Well it looks like we recently got another update to SkyDrive[1].  For me SkyDrive has been one of those services that has had limited usefulness(similar to DropBox until recently) .  I have used it for various things over the years.  But due to the difficulty in getting stuff into it,  it just wasn’t convenient.  Well, I guess that is only partially true.  When they opened up 5 gig of my Skydrive space to be used for Windows Live Mesh, I did use that space up pretty quick (because there was a convenient access method).

However with these new updates, it is starting to appeal to me once more.  They did drop the free space from 25 gig to 7 gig.  But for those of us who have been ‘loyal’ users for a long time, they have offered an amnesty program to allow us to request that we retain our free 25 gig[2].  So that’s not an issue for me.  They also add some reasonable options for upgrading your space if you need (50 gig for $25/year, etc.).

With this update, also came a windows application that allows you to access/sync your SkyDrive with your computer(Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion)[3].  This was a bit of shock since it was becoming apparent to me that Microsoft was not interested in making it easy to access and use this space.  Apparently that mind set has changed.  With this new app, the barrier to get stuff in and out of your SkyDrive has been lifted.  They also have a Windows Phone 7 app and an iOS app (now supporting iPad).  Sadly there is no Android app.

So how will SkyDrive become a more active part of my life?  Well I am not sure yet.  I am currently as huge user of Windows Live Mesh[4], which is an integral part of my backup solution.  And they don’t appear to be trying to merge these systems (in fact they appear to be separating them even more as my 5 gig of used space does not show up in my used count in my 25 gig of SkyDrive space).  They have created a page entitled “SkyDrive for Mesh Users”[5].  However this page seems more to me to be more of a migration guide and propaganda to get you to move off of mesh and not documentation on how to get them to work together.

There are a lot of collaboration feature built into SkyDrive.  The integrated office webapps makes in browser editing of office docs a breeze.  It is a much, much more elegant solution than Google docs when it comes to a document repository and collaboration environment.  I guess we’ll just have to see.  If its useful, I imagine I will see it starting to creep back into my life more and more as time passes.  If they would just add an Android app to their lineup, that may seal the deal for me.

Fingers crossed!

Dropbox DevicesI am a big fan of file synchronization tools.  For me, file sync’ing across my multiple devices not only makes my life easier but also serves to  backup my data.  But I have yet to find the perfect tool that handles all of the different scenarios I have for my data.  And while I have had a Dropbox account for quite a while, I have rarely used it.  It has a limited amount of space for free (2 gigs) and doesn’t provide simple synchronization between devices only (separate from their cloud storage space).  I am currently using Microsoft Live Mesh as my main tool which allows me unlimited sync’ing between computers and also lets me use 5 gigs of cloud storage from my SkyDrive (not too bad).  I use it mainly for the sync’ing (and backing up) of large amounts of files between computers.  Where it fails, and where dropbox shines, is in its support for the various mobile device platforms.  Mesh currently does not support any mobile device.

However Dropbox is currently testing a new feature which I am somewhat excited about.  They are testing the capability to automatically upload photos and videos taken on mobile devices to a Dropbox folder.  I currently am using Google+ for that (and it works well).  However, things uploaded by Google+ only live on the Google+ servers.  This great for posting to Google+.  But it requires extra steps to get them onto my computer for manipulation, permanent storage and/or sharing to other services.  With this new feature in Dropbox, I can automatically sync  my pictures and videos to any machine I want.  Simply put, its like having a wireless USB cable that continually dumps my photos/videos to a pre-specified folder, from anywhere in the world.

The one downside, 2 gig wasn’t enough for the 1080p videos I had on my phone.  Fortunately Dropbox thought of that and was offering additional space for anyone willing to test the new feature.  Basically I received 500 meg for trying it out (on first photo upload).  I then received an additional 500 meg for every 500 meg I uploaded using the new feature (up to 4.5 gig).  When my phone was done sync’ing, my Dropbox account had jumped from 2 gig to 7 gig.  Now that’s not too bad for scratch space for my photos and videos.  And who knows, if I start actively using it again for this purpose I may actually start using it for others.  Good move Dropbox.

For those who want to participate, I think the deal is still on.  You can go here to get the Android installers for this new test version.  And if you don’t have an Android phone, they are testing out new versions of their desktop clients as well.  These clients supposedly work with any camera or video device that you connect to your computer.  You can find details here.

Happy Sync’ing!

DevicesA few weeks back I made the claim that our current world of fragmented personal computing is not great for consumers.  In the 90’s we typically had one computer per home.  During the early 2000’s it started to be very common to have multiple computers per home.  And now, starting in the late 2000’s, we have evolved to rely on multiple computing devices per user, per home.

We talked earlier about why these devices are different.  This post focuses on how they are the same.

I think it would be true to say that for most users the OS, putting all cultural leanings aside, does not define their user experience.  It mostly gets in the way.  For most users, the OS is that thing that they install their apps onto.  In the same way that their browser is the internet, their apps are what really define their computing experience.  For some, the elegance of the  hardware is part of it. But for this discussion, it is irrelevant.  I think Apple proved my point about the apps with their iPhone.  Many may have bought it for it beauty. But in my opinion it, and Android, have been successful because they got the OS out of the way and gave you access to tons of apps.

Even the files on these devices, in the end user’s mind, are not accessed through the OS.  Their apps are the portals for accessing and modifying any files that might live on their devices.  I have helped countless people over the years with their computers.  I can attest that for most of those users, Word documents do not exist outside of Word and possibly their email system.  The concept of the file system is beyond them—as it probably should be.

For the average users, computing devices have largely been complex machinery that did one thing, give them access to their applications.   Now these applications, of course, satisfy a plethora of other needs.  But even those can be broken down to a few basic categories.

  • Apps for Entertainment/Consumption/Education: media players (for local and remote content), games, news apps, educational materials, media remotes, etc.
  • Apps for Communication: email, SIP, chat, etc.  Even cellular calls are just apps that require specialized hardware.
  • Apps for Creation/Productivity (typically generate and manipulate files): camera, office suite, blogging, video/audio/photo editing, etc.
  • Utilities: Administrative tools, antivirus.  These are typically power tools for more advanced users for changing things most users don’t care about.

There are many apps that reach across these boundaries, like the browser.  And within each app there are a range of tasks from simple to complex.  We find the same apps, in countless forms, across the various forms factors.  Their only difference, from one device to another, is that their interface and complexity have been adjusted appropriately for their intended form factor.

In summary, all these devices do the same thing.  They provide us ways to access and manipulate the same information and services in our lives though similar sets of applications.  They also help us communicate with the same people in our lives.  Therefore, these devices should be more unified in their approach to helping us simplify these activities.

Previous: Fragmented Personal Computing
Next: Unified Personal Computing – Applied

Droid-BionicVerizon has announced the latest update to their Droid Bionic phone [1].  Emails went out two days ago to Bionic users in order to invite them to participate in a limited roll out that they are calling a “Soak Test”.  What I am not sure about is how long it will take Verizon to push our the final update once the soak test is completed (assuming it goes well).

I have owned a Bionic since the day it came out and have had very mixed feelings about its performance.  Spec wise, it is a great phone.  But its performance has been lacking.  My main complaints have been about the camera, the screen itself (Pentile[2] and I do not get along) and 3G/4G stability.  According to the PDF, a lot of time was spent on stability issues.  Both the camera and data connectivity are mentioned.  With any hope two out of my three complaints will be addressed in this update.  Unfortunately, nothing short of a screen replacement will alleviate my issues with the Pentile display that these phone came with.

Some of the other updates I look forward to are:

  • Improvements in battery life.
  • Idle resets (getting rid of them)
  • Play WAV audio files.

There is some evidence that they are adding a bit more bloatware (a new VCAST app store).  Hopefully it is limited to that.

Here’s to seeing is come out soon!

DevicesA ‘pocket sized’ computing device has been rooted in the imaginations of science fiction writers and readers for as long as I can remember.  These devices have done everything imaginable.  They have been communicators, navigators, medical diagnosticians, entertainers, locating beacons, mathematicians, knowledge repositories and I am sure there are countless other iterations that have existed over the years.  Science fiction has always been a hot bed of tech ideas.  And today’s smart phones and tablets are prime examples of ‘Life imitating art’.

However I feel that the big players may be missing the boat in some respects.  For the past few years, I have been analyzing the value of the various devices in this new fragmented world of personal computing.  As always, different users have different needs.  We are seeing many users throughout the world who feel their smart phones are sufficient.  Others have decided a tablet fits all of their needs.  But both of these users would probably find themselves, admittedly or not, squarely into the camp of ‘the consumer’ when it comes to the services available on these devices.  The content creators, while they may love their tablets and smart phones, typically still rely on a laptop or desktop computer to work on their craft (dual 24″ monitors are hard to compete with when it comes to doing actual work).

So what is it that limits these devices to being merely consumption devices?  They are those that would disagree with me who say these devices can do it all.  I have heard their arguments and examples in countless forms.  But in all honesty, their proofs come across to me as functional compromises to help justify owning the device.  In almost every instance, the larger screen, the physical keyboard and the mouse/trackball are still much more efficient for the task at hand.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I think these devices have their place and can be extremely useful and convenient for many tasks, both professional and casual.   And I have seen some creative apps that do a lot with limited controls.  However depending on what you do, these devices probably shouldn’t be a replacement for all your computing needs.

So let’s analyze what the limiting factors could be.  In all reality it doesn’t seem to be the processing power.  My current phone and tablet both have more processing power and similar storage to my desktop from eight or ten years ago.  I was pretty productive on that machine.  So when you consider the quad core devices that have come out recently or are coming out soon, the processing power is most than sufficient for a very large percent of the content creators out there.

So it’s not the power of the devices.  The logical option would be to blame it on the software, the OS and the apps.  I would say that in our current market, we would be partially correct.  But the software can easily, or quickly, be addressed—relatively speaking.  But fixing the software is definitely part of the solution (to be discussed later).

I think it’s obvious that the largest limitation is the form factor itself.  Some form factors, no matter how much we like them, just shouldn’t be used for some tasks.  You don’t use a Prius to haul a boat.  Which means the most efficient solution for now is to just buy multiple devices for each need.  But that option does not scale well for the majority of us.  Plus there are the added annoyances that arise from having to maintain multiple devices and their respective environments.

First you need to manage/install you favorite apps on all your different devices.  Remember installing Angry Birds on your new tablet only to realize you had to solve all those levels again?  Also, if you like to customize your experience, you now need to maintain that on each device.  And then there are the files.  To take advantage of all of your device’s strengths for the life-cycle of a particular file, you need to synchronize that file to all of those devices.  The cloud can help immensely here, but it still requires some level of expertise and knowledge to make it work smoothly.

So what is the solution?  Well I do see hints of many of the larger companies heading in the right direction.  But there are aspects of their published strategies that cause me some concern.  It may take them too long to get to where we need to be.  This may be an opportunity for a few of the smaller guys to make a name for themselves.

Next: Unified Personal Computing – Consumer’s Needs