Leaving the iPhone

I’m three weeks into a new 30 day challenge: no iPhone. When I got a Nexus One in December, I spent a few weeks carrying both phones around in the pockets of my jeans. It took a little while to adapt to Android, but I’m very happy with my Nexus One and I don’t plan to go back to the iPhone. Both the iPhone and Android are great operating systems, but it’s important to me that I can write or run the applications I choose on my phone.

The best way I can describe the transition is to read this article by Jason Kincaid and this article by Danny Sullivan. Danny contends that the iPhone is better, mentioning that after “literally an hour or less of playing with my wife’s iPhone” he was an iPhone convert.

I think both Danny and Jason are right in some ways. Like Danny, it only took me a couple hours of playing with my wife’s iPhone before I knew that I had to have one. In a post that I wrote in 2007 but never published, I said “I think the iPhone is going to be a monster hit.” And it was. But here’s the thing: I was comparing the iPhone to my previous phone, which was an LG enV. That was like comparing a Ferrari to a old station wagon.

If you’re coming from a feature phone (or almost any type of phone other than an iPhone 3GS), you’ll probably love Android right away. But if you’re already an iPhone power user? Well, you’ve learned how things work on an iPhone. Maybe you have your music in iTunes, and you’ve already built up a list of favorite apps. That makes switching to a different make of phone much harder. Jason Kincaid describes it well: “Imagine if you took a longtime Windows user and sat them in front of a Mac for a couple days.” Things seem weird and different in arbitrary ways, like the power button is on the other side of the phone. But those things fade away after a few days of using Android, and you’re left with a powerful platform that feels like it’s under your control.

Do I still miss a few things on the iPhone? Absolutely. For example, the iPhone makes it easy to take a snapshot of the screen — just press the power and home button at the same time. The iPhone fits 20 apps on the home screen instead of 16 on the Nexus One. I use a password for my phone, and the iPhone has a setting that says “If you’ve used the phone in the last N hours, don’t lock the phone,” while the Nexus One needs me to unlock it each time I wake it up. I prefer the default ringtones on the iPhone. I preferred the iPhone’s finance app for the news sources it showed.

But the Nexus One outshines the iPhone in other ways. Voice recognition built into every text box. Google Voice. And judging from the jitter in Google Sky Map vs. the iPhone Yelp Monacle Monocle, I think the sensors in the Nexus One are a little more robust. Once you use the high-resolution screen on the Nexus One, it’s hard to go back to the iPhone (and the screen on the Droid is very nice too). And I love kicking off a podcast in Listen and then multitasking in a web browser.

The iPhone is praised (rightly so) for its fit-and-finish. But glitches happen on the iPhone too. I went back to check on something a few weeks ago and the iPhone browser kept dying and kicking me back out to the home screen. Overall, I would still rate the iPhone higher on fit and finish, and the iPhone is simpler for a non-tech-savvy person to understand. But polish and simplicity aren’t the most important things to me as a phone user. I want maximum functionality, and the velocity of Android in that area has been staggering. Going from the G1 to the Nexus One in about a year is amazing. I can’t wait to see what new things show up in Android.

Ultimately though, what matters the most to me is control. I have a simple rule of thumb, which is that I don’t put data somewhere that I can’t get it back. That’s the reason that I didn’t buy songs in iTunes, purchase ebooks for the Amazon Kindle, or really log into Facebook at all. It’s also the reason that I recently switched my computer from Microsoft Windows to Ubuntu Linux. With Android, I feel like I have more control. It’s pretty easy to write your own programs for free. My contacts and calendar and email are sync’ed with Google, which lets me easily export that data. I can put widgets or folders or whatever I want on my phone’s home screen. And yes, I could install an app to wobble pictures if I wanted to. Why? Because phones are increasingly mini-computers with a phone attached, and I should be allowed to run the programs I want on my own computer.

I could ramble on about the iPhone compared the Nexus One (both really are great phones in different ways), but I’ll wrap up this post. But my 30 days with no iPhone is going so well that last week I started a new 30 day challenge. My new 30 day challenge is reducing my sugar consumption. I won’t be able to get to 0% sugar (even A1 steak sauce has sugar as an ingredient?!?), but I’m trying to stop eating sugar, candy, Splenda, and anything with sugar as a primary ingredient, even (sob) yogurt. You have to understand, I love yogurt. Wish me luck: only 27 more days to go. Sigh.

My speaking plans for 2010

Last year I tried to limit my travel but still ended up making about ten (!) trips in 2009. This year I’ve resolved to travel less for work. Right now, here’s my current speaking/travel plans for 2010:

March 2-4, 2010: SMX West, Santa Clara, CA. I’m doing a “Ask the Search Engines” panel.

May 19-20, 2010: Google I/O conference in San Francisco. I’m doing a site review session.

May 21-30, 2010: I’ll be doing a trip to Europe. Right now I don’t have any SEO-related events planned though.

June 8-9, 2010: SMX Advanced in Seattle

June 25-27, 2010: I’ll be at Foo Camp.

August, 2010: Sometime in August I’m going to try to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

November 8-11, 2010: PubCon in Vegas

I was gone last week (February 9-13) for the TED conference, but that was attending, not speaking.

Finding the best cell phone carrier

Okay, someone tell me if this device exists (or build it!). I want a device where I can pay $10-15 to get a gadget in the mail. The gadget would sit in my pocket for a week wherever I go. The device would record cell phone signal strength for each of the four major U.S. carriers every few seconds. After a week or so, the device would deliver the verdict on which cell phone carrier would have the strongest signal for me. Then I could mail the device back so someone else could use it — sort of a Netflix-like model to temporarily borrow this device.

At any point, I could go to a web page to view a map of where I’d been. The page would show a “heat map” of signal strength for each carrier or frequency band. Maybe I could also slice/dice by time or see the total number of readings in each location. I’m pretty sure you could rig this up out of 2-3 cell phones running Android in the worst case.

So far, I’ve found:

Android

- RF Signal Tracker is a nice app to collect and map signal strength data. It looks like it can upload to OpenCellID, which is a project to create an open database of cell IDs (numbers that correspond to cells).
- Antennas is a pretty cool free app to show you nearby antennas and signal strength. It can even export some data in KML for use with Google Maps/Earth, but it doesn’t seem to make a heat map that could be easily grokked.
- Sensorly has a free Android app, but they seem to want you to pay to zoom in closer than city level. I’m willing to do that, but didn’t see the for-pay addon in the Android Market.

iPhone

- I also found an iPhone app called Signals that will continuously collect signal data and upload it.
- AT&T offers an iPhone app called Mark the Spot to report dropped calls, no coverage, etc. I have to admit that I don’t understand why this is manual though. Personally, I’d want my phone to ping my carrier with its location every time the phone dropped a call.

Web

- SignalMap is a website to (manually!) submit the number of bars for a location. It doesn’t appear to have any mobile app to back it up. Likewise, Dead Cell Zones and Got Reception? appear to rely on manual reports. I don’t think manual reports is the best way to tackle cell phone coverage maps though — you really want an app for this.
- http://www.cellreception.com/ has the standard manual reports data, but also will map the location of cell phone towers based on the location of cell phone towers registered with the FCC.
- Root Wireless powers the cell phone signal strength maps that CNET uses, but I didn’t see any apps I could download or install on a phone. I registered to be a beta tester a long time ago, but no one ever contacted me.

That’s what I could find. Do you know of any good Android (or iPhone) programs to collect, map, or upload cell phone strength measurements? If so, let me know in the comments.

Blog to Book?

I recently went looking for some software to make a blog into a book. Here’s what I found:

- Lulu will take PDF files for a book. Blogbooker.com will try to create a PDF from a blog. Unfortunately, my blog made BlogBooker choke (I have 991 posts from my blog) — even when I excluded comments.

- Blurb.com will try to create a book from a blog, but it only supports blogs hosted on WordPress.com, not other WordPress blogs. That will help some people who want to print their blog into a book, but not everyone.

- I had the best luck with FastPencil. In order to reduce the size of your exported blog, you’ll first want to go to your comments section, click on the “spam” link and clear out any spam comments by selecting all the spam comments and clicking “Empty Spam”. Then you can export your WordPress blog (from the Dashboard, click Tools, then Export) as an XML file that you can download to your computer. From there, FastPencil lets you upload the .xml file and then select which blog posts to include in the book. You can also filter by time, which I had to do. Even my blog posts (no comments) from the last year and a half still made a 350+ page book, and FastPencil choked on turning my entire blog into a book.

FastPencil did a few things well. Included images were imported, and some formatting such as bold made it into the PDF. But other formatting, such as code formatting and newlines/spacing between paragraphs didn’t make it. Embedded content such as videos or polls were likewise empty. Trying to import my entire blog also didn’t work. But all in all, I was impressed with FastPencil. They also have nice collaboration tools (e.g. you can designate editors, reviewers, co-authors, and project managers to help in writing/polishing the content). The site also works through your web browser instead of as a downloadable program, which appealed to me. If you’re used to WordPress, FastPencil won’t be too much of a change.

It’s still not a point-and-click affair to make a nice looking coffee table book out of a blog, but it’s getting closer. Right now, the “make a book” niche feels like the early days of recordable CDs. Back then, CD-R discs were expensive enough that I would spend time to make sure that I used all the free space on the CD. Eventually prices dropped so much that you didn’t feel bad about burning a half-empty or not-perfectly-polished CD.

If you’ve tried other blog-to-book services or websites, let me know your experiences in the comments.

Chrome support for Greasemonkey

Back in December, I happened to click on a Greasemonkey script in Chrome and was shocked that it just worked. At the time, I wrote a note within Google that said

Whoa. I just clicked on a Greasemonkey script in the latest dev version of Chrome (4.0.266.0 on Linux). Chrome offered to install the GM script, so I said okay. The script ran perfectly in Chrome with no changes at all! I don’t know how many Greasemonkey scripts will run in Chrome unchanged, but at least some will.

Last week brought that news as an official announcement. My guess is that scripts that don’t use specific Greasemonkey APIs should be fine.

(Side-note: I found a good post from November that claims that ~60% of Greasemonkey scripts don’t use any sort of special API calls at all. The top API calls appear to be GM_getValue and GM_setValue (16.5% of Greasemonkey scripts), plus GM_xmlhttpRequest (15.5% of Greasemonkey scripts). It’s unclear which of these functions might be worth supporting. Some could have security implications (GM_xmlhttpRequest). Others like the get/setValue functions could be done by using other ways to store data.)

So this is cool. There’s a good chance that your favorite Greasemonkey script might just work in Chrome. Personally, I recommend the dev channel version of Chrome. It gets all the cool features early, and it’s been very stable/fast for me.

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