January, 2010

Jan 10

iPhone & Android

I’ve had a Nexus One for a couple of weeks now, and think that with Android 2.1, it’s a good advance. Right at the moment, I’m having issues with the battery — can’t hold a charge for more than about 5 minutes, even after multiple varieties of soft & hard resets. But setting that aside, I think it’s a good device with a good operating system.

A few thoughts on the comparisons — I think I’m not adding much here that hasn’t already been written:

  • The fit & finish of the hardware I like on the Nexus One a little better than on my iPhone — but you should take that with a grain of salt, since my iPhone is more than a year old.
  • Nexus One is much faster than my 3G iPhone, which is getting slower and slower with higher latency all the time.
  • The web is a much more legitimate first class citizen on Android than on the iPhone — should be no surprise. It’s just more integrated in dozens of ways. Not as totally web native as Palm, but still really good.
  • Notifications on Android, and background processes that can fetch data and fire notifications, are much, much better than anything on iPhone. (Except for the inability to have app badges — seems like they should add those soon.)
  • And I really like that there are indicator lights — the trackball and the charging light — on the Nexus One to tell you things without needing to unlock the phone.
  • The virtual keyboard on Android has some good advances, but ultimately doesn’t enable the quick accuracy of the iPhone — I think the iPhone is messing with hit targets as you type, depending on the likelihood for each letter — and it helps tremendously.
  • I’m no longer really worried about the lack of applications on Android — it seems very clear that everyone will start writing apps for both iPhone and Android as first tier platforms — but I am a little concerned about the quality of the app experience on Android — the apps just don’t feel like they’re put together nearly as well. It seems like they can access more of the operating system than iPhone apps can, so they should ultimately be more compelling, but the user experience just is very inconsistent at best, and really awful at worst. This is clearly due to the SDK for each OS — Apple’s SDK just seems to allow developers to put together applications that feel better overall. This is just one area where the battle feels a lot like we’re repeating history with an Apple platform versus a more open platform.
  • Google Voice on the Nexus one is a fantastic experience. It’s very clear that traditional telephony is walking dead.

At the end of the day, though, my iPhone experience is just more intimate than my Android experience — it feels more like it has my life on it, while the Android just feels like a very good phone and mobile web device. It’s just easier to get more of what I care about — my pictures, my music, my movies, games I like, and all my books (via the Kindle app) on my iPhone. So it feels more like an integrated part of my life than the Android. As frustrated as I am with my current iPhone 3G because of battery life & sluggishness & general physical-falling-apart, I still feel better when I have it than an Android.

So I’m encouraged by the advances of Android & the Nexus One — and fully expect that the huge array of players in the ecosystem will push things forward more quickly now — ultimately, we as consumers really need a platform for our mobile lives that’s an alternative to Cupertino — not because of what Apple is per se, but because multiple choices means that everyone has to get better.

Jan 10

Zeo Followup

A few weeks ago, I blogged about why I returned my Zeo sleep tracker — I liked it, but didn’t trust the data as much as I wanted to. A few days after I posted, I was contacted by Derek Haswell, who manages a bunch of their social media efforts — he had noticed my tweets and blog, and sent me a note to see if I’d be willing to chat with him and their VP of Scientific Affairs, John Shambroom. My initial experience with the Zeo notwithstanding, I’m a huge fan of the company, and am up for helping anyone who’s trying to help us all understand sleep a little bit better. So I spent a half hour or so on the phone with them chatting about my experience and some of the science in the Zeo.

You’ll recall that the last straw for me was that the Zeo wasn’t registering periods of wakefulness that I knew were happening — 5 or 10 minutes at a time — so that undermined my faith it it. Shambroom said that, counter-intuitively, determining wake state is actually harder than telling the difference between light sleep, deep sleep, and REM — the brain waves (or whatever) just aren’t really differentiated enough from light sleep. So periods of wakefulness are a weak point in the system.

We talked for a while about the implications of that — and ultimately I came to this understanding: my relationship with sleep is a pretty emotional one, and often intensely frustrating. What I mean when I say that is that because I’ve had trouble sleeping my whole life — with both apnea and insomnia issues — and it’s such a hard problem to debug properly, combined with the fact that when I can’t sleep I’m always tired & cranky — that all adds up to a lot of emotional context when trying to figure out my sleep. And in particular, the parts when I’m awake and can’t get back to sleep are the most obviously frustrating, since I’m asleep during the other times.

And so when you take the fact that the Zeo fell down on tracking a scientifically not-that-interesting issue (short periods of wakefulness), but highly emotionally charged one (can’t sleep!), that adds up to a perception problem (at least) for Zeo. They’re working on it, though, and I’m encouraged that they’re really trying to get this better as they go.

I was really happy for them to reach out to me to understand my own situation, and was really happy with their followups after the call (they sent me some research that may help me understand some things better).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the next improvement from them, and my overall experience so far has been pretty good.

Jan 10


Okay, so I’m about 5 days into my experiment with Android on the Nexus One. Mostly I agree with what MG writes; I’ll put some other thoughts down later.

But the thing that I’m struggling with the most is calendar. The built-in calendar is really mostly built for Google Calendar, although I think it can subscribe (but not edit or publish) to .ics files. So that’s great if you’re using Google Calendar, not so much if you’re using anything else.

Here at Mozilla, we run Zimbra for mail, calendar, messaging, etc. With my iPhone, I just set up the CalDAV account, and it works great.

With my Android phone, so far best solution is to use the 3rd party app TouchDown, but I don’t love it — for all the reasons you’d imagine not loving a 3rd party Exchange client. ­čÖé

So I’m willing to jump through a couple of hoops here — syncing Zimbra with GCal maybe? — but am a little stumped on what the best thing to do is. My calendar essentially runs my life — without it, it’s going to be hard to live with the Android.

Jan 10

Lots to write…

I’ve had lots of things I want to write about lately, but no time or mood to write. But hopefully over the next few weeks. Among other things I want to write about:

  • Zeo followups
  • Moving blog to wordpress.com? (would lose the widgets on the RHS though)
  • Christmas through a 4-year-old’s eyes and other thoughts on the nature of time and being in the moment
  • Thoughts on using Android on the Nexus One
  • Some reactions to location-based apps like Gowalla, 4square, etc.

And then a bunch of stuff I’m reading. Too Big To Fail is great, but also sorta too long to read. About 1/2way through. The new Lethem I’m really struggling to get through. A little too inside NYC.

Jan 10

Generation A, by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland is one of my most enduring favorite authors, along with Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Murakami and Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve found him to be the voice of my generation many times — even including when he popularized the term “Generation X” for my generation — in the title of his 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

Looking back now, from 2010, it’s clear that while we felt like life was accelerated in 1991, we had no idea how much faster culture and life would get — that we’d see the fundamental innovation of the web start to take hold just a few years later, and the rate of change would just get faster and faster and faster.

Coupland’s themes have always really spoken to me — he writes about the struggles we all go through to make meaning of our lives — in his book Life After God, he explores the idea that in the past, in America, that religion and the church was the main organizing principle — the connective tissue between events & moments that ultimately shapes all of it into something coherent. But that religion, for many Gen Xers, has lost that narrative power — and so we’re all searching around for something else to take its place.

The answer, naturally, has to be that nothing can take it’s place, and finding meaning in your life was never really connected purely to religion anyway — but the structure of activity and thought that religion brought made it a little easier. Finding meaning — rather, making meaning — is more intrinsic than that; it has to come from within yourself.

But I’ve been having a hard time with Coupland’s last few books — they’ve been harder for me to believe & internalize — they’re just a little more random and less accessible than I found his writing before. Or it may be that as he — and I, and all of Generation X — gets older that the ideas of alienation and narrative and meaning are getting harder to think about, harder to see — so you have to just tell stories to try to get a glimpse at their truths.

I liked this book; it’s a little quirkier than I was hoping for, and I can’t tell yet what meaning to make from it — but think I may come back to it in a year or two to consider it again. (And it’s already caused me to pick up Life After God again.)