Archive for the ‘News’ Category

HTC Touch Pro – Probably My Next Smartphone

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

My current contract with Sprint expired at the beginning of this month, meaning that I am now eligible for the best-available discounts on an upgrade for my aging Palm Treo 700P.  Over the last few months, I have been looking at a number of cell phone options and have largely settled on the HTC Touch Pro as my next phone. 

I have been a long-time Palm OS user, so I admit that it is with a little bit of trepidation, and even sadness, that I make plans to switch to a Windows Mobile device.  The simple truth, though, is that development on the Palm OS has essentially stalled for several years and it is now severely behind in almost every aspect.  While updated versions from either Palm (which is promising a new, compatible OS) or Access (which ended up with ownership of the code base) or both are promised in the next year or so, these are still vaporware and I just don’t see continuing to live with yesterday’s technology while waiting around.  I do hope that I can ease the transition just a bit by getting StyleTap to allow at least some of my old Palm OS applications to still run.

While the HTC Touch Pro has been available outside the US for a while, it has only been available here as an expensive ($800 or more), unlocked GSM import that would work on AT&T or T-Mobile, although not always with full compatibility with the highest-speed networks.  Fortunately, the first official US version of the phone was announced today for availability via Sprint on October 19th.  Their press release describes it as follows:

HTC Touch Pro: HTC Touch Pro is a professional workhorse that enables mobile professionals to easily balance their professional and personal lives. Along with the features available on HTC Touch Diamond, HTC Touch Pro adds a five-row, slide-out QWERTY keyboard for easy data entry, expandable storage capabilities with a microSD card slot (1 GB card included) and a business card scanner application to automatically capture and convert business card information to contacts using the built-in 3.2 MP camera/camcorder. Additionally, with Windows Mobile 6.1, users have access to security and device management capabilities desired by most business customers when used with Microsoft’s System Center Mobile Device Manager solution. HTC Touch Pro will be available Oct. 19 for $299.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.

The price really sounds right to me for a fairly high-end phone and its availability through Sprint is appealing as I’ve been satisfied with their service over the last couple years and I’m happy to avoid the hassles involved with changing carriers and porting my number. 

Here are a few of the key points about this phone that appeal to me over some of the key competitors in the same basic category:

  1. Keyboard: Every time I have purchased a portable computing device that did not have a keyboard (i.e. Palm VII, Palm LifeDrive, TabletKiosk eo v7110), I have replaced it within a year or so with one that did.  At some point, I feel like I have to accept the lesson and stick with what works best for me.  If Apple had an iPhone with a slide-out keyboard, I’d give it some serious consideration, but that just doesn’t exist now.  This is also the reason why I immediately sparked to the Touch Pro instead of the otherwise nearly-identical Touch Diamond.
  2. Large touch-screen: I really like the approach of retaining a large, VGA-resolution touch-screen via the use of a slide-out keyboard.  Sure, it adds a little bit of bulk to the phone (the Touch Pro is still smaller than my Treo), but I feel it is worth it to avoid compromise.  This is a big reason why I have decided against Palm’s latest Windows Mobile Treo models, despite otherwise impressive feature sets.
  3. Price/Network: As I said, I’ve been happy with Sprint and am willing to accept another contract in order to get the much lower subsidized price.  While conceptually I like the SIM card approach used on GSM phones, it didn’t make much difference to me back when I had AT&T (or Cingular) and I don’t think it would matter much now.  I just don’t need to switch phones often (especially at the unsubsidized prices) and I very rarely travel outside the US, something I don’t anticipate changing in the next 2 years.
  4. Overall feature set: Right now, the Touch Pro is pretty close to being the top-of-the-line for Windows Mobile phones and it really does seem to be the one model out there on any OS that seems to have just about every feature that I want.

Since the phone won’t be available for a little over a month, I do still have some time to look around at other options as well as to see if anyone announces something else that might be a better fit.  I pretty strongly suspect, though, that this blog will start featuring postings about my experiences with my new Touch Pro come mid-October.

Microsoft Updates Anti-Piracy System on Windows XP for Some Reason

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a number of updates to the anti-piracy features of Windows XP Professional (as well as Tablet and Media Center editions).  They indicated that Windows XP Home was not included since it apparently isn’t pirated as often.

This announcement was made via a post to their Windows Genuine Advantage Blog, which described the updates in some detail.  In addition to some routine validation updates intended to detect more pirated keys, they also apparently made a number of more substantial changes to the user-experience on non-validated systems as well as some changes to make future updates more automatic.  The post summarized the reasons for the update as follows:

I’m excited about how this release balances our goals of providing a great experience to those who have genuine Windows and at the same time creating a compelling experience for those who have non-genuine copies to get genuine Windows.

The various items in this update seem that they might have made some sense as anti-piracy measures if they were part of the out-of-the-box product or included as part of a major service pack (such as the recently released Service Pack 3), but they seem like a colossal waste of effort as a basically optional update to a product that is officially discontinued at this time.

In all their paranoia about piracy, I really wonder if anyone at Microsoft actually did any analysis into the likely return on this investment.  Do they really believe that enough people will somehow have their minds changed about using pirated copies to generate enough additional income from new licenses to justify the cost of developing, testing, and deploying these updates?  This seems especially unlikely when the update is optional and, presumably, could probably be uninstalled (or at least defeated by reinstalling the pirated copy of the OS) if the new nag screens are too bothersome.

I’ve worked in the software industry long enough to know that piracy is a real concern and I do understand why company’s like Microsoft keep looking for better ways to deal with it.  I do also think that many companies get seriously carried away in that effort.  Microsoft’s current operating systems (and other software) have enough problems that it really seems that there should be far more important tasks for their developers to be focusing on than this.

Macintosh Clone Maker Counter-Sues Apple

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

A few months ago, a small company called Psystar introduced a fairly generic Intel-based PC which they were offering pre-installed with Apple’s Mac OS X.  Apple’s official End-User License Agreement (EULA) for the Mac OS indicates that it is not permitted to run it on hardware that isn’t made by Apple.  From the start, it appeared to me that this company probably existed largely to provoke a lawsuit.  Not surprisingly, Apple did file suit against them claiming copyright violations and the news came out today that Psystar is counter-suing with a claim of anti-trust violations.

In a cnet.com article reporting the counter-suit, Psystar outlined their case as follows:

Psystar argues that its OpenComputer product is shipped with a fully licensed, unmodified copy of Mac OS X, and that the company has simply "leveraged open source-licensed code including Apple’s OS" to enable a PC to run the Mac operating system.

I’m pretty unsure of how strong Psystar’s position really is, but I think this could be a fascinating and fairly ground-breaking test case, assuming that Psystar has the financial backing to go the distance on this case.  This could end up having a substantial impact on the strength of EULAs and the degree to which they can restrict how a customer uses a piece of software after purchase. 

Although they appear to be citing a number of different issues in their defense/counter-claim, the two main items that Psystar’s case appears to hinge on are the fact that Apple sells boxed-copies of OS X in stores separate from the hardware and whether or not the EULA’s restrictions that the software only be installed on Apple hardware are really legitimate.  

While I’m uncertain of what the legal finding will be, my own view is that Psystar’s argument represents the way that the situation should work.  Basically, if a customer goes into a store and purchases a piece of software, I believe that he/she should be free to install and use it as the purchaser sees fit.

That isn’t to say that I don’t think Apple should be required to make it readily available or easy for customers to run the software on non-Apple hardware.  I’m perfectly fine with them putting technological barriers in place that are designed to prevent unintended use.  I just don’t think that there should be any legal restrictions that will prevent the legal purchaser of the product from bypassing those restrictions, assuming he/she can find a way to do so.  Along the same lines, I also don’t think there should be any legal restrictions against someone publishing, or even selling, that solution or offering to perform that service for the customer.

My view is that this is how it should work in a free-market system.  I essentially see this as a matter that is between Apple and their customers and I believe that the legal system should essentially stay out of their way.

Samsung Q1 Ultra and Amtek T770

Friday, March 16th, 2007

The most discussed item in the UMPC community this week has been the announcement of Samsung’s Q1-Ultra UMPC. Although it hasn’t received nearly as much attention, Amtek also announced a new model, the T770, a few weeks ago at CES. Both of these are fairly substantial upgrades to the first two Microsoft Origami UMPCs to become available to consumers, the Samsung Q1 and the Amtek T700 (sold in the US as the TabletKiosk eo v7110).

As these models are fairly significant re-designs of the first two Origami models, these two systems probably have the best claim to a “second generation UMPC” title. While Samsung has released several incremental upgrades to the Q1 before, the Q1-Ultra is really their first substantial re-design, both internally and externally. In fact, some leaked pre-announcement materials on the awkwardly-named Q1-Ultra showed that it was originally planned to be the Q2, which would have probably been a better name.

While Windows Vista compatibility/optimization looks to be a key driver for both devices, each also has a somewhat updated feature set intended to address some of the complaints/criticisms of their predecessors. Both appear to have improved CPUs and graphics processors. Reportedly, the Q1-Ultra has even been shown running Vista with the rather demanding Aero interface active. Less is known about the T770, although it seems to be a pretty safe bet that it almost has to improve on the fairly poor graphics performance of the T700.

As with the earlier models, Samsung continues to offer a lot more bells and whistles than the somewhat minimalist Amtek device. The Q1-Ultra carries over the built-in ethernet and VGA ports that were standard on the Q1 and it substitutes the Q1’s CompactFlash slot for a now more common Secure Digital slot. It also adds a fingerprint scanner, built-in web and snapshot cameras, and cellular networking. Probably the most talked about addition is a split thumb-keyboard across the face of the unit. This was almost certainly added as a response to the many reviews of the Q1 that complained of the lack of a keyboard. The Q1 was easily the most widely-reviewed of the first batch of UMPCs (some mainstream publications made it look like it was the only one on the market), and it isn’t surprising that Samsung would feel the need to address this widely mentioned item.

The upgrades to the T770 are more internal improvements rather than added features, although it does reportedly add an SD card reader and a camera. It is expected to retain the biggest advantage that the T700 had over other UMPCs, which is the use of 2.5″ hard drives, which currently allows a maximum of 160GB of on-board storage with the potential for 200GB or higher drives in the near future.

Coming down to the bottom line, I guess the obvious question that any UMPC early adopter has to consider is whether or not either of these second generation devices might prompt an upgrade. Personally, I’m tempted somewhat, but still definitely in a “wait and see” mode. Some of the bells and whistles of the Q1-Ultra are attractive, but I definitely would have a hard time giving up the 160GB hard drive capacity that I have on my current UMPC. As for the T770, I do get frustrated sometimes by the fairly weak performance of the T700, but I would definitely need to see strong indications of substantial improvement before I would shell out for an upgrade.

That said, I do see it as a positive sign that the first two companies to ship Origami UMPCs are still committed to the concept and are still working to advance it. In a time when all too many mainstream publications are ready to declare the whole UMPC idea a “failure”, it is very reassuring to see two of its main champions clearly acting like they disagree with that assessment.

News and Information Site and Links to other UMPC Sites

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

I posted the below on the “News and Information” site as an announcement of the retirement of that page. Since the link to that site has been removed from the main page and the list of links to my favorite UMPC sites is worth sharing wider, I am re-posting it here. — JG

I am retiring this “News and Information” site so that I can focus on posting opinions and commentary on the primary blog. I just don’t have the time or a strong inclination for news reporting and there are other sites that do a better job covering the latest UMPC news and information than I ever could. Here are links to a few of my favorites:

UMPCPortal: This is the most comprehensive UMPC news and information site out there. While I think they sometimes define the term “UMPC” a bit too broadly, this site is still exceptionally information-rich and should be a very frequent destination for any UMPC-enthusiast.

jkOnTheRun: This site covers all of mobile computing rather than just UMPCs, but it is constantly updated, frequently insightful, and consistently accurate. This is one of the first sites that I visit every day.

Ultra-Mobile PC Tips: Like my own blog, this is another “one man show” site, but the owner (CTitanic), has a lot of expertise and some exceptional sources that leads him to quite a few scoops.

Origami Project: Microsoft’s official UMPC site has the best and most active discussion boards dedicated to UMPCs. The article page isn’t updated very often, but the ones that are posted there are all written by members of Microsoft’s dedicated UMPC team.

Update on eo Battery Life Issue

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Yesterday, TabletKiosk sent out a notice to all of the purchasers of the first batch of eos announcing a voluntary recall in order to install a hardware fix that should improve battery life. They have indicated that they found a faulty component that was causing a significant portion of the excess power drain on the units.

The email stated that the units will need to be sent back to TabletKiosk for the repair and that they will be shipped back within 72 hours of receipt at their facility. The email provided contact information to request return shipping instructions. I sent them a request for those instructions yesterday, but have not received a reply yet at the time of this writing. It was unclear from the email whether they would cover the cost of return shipping or if that will be the owner’s responsibility.

In addition to offering to repair the devices, the email also offered a 25% discount off the purchase of any one eo accessory purchased before the end of July. I requested that they apply the discount towards my pre-order for the extended battery.

While I’m not that happy about having to do without my eo for a few days, I am glad that they found a cause for the problem and that they are offering to correct the existing units. With the battery life improved, the eo will be a substantially better and more useful device. It is expected that any units shipped going forward will already have the hardware fix installed, which makes it much easier for me to now recommend the eo to people who believe its feature set will meet their needs. (more…)

eo Battery Life Issue

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

Anyone who has followed discussions of the TabletKiosk eo v7110 in various forums or blogs should know by now that there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the device. The primary issue is that the originally advertised battery life (with the included 3-cell battery) was over 2.5 hours, but the reality is that the eo cannot manage more than 90 minutes or so under normal use. Even with pretty much everything (including the screen) disabled, testing has generally shown an upper limit of about 2 hours.

The issue is well documented on other sites and has been publicly acknowledged by TabletKiosk as well. Over the course of last week, requests sent to their technical support department (I opened a ticket with them myself) met with fairly terse, stock responses acknowledging their awareness of the issue and that they were working on finding solutions. On Friday, they sent a mass email to all eo owners once again stating that they were working on the issue and extending the no-penalty return period for purchases up to 30-days instead of the usual 15. Right now, there is a lot of discussion online among early adopters about whether or not each of us plan to keep our system or make use of this return policy.

Many are pondering whether TabletKiosk knew about the problem before they shipped or not. I have worked either with or in technology quality assurance groups for much of my career and I know that QA can sometimes take a back seat to marketing-driven deadlines. It really looks to me like TabletKiosk was pretty focused on being able to issue that press release announcing that they had the first UMPC available in the US market and that probably resulted in a rush to shipping. They also were likely influenced some by the rather excited and somewhat impatient pre-order customers (including me) who were really making it known that we wanted to get our orders as soon as possible

We do know that the shipment of the first batch was delayed by a little over a week after they discovered that a large percentage were defective due to a case molding problem. At first, it might seem that the extra time spent verifying that the remaining units were ready to ship should have increased the chance of them identifying the battery life issue; the opposite may very well be true. The need to identify and certify the units that did not have the show-stopper defect could easily have caused a large percentage of basic functionality testing to be set aside. With the impending shipment of the Samsung Q1 greatly threatening the ability to issue that “first to market” press release, serious measurements and testing of the battery life may simply have been set aside. (more…)

E3 and the UMPC

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Last week, I attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This is the large annual trade show for the video and computer game industry. I had that after the show I would be able to write an article for this site describing the ways in which the UMPC was represented at the exhibits. Unfortunately, instead I am left only with the opportunity to write a lament about its absence.

Of course, I am very well aware that the UMPC is not being particularly promoted as a gaming device and that there are, in fact, some significant technical impediments to running a large percentage of Windows-based games on them. The first generation devices do not really have suitable specifications for many modern games, particularly in the video/graphics hardware. In many cases, PC games are also very difficult, if not impossible, to play without a keyboard.

Even with these limitations, though, some games really do work well on a UMPC and it is a safe bet that most UMPC owners will at least occasionally use them for games. Microsoft should be working harder to identify games that do work well on a UMPC and get that information out in front of current and potential owners. Some sort of an official certification program for games (and all other software, for that matter) would be a very smart move and E3 really would have been a great place to promote such a concept.

One of the main reasons why it was disappointing that UMPCs were missing was that this year’s exhibits paid quite a bit of attention to portable and casual gaming. Of course, as expected, there were enormous booths dedicated to elaborate, cutting-edge games with realistic graphics running on state-of-the-art desktop PCs and game consoles. What was less expected was the amount of space dedicated to casual games designed to be compatible with lower-horsepower systems and for being easy and fairly quick to play. A UMPC really is a pretty ideal device for playing this sort of game.

Casual games took up a portion of the booth space from many of the major game manufacturers, while other companies that specialize in casual games even had large booths of their own. These games were frequently shown not only on PCs and/or game consoles, but also on cell phones and other hand-held devices. This indicated the desirability of playing these types of games on the go. Had the PC versions of some of these games been shown on UMPCs instead of desktop systems, it could have made quite an impression.

I believe it is primarily Microsoft that really missed the boat here. Not only did they fail to work with casual game developers to get them to use UMPCs to show off their products, they didn’t even bother to use them in their own booth! As would be expected, Microsoft had one of the largest and most prominent booths at the show, with the bulk of the space dedicated to showing off the XBOX 360 as well as high-end Windows-based gaming. In the back, center portion of the booth, though, they did have a section dedicated to showing off “Microsoft Casual Gaming”, with an emphasis on the availability of these games through MSN. With Microsoft as the primary driver of the UMPC concept, I was amazed to find that they were showing these games on desktop PCs and cell phones (presumably running Windows Mobile), but there was not a UMPC in sight.

One of the games being featured on the desktop computers at Microsoft’s booth was a puzzle game called Hexic. As part of the promotion of the casual gaming concept, they were handing out gift cards to show attendees with a free registration code for the game. Since I had the card for a free copy of that game, I downloaded a copy to my eo after I got home and gave it a try. The game works extremely well on the UMPC and I’ve actually enjoyed spending some time playing it. The graphics and sound are well within the capabilities of the eo and the game is completely playable using either the touch-screen or the eo’s pointer-stick. This certainly could have been demonstrated on a UMPC very effectively.

As a final note, I will mention that the only UMPC that I actually saw at the show was the one that I brought along myself. The food court areas and lobby were equipped with free wi-fi in order to allow show attendees to use portable devices to check email or surf the web during breaks from the show. At one point, I found a table in a coffee shop and used my eo to read and respond to a few emails that had come in while I was at the show. During this time, I did attract some attention from people who came up and asked me about the device. Wouldn’t it have been great if those attendees had instead been seeing and playing with UMPCs at the Microsoft booth or other exhibits?

Palm’s Future Mobile Managers and the UMPC

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Originally published 3/21/06 on Bigbeaks Blog

Since the recent announcement of Microsoft’s new standards and software for what they call an Ultra-mobile PC (UMPC), which I discussed in an earlier post, there has been a fair amount of speculation in the online Palm OS user community about what this means for the future of the Mobile Manager line. I touched on this topic a bit in my previous essay, but I thought the subject deserved a more lengthy discussion.

A recent editorial by Ed Hardy at 1src.com focused quite a bit on steps that Palm could take to make the Mobile Manager line more of a direct alternative to a UMPC. I think he is largely coming at this from the wrong angle. Instead of focusing on how to compete with the UMPC as a PDA, I think that Palm needs to understand that Microsoft’s announcement essentially validates the whole concept that Palm introduced with the Mobile Managers. Instead of trying to present the LifeDrive and its successors as alternatives to the UMPC, Palm should work to help the public understand that they are versions of the same idea. If Palm intends to continue with the Mobile Manager line, within a year or so I would expect them to be able to do essentially anything that a UMPC can do.

In the short term, I do think Palm is reasonably well positioned to bill the LifeDrive as a stepping stone to a more full-featured UMPC or future Mobile Manager. Current reports are indicating that the first round of UMPCs to come out will likely be priced around $1,000 or higher. With the LifeDrive’s recent price reduction to $400 suggested retail, it clearly is a substantially lower priced option. If the price reduction is foretelling an upcoming LifeDrive-2 that will offer increased storage and, hopefully, improved performance and stability with a cost that is still around half the price of the early UMPCs, they should find that there is still a market for the product, at least for another year or so. I think the key will be not to promote the devices as a more capable option than a UMPC, but instead as a way to get much of the power of a UMPC in a less-expensive and smaller package.

It is very likely that the second-generation UMPC models will see the prices coming down substantially. Based on the goals that Microsoft has discussed, it appears likely that the price gap between the current price category for the Mobile Managers and the expected pricing for the next UMPCs will be much smaller. I think it is pretty clear that any device running the current Palm OS Garnett is likely to be so substantially reduced in capability compared to a UMPC running a full version of Windows (likely Windows Vista in the second-generation models), that the extra cost of the UMPC will be pretty easy for most people looking for this kind of device to justify.

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