Thursday, July 26, 2007

San Diego Events: Comic Con and The Dead Sea Scrolls

There are a couple of attractions in San Diego currently that warrant attention.

The first is Comic-Con 2007. I attended my first one around 12 years ago. At the time I was working at Sony Pictures and my boss asked me if I wanted to make a couple of extra bucks driving a group of animators down to the convention. I took him up on it and was surprised to find out it was a lot of the animators of The Simpsons. They were a lot of fun. Back then Comic Con was small.

I went yesterday towards the end of the day and spent some time with my son walking around and taking pictures with people in full costume. This is no longer a small event. It sold out Friday and Saturday so far and I am betting that Sunday does the same. No longer a place for oddball comic collectors and refugees from a Dungeons and Dragons convention. Every gaming company was there. All the studios are there. It is MASSIVE. The rise of shows like Heros and Smallville only hint at the fascination with superheros we have in this country. If you aren't in San Diego this weekend make plans to come next year. This is quickly becoming one of the must see shows.

The second event is the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Natural History Museum. We went last weekend and it was just amazing. When I was in high school many years ago I visited the Getty on a Latin class field trip and saw an illuminated manuscripts exhibition that was breathtaking. These hand written books were from the 1200s and 1300s. Better yet they were in Latin and I could read them. It was awesome. Those documents are nothing compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls which date back to the early 1st Century and some that may be even slightly older. Looking at 2000 documents leaves you with a feeling that is hard to describe.

The big downside of the exhibition was the attendance. In Los Angeles or New York, there would have been lines out the door and spending time looking at the exhibit would have been difficult. Not in San Diego. We strolled up and had the place to ourselves with just a handful of others. Hats of the the Jacobs for bringing such an important cultural exhibit here. Hopefully more things like this will build on some of the other great cultural items in San Diego (Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse) and raise the prominence of San Diego as a cultural destination rather than a place for beaches and fish tacos. Maybe. :-)

Rabble at Comic Con

Well sort of. This morning I grabbed the paper and was immediately drawn to the picture of zombies on the front page. I realized quickly that one of our employees was quoted on the front page and mentioned Rabble. Link here. Very cool. I am in fact headed down today to take my son. I had tried to get out of it because it is such a zoo, but he insisted. So I will be there wearing my fancy new Rabble T-shirt with pride.

Congrats to Jennifer who organized the parade. An added bonus is a quote by Howard Rheingold of Smartmobs fame who cites the zombie parade as a sort of flash mob.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mobile Jones is back and a new one as well

I hadn't talked to Debi in a long time. I know she was doing some other stuff mostly focused on podcasting and to my knowledge had been true to her pledge earlier this year to quit blogging. In recent weeks she started again and I always enjoy her thoughts/rants, etc. Do check it out.

While chatting around a podcast I was supposed to be involved in but had to flake on due to a biz dev conflict, Debi suggested that I subscribe to Paul Ruppert's blog. Paul is a former executive with Mobile 365 as well as one of the co-authors of the patent around international sms cross protocol exchange. Needless to say he is an old timer in mobile terms and another blog I would add if you are mobile interested.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quien es mas Macho? Mylo or N770

While many of my mobile cohorts have been fawning over or hating their iPhone, I have been spending a lot of time getting to know the Nokia N770 I bought on Woot.

Russ wrote a great post today about a remote desktop client for the N770 that you can find here. That served to remind me that I had an overdue post. Fyi - blogging and startups don't mix, but I digress...

I almost titled this post "The emergence of the wifi device" which seemed like a bit much, but it is what I have been thinking about since playing with this device. In the last year there has been a marked increase in the number of devices I carry that have wifi connectivity. My PSP, P990, Mylo and now the N770. What is the significance of wifi and what promise does it hold from my perspective?

To begin with, I am not a converged device believer. There is no one device that will have the features that I want. I believe that when one device tries to do everything it doesn't do anything well. I think there are devices that can hit a wide range of functions and do them well but at some point it starts to fall over. As I have stated previously, I carry my P990 and the Sidekick 3. The P990 is just an awesome device to me but it doesn't do Instant messaging very well. It also doesn't do a very good job at playing games or playing video, at least not in my opinion. The Sidekick is an amazing IM device. I don't use it for anything else. I know that there are a lot of Nokia users who swear by the N95 the same way that I fawn over my P990.

So broadly speaking, how does wifi improve my communication experience? The obvious things are fast downloads, possible voip usage, circumventing my carrier network charges, and in some cases the ability to share files locally. The downsides? Poor handoff, fixed perimeter usage, encryption set up for some networks and in some cases speed degradation when too many users are present(although in most cases that isn't a concern).

There are many who are brighter than me who can elaborate further but in a nutshell the above describes how I think about it. In any case, I have gone down the wifi road with my devices and am increasingly thinking about where it all leads. While I want to talk about the Mylo and the N770 in particular I think that it makes sense to walk through the other devices as well to give context.

The PSP. I love the PSP. I max mine out every chance I get. I do a ton of things with it that I wont elaborate on. Wifi is very important for a couple of reasons and is completely useless in others. Wifi is the mechanism to browse the web. The input mechanism is terrible so I don't do that much. To upgrade the firmware, I use wifi. This has been by far the best use of wifi and I have seen revision after revision of firmware upgrade the device since I bought it. One of the coolest firmware upgrades gave me 6 months free wifi at Tmobile hotspots. A very tasty treat that I didn't expect.

Putting content on the PSP. Sorry, wifi isn't able to do that. This is a major travesty and one I cannot fathom. Instead I am left connecting cables to laptops to transfer Tivo shows, pictures, and other stuff. I can't imagine that this will remain like this but in the meantime that is a tragic gap in what you can do with wifi on this device.

The P990. The P990 has wifi. I almost never use it. The first best use case of wifi with this device for me was email. I could quicky download email and in the case where some god friend or coworker sent me some kind of megabyte size file I could switch over to wifi and grab the offending item quickly. Unfortunately for me, when I have the WAN/wifi enabled and I leave the local area, I find that my GPRS tends to barf and timeout when fetching my email. When I disable the WAN, everything woks fine again. Beyond email and the occasional web browsing (which works very well) I don't really use wifi. What would be really cool would be some kind of voip client or the ability to use wifi to tap into the video conferencing capabilities of the device which doesn't work on my US EDGE network today.

The Mylo. I bought the Mylo when it came out as it reminded me of some kind of cross between the Sidekick and the PSP. Admittedly it was an impulse purchase at the time and I wasn't properly informed about what it could/couldn't do. I do recall vaguely some review that mentioned the emergence of wifi devices that started with the N770. I spent a fair amount of time with the Mylo over 2 or 3 months and came to a couple of conclusions. Awesome Skype phone. And not much else. The media capabilities are good. Great speakers and great sound. Getting music in and even worse, video, is a nightmare again requiring cables and PC connections. Web browsing is certainly better than the PSP. While traveling in Europe I was pumped to get to use the Skype capabilites at Hot spots but the Tmobile free wifi service was North America only so I was very bummed by that.

The N770. The N770 has none of the style or class of the Mylo. The Mylo looks slick and has a great slideout keyboard that is usable. The N770, although it lacks the Sony design edge is a monster. Most critically, it isn't strictly tied to wifi. You can use Bluetooth to connect to a phone when you aren't near a hot spot. While traveling in NYC a couple of weeks ago I could pull out the N770, connect to my EVDO phone and check email, surf the web and generally do a lot of the things I do on my laptop in a much smaller package. The single network piece is a serious Achilles heel of the PSP and the Mylo. No doubt that will get fixed in the future.

As I spent more time with the N770 a really important distinction became apparent to me about the inherent nature of this device versus the Mylo. The Mylo is a communications device at it's core. The preinstalled IM clients and more importantly Skype drove both the major use cases as well some of the design considerations (QWERTY keyboard and general phone form factor). The speakers and display also speak to the media aspects of the device.

The N770 on the other hand seems firmly rooted in business productivity type applications, at least in my opinion. There is extensive support for email, web browsing and contact management. The extensive Linux application support is extremely impressive although it isn't as user friendly as a simple business person would like. I am sure that the N800 takes it up a notch in usability. There is audio and video support, as well as support for VOIP via Gizmo project but those features seem underpowered in device form factor and audio output.

I have to say that I actually use the N770 and am excited to try more things like the remote desktop application Russ mentioned. In general, I don't use the Mylo except for the occasional Skype call when I don't want to be tethered to my PC. I imagine that the next generation of the Mylo will see some upgrades along the line of the N770 / N800. I am actually getting an N800 now to see what the next generation of Nokia device does well and where they have migrated to from a technology perspective.

So Mas macho? The N770, although I think that there is a future for Sony in this category especially as they see continued growth and movement in their handset joint venture with Ericsson and their vertical focus on camera and music with the Cybershot and Walkman lines.

With the recent announcement by Tmobile of their wifi/phone offer, it appears to me that the walking the line between wifi and actual carrier networks is about to be crossed/blurred and mashed up. As that starts to occur I think that finding the right and best applications of the various networks will be a challenge for all the manufacturers and will be the key to success. I like where Nokia is at but I suspect that the winners will be vertically tied to specific use case or consumer group like gamers/productivity, etc.

Monday, July 23, 2007

iPhone comedy

If you have never read The Best Page in the Universe, I have to recommend it highly. He doesn't post that much but when he does it is priceless. Last week Chris in my office sent me a link to his latest rant about the iPhone which you can read here. NC-17 all the way.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Walken For President

Damon sent me a link to the Christopher Walken for President site which you can find here. While I don't know if this is a joke or not, it certainly couldn't be worse than they guy in office today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Intercasting named to the Always On 100 Top Companies List

We are honored that today we were selected as one of the top companies in mobile on the Always On list. Full details and the complete list can be found here.

Anthem on Sprint

Today we announced the launch of Anthem on Sprint in this press release here. It has been a lot of hard work from our team but we think that the end product is something that will help define communities on mobile devices. What exactly is Anthem? From a user perspective, it is a donwloadable application that will allow people to interface with existing web based communities they use on the web. At launch we are rolling out Xanga, Live Journal, Vox, Rabble, Black Planet and several other properties from Community Connect. What the user sees is a web like experience on their phone. They have full read and write access just like they do on the website.

We expect to announce a number of additional carriers very soon as well as a number of additional social networking sites/communities. One of the great things about our approach with Anthem is that it will lead to preinstalled applications on the handset that bring the flexibility to add communities in the future.

On the Rabble front this brings us to 9 carriers with deck support from the carrier. We are working with the three largest carriers, Sprint, ATT, Verizon as well as Virgin, Cricket, Metro PCS, Cellular South, Claro Puerto Rico and Centennial Puerto Rico.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Russ is blogging again

Actually Russ started blogging around his new startup Mowser a while ago but now he has started his personal blog again which you can view here. I am really pumped to be reading his posts again.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hyatt Place

In an earlier post I wrote about how I had used my LBS enabled Google Maps application to find a hotel while stuck in Denver. That hotel was a new Hyatt Place hotel near the airport. I don't normally write about hotels (except Tablet Bookings) but this was a pretty cool new concept. We arrived at the hotel exhausted and saw a line of a couple of people speaking to the front desk agent and two check in kiosks. I went to the kiosk, swiped my credit card and in about a minute was checked in as two room keys popped out of the machine.

The decor of the place reminded me of W or Ian Schrager styling with a bit more lively colors and a feel that reminded me of some kind of update on 60s French Utopian design. Think Kubrik but friendly.

When we got to the room, the bed was awesome, the TV giant and beautiful, and the whole place feeling like an upbeat W.

Apparently this place had been an Amerisuites hotel that had been converted. I generally avoid the Courtyard and other suite style places as they feel geared to families and not business travelers. This was the opposite. It also didn't have the overly hip feel of some of the places I usually stay.

I hadn't heard much about this new brand but I hope some other chains follow with what felt like a good combination of the things us road warriors want with the right balance of convenience, services, and comfort. Two thumbs up!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Net Neutrality

One of the wonderful surprises of the Mac has been the ease of use of my Sprint Upstage phone as a EVDO modem. I can't say how amazing it is to pull out the laptop, connect to the phone wirelessly and be online anywhere with some screaming connectivity.

Over the last two weeks while using this I have had some intermittent connection problems. I would connect, and then disconnect. This kept happening to me so I started turning off applications like Adium and Skype. Through a process of elimination I realized that if Skype was up, the connection disconnected. That of course led to the aha moment that Sprint is blocking Skype traffic through whatever port they happen to use. As someone who works with carriers this isn't news to me so I turn Skype off and away I go.

I had originally planned to post this observation around a post that highlighted the fact that the wireless networks are closed networks and not the Internet and that they had to bid on spectrum, put up towers etc.

Since then the new FCC guidelines around the 700 mhz spectrum auctions were announced with a lot of flaming back and forth about whether or not this was a gift to Google and a shot at carriers and how carriers are stifling innovation etc. As a reader of tech blogs the blogosphere was heavily in favor of this and in general was pretty unkind to the carriers. I didn't spend too much time thinking about it as in general I find that the biggest critics are people who either have difficulty working with the carriers or who think everything should be free, Internet, music etc.

Before I boarded the plane to San Diego I picked up the WSJ and read a couple of interesting articles about the spectrum auction. There was a strong argument made that this move was an attempt to change the nature of the auctions to the advantage of tech companies. I know that the truth lies in the middle somewhere but as a free market person, I think that the journal made much stronger arguments than what I read online. It will be interesting to see where it all shakes out. If you have any interest in the topic I would try to check out pieces from both sides as there is a lot of merit in both arguments.

LBS Use Cases - Hotel Finder and Cabbie Helper

So what I didn't say about the trip to Colorado was the nightmare return home. We arrived back at the Gunnison airport on Sunday afternoon several hours before our flight. This wasn't a big hit with Jess but I miscalculated the time of the drive for some reason. We checked in and hung out with the airport wifi and our computers while Tate watched some DVDs. About an hour before take off time we had some bad news that the flight was going to be delayed. We had a tight connection in Denver so this was some big time bad news.

The delay stuff was hanging over the whole time and it quickly became apparent that we weren't getting out of Denver once we arrived. At the airport it was a complete mess. Apparently Denver shut down for two hours or so for lightning storms and this killed the feeder flights coming in from the little towns nearby. The lines were out the door. If you have ever been stranded in Denver, then you know that the only decent hotels are about 45 minutes away in downtown Denver.

I had two bad nights in Crested Butte with a not so great bed and an upcoming cross country trip to NYC so I had to get a good nights sleep. I whipped out my Helio Ocean and pulled up the Google Maps application. I searched for Starwood, Hyatt and other chains that do a good job with the beds. I found a Hyatt Place hotel very close to the airport and called them. They had availability so I booked a room. This experience was so good I will follow up with another post just about this new approach to hotels later.

I hopped in a cab and said I wanted to go to the Hyatt Place at the airport. He was dumbfounded. Never heard of it. I whip out the phone and said here on the map, go here.

While in NYC this week I was playing with the Google Maps application again as I was plotting out my 5 meetings per day itinerary. I can't recall how many times in NYC I am asked about the cross street and I don't have it. 550 Madison? Madison and what? I don't know, I am from LA. Our numbers make sense there. Not this trip. Madison and 55th. So there. My favorite was a meeting in the East Village where I pulled the phone out and said look, this is where it is.

These examples are the kinds that make LBS compelling to me.

Crested Butte

This last weekend Jessica, Tate and I traveled to Crested Butte, Colorado for a wedding for a good friend of ours when we lived in Los Angeles. Three things worth sharing. One, we loved this area. It had a lot of the charm of Jackson Hole, WY without being crowded. The town had a great vibe and the number of activities you could do was astounding, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, river rafting, etc. Just to name a few. We want to go back with the whole tribe as soon as possible.

Two, I got to see a lot of our friends from when we lived in Los Angeles. We were really fortunate to have a great group of friends who worked in the film industry who are down to earth, smart and a lot of fun to be with. Of course life gets in the way of time spent together and I haven't seen many of them much in the last eight years (Has it been that long?). While catching up, a couple of them were completely up to date with me from reading my blog. I was flattered that they cared enough to stay in touch virtually and I was amazed at how having that in place made for some interesting conversations about things people were working on or thinking about. I whimped out on one of the party nights as I was kind of shot and I regret that but hopefully the experience makes us all try to reach out a little more and stay in touch.

Three, Tate came within about 200 feet of his first serious summit, Mt. Crested Butte. We took the ski lift up and he just trekked right on up the mountain, passing some teens along the way. It was great and I think I might have a hiker in the making. As we approached the summit the path gave way to rocks and some sheer sides and Jess and I didn't feel all that comfortable putting him in that kind of environment especially with a storm looming. Next time. Pictures here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

iPhones, Woot and Internet Tablets

On Friday I knew I wasn't going to be picking up an iPhone. Although it was clearly an event, it wasn't on my list. I felt a pang of jealousy for all the people I saw in line at the Apple store by our office.

I arrived home Friday afternoon and before me was a smallish box with the Woot label on the side. I quickly turned my thoughts to the box. Earlier in the week I was looking for my daily Wot fix and saw the Nokia N770 available for $125 + shipping. This device was recently retailing at about $350. Two very interesting things about the device intrigued me. One, it was one of the first devices in the wifi appliance category. Two, it was built on an open platform around Linux so there is a ton of software available. At $350 not too interesting to me. At $125 it was a must have.

So while man of my pals were in line getting their iPhones, I was trying to set up my Internet Tablet.

In brief, the N770 allows you to connect to either your wifi, or through your phone using Bluetooth. I spent something like 5 seconds setting up Bluetooth with my Sprint EVDO handset and away I went. There was little difference between the wifi and the phone from what I could tell. The device has a web browser, email client, media management, voip support and other things that are common on PDA or PDA like devices.

I spent the better part of the weekend playing with the device and will follow up with a write up shortly with a reference to the Mylo and some other devices to put the N770 in context. The short review is, I really dig the N770. If you can get one for cheap go grab it.