Back in 1997 or so I had a magical tech experience. I had a desktop PC running MS Office, an HP Jornada running Windows CE and the ever-so-under-appreciated Rex Organizer card.
For those of you that don’t remember such things, the Jornada was about the size of a Netbook and ran an early version of Windows Mobile. The Rex was the size of a chunky credit card (a PCMCIA card for the old folks that remember such things), one side of which was taken up with a low-res black and white LCD display and four buttons. It was a simple, reliable, more or less read only electronic organizer that ran for 6+ months on a watch battery.
What was magical about all this was that all three components would talk to each other flawlessly. I could sync my Outlook calendar, contacts and inbox with the Jornada before leaving on a trip. The Jornada would run for 12 hours on a single charge, weighed less than 2lbs, and had Office CE and a modem built in — I could get real work done while on the road. Better still, if I didn’t want to carry the Jornada, the Rex card would pop right in to the Jornada’s PCMCIA slot and sync contacts, calendar and tasks with the Jornada.
Net result: effective road warrior status. At a time when my colleagues were lugging around 15lb laptops and developing shoulder problems, I was jaunting around with a ~1lb netbook, a mobile phone and a Rex card that fit in my pocket.
It all just worked. And it was fabulous.
A few years later, I tried numerous PDA’s and some mobile phones that could sync to Outlook, but nothing ever came close to the Desktop/Jornada/Rex combo in overall reliability and ease of use.
Why bring all this up now? I’m starting to see the light… again.
This weekend, I took the plunge and force-updated my Nexus One to Android 2.2.
Updating OS’s on a mobile phone is usually a scary endeavor not for the technically faint of heart. In this case, I downloaded a file, renamed it, hit a few buttons and was done. Less than 10 minutes all in. Impressive.
Amazing Thing #1: Everything just works. Nothing is broken, no sloppy loose ends and lots of hidden new goodies that kick ass. I believe that is the first time I have ever upgraded an OS without a hitch, on any platform.
Amazing Thing #2: Almost everything is noticeably faster, in some cases shockingly so.
Amazing Thing #3: Built in tethering via USB and Wi-Fi. Next time I’m in an airport, I just click a button and instantly become my own little hotspot. The laptop connects to the phone, the phone connects to the net. No more airport/hotel wi-fi fees!
Amazing Thing #4: Flash support that really works (even though it’s still in beta). With normal browsing to flash-enabled sites, I see none of the issues Mr. Jobs swears will kill your iPhone (not that I really believe that cr*p anyway, we all know the flash-hate stems from the potential to undermine the absolute control of iTunes in terms of what you run on your iPhone/iPad/iAppleSlave).
Okay. So I still haven’t mentioned the cloud and I’ve already typed a lot. So it’s cloud time.
Android devices are pretty cloudy and connected. If you use Gmail, they automatically sync with all your contacts, email, calendar etc and it works very well. I have issues with Google Contacts (it’s by far the most lame product they have right now), so I store my contacts in Outlook and push them to Google when they need to be updated. But that works for me.
It also easily connects to Facebook and Twitter and matches up all the contacts. So yes, I see your goofy Facebook profile picture when you call…
If I do a (google) search on my Android phone, it will automatically search the phone, contacts, notes, the web etc in one go (bite me again, iPhone).
I can even store all my settings in the cloud and restore them to a new device if mine gets lost.
But now with Android 2.2, Google are really starting to show how this cloud stuff should really work. A couple of weeks ago, I finally ditched Firefox for GMail and switched to Chrome. With a couple of extensions, I get rock solid performance and many of the features of a desktop mail client with some nifty extra stuff to boot.
For example, I just installed ChrometoPhone. It’s a two part app that uses the new “Cloud to Device” messaging that’s built in to Android 2.2. The messaging stuff allows instructions to be sent directly to a phone without the phone being connected to any kind of desktop/laptop.
In the case of ChrometoPhone, there’s a Chrome browser extension and a small Android app. Once both are installed you’re in the land of magic. Browse to any page on your desktop, click the ChrometoPhone icon and that page will automatically open on your phone. Better still, if you’re looking up an address in Google Maps on the web, just click the icon and that will automatically open the Maps app on your phone, with the address you just looked up.
Running out to a meeting and need the directions? Now it’s easy. And it’s smart.
There’s no real reason why Apple or Microsoft couldn’t have done this. Both companies own a desktop browser (and an OS), both own Mobile OS’s and have similar or stronger control over the phone hardware running that OS. But the fact of the matter is, neither of them have done this. iPhone is about to be on OS 4 and Microsoft on Phone 7. Android is on 2.2 and is arguably more sophisticated/flexible than either.
Fundamentally, I think the key difference is that Google is wired differently. For all their “Think Different” approach, Apple was born in the same era as Microsoft and clings to many of the same ideals. Google grew up in the cloud and it’s starting to show.
I’m no rabid Google fanboy by any means, but they are seriously starting to win me over. I’ll be curious to see what the newly announced Google TV can deliver. If the cloud, desktop and mobile devices can all integrate with it in the way I’m starting to see, technology may actually get fun again.
Welcome back 1997! I’ve missed you!
P.s. If you’re running Android 2.2, you can download ChrometoPhone here:
If you get a Server Error when you try and run it, see comment #2 here for a very easy solution: