice thing and definitely when that new version of the software comes out I am going to try using it again because I do, man! I keep coming back to this but I really like that People app.

I think they are on to something. I forget what they call it, but they’re on to something with that like that hub idea where it’s like here’s the collection of tasks that span the apps and we have it concentrated in one application. I like that. I guess it’s a vertical service to be all fancy as what it is and I like that idea, there’s these vertical services whether it’s social networking or pictures would be another vertical service and I don’t know what they are doing there is very interesting but if you have any wrap-up comments you wanted to make there, Steven?

Stephen O’Grady: The only wrap-up comment I think — I would make would be the Android application that I mentioned that does over the years syncing to your phone that’s called doubleTwist, so if anybody is interested, I will check that up. But, no I mean I think my general takeaway would be I think Microsoft has done a really incredible job of delivering something that isn’t just a clone of one of the products, but to be successful I think they will have to kind of put the user first more than there right now.

Michael Coté: Yeah, and you know maybe with Nokia Ubiquity we’ll get more people developing apps for it. If any app developers out there listening, if you want to make me happy, just deliver apps to the Windows Phone 7, that’s what I do.

Stephen O’Grady: There you go!

Michael Coté: All right, well we’ll see everyone next time.

Disclosure: Microsoft is a client and sent us these phones.

Categories: Podcast, Smartphones.

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A tiny Google TV Keyboard

While we haven’t checked out this device ourselves at GearMonk, the smaller size does look alluring for the Google TV. The ability to hold it like a remote is a novel concept too. As with all of these types of gadgets, they’ve thrown in a laser pointer for seemingly no reason.

I’m not a big fan of the Google TV (at least in the Logitech Revue incarnation) over the cheaper Roku box (or just watching Netflix on your XBox or embed TV player). But, rather than balancing that big keyboard it comes with on my lap or the end-table, I can see that a smaller remote would be nicer.

There’s RF and Bluetooth versions available, and the PR email just sent over says there’s a 30% discount for pre-orders before the official launch on February 15th.

Here’s some more pictures the PR folks sent over:

Categories: Accessories, TV.

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First impressions: Samsung Focus – Windows Phone 7

I’ve been using a Samsung Focus for a little under a day now. Check out the slide show above (or see the set in Flickr) for the phone itself, several pictures I’ve taken with it, along with pictures from my iPhone and digital camera for comparison.

I’ll check it out more before a longer review, but here are some quick impressions:

  • Like everyone says, it is a pretty looking phone operating system.
  • The tight integration of Facebook and contacts is interesting. I was looking up someone to call and noticed that you can go see their Facebook updates to. If it integrated with more things (Twitter?) it’d be kind of like having Gist built into your phone.
  • Adding both my personal GMail and RedMonk GMail was quick and easy. It even synced my primary calenders on those accounts without much fuss.
  • Zune software doesn’t work on OS X which is not good for me. Thankfully I have a Windows machine at the office.
  • It sucked down my Google contacts lickity-split, which was awesome: no need to import contacts.
  • I was able to do most everything (initial setup, for sure) over the air – no need to hook up to my computer. I really like this. I had to hook it up to my Windows box to get music and podcasts on it.
  • The actual hardware itself is light and nice. It does feel too plasticy – compared to the iPhone and Droid 2 metal, heavy feel – but I’ll see: a $500+ wedge of plastic is weird to hold, but nice.
  • I’ve noticed several of mobile websites I use that are not WP7 ready. Google Reader, for example, seems to have the feature phone mobile interface: where there’s numbers and # signs next to everything.
  • While I don’t like micro-USB (I have tons of the larger one and I loath getting new wires), I like the fact that the phone uses a standard USB cord instead of (as with the iPhone) some weird proprietary thing.
  • I’ve had it plugged in all day and the power icon is flashing, but either the battery is the slowest charge ever, or it’s not charging.
  • There’s no Evernote on WP7, so I tried using OneNote. It seemed cool, but the syncing didn’t work after “jiggling the wires” a few times on the live.com, desktop, and phone setup.
  • I’ve had several calls (and txting) on it, and they’ve been a-OK, very clear actually and nothing dropped yet. It works with my MicroCell just fine.

After more time using it and checking out options, I’ll write a more in-depth review. Maybe we’ll do a recording about it since I know Stephen has one as well.

Disclosure: Microsoft is a client and sent us these phones.

Categories: Smartphones.

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Clear 4G and 3G Wireless Broadband – a Review of 8 Months Use

Clear speed tests from May, 2010 to Jan, 2011

(Above: 4G and 3G speed tests I’ve done throughout the year. See bigger chart and raw data.)

Since May 2010, I’ve used Clear 4G and 3G for my Internet connection in the office and on the road. I’ve gone through a couple different options in that time, and overall it’s been a great experience overall. The pricing is straight-forward and (for me) affordable enough. There are drawbacks around equipment availability, national coverage, and the limited functionality at their retail locations. Their customer service is generally excellent and the connection speeds have been getting faster, as the chart shows.

Speed

The two things Clear advertises are mobility and speed. As my collected speed tests in the US since May shown, the speeds are pretty good on 4G and, when needed, 3G. I’ve been able to use 4G in most places I’ve needed, most importantly in Austin. I’ve had bad experiences in San Francisco and Boston, but recent San Francisco speeds have been fine.

Recently, I’ve been expecting speeds from 3 to 5 Mbps download when I’m on the road. Upload speeds are terrible which is to be expected, but really annoying for all the podcasts and videos I upload. Looking at the chart, you can see that I’ve been getting faster speeds throughout the year – I don’t know if equipment has been upgraded, or what.

Equipment

The bare essentials

For most of my time, I’ve used an older Clear Spot along with the USB dongle (see it in use above). For whatever reason, I didn’t want to use the bull Clear Modem – I think I imagined that I’d be taking the Clear Spot with me into the field to hot-spot for my laptop, phone, and friends.

Clear Equipment

The old ClearSpot is too bulky to really be useful on the road (see above). If it had a USB power adapter instead of the power cord, the bulk might be fine. There are new, fancy-looking and compact 4G/3G ClearSpots which I’m looking to get. But, last I checked (a few weeks ago) Clear has run out of them. That’s been one of the problems with Clear: having to wait for equipment. I had to wait for the 4G/3G adapter for my Mac (see below) as well.

Clear Equipment

Recently, I switched to a Clear Modem to address some connectivity problems I’ve been having (Skype dropping calls 20-30 minutes in). I’ve since come to think that the problem was the USB wifi client adapter I was using, but the ability to use ethernet with the Clear Modem has been nice (coupled with a Buffalo NFiniti wifi/router).

Setting up these devices has always been straight forward, with no real hassle.

Clear Spot 4G

I haven’t had the chance to use the Clear 4G Hotspot. These look really nice in that they’re small, even pocketable. My floor-mate Charles Lowell has one. The portability is great, but for all the traveling I do I really want the 4G and 3G coverage. As coverage increased, that need may change. What’s nice about these is that you can run all your devices off them: laptop, iPhone (or Android, etc.), and iPad (for folks like me who don’t want to pony up for the iPad 3G plus service plan).

4G/3G

Clear Equipment

For the road, where Clear 4G coverage may not always work, I have a USB connector that works with my Mac that’ll do 3G when needed. Connecting with 3G is rarely good, but it’s typically better than nothing.

The software on the Mac can be a little cranky – there’s always a couple windows warning me about something or another being incompatible that I just click and everything works fine.

This little device has worked well for me and I’d recommend it.

Paying for it

I have two services with Clear:

  • A Clear Modem which I keep in my office, no phone line.
  • The 4G/3G equipment and extra 3G service.

For both of these, including leasing the equipment, I’ve been paying (well, RedMonk has been paying) $93.30 a month. I could buy the equipment instead of leasing it, but with all the swapping out of equipment I’ve been doing (incurring a small restocking fee), it’s been worth it to have the flexibility of leasing all the dongles and doo-dads.

There’s a several plans and bundling options (you can get VoIP through them as well, which complicates the matrix), but it’s actually pretty straight forward.

Considering that that this is for my office broadband and my on-the-road broadband, it’s a good deal. As Stephen O’Grady pointed out several years ago when we both got on-the-road broadband, it’s certainly cheaper than paying for crappy hotel wifi. (Granted, I still have Internet at home, but that’s because I get AT&T Uverse there which is much, much faster than Clear.)

Problems

The main issues with Clear are:

  • Out-of-stock on non-standard equipment – I had to wait for the Mac compatible 4G/3G USB dongle to become available. There wasn’t really a wait list, the local Clear store rep just told me to check back in a few weeks. As mentioned above, the 4G/3G ClearSpot I’d like to swap out for is also out of stock. Annoyingly, there’s no wait list or way to be notified, you just have to check.
  • Retail locations limited – while the retail locations are nice (there’s one right next door to my office, making the initial sign-up quick), they can’t do everything that’d you expect. You have to swap out equipment through the mail (!) so those times when I’ve walked in the store ready to take care of business, I’ve had to print out UPS labels and hunt down a drop off. Pretty silly considering the store is right there. On the other hand, the folks in the store are helpful and it’s nice to see all of the equipment (available or not) in person.
  • Coverage – as their coverage map indicates, Clear isn’t everywhere. After adding several new locations over past months, they’re finally just about everywhere I travel (San Francisco, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, New York, and the occasional weird spot). Still, it can be dicey getting a good connection when you’re out and about. With other carriers offering 4G, if I was looking around now I’d look for better coverage. Their 3G coverage is provided by Sprint, which is a good backup, but people tell me their Verizon MiFi experience is excellent. Even around Austin (and other cities where Clear has coverage) things can get spotty: I haven’t tested at my house recently, but back in May 2010, the coverage was poor. The same can be said for the Verizon 3G stick I had before Clear – it comes with the territory.
  • Dropped Skype Calls – as mentioned above, I’ve had a difficult time with dropped Skype calls since using Clear. After talking with my floor-mates (who also use Clear and Skype), I’ve begun thinking that it’s not Clear’s fault, but rather the wifi adapter I use on my Skype machine. I’ve also swapped out the old Clear Spot and USB dongle for a full modem, which allows me to go from wireless 4G to wired ethernet into my Skype box. We’ll see how it works out. Even in all of that annoyance, I’ve been able to record podcasts and have phone calls with good quality…as long as they don’t drop.

Categories: Carriers.

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Tools and practices for working virtually

Messy Desk, Dec 2010

I’m always fascinated by how people work – the every day practices, tools, and behaviors they end up employing. So this Quora question about tools and practices to use for a “virtual office” (no one works in the same office, let alone time zone) attracted me. I wrote a quick answer covering some of what RedMonk does (with some additional polishing here):

RedMonk has no real central office (and, even more funny and “virtual,” while our mailing address in Seattle, no one actually lives there – we use Earth Class Mail) and are spread out over 4 different cities in the US and Europe. I’ve been at RedMonk almost five years, and we’ve gone through a lot of options when it comes to “work middleware.”

Here’s a quick grab-bag of tools and practices that we consciously use and that have emerged over time:

  • Google Apps – we use Google Apps and the combo of email, calender, and Docs is great. None of them (except GMail, in my opinion) is at the top of the heap (in fact, GCal and Docs are pretty piss-poor, actually), but the SaaS nature and simplicity go a long way towards making collaboration easy. We actually use Google Docs for “production documents” and while the look and feel is limited, once you settle on a template (as we have kind of done), working within those rude constraints is nice: I don’t spend much time at all futzing with styling docs…and it shows…meaning I spend time writing.
  • Communication – there’s instant messaging, of course, but with us email is still king. Every few months, we try to do something other than email and it just fails flat. As another answer to the Quora question put it: “Email will always be the central hub of information, history and communication in nearly every organisation. That’s the only tool that needs to be used from day 1.”
  • Twitter – while RedMonk uses Twitter as part of external facing communications, to collaborate with people, and for some of the types of “research” we do (getting a sense of what developers are interested in, or hate), we also use it in novel ways for “internal” collaboration. We rely on Twitter a lot as well to simply keep up with each other. James Governor is particularly active at this, for example, broadcasting that he’d peer-reviewed a write I did this morning in Twitter instead of emailing me (the savvy among you will notice how he at the same time advertised a topic we were looking into, valuable for the analyst world). While we can’t go out to lunch with each other to catch up socially, we more or less know what’s going on in our personal lives enough (but by no means in-depth) to benefit when we’re doing work, mostly because of Twitter.
  • Shared calendars – I can’t speak for the rest of the RedMonk, but I find the shared (and fully readable when it comes to details) calenders we all have valuable for collaboration. They’re nice for scheduling meetings, sure (we use Tungle more or less for this which gets mixed reviews), but what’s more valuable is for me to be able to see who my colleagues are talking with, what kinds of topics they’re discussing, and so on. With as little emphasis on meetings as we have, it’s a nice “information radiator.” While we’re not internal-meeting oriented at RedMonk – due to the nature of our job – there’s probably analogs (like change logs, or more advanced versions of them in programming) in other lines of work.
  • IT hardware and services – a good practice is to let employees buy their own IT and manage it (reimbursing them, of course). Even when we do make IT decisions (Google Apps), they tend to be open enough that you could still use whatever else you wanted (Google Docs would fall flat here). The important thing here is to install a responsible sense of budget (see below) – so long as you can trust your employees not to go wild, they should really buy whatever IT they need to help the organization make money. I’ve spent a lot of money on video and audio equipment, but it pays for itself quickly. And being an Apple person, my computer budget is a bit higher. But, if you’re going to benefit from employees managing their own IT (not having to pay an IT person, having your employees use the tools that make them most productive), you have to let them pick their tools. Other than web applications (like Google Apps, etc.), I’d try to limit any IT requirements.
  • Phone – I like Google Voice a tremendous amount. As with many “for work” Google offerings, it’s notable for it’s cheapness (here, free) and the efficiency that it’s simplicity brings (versus a full voice exchange system or whatever). The ability to screen calls and read transcripts of voice mail is valuable. Using it as a last ditch way to record a podcast has come in handy several times as well. Also, having the complete record of my call history is nice: if you search over your email all the time to get to people, imagine being able to do that with your voice (and txting!) history. I’m a bit miffed that Google Voice doesn’t integrate with our Google Apps instance very well – a typical, annoying example from Google. A land-line is really valuable, despite all the promise of VoIP, Skype, or whatever. If you’re a virtual shop and on the phone a lot (as I am) you’ll notice that Skype fails a lot. Whether that’s the fault of Skype or the network, I don’t care: it doesn’t work well enough if you expect to use the phone a lot. Until it’s rock-solid, get people land-lines if possible.
  • Internet – be sure to provide high speed Internet, (probably) paying for it. If you can get mobile Internet for everyone, that’s better. I use Clear for mobile Internet and for the connection at my office (see next).
  • An actual office – you might consider budget for offices for remote employees. I worked at home for many years, and loved it, but once I got a baby, that didn’t work out. I work in a building full of startups and tech people, which is great for me professionally given the focus on practitioners that RedMonk has. Also, if you’re in an external facing role like I am (partly, at least), it’s good to be able to meet someone at an actual office instead of yet another Starbucks. Personally, I like having “my own space” versus sitting on the couch at my home, cluttering the house with my work crap. All that said, my dream would be to have a shed-office in my backyard, esp. now that I have a son that I’d like to go visit during lunch and breaks.
  • Meetings – I’d really like the idea of having a weekly RedMonk status meeting with to work out, but we never keep up with the practice, despite how much we usually get done when we’ve had them. If you’re virtual, meetings are good: more important is making sure people actually do the work that comes out of meetings, or any group collaboration.
  • Make everyone responsible enough to make decisions – the operational thing you want to do is instill principals and best practices in your people so they can think and act on their own. If you’re co-located, it’s easy to ask how to do simple, every day things (“what template do we use for XYZ,” “what should I try to sell to this prospective customer?”). Even with IM and such, it gets annoying to do all that “virtual.” Instead, establish practices and frames: principals. At RedMonk, we have a lot less internal policies, engagement process, and overall “how we do things” than you’d expect. Instead, we try to very specifically say what we don’t do and make sure that we avoid that. If something new comes along that we’re not sure about, we just discuss it with each other – or sometimes an individual just decided to do it, to be frank ;> For example, we don’t do paid, branded white papers, but we occasionally will write a section for a paper a vendor is doing if it’s a neutral enough setting for us: Stephen’s collaboration in a 2009 Ubuntu survey is a good example. Much of this boils down to something Stephen O’Grady says a lot when it comes to things that you’d think need management approval: “be reasonable.” Instilling principals in your people so that they can do that on their own is key. In addition to budgeting, spending, and customer interactions: if your employees will be booking their own travel, you really need to instill that sense of what’s reasonable.
  • Business Forms – if you have any contracts, forms, or other “artifacts” you deal with clients with, centralize those and make sure everyone knows about them. Centralizing where you store executed contracts, statements of work, and forms is critical as well (and something we still struggle with sometimes). Google Docs, if you put up with it’s “just a dumb document store” is pretty good at this.
  • An admin – a little while ago, we hired Marcia, who’s our “does everything we don’t (want to) do” person. I like to think of her as our operations manager. Having someone you can email to take care of most anything not related to your core work is awesome and very helpful. Among other things, she’s part of – is – the most important part of our business (versus our “work”): invoicing clients for work we do.
  • Expensify.com – it’s too early to tell as we just now started using expensify.com for filing expenses, but I really like it so far. We used to use spreadsheets and email resulting in (at least with me) long cycles between expenses. Expensify.com is so quick and easy that it’s almost fun to file expenses now. Some sort of expense filing solution will be key. Distributed employees end up buying stuff a lot more than you’d expect. Along with that, we got company credit cards a little while ago, and those are fantastic.

In addition to the above brain-dump, there were a few items from other answers I really liked and that we use:

  • Time Zones -

    From Ben Hanna:

    Time Zones: Prioritize tasks based on time zones. If something needs to happen first in an early time zone, get it to the person responsible there. Good timing can make a project literally zip around the globe with work being completed 24 hours a day.

    With all of us at RedMonk living in different time zones (US central, US eastern, London, Central European Time), being aware of who’s working when is key for meetings and collaborating. If I want do something with James, who’s in London, I need to make sure to do it my morning, for example.

  • Asynchronous conversationsAnton Johansson rubs up against what I call “asynchronous conversation” in his advice: instead of having real-time conversations, you have what would otherwise be a 20 minute talk (for example) spread out over hours. This is terrible in some circumstances, but if you’re working with remote people, it’s a good tool to have at your disposal. There’s also a certain cult of “not getting interrupted” that’s good to cultivate in white-collar work (“knowledge work,” I think they call it) that asynchronous conversations enable. Instant messaging fits well here, and email of course. As he puts it: “That’s the problem with phone despite the effectiveness of the talk – the receiver can’t decide when to answer.”

Categories: Uncategorized.

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