Posts from Smartphones

Auto Update

When I first installed the Twitter for Android app, I checked auto update. That apparently is not a default setting for apps on Android. I don't even know if the iPhone has an auto update feature because I don't use an iPhone. But in any case, sometime in the past ten days Twitter updated its Android app. I hadn't been paying attention and did not know that. One morning I opened Twitter on my phone, like I normally do, and the app was different and better. It was like using a  web app. New features, faster, cleaner. It was a great experience and I tweeted about it.

One of the things I love about web apps is they get better all the time without any need to update the software on the user's end. You can approximate that experience by enabling auto update on your mobile apps (at least I know you can do that on Android).

Since I had that experience with Twitter for Android, I've gone back and enabled auto update on all my Android apps. And the experience is fantastic.

I understand why this is not a default feature. If you are on an expensive mobile data plan or if you are roaming, auto updating over mobile data could be expensive. Some people might want to do all of their updating over wifi.

But I do think Android should make it an option for a user to set the default at the OS level and not at the individual app level. Because if you have a mobile data plan that allows affordable over the air auto updating, it's a materially better user experience.

Over time, with the improvments that are coming with HTML5 and improvements that will come in the mobile operating systems, mobile apps will feel more and more like web apps. Until we get there, auto updating is a great way to get that feel with downloadable software.


The $160 Lesson: Apps Beat Devices

We have Mac Minis connected to all the TVs in our home. I've been using a RF-based keyboard/mouse combo device for several years and not loving it. So one of my new years' resolutions was to find a better approach for our family. Last week, I went out and bought an Apple Wireless Keyboard (bluetooth) and a Gyration Air Mouse (RF). I figured I'd try to fix our main family room setup first and then roll out the solution to the rest of the house.

I had them shipped to my office and was taking them home on Friday. I showed the Gyration Air Mouse which is super cool looking to Andrew and he casually said "I like the Mobile Air Mouse app on the iPhone". I filed that away and went home with my hardware excited about what I had purchased.

I got the Apple Wireless Keyboard to pair with my mac mini and it works well. But like many bluetooth devices, I had some weird pairing issues on reboot and other times and it wasn't as reliable as it needs to be in our family room. And I completely failed on the Gyration Air Mouse. I could not get it to work on my Mac Mini or on my Mac laptop either (I tried that just to see if there was something awry with the Mac Mini). I am not sure if the Gyration Air Mouse issue is operator error (me) or something wrong with the one I bought. Who cares at the end of the day? I could not get it to work.

So in frustration, I pulled out the iPod touch we use as a Sonos and Boxee remote in our family room and downloaded the Mobile Air Mouse app from the iTunes store for $1.99. You have to download free "server software" for the device from the Mobile Air Mouse website as well.

Guess what? Andrew was right. It works very well. And you get a trackpad and a keyboard (iPhone style keyboard) all for $1.99.

The Apple keyboard was roughly $80 and the Gyration Air Mouse was about the same. $160 down the drain. The $2 solution was better.

Of course, for this to work you'll need to have a $200 iTouch handy. But honestly, I could have spent $200 on the iTouch and added $2 for the Air Mouse and it would not have been much more than what I spent on the keyboard and mouse.

Bottom line for me: apps beat devices. Lesson learned. Relatively cheaply.

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Blackberry apps

One of the frustrating things about being a blackberry user (I've tried to move to iPhone twice and Droid twice) is that most of the stuff is there for an awesome mobile experience but RIM just makes it too damn hard to experience it.

A classic example of this is blackberry apps. I got a new blackberry last week (the bold 9700: awesome phone) and have been putting my favorite apps on it.

So far, I have:

Google Maps
Blackberry Messenger
Blackberry App World

I also have a beta version of an app from one of our portfolio companies but I've been asked not to talk about that.

App World isn't as slick as the iPhone app store but it works well. Only problem is it didn't come pre-installed on my phone. How can that be? If you want to compete with Apple, you have to at least bring your 'A game' right out of the box.

While I'm on the topic of the app store, I think its fantastic that Blackberry allows developers to provide downloads of their apps directly from the mobile web. I used App World for some of my apps and the mobile web for others. Both modes work, especially for free apps.

My biggest beef with blackberry apps is the popups they create around trust and security. Its confusing as hell to me to figure out what boxes to check and when to say yes and when to say no. It's like the privacy hell Facebook is putting its users through right now. More options and checkboxes is not better.

Maybe its because of apple's rigorous (and long) approval process, but iPhone apps don't put users through all this trust and security nonsense and I think Blackberry ought to fix this problem.

It's really bad for mobile apps that use a lot of third party apis (something we'll see a lot more of in the near future). Each time the mobile app makes a call to a new api, you get the damn popups. Its a painful experience. And if you want to reset the application permissions, good luck finding the settings to do that which are buried three levels down in advanced settings.

I could go on and on but I'll stop my critique in hopes of keeping this post brief.

Once you get the apps installed and working right, the experience is incredible. Blackberry supports multitasking and so I'm listening to Pandora and BBM'ing at the same time I am writing this post (on my blackberry of course).

The phone is great, the software is powerful, but the browser is awful and the entire user experience is too complicated. Blackberry can and should fix this because iPhone and Droid are coming on strong, even in Blackberry's core enterprise market, and they don't have a big window of time to get it right.

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