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Little gizmo observations

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Apple really needs to get out of hardware. Their computer market-share is around 2%, and their OS now runs on any $200 box I buy from Big Bob's Computer Warehouse And Transmission Repair, so there's really no reason for 'em to make computers anymore. It's time for 'em to just contract out some shiny "It Runs OSX" boxes from a manufacturer like Dell much like that "It Runs Windows XP"-stickered box that I bought from Dell. Then sell the OS separately for people who don't wanna run it on a "blessed" box. Their market-share would triple overnight and would settle around 10% if not higher if they could get a killer app.

Basically, become Microsoft.

I can see their resistance, though. Other companies' attempts to become Microsoft (i.e. Novell's C++ compiler and OS and cross-platform framework, Oracle's Visual Basic clone) were abysmal failures. At least Novell and Oracle has the luxury of it not being their primary product, so jettisoning their "let's be Microsoft" ideals didn't wipe 'em out completely.

Next case-in-point, the new video-capable iPod. Now this is a fairly awful little piece of hardware for viewing video. It's got a 2.5 inch screen and a battery life of two hours. There are a dozen other video players out there that are a lot more compelling, with bigger screens and better battery life.

Let's face it. If this gizmo was released as the iRiver v1000 or the Creative Zen Video2, people would be scratching their heads. But since there's an odd hero-worship for Apple hardware, people listen.

Much more compelling, though, is Apple's deal with ABC to make TV shows downloadable over iTunes. Right now, the video players out there are really nice. The best way to get content, though, is illegally. If somebody could come up with a really nice way to grab videos to play on the player (as Apple now has) coupled with some really compelling video players (as a dozen non-Apple companies have done), then you'd have something nice.

As it stands, I can get a poor player with a good download service or a good player with a poor download service.

Microsoft has a good software solution with their choice not to make hardware but to license their video codec for third parties. Hence there are some seriously cool third-party players out there that play Microsoft's audio and video (like this one that's the same price as the Apple, but has a bigger screen, longer battery life, and an FM radio). They, however, don't have a download service with the critical mass of iTunes.

Of course, Apple's making piles of cash selling closed hardware attached to a closed service, so there's not much reason for 'em to open up.

I just get frustrated when I see an product announcement like that, and I say "Wow, it'd be cool to download TV shows I missed for a buck or two. If only I didn't have to wait another year for Apple to release a player with a reasonable screen and battery life".

But ultimately it affects me very little.

On the phone-front, I sold off my Samsung i700, and I miss it. We were spending too much money on our phone-service, and switching me to Verizon's cheapest service would actually make it cost more because we had one of those multi-phone plans where you pay one fee for all phones to have the same service even if one of the phones (my wife's) does 95% of the calling.

And since the phone is irreversably married to Verizon, I sold it in favor of getting a pay-as-you-go deal on my little N-Gage (see about five entries down for that deal). It's much cheaper, but I really miss my old phone. The i700 was one of those big honkin' PocketPC phones. With the double-capacity battery and aluminum case, it was almost the size of a betamax videotape, but it did everything well. It was a phone. It had a really good web browser. It had Word and Excel (which I admittedly didn't use). It had the best ebook reading software I've found. It had voice-dialing that actually worked. It synced transparently with Outlook. It also had Windows Media Player and worked beautifully as an MP3 player.

The n-Gage, on the other hand, doesn't do very much well. It can play some low-resolution MP3 files in mono. The ebook reader for it looks pretty awful. No voice control. No real productivity/PIM stuff beyond the ability to upload your Outlook contacts to it. It does have some cool games and the form-factor favors arcade games much better than the PocketPC, but that's about it.

As far as OS quality goes, it's just not there. Capability-wise, the PocketPC GUI is somewhere around that of Windows 98. Symbian is more like those DeskMate-style GUI's on the old TRS-80 or Apple ][ machines. The icons are pretty, but can't really do much else.

That being said, I'm once again looking at a PocketPC that supports GSM so I can have the best of both worlds --a robust phone-gizmo with a cheap wireless plan. There are dozens on eBay going for $150-$200, so it doesn't look like much of a problem. I just need to find one with one of those aluminum cases. Those things are the best ever, and you get really spoiled by 'em.

I'll hang on to the n-Gage because it runs Flash Lite, but I'll use the PocketPC phone for day-to-day use.

But not right away. I need to sell some Mcdonald's tickets first. And I don't yet have enough to list.
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The only PocketPC I've ever seen worth its salt is the iPaq. I think they have a phone version out soon.

A mate of mine got one of the Audiovox phone-PocketPCs and it was just a terrible piece of shit -- programs ran ridiculously slowly, it was locked by the telco, and the default OS install seemed to crash repeatedly.

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Minor correction: the 30Gig iPod ($299) is $200 less than the 30Gig Zen Vision ($499) although it looks like the street price is closer to $399.

I like the Archos players myself but they're hideously expensive.

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