Sunday, July 10, 2011

My dad, predictor of the ubiquity and often decline of technology

This is a post dedicated to my father. He does not have a blog, nor does he read my blog, so it will go completely unnoticed. But I caught a trend the other day that troubled me.

My dad, without any direction from his geeky son, purchased an Android phone (of the HTC variety). Ironically, this was also at almost the exact time that I reluctantly* purchased an HTC Thunderbolt.

My father has owned the following devices. The one thing that they have in common is that he purchased them at the beginning of their decline (whether obvious or not at the time).

1) A Palm OS non-smartphone PDA by Handspring. He is an avid Franklin Planner user (to this day, I believe, and being a successful business owner and very organized, I'd say it's worked well for him). Palm's product didn't cut it as a replacement. US Robotics (the originator of the Palm Pilot), and later Palm had a rather successful run but it was clear that the tide was beginning to turn away from their line of electronic life organizers when Handspring Visor devices popped up.

2) An HP iPaq non-smartphone PDA, easily one of the last iPaq model's I'd ever seen that wasn't a smartphone (and I chuckle a little bit that Compaq/HP used to own the "i" moniker at one point). This, again, didn't cut it. I removed it from his office last year - he didn't know exactly what it was.

3) A Nextel Phone with Direct Connect. The sector that my father's business operates in depended greatly on Direct Connect. He complained as much as I did about call drops... I had owned one when Nextel was the only digital cellular carrier available in the area.

4) A DVD player with a VHS cassette player included. I included this one because it was at about the time Blockbuster started dropping it's stock of VHS tapes.

5) A functional, working digital mobile phone with a color screen, but effectively a "dumb phone". This was when RIM was starting to gain a lot of steam, but the iPhone hadn't been released.

6) Home phone service provided by someone other than the local phone company on something other than a POTS line (effectively, consumer land-line VoIP). This one comes with the caveat that they still own and make regular use of a fax machine (through no fault of their own ... an unfortunate amount of business is still done via Fax. Hopefully this gets fixed soon).

7) A Blackberry. Nobody knows what the future holds for RIM, but they're product is no iPhone or Android and my sense is that they're looking a lot like every other gadget company my father had purchased ... acting like nothing is wrong when all of the eyeballs are on something else.

8) And finally, the Android phone. He hasn't discovered, yet, the great things that it can do and was very impressed with it out of the box. It's what he was impressed with that the early adopter/geek in me was surprised about. "I have to slide my finger across the screen to wake it up. No more pocket dialing." This may seem naive, especially if you were an early iPhone/iPod touch owner, but the last version of Windows Mobile 6.5 didn't offer this feature and all but one device that I know of used a screen technology that made pocket dialing incredibly common. On the Blackberry platform, or any prior Dumb/Feature Phone, this is can still be a problem (it's sister is the "my face hung up the phone", and even the iPhone 4 has had issues with the proximity sensor).

Hopefully, dear reader (not plural for a reason), this was taken with the tongue-in-cheek tone that it was meant in. My father is not a reliably predictor of impending doom of gadgets, nor is he a Luddite when it comes to technology (we were the first of my friends that had a Car Phone [though, it always thought we were in Roam, which, being on a different continent, seemed like a bug that needed fixing]). Growing up, our house had two phone-lines for the BBS I hosted which ran a Telegard hack I wrote (and, with great coincidence completed just before 1995, when I had already been dorking around on Usenet for four years and had witnessed the early web as it made the transition from Gopher). He also helped me build my very first computer, a 486/25 with a SCSI hard drive.

* To clarify "reluctantly": I purchased the phone when my Samsung Omnia II (Windows Mobile 6.5) catastrophically failed (catastrophically is a required adjective, since the phone and the platform could easily have been defined as failed well before I purchased it). Being a former Windows Mobile platform developer/user, I see many of the pitfalls in Android that made WM 6+ and WP 6.5 devices positively suck. Specifically with the Thunderbolt: Awful battery life, a skinned interface, many pre-loaded carrier crapware apps that are difficult to remove (or impossible to remove without rooting the device), a semi-open application environment with poor adherence to UI guidelines at best, and malware being distributed directly at worst.

To be clear, I rather like my new phone. It's got some problems (reboots, strange handling of calendar invites, regular app crashes), but it's responsive and it's LTE.