smartphones

Photoillustration of a woman photocopying an iPhone.

Relax, Fandroids. I kid because I care.

Cover of 'Dogfight' by Fred Vogelstein.“As a consumer, I was blown away,” says Googler Chris DeSalvo in a quote from Fred Vogelstein’s book, Dogfight, upon seeing the now-legendary January 9, 2007 Stevenote when he unveiled the first iPhone.

“I wanted one immediately,” DeSalvo continues. “But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.’

According to the Atlantic article The Day Google Had to ‘Start Over’ on Android, an excerpt from Dogfight, Google’s big concern at the time was Microsoft. It made sense at the time: They seemed to be making the right moves. If you remember those days, Windows Mobile 5.0 was the third revision of their mobile operating system, and true to the general rule about Microsoft revs, it was finally good enough. They’d lined up an impressive array of nearly 50 hardware partners, including HTC, who’d end up shipping the most WinMo phones, and the big coup: Palm, whom they’d convinced to build phones that ran WinMo. Their OS featured mobile versions of Office. The industry rumblings were that Microsoft would end up eating away at the dominant phone OS player at the time, Symbian. “Microsoft comes out fighting when threatened,” the conventional wisdom said. “Remember what happened in the browser wars?”

Here’s what was considered to be the game-changer that would make Microsoft a serious mobile threat: the Palm Treo 700w

Palm Treo 700w phone

The Palm Treo 700w.

The best smartphones of the era followed a design template that had been defined years earlier by the Blackberry: screen at the top, physical keyboard at the bottom, augmented by some kind of device to move the cursor (first a scroll wheel, then a D-pad, and optionally, a stylus).

Then this happened:

(If you haven’t seen it before or in a while, watch it again. You can almost feel the audience’s excitement in the opening moments, as Steve teases them with hints of what he’s about to announce. You can also feel the envy when Google’s Eric Schmidt comes onstage at the 51-minute mark — remember that he was on Apple’s board then.)

From the article:

On the day Jobs announced the iPhone, the director of the Android team, Andy Rubin, was six hundred miles away in Las Vegas, on his way to a meeting with one of the myriad handset makers and carriers that descend on the city for the Consumer Electronics Show. He reacted exactly as DeSalvo predicted. Rubin was so astonished by what Jobs was unveiling that, on his way to a meeting, he had his driver pull over so that he could finish watching the webcast.

“Holy crap,” he said to one of his colleagues in the car. “I guess we’re not going to ship that phone.”

Another key quote, this time from Ethan Beard, one of Android’s early biz dev people:

“We knew that Apple was going to announce a phone. Everyone knew that. We just didn’t think it would be that good.

With the announcement of the iPhone, the Android project, whose members had been working “sixty-tp-eighty-hour weeks for fifteen months — some for more than two years” made a pivot whose effects we’re still feeling today. The BlackBerry-like phone that they’d been working on — codename “Sooner”, with a physical keyboard, no touchscreen, and a general “me-too” design — was pushed aside. They filed mobile phone-related patents galore in September 2007. The iPhone forced them to rethink the OS and phone design, and from that came a new design, codenamed “Dream”. This pivot would require them to delay their first release by a year, and the end result was the HTC Dream, released in October 2008.

HTC Dream phone, shown in landscape mode with the sliding keyboard extended.

The HTC Dream.

As you can see, the Android weren’t so sure about all of Apple’s design decisions, hence the physical keyboard and trackball. Today’s phone designs tell you how those choices by the Android team worked out.

I’ll close with an observation based on the article by John “Daring Fireball” Gruber. He may be Apple’s freelance PR guy, but he’s often right, including in this case:

Remember a few years ago, at the height of the “Android is a ripoff of the iPhone” controversy, when Android supporters claimed that the similarities were just some sort of amazing coincidence, like Newton and Leibniz discovering calculus concurrently, because Android had started life a few years before the iPhone was introduced? Good times.

I’m going to get my paws on a copy of Dogfight and read it over the holidays. Expect a review of it in the coming weeks.

 

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Netbook Experiment Report #1

by Joey deVilla on January 18, 2010

the netbook experimentIn case you hadn’t read my article from Friday, I’m conducting a little experiment this week – I’m seeing what it’s like to use a “netbook“ computer (a Dell Latitude 2100, to be specific) as my primary machine for the whole week. I’m trying this out as a response to Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood’s article, in which he rebuts my argument that the computers we typically classify as “netbooks”, occupy a neither-here-nor-there, worst-of-both-worlds middle ground between smartphones and laptop computers.

As I promised in that earlier article, I’d report on my experiences. This is the first of a number of such reports that I plan to file throughout the week.

Jeff Atwood Replies

Jeff saw my article and replied in Global Nerdy, warning me that I’d be disappointed with my particular netbook’s performance due to its Intel Atom processor:

I can guarantee you’ll be unhappy with the Atom CPU. It’s OK for light web browsing, but that’s it. That’s all. No mas.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Intel shows zero interest in making the next-gen Atom faster. Pineview is much better power wise but nil improvement in performance.

The good news is that the CULV Pentiums — like the dual core model in the Acer Aspire 4100 I wrote about — are about 2x faster than the Atom and surprisingly power efficient. Totally acceptable for medium duty laptop stuff.

The key to being satisfied with a netbook is to get out of the Intel Atom ghetto that Intel wants to keep them in…

Visual Studio Express 2010: Too Slow

visual studio 2010 icon As a Developer Evangelist for Microsoft, one of the tools I use most often is Visual Studio, the integrated development environment that’s typically used for developing applications for Microsoft-based platforms, from the desktop to web applications hosted on Windows Server, to mobile apps for Windows Phone and Zune to console apps for the Xbox 360. I currently run both Visual Studio 2008 and Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2010.

Visual Studio 2010 (along with the free Express versions) is the first version of Visual Studio to be built using WPF – Windows Presentation Foundation – the relatively new graphics framework for Windows desktop applications, which makes it easier to give apps the sort of modern appearance that users have come to expect these days. Visual C# Express 2010 and Visual Web Developer 2010 are based on the full version of Visual Studio 2010, and the combination of WPF and the fact that they’re beta 2 and not yet fully optimized proved to be too much for the netbook. I spent a lot of time waiting as they loaded, created new projects, switched views and built apps – more time than I thought was reasonable. I’ve since uninstalled them.

Visual Studio Express 2008: Works Just Fine

visual studio 2008 icon On the other hand, Visual C# Express 2008 and Visual Web Developer 2008 work just fine. I’m having no trouble building apps in ASP.NET MVC, Silverlight or XNA and experiencing no slow-downs. It remains to be seen if the final versions of Visual Studio 2010 with their final optimizations will run without the slowdowns.

I’ll post more updates as I have more experiences!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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