Ain’t no party like a network-attached storage party.

I’m a relative overachiever when it comes to complicating things in my technological life. I like tinkering. But I’ve always kept local storage a little on the basic side, with a few external hard drives cloned to one another using Carbon Copy Cloner. When one of these drives started to go recently, I finally decided it was time to take the plunge on a NAS setup in my home. I asked for recommendations on Twitter.

The answers were overwhelmingly in favor of the Synology family of products. A quick trip to Amazon and several hundred dollars later, and I had my ticket to board the train to NASville.

cough

Anyway, my needs are fairly straightforward: I just want a big drive to store a bunch of stuff, and I want redundancy. After looking over the different models, I went with the DS414j as my entry point to this brave new world. I coupled it with two WD Red 3TB drives to start (leaving two bays free for later).

Holy hell, this thing is cool.

It took about 10 minutes to set up. I was prepared for a protracted land war, and it was more like a game of laser tag. The box opened up, the drives went in the box, the box got closed, it did some magic, and then I had a web interface to see the box. It was so easy, I was convinced I did something wrong for a minute.

The web dashboard has a ridiculous amount of options, most of which I’ll never even use or look at again, but it’s crazy how much these boxes can do. I got about 1.3TB of data copied over the LAN in 10-11 hours, and I was done. I can’t remember the last time I had a big computery task to do that was this easy and non-enraging.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I plan to play with it and explore a bit more soon. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about something like this, start your search with Synology. So many people recommended it without hesitation, and now I can see why.

The ultimate hybrid device.

I found myself daydreaming about the ultimate hybrid tablet/laptop device earlier today because I’m 12 years old, and I think I’ve got it nailed this time. Stay with me, unless you’re allergic to awesome ideas.

A 13″ iPad Pro. Fully functioning new class of device, runs iOS. Basically the thing we’re all expecting to see at some point.

The bottom half of a MacBook Pro–keys, battery, processor, etc. All the guts and power, no screen.

The magnet hinge that affixes Smart Covers right now locks into this bottom piece (obviously, but with some serious magnet upgrades), which has a hinged joint, for moving the screen to different positions.

When detached, the iPad has its own battery and processor and iOS runs normally. When docked, it connects with the MacBook body and OS X is not run from the iPad, but is displayed on it, as it’s run from the MacBook body. So it’s projected onto that screen. When you’re done, grab the screen, detach, and iOS pops right back on.

Think about it. That’s all I’m going to say. I realize this is ludicrous, and there’s a million reasons why Apple would never build it. But I would buy the shit out of this thing. And yes, I suppose you can do this (sort of) with some of the Windows PCs that are out there now, but we both know that’s no substitute for a device like this. Sell it to professional users, at a premium. Not for your grandma, bro. For serious work and play. They can use that if they like.

I don’t know why I torture myself like this.

The Kindle Fire. Take two.

As co-host of two iOS podcasts and a mobile design podcast and as an iOS user, when I mentioned I took the plunge, people on Twitter asked me to write up my thoughts. As such, I’ve decided to try and approach this as pragmatically as possible, so I’ll be looking at this from the perspective of a technically proficient and critical nerd, and also as much as possible like a regular person might.

I say take two not because I’m the second person to write a review (btw, read Marco’s exhaustive and very specific review as well – he covers the super minutiae better than I could hope to) but rather because the first take for me was a less-than-stellar experience in a brick-and-mortar store with the Fire immediately after it launched that left me feeling less-than-impressed. But as I have some time until the next iPad arrives, and I’m feeling experimental, I decided to give it another shot. I had heard that the software update improved the interface a bit, and was curious to see it for myself.

As Marvin would say: let’s get it on.

In keeping with fashion these days, I offer you this:

tl;dr

Though needing some definite love in a few areas, the Kindle Fire is not nearly as bad as I’d felt in my initial experience. There are some questionable decisions that Amazon’s made regarding both hardware and software, but for a content experience (following the intentions that Amazon has set for use of the device), the size and UI are functional and easy enough to use for most people. Nerds will likely continue to find fault in a few key areas.


In The Hand

I’ve gone on record saying that while I don’t think the iPad would work as a 7″ tablet, I do see a place for smaller devices in the market. I stick by that. Whereas the 10″ Android tablets I’ve tried feel cartoonishly long or tall depending on the direction in which you’re holding it, the dimensions of the Fire, while similar, don’t feel as strange. I’ve read paperback books that were oddly shaped, and it’s not too foreign a feeling, despite my preference for 4:3 devices like the iPad and TouchPad.

It is, however, a bit heavier than you’d expect. If you’re holding it up – and you’re likely to do it based on its overall size – you may feel fatigued. I noticed my hands becoming sore when reading in certain positions for extended amounts of time. Granted, they got sore with the iPad too, but I was more inclined to rest that larger device on something, so I avoided the experience without realizing it. The build quality of the Fire is, as a result of this weight, significant. It feels very sturdy and relatively high-end given its price point. It feels good.


Hardware

The most distinctive thing about the Fire’s hardware is probably that there are no exterior buttons, save for the awkwardly-placed power button on the bottom of the device. It’s tiny, and I can see how it’d be hard for some people to find it to activate or turn off the device, but I didn’t have too much trouble. My hands are smaller than some, and I’m used to manipulating smaller controls like that on other devices, so take that for what it is.

Not having exterior volume controls is a little strange, though, especially while watching a movie or listening to music. When watching video, it’s distracting to have to tap the screen, then tap the settings gear, then adjust the volume (Amazon seems to default to having the volume icon pre-selected when you do this, almost as though they’re trying to mitigate the annoyance) – but it’s not horrible. It’s definitely not ideal, though. During music playback, if you have the screen off, then you’ve got a slightly awkward power button press (since there’s no home button to quickly tap to wake the device), then a swipe, then the taps I just described. Not terrific. [EDIT: I discovered a setting in the music player that enables lock screen controls for playback; it’s a little odd, but it works fairly well.] Will it slowly drive me mad over time? Possibly. But then again, I’ll probably do more text-based consumption on the Fire than I will audio/video media, despite its prevalence at the top level of menu navigation and Amazon’s content availability.

Speaking of media, the speakers are ok, not great. A little thin, and not loud enough. Well, they’re sort of loud enough if you crank the volume, but the controls are sensitive, so you’ll probably spend a lot of time between not loud enough and damn it why can’t I just get this a tiny bit louder.

Battery life is definitely solid; not iPad solid (and definitely not e-ink Kindle solid, which is otherworldly), but very good. More than I expected. But that was a lot of app browsing and reading; throw video streaming in the mix and you’ll likely watch it drop a lot faster. It also gets a bit warm during video playback which never leaves me feeling great about a device.


Software

As we all know by now, the Fire runs a highly customized version of Android, forked from Google’s path down a questionable road of Amazon’s choosing. They’ve made some good choices and some strange ones with this decision.

First, the overall interface to a regular user is pretty good. You start up and you see a text bar of all the things you can do, and it’s pretty clear what those things are. Jump to an area and you’ll have (in most cases) two options: what’s in the cloud and what’s on your Fire. And you can usually hop over to a storefront for that area to get more stuff quickly. While not exactly what I would call intuitive, the Fire’s UI is obvious, and that’s very important too and not to be diminished.

The other thing I noticed is that given Amazon’s customizations, the typical things you might think to do with an Android device (widgets, changing launchers, theming, etc.) are missing. And in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not only has Amazon removed the fiddly nature of Android to make a more simplified device that more people can understand, they’ve made a stand as to how they want to shape the presentation of their content (and yours). It’s a very Apple-like move, that goes against the tweaky lineage Android has forged up to this point, but it’s actually a bit refreshing, because you don’t spend the time you normally would playing and trying a million different visual and functional configurations. You just use the device.

Having said that, I immediately tried treating it like a regular Android tablet and began browsing for apps. The on-device store for Android apps that work with the Fire is fairly limited – for people like us [“What do you mean YOU PEOPLE?!”]. For regular people, it’s probably more than enough. There are some confusing elements, though, as Marco pointed out. The appearance of multiple versions of apps – one of which may be labeled “Kindle Fire Edition” or something of that nature – could definitely be confusing to people. It sort of confused me for a second. Fire-optimized apps that I tested generally have a more natural feel on the device, whereas the other apps you can install from the store may just look stretched, which is a complaint of many Android tablet users.

If you try to browse the Amazon Appstore from your computer, prepare to see a lot of apps that are not compatible with your Fire. Amazon clearly calls this out when you view the app page, and while you’ll be allowed to purchase the apps, they won’t sync down to your device and install. There is a way around this and I’ll mention it here, but keep in mind, this is a perfect example of the problems with software on a customized device like this.

What I did to get a few other apps onto the Fire:

  • downloaded app to a separate phone via Android Market
  • used Astro File Explorer’s backup feature to drop the .apk onto the SD card
  • plugged phone into my computer
  • copied the .apk I wanted to the desktop
  • disconnected the phone
  • plugged in the Fire
  • added the .apk to the SD card
  • disconnected the Fire
  • used AndroXplorer file browser on the Fire
  • navigated to SD card
  • tapped .apk
  • installed app (which only worked some of the time, some app installs failed)

No normal person is going to do this.

But like I said, most normal people won’t care. What they get through the Amazon Appstore will be good enough. But it’s still indicative of a different way of using this device. It’s not really an Android tablet – it’s an Amazon content delivery mechanism. If you adopt this viewpoint, you’ll make out all right.


Content

Obviously Amazon has plenty of content for you to browse, buy, download, stream, and consume. In fact, I’ve said in the past that the only way Amazon had a chance with this was due to the fact that the content was in place already, and it will certainly be a success of some measure if only for that alone.

Books: Amazon’s got bunches. If you prefer the e-ink Kindle experience, then you won’t like reading here. I’m used to reading on the iPad and iPhone, so it’s actually nice to have a slightly smaller/larger view (depending on which device you’re talking about) to read text. Marco made some very good points about smaller details, most of which won’t bother me and most people, I would wager, but if you’re very specific about your reading experience, they might.

Magazines: I haven’t had a chance to explore the magazine subscription content yet, but the magazine viewing is a little odd. You either get a full-page view you can barely see, or you get a stuttery zoom that’s not wonderful. However, you can also apply a simpler text view very much like Instapaper that is pretty readable. Of course, you’re giving up the magazine layout at this point, so you might just say forget it and not bother if that’s why you like magazines in the first place (and there’s a good chance that it is).

Music: Tons of mp3s to download, and Amazon’s got the cloud player system in place. Haven’t used it because I’ve got a Subsonic server set up at home and I use that for all my streaming. The Fire audio player itself is a little spartan though, and not having external volume keys is fairly annoying, and could become more so over time.

Videos: As a Prime member, I’ve got a lot of content I can view for free, both TV and movies, but it’s still not a mind-blowing selection. You can forget about using Netflix on the Fire; it’s a hot mess. Constant stuttering, dropped frames, audio out of sync, the works. Even the Amazon video did some crackling and stuttering in certain parts of my house where I have no problem with other streaming devices (and I have FiOS, so bandwidth is not the issue either). I’m going to continue experimenting with video stuff and see what I find. There’s an app that I found which appears to be like Air Video for iOS, which is a longtime favorite of mine, and would allow my Mac mini to stream video around the house over wi-fi.

But you can side-load content: Sure, you can, but there’s not a ton of room. You have about 6 GB actually available to you on the device, and that’ll get eaten up fast. I’m wondering if I can hack it to add more storage, but that’s not a normal person thought, that’s a nerd thought. And my gut tells me no. I tried to load some comics I had in PDF form and they weren’t detected by the Fire in any capacity (even as “Docs”) so I installed Adobe Reader to view them. I loaded some books as epubs and dropped them into the “Books” directory of the SD card to find that they were completely ignored, unsurprisingly, by the Fire. In fact, I could only find one epub reader on the Kindle Fire store at all, and it’s a complete piece of crap. Even the TouchPad could read my epubs, including the ones I downloaded through iBooks. So there’s that. On second thought, I think that was only the epubs I may have downloaded and placed into iBooks. Apologies for misstating that.

The bottom line is that you better like streaming everything (with the exception of books) because you’re going to be doing a lot of it. And you better like Amazon’s content, because a lot of other things just won’t quite fit in as nicely as you’d hope.


Summary

As a nerd, the Fire is a waste of time for the most part. You’re limited by the choices Amazon’s made in the hardware and software, and getting stuff done around those choices is possible, but probably not worth your time unless you really feel like poking around. People have been hinting at how great a CyanogenMod build would be for the Fire, so you may want to go that route eventually, but then again, why not just buy another Android tablet if that’s what you want it for? Surely if you’re willing to hack to that end, you can save yourself some time with other hardware. But I guess there’s the challenge too.

As a normal person, the Fire is pretty good. Seriously. The software update (which auto-installed minutes after I unboxed the Fire) made a big difference in responsiveness. Prior to that, half my button presses didn’t even register and scrolling was pretty lame. If you’re comfy with Amazon’s selections, and you don’t mind a few weird moments (like always tapping the screen to do everything), you probably won’t mind it too much. There’s plenty to do and it’s laid out clearly for you. If you use the device in the manner Amazon has envisioned, you’ll be fine. It’s when you stray outside of that use case that you face some resistance. My guess is that most Fire owners won’t make that choice.

Regarding the sales numbers: well, a lot of people probably got them as holiday gifts, and haven’t really begun using them yet. And Amazon’s always been a little reticent about sharing that stuff. Who cares anyway? Actual, regular people don’t care about this stuff. They only care about what they’re doing with the device.

I know I didn’t cover everything, I probably couldn’t if I wanted to. But as I said, Marco’s review is worth reading – it’s much more specific on a technical level about the things I touched on. I just think that most people won’t care about a lot of them, because they’ll either see it as a Kindle that does a few extra things, or as an ancillary device along with their iPad – which is exactly how I choose to view it. It’ll never replace an iPad, and Amazon is bat shit crazy to even suggest such a thing. I thought they’d have approached the device a little differently among consumers, but that page shows clearly what the intent of the marketing is.

Takeaways?

  • It feels well-made and decent in your hands, but a little heavy
  • If you use it how it’s meant to be used and don’t bolt on your own expectations about what the device should be able to do, it’ll probably be fine
  • If you watch a lot of video, I wouldn’t recommend it unless there’s a software fix to make it better overall
  • If you currently like to read on your non e-ink devices and want something that’s more of a dedicated reader with a few other things, you might like it
  • If you’re a serious app hound, you’ll probably be disappointed as the app selection (at least the ones easily available and compatible) seems limited
  • If you focus on the little things, it’ll drive you crazy, but you can probably get over them and still enjoy it for the most part
  • It’s a decent secondary device, but you wouldn’t want to do “work” on it, the way we’ve gotten used to doing some things with the iPad
  • It is $199, after all
  • It’s not an iPad and never will be

The last one is the sticker.

I do still like it, though, and plan to keep it. I’m reading more, and I like the size a lot. I also plan to get the next iPad when it arrives and have an entirely different plan for how I think I’d like to use it (it involves taking my laptop fewer places for starters). If I change my feelings significantly or something happens in the future to the Fire, I’ll possibly revisit this post and write an update. If you were on the fence about it, I hope this at least sheds a little light on the decision for you. Consider me your guinea pig.

The argument for a $99 TouchPad purchase.

Let’s be clear about one thing right up front:

HP, though in a state of public denial about the health and future potential of webOS, effectively killed the platform for consumers last week when it killed its hardware. That’s the honest truth. No one is going to come near the platform, at least not yet, with the stink of death all over it. Sure, in the wake of the Google/Motorola deal, someone like Samsung or LG might go sniffing around to potentially have another option in place if Android doesn’t work out in some way, but if HP, with its finances and resources couldn’t pull off a coup in the mobile market, it’s hard for another company to see itself doing the same.

How well it used those finances and resources to further the platform remains a hotly-debated question. Instead of creating compelling new hardware using its own brand advantages (such as Envy), it chose to move somewhat stale Palm-envisioned hardware to market, to its detriment.

That said, webOS remains an extremely compelling platform, for about a million reasons, not the least of which is the fervor with which its dedicated community remains steadfast in the face of decimation. Furthermore, I sincerely hope that it can wriggle its way free of Apotheker’s personal enterprise agenda and find new life with other hardware manufacturers.

But that’s not why we’re here.

I think we can all agree that the TouchPad at $499 was a bit overzealous. No one actually expected it (probably not even HP) to really give the iPad serious competition. Ok, there was the “number one plus” guy, but I’m pretty sure he drank some bad milk that day, because that’s how confused toddlers speak. And upon announcing the exit from the hardware market last week, the news hit the internet, HP dropped the prices on the TouchPad to ridiculously low numbers, and people lost their minds and hit stores this weekend for the biggest fire sale we’ve seen in recent times.

I had no idea I lived around so many nerds, because I couldn’t find one anywhere. I did, however grab two yesterday on Amazon, and a third this morning via Barnes and Noble, an unlikely source, but a valid one just the same. Still, I don’t know how many civilians* ran out and bought these. Evidently, enough of them to cause pundits, bloggers, and just about everyone else to split into two camps: those who expressed disdain and confusion as to why anyone would buy DOA hardware, and those who clicked buy – in some cases, multiple times.

To many of us, this was catnip. That hardware, at that price, regardless of the harpooning it got from HP, equals fun, pure and simple. The homebrew community alone will make that thing worth playing with, but I started thinking how I could incorporate multiple $99 internet-connected devices into my life in ways I hadn’t even considered.

The obvious ones:

Digital photo frame – at that price, if all you ever do is park it and watch pictures of your kids/pets/vacations go by, you’ll have done better than most of the crappy frames on the market today.

Extra ‘living room’ device – whether you need it or not, having an extra device in another part of the house to do all the stupid little stuff you like to do is convenient. Weather, email, movie times, what have you.

Dedicated e-book reader – at $99, the TouchPad is now cheaper than the cheapest Kindle Amazon currently sells, and has a Kindle app.

Ancillary display – one of the greatest things webOS brought to users was Exhibition Mode. I can easily see myself using it as nothing more than a data display of non-important yet interesting info (news, Facebook updates, etc.)

The not-so-obvious ones:

I started to think about having multiple internet-connected devices around my house. Then I started to think about embedding them in walls in high-traffic areas. I started to think about being able to do something cool for my wife in the kitchen. She loves to cook and experiment, and while I can’t afford to mount an iPad inside a cabinet door for her, I can sure as hell afford to do it with a TouchPad now. Recipes, Google searches, anything she wants. I can cover it with transparent film and protect it against whatever she feels like throwing at it.

We’ve been renovating our office and now have employees on two floors. I was mentioning how it would be cool to have an always-on video intercom or something that we could just walk in front of to talk between the floors. An unnecessary – but fun – and potentially useful time saver.

I could go on, but I think you see where I’m going. To date, there hasn’t been a decent piece of hardware, priced like this, with basic functionality that has the potential to grow with a strong base of geek users, hacking away at it, now out of spite as much as out of dedication. I’m not saying it’s going to cause a webOS resurgence, but the same way that jailbreaking the iPhone spurred interesting innovation, people with the desire to keep pushing will do so, and geeks like us with a little time and money will reap the benefits.

I mean, come on – there are people that are still nuts about the Newton. Do you really think this is the end for the TouchPad?

*a word that aptly describes non-geeks, attributed to the venerable Phil Nickinson

Why yes, that is a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my pocket.

Knowing that we’re going to have to think about Android tablet development at some point, it was a matter of time before we picked one up. The perfect storm of frugality swooped in this week as Staples had a $100 off coupon for tablets, excluding the Nook, TouchPad, and one or two others. This coupon, plus a few rebate cards I’d been saving meant I was able to snag a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for about $227. Sweet deal.

So – the big question – how is it, really?

I think at this point I’ve established myself as a fan of electronics, not just those made by Apple, so I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say that while a cool piece of kit, the Tab 10.1 is not quite there for me. I didn’t buy this thing just to bash it – I bought it because I need to understand platforms before we can design for them – so understand right off the bat that I’m not complaining about a review unit and sending it back, or on the Cupertino payroll (or Kool-Aid, depending on how you like to think of those things).

The simple fact of the matter is that for many people – specifically consumers – there isn’t a case for tablet computing yet. There is, however, a case for small pieces of software that deliver compelling experiences. Unfortunately, Android is not delivering them, and iOS is.

Case in point: when I went to Staples, I asked the sales guy for the 10.1 and the first thing he said was “What are you buying it for?” When I replied, “development”, he said “Ok, because this thing isn’t going to replace a laptop for you”. No problem, I assured him, we’re app devs, and we know what we’re doing. Then, the manager came over to verify the coupon I had and asked the same question again. Again I replied “development” and he asked “Of what?” rather indignantly.

“Uh, Android apps?” I replied incredulously.

“Oh, ok, because we’re selling a lot of these things, and we get a LOT of them back. People buy them thinking they’re getting rid of a laptop, and they all come back returning them.”

That doesn’t seem to be happening with iPads, because I think people’s expectations are set accordingly when they buy them. These are not full computing devices; they’re not built to be – and yet when you watch the commercials, what do you hear? The “full” internet. Flash. Do it all. Why wouldn’t people be disappointed when they can’t actually replace a computer with a device that promised they could?

But anyway, on to the Tab itself.

Physically, the 10.1 is a great feeling device in the hand. Thinner and lighter than you expect it to be, with a gorgeous screen and all the requisite hardware checkboxes filled. I’m not sure how I feel about the 16:9 frame, though. No, scratch that, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. I wasn’t sure that Apple was right about the iPad’s 4:3 ratio, but after having one as my only tablet for over a year and then spending a good deal of time with the 10.1, I’m pretty sure Steve was right. It feels too long horizontally, and way too tall vertically. Don’t get me wrong – I could get used to it, if I had to, but I’m kind of glad I don’t have to. Overall, it’s a very nicely built device, though. While still somewhat plastic-y, Samsung made it feel decent.

The Honeycomb OS is light years ahead of where Android started, and it really shows. It’s really quite nice, and my initial experience with the 10.1 was very different from the one I had when I handled my first G-1 at a party a few years ago. Both the UI design and the functionality have added a great deal of value to the device, and I’m really looking forward to seeing future Android devices as the system continues to mature. There’s an incredible amount of customization available on the platform, and that attracts both regular folks and tinkerers alike. I would have liked to see a little more in terms of basic stuff, like wallpapers (since some of what ships default with the 10.1 is like showing an overcaffeinated toddler the gradient tool in Photoshop), but hey, that’s what the internet is for. There are plenty of wallpaper apps in the Market. The attention to detail in small things like the bar at the bottom of the display that has a lot of useful controls baked into it shows that Google really is trying to make the entire interface less for engineers and more for real, actual users. And there’s cool stuff tucked away, like the recently viewed button, which upon tapping, brings a vertical ribbon of apps you’ve been to lately (along with a thumbnail of the activity) – a nice touch, and very useful. Credit where credit is due.

Where it falls apart for me (and likely for most people) is in the user experience surrounding software availability. I fully recognize that there isn’t a ton of software available to Android tablets right now, and that Honeycomb is still an OS that most people don’t have and aren’t developing for, based on market numbers. This is not a problem germane to the 10.1, or any other Android tablet in particular. However, for the amount of marketing and push that these tablets are getting, there should absolutely be not only a wide range of options, but a clearly delineated path with which to reach them. Android Market has neither. You can search for “tablet”, and you hit quite a few things, and you can search for “Honeycomb”, and reach some others, but you have things like themes and wallpapers for phones in the Honeycomb style that make their way into your search. Apple has two sides of the App Store – iPhone and iPad – and it’s completely obvious where the tablet apps are. I’m an experienced user, so I’m figuring things out, but I can’t imagine someone who isn’t comfortable with this stuff having much fun doing the same.

More importantly, by this point in the iPad’s life cycle, there was a huge number of apps available for the platform, and I just don’t feel that happening for Android tablets. Is it because there’s just too much disparity in the sizes and specs? Possibly, but I think it has a lot to do with what I mentioned earlier. If consumers are returning tablets, why develop for them at all? Stick to the phones. Hence, people simply aren’t finding the kind of software they expect to find when they try to download, and it’s causing disappointment. I’m not talking about the geeks, rooting and playing. I’m talking about regular people for whom “unlocked bootloader” might as well be a foreign language.

Honeycomb, as I said, is fantastic. Unfortunately, run an app that’s built for a phone on it, and suddenly it’s not so pretty anymore. It doesn’t scale proportionately the way the iPad does (even if the pixel doubling does look like crap), but instead stretches everything so there’s a ton of wasted space everywhere. And while I’m perfectly content to dig around in settings and adjust fonts and scaling to make it look halfway decent, why would any normal person even think to do that? It should just look good when you open it.

But very little does. Even apps built for tablets might be built for smaller tablets, and behave similarly, and the apps I tried that were built for this size were sorely lacking in design. I know we all kind of assume Android apps don’t look as great as iOS apps, but some of the stuff I saw that touted “built from the ground up for Honeycomb tablets” looks like they didn’t get past the foundation. If your flagship app looks like a development test with some gradients thrown on, you’re doing something wrong.

I guess I’m really most saddened by the fact that I still don’t see a contender in this market. I love Apple stuff, but I want so badly to be able to have something else that’s as good, if only for a change of pace from iOS. I’m a demanding geek, and that’s not going to change. As of right now, Apple’s still the only company giving in to those demands.

Seriously, HP. Pull it together.

WebOS needs to succeed. Seriously. For a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it is vaguely awesome. However, instead of doubling down on development resources and aggressively attracting developers themselves to the platform, HP has decided to do the easy thing: throw money at marketing.

Unfortunately, for HP, this strategy is doomed to fail. Gaga will not sell phones for you. A cutesy handset with extremely limited market potential will not attract new users (just ask Microsoft). And wrapping a delivery truck in Veer graphics and telling people to check out the ‘summer tour’ is just moronic.

HP needs to release hardware – compelling hardware – with reasons for people to choose it over any other hardware. This isn’t about Apple domination, or Android fragmentation. It’s about making the best products possible and running the best software possible, both of which HP, with its massive coffers, is in a position to do, and both of which – to date – it has failed to do.

The Veer is adorable, but not for everyone. The TouchPad, though not supposed to launch “until it’s ready” seems to be a very 1.0 device, and is getting reviews in which the reviewers themselves seem to to be disappointed, having really wanted to love it out of the gate. This market moves at a pace that is almost unsustainable. The longer HP sits around, not actively fixing bugs, not releasing great hardware, and actively pushing products that regular people can’t find a reason to buy, the quicker webOS dies on the vine.

And if the rumors are true and the Pre 3 doesn’t hit until the fall, you can forget about any kind of webOS resurgence. It’s done. People can argue that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but even a great runner can’t fall too far behind and make up all that distance.

Super late first thoughts on webOS, now that I’ve had a chance to dive in.

Hohoho

Our fabulously talented CTO is a well-known webOS advocate. He’s weathered every storm Palm has been through since the introduction of the original Pre, which he still rocks, because he’s on Sprint and is feverishly waiting for the new phones to come out this summer. As he is an awesome dude, he surprised me by ordering a Pre 2 for me to test, unlocked, as a developer unit from HP. The phone showed up today, and I made an executive decision to shirk the rest of my responsibilities for the afternoon.

WebOS definitely has a lot of things to like about it, not the least of which is the ability to manage the information coming in much more effectively than most other phones. Its notification system is widely regarded one of the best (if not the best, depending on who you ask) in the biz. And it’s all true: notifications are super cool. They make sense, they stack up, and you can dismiss them without fear. Multitasking is actually that, with apps updating in the background so you can return to them and see what you’ve missed accurately. I had my Google Apps account set up and synced quickly, and I created a Palm Profile to backup the device. The built-in apps are as polished as Apple’s own offerings, and webOS really shines visually. It’s a lovely user experience.

However, I couldn’t get past the idea that, like Android, simple things sometimes take too many steps. Sure, once you’ve used a platform for a while, you develop those tiny muscle memories that let you fly around a device like Mozart on a harpsichord, but for a beginner – even someone like me who spends a lot of time with mobile devices, it was a little daunting. The gestures are cool, but they’re a little strange when you get started. It’s hard to remember what to do at first, because you need to memorize a series of actions; with Android, you actually see the buttons you can press, and with iOS, well, there’s only one. It’s one area where I think Apple found a path of least resistance for new users.

But the single thing that would stop me from making this phone (and any webOS phone for that matter) my daily driver is the lack of software in the App Catalog. The developer base is small, but passionate, and I respect them immensely for embracing the platform, but there are too many gaps for me to be able to use webOS exclusively. Dropbox isn’t natively supported, but I saw an app or two that might work. There’s no 1Password client, which is huge for me. Twitter and Facebook are there, but I have such idiosyncratic needs when it comes to those things, I don’t know if I could find a client I liked. Overall, it’s disappointing that I just can’t seem to find some of the things I rely on heavily every day, and I use my phone in such a specific way that it’s hard for me to just settle for apps that don’t quite do what I need them to.

Ultimately, I hope that webOS can make it; it’s interesting and has a lot to offer. The new hardware seems promising, if HP can get it into the market and in the hands of users. I’ll be curious to see if they can throw the marketing weight and budget behind the new devices the way they need to. My guess is that it ends up being a missed opportunity, but I really do hope I’m dead wrong.

A Tale of Two Androids

So since we need to start building cross-platform mobile apps, I picked up a bunch of new handsets last week to have in the office for development. I got a BlackBerry Torch, a new BB Curve, a Nexus S, and two Droid Xs.

BlackBerry OS is pretty much the same as it was the last time I seriously look at it, in 2008. Android, however, has grown in leaps and bounds since that same time. I was actually shocked that it was so good. Granted, there are a ton of ways in which it does (and will) always lack the finish of iOS, but it’s really come a long way. I played with the Nexus S for a while, and the straight, clean Android experience is really quite nice. The Droid X with its Verizon add ons is not quite as pleasant, but the hardware is unbelievable. That screen rivals the iPhone 4 in terms of clarity, and the body feels really solid. You take the pure Android and pair it with good hardware, and let a real designer have a crack at it to make it a little less, shall we say, neckbeardy, and you’ve got a serious contender. We all agreed that while we wouldn’t give up our current phones, Android surprised us a lot more than we expected.

Now to get my hands on a Windows Phone… It’s nice to see that the market is expanding. It only means better choices for consumers.

MarsEdit updates. Discriminating bloggers swoon.

It was only a short time ago that I wrote about the best blogging platform for Mac OS, MarsEdit, then in version 2. I was a little late to the party, but loved it so much upon finding it that I needed to share the good feelings. Today, Red Sweater dropped MarsEdit 3 on our undeserving heads.

It is a fantastic update, replete with worthy additions to the application. This page has a list of new features.

If you haven’t yet checked it out, and you have a Mac, and you have a blog, I highly recommend it. Times a million. Seriously.

MarsEdit 3

Tron love, and why I can’t wait for Legacy.

People forget just how groundbreaking Tron was in its day. We all think about the Matrix as that seminal turning point in computer-driven cinema (well, a lot of people do, at least) but Tron was pivotal in adopting the use of computers into the process of filmmaking. In fact, the movie was snubbed at the Oscars the following year because it was deemed as “cheating” by the Academy, as the special effects were predominantly CG. Of course, that became de rigueur almost immediately thereafter, sending the entire movie industry into a tailspin, the likes of which it has never fully recovered from. If you think I’m over-exaggerating, think about the last time you saw an explosion that wasn’t created on a computer. You can probably count on one hand how many of those there were in the last decade or so.

For me, it’s a touchstone back to my childhood. My well-worn VHS copy of Tron still sits in a Rubbermaid container, sealed away from my musty garage. I think I need to break it out and watch that copy, if only for the great trailers for other more “mature” Disney fare, like The Watcher in the Woods. I have the soundtrack, on both CD and vinyl, as well as memorabilia from both the US and Japanese release of the movie. Legacy looks so good I pee a little every time I watch the trailer. My only hope is that they don’t completely decimate the magic that made the first movie so special to a nerdy kid like me who was obsessed with anything tech-related in favor of eye candy. It’s not Citizen Kane, but Tron has its charms.

Tron was ahead of its time. Murderous, rogue, self-aware AI on a rampage, human-computer fusion, WWII allegories (ok, it’s a stretch, but you can see it) – all present in the story. At its center, a struggle, not against technology – but against restriction of technology through the censoring of thoughts and ideas. As goofy as people might think this movie is, it was prescient then, and it’s still valid now. For me, it’s a wonderful piece of my childhood of which I never tire.

I heard that the crew from Tron Legacy is getting poked to have a go at The Black Hole, another one of my childhood sci-fi gems. That movie (specifically Maximillian) scared the crap out of me. Silly by today’s standards, as a kid, that death-dealing red robot and those empty-faced things were creepy as hell. Here’s hoping that both Tron Legacy – and the possible Black Hole reboot – are purely awesome.