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Items about wireless phones and technology.

Technology, Wireless

My First iPhone App

I have created my first Web 2.0 designed for the iPhone™.  It takes the statistics feed from Linden Labs for Second Life™ and formats it for the iPhone display. The implementation is AJAX  using the Spry framework from Adobe and updates the data every 60 seconds. If you want to check it out visit:

Second Life Statistics (link no longer available!)

Technology, Wireless

Impressions of an iPhone

Yes I bought one… did anyone doubt that I would?  I won’t be posting many pics of the iPhone because there are so many out on the news sites and on Apple’s web site it would be superfluous.    However a number of friend’s have asked about it so here goes the story….

Getting the iPhone

There were plenty of people that camped out at Apple and AT&T stores around the country because the conventional wisdom was that the iPhones would sell out within minutes.  Some arrived days in advance and many arrived on friday and waited 6-12 hours in line till the phones went on sale at 6PM local time.  I was not one of them.  As much as I love and enjoy gadgets I was not going to wait in a line all day for one.  As the 6PM launch time arrived I was text messaging Scott (who was on a business trip and number 25 in line (arrived just before 5PM) at an AT&T store in Reston, VA) and Greg (who was in a short line of about 35 people (he popped by on his way home from work) at the AT&T store in Waltham, MA) – I was home making dinner (Yes I really was!).  By about 6:30 Greg had indicated that Waltham was out of stock and by 6:45 Scott txted that Reston was in the same boat.  Around 7PM, Corey and I decided to drive to the Chestnut Hill Apple store to see the event – fully expecting to find them sold out.  As we arrived at the mall we found a parking spot close to the door (unusual on a Friday night I thought) and upon entering the mall saw NO LINES at the Apple store.  The staff in the Apple store were definitely having fun with this product launch.  Within 5 minutes we were out of the mall and had two 8GB iPhones in hand and some leather cases in a cool looking bag (pic taken with iPhone).  I immediately txt messaged Greg and Scott with status. Greg reported that he had the same experience at Chestnut Hill about an hour later – in-and-out within 5 minutes – 2 new iPhones in hand!  Scott was still traveling but he too went to the Chestnut Hill store on Saturday morning at 9AM and was able to purchase one without issue.  So the sell-out didn’t happen and waiting in line was not necessary (at least at Apple stores). …..Painless!

Activating the iPhone

The iPhone activation process is detailed on Apple’s web site and consists of using the new iTunes version 7.3 and running through some screens.  It looked painless and simple but for me it was not!  After entering my existing AT&T phone number and providing some identifying information I was presented with a screen that said the iPhone could not be activated with my account type and provided a phone number to call.  I called the number and it was answered within a minute – the rep was cheerful and friendly and explained that because I had a corporate account (even though my rate plan was just a simple “Family” plan with no special corporate discounts or features) I couldn’t activate.  My options at that point were to sign up as a new customer (getting a new phone number, contract, etc) or convert my corporate plan to a personal plan under my own name.  Not wanting to give up my cool phone numbers ending in “00” I opted for the latter option.  The rep said she would transfer me to the business group handling these issues and warned me that they had very long wait times.  After 60+ minutes of listening to ads and music a “business iPhone customer service” rep answered and was also cheerful and friendly.  She understood my issue and started the process of converting me to a personal account. I had to provide all of my identifying info (Name, DOB, SSN, etc) and agree to a credit check. The rep placed me on hold and after checking back every few minutes to let me know she was still there and working on it – she indicated my new account had been approved and set up. She now had to transfer my existing lines of service to the new account.  This process took another 60+ minutes because she had some issues removing some older data features on one of my lines – she checked back with me every few minutes to let me know what she was doing (including her getting her “IT Technical support” involved).  Once these issues were resolved she offered to stay on the line while I activated my iPhone in iTunes – a process that took about 2 minutes.  While the process was relatively painful I was definitely impressed by the customer service skills of the AT&T folks – both had indicated they were in a call center in Ohio that was dedicated to iPhone issues.  Both also seemed to be very cheerful and seemed to be having fun dealing with the iPhone stuff.  While it would have been nice to just have the activation work out of the box it was nice to see the AT&T folks perserverance and dedication to staying on the line with me until I was a happy customer.  I know from reading forums on the net that other’s didn’t have it go so well but for me AT&T did a great job.  Both Greg and Scott (with personal accounts) reported that their activations completed in a few minutes using the iTunes interface….. Not so Painless for me but I got up and running thanks to the dedication of some AT&T CSRs!

Using the iPhone

I didn’t actually start playing with the phone until Saturday morning – mostly because it was after 11PM by the time I got off the phone with AT&T and I was exhausted.  The only thing I did on Friday night was sync my contacts and calendar with Outlook.  I had to take my car in for a “software upgrade” on Saturday morning and it was a great time to play with the iPhone (the upgrade took about 3.5 hours).  The car dealership also had Wifi so I was able to test the iPhone pretty thoroughly.  Here are my impressions:

  • The device “feels” sturdy and well built.  I expected this from Apple.
  • The display is amazing. The colors are beautiful and with the display set at half brightness it is very bright and readable.
  • The touch display works as advertised.
  • The User Interface is very well done. Its intuitive and very easy to use. Frankly I find it even easier and more intuitive than an iPod (which is pretty darn easy).
  • The keyboard is easy to use and reasonable accurate. I suffered from a bit of “fat finger” syndrome but Corey was able to use it very effictively. I did find myself getting better as I used it more and have read some tips on the net for getting even better.
  • As a phone it works well – the audio is clear and loud and integration with other functions on the device (ability to dial from email, etc) is well done.  I was a bit concerned that the placement of the microphone on the bottom of the device would make it susceptible to ambient noise based on experience with other PDA phones that have the microphone in this location. However I am happy to report that Corey called me from in front of a noisy supermarket and the audio quality was great – there was definitely more ambient noise than with a Motorola Razr but it was acceptable.
  • The Wifi worked well with the free wifi at the car dealership – the phone presented me with the option of using the dealer’s wifi as soon as I started using it.
  • Text messaging looks just like iChat on the Mac.
  • The contacts and calendar function were easy to use and well thought out. Syncing with Outlook (while in the dock not wirelessly!) worked.
  • I was able to get e-mail working with my Microsoft Exchange Server (with IMAP and SSL – no Activesync yet though its rumored to be coming soon). I sent and received e-mails successfully.
  • While testing e-mail I was successfully able to open Microsoft Word, Excel and Adobe PDF attachments without issue.
  • Web browsing on Wifi was fast.
  • E-mail using EDGE wireless data is resonably fast and quite acceptable. Web browsing on EDGE was not so fast and could definitely benefit from a 3G upgrade in the future!
  • The device in general is fast and responsive.
  • The camera is OK for a camera phone. It won’t be replacing my digital SLR anytime soon but its convenient and easy to use for quick snapshots.
  • I haven’t played with the iPod features much.  Corey has and loves it though. He viewed a music video on his and the playback was smooth and looked great.
  • The integrated apps for Google Maps, Stocks and Weather work as advertised and will be useful on occasion.
  • Youtube seemed to work well on Wifi (haven’t tried it on EDGE).  I don’t expect to use this much but it might come in handy when stuck waiting at an airport for a delayed flight.
  • The battery was down to about 80% after a few hours of playing. Better than I expected.

Some things I wish it had:

  •  3G – for a data centric device this would have been a good thing. Here’s hoping that the next version of the iPhone includes this.
  • Call timer – just about every phone displays the time on a call during the call- the iPhone doesnt. I use this for billing clients at times.
  • Wifi setup through iTunes – my wireless network uses a random 63-byte encryption key. I haven’t used Wifi at home yet because the idea of entering this in by hand on the iPhone isn’t so appearling.
  • Wireless Activesync with Microsoft Exchange. This is a must for corporate users.
  • Real IM capabilities (AIM, Yahoo, Jabber, etc) – why no iChat for the iPhone? I know some people have found web based methods around this but it would be nice to have iChat on the iPhone.

Bottom line…. for me at least… the iPhone lives up to the hype. Its a GREAT device .  I’m not sure I would call it revolutionary as I have had many of these features and capabilities with other PDAs/Smartphones. I will report back with more info after I have tested more web sites and written and tested by first “Web 2.0” app on it.  I would say that this is a typical Apple product….  Its slick, well built, easy and VERY fun to use….as far as gadgets go its beautiful!

Technology, Wireless

Really liking the Blackberry

As of August 2005 I have joined the ranks of the Blackberry toting corporate types. I had a Blackberry device years ago (~1999) that I mostly used as a 2-way pager – it was OK but once inter-carrier SMS text messaging became available with cell phones I saw no point in carrying two devices. Since then I had largely grown to despise the device – simply because they tended to be used by annoying corporate types as a tool to ignore people in meetings. In the past year or so I have been finding myself away from the office a fair bit, including international travel and would find myself coming home to a backlog of 100+ email messages per day. I needed a way to stay in touch (mostly in between meetings – not DURING them) with e-mail. A couple of people fueled my desire for a Blackberry – the first was Scott who kept mentioning that his new company had a deal on Blackberries and that he was thinking of getting one – the second was a client of mine who was testing the Blackberry and let me play with the device. Within 2 hours of playing with one I bought one, and within 6 hours after that I was up and running with Blackberry Enterprise Server service on my Microsoft Exchange e-mail account. Here is what I have determined so far:

  • Blackberry Enterprise server makes the device VERY useful. It keeps everything in perfect sync between my Exchange in-box, my calendar and my contacts.
  • The Blackberry 7290 device that I use is Quand Band GSM and will work just about everywhere in the world where there is GSM service.
  • Cingular’s $65/Month (on top of a voice plan) Blackberry International plan provides me with unlimited data usage in just about any country I would ever need to visit. I cannot find a less expensive way to have “always connected” e-mail while travelling around the US and internationally.
  • The device is awkward as a phone. Thats OK though. I mostly interested in it for data. Its probably fine for someone who wants to carry a single device that is mostly used for e-mail and sometimes used for voice. I prefer a phone for regular voice use though.
  • The keyboard is just OK. Its better than using T9 on a phone device but I find myself keeping messages short because its not as pleasant to use as a larger keyboard.

Bottom line – if you are a Microsoft Exchange user the Blackberry is an amazingly powerful device that will keep your e-mail, contacts and calendar in sync with your Exchange account in real time. I tested it briefly with POP and IMAP and its OK but it REALLY shines with Exchange keeping all of my PIM information in perfect sync while on the road. The new Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 looks pretty slick and I will keep an eye on that for the future but for today the Blackberry suits me just fine and I can certainly see why it has achieved a slang name of the “Crackberry” by people who have used it!