It’s The Universal Translator And I’ve Got One

The app will even say your translated phrase back to you. I can assure you loving cheese in French is a lot more romantic than loving it in English!

The Foxes don’t always see eye-to-eye. I love my iPhone (and love complaining about its shortcomings). Helaine just wants a phone that can make calls. Fine.

Today there’s one more reason to love my smartphone and maybe make her a tiny bit jealous. Google has made it smarter! It is multilingual with Google’s new 50+ language translation tool.

You can type in a phrase, but that’s so 20th Century (and already available on the web). Instead just hold the cellphone up and speak.

Geoff: “I love cheese.”
Google: “J’adore le fromage.”

The app will even say your translated phrase back to you. I can assure you loving cheese in French is a lot more romantic than loving it in English!

Based on what I’ve seen with similar apps the ‘magic’ isn’t happening in my phone. Instead my digitized words are sent to a server farm for processing.

You know what? I don’t care. It works.

Of course there’s always the chance for a Jimmy Carter moment. Life is full of unforeseen perils!

This is Star Trek! I hold in my hand the Universal Translator.

It’s absolutely free!

I Almost Forgot – AT&T The Biggest Vacation Disappointment

Often my phone would show full signal yet be unable to originate or receive calls. Data was pretty spotty too.

It was my intention to totally depend on my iPhone 3Gs’s cell service for voice and data while on vacation in Las Vegas. Like everyone I’ve heard horror stories, but my service here in Connecticut is mostly good. Unfortunately, I have also documented trips to New York, Los Angeles and Boston where service was frustrating. Add Las Vegas to the list.

Often my phone would show full signal yet be unable to originate or receive calls. Stef’s BlackBerry and Helaine’s Samsung suffered a similar fate.

Data was pretty spotty too. Sometimes my phone would display “3G.” At other times it was the slower “E” or mysterious “O.” Often there was no data indicator at all! Unfortunately even seeing a data indicator didn’t mean there was access!

I ran an online speed test a few times. Once it wouldn’t work because there was no data access. Other times it was so slow as to be unusable for any purpose other than establishing how slow it was!

This is just nuts. There’s no excuse for this. Cell service is supposed to be a mature product. How can AT&T be the only company that hasn’t mastered this?

Here’s What Oprah Should Have Announced

Only Oprah could make this choice and produced an immediate impact. Only Oprah could immediately make the Internet a viable platform for modern day broadcasting.

oprah.jpgLater today Oprah Winfrey plans to make public the announcement she made to her staff Thursday: “Oprah” will end its broadcast TV run in 2011 and she will concentrate her efforts on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), a new cable network. Oprah is making a mistake! She should have gone direct-to-net.

First, a few givens. The local stations that currently run her show will be the biggest losers. Oprah has delivered killer lead-ins to local news for years. Oprah’s influence has been so strong it’s rumored many stations run the show as a loss leader knowing they’ll make it up during the news.

Second, Oprah will move to a new cable channel with no track record and currently no clearances. She will be on a channel t-b-a, but certainly not with the dial position and complementary programming (and promotion) she currently has.

As much as is possible when you’re the world’s best known TV host, Oprah will start from zero.

Establishing a new cable channel, even for someone of Oprah’s stature and means will not be easy. If anyone can make this a success she can, but there’s much more room for success if Oprah had blazed the path to direct Internet distribution.

To more and more people the Internet is a perfectly acceptable substitute for TV. With the ubiquity of high speed Internet picture quality is no longer a real concern. Hulu and Netflix have shown that. Even Youtube is getting ready to deliver HD quality videos.

Bandwidth costs, the deciding factor on video quality, continue to drop.

Going on the Internet gives Oprah a boatload of options.

  • The show could be served both live and on-demand to multiple platforms at multiple bandwidths.
  • Live events could be covered live without any worry about interfering with other scheduled programming. Imagine Oprah at the Oscars or at any compatible event.
  • Recorded shows could be served full and as smaller mini-episodes.
  • No need to share revenue with a cable channel or cable operators (by way of local spot breaks).
  • The total control that the Internet affords would allow more creative viewer interaction and sponsor opportunities. Spots don’t have to be the end all be all anymore.
  • The audience could be expanded to reach more working women via office computers and smartphone apps

My friend Brian Lapis points out Howard Stern’s diminution of reach and power since leaving terrestrial radio for Sirius. Stern went to a technology with a small installed base and then hid behind a paywall. Oprah doesn’t need to do that. I believe she can reach more people over the long run via the Internet than she could on TV simply by making herself available at more times and on more platforms.

Only Oprah could make this choice and produced an immediate impact. Only Oprah could immediately make the Internet a viable platform for modern day broadcasting.

Opportunity lost.

Yeah–It’s A Crackberry

I was so foolish. Stefanie was so right. I have a Blackberry now… a Crackberry… and the experience is magical

blackjack-w250.jpgFor the last year and a half I’ve been using a Samsung Blackjack. i wanted to be digitally complete. When I got it the word was it was a pretty good smartphone.

I was so foolish. Stefanie was so right. I have a Blackberry now… a Crackberry… and the experience is magical&#185. The Samsung was so clunky in comparison.

Transitioning from one phone to another isn’t easy. Here’s where Google gets involved. I set up a new email account I then sync’ed the Blackjack with Gmail. My phonebook flew through the air and into the Googleplex. Next I re-sync’ed, this time sending my contacts from Gmail to the Blackbery. Painless!

I wanted to continue to keep a calendar, but now I had a problem. The calendar and contacts had to be associated with the same email address. A little mumbo jumbo and the new Gmail account was incorporating the calendar from my main account (if there can be such a thing for someone who truly has around 2-dozen email addresses!).

Everything seems to be working fine. The email/SMS setup on the Blackberry is quite well thought out. In fact everything seems quite well thought out. I can’t get Pandora to work–a problem they admit is theirs. Shozu is also a little recalcitrant at the moment.

I pulled the micro-SD card from the Blackjack and inserted it into the Blackberry. How can a billion bytes of data get squeezed into a space so small?

The Blackjack is now, sadly, on the table top upside down, battery, SIM and mini-SD card removed. It’s like the carcass of an old subway car getting ready to be dumped in the Atlantic as an artificial reef. It’s sad really.

On Twitter Jim Heem said, “I’m really surprised this is your first blackberry.” Coolmoomama chimed, “.i REALLY want a blackberry.” Stef is just gloating.

A few days ago my friend Peter said researchers who’d asked about the iPhone and Blackberry got surprisingly different responses. iPhone users talked about the coolness while the Blackberry crowd kept mentioning utility and usefulness.

I’d like to say it’s not that big a deal, but I think it is.

&#185 – I have added Crackberry to the spell checker in my browser. It is now officially a word for me.

Jott’ing My Appointments

I call Jott, tell it I’m adding an appointment to my calendar and then speak the details. Through caller ID, it knows the call’s from me. A few minutes later, I get a text message confirmation and the data is in the calendar!

We’ve already established I’m hooked on the Blackjack, my Samsung smartphone. There are some things it does very well, others adequately and some… well, I wouldn’t try to do a blog entry with the Blackjack. It’s got little keys and I’ve got big fingers.

I found a program which syncs the Blackjack to my Google Calendar account. The problem is, what do I do when I’m on the road? The Blackjack isn’t much better for entering data in Google Calendar than it is for blogging. It’s a shame, because Google’s Calendar is perfect for me.

There is a solution – Jott.

I call Jott’s number, tell it I’m adding an appointment to my calendar and then speak the details. Through caller ID, it knows the call’s from me.

A few minutes later, I get a text message confirmation and the data is placed in the calendar!

It’s not perfect. My next appointment with Dr. Weiss was set for Dr. Weisz. The rest of the details like dates and times are perfect.

There are other things Jott can do, but so far, I’ve limited myself to appointments.

As with much of the Internet, I’m not sure what the business model is. They don’t seem to have any revenue stream from me, and Jott must have some cost to the provider.

In the meantime, I’ll just pass along the link and hope for the best.

The Love Hate Relationship With My Smartphone

I think this shows most of the smart phones are really ‘pocketware,’ too kludgey to use as advertised If people were really using their Blackberrys as Internet devices, what I’m doing wouldn’t stand out. In fact, that point is supported by real world experience.

Thumbnail image for blackjack_upgrade_screen.jpgI thoroughly enjoy my cellphone, a Samsung Blackjack hooked to AT&T’s network. It’s more than a phone. It’s really a little, cumbersome, computer with a too tiny screen.

I use the Internet connection nearly every day. There’s always something I want to look up when I’m away from a ‘real’ PC. That’s especially true at dinner, which I usually have with the rest of our anchor team.

Last night we were looking for the lyrics to a song (the iconic Route 66), but it’s also been used to find the cast of a movie or a direct quote from a story that was on the wires (a now quaint appellation). I even use the Internet connection to pass photos I’ve taken to Flickr, where they’re easily integrated into this blog.

Stef dates a musician. I show his Youtube video to friends on my phone.

You really have to want to use Internet functions on the Blackjack, because there is not one easy or dependable step along the way!

It’s common to press two of the small keys at once, or the wrong one. Sometimes the Internet will stop responding, though the phone says there is Internet availability.

Most web pages are formatted for PC monitors. The much more narrow Blackjack screen forces multi-column pages to become long single column streams, or just extend off the edge of the screen entirely. Navigation is a nightmare, made more difficult because a useful roller controller is on the wrong side for left handed users… like me

While ‘thumbing’ the keyboard, people will often come to me and ask if it’s a Blackberry? Score one for RIM in really working their brand name. These poor, innocent souls look at what I’m doing as if I’ve just dropped in from outer space.

Is there better evidence that this that most of the smart phones are really ‘pocketware,’ too kludgey to use as advertised? If people were really using their Blackberrys to surf the web, what I’m doing wouldn’t stand out.

In fact, that point is supported by quantified real world experience. This revelation is from AppleInsider.

Google on Wednesday said it has seen 50 times more search requests coming from Apple iPhones than any other mobile handset — a revelation so astonishing that the company originally suspected it had made an error culling its own data.

Google’s contention is every smartphone, other than the iPhone, is underused. I agree.

Let’s go back to my opening sentence: “I thoroughly enjoy my cellphone, a Samsung Blackjack hooked to AT&T’s network”. That’s no lie. If I had the purchase to do over again, I’d still make it and the Blackjack would still be my choice (even over its successor, the Blackjack II)

What I’m getting at is, the power of having all this information available everywhere is so powerful, it trumps a lackluster platform and all the hurdles one must jump.

The iPhone is certainly a step ahead (as born out by the usage data), but it’s still not the answer. It is throttled by its dependence on AT&T’s older, slower data network and it’s lack of a real keyboard with tactile feedback.

We are still at least one breakthrough away from the real breakout in portable computing. When that time comes, usage will be unleashed in a torrent.

Unintended Consequences With The New Phone

I love the Samsung Blackjack Smartphone I got earlier this month. I’m hoping by now, with the newness wearing off, Helaine no longer wants to use it as a lethal weapon against me. Time alone will tell.

Here’s what I’ve discovered… or maybe rediscovered. New acquisitions come with unintended consequences. I use the phone in ways I hadn’t intended.

It’s especially cool when you can search through Google, get a map and then click on the phone number to dial it!

What most surprises me though, is how the Blackjack has affected my email flow. I now look at messages as they come in, wherever I am (except while driving). Since the keyboard is tiny, I don’t always answer them from the phone.

That leads to a back-up, where messages I’ve seen on the phone sit on my ‘real’ computer unanswered, falling farther and farther back in the queue.

Though sold as a phone, make no mistake about it, this slightly oversized package is a computer. Lots of companies already maintain parallel websites to take advantage of its small screen.

It only took a few hours with it to realize this is technology that will profoundly change the world!

Hooked On Phone-ics

During our vacation out west, Helaine threatened to kill me – using my new cellphone as the weapon! OK, maybe I’m a little obsessed.

If you didn’t follow my earlier travails, I have moved to a Samsung Blackjack “Smartphone.” It’s a Swiss Army Knife phone that takes snapshots and video, browses the Internet, retrieves email, chats on IM and SMS… oh, and it’s also a phone.

The first thing I did was buy a skin for it. A skin is a hard plastic, form fitting, case. When I drop the phone, and I will drop it, it now has some protection. The skin is a rich deep red, giving the phone a metrosexual look.

The problem/fun presented by a phone like this is how much of it is customizable. I’ve already downloaded some programs which automatically send my photos to Picasaweb and my videos to Youtube (both automatically flagged as ‘private’ ). There’s also an Instant Messenger client (which routes all my text messages through India).

The real customization is saved for the homescreen. With a little rudimentary programming, it’s possible to make the homescreen look almost any way you want and display all sorts of cool (read: nerdy) data.

I’m working on that now, putting Google through a major test as I try and find more and more sites that have inside tidbits. There are lots of fans for this type of phone and many do have websites.

I really like the phone, though it is by no means perfect. The keyboard is incredibly small. My fingers are not. I often hit two keys at once, or move off a page because I’ve pressed the wrong part of the round navigation control.

Two of the phone’s most useful controls are built for right handed people. I’m a lefty.

There more I use the phone, the more I understand why people get hooked on them. Having this additional access to the Internet and messaging is an amazing thing.

When Steffie called me, looking for subway directions from Penn Station to Lincoln Center, I was able to figure it out, even though I was standing in the MGM Grand Poker Room in Las Vegas at the time.

I give it another week or two of obsessive behavior before I’m able to move this phone into the normal rhythm of life. Until then, I’ll try and use it when Helaine’s not watching.

Of Plugged In Phones And Area Codes

I spent most of last night moving phone numbers between my old Motorola RAZR and the my new Samsung Blackjack and between Helaine’s old phone and her new Motorola RAZR.

You’ve probably heard that your contacts can be electronically moved from phone-to-phone. Sure, but only in theory. In the real world it was pencil and paper and hundreds of characters on tiny keys. I have around 120 entries in my ‘book,’ many with multiple numbers.

About halfway through, all I could think of was, “You’ll never be able to move that thumb again.” I’m assuming emergency rooms are filled with new smartphone owners who get carried away. It’s easy to overdo it.

I learned a few things while entering all those numbers and letters. I have three entries for people named Harold, but only two Johns (plus a Jon). I have more cell numbers entered than home or business numbers. I also have lots of entries where someone’s area code no longer matches their actual physical location.

We’ve reached the end of the line for plugged in phones – what is referred to in the telco biz as POTS, for plain old telephone service. I can’t imagine why Stef, for instance, will ever have one.

The concept of area code is dissolving as well. Why change your number when you move? That meant something back when long distance was costly. Now, in this cellphone world, long distance calling is often included at no additional charge. Even when you’re paying, it’s only pennies.

It also means 212 isn’t necessarily going to New York City.

It used to be, a phone number couldn’t have a 0 or 1 as the second digit. No more. The same goes for 0 or 1 as the middle digit in area codes, which were once required. 561 should not be an area code!

How long has it been? It still looks wrong to me every time. Even my cellphone number, beginning with 710, just looks wrong.

I am lost without the phone book in my cell phone. My mom still has a worn address book she’s used for years. Extra pieces of paper have been shoved in where the allocated space for individual letters has been filled. Mine’s electronic with less finite restrictions!

If you die, you live on forever in my mom’s book. Not so when you’re digital bits being carried in my pocket.

For years, the most powerful and organized people were known by the Rolodex they kept. Past tense on that too.

All of this effort with the new phone was to prepare it for the trip we take early tomorrow morning. It’s ready. I am too.

Our plane leaves at 7:00 AM. Most likely, my next post will be from somewhere in the Desert Southwest. They’d damn well better have cell service!

iPhone Hit Or Miss?

I can’t remember the last time a piece of high tech equipment got this kind of hype. Of course, I’m talking about Apple’s iPhone which goes on sale within the hour.

It’s pretty neat. As is normally the case with Apple, the software is elegantly simple and intuitive. The TV commercials are tantalizing. I haven’t seen it yet, but there’s surely one where it’s slicing bread!

Unfortunately, the iPhone also suffers from some designed-in weaknesses.

It seems pretty odd the phone won’t use AT&T’s fast G3 network and instead sticks with an older implementation. That’s huge, if web surfing is going to be a large part of the iPhone experience.

The iPhone also doesn’t record video nor will it operate properly with corporate email servers. That’s not good and there’s more. Its battery is not replaceable and its SIM card isn’t removable.

There’s also the question whether a non-tactile keyboard is a good idea. I’ve never seen a successful one before.

I have been considering a ‘smartphone.’ It probably won’t be an iPhone.

Right now the (as yet unreleased) Motorola Q9 looks likely. I’m not 100% it will be sold by AT&T, my cell carrier.

The Q9 operates on the higher speed G3 network, takes video, uses Windows Mobile 6 and has a real QWERTY keyboard. It looks like an updated, better performing “Q,”. A co-worker has that phone, which I like.

The online consensus is, I can buy a ‘smartphone’ like the Q9 or the Samsung Blackjack and a $19.99/month data plan from AT&T and be done with it. I’m not sure this is AT&T’s preferred combo, but people are consistently doing it and I sense AT&T isn’t sending their money away.

My guess is, the iPhone will not be the unmitigated success this level of hype implies. It’s possible. I’m not a mobile computing analyst with lots of background info and insight. This is a seat-of-the-pants call. There are just so many strikes against it.

Working against my prediction is Steve Jobs, who has a Svengali-like ability to mobilize the Apple faithful.

What the iPhone does do is increase the profile of mobile computing and the competition between carriers and between hardware manufacturers. I don’t see a downside to that… at least I don’t yet.