Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I am an Android

As the various smartphones have emerged in the last several years one of the interesting by products of the carrier model in the US is that the carrier that you do business with is a big determinant in the type of smartphone you own. ATT and you are an iPhone user. Verizon and you use the Droid. For me, I have been a Tmobile customer for something like 10 years.

One of the advantages of Tmobile (and also ATT) is that you can use whatever unlocked phone you want. In the US, that is the exception as most people purchase subsidized phones. My initial phones with Tmobile were Sony Ericsson candy bar phones. I think that was the T610 and T635 if I recall correctly.

As I went to Intercasting, I wanted to see where phones were going(unlocked) and became a fan of the Sony Ericsson P series of phones purchasing the P910 and later the P990. Man were those phones big! I have to say though that I loved those phones and even became fairly happy with Symbian UIQ at the time. Unfortunately for me, Sony Ericsson made the decision to go with Windows Mobile on the Xperia and I was lost to them. This of course happened around the same time that the G1 was about to come out. Per my earlier point, since I was a Tmobile customer, I was happy to be an early adopter of Android and was extremely pleased to get my first G1.

Arguably the G1 paled in comparison to the iPhone. While I think that was true, I still loved the device especially the fact that it had a keyboard. During most of my time at Intercasting I was also a Sidekick user, spanning 3 different models of Sidekick before abandoning the devices as the product cycle times extended and much of the differentiation was absorbed by smartphones.

I faithfully used Android/G1 up to the Good acquisition, which resulted in my change in focus from feature phones to smartphones as it related to an increased focus on enterprise mobility and thus higher end devices. For the last year, I have been using the last 3 versions of the iPhone, The Droid and the Nexus 1. Interestingly, while I think all three of those phones were outstanding, I was the biggest fan of the Nexus One. The Droid certainly had the best network with Verizon, and the hardware from Motorola was very hardy (I think you could bludgeon someone to death with it and it's sharp corners), but I found the keyboard very disappointing, which has been the case for me with most Moto QWERTY devices historically.

Certainly the iPhone is an amazing device from a usability perspective and from a services perspective, but the lack of keyboard and some of the better features on Android devices leave me with more interest in that platform. I have to note that this is really only as it relates to smartphones as I use a Mac, have Apple TV, and love my iPad.

The reason I write this is that on my last business trip with Good before coming over to Chumby was that I lost my personal Nexus One at Seatac airport my last week of work. I can't tell you how angry I was when that happened. I knew that Tmobile had rumors of the G2 coming out but I needed a phone immediately so I headed over to the nearest Tmobile store and bought a new device. At the time, the hot device for Tmobile was the Samsung Galaxy phone called the Vibrant.

I think Samsung is an amazing company, and has amazing hardware, but I have to say that I was very disappointed in this device. There were 3 big issues for me. First, the GPS didn't work right. My two major differentiators for Android over iPhone are Google Voice (I was previously a Grand Central user) and Google voice related car functionality like Navigation, Voice search etc. No GPS means no navigation, no foursquare check ins, no Twitter location lookups. While it is true that the phone actually allowed me to call people, so did my old T610 and it was free.

The second reason was the lack of Android 2.2, which isn't a total problem, but it did highlight to me the issue of platform fragmentation with the various OEM UI overlays. Add special stuff and it takes a while to roll out new versions of Android to make sure that the are no integration issues.

The 3rd issue, which is relatively minor was hardware related. This one is sort of a mixed bag for me because there are both highs and lows on this. The high is that the screen on this devices in unbelievable. The low is that the device is super lightweight to the point of almost seeming flimsy.

Bottom line though is that I think that the Galaxy line is a great product but the GPS piece was a P1 bug for me that is not the sort of thing I would expect from Samsung given their general commitment to some of the highest quality devices across product lines.

With this in mind I decided to return the device and went searching through my closet for something I could use to cover the time between the return and the eventual release of the G2. The best answer for me was to dig out an aold N97 that a friend at Nokia had given me.

Before I trash this device, I want to say that the N series of phones are among some of the best devices I have ever used. Both my N95 and N85 are among my favorite phones in terms of reliability, battery life and industrial design. The N97 on the other hand is clearly an example of how Nokia completely lost track of the competitive landscape of the smartphone business.

Instead of editorializing some of the hardware specific issues, I would rather focus on my experience as a user. On the good side? The battery life is in another world compared to all other smartphones I have used. Where Nokia made the investment on top shelf items there is no comparison (the camera). Long battery life = good. Good camera = good.

Software. Aaargh. I hope that Nokia gets it right eventually with Ovi, but if you compare the experience of setting up an Android device, with setting up a Symbian smartphone, they aren't even in the same league. I think I spent two days setting up the N97. Worse yet, I ran out of memory on the core device early on in the process. This was tragic because the device is loaded with memory, just not on the primary device where all the software goes to in default.

Once I got a decent configuration set up with some reasonable synchronization between services I use, I was left with two other things worth commenting on. One, the navigation was top notch, but not up to snuff compared to Google Maps and Navigation. Close but the lack of workable voice support was a big miss for me. Second, the lack of applications really stands out as a gap when compared with iPhone, Android and RIM. Nokia will have to address this somehow.

While it is easy to see how Nokia is in a precarious position in the smartphone space, I will only add that there market share in devices below smartphones is impressive and I am a huge fan of Maemo/Meego as a potential way out of darkness for Nokia. I am an owner of both the N7790 and N800 and love the devices although they too have a shortage of software. I would love to get my hands on an N8 but since I am not in mobile anymore, I don't see me buying one anytime soon. :-(

All of this is a long way of saying that I am hooked on my Android devices and can't wait to share my thoughts on the brand new G2 device that I am playing with this AM.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TripIt Pro Discount Code

Tripit is without question one of my favorite services. I signed up for Tripit Pro earlier this year and it has paid for itself many times over. I get text messages when I land telling me of gate changes. I get flight delay updates before others. The point tracking system is simply amazing.

With all that said, I am basically shilling for Tripit right now. They have lowered their annual price to $49 and have sent a discount code to distribute to friends for $5 off. If you travel at all on a frequent basis, I have to say that you will be amazed by this service. If you are interested, the discount link is here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My new gig


Yeah. Well I didn't really take much time off between gigs.

A couple of weeks ago, I took over the ceo position at chumby from Steve Tomlin. We had been thinking about external communications and for the most part wanted to talk to partners like Sony and Best Buy and some others prior to saying anything in public. Somewhere along the way, I forgot about this press release which hit the wire as I was coming back from NYC and Boston last night, so I guess it is time to say, this is what I am doing!

I have been close to the chumby team over the last several years, but certainly the most with Steve Tomlin who founded chumby and was also my investor and board member at Intercasting. Beyond Steve, the founding team of Bunnie, Duane, Ken and the rest of the team at chumby have done an amazing job creating not just a product, but a product that people actually buy!

In addition to having success with their own product, the idea that the chumby network of flash applications can be proliferated on other devices has been validated with their work with Sony on the Dash and with Best Buy on the Infocast. Expect to see more of that on devices like tablets and televisions in the coming months.

For me this gig brings some new challenges and some familiar ones. A significant part of the job going forward will involve working with content companies, which I have done throughout my career and also marks a return to the advertising world, where I cut my teeth at and at Vivendi. The new challenges are consumer electronics and working with retail distribution. My past two gigs at Good and Intercasting involved working with some of the same players that I expect to work with in the future, although in a different context.

I am excited to take the helm at chumby and look forward to helping to scale the business beyond the success achieved thus far. It is a great honor to take the reins of a company that you have watched someone build from scratch and I will do everything in my power to deliver on that promise to the team, to our partners, and to the many people who have become great fans of what chumby has done thus far.