Day 3 – A week Using Google Chrome OS


I learned today that making usable audio on Chrome OS is impossible. I tried several times to make a short voice recording and each time it came out really noisy. The built in Mic is not of high quality on the CR48. So my next try was to record with my Sony IC Recorder. The recording turned out great, but the OS wouldn’t recognize the recorder when I plugged it in. It also would not recognize my USB thumb drive. Not sure if that’s an OS thing or a hardware thing. The device does have a SD Card slot so if you had a recorder that used SD Cards, you might be able to go that way with audio (or video for that matter). I am able to do a complete podcast recording, upload to my server and post it using just my Android Phone. So, maybe there is a way with Chrome that I haven’t found yet.

I’ve been doing a lot of typing on the netbook this week and I have to say I’m getting used to the keyboard. The trick is to keep your thumbs up when not using the spacebar. If you don’t, the curser will jump when you are not looking at the screen and then you are inserting text in another part of your document. I guess this is good for better posture but it does take a while to get the hang of. On my Macbook, I don’t have this problem.

I decided to give it the acid test to see if it was ready for prime-time. I let my wife use it. She had no problem creating an account using her Google account login. Step one went well. Let me tell you a bit about my wife. She is NOT a techie person. She uses computers at work because she has to and is very good at what she has to do but doesn’t tweak things. At home, she uses a Mac desktop to play facebook games and keep up with her friends. She also does some light email and web browsing. That’s about it. I gave her the CR48 to use for a while tonight and she picked it right up. Had no trouble playing the flash games she likes (Restaurant City and Hotel City on facebook) She commented on how fast she thought it was compared to her Mac. I found that part strange as I always thought her Mac was quite fast. Anyway, she used it for an hour or so and said “Nice Laptop” and then she asked me “Why did Google send you this for free?” I think she still doesn’t believe me ;) After I’m done testing this thing, I think I might have found a home for it next to the couch.

For Day 4, I’m going to take the CR48 in the field. I want to try out the free 3G from Verizon and how well it connects to public Wifi.

Tech Serendipity

Sometimes things no one ever thought of simply seem to come together. Services and devices end up being used to do things the individual inventors and designers couldn’t have imagined.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about attaching one of the new Mac Minis to one of my TV’s and utilizing it as a home theater PC as well as an over-the-air DVR to record high definition digital broadcasts from the local TV stations. A late Sunday afternoon trip to my local Best Buy and a Mac Mini was mine.

I sat the Mac Mini up with Eye TV and a USB HD tuner attached to my outdoor antenna. Depending on how I have the antenna rotated, I can receive upwards of 17 or more HD and digital broadcast channels. Of course, keep in mind that the Mini is on my home network, so I’ve got complete remote access in a number of different ways.

The Eye TV 3.4.1 software has easy iPhone/iPod/iPad/Apple TV file conversion, so I’m easily able to convert the files to the format of my choice.

A thought popped into my head. What if I converted the files to the iPhone format and put them into my Dropbox? I also have the Dropbox app for Android installed on my Sprint HTC Evo phone. Since I have an 8 gigabyte SD card installed with the possibility of going all the way up to a 32 gigabyte card if I wish, could I synch the exported iPhone files from my Dropbox on the computer to Dropbox on my phone?

To my surprise, I don’t even have to synch the exported iPhone videos to my phone – once they are synched to the Dropbox server, all I have to do is open the file from Dropbox on my phone and the file immediately starts streaming. If I’ve got a decent 3G Sprint cell signal, the video plays perfectly without a glitch.

So, I’m taking multiple different technologies, and using them in a way no single inventor or designer ever envisioned. I can record local TV programming from home, export it as an iPhone format file into my Dropbox folder, and stream the files to my phone. Pretty phenomenal stuff if you ask me.

For sure, there are other ways to accomplish the same end result, particularly if one has adequate bandwidth. For situations where bandwidth is limited and more variable, this solution works surprisingly well.

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.

Living With The Sprint HTC Evo

I’ve been living with my HTC Evo now for a few weeks, long enough where I can make a few informed observations about the device.

The Evo’s 4.3 inch multi-touch screen is superb. I’ve been surprised by the brightness and readability of the Evo’s screen even in a vehicle or outdoors in sunlight. The screen is big enough to be useful, yet the device still fits into a regular shirt pocket.

The Evo is fast and responsive. It seems that no matter what programs are open, the Evo remains just as responsive — there’s no wait for programs or configuration screens to pop open. The other smart phones I’ve owned in the past are dog-slow and sluggish by comparison.

The HTC’s “Sense” user interface that sits on top of Android is a winner. Popular social networking sites are slickly integrated right into every aspect of the phone’s functionality, making it possible to share most everything you can think of with a couple of taps.

The WiFi hotspot feature is also a tremendous convenience. It does have its quirks though. I’ve found that if I have opened up a bunch of different applications in the course of using the phone, if I then open up the WiFi hotspot feature, something will go wrong after a few hours and turn off the battery’s charging circuit. Something I have installed and am running may be causing this to happen. If I reboot the phone and then run the WiFi hotspot feature, this problem doesn’t occur and the battery keeps charging when it’s plugged in to AC power.

The integrated GPS is able to quickly find a signal. There are two GPS navigation choices that are included – Google Navigation and Sprint Navigation. Both work exactly as expected. I find myself making the most use of Google Navigation and Google Maps. The ability to search for businesses in a local area based on the phone’s own GPS location is extremely useful and I typically find I use that feature several times a day.

4G is currently not a good reason to buy an Evo because 4G coverage is currently extremely limited. This situation is in the process of changing. In the meantime, I’m happy with Sprint’s 3G coverage. I knew about this 4G limitation going in to getting this phone, so it’s not a problem for me. In reality, it’s likely going to take two or three years before 4G is widely deployed. I’ve been a Sprint data customer for more than 5 years, so I’ve witnessed (and lived with) the process firsthand of them going from 1XRT service that was limited to the eastern half of the country to widely-deployed EVDO Rev “A” 3G service.

Android is light years better than Windows Mobile 5, 6 or 6.5. When Android needs to pull data from the Internet it quickly pulls it without fuss or muss. All the versions of Windows Mobile I’ve dealt with have a “Dial-up Networking” routine they have to go through just as if it was a desktop computer connecting via a modem, which is slow and sometimes prone to fail. Windows Mobile data connections must be manually closed when not in use or they can drain the battery. Android just does what you expect it to without jumping through a bunch of hoops.

The Evo’s main 8 megapixel camera is very good, and the interface allows instant uploading of photos to services such as Flickr and Facebook. The front-facing camera will work with a free program called “Fring” that will allow two-way video conferencing, but I’ve found Fring’s interface confused and somewhat unreliable.

Sprint appears to be blocking the uploading of videos recorded on the phone even through the phone’s integrated browser when signed in to YouTube. However, I was able to email a video as an attachment to my YouTube account.

The Evo’s “HD video” recording capability is not anywhere close to HD standards. Furthermore, the sound quality of recorded video and audio is quite poor. The Evo is not a replacement for a real video camera. It is only fair to note here that all iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads have superior audio recording capabilities. Also the iPhone 4’s HD video recording capabilities are obviously quite superior to the Evo’s.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the HTC Evo. That being said, keep in mind that it requires expensive voice/data plans if you wish to take advantage of all its capabilities. Furthermore as a two and one half year plus Sprint customer I’m satisfied with the quality and speed of the Sprint network.

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!

Personal Cellular Sites Possible Soon!

Last night I outlined my issue with changing desk and loosing the ability to use my Cellular service and EV-DO card because of no signal, and now comes word that Mobile Operators are thinking about allowing there customers help solve these very issue for them.

Not  many people know it, but you can buy equipment today off the shelf that will boost the mobile signal in your workplace. They start at about a $1000.00 for basic amplifiers and can get very expensive for solutions designed for moderate to big buildings.

I know that folks in my office bitch about this issue every day, and if the carriers would come in and boost the signal we would all be happy. Most people put up with no signal and few are willing to go to the extreme of buying an amplifier like I did. I was not happy to have to spend $250.00 to make my EV-DO work but it was a priority for me.

I actually went and purchased a long distance phone card for the first time in 10 years because making personal Long Distance would not make my boss happy.

GigaOm has some details on how mobile operators are thinking about dealing with these issues by apparently allowing customers to deploy mini cellular sites called femto cellular.

My mom lives in Michigan the service out their really sucks and this idea would go well their. I had put out a offer that if Sprint would like to put a tower up on our property we had plenty of acreage to support it, and I would give them a long lease and rent for free in exchange for free service. I realize towers are multi-million installations but you can’t blame a guy for trying to hook his mom up.

I am going to spin that a little bit in that I will extend the offer in a new way if a mobile company buys me one of these femto cellular units I will be happy to install and plug the thing in at work so that our mobile phones will work.

Do you have the same problem with no signal in the office? I am sure there are millions of us with these issues. [GigaOM]

My EV-DO Amplifier Experience

For about a year now I have had a Sprint EV-DO card that has worked well in all of the locations that I find myself in. But recently I changed offices which moved me from a outer wall in a building with few windows to inner office. I knew I was in trouble when the guys desk I was taking over for told me that if I wanted my cell to work I would have to place it about 20 feet from my desk on top of a cabinet.

Obviously when I plugged in my EV-DO card at my new desk the signal was non existent even though I had perfect reception at my old desk that was less than 30 feet away along with a couple of walls.

I started hunting online for an external Antenna and Amplifier solution. The more I looked the more I become concerned when I found many sites that sold Antennas and Amplifiers did not have a customer support line. With the price of most solutions just under $250.00 I wanted to talk to someone that had a clue.

I finally found one company that had a responsive customer, and a warm body I could call with any questions I may have. Ultimately I ordered a amplifier and antenna from Gordon over at Maximum Signal. Gordon was very helpful and the kit I purchased really did the trick and I have a usable EV-DO card again.

The amplifier – antenna combo raised my signal from like -110 to -85 db it’s not perfect but it’s better than not working at all.

Meanwhile I am hoping Sprint looks at the building and installs a commercial amplifier in it so that our cell phones will work. It really sucks in this day and age to be in a location where the thickness of the walls kill the mobile coverage.

If you need a solution that works I highly recommend using the folks at Maximum Signal!

I will have more to say though about a couple of popular EV-DO sites that I have some serious concerns about in their site information and sales transparency.

Sprint Launches EV-DO Revision A

SprintI am pretty excited that Sprint is launching EV-DO Rev A. in San Diego but was disappointed to see that Honolulu did not make there 2006 market roll-outs. If you live in a big mainland city you will be getting Revision A very shortly.

I have noticed here in Hawaii over the past two weeks that connectivity has been terrible and I actually went on dial-up this afternoon because it was slow. I am not sure what the issue is but the connection speed has really slowed down.

I have been very tempted to try a new wireless carrier here in Hawaii as they are advertising some impressive speeds and with no Revision A rolling out here soon. I may have to look into it.

I know that some Sprint Reps read this Blog so I am wondering if they can let me know when Honolulu is scheduled for roll-out and can you tell someone to check the tower that is close to Kanehoe because my connection has been really bad. [Sprint]

Sprint 3G EV-DO in Hawaii getting better!

A week or so ago I was contacted by a person I have met at Sprint and we discussed my connectivity issues at the Honolulu International Airport, he assured me they were going to find out why the gate I was at did not have a connection. Meanwhile I am now a pretty happy camper and have canceled a dial up account I have that was being used from time to time. I am able now to have close to broadband connectivity almost anyplace that I am working from, luckily they turned a critical area on a couple of weeks ago!

The increase in productivity is just amazing, things I would never consider doing before I am able to do now with no issue. So I am a very happy Spring EV-DO user and may even consider paying the cancellation penalty with my mobile provider and switching everything over to Sprint.

It’s just to bad that Verizon was so yet to get on the 3G EV-DO bandwagon here in Hawaii.