Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Converting from Android Back to the iPhone, Initial Observations

I’ve been using smartphones for a long time. I was an original owner of what I believe was the very first smart phone, the Kyocera PDQ 800 back in 2000. I had a couple of Microsoft Windows based phones after that. I waited in line down in Palo Alto with my pal Robert Scoble to get the very first iPhone when it was launched back in 2007. I then upgraded to an iPhone 3G, then an iPhone 3Gs. I skipped the iPhone 4 opting instead to give Android a run for the money. I switched to a Samsung Vibrant in 2010 and then in 2011 to a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

On Friday my new iPhone 5s arrived.

I returned to the dark side of Apple for a lot of different reasons. I hated the poor battery life on both of my previous Android phones. I hated that it felt like the only way to get updates on Android phones was to buy a new Android phone. I thought it sucked how difficult it was getting updated software and I thought Google didn’t do enough to pressure the hardware manufacturers and carriers to better support Android updates in the aftermarket.

A lot of things felt broken on my Android phones all the time. Things crashed, didn’t work, etc. People kept suggesting that I “root” my phone to fix things — but I didn’t want to root my phone. I’m not a phone geek. I just want something really good that consistently works with little effort.

On my recent trip to New York City last month, I felt like I spent the whole trip apologizing to people who couldn’t get a hold of me on my Nexus because it was constantly dead. I didn’t dare listen to music on it or it would die even faster.

It’s totally unfair to compare my new iPhone with a 2 year old Galaxy Nexus, but I’m going to do it anyways. Maybe Android’s come a long way since my Nexus, but I’m not interested in shelling out $500 to see if in fact this is the case — not after feeling like I’ve been burned twice with my last two Android phones.

I’ve only been using my new iPhone for a few days, but here are my initial observations.

1. The iPhone battery is wayyy better than my old phone. Last night I went to bed with my iPhone fully charged, but unplugged. This morning it had 98% of it’s battery life still. That was amazing to me. My Nexus would have been dead. It’s so nice having a phone that actually has a battery life.

2. The internet reception is better on this phone than my Nexus. For the last two years I’ve thought that Verizon just had really crappy internet service in the Ferry Building here in San Francisco. It turns out it was my phone! All the places in the Ferry Building where I couldn’t get Verizon LTE service on my Android, now work perfectly with Verizon LTE on my iPhone. I was so frustrated all the time when my LTE connection wouldn’t work on my old phone. I was constantly blaming Verizon when the real culprit was MY PHONE! Verizon LTE works GREAT. I just needed the right phone.

3. I didn’t care about the fingerprint technology on the new iPhone. I never locked my Nexus and didn’t think I’d lock this one — I’m one of those optimists who never thinks they will lose their phone. It turns out that the fingerprint tech is so easy that I do now lock my iPhone. I totally get that the NSA likely now has my fingerprint, but I don’t care about stuff like that.

4. It’s nice to be able to hear my music again. One of the things that I disliked about my old Nexus was the music volume. It was too low at max volume. Sometimes when you are on a train or something you want the music louder. The iPhone music can go louder and that’s nice.

5. It’s nice having my iPhone sync with my iTunes. I transferred about 7,000 of my favorite songs on it. I tried downloading doubleTwist to somehow port my iTunes to my old Nexus, but I could never get it working. I think my music library was too large for doubleTwist or something. Letting iTunes manage my music flawlessly with my iPhone is great.

6. My new iPhone just feels better. I don’t know how to describe it. It feels more responsive, more accurate, faster. It feels smoother. The Flickr and Google+ apps flow easier on it.

7. The first shocker for me was how much smaller the phone and the screen felt to me. I got over this quickly and barely notice at this point.

8. I don’t really feel like I’m missing the best Google stuff from my Nexus. I can get Google Maps on my iPhone. I can get Gmail on my iPhone. I can get Google Chrome on my iPhone. All of the best things that sort of set Google apart initially for me as an incentive to go Android feel like they are now on iPhone.

9. Setting up my new iPhone took me a lot longer than I thought it would. Some of this was my fault and some was the phone’s I think. I couldn’t activate it at first. My phone couldn’t connect to the activation server. I finally got it activated and it wouldn’t connect with my wifi at home initially (now it works fine). I had to download all of my favorite apps. It seemed to take longer to download my apps than I would have liked. I had to reset some passwords because I’m always forgetting my passwords (on Flickr now your password must include upper and lowercase letters, a number, a special character AND be at least 8 digits!) I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get my Google Calendar into my iPhone calendar. It turns out what was screwing me up was two step authentication. Once I turned that off at Google it worked.

Thanks to everyone online on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. who gave me input on what phone I should buy next. Rosa Golijan was especially helpful. :)

Apple: The Perfect Retail Experience

Happy Birthday to My Totally Awesome Daughter Holly!

Disclaimer: Obviously people will have different experiences at different Apple stores at different times. This is just a single experience, in a single store, at a single point in time.

Today is my daughter Holly’s birthday. She’s been asking for an iPad for her birthday for months. I’ve been telling her that an iPad is too expensive, but I broke down yesterday after work and stopped by the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco to buy her one. She was thrilled and ecstatic to receive it — can you tell by her photo above :)

I’ve purchased many things at many different Apple Stores over the years, but yesterday’s experience was so fluid and flawless that I thought I’d write a short post about it.

5pm (approximately) I walk into the store. I don’t get more than two feet into the store before making eye contact with an Apple employee strategically positioned by the door. “Welcome to Apple,” he says. “Can I help you something?”

“I’d like to buy an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, great,” he says. “Would you like an iPad or an iPad Mini?”

“I’d like an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, do you just want the basic 16GB one?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, hold on, I’ll be right back.”

Less than two minutes later he returns with a new iPad in a shrink wrapped box.

“Would you like to put this on a credit card?”

“Yes,” handing him my American Express.

“Can I see your ID?”

I hand him my drivers license, he confirms it’s me, hands it back, says thanks and runs my card through a hand held device.

While the device is running the card he asks me, “are you buying your iPad for business or pleasure?”

I tell him that it’s for my daughter’s birthday. “Great,” he says.

A few seconds later he hands me his electronic device and asks me to sign it with my finger. I sign it with my finger.

“Would you like a printed copy of your receipt, or is just an email fine,” he asks. (God I HATE printed receipts, email receipts are sooooo awesome!).

I tell him that an email is perfect. “Ok,” he confirms, “to tom(at)thomashawk.com.”

“That would be great,” I answer back.

“Alright we’re all set then,” he says, “do you need a bag?”

“No,” I reply, “thanks for the help,” and put the iPad into my own bag and walk out the store — and just like that, four minutes later, I’m done.

This morning I received a follow up survey in my email about my experience at the Apple store. How could I not give them the highest possible ranking in every category?

Being able to walk into a store and purchase something right there at the entrance in less than five minutes is the absolute height of customer service. It’s delighting a customer who will certainly remember that experience the next time it comes to making a purchase and who will be back. No wonder so many people are buying Apple products.

Steve Jobs RIP

Sad news today.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

– Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005

Why I’ll Probably Switch Back to an iPhone From Android When the New iPhones Come Out

Rumor has it that iPhone 5 will be coming out this Summer/Fall and there’s a good chance that I’ll make the switch then from Android back to the iPhone. I’d owned every new iPhone up until iPhone 4 when I decided to make a switch to the Android operating system last Fall. I mostly made the change I think because I hated AT&T so much, but I’d also heard a lot of good things about Android and wanted to give it a try. After 9 months of Android now I think I’m ready to make the switch back. Here are the reasons why.

1. The iPhone 4 is now on Verizon and maybe iPhone5 will be on other carriers besides AT&T (whose network always sucked when I used it).

2. Updating the operating system on your Android phone is a huge pain in the ass. In order to update my Samsung Galaxy Vibrant from the Eclair operating system to the Froyo operating system (keep in mind that Google’s working on honeycomb now apparently, which is two operating updates ahead of what I just updated to), I had to go through hell to get it done. No OTA for Samsung. No iTunes for Samsung. No, I had to manually find the file somewhere on the web on a confusing website, download it to a Windows machine (yes Windows only), and update my phone through a long confusing process. And this was only *after* Samsung/TMobile were sued!

By contrast, I can trust Apple that any updates available for my iPhone will be easily available to me, making my phone better and better in the future.

3. The stupid little things matter. Apple is really, really, really good about making sure that their devices just work right. They just do what their supposed to do. They’re not wonky or contain little stupid glitches.

For example. Let’s say I’m walking to my office and I have a little battery life left. Presently my Android device automatically dims my display to an unreadable level. This is fine and I can certainly appreciate them wanting to look out for me in preserving what battery life I have left. But… since I’m 5 minutes from my office, where I know I can plug my device in again, I’d just as soon go ahead and use what little battery life I have left for a display that I can actually see. So I manually go into the settings and change the brightness slider to full strength. Then I go back to my phone and start using it again. It stays bright until I hit a web page and then it goes back to the super dim screen. That’s just dumb. My manual setting should stick. But it doesn’t.

Another example. I will plug my Android phone in to it’s charger and the screen comes on. I don’t know why. The screen doesn’t need to come on — but it does. So I hit the button to turn it off — only it won’t turn off, the screen is locked — so I have to unlock the screen, *then* push the screen off button and it goes off. Of course inexplicably the next morning the screen is back on again when I go to get my phone. Did I mention that I have screen burn on my Android phone now?

4. The battery life on this thing sucks ass. With my old iPhone I’d keep it plugged in all day at work. I’d then leave work, use it on the way home, use it at home and when I got up in the morning I always had enough charge to last me until I got to work again where I could plug it in and recharge. Not so with Android.

If I don’t plug my phone in to charge both at work *and* home, I will not have a charge enough for my morning commute the next morning. I don’t think that it’s the phone or the battery that are inferior. I think it’s that the stupid operating system uses power when it shouldn’t be. When I have the phone display off in the middle of the night, there is no reason at all why the screen should come back on (but it does, like to remind me that I have low battery, doh!). The phone should hibernate similarly to how Apple’s does so that when I want to use it again the next morning I can.

5. The fact that I can’t turn off the blaring tmobile dingle sound that goes off really loudly when I turn my phone on or off is terrible. Let’s say I’m at the movie theater. And I now want to turn off my phone. Why can’t I just turn it off without that loud sound? Why won’t Android/Tmobile allow me to disable that sound altogether? Why isn’t there an app for that?

6. Speaking of apps, Android still lags here. I miss using Hipstamtic. Yeah Android has Vignette and some other photo apps, but they aren’t as good. And I’m totally missing out on the whole Instagram thing, which is iPhone only.

7. TMobile started throttling me. When I first bought the Samsung/TMobile phone TMobile wasn’t throttling me. Now they are. It’s simply unbearable. The internet is so slow, I get bitchy and go after them on Twitter constantly and it’s no good for anyone all the way around. I’m not sure if Verizon is any better, but it can’t be any worse I’m guessing.

8. The music player on Android is terrible. I want my iTunes playlists back. It’s so much easier getting my playlists on an iPhone. It wouldn’t be so bad if that’s all it was, but it’s not. The music player on the Android phone is just downright awful. The only way I can make a playlist is to do it on the phone, one by one by one.

9. Contacts are borked. Supposedly people that I put in my Google contacts will autopopulate into my Android phone contact list. Like I said… “supposedly.”

10. The whole ease of use thing sucks. I’m not a phone genius. I shouldn’t have to be. The settings on my Android phone never seem to be where they are supposed to be. Finding things is hard. Navigating the interface takes work. I’m constantly having to set some thing called USB debugging on (which so counterintuitively is under the applications menu, under development, under USB debugging) just to transfer files between my hard drive and my phone’s memory card. It’s stuff like that that I learn to do, but are just a pain. Apple seems to care more about the non-phone developer getting around the iPhone. I shouldn’t have to be an Android developer to know how the settings work or where everything is at.

Two things I’ll probably miss with my Android phone. The GMail app is really good. Also the maps are really good, the way that they interact with Google Maps. Hopefully the new iPhone has a way that I can import my custom Google Maps into the iPhone maps interface. But maybe not. If it doesn’t, this may just have to be something that I have to live with. But a plus for the iPhone is also that I can use it as a remote control for my AppleTV.

So I Replaced My Microsoft Media Center Set Up With an AppleTV

Apple TV

Last month I replaced the last remaining PC in my home with a MacBook Pro. I used to have three PCs in my house. Now we are officially a 100% Mac family (two MacBook Pros and a Mac Mini). I decided to replace the last PC (my Media Center PC) when it stopped working in regular mode and could only be used in “Safe Mode.”

I thought about getting another PC. But there were three reasons why I didn’t.

1. I wasn’t happy with the errors that I’d consistently get on my PC (including this most recent problem of it only working in “safe mode”).

2. Media Center never did a good job managing my large digital library.

3. I needed to rethink my home media strategy as I didn’t like the idea that Microsoft likes to bone you $60 for each media center extender you play netflix on ($180 a year in my case — and really short-sighted thinking on their part when everybody else lets you watch it on their devices for free).

I’ve been super happy with my other two Macs and find them much easier to use and less error prone than PCs — so I decided to replace my dying Media Center PC with a MacBook Pro and get AppleTV to work as my new Media Center strategy.

So here are the Pros and Cons of this new setup.

Pros:

1. Music worked perfectly right away. My old Media Center extenders (XBox 360s) sometimes would hang for 15 minutes or more before the music would start. Not AppleTV. I simply turned on sharing on my Mac Book Pro and AppleTV effortlessly allowed me to navigate to my 5 star smart playlist and played the music immediately. For some reason none of my album art ever seems to show up, but hey, getting the music going quickly and easily with a library of almost 105,000 mp3s is *huge*. Good job Apple.

Netflix on Apple TV
Netflix on AppleTV

2. $99 for a media player that streams Netflix for free is a good deal. A Roku would have been cheaper, but I don’t think a Roku necessarily would have played as nicely with my Macs and I wasn’t sure about what music and photos would look like on a Roku. It’s nice also that Apple doesn’t feel the need to charge you a $60 per year tax on their device in order to watch the Netflix content that you are already paying for like Microsoft does.

Slide Show Transitions on Apple TV

3. Once you get the photos to actually work (more on this below), the Ken Burns interface is very elegant. There are a lot of interesting transitional effects that can be randomized and used for watching your photos on AppleTV. Also for whatever reason, my photos feel like they look better on AppleTV than they did on Windows Media Center. Cleaner. Crisper. Sharper. Less Noise. I’m not sure if they are being streamed at different resolutions or if this is just in my head, but the photos seem to look better on AppleTV.

4. It’s nice that I can set a default playlist to my slide shows. With my old Media Center PC I had to start up my music. And then go start up my photos. Twice the work. With my new AppleTV I can just start up my photos and have it remember the main playlist that I set up by default (my 5 star playlist).

5. Netflix is super slick. Best Netflix interface I’ve seen yet. Much better than the Netflix interface on the Xbox 360 or the wii. In addition to my queue, it has new releases, suggestions, genres and lots of other ways of elegantly looking up things to watch by the cover art.

6. The kids love YouTube. I didn’t think I’d care much about the YouTube integration, but this is the thing the kids are most excited about and so far have watched the most. My son Jackson really likes watching skateboarding and yoyo videos. There is no shortage of these on YouTube and he loves being able to watch it on the big screen. The kids are already very comfortable with YouTube on the computer, so it was an easy transition for them to the TV. Some of the YouTube videos though wouldn’t load and gave me errors.

7. Movie trailers. It’s nice being able to see all of the movie trailers currently playing in the theater in an easy one page format — this will come in handy when the family is sitting around on Thanksgiving trying to figure out what movie to go see.

8. Design. Both the remote and the unit itself are tiny! I really like that I don’t need yet another big bulky box or big bulky remote control in my living room. Exceptional design from Apple as usual — not only great design, but the device is perfectly silent — unlike the XBox 360 which, although quiet, does make some noise when it operates. I’m guessing that my tiny black AppleTV uses less power than an XBox 360 as well, but have no idea on this really and haven’t looked into the power consumption.

Cons

1. Getting my photos to play was an absolute disaster. There are two ways you can share photos for Apple TV (both go through iTunes). You can either point iTunes to a folder full of photos or you can point iTunes to an iPhoto library. Obviously I have a lot of photos. When I first tried setting it up, I tried pointing iTunes to a master photo folder (all JPGs) of mine with about 30,000 photos in it. When I’d launch photos in AppleTV it would act like it was going to load and I’d get a spinning wheel for about 1 minute and then it would just crap out. Nothing. No error message, no explanation — it just wouldn’t load my photos and would go back to the screen it was on before I’d tried to start.

I then changed my setup and pointed it to a folder with only 5,000 photos. Certainly AppleTV can handle streaming 5,000 photos no? No. I had the same problem here — same behavior — it just refused to load the images. I tried this with both a wifi connection and actually plugging in an ethernet cable into my AppleTV box. Neither one could get my photos to load.

I posted on this problem in an Apple Forum, but the post went unanswered. Apple should offer some sort of disclaimer that unless you are trying to share 20 or 30 photos that pointing directly to a folder on your hard drive might be ill advised — certainly it couldn’t handle folders with 30,000 or 5,000 photos in them.

So I gave up on trying to import my photos from a folder and instead begrudgingly decided to attempt to import some of my photos into iPhoto. There are two ways that you can set up iPhoto. By having it create a “Managed Library” or a “Reference Library.” With a managed library iPhoto actually makes a copy of every single photo of yours and includes it in the library. I started out this way but aborted as my iPhoto library was at 50GB and getting larger and larger and I didn’t want to deal with this sort of a mammoth library file, or the space it was taking up on my hard drive.

I then set up a Reference Library (not copying original files into my library) and was able to get iPhoto to import 5,000 photos (and later another 25,000 photos). Unfortunately these photos don’t appear in your iTunes right away to share. You have to wait several hours *after* the import is complete before iTunes can actually see them in iPhoto. If you want to set up a smaller “reference library” instead of a “managed library” in iPhoto, go to Preferences, Advanced and uncheck the box that says “copy items to the iPhoto library.”

All in all, I spent about 48 hours screwing around with trying to get photos to work in AppleTV before getting 30,000 or so of them accessible. It still isn’t 100% though and performance is still a bit spotty.

After getting photos working on Sunday night, when I tried to see my photo library on Monday morning it had disappeared again. I rebooted my AppleTV, rebooted my Mac, launched iTunes and iPhoto and then in a few hours it showed back up again. I’d have expected more from Apple in this regard.

2. There seems to be no way to fast forward a song while you are watching a photo slideshow. I like that the remote is so small and elegant with just a few buttons. Unfortunately skipping to the next song while watching a slideshow with music is something that I’d like to be able to do (and would seem like pretty basic functionality) and I can’t figure out a way to do this on AppleTV.

My 5 Star list has all kinds of songs in it. Black Flag’s “Rise Above” is definitely a 5 Star for me. But if your 5 Star list is playing during a dinner party, it might be nice to be able to fast forward it to something a little more mellow, like Damien Rice or Peter Gabriel or Neil Diamond or some other such thing. Same goes for that 5 Star Eminem song where he’s swearing his head off and talking about murdering his ex-wife. Sometimes not the best song to play if you’re hanging with the kids in the living room. I can’t believe that there is not a way to fast forward songs while in slide show mode on AppleTV.

3. AppleTV doesn’t have an option to show song information when songs end and start. One of the things that I loved about my Media Center PC, is that I could turn on a feature that would allow song, album, artist, album art thumbnail information to show on the screen for a few seconds when songs started and ended. Sort of like an MTV video. Unfortunately AppleTV doesn’t seem to allow this and if you want to see what song it was that was playing you have to completely abort the photo slideshow to see it.

4. No LastFM or Pandora. AppleTV does have some digital radio stations, but no LastFM or Pandora. That’s too bad as I love both of those services. I’m not sure if this is Apple locking out these two interesting music channels, or if they don’t want to develop for AppleTV. I’d suspect the former. Why is it that I can have Pandora on my Mac, Pandora on my iPhone, even Pandora on an iPad, just not Pandora on an AppleTV? At least my XBox 360s supported LastFM.

5. Some of the prices for digital content feel high. $5 for a movie download? Really Apple? No thanks. It’s cheaper at the Redbox down at the 7/11. $5 is too much to pay for a movie. $.99 is about right for a TV show — but should all TV shows be treated equally? I might pay $.99 for an hour long episode of Mad Men — but for a 22 minute episode of Zack and Luther that the kids want to watch? Children’s programming and programming less than a half hour should be discounted. Or even better, maybe Apple should offer a bulk discount package. 15 hours of TV (regardless of content) for $10 or something like that.

In fairness, maybe this rant ought to be directed more at Apple and iTunes than AppleTV, but since AppleTV locks out all other ala carte content competitors, it seems appropriate for me to mention it here.

6. You must have a TV that has HDMI inputs. A lot of older flat screen TVs don’t. This was not a problem for me in our living room where we have a newer 64″ plasma. But it will be a problem in the bedroom where the old 42″ Pioneer plasma went that doesn’t have an HDMI input. I was able to find this thread about converting component video connections to HDMI, but it feels like a daunting task.

An Evolution from Windows to Mac

mceThe above photo is the very first photo I ever uploaded to Flickr on January 2nd, 2005. At the time it was my home set up for my Microsoft Media Center PC. I’ve stuck with a Media Center PC in the home now for six years, upgrading with each successive version of Windows. Is now the time to switch the last remaining PC in my home to a Mac and try something new? Fortunately for me, my photography has come a long way since 2005. :)

Back in 2006 I wrote a blog post about making my first switch from Windows to Mac after using PCs for 15 years. At the time I was using a Dell laptop as my primary computer. I was tired of all of the stupid little problems I was having with it (I couldn’t disable tap to click on it for example) and I was tired of just all the general errors it seemed to have daily.

It was sort of a difficult move for me to make, as like most people I’d gotten stuck in my ways, and it meant thinking about my computing differently. But in the end I ended up making the switch and moved my primary day to day computing to a MacBook Pro.

I was really happy that I made this change and three years or so later when it came time to upgrade, I replaced my old MacBook Pro with a new 17 inch model. I couldn’t be happier with this decision. Despite a few hiccups here and there, my MacBook Pros have been far more reliable for me than my old Dell laptop (or any previous PC) had been.

And so last year when the PC in the kitchen came down with a virus (even though I try to train my kids not to install things, they were installing crap anyways), after spending about 3 hours trying to fix the PC (this virus was particularly mean and even disabled the DVD drive preventing me from reinstalling the software), I just said screw it and went out and replaced it with a Mac Mini. Again, I couldn’t be more happy with that decision. Only I know the password to the Mac Mini, which means that I get to review anything that’s installed. It’s remained virus free and has performed very well for a computer that is mostly just used to access internet on, email and other light use in the kitchen.

So two of the 3 PCs in my home have now been replaced by Macs.

Now my final PC in my home is going out and I have to make a decision what to do next. Yesterday, for some inexplicable reason, my Media Center PC just started going super, super slow and even freezing. After a while the screen would turn totally black and the only way to get it back was to reboot it. Then I’d reboot it and it would work for a few minutes — but eventually freeze up again. It will last longer when I reboot in safe mode, but I can’t get it to run normally in regular mode at all.

At present I use this PC for three things. I use it to manage my finished JPG photos that I upload to Flickr. I use it as a Media Center PC to stream media to 3 XBox 360 Extender units in the home. And my wife uses it to edit her photos on in Lightroom. My kids also use it from time to time to browse the web.

So I’m thinking of kicking out the final PC in my home and replacing it with an iMac. I’ve been reluctant to do this for a while because I haven’t wanted to spend money on a new iMac, plus I’ve felt like I’ve needed the PC around to read two drobos which are formatted NTFS. (I was able to install Google’s FUSE yesterday and can now access my NTFS Drobos on my Mac — but it’s slow, thanks Tim!)

I bought a new Drobo this morning and two new Western Digital 2TB drives. I think what I’m going to do is to format this new drobo FAT32 and then start my PC in safe mode with networking and transfer all of my files from my main photo archive Drobo over the network to this new Drobo. I should probably have done this anyways a while ago. The old Drobo is a first gen USB2 Drobo and as much as I use these files, it would probably be better to have my Mac Book Pro handle these images with a faster FireWire 800 connection. Once this transfer is complete I can reformat the NTFS first gen Drobo as FAT32 and use it for more archive storage, which I access much less frequently.

I’ve also used this PC as my Media Center and replacing it would involve revisting my home media strategy.

My Home Media strategy is a bit more complicated though. I do like being able to use Media Center on the three XBox 360s. But I think it might be time to replace Media Center with something else. I’ve been disappointed that Microsoft charges me a $60 per year tax to stream Netflix on the XBox 360s and I’ve never been happy with Media Center’s ability to handle my large mp3/photo collections. Having to wait 5 minutes for my music/photos to load at times has really been annoying to me.

But the question is then, what do I replace the Media Center PC / Xbox 360 extenders with? AppleTV? Will it stream my large digital photo / music library through iTunes reliably? Or will I get hit with the same performance problems I saw with Windows Media Center?

Do I wait for GoogleTV to come out? (it’s almost here right?) Will GoogleTV even stream photos and video? And what about watching live TV and using a PVR? At present I use an HD HomeRun HDTV tuner with my Media Center PC and have it record a lot of OTA HD content for me to stream. Can I use an HDTV OTA tuner with an iMac/AppleTV combo? Can I use my existing HomeRun dual tuner? What about GoogleTV? Or should I be looking at something else entirely? Is TiVo even in the game anymore for home streaming?

Or should I just replace the final PC in my home with another PC and *hope* that my next experience with a Media Center PC is a little better. I bought the very first Microsoft Media Center PC the very first day it came out back in July of 2004 and this current PC is my third box running Media Center. Maybe the fourth time’s the charm?

My thinking right now though is that it’s time to kick the final PC out of my home. I’m sick and tired of the unreliability of Windows. Macs can have problems too, I know that. But my experience over the last several years have been that my Macs are far more reliable than my PCs ever have been, and even when I have problems, it is nice to know that I can always set an appointment with a Mac Genius and have someone with a little more know how than me help me troubleshoot things in person locally. So maybe I just do this and then figure out my home media strategy from there.

We’ll see how things unfold in the next few days.

12 Hours on the New Samsung Galaxy S Android Phone, Early Thoughts on the Switch from the iPhone to Android

I bought the new Samsung Galaxy S Android Phone from T Mobile yesterday.

I think the thing is that the mac and iphone are designed for each other. Hours and hours and hours and hours go into making sure that these two devices work together flawlessly. There is only one phone and there is only one mac. Well, not literally, but you get the idea. In a closed environment things can be tested and retested and retested and retested to make sure that the devices stand up to Apple’s litmus test of “just works.”

So that out of the box and afterwards the consumer has a positive experience with the product without having to resort to hacks or workarounds or the what not.

Android by contrast can be used by any device on any computer. So individual combinations thus probably don’t get the testing that they should. My phone should be recognized out of the box by my Mac. Except that it wasn’t. If it had been an iphone it would have been. So I resorted to a hack (turning on USB debugging, something not at all intuitive) in order to get it to work. (Thanks Brian Rose)! Still there it didn’t work quite right. It showed up as two devices instead of one. It showed storage of 1.86GB when there really was more. I had to manually turn USB sharing off after the sync in order to get my music to actually play.

My initial experience with other areas of android as well are that it seems to crash more than the iPhone. Things are harder to figure out. Why can’t I add a contact to a group on the phone? It has contacts. It has groups. Shouldn’t you be able to simply add someone to a group? Why can you fave a contact but then not generate a list of those favorited contacts on the phone?

The device costs as much as an iPhone (at least I think it does, I payed $550 or so for it without a contract for a 16GB phone) but it’s not intuitive at all and far more difficult to use, at least so far for me.

If someone is really tech savvy they might prefer Android. I suspect that I can do far more with this phone in the long run than I can with an iPhone. But it’s like a Windows PC in a lot of ways. Yeah, you’re not beholden to Apple as to what can work on it, but you just spent 5 hours trying to burn a DVD because the driver for the off brand internal 3rd party DVD burner that you’re using from Malaysia inside your PC doesn’t want to work with Windows 7, at least the version of Windows 7 that you’re using.

Positives for Android

1. It’s not AT&T and it feels really, really, good to stick it to AT&T by leaving them after they’ve provided such a crappy network over the past several years. I’m sure they are happy to see me go. I was tweeting about once every 48 hours about how bad they sucked when the iPhone would choke over and over and over and over again on their craptastic network.

2. It’s faster.

3. It’s Google.

Negatives for Android

1. It’s buggy as hell.

2. It lacks apps like Hipstamatic that are important to me. It has alternatives which look promising (I bought vignette last night), but it’s not Hipstamatic.

3. The battery life is probably worse than my iPhone, but I haven’t really had enough experience with this yet. I’m just going by word of mouth here.

One interesting contrast. When I walked into the T Mobile store yesterday to buy my Galaxy S (at about 4pm on a Thursday afternoon), the Embarcadero 1 Store was quite literally empty. I mean there was not a single other customer in the store when I showed up. In fact, in the entire 30 minutes or so that I was there buying it, not a single other customer even walked into the store. It was actually really nice. I was helped right away. The service woman there was very friendly and seemed very happy to have a customer. It was quiet. Not at all rushed. She was playing with the Galaxy phone herself when I showed up there. I asked to see one and she handed me the one that she’d been playing with. So easy.

I suppose how busy a store is might anecdotally be looked at as a measure of popularity for a given product.

The Apple store by contrast is chaos. iPhones are out of stock. You can’t get anyone to help you without an appointment even if you want to buy something. If something breaks later (like my headphones not working), you can’t simply go into the store and have them swap them out as the phone is still under warranty. You have to schedule an appointment either 2 days later or at some other store 50 miles away for tomorrow afternoon to have a tech look at your headphones that probably cost Apple 89 cents a pair to swap them out for you.

If you show up 10 minutes early to the store and the doors are unlocked they’ll make you wait outside in 40 degree weather with two little girls while their employees stand around idly just behind the thick warm glass (probably laughing at you inside) in the warm unlocked store just staring at the poor sucker without an “appointment” and his daughters sitting on the concrete out in the cold in front of the store.

Apple treats people like crap. And there literally is no recourse. Except I guess maybe buying a competitor’s product instead the next time like I just did. Google seems to care more. I’m much more impressed with them as a company. I’m much more impressed with the people that work there that seem passionate about making a better phone and a better world more broadly speaking. I’m much more impressed that they are trying as hard as they can to make the best experience for me even if it might fall short for me initially. I’m impressed that they want to do the right thing for the user. These sorts of things should and do count.

I’ll update this post with more thoughts on the switch in a week.

Updates: A couple of other things while working with this phone today.

1. It boggles my mind that the phone can’t natively take screen shots. There are cumbersome ways to make this work, but not without “rooting” your Android phone. Something that doesn’t seem very easy to do with my Samsung.

2. Tethering is really cool and it’s free on T-Mobile. You have to buy an app called PDANet to do it easily. You get 21 days to use the app for free and then it costs $19. I was able to access the web and upload photos to flickr at perfectly acceptable speeds while tethered. It will be nice not having to pay for hotel wifi in the future for the limited amount that I need it while on the road.

3. The problems with not being able to add contacts to Groups seems to be affecting other users of the Samsung Galaxy as well.

So I Still Haven’t Purchased an iPad

iPad Mania

Last night after dinner with the kids in Emeryville, we stopped by the Apple store to look at the iPads. I’ve been sort of bitter with the Apple store after a bad experience at one in Walnut Creek and hadn’t been back to one since, so I’d yet to actually touch an iPad and last night was my first time. I wrote a post a few months back on why I wasn’t so hot on the device, but actually got to hold one last night for the first time there at the store.

I only got to play with one for about five minutes because the store was closing and we were ushered out by Apple employees (the “good news” is that they are opening back up tomorrow, they told us). All of the kids and my wife got to play with one as well though, albeit briefly.

Touching one didn’t actually do much for me. I found typing on the onscreen keyboard crowded. It seemed like it would be lot more difficult for me to type on the device. I’d say after holding one I’m probably even less likely to buy one than I was before. My main reasons for not buying one would be:

1. I dont’ want to pay for another 3G account with AT&T whose super slow 3G network I’ve grown to detest. Who would win in a race between a turtle and AT&T’s 3G network? Well at least the turtle would show up to the race.

2. As a photographer, the device seems ill equipped for my photography needs. I like that I can transfer photos off my 64GB Sandisk CF card using a firewire 800 reader super fast like to my Mac Book Pro. Without a firewire 800 connection this is problematic. Also the unit doesn’t have very much storage or a powerful enough processor to run something like Adobe Lightroom. (Yes, I know that this is not what these devices are for, but photography’s a big part of my life personally speaking so it’s how I personally think, and I think a bit different than others sometimes).

3. I don’t like that I can’t get flash internet pages on the thing. I feel like I should be able to get the *entire* internet on any device I own and not be a causality in a personal pissing match between Apple and Adobe.

4. I read an article over the weekend that alleged Apple had rejected an app request for a political candidate. While I might be able to sort of look the other way as Apple censors porn on the device (not really, but just saying), reading that they’d actually censored an app over what felt like politics to me felt especially wrong. Yesterday’s TWIT episode was a good one. Cory Doctorow and Robert Scoble were on with Leo Laporte and censorship of the Apple app store was brought up on the show. Talking about the need to have apps approved by Apple individually, Cory made the statement that “”human evaluation of ‘stuff’ doesn’t scale very well.”

5. When I played with the iPad it sort of kept doing that back and forth thing between vertical and horizontal rotating of my screen that my iPhone does. It’s not that I don’t want that functionality, it’s just that I don’t want that to happen as much when I don’t mean it to happen. Not sure that makes any sense or that there is any way that Apple could design a device to do this less, but that’s just a feeling.

6. I didn’t like that it didn’t have a DVD player in it. Especially since I wouldn’t likely buy 3G service with one, I’d want to be able to watch my Netflix movies on it when I wasn’t connected to the internet and lot of my Netflix content still comes on DVD.

7. With entry level units priced at $499, I could get a full fledged MacBook for only $500 more. Seems like a better value to me and that I’d get a lot more than I do with the iPad.

8. If I bought one the kids would probably fight over it. My son Jack might also drop it from his bunk bed and break it (he dropped a laptop from his top bunk once). As it stands now they use computers mostly that are desktop units that can’t be taken into the bunk bed to drop, either that or they use our iPhones.

9. This is just a feeling, but it feels to me like Apple is innovating less. I haven’t been very impressed with the things I’ve read about the new upcoming version of the iPhone (and will probably be moving over to Android when my AT&T contract is up in July, and oh, AT&T, raising your early termination fees on your phones over the weekend doesn’t help people want to buy a new iPhone).

10. A better version of this will come out later (maybe by Apple, maybe by somebody else).

11. I don’t like seeing charges for apps show up in my emailbox that the kids buy. I don’t really think that they *need* them and the charges feel like they add up. Here was the first email that I woke up to this morning: iTunes receipt: “Item Number Description Unit Price 1 150 Awesome Sound Effects with Timer, v1.9, Seller: george hubka (4+) Write a Review Report a Problem $0.99″ If we had an iPad I’m sure I’d only get more of these sorts of emails. Last night my daughter Holly asked me if she could download apps on my iPhone as long as they were free. I told her sure.

12. The little company (well not really) that used to tell people to “think differently” doesn’t quite feel like the same company these days. I remember the first time I saw the Apple “Rip, Mix, Burn” billboard back in the olden days. That somehow felt good. Apple telling me to sort of bypass Hollywood and make my own CDs. These days it feels like Steve Jobs has become “the man.” I was turned off by his “freedom from porn” comment (even if I felt it was bogus for the journalist who quoted that statement of his in a private email to do so).

Now that said, I’m just one member of my family, and the rest of the family had a completely different opinion than I did.

My nine year old son Jackson was especially *thrilled* with it. It’s like a *huge* iPad dad, he said. I “sooooooooo want one.” He spent the entire car ride home trying to get me to buy him one. Then he started strategizing about whether it was too much or not to ask his grandmother for it for Christmas (I told him it was) when he realized that I wasn’t going to cave in and buy one.

Playing (some game that he said that I don’t remember) on an iPad would be “awesome” apparently. I told Jack that it seemed a bit expensive for a device that couldn’t even play DVDs and that you for only $500 more you could get a full fledged MacBook that was a full computer, and he said, yeah, but dad, $500 more is a *lot* of money, my wife chimed in that $1,000 was way too much to pay for a laptop.

I mentioned that I didn’t like the keyboard and my wife said that she definitely did and then proceeded to complain about the sound that my typing makes in bed on my MacBook Pro at night. It’s so grating she said, it’s even worse than when you chew ice. The keyboard on the iPad would be so much quieter, she added.

So there you have it, an updated post on why I still haven’t purchased an iPad. I don’t plan on buying one anytime soon… but, the natives are definitely getting restless and my wife seeing her friend reading a book on one at my son’s baseball game on Saturday certainly doesn’t make things any easier for me.

Why I Haven’t Bought an iPad Yet

Over on Twitter Alberto Lopez asked me why I’ve been quiet about the iPad so far. Of course, everyone and their mother has been yammering about nothing but the iPad for the past few months so I’m sure my thoughts on the thing haven’t been missed.

But I thought I’d add yet another voice to the millions that are talking about the device thus far. I can’t really review the unit of course. I don’t have one. I can’t gloat about it like Walt Mossberg or David Pogue as I’ve never even touched one, but these are my initial thoughts from someone who *hasn’t* bought one yet.

1. I take my MacBook Pro with me everywhere I go 24/7 and best I can tell it can do anything that an iPad can do and more. Why carry around yet another device when my MacBook Pro already does everything for me that the iPad can?

2. One of the reasons that I bring my MacBook Pro with me everywhere is that I can process photos during downtime. I process photos every day on BART for example. I’m not sure that I can use Lightroom on the iPad or that it would be as easy as my MacBook Pro. Also the limited storage on the iPad would not make it a good tool for editing super large 21 megapixel RAW files that I use my MacBook Pro for.

3. AT&T’s 3G network is crappy in the San Francisco Bay Area, plus I’m not eager to shell out another $30 a month when I’ve already got 3G on my iPhone.

4. My experience with Apple products is that the initial release is usually followed by better releases and it may be worth waiting to see what comes out next. I’ve also heard lots of reports that the initial product has a lot of bugs.

5. Even though I’ve literally spent the night in front of an Apple store before for a product launch and have waited in lines at their stores many times before, recently I’ve been pissed off at how Apple treats their customers in their stores.

While I used to view going to an Apple store as a positive experience, lately it has felt like a very negative experience for me. I blogged about this a few weeks back. I thought about going to the Apple store to look at one, but worried that I’d probably need to have an appointment to be allowed to even set foot in the store to look at the box of one and then chided and insulted by a snippy Apple store clerk about not having an appointment to grace their presence.

6. I’ve also been rethinking my overall view of Apple in the past few months. My iPhone’s contract is up in July and I’m thinking about switching to a Google phone product. Google feels more open to me than Apple. It also feels to me that Google authentically cares more about their customers and users than Apple does as well.

7. It doesn’t have USB ports. I also carry a 1TB Seagate FreeAgent Go (which ROCKS!) and could be a perfect solution to the storage problem with the iPad for me, but since the iPad has no USB ports, there would be no way of connecting this drive to it. This drive is actually not that much bigger than my iphone or a pack of cards and is USB powered. Shame not to be able to use an ideal storage device like this with the iPad.

Also I frequently use my FireWire 800 high speed card reader (another product with totally rocks) to transfer my photos from my CF cards to my MacBook Pro. This reader would be worthless on an iPad and I can see no easy way of getting my photos off my CF cards and onto the iPad while out shooting in the field (Not that I could fit many of my RAW photos on the device anyways given it’s tiny storage).

I’ve thought about buying an iPad for the house just to have around for others in my family to use. The cost is relatively inexpensive for a computing device and it’s largest appeal to me so far is probably that you can watch Netflix “Watch Now” programming on it.

But then I think that if I got one for the house the kids would end up fighting over it. The kids would probably drop it and break it (my son sent my old laptop off the top of his bunk bed and broke the display). And we already have a Wii, XBox 360, Mac Mini and Dell Media Center PC connected to monitors that can do Netflix “Watch Now” right now. Do we really need a portable device too?

So I may not be Apple’s ideal customer, and despite the hype and how sexy and cool the thing appears to be, it just doesn’t feel practical to buy one right now. Plus I can’t get the image of it as one of those calculators with super large buttons that old people use out of my head. Don’t get me wrong. I’m tempted. And if I actually tried one I might break down and buy one anyways, but thus far I’ve yet to jump on the iPad bandwagon with the rest of the cool kids. Not that they need my money anyways though as it seems that these things are doing a pretty good job of selling themselves. :)

I’m Starting to Think Apple Treats Their Customers Very Poorly

Every Connected Generation

For the past 3 years or so I’ve become something of an Apple fanboy. It started with making a switch about 3 years ago from being a 15 year PC user to my first MacBook Pro as my primary computer.

Then I drank the kool-aid and waited in line overnight at the Palo Alto store for the very first iPhone (that was fun). Then I bought the second iPhone right away.

Then I waited in line again for over 6 hours to buy the third iPhone 3GS. Then I bought a new MacBook Pro spending over $3,000. Then I bought my daughter an iPod mini. Then I bought a Mac Mini for the kitchen at home. Etc. etc. You get the idea.

All along the way Apple products have slowly been replacing competitor’s products in my house and in my life.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about Apple is that they have physical stores where when things go wrong I can go deal with them.

Back in the olden days I bought a Dell PC once. It had problems and I literally had to pack the thing all up, deal with the hassle of shipping it, send it back to Texas, had to wait for a few weeks and finally got my fixed PC back. So a big appeal to me with Apple products is that they have stores where I can go to deal with issues if they pop up (and issues *always* pop up with technology).

But lately I’ve been feeling like the service that you get at the Apple stores is complete crap and that they treat their customers (many loyal users who spend thousands of dollars per year with them) very poorly.

A few examples.

1. A few months back my MacBook Pro wouldn’t boot. I was bummed. I use this computer every day. I hate not having it. It was 6pm or so on a Friday night. I drove down to the Emeryville Apple store. I got there and the store asked me the dreaded question of whether or not I had an appointment or not. I said no and so they said no dice. I said I could wait, 30 minutes, an hour 2 hours, 5 hours. No luck. They simply refused to see me.

They were willing to make me an appointment for later that night at the San Francisco store, so I took that and had to drive across a traffic infested Bay Bridge, pay to park at Union Square, etc. in order to get over there.

Once I was there and got to see a guy, he tried to boot up my computer and no luck. He tried 3 or 4 different things and then sort of gave up. He hooked something up to my Mac and said my hard drive was dead. I told him that everything was working flawlessly before and I was surprised that this would be the problem etc. etc. But rather than really digging into it and trying more things he simply dismissed it as hard drive failure.

Of course Apple didn’t have the hard drive and so they’d need to order it (on a Mac less than a year old). I’d have to make another appointment to bring it back once the hard drive came in etc. etc.

To make a long story short, while waiting to get the hard drive in at the Apple store, I was able to work on it more at home myself and finally got it back operational, reinstalled the system software and got my Mac back.

I’ve been using this same hard drive for the past few months with zero problems. I felt like I was told that my problem was a hard drive failure because it was the fastest easiest way to deal with me, even if it meant I’d possibly lose data and be inconvenienced with the repair.

2. A few weeks back I decided that I needed a car battery charger for my iPhone. So I stopped off at the Apple store at Walnut Creek. It was 9:45 a.m. and super cold outside. The front door to the store was unlocked. There were people back at the genius bar working with customers. And there were about 10 Apple store employees just standing around with their hands in their pockets.

I was greeted by a woman at the door who again asked me if I had an appointment. I said, no that I just wanted to quickly purchase a cigarette lighter power adapter for my iPhone. She told me that they couldn’t sell me one until 10a.m.

So I said ok, I’ll wait then. To which the woman replied, I’m not going to be able to let you wait in the store (even though there were plenty of other customers with “appointments” I guess already in the store and the front doors were unlocked).

Now it was really cold outside that morning and to make matters worse I had two little girls (my daughters) age 5 and 7 with me. So this Apple employee literally boots me out of the store and so there I am sitting on the cold concrete outside the store for 15 minutes with two little girs who are complaining about being cold. Because the Apple employees (all sitting around doing nothing) can’t take 2 minutes to sell me a simple accessory and to make matters worse, won’t even let me wait in the warm store with a heater on and instead put a dad and his two little girls outside in the cold on the sidewalk.

By the way Apple, that photo up above is of one of my little girls, one of the little girls that you made sit outside in the cold in Walnut Creek on the sidewalk using your iPhone.

3. The headphones on my iPhone went out. This is the 3Gs iPhone that I bought less than a year ago (it hasn’t been out a year yet) and is still under warranty. So yesterday I went up to the Apple store on Union Square and waited in line to see a cashier and explained my problem and asked if I could swap them out for a working pair. The cashier said they couldn’t help me. That I could only swap my headphones out with an appointment from the genius bar (WTF?).

So I went upstairs and of course there were no appointments. I was also told again that I couldn’t wait that there was nobody period to see me. That I would need to make an appointment. To do a 2 minute swap out of my headphones I asked incredulously? Yes, I was told. I explained that I was leaving today (which I am) for a trip to Miami and had really hoped to be able to listen to my iPhone.

So the person suggested that I buy a new pair of headphones. Come back and return them within 14 days, make an appointment to have my headphones replaced under warranty, and go that route. Which sounded just stupid to me (all for a 2 minute procedure) so I complained one last time and the person at the genius bar had another person take me back downstairs to the same cashier line I’d been it at the very beginning and swap out my headphones for me (which I really appreciated, but it probably shouldn’t have taken 40 minutes to get this done).

So these are my three of my four most recent experiences at the Apple store. The fourth one was a no brainer. I wanted to buy a MacMini. They sold that to me in about 5 minutes all lickety split like no trouble indeed there. Sure were happy to take my money.

I’ll probably continue buying Apple’s overpriced hyped products because I love them and they make great products (or maybe I won’t). Am I a sucker? Maybe. But I sure wish they didn’t treat their customers like such crap. Maybe it’s stupid of me to feel like after spending thousands of dollars every year with a company that I ought to get treated a little bit better, but I do feel that way.

And I sure wish Apple would require their employees to go through Nordstrom’s customer service training or something. Because while they may get away with treating me like crap for now because they have great products, eventually somebody else will have a better product and the way I’ve been treated will make it that much easier to switch.

I’ll tell you one thing though. I sure as hell didn’t pre-order an iPad. At least that makes me feel a little better.