First Look – Google Docs Comes to Android

Today Google finally released a Docs app for Android.  It surprising that it took this long but the fact it’s finally here has been met with a lot of fanfare.  The app allows users to create, edit, upload and share their documents.  Edits appear the almost instantly for other collaborators.  In addition to documents, users can view PDF’s and images.  You can even upload new documents or take pictures of text and use Docs’ OCR to convert it.

To get started you will need to search for and download the new app from the Android Market.  Surprisingly it’s not a featured page 1 app.  In fact, it’s not even the first result for a search of Google Docs – it’s the second.

android market google docs

After it’s installed and you launch the app you will be greeted with the terms of service and some brief instructions about how to use your new app.  You will need to click OK to continue, but first you may want to give a quick read-through of the tips for using Google Docs for Android.

google docs for android terms of service

Once you are past that then you will be greeted with main Docs screen that allows you to choose from All Items, Collections, Starred, Documents, Images, and More.  More consists of Test, Spreadsheets, and Presentations.

google docs for android main screen

There’s a lot to play around with here and I will be doing so over the next few days.  It’s not a whole lot different from Docs on your PC, but there is likely to be some minor differences and stumbling blocks.  Over the coming days we will be going more in-depth with the various features and letting you know what we find and how it works.  In the meantime, if you are using it, tell us what you think in the comments.

Make Your Smartphone Even Smarter

I know you’ve seen it – someone using the “Push To Talk” feature on their company phone that essentially turns it in to a sort of high-tech walkie-talkie.

Would you like to be able to do something similar with your Android or iOS device? Enter a free iOS/Android app called “Heytell.”

Heytell is sort of a cross between “Push To Talk” and voicemail. Think you’ve already got enough communication ability with your phone’s existing features? Think again.

I find there are times when I’d like to send a 30 second or shorter voice message to a friend or relative, perhaps asking them a question or just saying good morning, but I don’t have time to make an actual phone call. Heytell fills the bill. If they are there and answer back immediately I can end up carrying on a real-time, back-and-forth, two-way-radio-like conversation. Or, they might answer me hours later. It’s sort of like texting with voice instead of typed words.

The app has both Android and iOS versions and works completely cross-platform. The biggest problem I’ve found with the app is getting other people to understand what it is and how useful it can be. Once I’ve effectively explained to them what it is, how it works, and that it is free, then when I send the email invitation to them directly from within the Heytell app they will be prepared to accept the invitation and start using it.

Since installing Heytell on my iPod a few weeks ago, it has turned out to be my most frequently-used iPod app out of the 124 apps I have installed so far on my iPod Touch.

Worth Avenue Group Electronic Device Insurance

Aaron Cooper of Worth Avenue Group (my.worthavegroup.com) talks about the insurance coverage they provide for iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, Cell Phones, e-readers, televisions, laptops, tablets and other high-value electronic devices. With so many high-value portable and other electronics devices, many with glass touch screens screens, insuring these devices can make sense. Their computer insurance even covers virus removal. They require that damaged covered devices be sent in to them.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Amazon Kindle E-Books

Shortly after getting my HTC Evo phone, one of the initial apps I downloaded from the Android Marketplace was the Amazon Kindle app with the idea I’d probably check it out at some point. Weeks went by, and I pretty much ignored the app.

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend that is in the process of formatting e-books for an author friend of his, including formatting the books in the Kindle format. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned to him once again that I needed check the Android Kindle app out. He pointed out that there were free e-books available in the Kindle format on the Amazon website, including many books from 1922 and before that were now in the public domain, so after I finished his call I went on Amazon.Com with my computer and started digging around in the Kindle Store area of Amazon. Sure enough, there seemed to be plenty of free e-books available, so I started adding them. To get the Kindle app on my phone to synch with my Amazon account couldn’t be easier, I simply entered in my email address and Amazon password into the app. Any books in my Amazon storage area are quickly updated to the app.

Sure, some of the free books weren’t exactly my taste, but I was able to open them on my phone and finally see how well the Kindle app worked. Hummm, not bad – not bad at all. To make a long story short, I ended up finding a current book I really liked and purchased it for $9.99.

What a pleasant surprise I was in for. Reading a Kindle book on my HTC Evo is actually a good experience. The text is quite legible. The surprising part is that twice now I’ve carried the phone with me into restaurants and was able to easily read using the phone while eating. Of course, the HTC Evo has a handy built-in kick stand that allows the phone to sit on its side at an angle. I can eat and then periodically lightly touch the right side of the screen in order to make the Kindle app advance to the next page. The Kindle app even synchs the latest page I’m on back to the server, so if I open the book up again either on my phone or on my laptop, it opens up right at the exact page where I stopped reading.

At this point I have no plans on buying an actual Kindle, however I suspect I will be buying more Kindle e-books in the future. I often carry my phone around with me wherever I go, and because of the way the Kindle app works across all Kindle apps associated with my account, I have instant access to every Kindle e-book in my Amazon account storage area on every associated Kindle installation. There are often times I end up having to cool my heels waiting on something, and it’s incredibly handy to be able to use that otherwise often wasted waiting time reading. Ten minutes here and twenty minutes there really do add up over time.

All of this talk about, “Oh, the iPad has killed the Kindle” is bogus. Amazon has been very smart to put Kindle apps out for as wide a variety of devices as possible. Even if they don’t sell that many Kindle readers, the Kindle format e-book is a huge Amazon win, both for Amazon and for consumers like me.

So Is The iPhone A Good Phone?

When the iPhone came along in 2007, many people were immediately disappointed, including me, that it was tied at the hip to AT&T. In retrospect, that set the stage for what was to follow.

Immediately many iPhone users began to complain about poor signal coverage and dropped calls. It seems that everyone assumed that the iPhone itself as a phone was as good or better than any other phone – after all, it was an Apple device, implying that it had to be good.

Fast-forward to now. The iPhone 4 comes out, and immediately some users began to complain about the new antenna design and the “ground out” effect that happens on some phones when certain areas of the external metal antenna comes into contact with human skin, resulting in signal attenuation.

Apple’s immediate reaction was to come out with a statement saying they had checked in to the issue, and discovered to their dismay that every iPhone ever sold had a signal calculation problem. Ooops, the result was that every iPhone going back to the original model happened to be displaying too many signal strength bars for a given signal level. So sorry, the calculation error meant we weren’t following the exact AT&T signal strength calculation specifications. Gee Whiz!!! We have a download that will fix that optimistic display signal strength problem and make it more realistic.

I have no doubt that there was an honest calculation error. The bigger question that remains is this – how do various iPhone models stack up to other specific phone models on the same AT&T network? Does anyone actually test these things in a scientific way? It’s well known that different phone models exhibit different performance levels in the same specific signal areas. Some phone models will work in marginal signal situations where other phone models fail to perform at all.

For some time, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that the iPhone has never had top cell phone performance. AT&T has likely taken a lot of bashing over the past few years that it might not have entirely deserved.

Verizon puts each new phone model through an extensive testing and certification process before they will sell them for use on the Verizon network, thus ensuring that each new device will meet a certain minimum level of performance. This way the Verizon brand and network performance reputation is protected from the bad word-of-mouth that a marginally performing device would likely generate.

If a CDMA version of the iPhone exists, and the rumors are true that it will eventually show up for sale at Verizon, this has to mean that it’s already being tested. Will the CDMA iPhone pass the Verizon tests?

Perhaps more importantly to some, are the iPhone CDMA testers with their black horn-rimmed glasses hanging out in bars shouting “Can you hear me now?” into mysterious phone models disguised to look like Droids? Is there an app for that?

History Is About To Repeat

I remember it well. Back around October of 2004, I first heard the word “podcast” used on The David Lawrence Show via my XM Satellite Radio. It sounded interesting, and I wrote it down on my driver logbook cover with the idea of looking it up later. I heard David mention it again once or twice over the next few weeks. Finally, in early December of 2004 I finally got around to looking it up. I found Adam Curry’s podcast, realized what it was, and knew that I felt compelled to not only listen to podcasts but get involved as a podcaster myself. This was exactly what I’d been looking for for many years – a wide variety of content that I could choose, download, and control the playback/consumption of on MY terms.

Podcasting took previously-existing elements and applied them with a new twist. MP3 files had already existed for a number of years. Virtually every computer already came with a sound card and had the basic ability to both play back and record audio. Portable MP3 players had been around for a while. Apart from Adam Curry’s and Dave Winer’s contribution of the podcasting concept and making it work, the one key element that suddenly made podcasting viable and actually inevitable was the fact that Internet bandwidth got good enough to make it practical.

Practical is an important key.

We have now passed another important milestone in terms of mobile bandwidth. Mobile bandwidth, while not yet perfect, has improved dramatically in both terms of data delivery and coverage. About three or more years ago I had experimented with streaming audio via my smartphone while driving my truck, and quickly determined that it wasn’t viable. I couldn’t listen long at all before I would lose the stream. No problem, I had plenty of podcasts to listen to.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about Pandora.Com lately, so last week I finally tried the Pandora Android app out on my new Sprint HTC Evo. To my surprise, it worked amazingly well – even in Arizona and the western third of New Mexico along Interstate 40 where Sprint still has 1XRT service. The streaming music sounded great, and the few times it did briefly drop out in a couple of mountainous areas, it automatically reconnected and reestablished the playback stream.

(By the way, a side note – I was surprised to learn that Verizon has NO data card coverage around the Kingman, Arizona area – my Verizon aircard would NOT connect in the Kingman area.)

Streaming radio via the Internet in a moving vehicle is now practical. Smartphones have also reached critical mass to the point where they are really beginning to move into the mainstream. Even though streaming Internet audio has been around for quite a few years at this point, I believe the automotive market for streaming audio is about to open up in a massive way.

Up until this point most people have felt that streaming Internet radio had plateaued or was only going to grow slowly. I believe that improved cell networks along with smartphone proliferation will create a new market for streaming audio services. The automobile has been the traditional stronghold of terrestrial and now satellite radio services. An old kid that’s been around a while suddenly has a big and growing shot at a new lease-on life.

I believe opportunities exist for streaming Internet radio stations that deliver highly specialized content. For us geeks, imagine a 24/7 tech-centric streaming station. The sky really is the limit. The cost of running a streaming station can be very low, so therefore it becomes possible and practical to narrowcast to relatively small audiences.

Smart Phone Critical Mass

The smartphone is a concept and an evolving device that has been around for a few years, though until now mass consumer adoption has been slow.

The introduction of the iPhone in June 2007 marked a radical improvement in smartphone interface design, usability and device capabilities. The iPhone caused a big upheaval in the then somewhat sleepy cell phone market. Even though the iPhone was an instant hit and unquestionably successful product, Apple’s choice of tying the iPhone exclusively to AT&T in the United States likely slowed the pace of faster smartphone adoption. In a way, this slowing of smartphone adoption has been good because it has allowed carriers to beef up their networks in the interim.

Google entered the smartphone market announcing Android in November of 2007. Initial implementations of Android-powered devices demonstrated promise, but it has taken a while for Android itself to be improved, and smartphone manufacturers such as HTC and Motorola to come up with highly-desirable devices that take full advantage of Android’s evolving and and advanced features and capabilities.

We are now in July of 2010. The iPhone 4 has been introduced. Alongside the iPhone 4, highly-desirable and functional devices such as the HTC Evo 4G, Droid Incredible , Droid X, and other Android-powered devices have either arrived or are shortly to come on the market. Now there’s suddenly a new problem – all of these devices are in short supply, and manufacturers such as HTC are scrambling to ramp up production to meet the demand that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Where did all of this smartphone demand come from? There are several pieces of the marketplace puzzle that have finally come together all at the same time. The new smartphone devices are finally at a point where they are highly usable. Multiple competing cell networks are finally at a point where data connectivity and speed make them usable. Also, millions of consumers over the past few years have become intimately familiar with “dumb” phone models that have had smartphone-like features embedded into them, such as integrated cameras, limited Internet browsing, gaming, text messaging and GPS functionality. They make regular use of these features, and are ready to move up to better devices with larger screens.

The smartphone has reached critical mass and is ready to continue the march towards maturation. Smartphones are becoming a very mainstream product. People who a few years ago would have never considered any phone labeled with the smartphone moniker are now readily embracing the new devices.

As a result of this mass consumer adoption of the smartphone that’s now underway, the market for highly-specialized smartphone apps will continue to explode to a degree in the future we might consider surprising even today. Multiple millions of consumers have millions of different needs and expectations. This exploding smartphone app market lends itself to the development of highly specialized niche applications.

Virtually any type of personal or industrial use a computer can be put to can likely also be done with a specialized app running on a modern smartphone. One tiny example of this is already in use is the area of automotive diagnostics. For many years, automotive technicians have used laptop computers in conjunction with special software connected via a cable to an automotive diagnostic port to onboard vehicle computers. Such software already exists for the iPhone to be used in place of a laptop computer, able to replace the cable connection with a Bluetooth connection. Imagine this realized potential multiplied a million times and you catch a glimpse of the future potential for smartphone apps and the uses these devices can and will be put to.

Motorola Sticks It to the iPhone…Again

The Motorola Droid (X in this case) is once again sticking it to the iPhone.  The last time it was Verizon, but now Motorola itself is getting in on the Apple-bashing act.

Remember all of those Verizon ads surrounding the launch of the Droid?  Well, today Motorola themselves took out a full page ad in the New York Times making light of all of the recent bad press surrounding the iPhone’s antenna problems.  You know, the one Steve Jobs called a non-issue?  The one where his advice was “just avoid holding it that way“?

Motorola’s response to that?  In their ad, referring to their antenna, they say “The kind that allows you to hold the phone any way you like”.

Now, I’m not an iPhone owner, and I am not a hater either, but I love a good jab when I see one.  And, this (Android vs iPhone) is shaping up to be a great battle in which the real winner will be all of us consumers.  Every shot taken gives the other one the incentive to improve.  Competition is good, and when it’s humorous it’s even better.

Google Maps Navigation vs. TomTom One

I, like a lot of us, had to travel over the Thanksgiving weekend. In my case, I had to travel to Grand Haven Michigan ( about 150 miles south of where I live ). I just got the Motorola Droid with Google Maps Navigation and wanted to compare it with my 1 year old TomTom One. tom-tom-one

First, around town.. The TomTom is quite good at finding businesses and not quite as good at finding addresses. The touch screen is easy to manipulate and it doesn’t take too long to get your address entered into the device. Once you get it in there, it will take you to within a block or so of the correct address. It’s not perfect. The Google Maps app on the droid take a bit longer to load the address into then the TomTom ( you will have to pullover to do it on the fly ) but once it’s in there, the Droid is much more accurate. Both do a great job with businesses and the Droid’s Google Maps app works with voice quite well as long as you don’t have to read the whole address to it. For finding a McDonald’s or Starbucks, it’s perfect.

Now for the long trip… There are 2 ways to go out of Traverse City to get to Grand Haven. The slightly longer but faster route though Grand Rapids on US131 and I-96 or the shorter US31 along the lake shore. Knowing that there is a detour around a bridge in the Cadillac Area, it makes it quicker to go the US31 route. With the TomTom, it has no idea about the bridge being out so it wanted to route us via US131 and Grand Rapids. But, thanks to TomTom’s choice of “fastest route” “shortest route” or “avoid freeways” I was able to select “avoid freeways” and it routed me the way I wanted to go. The Google Maps App is supposed to know when there is detours and not route you through them unless it thinks it is the fastest way to go ( no option for shortest or other routing that I found ). It did show the section of closed road but it routed us on it anyway. So I ignored it. I wanted to see how far along TomTom’s route it took the Droid to catch on that we were not going that way and re-route us. The verdict? 15 miles. We were on the road for at least 15 miles and the Google Maps on the Droid wanted us to turn at ever intersection to get us back to the closed road. Once it got the fact we were going the other way, it was right on with the TomTom.

The TomTom One can be had right now for about $90 if you shop around and it a great all around navigator. It has lots of options of routing, voices and what info it displayed on the screen. You can have the time you will arrive at your end point and your speed, the speed limit of the road you are on among other things like that plus a nice 3D display of the road in front of you (map, not video :) ) The Google Maps Navigation does not have any real options as far as routing, display info or anything like that. Just a nice map, the street names, and how many hours and minutes to your destination. It does, however have Satellite views of the route and when you get where you are going or come to an intersection, it will show you street view of the area which could be nice if you don’t already know where you are.

Google-Maps-Navigation-04 One thing the Droid does better with Google Maps over the TomTom is that it reads you the street names. The TomTom one doesn’t (although you can get a model that does) Also, on the droid, you can’t change the voice (yet).

All in all, I would say the Droid with Google Maps Navigation is OK for a navigator if you don’t have a stand alone unit. You will want to get a car charger for it as the battery won’t last but a couple of hours running with the display on all the time. The thing that gets me excited about this App and the Android phone is it will improve over time with updates and other 3rd party software. The TomTom is more or less stuck with what it is. They do update the TomTom from time to time, but it can only do what it can do. You won’t go wrong with a TomTom for the price. I’m happy with both and will use both depending on the situation.

I’m loving all the other things the Droid does and will update you on my switch from Blackberry in future posts.

Can Verizon handle the Droid traffic?

droid_does

Last month, we had the rollout of the iPhone MMS which was predicted to bring down the AT&T network in some areas. That didn’t happen. Now, this month, we will have the introduction of the most hyped new handset since the iphone, The Motorola Droid on the Verizon network. Will Verizon’s 3G network handle the new demand?

Verizon Director of data services for the Illinois-Wisconsin region said that Verizon is not expecting to take a hit to the network because of the Droid. I’m wondering just how many Droid handsets will be available when they launch on November 6th. See the full story over on Unwired View

It just so happens that my contract on my Verizon (Alltel) Blackberry is up and I’m due for a new phone. I’m going to take a wait an see attitude. I am leaning towards getting the Droid. I hope they have enough of them and they live up to the hype.

I will do a full review when / if I get the droid in the next couple of months. Until then, I’m watching!