After over a year, the wait is finally over. We finally know something about Google’s phone OS aka Android. We still don’t know that much, but we at least know enough to find some really interesting alliances and rivalries brewing. As well as making some guesses about an interesting OS future.

We still know very little about the Android itself. We know it’s open source, Linux (but what isn’t these days?), and includes a base layer compatible with modern cellular networks and modern internet technologies as well as core applications. By providing the underpinnings and a new OS, Google is competing with Symbian (and its S60 / UIQ interfaces), Microsoft, Palm and others who create mobile operating systems. Some of these companies are more threatened by Google than others.

When we take a look at the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) partners – the people who have agreed to work with Google on this project – we see some interesting members and some interesting absentees.

It is not surprising that Nokia is not on the list. As the developer and champion of S60, Nokia already believes it has an open OS that carriers and developers can customize. Why would they want to join Google when they already have the dominant smartphone (by marketshare)? What is interesting is that I suspect Nokia finally feels threatened by an alternative operating system. I say this because ST Microelectronics (STM), Nokia’s big chip partner and a company that Nokia has supported in many ways, is the only major chip manufacturer absent from the OHA.

The Symbian vs. Android battle may also explain Sony Ericsson’s absence from the OHA as well. Sony Ericsson is the primary investor in UIQ, the other Symbian based environment. Though we’ve been hearing that Sony Ericsson are at least investigating additional OSes and so it possible they aren’t as vehemently against Android as Nokia. UIQ has a tiny portion of the OS market share so SE probably isn’t quite as committed to it and it’s unlikely with such a small market share that Android would hurt UIQ sales that much.

This Symbian vs. Android split becomes more interesting when we look at who chose to join the OHA. Motorola’s membership isn’t that interesting. Motorola is in limbo and they are trying out every OS and platform out there hoping if they throw enough spaghetti at the wall, something will stick. No, what’s interesting is that DoCoMo and KDDI are part of the OHA. Fujitsu and a few other Japanese manufacturers have been using Symbian to create phones for these carriers. Both of the Japanese giants have talked about Linux in the past, but neither really did much. But if both these carriers are committed to Android, Symbian could lose the only partner it added after the originals – Nokia and Sony Ericsson.

I do not think the absence of Palm and RIM are shocking or important. Palm is putting all its eggs in its own Linux basket and unless that basket looks like a bright, revolutionary future, they will have dug themselves a grave too deep to get out of. RIM too has all its eggs in one basket, but currently that is a more successful basket and will carry them through at least the next few years. But below i explain why i don’t think that will guarantee RIM’s success far into the future.

Though a rivalry between Symbian and Android is shaping up, there will be none between Microsoft and Android. When we look at the handset and carrier partners in the OHA, every one except KDDI is a Windows Mobile partner. HTC, who until today only worked with Microsoft will be producing Android handsets. Samsung, LG and Motorola all create very successful Windows Mobile devices too. T-Mobile has worked very close with Microsoft and many of the other carriers have long standing relationships with Redmond as well.

I do not believe these carriers and manufacturers are looking to replace Windows Mobile with Android. I believe these carriers are looking to add Google to their list of services they build phones for. Here’s what I strongly believe is going to happen, and why i think Symbian is far more threatened by this move than Microsoft.

I’ve been talking to alot of people lately who live their entire online lives inside a browser. They don’t use desktop mail. They don’t use a desktop RSS reader. (many do use desktop IM clients, if they IM, but this is sooo easily remedied.) Each of these people has a primary platform of choice – Gmail and Google apps, Microsoft Hotmail or Exchange, Yahoo! mail and some combination of other applications, or even just Facebook.

Talking to another friend doing research, he’s learning that not only do teens and young 20 year olds live their lives inside the browser, they don’t even want to download applications. Requiring a download is total non-starter for this generation. These people are also the most mobile-centric of any generation so far and they want access to the same data and applications they have on their desktop browser on their phones. Only a browser model doesn’t work so well for doing things on the phone (even in amazing browsers like the one on the iPhone).

Google and Microsoft have figured this out. Their platforms bring the desktop, desktop browser and the mobile device together. Data is synced and shared between all 3 and feel familiar between the three (or at least i’m assuming they will once we see what Android looks like). Although people are not loyal to a any carrier or handset manufacturer (especially in this day of WLNP), they are loyal to online service providers. their email address and the apps they use online are as much a part of them as their phone number is. The new gOS desktops for Walmart reinforce this on a desktop level. Google is approaching this from all devices the same way Microsoft is.

Nokia has taken the opposite approach by announcing Ovi. Instead of aligning themselves with one online platform, Ovi allows Nokia or websites to align themselves with Nokia phones. in cultures like japan where many young users barely ever use a PC outside of work, this would be appropriate, but i don’t think this phone-centric view works in the west, where desktop platforms are what users make an effort to choose and associate themselves with.

i think if we look out a few years, we will see young people in the west choosing phones by what desktop platform it is associated with – google, microsoft, apple, even facebook if they continue to grow. (aol has jumped the shark and i fear yahoo! is a non-starter.) you will by a phone to match your online life because that will allow you to access all the things you do no matter what device is available.

Reuters has collected reactions from all these parties, and i think that what each says only reinforces my predictions. Microsoft says “we already do this,” and they do. Nokia, is overly confident of their market dominance and doesn’t see Android as a threat. while UIQ, which doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, can only say more competition can only help. Reuters too ignores Palm and RIM in their follow up.

Expect a software update from Apple soon, iPhone users — and a slew of lawsuits to follow. Today it was announced that a hard working team of developers have figured out a way to unlock the iPhone using only software. (Previously a few brave folks learned they could unlock the iPhone with some serious hardware hacking – soldering, scraping, and then more software hacking.)

To date Apple has not tried to stop people hacking its device – either the iPhone or the Apple TV. Apple TV updates have practically embraced the hacks people have come up with and the two iPhone updates that have been released so far still allow hacks, but only work on unhacked devices. (Forcing users to undo all the hacks before updating or suffer through a complete factory restore – i cried a little.)

However past hacks to Apple devices have never broken any of Apple’s revenue streams, or any other company’s revenue stream for that matter. If this one hack continues to work, it will definitely cut AT&T’s revenue, but it will also cut down Apple’s if rumors about them getting a 10% cut of all iPhone data plans is true.

But the issue isn’t that simple. Last year the Librarian of Congress (who, believe it or not has domain over this) said that unlocking GSM phones to work on other carriers is not illegal. So although it’s likely Apple and / or AT&T will try to sue the developers once their identity is discovered, it’s also likely this suit will get thrown out of court.

One interesting thing that was revealed through this process is that the iPhone 1.0.1 update added a hidden settings panel that lets users customize data settings. so unlocked iPhones can be configured to fully work on any network (except for visual voicemail). Could it be Apple is tacitly supporting these efforts, or is this something that was added because of Apple’s rumored multi-carrier agreement in Europe?

A special shout out to Carlo Longino and Craig Froehle for planting the seeds of this post in my brain.

I’m thinking of starting a whole blog simply dedicated to glaring engineering / design mistakes that companies build into their products. But instead, i’ll start a new series of posts here where we can discuss some of the crazy things we encounter when reviewing handsets. Clearly someone chooses to make things this way, but many times it seems the consequences these choices have on users are totally ignored.

For instance, today we’ll take a look at accessory and headset jacks. These days most manufacturers are putting these jacks on the sides of phones. But like our mama said, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should too. On some phones this placement is acceptable. For instance, tiny flip don’t leave any space on the top or bottom for jacks, so they must go on the side. When you connect a headset or a headphone adaptor to these phones, you can either turn the phone sideways in your pocket or you can leave it upright and let the adaptor jut out to the side a bit. The phone is small enough that you can get away with the mild discomfort of either of these solutions. But what about when phone is larger – like, say, a thick slider or a big QWERTY phone? Well then you’ll most likely have to turn the phone sideways in your pocket if you have a headset plugged in. And that, my friends, is very uncomfortable. The list of phones that commit this offense is longer than the list of phones that get it right, and that’s a shame.

If just one person at any of the guilty manufacturers had plugged one headset or set of earphones  in and tried to put the phone back in their pocket, they would have noticed how uncomfortable things would be. They could have made a difference. But instead a team or designers and engineers carefully placed these jacks where they would be cheapest or most convenient, and not where they made sense. And today, when trying to plug my Sennheisers into an offending phone that put a 3.5mm headset jack on the side, all I got was a pocket full of OUCH. I will not call out this phone by name since it is not uniquely guilty of this offense.

I know fixing this is not as simple as just moving a jack – it probably would require re-engineering circuit boards and designing bodies to accommodate the move. But making changes like this show that a company cares about us users, and that they expect us to actually USE the features they list on the box, and not merely just buy their product because said feature was listed. And for all those companies who would say, “well why don’t you just use Bluetooth headphones, Mr. high tech phone reviewer,” I would gladly argue back “Have you ever tried to use those?” Cripes if anything, including my own body comes between any phone and any pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried, they always cut out. it’s so frustrating and such a drain on the battery that i refuse to use them. 

Recently I decided I would try to join the push email generation. The last time I had push mail was when I was a Sidekick 2 user many years ago, and back then only my personal mail was sent to my handset, as I had separate email accounts for business and personal use. But soon GMail slowly convinced everyone to merge all their email addresses into a single account. This was a bad idea.To test push email I decided to forward my email from GMail to a push-enabled account. This was a disaster – I get so much email between work and friends that my pocket was constantly vibrating, and my phone was filling up with emails I couldn’t care less about as so much the email that comes to my work address is notifications or off topic pitches from PR people. So to stem the flood, I went to set up some filters in GMail to tell it who was important enough to push mail from (by forwarding that to my push account). However GMail’s filters are so basic that it would have taken me hours of manually entering email addresses when all I really wanted to say was “if the email address matches one in my contacts list, forward the email.” (I could do this in 3 clicks – THREE CLICKS – from my Mac.) So my re-introduction to push mail left a bad taste in my mouth. I turned off the push account and went back to checking my email account manually whenever I felt like I needed to check in.

Recently, the iPhone has been intriguing me and so I decided to test out its push capabilities. However my previous experience taught me I couldn’t forward everything to my phone and I couldn’t get the filters I wanted in Gmail. So I took the old fashioned approach and moved my work email to its own separate account. I set my personal email account to forward to Yahoo! push account and created a separate account on the phone to check my work email manually. This solved one problem – my pocket wasn’t constantly buzzing – but created another. Because of the awful way you have to switch back and forth between accounts on the iPhone, as soon as I went to see why my pocket was buzzing, the phone would start checking my work account too and it created an even more frustrating loop of checking and rechecking.

I wanted to turn everything off and just go back to SMS. I thought of ways I could send a nice autoresponder to people telling them that if their matter was urgent, they should text me. That is, after all, what text is for – reaching people as soon as possible with a succinct message. I hate that some people use email like text. I do not hover over my email on my phone or on my computer, we have conduits like IM and SMS for instant communication.

So I did the unthinkable. I turned off my work account altogether, leaving only the push account my personal email is forwarded to, and quickly i was in heaven. I only get about 40 personal email messages per day, and 99% of it is something i want to read. So whenever my pocket buzzes, it’s with something that’s going to make my day (though every once in a while it makes my day worse) – whether it’s an SMS or a push email. Instead of my friends using email like IM (they don’t know it’s coming to me instantly) the mails I get on my phone are like pleasant distractions I can deal with whenever – everyone still texts me if they want me immediately.

And so now that I’ve got a good system in place, I’m wondering how to get the appropriate, important, emails to my phone. It’s easy enough to tell GMail to forward mails from my two fellow Phone Scoopers, but what about all my other contacts who usually send me mail I consider important enough for my phone? that might be a long list.

I’ve considered an auto-responder to tell people they can send email to my push account. I’ve considered a different auto-responder telling everyone – whether they send email to my personal or work account to text me if something is important and turning off email altogether. i’ve considered investigating services like enotifyme, that make setting up filters easier than GMail. and I haven’t come up with an answer I like.

Why? Well I hate the autoresponder solution because it flips the responsibility back to the sender. They’ve already made an effort to contact me (albeit by what may be the wrong channel) and I feel it’s inappropriate to put the onus back on them to use the right channel. Although it would train everyone to use the appropriate medium for the situation, i feel like there should be back end systems to handle that so that people only need to remember one way to contact me and the system takes care of the rest.

But setting up today’s filter systems to take make sure the right emails, calls, texts, etc. get to you how and when you want is so cumbersome. It puts an undue onus on the user. It takes too much time and effort, and there’s no learning mode, so all modifications have to be made manually. I want to make it easy for others, but I want to make it easy for myself, as well (of course!).

Unfortunately for now i’ve chosen to forward a select group of people to my push account and have left the rest to sit and wait until I get to a computer to check their messages. Maybe I should add an autoresponder with instructions for those who aren’t pushed, but can’t some things just wait?

I go to a lot of concerts. Generally one or more per month. While some stadiums in and around the metro NYC area (read: the ones in NJ) have beefed up wireless coverage, many venues continue to totally suck with respect to providing solid access.

Last night, for example, I saw Chris Cornell at the Beacon Theater in NYC. (Great show, by the way. Awesome collection of Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and Chris’s solo stuff.) Standing just outside the doors to the theater, which is an old-school, opera-house type place, I had great coverage on the two phones I had with me. One was Verizon, the other AT&T. I was able to make and receive with both phones no problem-o.

Once I walked inside, though, coverage on my Verizon phone began to waffle between one bar and no bars. The AT&T phone dropped down to 3 bars. During the course of the evening, I attempted to make several calls with my Verizon handset. Fully 50% of the calls failed to go through at all. Those that did, lasted a mere 10 seconds before being disconnected or dropped. Even though the AT&T phone had more signal strength, it fared no better. I tried making several calls with it. Only one connected at all, and was dropped as soon as I got the word “Hello” out of my mouth.

Data services, such as SMS, fared a bit better. There was a slight delay in sending a receiving messages, but they all did eventually get through.

I understand the limitations of cell towers with respect to how many calls can be handled at any given moment. Ditto for the fact that places in NYC are often old buildings with some dense-ass materials blocking signals. But places that regularly host large groups of people (theaters, stadiums, etc.) should work with the cellular operators to make sure that their customers are adequately served while attending events in those venues.  Is it really that expensive/difficult to add capacity? C’mon guys.

I have had a few issues with my iPhone since buying it on June 29th and though I’d share ’em, with y’all.

For the most part, it has been a revelation on how good user interfaces can be. I am not going to into the pluses or minuses of the device, though. If that’s what you’re interested in, I’d refer you to Phone Scoop’s in-depth review.

So in the middle of last week, I was suddenly unable to access the Internet via my iPhone. I got an error message that read: Could Not Activate EDGE. I was a little miffed, but have had random connection issues with other phones. So I decided to give it some time. An hour later, still no luck. My iPhone was also have difficulty in sending SMS messages. It often took 3 or 4 attempts to get an SMS to successfully send to another phone. I chalked this up to a network anomoly and let it rest for a while.

Several hours later, though, I still had no luck connecting to the Internet. Eventually I gave up and went to bed. The next morning, I woke up and checked the iPhone. Still no Internet, but this time around I got a DNS Server error. Eep. I called AT&T customer service right away. (BTW, I had powered the phone on and off several times.)

I waited about 8 minutes to be connected a rep. Once connected, the rep checked my account and told me that my data account was still active, and there had been no network issues in the area. Since it wasn’t service related, he decided to transfer me to an Apple rep.

I waited on hold again for another 8 to 10 minutes. Once I spoke to the Apple rep (who was chipper as hell, BTW), she had me reset the iPhone. It took several attempts. After the second attempt, the iPhone was able to reconnect to the EDGE network and successfully browse the Web. Cool.

Two days later, though, I had another failure with the iPhone, this time hardware related. After using it as an iPod for a while and listening to some Machine Head, I pulled out the headphones. From then on, the ear piece speaker failed to work. The speakerphone worked just fine, but the ear piece speaker made no sound at all, and calls could not be heard using the iPhone as a regular phone.

Since I had a similar issue with a Treo several years ago, I took it directly to the Apple store. Unfortunately I had to wait two days to get an appointment with an Apple Genius.  After I explained the problem to him, he agreed that it was a hardware issue and it needed to be fixed. The little mechanism inside the headphone jack that shuts off the ear piece speaker and routes calls to the headphones was permanently activated. Since the 14-day return window had expired, they wouldn’t just give me a new phone. It was sent off to be repaired. Apple offered a temporary iPhone replacement for me to use, but I declined, preferring to just use another handset I had at home.  So I took my SIM and put it in a BlackBerry Pearl. The experience was jarring. I had loved my Pearl. After just 3 weeks with the iPhone, though, the BB OS was jarring to use.

I switched to a Nokia E61i, and that was much better. Thankfully I only had to use it for three days. Apple FedExed the iPhone back to me just 70 hours after I dropped it off at the Apple store. The repair was free, but the experience did stink, and made me lose a little bit of confidence in the quality of the new phone.

I stopped into iPhone Dev Camp today. I walked in and was shocked to see hundreds of developers staring intensely at their laptops. I honestly didn’t expect so many people, but this is the bay area, and so it is Apple’s and Web 2.0’s home turf. Most the people in attendance had iPhones, but they didn’t seem to be using them. You could tell these were the type of people who generally don’t leave the house without their laptop. They also, for the most part, were not mobile developers.

The mobile interface and development world is small enough that everyone in it knows or at least recognizes each other, especially when it comes to online and not Java development… and i did not recognize a single soul in the place. so I went out to the organizers are expressed my shock at how into their laptops everyone was – both because this was the first dev camp i’ve ever attended (i often attend “bar camps” but those are much more social, even though they involve no bars.), and because everyone seemed much more interested in their laptops and full computer sized applications than mobile applications.

And that’s when the organizers stunned me. they weren’t surprised by the computer-centric makeup of the crowd at all, because the organizers didn’t consider an iPhone a mobile device. “It’s not a mobile device,” one said, “it’s more of a really powerful browser in a small computer.” And that view seems to be the one shared by most the attendees. I went back around and checked on the types of applications these folks were working on. They weren’t mobile centric. They didn’t consider the on the go nature of the iPhone or the fact that mobile UIs usually call for less information and less input. They were trying to squeeze full desktop applications or full desktop websites into the phone. The preliminary results were appalling in many cases. (but they were preliminary!)

But not all web developers are looking at the iPhone like it’s a MacBook mini. I was browsing the iPhone Application List and came across MoviesApp. It is, I would say, my dream movie times application. It considers all the capabilities of the iPhone so it integrates with the media aspects of the iPhone, Google Maps and more. And it also requires a minimum of input and clicks to get the information you want, formatted exactly how you would expect on your iPhone. I’m glad that despite today’s experiences that at least some people understand the iPhone’s highly mobile nature.

Now what i’m really hoping is that these same developers who are making well thought out web applications for the iPhone realize that there are millions more Windows Mobile and S60 phones out there that can advantage of their hard work; and they expand their development to allow these millions of users to experience wonderfully designed applications as well. The one thing I was hoping the iPhone might do is get more people to develop truly well designed mobile web sites, instead of forcing us to use their unwieldy desktop sites or their ultra low bandwidth sites that fail to provide enough information.

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According to gizmodo, this is the Motorola Zante, a new danger-based device that we’ve been hearing rumors about for many months. It’s reportedly a much thinner sidekick with updated features. But what i want to know is which one of these is the real Zante. The picture on the left is the first Zante’s that appeared on the net. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the keyboard is a grid, the way most smartphone keyboards are laid out. When these renderings first appeared i noticed immediately, because as a former sidekick user, i know the one thing that sets these devices apart is their keyboard, which normally has offset keys like a full-sized QWERTY keyboard. I was disappointed that Motorola might have abandoned one of the sidekick’s biggest strengths in the name of making it thinner and more modern. but i knew these images were just renderings and so i reserved my judgement.

then yesterday, the image on the right surfaced. notice that in this image, the keys on the keyboard are offset from each other. in fact the keyboard looks almost exactly like the sidekick 3. If this is really the final rendering of the Zante, then it seems that Motorola has finally done away with the D-pad normally found on the left. Which only makes sense, since it became redundant after Danger introduced the trackball on the right to replace the old scroll wheel.

Of course all this analysis is still based on rumor, not fact. But if all these images are surfacing now, it can’t be long before this device is officially unveiled.

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on the right is picture floating around the internet of a rumored nokia feature phone called the 7500 of the new Nokia 7500, a fashion phone introduced in China today (see link in comments). on the left is the Prada store that opened in Tokyo about 3 years ago. is this Nokia’s answer to the LG Prada phone?

O2, a carrier in Europe, has begun to show off the Cocoon. It is a simple clamshell phone that was designed by a team of trend spotters and a custom manufacturer instead of by a large phone company or ODM. And even though it is just a clamshell phone, it is not a clamshell phone like all the rest. It looks more like something that came out of AU’s design series than yet another RAZR knockoff.

The Cocoon looks like a curved white bundle of ribbon with flat black plastic sides. On one side is external playback controls, on the other is a scroll wheel. And hidden under the curved white front is a huge OLED matrix that can display the time, incoming callers or track names.

Instead of O2 going to a manufacturer with a laundry list of new technologies they wanted, they contacted a firm who asked cool people they know. and what sort of features did these people come up with? It’s not video streaming or a laptop replacement or anything bleeding edge. It’s simple stuff that would enhance how most people use their phones day to day. The Cocoon comes with 2 GB of memory in addition to a MicroSD card slot, so there’s plenty of room for music and pictures even before users purchase a memory card. It comes with software that lets it sync music from Window Media Player or iTunes.

But memory is just the start. The designers looked at how these users wanted to make the most of their phone and took this into account. With full playback controls and an external display users don’t need to open the phone to use it as a music player. They took advantage of this to create a charging dock that holds the Cocool sideways so the controls are exposed on top. When in the stand, the phone displays the time in a large font and can be used as an alarm clock or mini stereo thanks to a 3.5mm speaker jack in the back of the dock. The camera is only 2 megapixels, but is auto-focus and has an automatic flash as well, so it is still capabble of taking decent features. And of course the Cocoon has a custom designed OS with lots of rich graphics.

Nothing about the Cocoon is high tech. It doesn’t have any newer features than the Sony Ericsson  W800 launched 18 months ago except for 3G calling. But it still feels new and exciting, simply because they listened to people and not companies when designing it.