Thursday, August 4, 2011

Which Smartphone is Right for You?

Edited by Arvin Can.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone.  Which one should I get next?!?  Like everyone else who’s in the market, I’ve asked the same question. 

Today’s smartphones can do so much but with the barrage of choices, which one is right for me? Choices are good but too many choices can be confusing for anyone.  Friends and family offer good recommendations, even if what they recommend is their own phone. There’s little wrong with that; they like it and want others to enjoy it. However, not everyone is the same. You may like vanilla, I might prefer chocolate and someone else loves strawberry. It’s hard to pick one without tasting them first, so let me tease your palate by sampling each one.

Bold 9900
RIM’s Blackberry (BB) is the oldest system out of the four. Data networks were slower when the first Blackberry came out compared today’s networks, thus BB uses the least data with the help of heavy compression. This means you don’t need to get an expensive plan as the smallest will suffice. BB is also known for it’s hardware keyboard which has no equal, though some have come close such as Motorola and HP (formerly Palm). Smaller screens plus slower processors equals great battery life. Some users don’t need charging for a week at a time! For email, BB is solid, secure and reliable, but the competition is catching up. BBM is a built-in instant messenger exclusive to BB only. This is BB’s killer app since its does not cost extra to use with a BB plan and it works internationally. With all these good things going for it, why is it that the majority of people looking for a new phone are BB users? Blackberry used to be a business device, then they released a couple of phones for consumer use and picked up lots of users from there. This was before the iPhone.  Apple found that consumers want consumer features.  BB users felt left behind and this is why they are jumping ship. Others refuse to leave because of BBM. Blackberry’s App World selection and quality are poor.  In addition, they make it hard for developers to make them so there are less of them. They also don’t have an ecosystem. They use Microsoft’s Bing! for search, Google Maps and had no music, video or ebooks. They aren’t moving fast enough to meet consumer demand.

iPhone’s release changed the landscape. Apple didn’t invent anything new but the way they packaged and simplified things was “magical” as the marketing goes. It has the best touch screen with a simple, fast and accurate onscreen keyboard. Apple had the luxury of starting from scratch and the User Interface paradigm they introduced was like nothing else.  It was simple, smooth, flashy and very finger friendly. They used their experience with the iPod to deliver stunning music and video on the iPhone. They later introduced books and magazine subscription with the release of the iPad. The second generation iPhone came with apps and the App Store™ which exploded bigger than anyone ever expected.  From a simple and useful tip calculator to an unbelievable augmented reality and fun games, the apps creative developers made changed perceptions of what mobile phones can do, leading to the birth of “There’s an app for that!”. With a huge screen and powerful processor, the iPhone needed to be charged often, in most cases once a day! Even though they improved battery usage in the latest generation, to 40% at end of the night instead of 15%, you will still need to charge it at night to be able to use it the next day. They don’t come out with all the features under the sun, but they constantly release updates. With the latest upcoming update, they finally fixed the annoying notification system and many minors features to make it more complete. The iPhone has a great industrial design, but it’s one design. There’s only one new iPhone model a year, and it looks just like the previous iPhone with some minor changes. As always, there’s no keyboard, no extra buttons and same screen size. It is also a closed system, anything you want for it must be approved by Apple. The types of apps are limited, there’s no other music player or email reader or anything that enhances it’s functionality.  And for those who don’t like it, they have the option of jailbreaking. But I’m not going to talk about that.

HTC Dream
Android is a Google product. They don’t make phones like RIM or Apple, they just provide the OS like Microsoft makes Windows. Android’s original design and concept was more similar to Blackberry than iPhone. But when iPhone was launched with the help of Google (they provided the map, YouTube and search) and became a huge success, Android team changed their strategy and release the first phone with HTC called the G1 a.k.a HTC Dream. This phone resembles the iPhone but with a slide-out keyboard. This was back in 2008, today there are hundreds of Android phones to choose from by different manufacturers and carriers. Google does not limit the kind of application that’s allowed on Android. This results in a variety of utility apps that does not exist for the iPhone, such as touch keyboards, schedulers, automation and widgets. Widgets is a small app that runs on the home screen. These widgets can be really useful, a quick way to change settings & play music, or quick glace to your appointments, messages and weather, all without launching a single app. Since Google has a great repertoire of web-apps, their inclusion into the Android is fantastic, like Google Maps, Youtube, Gmail, Calendar, Docs and most recently Google+. And everything is done over the air, meaning you never have to plug your phone to your computer for backing up and syncing. And when I find a good app on my computer’s web browser, I can simply click the install button and it’s there on my phone ready to be used. Media and Entertainment is where Google fails to offer the same great service. They do not have a music store though they just announced Google Music beta for the U.S. market but this is only a service to store your music on the cloud. 
Google Nexus S
As for movies, it’s coming soon to the U.S. Books and magazines are a growing library however. Google does not review Android apps resulting in many poorly programmed, or worse, malicious apps which Google had to remove after users fell victim. Developers continue to focus on iPhone apps which leads to Android versions lacking features found in their iPhone counterparts. Some apps are direct ports which do not conform to Android guidelines, making user experience nonuniform across different apps. A common practice amongst manufacturers and carriers are to modify Android by skinning and pre-installing apps, which may give values to some users but makes it less responsive for most. These shortcomings are not Google’s fault, but they did make Android “open”. 

Live Tile
Microsoft takes a move from Apple’s playbook and created Windows Phone 7 (WP7) from scratch. It’s predecessor, Windows Mobile, tries to miniaturize Windows’ desktop experience. While WP7 takes a whole new approach by introducing Metro UI, hubs and live tiles. With people hub, users have a centralized place to communicate. You may start a conversation with a friend using Facebook chat, but when he goes offline, you can continue the same conversation using SMS in the same thread. Developers can extend this functionality by adding Yahoo! Chat for example. If you communicate with this person often, you can pin this contact to the live tile. Live tile is the WP7 home screen. It shows hubs, application notifications and shortcuts presented in a tile format. A tile can show unread messages, status updates and upcoming appointments. Bing! is Microsoft’s response to Google’s search and in WP7, Bing! has a dedicated search button. Searching for a movie, will show a synopsis of the movie and a link to IMDB app. Tap that app and you’ll jump directly to the detailed page of the movie complete with trailers and cast list. Hitting the back button, returns you to the synopsis page where you may find a list of show times with a link to Cineplex app. Tapping this app, you’ll jump directly to purchasing the ticket, then you can pin the e-ticket right on the live tile ready to be used. This is how WP7 experience feels more integrated and seamless instead of jumping in and out of app silos. Zune is Microsoft’s version of iTunes and this is the place where you can get your music, movies, tv shows and podcast and sync it to your WP7. Mobile casual games really exploded with the introduction of powerful phones and WP7 integrates Xbox into its games hub. Microsoft relies on their hardware partners to build the phones, and Nokia will be releasing smartphones using WP7 replacing their own Symbian OS. This is a huge support from Nokia which is the largest phone manufacturer in the world. 
Metro UI & People Hub
With less than 5% of the smarphone market, Microsoft needs all the support they can get.  There are many people who don’t even know WP7 exist.  For some others that do know, the Microsoft and Windows name is a deterrant. Despite a growing list of applications, it’s still very small compared to the iPhone. WP7 is a closed system like the iPhone, so the type of apps are limited, but Microsoft is opening up more to developers with each release.  The future is bright for WP7 but they have many hurdles to get over before it can become a success. 

Now that you’ve got a little taste of each, you see how there are pros and cons for each platform. It really comes down to what’s important to your individual needs and expectations. If corporate email is the most important thing to you, go with Blackberry. But don’t dismiss the others, since most corporate email runs on Microsoft Exchange, iPhone has a great support for it and WP7 has a built-in Outlook client. If your primary email is Gmail, then Android it is, as it’s the only one with Gmail app that supports the label, star and priority inbox. If you’re still using Hotmail, then WP7 is the only one that support push notifications. Like to chat a lot? If you’re addicted to BBM then Blackberry is your only choice, otherwise iPhone should be your weapon of choice. With it’s approach to push notifications, you can have multiple IM apps installed and it won’t cost you more on memory or battery. WP7 uses a similar approach, so check if your favorite IM is supported and integrated with the people hub. Are you into social networking? Then WP7 is for you with its built-in integration with Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and others in one centralize experience so  you don’t jump in and out of multiple apps. Apple’s ever growing and popular App Store™ is the place to get the best apps and games. iTunes is Apple’s huge advantage for music syncing, but if you like to just drag and drop songs, then Android will be for you,  but spend $5 to buy a better music player, as the stock one needs work. If you don’t like the routine of charging your phone every night then Blackberry is by far the best in this category.  Then again, you could just carry an extra batter for your iPhone or Android device. If you’re not a technical person and you just want to use a smartphone without tinkering, then get the iPhone or WP7. They both have a nice, clean and simple interface and minimal customization. If you’re the kind of person that likes to tinker with your gadgets and modify it to your heart content, don’t settle with anything less than Android.

If you’re like me, you have a general idea on which you like, so don’t listen to anyone else. Don’t listen to the sales person no matter how much they tell you they want to help you get the best phone. They have a quota to meet, commissions to make,  and units to clear out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Does social networking and co-worker mix?

There is a golden rule of thumb that I use to follow. Don’t add any family members or co-workers to your Facebook. That’s why I created a LinkedIn account, that’s where  I add all of my co-workers. I use it to keep their contacts and for future opportunities, since I’m a contract developer and I move around so much, this is very important. LinkedIn also works great as my resume and references. That’s where it stops, I don’t socialize in LinkedIn. I don’t post statuses other than “Looking for a contract position”, I don’t post any links or strike a conversation anyone else unless to see if they may have any opening or just to do a pulse check. It is strictly for professional use only.

For the past year or so I’ve broken this rule. In my opinion, there are different kinds of co-workers. Those that you just work with, there are also co-workers that you mingle with. And there are co-workers that you actually socialize with. You talk about topics other than work related and you get together outside of work. They are just like your other friends, but you happen to know them from your work place. But I never forget, they are also my co-workers and there are still some boundaries. However that boundary is a big gray line and it’s hard to manage.

The huge problem with having families and co-worker in your Facebook is that they may be exposed to information that you may not have control over. Your friends may post pictures and it’s set to “Friends of Friends” and anyone who is your “Friend” will be able to see them. You can control how you share, but not how someone else shares. One solution is to untag yourself but this can be tedious and it’s damage control instead of prevention. You can also just disable tagging completely, but that’s just being anti-social.

Do you add co-workers to your Facebook?
How do you fine tune your privacy settings in Facebook?
Is there another way mixing work friends with Facebook?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Google+, watch out Facebook and Twitter!

Have you received your Google+ invitation yet? Don't worry, most people haven't.  Google is keeping it that way with good reason

Google+ is another attempt at social networking by Google, aiming at both Facebook and Twitter. They started a while back with Google Buzz, but it received bad reviews and privacy backlash. The service was more of a Twitter imitation than a Facebook killer. Google Buzz only allows you to post short messages with links and people can follow you and you can follow other people, just like Twitter. I stop using Buzz after a few postings and just about everyone I know stops as well. It was like a new toy that gets old really quick.


How about Google+ will it share the same fate as Google Buzz or even worse, Google Wave? Only time will tell, but Google+ will most likely here be to stay and may even beat Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Google Buzz, Plus is launched only to a limited number of people. This allows them to have a more controlled feedback instead of a widespread backlash they had with Google Buzz. Plus takes security and privacy seriously and the team will make changes soon to address some concerns people already have. And unlike Google Wave, people will know what this is about and how to use it, because it is basically Facebook + Twitter! Up to this day I don't think anyone knows what Google Wave is, and those who thinks they do, ask them to explain it to you and just watch their silence or mumble.

Google+ Facebook Theme
So if Google+ is just like Facebook, what's the point? Well the concept of social networking is similar and even the interface is eerily similar. Someone actually made a theme to change the colours to make it look even more like Facebook. With Plus you can post your statuses and as always people can comment on them, you can also put links, images and location to the post. But there's no "friends", the concept of friends in Facebook that is. And you don't have to mutually agree on a friendship, such  as requesting a friendship and that person must either accept or rejects you! You just basically add a person to one of your circle and they will get notified. They will then have the option to add you to one of their circle or ingore it completely. This is similar to how Twitter works, you follow someone and they can follow you back or not, but you can still see what they post publicly and you can still mention them. But Google+'s big advantage is the "Circles".

Google+ Circles
So what are "Circles" and how does this make Google+ different and better? Think of circle like your circle of friends or even better, as silos. There's a reason why Google never use the word friends. They understand that not everyone you meet or you know are your friends. They can be your family, your colleague or just someone you just meet and if you're famous enough, your fans. Take this for example, I have party pictures and I want to share them with my friends. However, I don't want my family or even worse my boss to see them! So I only share it to my friends circle. But a picture of my dog, I want all my circles to see them! In fact, I want the world to see them! Yes, you can make a post and share pictures and make them "public". This is where Plus crossed the Facebook's boundary and into Twitter's. Just like the picture of my dog, you can make your post public and people outside of your circles can see them. This is great for celebrities and bloggers, I'm actually already following a few of them just like Twitter. You can make your own cicle, they are just like groups and you can drag and drop people to your circles. The interface is quite simple and dare I say, intuitive! I like to post lots of links and news about technology, but I understand not all my "friends" care about them. So I create a circle called "Geeky Friends" and when I post geeky things, I only post it to these people and I don't bombard other people with posts they don't care. Circles are not mutually exclusive, a person may be in more than one of your circles. For instance my "Geeky Friends" circle contains people from my friends, colleagues and family circles. Your Circles' information, such are their existance and contents are not made public so you can create "People I don't care" circle and they'll never know!

Google+ Hangouts
What else Google+ have to offer that the competitors don't? Lots of bloggers and journalist calls "Hangouts" as the killer app for Google+. Facebook just recently annouced their partnership with Skype to offer video calling on top of their chat and messaging. But Plus' hangouts takes this video calling concept to the next level. With any circle, you can start a "hangouts" and everyone in that circle is welcome to join in. Not only can you see everyone's video like a film strip at the bottom at all times, the person who's talking at the moment, will be shown in the bigger window at the top. It feels quite natural and I think it's best multiple video conferencing tool to date. I can see this used often with families and even professional business meetings. Google+ also have a mobile app. It's only for Android at the moment but, the iOS version is already submitted to Apple awaiting for approval. In many ways, the mobile app already surpases Facebook apps! Simple push notification has not been done well by Facebook, sometimes I get them in my iPhone and sometimes never, it's really a hit and miss. And on my Android, it's not even push! Google+ mobile app push notifications are almost instant and the level of control for the notifications is great. You can set which notifications you want to get emailed or push to your phone or not at all. But they are always available under the notification sections. Instead of "hangouts" the mobile version have "huddle", it's an instant messaging for your circles or to individuals. Very useful when you're on the go meeting up with these people or just as a group messenger, lookout BBM!
Google+ Huddle
It can't be all that great! What's bad about Google+? Since it's not public yet, I only have a few friends in my circle and I still have to go back to Facebook. It is also missing quite a few features to compete with Facebook and one that I found very useful, events. My social life is not always virtual and online on Facebook, I go out and actually meet these people in the flesh. I know, it's hard to believe, meeting people for real? This is not in Google+, but I'm pretty sure they are working on this and will probably integrate it with their calendar app as they did with Picassa and Google+'s Pictures. In fact they are going to re-brand Picassa to Google Pictures. Another missing big feature is games! Social and casual gaming is big in Facebook, I haven't played a single game and I ingored every invitation by my "friends", but I heard it's really huge and very addictive! However, somone found a hint that Google is working on games. This will require API also knows as Application Programming Interface, it's a fancy way of saying developers can connect their app to Google+ just like Facebook Connect. One app that I uses Facebook Connect is Flixter, I use this to flag a movie I'm interested in and my friends can see that I want to watch it. I don't have to ask, who want to watch "Midnight in Paris". I can already see who want to watch it and just can start planning to watch it together.
Google+ is not perfect, and this is why they only launched it to a small number of people right now. And the reviews so far are mostly positive and they are hitting some right on the nail with solutions from Facebook's short comings such as introducing Circles. And one thing that I really like, muting notifications on a post. It's a little thing, but I'm really annoyed when I jump in to comment on someone's post and then it just becomes an endless conversation between two people and I'm getting flooded by all the notifications! With Plus you can just mute it. Google+ team are continually updating the service and feedbacks are pouring in. I just hope that they can take this to the public soon, but not too soon as they have lots of polishing to do. As long as it's not like Gmail where it was in beta for years! I can really see Plus' potential here and so does most people who uses it. Unlike Google Buzz or Wave, they like it and can use it right away. If Google continue on this path, they may be up to par with Facebook and even overthrown Facebook. Just like how Facebook killed MySpace.

Facebook should be worried! And they better take Google as a serious threat and start stealing and implement some of Google+ features, especially circles. But this may not happen, as Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, mentioned in the Skype annoucement during a Q&A session that these circles are too complicated for Facebook users. Facebook have similar feature called friends list, and he said that only 5% actually uses it. In my opinion, just because they don't use it does not mean they don't want or need it. I used it, but I do find it quite complicated that I stop using it myself.

Google+ team have lots of work ahead, but the steps they have taken so far are impressive and seems to be on the right direction. Google Search have more than 29 Millions hits per second, 500,000 Android activations per day, and Gmail have 193.3 millions users monthly. These are impressive numbers and with this much traffic and users, I don't think they'll have a hard time with people joining Google+ once they launch it to the general public. I hope that Google Picassa and Google Talk integration is just the begining. Google have so many products that it can integrate to Plus like Calendar, Docs any many more. I haven't even talk about Google Takeout! The future looks bright for Google. So, to the Google+ team, keep up the good work and good luck with your battle against Facebook. You'll do just fine and I will continue to support you as long my friends do!


Are you using Google+? Tell me what you think about it so far.
And if you're using Facebook, what do you like or dislike about it? And would you jump to Google+?