Gogobeans: When Bump met Dropbox

As longtime readers know, one of my longtime areas of interest are proximity-based sharing, a topic I most recently discussed in the context of AirDrop.. At CTIA, though, I got a chance to meet with Gogobeans, which is combining the notion of a Dropbox-like locker for personal content with Bump-like (or perhaps Color-like) – cloud-based detection of proximity. In Gogobeans’ case, rather than bumping together handsets, they are simply shaken at the same time. One advantage to this is that it facilitates one-to-many transactions; a speaker could share a presentation with an audience. Like Dropbox, Pogoplug, and others, Gogobeans also allows you to share based on e-mail addresses even if the recipient does not yet have the app, and then files shared show up in their locker once their account is claimed.

Gogobeans seems like a smart mashup of two kinds of services that are gaining popularity right now, but the personal cloud space is starting to get a bit crowded and the client-interaction space is a race for viral distribution. In terms of potential competition from either side, I’d see Dropbox introducing proximity-based sharing as an extension of its service more naturally than Bump introducing cloud-based storage.

Out of the Box turns five years old

Let’s all wish a slightly belated birthday to Out of the Box, which had its first post on March 17, 2006 about a simple Sony radio simply dubbed “the radio.” Indeed, even today, with all the excitement around Internet radio services such as Pandora and Slacker on the PC, televisions, and smartphones, FM continues to rule the roost in vehicles. While Sirius XM may now be half the number of companies they once were, that had little to do with competition from Internet radio in the car although the forces of IP are mounting there.

In any case, I won’t go through all the stats on this anniversary. There have been hundreds of posts, and I’ve blogged every month, if sometimes just barely, particularly in the era of microblogging. The record month was March 2008, when I blogged 35 posts, in part to see if I could blog more than an average of once per day for such a period. If you’re ever feeling deprived, feel free to check out my columns Switched On, Tech on Deck, Volume Up and Reserve Power, read me on the NPD Group blog, or catch the odd post on Out of the Box’s even less frequently updated companion blog . And thanks to all my readers.

Windows’ app store litmus test

My Switched On column discussing the potential benefits of Microsoft using Windows for tablets garnered over a whopping 1.100 comments. many of which were positive. As I noted in the column, though, Microsoft still has a lot to prove in basing its tablet strategy on Windows as opposed to the currently more touch-friendly if feature-strapped Windows Phone OS.

Following a tweet in which I groused about the still unsatisfying state of driver update management on Windows, that challenge became a topic of conversation on Twitter a few days ago when the question was posed as to whether Microsoft needed to have an app store – like Apple, Google, or itself on Windows Phone – in order to compete in the tablet market. If so, the app store would presumably also be available to the next version of Windows. This leads to a number of hypotheticals. Would Microsoft include an app store in desktop Windows even if it were using Windows Phone for tablets? And is an app store even necessarily for tablets?

My answer to the latter is that it is, at least to be competitive with Apple and Google, and it’s a good idea regardless. for desktop Windows, which is under seige not be any particular operating system (OS/2, Linux) as in the past, but the idea of OS insignificance, a battle that Apple is also trying to fight via its app stores both on the Mac and iOS.

Internet Explorer’s ninth life is off to a good start

Kudos, Microsoft, on Internet Explorer, going from the laggard of the browser wars to being neck-and-neck with Chrome (which I switched to form Firefox only a few months ago as a default browser) in everyday usage. I actually do have a few sites I rely on that require IE, so IE9 has won me back. Privacy advocates have hailed the Do not track option, and I also have already pinned a few sites to the taskbar. In fact, I thought iIE9 might become my only browser, but that didn’t last long since IE9 didn’t work with a date selector on Rail Europe’s Web site.

IE9 still has a few annoyances and a few areas where I just prefer Chrome’s approach. While I the new less modal notifications at the bottom are an improvement, I’m somewhat dismayed to see that it still prompts by default to display fully the many pages that mix secure and unsecure content, so that required a trip to the still-overwhelming Internet Options dialog. Why not just have an option to not warn about this again?

While I’m not a huge fan of Chrome’s tabs-on-top, I’m still not sold on having tabs on the same line as the address bar and don’t see a way to put them on separate lines. I also prefer how Chrome shows downloads at the bottom of the window. with a visible link to download history. And, of course, Chrome’s networked bookmarks work across platforms where IE doesn’t play at all. Finally, I’d also like to see other browsers take on Safari’s ability to collect tabs on many windows onto one, but a least IE shows all open tabs in Aero Peek regardless of their window, the way it should be..

T-Mobile’s turnaround

There can be no doubt that T-Mobile’s branding of its HSPA+ network as 4G was the best marketing move in the wireless industry in recent history. Sprint may have had the first 4G network and Verizon Wireless may have the fastest, but HSPA+ has allowed the fourth largest U.S. carrier with challenging spectrum holdings to go from a constrained 3G portfolio to marketing three 4G devices (the G2, myTouch 4G, and a 4G version of the popular Samsung Galaxy S design) with a a fourth announced (the Sidekick 4G).

In contrast, despite a long head start ,Sprint has just three 4G handsets on the market and Verizon Wireless just shipped its first 4G handset. That device – the HTC Thunderbolt (much like its similar predecessor, the EVO 4G) – impresses in all but battery life Here again T-Mobile has an advantage as its HSPA+ handsets deliver better battery life than WiMAX or LTE devices while often scoring closer to Verizon’s speed benchmarks than Sprint’s.

Sprint has a big event lined up for CTIA and the onus is on the company to roll out some more WiMAX products. Hopefully, the revamped Overdrive, for one, won’t suffer from the shoddy design that resulted in the USB connector breaking loose, the fate of the unit I tested.

LifeTouch Note has some noteworthy touches

Before netbooks came on the scene, it was very rare to see an ultraportable laptop make its way to the States from Japan, and those that did could easily cost more than $1,500. There are still a good number of these Japanese-exclusive designs that can be perused and purchased at Dynamism, but the disparity isn’t nearly what it once was. The U.S. even gets to partake in such unusual designs as Sony’s Vaio P, an sleek but pricey reinvention of the traackpadless, low-profile clamshell Sony pursued with the originally Transmeta-based PictureBook.

However, much of the Vaio P’s form factor appeal has been captured by NEC’s LifeTouch Note, which uses a Tegra 2 and Android on a 7” display (slightly smaller than the Vaio P’s). For now, it’s being made available only across the Pacific in NEC’s home market. However, there are a few reasons I’d like to see it come stateside sporting Android or perhaps webOS under the HP brand.

  • It’s even smaller and weighs less than the average netbook
  • Unlike tablets, it could have a usable touch-typable keyboard
  • It boasts nine hours of battery life, which represents great longevity for something so thin.
  • Its low profile is less obtrusive when taking notes in meetings, and is a dream on an airline tray in a cramped coach seat
  • The form factor is differentiated from those of Windows netbooks.
  • It’s affordable as a second PC, residing in the high-end netbook/midrange tablet price range at $500
  • At least for HP, it would be a nice update to the market that was once served by the Jornada line of Windows CE clamshells..

I particularly like the BlackBerry-style finger trackpad below the keyboard, but it might not be necessary depending on the operating system. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any buttons that flank it, although that could be added.

Alas, the LifeTouch Note has a resistive touchscreen; I’d see stylus input – and perhaps even touch itself– as less important for this form factor. Still, with the right apps, it could be a dream machine for light productivity on the go, filling a niche between tablet and notebook.

The battle of the buttons

The iPhone distinguished itself with a single home button for returning from an app to the launch screen. While its functionality may have been strained a bit as the platform has progressed. e.g., having to tap twice to bring up the app switcher, its single UI depression concession made a statement about minimalist simplicity that few platforms (webOS may be one example) have answered.

In contrast, Android launched with four major UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) and Windows Phone launched with three (Windows/Start, Back, and Search). Exactly how many – if any – buttons is optimal can be debated by user interface experts or considered personal preference. As is the case with much of what I consider Android variation, the media has jumped upon the tendency for different vendors to implement the Android button order in a different way, even in different handsets from the same manufacturer.

I don’t see that as such a major issue, but the Search button, in particular, always struck me as gratuitous. Yes, we know Google is a search company, but that doesn’t mean I need a search button omnipresent on my device. And I was somewhat disappointed that Microsoft followed suit (since, of course, Bing is really important, too).

Now Google, if not having so much seen the error of its ways, will give licensees the option to forego any and all buttons in Honeycomb tablets and presumably Ice Cream handsets. Perhaps this was due to the influence of Matias Duarte, a notion that buttons are trickier to place on a tablet versus a generally vertically oriented handset, or simple feedback from partners.

The drawback is that now, in addition to potentially having different button layouts, Android devices may now have different combinations of buttons and gestures for the same task. Regardless, these devices now have the potential to look cleaner and more streamlined because of the change. Perhaps that’s one of the liberties that Nokia will feel free to take as it balances its unique customization privileges against compromising the consistency in the Windows Phone ecosystem.

Apple’s iOS subscriptions: Online, offline and the hard line

At PCWorld.com, Brennon Slattery has a good rundown on the terms of Apple’s new in-app  subscription service, which seems to invoke the most controversy since Apple’s decision not to allow apps created with tools other than its own, a policy that Apple eventually reversed. The policy seeks to give Apple credit for initiation of subscriptions via its iOS products while allowing subscription providers the flexibility to also bring to the iPhone subscriptions initiated off the device. The tension is around the idea that app developers who offer subscriptions from sources other than the device must also offer them from within the device, and must do so for the same (or lower) price while giving Apple a 30 percent cut of the transaction.

It’s not unreasonable for Apple to want to monetize a transaction for which it has offered exposure (and in doing so, it can create a user experience of not economic equation that is customer-centric.). It is, however, somewhat of a leap to think that just because a consumer activates a subscription on an iOS product that that the iOS product drove that subscription; this ignores much of the promotion that providers of these services do in other media. Providers of subscription products might try to get around the requirement by obscuring the ability to sign up in the app or offering some bonuses for offline activation.

But why encourage these games? Apple could compromise and still save face simply by making in-app subscription activation optional. Then, if the subscription provider feels as though the iOS audience is worth it, they can pay Apple the share. If not, then they risk losing out on that customer until she goes to a Web site, calls a phone number, or engages in some other delay that may risk losing out on the subscription. If Apple holds its ground, we may at best see subscription providers pushing customers to competitive platforms. Making in-app activations optional offers a cost-effective customer acquisition mechanism for companies that aren’t spending a lot on off-device promotion while recognizing the investment of those that do.

During the Adobe CS5 development tool controversy, I argued that Flash developers were more likely to simply abandon iOS than switch, and that would be even more true for subscription service providers that found customer acquisition unprofitable on iOS devices.

This is simply another situation where Apple must decide between iOS devices being a platform versus being a sales channel. By allowing services that compete to an extent with iTunes such as Rhapsody, Slacker, Hulu Plus and even Netflix – the latter of which Apple has embraced on its own closed AppleTV product – it has done much to silence critics that complain about the closed nature of the platform and continue to attract best-in-class and exclusive applications. Apple has historically leaned to the platform end of this debate to the benefit of its customers and its products.

Good things come in Pres

Will the third time be a charm for the portrait slider form factor that was the vehicle for webOS’s debut? The competition has gotten a lot tougher and the app gap remains webOS’s biggest challenge. Still, I think there’s cause for optimism.

As HP was not shy about pointing out at its Think Beyond event last week, the trend in the market has been toward jumbo screen sizes; CES was rife with announcements of 4.3” and 4.5” handsets. The original Pre and Pre 2, however, simply had too limiting a canvas. The bump to 3.6” puts HP in iPhone range. While I’ve said on a few occasions that I think 4” is perhaps the ideal balance between reachability and real estate, 3.5” is pretty usable and HP has put the extra width to good use by adding a larger keyboard..

But even screen size wasn’t as horrible an impediment with the first Pre as the experience-crushing lag. HP has addressed that in two ways, by bumping up the maximum processor clock speed to a roaring 1.4 GHz and by many optimizations in webOS 2, which I awarded the Switchie for most improved smartphone OS. I’m hoping those two improvements combine to make the fluidity of using a webOS handset consistent with the fluidity of the user interface’s design.while providing competitive battery life.

Sense versus sensor on the Nintendo 3DS

I’ve written here and there about how 3D is not the only intriguing capability of the Nintendo 3DS and the components of the system generally work well together and complement each other. But two in particular can be at odds with each other – the 3D screen and the gyroscope.

One tradeoff of the 3DS’ autostereoscopic display is that the 3D effect needs to reorient if the viewing angle moves too far from its sweet spot; this causes a dark wave to pass over the screen. Of course, gyroscopes invite such reorientation since they respond to it to enhance gameplay.

Recently, I discussed this challenge with Greg Galvin, CEO of Kionix, a company that produces accelerometers and gyroscopes, and he held out hope for its reconciliation. The key, he self-servingly notes, is that the sensors in many of today’s products – while a step up from the early efforts that are in the original Wii controller – aren’t nearly as sensitive as they could be. Higher-end components, though, are more precise and require far less of a tilt to produce the same effect.

There must be a fine line, though, between subtlety and the natural tilting and shaking that could be a normal byproduct of playing a handheld game. It seems similar to the kind of intelligence Synaptics and others are addressing with palm or wrist detection on touchscreens to differentiate purposeful contact from a resting part of the hand.