Google Goggles

If you haven’t heard about Google Goggles yet, it’s worth checking out. We all do text searches, and some folks are doing voice search as well. But how about a visual search? I don’t mean searching for an image – I mean using an image as the search object. Goggles is currently available for Android phones. I’m curious to see whether Google will roll out a version for the iPhone, WebOS, or other platforms. Goggles’ potential is easy to see (no pun intended). Time will tell whether there is a demand for this type of search. The things that work are interesting enough. However, I think the things that Google says it can’t do (yet) are even more interesting!

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Palm Pre – the Hype, the Hope, and the Wait

So . . . About a week ago Palm unveiled the Pre at CES. Their newest phone garnered a lot of press and blog space, and for the Palm faithful who desperately hoped that the company would knock one out of the park, it was a moment of dreams finally fulfilled. Well . . . almost. So far there is no firm delivery date. The price hasn’t even been set yet, so customers can’t even pre-order the device. Ha! Get it? Pre? They can’t PRE-order the Pre. Anywho . . .

What started off as a major event that turned a lot of heads has rapidly descended to a dull murmur, and that’s really too bad for Palm. I have only seen photos and videos of the device, but it looks good. Most reviewers have been genuinely enthusiastic, and some have raved about this new phone. With all that good press, it’s a shame that Palm doesn’t have a product ready to ship. I’m ready to give it a try. Of course we would all prefer a product that is as bug-free as possible, so I can certainly understand waiting until it’s actually ready, but I’m sure Palm would like to capitalize on all the positive buzz their unveiling generated.

Over the last month many articles have lauded Palm as the company that essentially built the handheld market. Their PDAs were mainstays for many years. Unfortunately, as other companies entered the market and pushed it forward with new innovations, Palm struggled to hold its place. The company lost ground as its own product lines stagnated – a fact highlighted by the emergence of RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, and a plethora of Windows Mobile devices.

There is always room for competition in the marketplace. The iPhone, Blackberry, and Android products seems to be spurring each other along nicely. However, in the past Palm has contributed well-designed hardware and software, so another solid OS would be a good addition to the mix. Let’s hope Palm can get something to market before they are completely irrelevant.

Still Eyeing the iPhone

I’m still considering the options, but while I wait and cogitate, the performance on my Treo 680 continues to degrade. It suffers from inexplicable slow-downs, random reboots, and increasingly poor web browsing. (Seriously Palm, don’t you think it’s about time for a Blazer update? And don’t even get me started on Opera Mini!)

So . . . I’m waiting for details on this mythical next-generation device and OS from Palm. Yawn. Some year perhaps.

I waited for Android to finally roll out. Interesting, but it still needs to prove itself.

BlackBerry Storm? Looks very good, and I’ve never even really liked the looks of BlackBerry devices. However, it’s getting some mixed reviews from users. Some like it as a first smartphone, but others say it’s a step down from a traditional BlackBerry or even an iPhone. Lots of buzz over on Engadget.

And then there’s the iPhone. I’ve played with an iPhone a number of times. I like the device, and over the years Apple has given us some truly brilliant interface designs. I WANT to like the iPhone even more. But human nature compels us to compare the new with the familiar. My Treo, tired and dated though it is, still goes the iPhone one better in a number of areas. I keep wondering – when the iPhone is so superior is so many areas – why does Apple let it fail on some keys points that are of genuine concern/interest to iPhone users and would-be users?

Although I’ve played with an iPhone many times, I don’t use one as my primary device, I don’t sync data on it, and I haven’t had to do any installation or setup with one. I’m drawing my concerns from a number of sources around the Internet, and in trying to make an informed decision, I find myself wondering just what I can live without if I make the iPhone jump.

No Video Recording
What was Apple thinking? Hello! The camera is already on the phone. It is attached to what is perhaps the largest hard drive on any cell phone out there. So why can’t users record video? Surely the processor and hard drive can keep up, so what are the limiting factors? Software? Laziness? Apple?

No multimedia MMS
Again, what were they thinking? Cell phones have been doing this for years. Why would they roll out a device without a feature that is now pretty much standard issue on phones in this class?

No Sync with Outlook Notes
From what I’ve read the iPhone can successfully synchronize Outlook e-mail, contacts, and calendar information, but it cannot sync notes or tasks. While this was excusable when the device rolled out, what’s the hold-up now? Apple is working hard to push this device in enterprise markets. So why – this long after its release – are users still waiting for full integration between the device and a piece of software heavily used in the corporate world? I use notes extensively for everything from project lists to troubleshooting and installation tips. I use my notes regularly, and I like being able to sync them and carry them around on my phone. Since I use them so much, this inability to sync Outlook notes is a major shortcoming for me.

No Built-in Multisync Option
Again, considering the way I work, the fact that there is no native way to sync an iPhone with multiple computers is another major shortcoming. I regularly move between an office desktop, a home desktop, and a laptop. I need to be able to keep data in sync between all of these devices and my handheld. This is actually a pretty easy thing to accomplish with a Palm device. In fact, I’ve been able to sync with multiple computers for years on a variety of Palm handhelds. Apple makes it annoyingly difficult – so difficult in fact, that they want to sell you a $99 subscription to their MobileMe service. Fail. I don’t want my data to live in their cloud, and I suspect many corporate environments wouldn’t want that either. I don’t want a suite of fancy web apps to let me manage my data online. I just want to plug my device into 3 different computers and press a sync button.

So . . . I’m still undecided. The iPhone definitely has a great interface, but do I really want to sacrifice functionality I have now on my old, outdated device?

A Consistent User Experience for Mobile Browsing

Thinking about cell phones makes me think about both their possibilities and their limitations. The online experience is an increasingly important consideration for cell phone users. Cell phones are becoming more complex and truly reaching the level of handheld PCs. For many users computing is increasingly an online activity, and they expect a natural and seamless convergence point. The problem of course, is that the applications simply aren’t there. The lack of a Flash player come to mind. If you’re running Windows Mobile, you can enjoy some Flash content. But no Flash for iPhone. No Flash for Palm OS. Can you say “No YouTube”? What about Android? Who knows?

The layout and display will obviously vary on mobile devices due to varying screen sizes. I can accept that image resolution will be different since cell phone resolution falls far below desktop resolution. But the current state of mobile devices and online content is such that in many cases you simply can’t view it. I think of radio as a fitting analogy here. Whether it’s a portable radio, car radio, home stereo component, or an online player, you can get the same radio content. Sure the quality will vary according to the quality of the device that you’re listening on, but in each case you can at least get the content. Not so with far too many web sites and web applications.

As user behavior increasingly moves mobile and online, mobile device manufacturers and software developers have to make sure that users can access and work with their content through any website on which it resides and with any of a host of mobile devices. There is certainly room for specialized applications offering advanced features, but full interactivity with all major websites should be a core goal for all software and device manufacturers. It’s no longer a question of just what users want; it’s a matter of what they need.

A Trio of Cell Phones

I look at new cell phones from time to time as I ponder which one will be my next. I’ve been using a Treo 680 for awhile, but as I’ve noted before, the browser just isn’t holding to the current crop of web applications. For this reason (among others), I’m on the lookout.

Since I’m currently a Treo user, naturally I’m interested in what Palm’s next offering will be. A few photos recently “leaked” out on Palm’s website, and they made their way over to Engadget before Palm removed them. The so-called Treo Pro looks sorta – um . . . how should one say it? Meh. Yeah that’s the word. Sure it looks kind of sleek and shiny. But when compared with the iPhone 3G, that Palm screen looks mighty small and all those buttons make the device look cluttered and clunky. Funny – the Treos didn’t look quite so bad before the original iPhone came out. This device finally includes built-in WiFi, but I’m still waiting and watching. A number of people are watching for Palm’s long-rumored next-generation user interface. The device and its UI can definitely use a makeover, and some industry analysts are predicting that the new phone will be the make it or break device for Palm.

And then there’s the iPhone. Good and getting better. The app store is a great addition. It’s about time for users to be able to choose their own applications, dontcha think? But there is still no user replaceable battery. And the rumors about reception problems go on and on and on. In fact, there have been so many post about this problem on the support forum that Apple has already locked two threads. Some people are suggesting a hardware issue. Some people are suggesting software. So far Apple isn’t admitting a problem. No surprise there.

So what about Android? It sounds like it’s finally about to hit. The New York Times is reporting that T-Mobile will offer the first phone with Google’s eagerly anticipated Android software. The new phone by HTC may make it into the stores before year’s end. The Android software creates an entirely new realm for cell phone technology by offering a OPEN platform. Of course this OS is still a dark horse since we don’t have any real world tests yet, but it will be interesting to watch.

I guess I’m no closer to choosing a new phone, and the contenders just keep making it a tougher choice.