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Reading in Bed with a Kindle… I’m Getting Hooked, but I Don’t Love it

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

My mother-in-law received a 2nd generation Kindle as a gift from one of her publisher’s Penguin Books, which she recently passed along to my 12-year old daughter since she wasn’t using it. Given that “Granny” is a regular world traveler, a scholar, an avid reader, and a regularly published author, she is the kind of book person that would greatly benefit from the literal lightening of the load that an eBook offers, but alas, she chose to not work her way through the technological or psychological gap the Kindle ended up in her granddaughter’s lap… and now mine. As a technology guy, and someone who gets in trouble with my own clutter, I’ve always coveted the idea of a Kindle’s electronic tidiness, but the cost/opportunity/eventual obsolescence kept me from putting the hammer down.

Daughter rather liked the Kindle, but immediately ran into the issue of how to feed books into it on her limited budget (her iPod offers similar challenges). Dad on the other hand has a little bit more liberties disposable income wise, so I decided to borrow the device a few weeks ago, and am now nearly through my 2nd full length book (Daughter now wants the Kindle back). And while I don’t love it, I’m not ready to give it back yet. I’m curious as to what other’s experience has been.

The Kindle is Very Imperfect
I find the Kindle very imperfect, but will admit I’m hooked on having a small electronic slate next to bedside that quickly wakes to the page I left off on the night before. And while I love libraries and book stores, it’s amazingly convenient to hear about a book on the radio, or from a friend, and to get it delivered immediately.

I have a gooseneck LED reading lamp at bedside, which is almost required Kindle equipment, especially if one’s partner is trying to sleep when you are reading. The E Ink technology that allows the Kindle to run for weeks on end without a charge is not quite bright enough to read without another light source. From a reading in bed perspective, the oddest thing about the Kindle reading experience is turning pages. The 2nd generation Kindle relies on a dedicated page turning button which audibly clicks when you press it (apparently the newest 3rd generation Kindle has made this a quieter operation). If you haven’t done the Kindle thing, imagine a silent bedroom with your partner sleeping gently beside you… then click. The page turns sound positively cacophonous.

Since a Kindle book is readable on other devices, self conscious about waking my spouse, I tried reading one night on my Nexus One Android phone. Page turning is a simple silent finger swipe move, and of course the device’s AMOLED screen is very bright (no reading light required). Still there was something inherently awkward about hanging out under the covers with my smartphone in hand (and the brightness was definitely part of it). The handset is dense, where the Kindle is more balanced and thinner (more book like). We have a book jacket type cover for the Kindle, but the last couple of nights I’ve take the cover off as it adds unnecessary weight and the back flap is cumbersome while reading.

With the rise of Apple’s iPad, and various emerging competing tablet/slate solutions there is a great deal of debate regarding the relevance of a purpose built reading device like the Kindle. The pundits are suggesting that this holiday season will mark a real shift into eBook land similar to what we saw with digital music and photography. The question of course will be what will you be using to read those eBooks? One potential interesting challenger is Barnes & Noble, whose recent introduction of of the Nook Color (review here) delivers something in between an iPad and a Kindle, but still decidedly a reading device first. As far as form factor/device, I’m still on the fence. The Nook Color will undoubtedly evolve (or die) quickly, so conventional wisdom is to stay away from this first generation device.

Are you reading in bed with your iPad or Kindle? Do you love it? or are you a Luddite and sticking with paper for now?

P.S. I highly recommend my first 2 eBooks: Jane Levy’s The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood and Mark Greenside’s I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do).

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Categories: Mobility, Software Tags: ,

No Outlook in My Future: Migrating to Google Apps and Leaving my Blackberry Behind

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

After using Outlook/Exchange since 1997 and RIM/BlackBerry devices since 2004, I recently spearheaded a move to migrate TPC Healthcare (the boutique healthcare technology firm that I founded) to Google Apps and to Google’s Android devices. For a long time I considered myself to be a big Microsoft/RIM guy, but over the last couple of years something really shifted for me, not the least of which was spinning off my business into its own entity. Partially this shift was about saving money. At $50-per-year-per-user, Google Apps Premier Edition is a no-brainer for the small business owner who needs enterprise features. Prior to this move I’d been outsourcing seats on Exchange/BlackBerry Enterprise servers for $22.90-per-user-per-month, along with a Smartphone Enterprise $45/month/user data plan. I had become accustomed to these overhead costs, but when presented with the possibility of saving 50 percent while getting a broader set of applications, I knew I had to check it out. But cost was not the only reason I switched to Google. As a small business we have the opportunity to be nimbler than the large competitors we face every day. Having excellent communication tools and well organized data is a competitive advantage for us — as is the ability to have shared-anytime-anywhere access to our assets. And as I evaluated our options, I considered Google Apps to be a practical and unifying move that could be done quickly with limited cost outlay.

Read the rest of my case study @ Internet.com’s EnterpriseMobileToday here: http://bit.ly/drof2u

Touchscreens are Overrated… or I miss your BlackBerry. This is NO fun. :-(

May 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night I went to a local carnival with my daughter and her friend, leaving my lovely wife at home to quietly enjoy her beloved NY Mets. She’s not much for crowds or for the intense suburban stew of these types of Lion’s Club events. A couple of times a year, I happily do carnival duty, thankful at least that I no longer have to go on the swinging pirate ship ride anymore. Several times the wife checked in via email with me, and I happily responded with two or three word bursts. Her last reply to me was: I miss your BlackBerry. This is NO fun. 😦

Truth be told, had I had a physical keyboard, I probably would have a more fluid electronic conversation thread with her. So in spite of having Swype (a great keyboard replacement for my Google Nexus One smartphone), the reality is that I am reluctant to to type much on my device and find myself thinking twice about doing anything that requires much text input.

This is true of email, but also of “texting.” While terse communication is more accepted here, sometimes this is the best way to reach some people–for some folks SMS messaging is a much more reliable means of interaction. Sometimes “K” or “C U l8tr” are just enough, but I’m rarely hot to do more than grunt using my touchscreen device. Interestingly enough, I’ve felt kind of liberated by the fact that I discovered that I can “text” these people from inside of Gmail, using the “Text Messaging in Chat” lab module.

Sometimes I Need More than Less
Now some people will say that touchscreen devices encourage an improved “less is more,” communication, but IMHO that’s really folks trying to justify the choice of their slick iPhone, Droid, or now iPad. Yes there are all the cool apps, and you have the computing power of something that used just sit on your lap or your desk, but trust me this is not a good input device, no matter what any of the marketing is saying.

I’ve been a mobile “device” guy now for 15 years, so I’m no neophyte here. I’ve owned my share of devices, including an original Palm Pilot, Casio Cassiopeia, a Vadem Clio, a Palm V (one of their best), an early Windows smartphone (brand or model that I don’t remember as it was not especially memorable), an iPod, and several different Blackberrys. I also used a Motion tablet (based on Windows tablet edition) as my main computer for 2 years.

As I hard as I tried, I eventually dumped the tablet and went back to a keyboard.

Now I’ve never owned an iPhone (or iPad), so the Apple fanboys in the crowd can throw stuff at me for lumping them in with everyone else, but I can’t imagine that input wise for day in day out chores, that it’s much better than my Nexus One.

Touchscreen Devices Are Great, But
Touchscreen devices are great for selecting things, especially if they are well designed and don’t give you too many choices. The interface to my Honda navigation system is a good example, but in spite of how sleek it feels to lose the keyboard, if you need to input stuff (and I’m someone who does), keyboards are just better. Good luck writing this post on an iPad.

Speech recognition can obviously work great too, but again the key is limiting choice like the beloved Vocera devices that my company TPC Healthcare supports. Still regardless of how much better recognition has become, it’s best for “commands” not for free form conversation, or “writing,” especially under mobile conditions. I do use my Honda’s speech rec (“XM Channel 57″ works great), also Google’s on my Nexus One, but it still is not there yet (and trust me I’ve tried).

I’ve not completely given up on the Nexus One, but I may yet. If Google made a fast Android device with a good integrated physical keyboard that ran on AT&T’s network, I would buy it tomorrow (the Milestone is an option, but probably smart to see what the next generation brings). And I’m not counting RIM out either. Once they have a webkit browser, they will become relevant again, especially if they continue to make the phone experience excellent.

And the 10” netbook that I’m  writing this on is cheap, readable, fast, accurate, and very portable. It doesn’t have the panache of the Apple or Google brand on it, and I’m not going to slip this into my pocket, but clearly shows the challenging gaps that still need to be overcome.

Categories: Mobility Tags: ,

Mobilize Your WordPress Website for Free Using WPtouch

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

A few month’s back, my better half wrote a piece for Small Business Computing, entitled “Why You Need a Mobile Website” which convincingly advocates that all business need to have a mobile device strategy for their web applications. I’d back burnered the advice until today when I discovered a crafty mobile theme for WordPress called WPtouch from the Canadian web shop BraveNewCode. After installing the theme, I built a new mobile home page for TPC Healthcare in about 5 minutes which renders perfectly on Zack’s iPhone, or my Nexus One device.

One of course shouldn’t assume that the beautifully crafted site with lots of graphics and nested content will miraculously adapt it’s design to fit on the small screen. WPtouch, assumes that the mobile user needs the facts fast, and by applying very skinny design to your content, it does the job remarkably well (especially for free). In fact, I chose on the first go round, to adapt our contact page and make it be a new mobile home page. In one quick screen, someone hitting our site from their mobile device can found out what we do and now how to contact us. What a concept…

Moving your Blackberry to Google Apps? Some things I learned along the way

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

If you ended up at this blog post, there’s a good chance that you are a long-time Blackberry user like myself who is either thinking about moving over to Google Apps or have already done it. Before we pulled the plug last week on our BES-based deployment for our boutique healthcare technology business, I did as much homework as I could. Oddly, in spite of the millions of users out there who have Blackberry’s tied to a BES and Exchange server, I was hard pressed to find anyone who had the complete picture of doing this type of migration cleanly. Frankly, I was nervous. Now that our migration is done, I feel compelled to share some things I learned along the way.

Our Goal: Retain as Much Continuity as Possible for Mobile Users
Trying to maintain a continuously synchronized wireless environment for our Blackberry users was an important goal for me. I wanted it to be as BES-like on the user side as possible. At this point, we’re most of the way there. If I were starting from scratch, here’s what our “To Do” list would have looked like. Note, that if you are not coming from a BES-based environment, this post is not for you.

  1. Migrate users Exchange data to Google Apps first. No matter how you slice and dice it, moving a mailbox that has been building up over many years can be messy, especially if a Blackberry is involved. The key here is create a single master repository and make sure things look they way you want it. There are many ways of doing this, including Google’s new Exchange-based mechanism; however, I found that using Google’s IMAP migration tool was cleanest for us.
  2. Clean calendar and contacts migration can be tricky. For calendaring and contacts, after many experiments we found that doing .csv-based uploads was also cleanest (and yes we tried Google Apps sync). As hard as Google engineers have tried to make this easy, Outlook/Exchanged based mailbox data structures can get screwed up over time, especially if users have ever had any kind of plugins involved, or have ever used 3rd party synchronization tools. I found that using .csv was fast and accurate with the least amount of heartache. There are some short coming to this (recurring meetings will get replicated, rather than retain their recurrence), but I’m not sorry we did it this way. If you decide to do the the .csv thing, make sure your users specify a wide data range if they want to preserve past and future calendar entries (e.g. we chose 2/1/2006 – 2/1/2012). If you’ve never done this before, you can try this recipe
  3. Break the connection between the Blackberry device and the BES. For the enterprise, the Blackberry Enterprise Server is the secret sauce for management, control, and security. Fortunately, our former Exchange provider AppRiver doesn’t lock down the devices security policy wise on their hosted BES. In the event, that you find yourself with devices that have a BES security policy, you will want the BES admin to send a blank security policy to the device. If for whatever reason you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have access to the BES admin, this link details how you can roll your own without help of the BES. We were determined to not completely wipe the devices, but if your users can deal with that, a complete wipe is probably not a bad idea.
  4. Prepare a machine with a copy of a recent copy of the Blackberry desktop software. In order to avoid duplication of messages during initial synchronization with Google Apps, I advise wiping the “messages,” “address book,” and “calendar” databases off of the Blackberry’s you’re working with. Again, the best data integrity will come from having one master and making Google be it made the most sense to me. If your users must have access to their old mail on their device, skip clearing the messages database. Some other things to keep in mind as you approach this:
    1. Turn off wireless reconciliation for each of the core databases. This link will show you how. If you don’t do this, you will not be able to clear the databases using the desktop manager
    2. Wiping the databases entails using the Backup and Restore feature in the desktop software. Not a bad idea to make one last backup of the device databases and save them to somewhere safe. Use the Advanced option described here to clear the databases from the device (this link only describes how to do the address book, but you can apply the process to the other databases too).
  5. Delete the “Desktop” service book from the devices. There are many sets of instructions on the net on how to do this. Here’s one in case you can’t find this on your own. This step allows the device to forget about it’s former partnership with a BES.
  6. Make sure to enable IMAP in the respective user’s Google Apps Gmail account. This is not turned on by default, so  you will need to go into the user’s email settings as described here.
  7. Get your users BIS credentials and Setup Up Each User with IMAP. If a device never had personal email addresses associated with it, creating a new account is pretty straight forward. If your users have already been using their devices for “personal” email, chances are they set up an account with the Blackberry Internet service from the device itself. Ask the users if they remember the users name/password combination (many will not, and you may end up calling the carrier to find out). Keep in mind that the end point for this migration, will be an IMAP connected Blackberry that uses the Blackberry Internet Services (BIS), and you will need to either create a new BIS account (for the user that hasn’t already done this), or associate Google Apps IMAP configuration with the device’s PIN. In practice, it is much easier to do from the web, rather than from the device. You can find links to the respective carriers here. While it is possible to do this from a wizard on the device, the web-based interface is much easier, especially if one using a touch-screen based Blackberry.
  8. Resend the Service Books from the BIS. On the newer version of the BIS, you will find this option under the “Help” menu. While this isn’t absolutely necessary, this kind of completes the housekeeping in converting over to BIS-based email.
  9. Install the Enhanced Gmail plugin.  This Blackberry plug in brings the Gmail experience to your device, allows you to archive emails, use labels, and look at threaded conversations in a gmail-centric way. If you ask around you will find that some people love it, and some hate it. Usability wise it doesn’t feel very Blackberry like, and some have reported that it’s slow.  I’d suggest installing it, as it doesn’t take away the normal methods of interacting with email on your Blackberry (the native email now configured for IMAP and Gmail will still work). Details on setting up the plugin are here.
  10. Install Google Sync on the Blackberry devices. This device side application will make your device whole again as it relates to calendar and contacts. In practice it works quite well and you won’t notice it’s there. There’s a link on this page that will send an SMS with a link to the mobile application set up. Once setup this runs in the background in provides a 2-way synchronization of the core PDA apps. Heads up, Notes, and Tasks will not sync.  According to Google the “automatic” setting (the default), syncs every 2 hours, or every time you change an event on the device.
  11. Call your carrier and change the data service for the Blackberry to the PDA plan, rather than the corporate or BES-type plan. In the case of AT&T this downgrade saved us $15 per month per user.

Google Should’ve Partnered with Zappos Instead of HTC on the Nexus One!

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a story about customer service and the smartphone, about how Google not completely comprehending what they bargained for when they decided to get into the phone business. In spite of early issues, Google’s piece of the customer service equation likely works right (I truly was handled by a great rep), but that’s only part of their equation. They are not going at this alone. The other part is their unforgiving partner HTC (manufactures their devices and handles device fulfillment and customer service) who live on a separate island (and as a google phone customer you will likely feel this). And yes I made the choice to roll my own here by buying a device without a carrier, but I’d truly believe we deserve all better than this.

And let’s say that in spite of bad rap that the various carriers take (I’m with AT&T); they would have handled my situation so much better. And Zappo’s, in spite of the ordering confusion (on whomever’s side), I would have walked away from the transaction with a smile and confidence that would make me easily come back to them for lots more stuff. Now Zappos doesn’t sell the Google phone, but ah we should wish they did 🙂 And maybe if Google figured their way through their customer service weaknesses (in this and other areas), they would be able to sell a lot more Nexus Ones (which are apparently not selling as well as hoped for).

So What Happened Mr. Schiff?
I put the hammer down last Wednesday on the just released AT&T-ready Google Nexus One. I’m one of those folks who prefers to shop online (I put my Honda Accord from CarsDirect sight unseen). So I happily went to Google’s website and plunked down $1,058US for 2 devices purchased without a contract and no strings attached to my carrier (I covered my thinking on this previously here). The transaction part was easy… and the devices were on my doorstep within 36 hours.

I quickly take the old SIM card out of my Blackberry Curve, stick it into the Nexus One and I’m off and running. The device boots. Phone calls work. I can surf the web… All is seemingly good in smartphone land. Several days into my Android weekend fog (learning how to use the thing) running it on my home network, I realize that device is has not once managed to get on AT&T’s 3G network.

OK, I’m thinking, I live in a heavily wooded area, maybe they don’t have coverage here. So I check the “map” and find out that I truly live in a blue state and there is 3G in most places I’d likely stray in my day-to-day travels. I drive down from the woods, still no 3G. Drive up to Danbury, still stuck on the AT&T’s 2G Edge Network. Something is off here.

So where does one go for help on this? Hard to know where to start
I do what I know how to do and head online (imagine if my Mom or Mother-in-law had the same problem?) Someone in one of the quickly developing Android community forum sites suggested it might be my old Blackberry SIM. Made sense, so I headed to the AT&T store. Nice folks over there, but they’d never seen one of them Google phones (agent scratches his head), but they happily upgrade my SIM no questions asked. Still no 3G. We reboot the phone, downgrade my data plan now that I don’t have a Blackberry in the mix, but that didn’t do it either.

The AT&T guys bid me good luck and I’m home to figure this out on my own. Next step is to head to Google’s phone website, and alas there was a real phone # to call: 1-888-48-NEXUS (63987)–at least you can call them. I was very quickly on the line with a very knowledgeable agent. Within less than 5 minutes, we figured out that I somehow ended up with a T-Mobile version of the phone, which because it wasn’t provisioned with the right radio would never work on the AT&T’s 3G network. Bingo… this should be easy to correct. Hah!

The agent asked me at the end of the call, how I’d rate the service on the call on a 1-5 basis (5 being best)… I emphatically said, 5!  I asked if he would set up an RMA for me (I was clearly too fast in my rating of the transaction), and he said that HTC would handle, but that he would get me on the line with one of their folks. OK, no worries. I was quickly talking to an HTC agent.

The Dreaded Restocking Fee
The new agent was very quick to advise me that if I’d used my phone, it would be subject to a $45US restocking fee. Thanks Mr. Agent, but I’m not one of those folks who kicked the tires and decided that perhaps an iPhone would be better for me. And yes, I just paid full boat for two devices! I quickly explained to the agent my tale of mistaken phone identity. Surely he would understand that there’s no way I would have ordered a T-Mobile phone, especially since I ordered two, and the other one we received was an AT&T one. And taking that one step further, the T-Mobile option was 2nd on the list of two that one could select on Google’s site, and it just didn’t make sense that I would be confused by that usability wise. I would have had to deliberately moused down to get to the T-Mobile one. I suggested to the agent that this was a supply chain error, and there’s was no way I was paying them $45 for their error.

I was getting nowhere fast with this guy, so asked that he escalate this to his supervisor. The supervisor gave me no satisfaction either.

In fairly routine fashion in spite of whatever angle I approached him from, he read me back the terms of service regarding open packages. He was careful to not give me an inch or set any expectation that I would end up doing anything else but paying them $45 for what was obviously my error. Surely I suggested that he must have some discretionary ability in these cases to make it right for the customer. “Sorry Mr. Schiff, but our system says you bought a T-Mobile device, which we delivered per the terms of service.”

And even if he felt compelled by my story, he reiterated that “his systems were not capable of accommodating any kind of reversal for this type of issue.” He wasn’t budging. OK, I asked if I could talk to his supervisor. “Sorry, it’s after 6 PM and there’s no one around who would be any higher up than I am.” I asked if I had any recourse, and he indicated that he can place a request within the system and that someone would get back to me in 24-48 hours, but I that he would do nothing to encourage me to believe that there would be a different outcome. OK, so I have a case #… Good luck!

The HTC  agents were professional and polite throughout, but I never had the sense that they cared a rat’s a*s about making it right for me, or anyone else. And in spite for the fact that I bought the phone from Google, they were gone from the transaction. The Google guy was great technically, but he had no capability of closing the loop on this own, and no ownership over what happened. By the book, he did his job, but clearly there was something missing. Once I was shoveled off to HTC,  the message was pretty consistent throughout. Per them, there’s no way that I as a customer could be right. No benefit of the doubt in their world.

High Volume Online Transactions and Quality Customer Service are Not Mutually Exclusive
In the end I am likely to eat the $45 here, and in the big scope of things, this is really a small story not worth crying too much about. Still, high volume online transactions and customer service can be delivered much better than this. Zappos, LL Bean, and Amazon come to mind. These are folks that know how to do this right. I’ve bought and returned tons of electronics items from the likes of NewEgg.com and Buy.com without friction… and I’ve gone back to those sellers time and again because of the trust that they will do what’s necessary to make it right. I go to buy something from them, I know I won’t get the third degree if something needs to be returned.

The Google/HTC thing is still very young. As they move out of the pure world of bit and bytes, one hopes they get better touch with their customers as human beings rather than just transactions.

Update 1: It appears that others have experienced the same problem with getting shipped the wrong N1. So if you’re buying a Nexus One from Google be careful during the checkout process, but also when you receive the device. Here’s some info to help you clearly see what you’ve purchased…

If it’s AT&T, your invoice will say:
Nexus One phone (GSM 3G 850/1900/2100MHz)

If it’s T-Mobile, your invoice will say:
Nexus One phone (GSM 3G 900/AWS/2100MHz)

Careful, during the checkout process this is far from from obvious. And once you receive the device, there’s nothing on the actual device or box that clearly identifies a device as T-Mobile or AT&T.

The only way to know for sure is to look inside behind the battery, or on the white box that the device is packed in (next to the bar codes).

The T-Mobile device will read: PB99100
The AT&T device will read: PB99110

Update 2: It appears that my “case” didn’t get far on its own within the walls of HTC. I decided to give them a follow up call with my case # in hand. This time around I was not stonewalled and a supervisor was quickly brought in a waived the restocking fee. So if you get stonewalled, make sure to keep pushing, get a case # and make sure to follow up. HTC can be reached directly @ 888.216.4736

Categories: Mobility Tags: , ,

Wouldn’t it Be Great if the Carriers Didn’t Call the Shots?

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

the Google PhoneAccording to reports across the net this weekend, Google will soon release Nexus One smartphone, a pot luck device that you bring to your own carrier (device not tied to a contract). And while I have my concerns about Google domination (or Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, or anyone controlling an entire end to end experience), I’m watching this carefully.

As a business owner, I hate not having choices. I resent being beholden to cell phone carriers (in my case ATT), especially because of the limitations that they are likely to place on what device I can use on their network. Thought not confirmed, it seems that I would be able to use a Nexus One on ATT, or T-Mobile or any other GSM network, no hacking required. I’m liking that. And it’s not the Google specified HTC hardware I covet, it’s freedom.

This week I had to go shopping for two replacement Blackberrys (literally because the devices are about to die), and because I really didn’t want to lock in for an additional 2-year commitment contract wise, decided to go the eBay route to by unlocked devices at a premium so that I would be able to have more freedom of choice as new devices become available (and this was even before hearing about the Nexus One).

Sure ATT would have gave me lots of incentives to get heavily discounted sexier replacement devices (and most consumers cave during this process), but no matter what way you played it there would be strings attached. Trapping customers is certainly not unique to ATT, so I’m not dumping on them, but rather an industry that is decidedly customer unfriendly (and I have been a business customer of Verizon and Sprint too).

And in fairness to ATT, service wise we are OK, and have been able to make their plans work well for our small business. I may be in the minority, but I’d rather pay the real cost of the devices of my choosing and have freedom in exchange. Have an opinion on this?

Categories: Mobility Tags: ,