3D TV Falls Flat

This week’s Engadget column is all about 3D TV. I first saw the new generation of 3D TVs last summer in Berlin at IFA. I was skeptical at that time but am even more so more so now. If for no reason, it fails my second law of consumer electronics. At the moment, there’s not a chance i’d replace an existing TV for a 3D set and if I did need to replace a TV, I wouldn’t pay the premium for 3D, at least not anytime soon.

Someday technology will advance and 3D will be integrated into every screen. Standards will be deployed and the bulky and costly glasses will disappear. Content providers will figure out how to tell better stories with 3D that wouldn’t have been possible before. And if that happens before I do my holiday shopping this year, I’ll be on board. Given the low probability of that scenario, I’m going to pass for now. I expect many other consumers will as well.

Five gadgets that changed the world for me

This week’s SlashGear column talks about the 5 most important gadgets that have affected my life and how I do things. What are the five gadgets that matter most to you, whose modern equivalents you’d be loath to give up?

From time to time I like to think about the idea of disconnecting from the digital world for an extended period and what I’d miss as a result. In the end, I came up with five gadgets that changed the world for me, products the descendents of which I’d rather not be without on a regular basis. What’s interesting is that for me, the PC didn’t make the list. Perhaps it’s an uber-gadget that just goes without saying or it’s just not that important to me personally anymore.

Is it time for Androids in the Enterprise?

In this month’s Computerworld column I take another look at Android for enterprise and business use. I come to some different conclusions than I have in the past, with regard to 2.2, AKA FroYo but there’s still some issues.

A lot of end users are finding Android devices such as the HTC Incredible and EVO 4G captivating, but the only device out there right now that’s running 2.2 is the Nexus One. IT departments need to get the word out to users that their Android devices won’t be considered for enterprise support until they are upgraded to 2.2. Unfortunately, for most devices, that won’t happen until much later this year. To make matters more complicated, Google promises at least one more operating system release (known as Gingerbread) before the end of the year. There are likely to be further enterprise enhancements in that release. Another re-evaluation may be warranted then.

First Hands On With Windows Phone 7

It’s been a tough year for Microsoft in mobile. Despite the launch of some impressive products with partners, the company has faced some harsh criticism but as I’ve said before no platform from 2009 is good enough for 2010 and beyond, and every mobile platform needs to evolve this year.

Microsoft’s efforts have been re-boot of the mobile platform, called Windows Phone 7 and it’s due later this year. There’s already been some criticism of the phone over the last week (from folks who haven’t actually used the OS hands on). I’ve held back responding as for the last week or so, I’ve been testing a pre-release build of Windows Phone 7. My embargo lifts this morning so here’s my thoughts.

First the hardware. Usually, when I talk about a phone, the combination of hardware and software is important. In this case, I’m not going to go into the hardware at all. The reason is Microsoft’s provided Samsung devices that I’ve been assured are hardware test designs that will never come to market. I can say they run Snapdragon processors and appear to have AMOLED screens. Most importantly, the OS ran well even in pre-release form with excellent fluidity and no slowdowns or lags. That’s a pretty good sign. There’s dedicated home, search and back buttons which make navigation easy and are likely to part of final hardware designs.

What I can discuss is the overall experience of the OS. Microsoft’s done a very good job with a revamped user experience that’s not like anything on the market. Taking a lot of UI cues from Zune HD, the OS is heavy on the visual, using fonts, color and an interesting use of space to make for a solid experience that’s both easy to learn and pleasing to look at. The UI can be customized with light or dark backgrounds (dark is the default with white on black text). Certain apps change though no matter what setting is picked. For example, the inbox always shows black text on white. The home screen can be customized with different applications or hubs, some of which are semi animated and updated live and others which are static. Swiping to the right shows a list of all apps. At the moment, there’s no way to configure this list and I can imagine it might get unwieldy with a large number of apps installed.

Some of the more important differentiated services such as Xbox Live integration and a new set of online services are not finished so they couldn’t be tested. (I had no problem integrating with Xbox gamer tags but other than displaying my avatar, there’s not a lot that’s hardwired just yet). That said, most of the core services are in place and work well. I had no problem setting up several Google accounts (which were automatically recognized to be able to sync not only email but calendars and contacts as well) and Live services. On the social side there’s currently support for Facebook (but not Twitter). One of the key UI elements of WP7 is the concept of hubs for things such as people and pictures. People for example presents not only a contact list sync but also social media updates for supported services. (one downside was all my contacts both from Googe and Facebook were now part of one large contact list, I’d like see better ways of segregating my views of people). Pictures likewise not only presents photos on the devices but photos shared by friends (in this case Facebook). I like the integrated experiences and the different views of information. It works well in practice and it will be interesting to see other apps and services that plug into the core hubs.

Table stakes features such as personal information management worked as expected with no surprises. Unfortunately, there’s no universal inbox nor are there threaded message views, something I’ve gotten accustomed to on other platforms. Microsoft’s updated the web browser and I found it both fast and functional. As expected, there’s no support for Flash. The application marketplace works but there’s only a few simple test apps available for things such as stocks and weather. Long term, how well that space gets filled in will determine success or failure. WP7 does have an important set of apps, namely mobile version of Office that work quite well. One Note in particular is quite cool and syncs online to Live services as well. It’s a key feature that’s nicely differentiated.

On the media side, there’s a full Zune client onboard that gives you full access to your Zune pass account. In addition to syncing over USB, it can also sync over WiFi to your PC. It’s very similar in function to the Zune HD experience and that’s a good thing IMHO.

Summing up, Microsoft’s doing the right things here with Windows Phone 7. It’s visibly differentiated from the competition but the challenge that comes with that will be explaining to the market why that difference is better than what we’ve seen before.

I like the concept of hubs a lot moving beyond silo apps into integrated services. A key here will be teaching users the new UI and getting app developers to buy into the eco system. Xbox Live and and Zune are also important and respectively drive greater use of Zune as well as give Microsoft instant credibility in mobile gaming out of the gate.

There’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered about Windows Phone 7. What will application support look like? Lack of apps for things such as Twitter or RSS reading make it hard to fairly judge the OS at this point. Likewise, final hardware and carrier partners, marketing and messaging all will help decide just how well Microsoft has done here with their efforts. That said, I like what I see so far and it looks like Windows Phone 7 has what it takes to silence many of Microsoft’s mobile critics. Windows Phone 7 has the potential to keep Microsoft in the race for relevance in the mobile platform space and drive other services and initiatives forward as well. As more services, features and apps come online, I’ll continue to update progress as we move closer to final code and launch.

Five gadgets that could have and should have done better

This week’s Engadget column is all about gadgets that could and should have done better? What would you add to the list?

For every VHS, it seems there’s also a Betamax — a gadgets or standard that just didn’t live up to the expectations of the mass market at the time. Despite being loved by niche audiences, these folks just didn’t have what it took to make it to the big time. Here I celebrate some of my favorite gadgets and technologies that just couldn’t catch on with the populace at large.

Two Galaxies and an Android

I’ve been testing two versions of Samsung Galaxy S phone. The Captivate that’s AT&T’s version and the Vibrant which is going to T-Mobile. It’s interesting to see how both carriers have approached the handset which offers a standard core experience. The phone hardware is excellent, and I’ll write that up in greater detail later in the week. What’s interesting is how the carrier customizations define the experience. The hardware is similar but overall, I prefer the Vibrant’s design over the Captivate. It’s somewhat sleeker and feels better in my hand.

Both carriers also load the phone with a lot of extra stuff. It’s a matter of taste but I think T-Mobile’s choices for Slacker and Kindle are better and more useful than the stuff ATT loads. (T-Mobile also tosses in the full version of Avatar on micro-SD. I hate the movie but it looks gorgeous on the Samsung screen). The phone has been described as the PC in your pocket and it looks like that analogy is correct. The phone’s now also getting loaded with a lot of crapware. Worse, unlike a PC, there’s no easy way to flatten the phone or remove the carrier added services. In this case, the T-Mobile additions, while not overly welcome, add more value that I’m likely to use and therefore not find offensive. For that reason alone, I’d pick the Vibrant over the Captivate. Worse ATT continues to lock down their handsets so they can’t use apps that don’t come through marketplace. That alone is a deal breaker for me.

For GSM Android use though, my device of preference would still be the soon to be discontinued Nexus One. First of all, it’s unlocked so it will work on any GSM network (although in the US you’ll need to pick your carrier version for proper 3G support). It’s also not loaded with anything but stock Android. No crap applications, full Google widgets and best of all, it’s the first device that’s capable of running FroYo today officially. That’s important to me. While almost all handset vendors have said that FroYo updates are coming, I personally don’t want to wait. I suspect that before some of those devices get FroYo updates, Gingerbread will already be on the market.

There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy S series (I’d love to see a stock device at some point with no carrier mods to compare.) for ATT, it’s probably the best Android device they offer but unless carrier branding was important, I’d go with the Nexus One on ATT or the Vibrant or Nexus One on T-Mobile.