Smartphones In November 2008

T-Mobile G1 launch eventSeven years ago today I was a guest on the MobileAppsToday Podcast and talked about the T-Mobile G1, which was the first Android smartphone. Tonight I will participate in a seventh anniversary recording, and no doubt we will talk about how Android and the smartphone personal computing market has matured.

In preparation for the podcast I spent some time jotting down some thoughts of how things where then, seven years ago, and how they are now. It occurs to me that what I have are some good topics for a series of blog posts about smartphones as we head towards the end of 2015.

To start, we have to remember back seven years and remind ourselves that in 2008 smartphones as we now know them were very new. Apple had just started selling the iPhone on June 29, 2007. Prior to the iPhone, the iPod was Apple’s most successful consumer device and in fact I recall during that first iPhone announcement Steve Jobs made it a point to describe the iPhone as an iPod that can do more, although that first model only ran web apps and apps specifically written by Apple.

Prior to the iPhone, Microsoft had been selling Windows Mobile smartphones and Pocket PC Phone Editions for several years, Palm had the Treos, and RIM had the Blackberry, all of which enjoyed success selling to professionals and businesses but did not gain a great deal of success in the broad consumer cellphone market.

sidekickiiPerhaps the one device that did have some success with consumers was the T-Mobile Sidekick, also known as the Hiptop Danger, that was released in 2002. The Sidekick had a screen that flipped out from the base to reveal a physical keyboard, its operating system was based on Java and it automatically backed up all personal data to the cloud. For apps the Sidekick featured an instant messaging client that worked with AIM, Yahoo, and MSN, and it along with e-mail were the primary functions of the device along with phone calls.

The Hiptop Danger, which eventually became property of Microsoft, can be thought of as the forefather of the T-Mobile G1. Andy Rubin was a co-founder of Danger and left the company in 2003 to create a new company, which was later acquired by Google. At Google Rubin led the development of a new operating system that would take on the name of his former company, Android.

It should be no surprise that the T-Mobile G1 had similar hardware features to the Danger given Rubin’s prior experience. Further, in 2007 it was widely believed that to be usable for inputting text, a device must have a physical keyboard. At the time, Blackberry was the market leader and had what is still believed to be the best physical keyboards for smartphones.

What was most shocking at the time about the iPhone is that it did NOT have a physical keyboard. Instead, the iPhone had an on-screen keyboard with predictive capabilities to determine the letters and words one intended to type. Despite Steve Job’s claims that with its predictive capabilities the on-screen keyboard could be just as good as a physical keyboard, some people were skeptical.

At the time that T-Mobile began selling the G1 on October 22, 2008, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Palm were the incumbents, and the iPhone was the up-and-comer having been sold for just a little over a year. While most people considered the iPhone easier to use than its competition, it was functionally hampered by the web-app model it launched with, but that was corrected in July, 2008 when Apple introduced the iTunes App Store as a means for third-party developers to release standalone apps.


While Apple did finally provide a way for developers to create apps for the iPhone, before an app became available for download it had to be approved by Apple and that process took time and often lead to denials. The first version of Android came with an app store called the Android Market, and Google provided minimal review before placing most apps in the Market. Further, Android had, and continues to have, the ability to directly install apps from third party source web sites or directly from personal computers.

In November, 2008 we saw the beginning of two contrasting approaches to what I like to call the real personal computer market that includes smartphones and tablets. Apple’s approach focuses on providing the best end-user experience by controlling the hardware design (only Apple makes iPhones and iPads) and the software that runs on their hardware. Google’s approach focuses on providing users a wide range of options, allowing for multiple manufactures to sell devices that run Android, and even allowing them to customize some of the appearance of the software to match the manufacturer’s branding.

In November 2015 there are more smartphones running Android world wide than iPhones, while the iPhone may be more profitable for Apple and remains to be in the eyes of most the best smartphone. In fact, it seems as though both company’s strategy is working, and with a market much larger than traditional personal computers, it seems both strategies will enjoy long term success.

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Go Big Or Just Go

Welcome to my Nexus 6P week! What, you didn’t know that it was Nexus 6P week? Well, it is, you see this is the week that I might receive my new smartphone for 2015, the Google Nexus 6P manufactured for Google by Huawei. While unboxing videos and reviews are pretty common, I thought I would write a preview on why I chose the Nexux 6P and how I hope it works. Some time down the road we will take a look back to see how well it met my expectations.

My current daily driver is the original (2013) Moto X, which has served me well. It is a custom design of my own creation using Moto Maker to pay homage my favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. While I say the Moto X has served me well, I have been bumping up against some of its constraints, mainly its 2 GB of RAM, 1.7 GHz dual-core CPU, and 2200 mAh battery.

The Moto X cannot get through the day without taking a hit from the power cord, and without an occasional reboot the phone slows down or just locks up. A reset and wipe might improve the performance, but I suspect the source of my problems are the number of apps I run bumping up against the memory and CPU limitations.

Obviously, my biggest hope is to get much more battery life and better performance from the Nexus 6P over the Moto X. The Nexus 6P’s 3450 mAh battery ought to get me through the day and its 3 GB of RAM and quad-core 2.0 GHz CPU ought to provide a big performance boost. I am looking forward to seeing just how fast the 6P charges and what type of difference fast charging makes in daily use.

My biggest worry is with the size difference between the Moto X, which has a 4.7-inch screen, and the 6-inch screen of the Nexus 6P. Will it be comfortable in my hand? How bulky will it feel in my pants pocket? Clearly it is going to be larger, the question is how well and how soon will I be able to adjust.

I bought the official folio case, and I am starting to wonder whether I will regret the purchase. My main concern is with using the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, how comfortable will it be to place my finger on the scanner while opening the folio cover? Also, how easy will everything be to operate when making a payment using Android Pay?

I am curious to see whether the Nexus 6P’s larger screen will mean that I will use the phone more and my tablet less. Right now I do the majority of my reading on a tablet, but a 6-inch screen is nearly the size of a paperback book, so I can see myself doing more reading with the phone. Many people who have adopted these “phablets” have ditched tablets and just use the phone and notebook computer.

In summary I expect the Nexus 6P to:

  • Have much longer battery life than my current phone, the Moto X 2013
  • Run much faster, not slow down, and not lock up
  • Be noticeably larger than the Moto X and it will take me some time getting accustomed to the size
  • Replace some for what I use a tablet, particularly reading
  • Receive updates faster than any other Android phone because it is a Nexus

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I will know whether or not the Nexus 6P meets my expectations.

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Improving Windows 10 Continuum

Despite being disparaged by practically everyone, Microsoft’s Windows 8 has left a mark on the personal computing landscape by creating a new product category, the 2-in-1. A 2-in-1 tablet (or laptop) looks like a laptop computer, but you can separate the monitor from the keyboard.

Key to 2-in-1s is that the “guts” of the computer (processor, memory, and storage) and battery co-exist with the monitor so that it can function as a standalone tablet. The keyboard portion has no intelligence, and therefore you see very thin keyboards like Microsoft’s Type Cover for the Surface and more traditional looking keyboards like the one with the ASUS Transformer book.

I think computer manufacturers came up with 2-in-1s because they recognized that users expect computers running Windows to have a keyboard. Further, because there were so few Modern UI apps, users are most likely going to run “full” Windows desktop apps that require keyboards and a mouse or trackpad.

Continuum is a feature in Windows 10 that appears targeted at the dual-personality of 2-in-1 computers. The idea is that when a keyboard is attached to a 2-in-1, a user will want Windows to run in desktop mode, so Continuum automatically switches to desktop mode when you attach a keyboard. Desktop mode, as shown to the right, is the traditional Windows desktop with re-sizable windows and the new Windows 10 start menu.

Conversely, if you detach the tablet from the keyboard, Continuum assumes you want to run Windows in tablet mode, and so it automatically switches to tablet mode. Tablet mode displays a start screen, as shown to the left, and apps display maximized or full screen.

Continuum works as advertised on my Surface 3. When I detach the tablet from the Type Cover, Windows automatically switches to tablet mode. When I attach the tablet to the Type Cover, Windows automatically switches to desktop mode. I can manually switch between modes by tapping a button at the bottom of the Action Center.

I also use the Surface 3 with a Logitech K480 bluetooth keyboard, and the first time I connected the K480 to the Surface 3 I expected Windows to switch to desktop mode, but it did not. Apparently Continuum knows nothing of bluetooth devices. Why should a bluetooth keyboard be any different than a physically attached keyboard? If I connect a bluetooth mouse to a Windows tablet, isn’t that the surest sign that I plan to use it and will not use touch and therefore prefer desktop mode?

My recommendation to Microsoft is to make Continuum work like the Trusted Devices feature of Android 5.x, “Lollipop.” Trusted devices monitors bluetooth and when it detects that the phone has been paired with a new bluetooth device, it asks whether the user wants to treat it as a trusted device. If you select Yes, every time you connect that device to the phone and then enter your PIN or password, the device will by-pass that lock screen as long as the device remains attached.

I think Continuum ought to monitor for new bluetooth pairs, and when a new keyboard or mouse is attached ask the user whether they want to use Windows in desktop or tablet mode. Doing so will enable the user to tailor how they use Windows whenever a mouse or keyboard is attached, regardless of how it is attached.

Windows has long supported the use of bluetooth keyboard and mice, and people have been using bluetooth keyboards with tablets almost as long as there has been tablets. Continuum ought to support whatever keyboard options that a user choose to buy and not be biased towards 2-in-1s. After all, the Type Cover is not bundled with the Surface and a user may prefer a lower-priced bluetooth keyboard.

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Me and My Moto 360 – What do I dislike?

In a previous article I wrote at length about what I like about my Moto 360. I said in that article that I am happy with my Moto 360 and wear it every day. While I am able to list several reasons for using the Moto 360, there are a few things I wish were better: battery life and apps.

Managing battery life

My biggest beef with the Moto 360 has been battery life, however some changes have recently lead to a significant improvement. The bottom line is that a smartwatch must have at least 16 hours of battery life to get one from when they wake up until they return to bed.

It is not as easy to recharge a smartwatch as a smartphone, you have to take the watch off and then plug it in or place it on a charger, rather than simply plug in a cable as you do with a smartphone. Consequently, there is less notion of “topping off” a smartwatch battery and that means it must get through an entire day.

My early experiences with the Moto 360 were wildly different battery life results. One day I had the battery drain in as fast as four hours, the very next day I would get 14 hours, without really doing anything more than restarting the watch.

I wrote earlier of how I like to change watch faces, and I have learned that some faces can significantly drain battery life. Faces that display multiple things like the weather, watch battery life, and phone battery life might drain the battery faster than a face that just displays the date and time.

I posted several messages on Google+ seeking advice about what to do and got many suggestions ranging from re-establishing the connection to the Moto X to not using certain features and sticking with the “stock” faces that Motorola provides. When you pay nearly two hundred dollars for a device you don’t want to limit yourself by not using all its features simply to be able to use the watch throughout the day.

Bottom line is that Google and watch manufacturers have to make long battery life a primary objective for every new release of Android Wear and for every new watch. Fortunately, three recent changes have lead to significant improvement in battery life with my Moto 360, two of the changes came from something I did and one came from an upgrade to Android Wear.

What I Did To Improve Battery Life

The first thing I did was remove Google Fit, which is Google’s fitness monitoring app for Android phones and watches. Google Fit does a decent job of determining whether you are walking, running, or climbing stairs. I really like how the smartphone app displays your steps and progress, and I really wanted to keep using it, but many people were reporting that Google Fit caused a huge watch battery life drain.

After I uninstalled Google Fit from my phone, which it seems you have to do to get Fit to stop running on the watch, there was a noticeable improvement in battery life on the Moto 360. My guess is that the watch app is constantly sending information back to the phone so that it isn’t lost, and that may be causing the battery drain. Hopefully Google finds a way for Fit to not have such a huge hit on battery. In the mean time, I am using Moto Body to track steps on the Moto 360.

The next improvement came courtesy of Motorola when they finally pushed version 5.1.1. of Android Wear to my Moto 360. I don’t have any hard evidence that the upgrade to Android Wear has provided a big improvement, but it feels to me that it has and therefore I choose to give Motorola some credit with improving battery life.

Finally, due to issues I was having with my Moto X, I completely wiped and re-built both my smartphone and the watch. In this case I think the issue had to do with how Bluetooth functions as for now I see bluetooth connections being much more stable between the Moto X and a variety of devices, including the Moto 360.

Lack of apps

Smartwatch apps are challenging to develop. You are limited by very tiny screens and a few forms of input, so developers have a challenge in creating something useful. Consequently, there are few Android Wear apps available and many them have little value to me, but fortunately I find the built-in features of Android Wear provide enough value that I continue wearing my Moto 360.

Most of the watch apps that are available act as an extension to an app you have on your smartphone. For example, the Google Keep watch app displays all the notes you have in Google Keep on your smartphone. If you create a checklist, such as a shopping list, you can display and check off the items on that list on the watch, and that gets updated on the phone.

Google recently added the ability for apps to remain on the display, similar to how watch faces display. In previous versions of Android Wear all apps “closed” and were replaced by the watch face after a period of time, which made it cumbersome working with checklists in Keep. Now Keep stays on the display until you swipe it off, making it possible for you to continually see your shopping list as you are in the grocery store.

Most of the apps, like Foursquare and Glympse, that are on my watch came as part of the app on my phone, I didn’t seek them out. One app that I did specifically install is designed specifically for watches and is called Wear Battery Stats.

You can always see the percent of battery life left on your watch by swiping down on the watch face, however it can be challenging to translate a percentage into how many hours of battery life is left.

Wear Battery Stats displays a graph on your watch showing how fast the battery is being drained and will tell you in how many hours the battery will be empty. The information is also sent to your phone, where you can see a history of how the watch battery has drained over the last five days, which can be helpful in troubleshooting battery life issues. I recommend that everyone with an Android Wear watch install this free app.

The other app I use is IF, which is the app version of the Internet service I use the service to integrate a number of different Internet services. You can create recipes that work with Android Wear, for example, I have recipes to turn the Phillips Hue lights in my house on and off, and I can trigger those recipes by tapping a button on my watch. I’ve also created recipes to quickly send “canned” text messages to my wife, like telling her I am on my way home.

Aside from Wear Battery Stats and IF, I don’t use the other apps on my watch very much. I do keep my eye out for new apps, for example, I really hope a version of MLB At Bat that will provide “near real time” updates of baseball scores will become available. Google Now only updates baseball scores after a few innings, but fortunately I can see scoring notifications from MLB At Bat on the watch.

Right now, one has to hunt to find truly useful watch apps, but fortunately, I think most people will be happy with just a few really good ones. All you might need is one really good reason to keep wearing a smartwatch. I see smartwatches as an accessory to my phone, therefore I find having quick access to notifications, text messages and email pretty useful.

Battery technology is a challenge for every mobile platform, we all desire devices that can go for days before having to be plugged in. One way that smartphone manufacturers have improved battery life is buy selling larger phones that can have larger batteries, but this won’t be an option for watches.

I am not going to wear a watch that is larger than the Moto 360, in fact if anything I want my watch to be smaller. Consequently, battery life is always going to be the great challenge for all smartwatch makers. I am looking forward to seeing how Google and companies like Motorola improve the battery life of smartwatches in the future.

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Weird Phone Behavior

I just had the strangest experience with my Moto X. Last night I was not able to get to the passcode screen on my phone. I would slide the unlock button down and end up at a blank screen. Same thing happened when I pressed the power button, and there was nothing it seemed I could do to fix the problem.

First, I tried rebooting the phone in safe mode, thinking the problem had to do with an IFTTT recipe I had created to change the wallpaper based on an Instagram hashtag. My theory was that there were so many notifications coming into my phone, it was giving Active Display fits.

The IFTTT rule may have been the problem, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that rebooting in safe mode did no good. In fact, it was worse, all I got was a blank screen with the Safe Mode label shown at the bottom left.

My next step was to wipe the cache partition. Turns out that the instructions that Motorola provides for wiping the cache partition is incorrect for those with Lollipop installed on their Moto X. If you have Lollipop on your Moto X then step 5 in the instructions is wrong, instead press the Power button for 2-3 seconds and then press Volume Up.

Alas, wiping the cache partition also did not fix my problem last night. At this point I did not know what to do, so I posted a query on Motorola’s forum (which still hasn’t been responded to) charged up the phone and went to bed resolved that today I would have to completely wipe the phone with a factory reset.

To my surprise, it seems that what I needed to do was leave the phone alone for several hours. When I got up this morning and turned the phone on, it successfully booted up and provided the passcode screen so I could enter my PIN. I have not wiped the phone, but I have found that the cache partition wipe did happen as I have had to log back in to all the services I’ve been using on the phone. I’ve also managed to lose two home screens in the process, but in general the phone seems to be working as expected.

A full factory wipe may still be in the future for my Moto X, but for the moment I am just happy to have my phone operating.

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