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Uncategorized

T-Mobile MyTouch 3G with Android… Four months later

I already wrote T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions and A month with the MyTouch 3G and Android, but someone requested I write yet another follow-up post after having used the phone for a while.

Well, it’s been almost four months, and I have to say that my general impression hasn’t changed much. I can sum it up as generally positive with a few annoying glitches. If you are a part of the Apple ecosystem already, the iPhone is a better choice. But if you are a Linux user or already caught up in the Google ecosystem, an Android phone is a much better choice. A lot of other Android phones have had more hype (Hero, Droid). The MyTouch is a good phone, though. If I actually liked Sprint, I would have waited for the Hero. And if I actually wanted a boxy-looking phone with a “real” keyboard, I’d have waited for the Droid.

Here are the annoying glitches that have bugged me the most:

  • Every web browser for Android has a serious flaw. Ultimately, I’m willing to settle for the flaws in Browser over the flaws in the other ones (Steel, Dolphin, Opera, etc.).
  • The Facebook app is basically good, but when you click on a picture thumbnail, it doesn’t enlarge the picture within the Facebook app. Instead, it launches the Browser app to view the picture. Lame.
  • After the whole cease-and-desist fiasco, I wanted to support Cyanogen for making a Google-compliant fully legal rooted (i.e., jailbroken) ROM, so I’ve been using Cyanogen recently. Unfortunately, the performance has been spotty. Sometimes it’s super-speedy, and sometimes it’s super-laggy. I may end up giving DWang’s ROM a go again, even though it’s not technically legal (it’s in the spirit of the law but not the letter—apparently Google cares very much about the letter, though).
  • Google Voice is a great service. The Google Voice Android app, however, is buggy as all hell. Sometimes it crashes. Sometimes it’ll randomly duplicate SMS messages if I write the message in landscape (instead of portrait) mode.
  • This doesn’t really bother me any more. If you are thinking of getting a MyTouch, though, you should know this: the touchscreen interface takes getting used to. Unlike the iPhone, light swipes are not recognized. You need to press your finger on the screen when you swipe.
  • With the latest versions of Android, there is no way to disable the camera sound (which is extremely loud). I had to install an app called Sound Manager in order to silence it.

That’s about it.

What has been the good stuff?

  • Opening links in background windows (except the Google recently changed its Google News website so that you cannot open links in background windows—other sites work fine with it, though).
  • Good Google Voice integration.
  • Ability to turn any song into a ringtone without special software is great. Right now the Noisettes’ “Wild Young Hearts” is my ringtone.
  • Ability to send unwanted calls straight to voicemail through the phone and to just block them altogether with Google Voice is invaluable.
  • USB tethering is even better than Wifi tethering. You just plug it in and Ubuntu automatically starts using the connection. No need to select anything or change a setting.

In the end, though, a phone is a phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. I can check my email and look up something quick on the web. There are subtle nuances that will differentiate Symbian from WebOS and Windows Mobile from the iPhone OS X and all that from Android. SmartPhones all pretty much do the same thing, though.

Categories
Linux Ubuntu

Linux users take note: Google knows marketing

While critics and advocates of so-called “desktop Linux” waste their time imagining a world in which some consumer-targeted Linux distro manages to fix all its bugs and then self-proclaimed computer illiterates everywhere download and burn .iso files and then set their BIOSes to boot from CD and install and configure Linux themselves, Google moves forward with Linux doing what Apple has always done: market! Strengths? Highlight those. Perceived weaknesses? Market those as strengths. Actual weaknesses? What actual weaknesses?

Seriously, instead of saying “Anything Windows can do, Linux can do” (some BS statement I’ve seen repeated on numerous Linux forums over the years) or “Linux will be a Windows replacement when it can do X” (another popular BS statement), just be honest about what Linux can do well and then play that up. For years, Linux distros had “app stores” called package managers. Because they didn’t have savvy marketing departments, somehow those package managers became a deficiency (“if only I could double-click a setup.exe as I did in Windows”) instead of a strength (get all your software in one place automatically updated and easily searchable). Apple knew how to take that concept and make it sexy. Voila! The App Store. Google followed up with the Android Market.

Likewise, for years, Linux distros have offered relatively safe computing for web, email, word processing, light photo editing, and music organization. Did that get played up as a strength? No. Linux advocates and critics instead decided to focus on what Linux didn’t offer (mainly Windows-only applications and drivers for some third-party hardware peripherals). What does Google do? Remind people (YouTube watchers, anyway) that they use “the internet” (web browser, really) for 90% of their computing anyway. Why not focus on the web browser instead of niche applications (the features in Photoshop that only professionals use, since the rest are in GIMP; high-end commercial video games, since people who use their computers 90% of the time on the web will either not play video games or play them on a console; iTunes, because you’re going to buy an Android phone and not an iPhone anyway, target audience of this YouTube video)? Why not play up the strengths of Linux?

Linux fanatics and haters, I give you… proper marketing:

It should also be mentioned that Google isn’t stupid. It knows that people generally buy devices, not operating systems. Who wants to install an OS herself and have to go through figuring out drivers and other such nonsense? That’s the OEM’s job. If you’re like the vast majority of consumers, you don’t buy an iPhone and install Linux on it. You buy an Android phone. You don’t buy a Windows netbook (or, worse yet, buy a badly configured obscure Linux distro preinstalled—Xandros and Linpus, I mean you!) and install Linux on it. You buy a Chrome OS netbook.

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Uncategorized

Why I’m not a fan of Google’s cease-and-desist letter to Cyanogen

Those of you who follow my blog or are Ubuntu Forums members may know that I often come to the defense of Google. There is a lot of Google-bashing out there. It seems to now be the cool thing to do. I almost laughed out loud when there were blog posts framing the Apple rejection of the Google Voice app as “David and Goliath” with Google being the Goliath!

I generally like Google because Google generally favors open source and open standards, and even does quite a bit of funding for open source. They have not, in the past, engaged in any of the vendor lock-in practices that Microsoft and Apple have. It is annoying if you have a Hotmail account and can’t use a regular email client like Thunderbird with it. It’s annoying if you can’t install a Google Voice app because Apple tells you what can and cannot be installed on your iPhone (and, unlike in Android, the iPhone doesn’t have an override option to say “I understand the risks of installing this third-party unapproved app but just want to do it anyway”).

I have a rooted Android phone. The term rooted in this case is a bit misleading. It isn’t a regular Android installation that has somehow been modified to allow me root access (so I can install apps like wifi tethering). It actually is a special rooted Android ROM I had to replace my regular Android installation with.

The folks who make these ROMs are volunteers who just want to make the most of what Google has advertised as an open platform. One of the most famous is a developer who goes by the nickname Cyanogen. I tried a few ROMS and Cyanogen’s was definitely the best.

He thought he was being careful. He thought (I’m paraphrasing here), “Well, I’ve modified the open source components of Android. The Google proprietary binaries (YouTube app, Google Maps app, GMail app, etc.) I haven’t modified. I’m redistributing these only to people who already have Google-branded phones. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Well, apparently, he was wrong. Google thought it was a big problem, despite the fact that only a few tens of thousands of people were using Cyanogen’s ROM. Google sent him a cease-and-desist letter, claiming he did not have the right to redistribute Google’s proprietary apps in a modified ROM.

Is Google within its legal right to do this? Certainly.

Is this a good idea for Google to do this? Absolutely not. Here are the reasons why:

  • If you look at the billions of people in the world and the millions of Android phone users, only a comparatively small number of people were using Cyanogen’s ROM. This cease-and-desist letter actually brings only more publicity to ROMs (which will continue to exist but now will have to go underground).
  • Google is pissing off the very people who have been the most vocal proponents of Android. These are people who can not only help develop the platform software-wise but can advocate for friends and family to buy Android phones in lieu of iPhones or Blackberries.
  • Even though what Cyanogen was doing may have been legally wrong, it was morally right. He was not stealing money from Google or hurting Google’s business model. Google does sell those “free” apps to phone manufacturers. But Cyanogen was creating the mod specifically for phones that had regular Google Android on them anyway.
  • The real clincher for me is the fact that Google Android has been touted by Google as open source. Yes, technically the OS itself (which is based on a Linux kernel) is open source, but Cyanogen and some other ROM developers have pointed out that the way Android is, it’s basically useless without the core apps (Android Market, Google Contacts syncing, etc.).

My hope is that, for Google PR’s sake, Google undertakes the following follow-up actions:

  • Offer Cyanogen a job working for Google Android
  • Work on releasing a barebones Android framework that is completely open source but also at least basically functional.
  • Provide a way for Android users to actually root their phones without replacing the standard OS with a custom ROM. The wifi tethering app, for example, is hosted by Google. Well, what good is the wifi tethering app from Google if it can’t be used? What good is an “open source” operating system if it requires proprietary components to function?

I haven’t completely turned against Google. I do think they’re still doing a lot of good work, and they’re still more open than Microsoft and Apple. Nevertheless, this incident has left a sour taste in my mouth, and I can’t really enthusiastically recommend Android phones to people now. I like Android still personally. But it no longer has the same open source appeal it used to. So if a friend or family member asks if she should get an iPhone, I’m just going to have to say “Why not?”

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Linux

Apple App Store like MPAA?

After reading Apple’s FCC Response Infuriates Google Voice App Developer, I’m getting deja vu. Kirby Dick, you listening? (This Film Is Not Yet Rated).

I guess with films people can at least view your movie without having to jailbreak their iPhones—though good luck trying to recup your production costs with an NC-17 or unrated movie…

If I were a phone app developer, I’d just go with Android. Even if Google rejects your app, people can still install it without having to root their phones.

Categories
Linux

T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions

Introduction
Before upgrading from a “dumb phone” to a “smart phone,” I did a lot of online research. I read reviews. I watched YouTube videos. Unfortunately, most online reviews are kind of useless. They’ll say things like “There’s a nifty little switch over here. And you can press this button. That does this. This also does that.” I’m hoping my first-impressions review will be a lot more useful, and I will follow up with a more extensive review after I’ve had a few weeks to really get to know this phone.

Background (narcissistic babble—feel free to skip)
For the past few years, I’ve always had a “dumb” cell phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. It allows me to check voicemail. That’s about it. I’d never understood the need for Blackberries or other “smart” phones. I saw people in expensive business suits using those phones and figured I’d never have use for such a thing.

Then the iPhone happened.

Both my wife and I were very impressed with Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPhone. I saw it as revolutionary, even though it had its faults. My wife, a big Apple fan, still waited until at least the the second-generation iPhone came out to get one. Once she got it, though, both of us were impressed.

The whole time she’s been using the iPhone, I’ve been enviously looking on, wanting a smartphone of my own. Unfortunately, since I am a Linux user, and hell will freeze over before Apple makes a Linux port of iTunes, an iPhone is out of the question. And, no, I am not going to dual-boot with Windows to run iTunes. No, I am not going to try to jailbreak the iPhone and then have some update break everything so I can no longer sync with Ubuntu. I want something that just works.

Windows Mobile was out of the question. No more Windows for me, thanks. I got a little bit excited about the Palm Pre, but two things held me back from it. 1) all the reviews said the battery life is terrible and 2) it uses the WebOS, which doesn’t look as if it’s going anywhere, unlike Google’s Android, which is far more likely to be installed on more and more phones as the years go by (making its Android Market—the equivalent of the iTunes App Store—increasingly robust).

Like my wife, I don’t like to buy first-generation products. So the T-Mobile G1 was out. But then the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G arrived. Google Android. Second-generation. Linux-friendly (Linux-based, actually). And with my wife complaining about dropped calls with AT&T (American iPhone users have to sign up with AT&T to use a non-jailbroken iPhone), I was ready to give T-Mobile a chance. So I took the plunge. After one day of use, here are my first impressions.

What I don’t like

  • If you’re filling out something, instead of automatically focusing on the text box to fill in, the interface waits for you to manually click on the text box in order to bring up the on-screen keyboard.
  • A few dialogues will give you the option to click Done when you’re done with the on-screen keyboard, but most will have only a Return key to go to the next line. So in order to get the keyboard to go away, you have to hold down the Menu key (a plastic key, not a touchscreen key).
  • Even though there is an onscreen touch keyboard, there are eight hard plastic keys as well. Once you get used to them, they’re fine, but at first they’re a bit confusing, especially what the difference between Menu and Home is. I’ve found the Menu key to be invaluable, no matter what application I’m in. If I’m ever lost, I can press the Menu key and something useful will come up. The search key is completely useless. I have done quite a bit of fiddling in the last day, and I have never used the search key.
  • There is an option to turn off “background data” to save battery life, which is great. Unfortunately, you have to enable it in order to browse the Android Market for new applications. Not awful, but a little annoying. So to browse the Market, I have to turn on Background Data, browse, and then turn Background Data off again.
  • I don’t know why T-Mobile or Google didn’t just include this app as part of the default OS, but there is an app to give you visual voicemail (so you can click to listen to or delete messages instead of going through the menus of a call-in system). Unfortunately, in order to use it, you cannot be connected to a wireless network (unencrypted, WEP, WPA, WPA2). You have to be connected to the regular T-Mobile network only.
  • You have to have a Google email account or sign up for one before you can use the phone. I had one already (which I don’t really use). Still, that’s a ridiculous requirement.
  • There are a lot of times when you’re confronted with a screen and no immediately obvious way to proceed (no submit or enter button, no next or finish button). At first I just got kind of confused and hit the Back plastic key. Eventually, I learned to press Menu to get a contextual menu up, which usually had a useful option. A bit counterintuitive.
  • There’s an automatic playlist (what Apple calls a “smart playlist”) in the music section called “Recently Added.” There does not appear to be a way to add other smart playlists, though (recently played, most frequently played, etc.). You can create new playlists manually, but that’s also not obvious (you have to do a long click on the first song you want in the playlist and then select to add it to a playlist and then select to create a new playlist).
  • There is no official Facebook app, so if you want to do mobile uploads, you have to use third-party upload-to-Facebook apps (which are kind of annoying and don’t always work) or email the photos or videos to the secret upload-to-Facebook email associated with your account.
  • It isn’t obvious how to connect the MyTouch to your computer in order to drag and drop files. I plugged in the USB cord, and it didn’t show up as a removable drive. I checked the output of dmesg | tail in the terminal, and it definitely showed up as being plugged in, but it didn’t show up in sudo fdisk -l even. Eventually, I figured out that you have to go to notifications in the MyTouch and manually dismount (from the MyTouch) the SD card so that it will automatically mount (to your computer). Then after you unmount it from your computer, you also have to manually remount it to the MyTouch.
  • Like the iPhone, the MyTouch will switch from portrait to landscape mode if you rotate the phone, but the animation is not smooth at all. First the screen gets a little blurry, and then it jerkily rotates over. It happens quickly… just not smoothly.

Mixed bag

  • The touchscreen isn’t as sensitive as the iPhone touchscreen. In some ways, this is a good thing. For example, no matter how slim your hands are, the tip of your finger will always be bigger than the onscreen keyboard keys. So when I try to type on the iPhone, I often end up pressing the wrong key (and the autocorrection never works). With the MyTouch, I pretty much never make a typing mistake. On the other hand, I’m not always typing. Sometimes a simple swipe to scroll up or down in a list or on a page will just not register, and I’ll have to swipe again a little harder to get the scroll to actually work.
  • Some reviews I read complained that you can’t just plug a standard headphone into the MyTouch. I can see how that might be annoying, but the MyTouch does come with a USB adapter with a little microphone and play/pause button built into it (and headphones that are half-way decent).
  • There’s no Flash in the web browser. This is makes certain websites non-functional, but the iPhone doesn’t have this either. In fact, I don’t think any smartphone has it. Isn’t this an Adobe issue?

What I like

  • The voice recognition for voice searches is really good. Sure, you can’t mumble. You do have to enunciate. But you don’t have to train it to recognize your voice, and if you do enunciate, usually Android guesses right on what you want to search for. If I’m in a public place, I may feel a bit self-conscious doing voice searches. If I have to do one, though, it’s nice to know that it works, and it’s much quicker than typing using an onscreen keyboard.
  • You can easily delete or move desktop shortcuts by holding them down and dragging them around or to the trash. You can also easily add desktop shortcuts by holding down an empty space and creating a link to an application or even to a browser bookmark.
  • Any song on your phone can easily be made into a ringtone. Just do a long hold on the song, and a context menu will pop up with that option.
  • Apps can be easily installed and removed from your phone.
  • Once you do figure out the whole mounting/unmounting thing, the MyTouch Micro SD card just shows up as removable storage, even in Linux, and you can just drag and drop pictures or music to various folders, and the MyTouch will immediately recognize those once the card is remounted.
  • I like the way the phone unlocks (press the menu key twice) better than the way the iPhone unlocks (press the hard button and then draw a horizontal line with your finger).
  • Web searches seem pretty fast. And Opera Mini is available for free in the Android Market. I’m going to keep both the default browser and Opera around. With Opera, I have it configured not to load images, so when I do text-only searches, it’ll load even faster. With the default browser, I can see websites that do require images.
  • The back button (as a plastic key) is very handy, and it really will bring you back to whatever screen you were last on, regardless of whether you are going from one webpage to the last webpage or from one screen to another screen.
  • I knew ahead of time that Android 1.5 did not support multi-touch (the “pinch” that the iPhone has for photos and webpages to zoom in and zoom out). I thought that missing feature would annoy me, but I haven’t found a lot of situations in which zooming seems necessary. I won’t complain if the 2.0 update includes multi-touch, though.

Conclusion
Overall, I’m quite pleased with it (granted, after only one day). Most of the reviews made it sound as if it’s nothing special (not an iPhone killer, not that much better than the G1). With all the pros and cons I’ve laid out, though, it is still fun and easy to use. It has some counterintuitive or annoying elements, sure. Nevertheless, even after only one day, I’m getting used to those or finding workarounds for them. If American Linux users are looking for a good smartphone that works with Linux, definitely consider the MyTouch 3G.

Categories
Ubuntu

Privacy on the internet doesn’t exist

As a follow-up to my post of four years ago, “Gmail and Privacy,” I’d like to say something about some of the reactions to Google being asked to hand over YouTube user data to Viacom by an American judge.

First of all, I don’t see that Google did anything wrong here. Viacom may have done something wrong. The judge who ruled that user viewing data could be handed over from one company to another company without user consent has done something wrong. Should this make Google rethink how much data it should store and for how long? Of course. But that’s not because of what’s wrong with their privacy policies or practices—it has everything to do with the laws and powers they are subject to.

Secondly, as evidenced in the government subpoena in 2006 of search data, Google is much better than other major search engines, since AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! readily gave up their user search data, and Google didn’t. Google isn’t always in a legal position to protect your privacy, but it will at least try.

But that’s the real problem here. Too many people are focusing on Google and getting angry about privacy issues there. The real issue here is the US government and privacy issues there. If your data is stored somewhere, and the laws are on the side of a snooping government instead of a private citizen, then you’re screwed no matter where you store your data. You could have it on a privately owned domain hosted on a private server or even on your own home mail server. If the government wants to get to your data and a judge approves that action, well, tough luck for you. Never mind that most emails are sent unencrypted anyway.

When I think about how much of my life is stored places, it’s a little scary. I check books out of the library all the time. The library has a database (which is accessible online) of all the books I’ve ever checked out. Amazon keeps track of all the books I order or even look at and don’t order. If I use a credit card at a grocery store, they know what groceries I buy, and using a grocery store frequent buyers card makes it even easier for them to track what I do.

I guess if there’s anything that makes Google dangerous in terms of privacy, it’s the fact that they store a lot of data together. The government doesn’t have to search through millions of individual homes. They can just pester one company to give up its data. Really, though, imagining that you have privacy on the internet is just delusion. Yes, there are some things you can do to limit the amount of personal information you have floating around, but ultimately we live in a digital age, and the government has the ultimate say in terms of how that data gets accessed, privacy policies be damned.

Further Reading
Privacy on the Internet Still Doesn’t Exist