2015: Personal Technology Review

How did my use of technology change during 2015? The short answer is that it increased. For example, I just deposited a check using my phone, and that’s something I never did in previous years.

That phone is a Droid Maxx, made by Motorola for Verizon. My iPhone turned in to a brick earlier this year. From among the phones available from or for Verizon Wireless, the Maxx seemed to me the best deal. This may be due to the particular wireless plan I was already in. The iPhones were by comparison overpriced.

I was happy with my new phone until, after a few months, it went into spiral of frantic uselessness, in which it would do nothing but restart until it ran out of power. Staff at the Verizon store agreed that it should be replaced, and replaced it was.

My second Maxx is behaving well so far. I like multiple things about it, especially the size of the screen. I’m not missing my iPhone. But I haven’t abandoned Apple: the two iPads in the house are in frequent use by the kids and by me. Continue reading “2015: Personal Technology Review”

Google Music: Initially Underwhelmed, But…

Google Music launched to a rather lukewarm reception. Don’t Be Too Disappointed By Google Music’s Lackluster Debut was the advice from TechCrunch. Here’s How Google Music Plans to Compete So Late in the Game was the slightly-perkier reaction from RWW. GigaOm was rather more upbeat:

The service mirrors smilar offerings from Apple and Amazon, with a unique social twist: Users will be able to share their purchases on Google+, giving their friends and followers a chance to listen (one-time only) to singles and complete albums for free.

So essentially it’s a music locker linked to an MP3 store (i.e. Android Market). We can browse, sample, and purchase. The browsing works fine. The sampling, not so much, when I tried it on iPad: the browser-based player seemed to think it was playing, but there was no sound. Playing is fine on the Windows/Chrome setup I’m currently using. The Google Music/Android Market apps won’t work on my Android phone, but then, not many recent apps work on a G1…

I tried music purchasing in two ways. First, I compared Android Market MP3 prices with Amazon. Amazon was usually less expensive; for example, Laura Veirs’ Tumble Bee is $9.49 in the DroidMart, rather than $7.99 at Amazon.

But I did already make one purchase from Android Market: Los Campesinos!’ Hello Sadness for $5.99. I’ll get round to making a Google+ playlist including tracks from this, and other music I own, soon. Right now, I’m uploading a lot of music from disc, while barely making a dent in the 20,000-track Google Music allowance.

I feel rather overwhelmed, in a good way, by the options open to the web-based music listener. I’m not blown away by Google’s offering right now, but will keep on comparing it with Amazon’s – and with Apple’s, and Spotify’s, and with other – and plan to post as I compare. I’m interested in your comparisons also, so feel free to post them as comments here.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Player

Cloud PlaygroundAmazon Cloud Drive is your hard drive in the cloud. You can use it, along with Amazon Cloud Player, as a music locker.

There’s coverage all over the place. NPR is mainly positive, but points out that there are legal challenges to music lockers. TechCrunch describes Amazon’s offering as fierce competition for existing music locker services, given the space it offers and its integration with Amazon’s MP3 store.

At Mashable, Ben Parr actually used the service before posting about it. Good for him! His first impressions are more positive than mine. To Ben, “it became apparent that Amazon wasn’t launching some half-baked product.” To me, it seemed strange that deleting just one MP3 file caused Amazon Cloud Drive to think that I had no files left, even though I was using some of my space allowance.

I’m confident that Amazon will fix the early bugs quickly, and otherwise improve its cloud drive and player. As an example of an improvement, how about looking at my prior Amazon MP3 purchases, and offering to shift them into my locker without having to locate them on my computer and then upload them?

This music locker service combines several of Amazon’s strengths: cloud management, MP3 store, brand name, etc. You get 5 GB of storage for free. To add another 20 GB, you only need to buy one MP3 album. MP3 purchases are automatically added to your locker, and do not count against your storage quota.

Now, let’s see what Apple, Google, and others come back with…

Amie Street is One Way to Amazon

Amie Street is a music download site with a business model I thought was brilliant, and Michael Arrington still describes as “awesome.”

Artists upload songs and those songs are free to download to start. As more downloads occur the price goes up. A cent, fifty cents, etc., up to $1… Over time a lot of artists tried out the service, songs were downloaded over 10 million times, and the company raised venture capital from Amazon and others.

As time went on, I developed qualms about the service. If tracks are $1, Amie Street is like lots of other ways to get music. What does it mean if a track is less than $1? That it’s not very good? That I can pay less for it, even though the artist probably needs the money more than those who command the full $1?

Anyway, the Amie Street service is closing down. So what happens to my account? I can’t tell from the site itself, which is currently offline for maintenance. Mashable Stan posts that I have until September 22 to spend my balanced (~$3?). It won’t be transferred to Amazon, which acquired Amie Street. But I will get $5 to spend there.

The Amie Streeters will now focus on the web radio platform Songza. So I don’t see this as a sad story, just as the end of a chapter in the big and growing book about music on the web.

Networked Nonprofit Virtual Book Launch

The Networked Nonprofit, the book by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, will be released on July 6. There’s a closer, and more important, date: Beth posts about the June 21 virtual book launch party date. She aims to concentrate (pre-)orders around that date, so that The Networked Nonprofit becomes a bestseller.

There are a bunch of things that Beth conspicuously doesn’t specify, at least not prominently enough for me to notice:

  • A real world book launch event/signing here in the DC area, or anywhere else.
  • Any reference to any real world stores or sales. I picture Beth and Allison descending on bookstores to hide copies of their book so that people will buy it at Amazon, thus keeping it high on the Amazon business bestseller list.
  • A widget for the use of people who want to blog about the book and the virtual launch party.
  • A hashtag for tweets and a tag for posts (I’m using networkednonprofit here).

Anyway, the books sounds great, and I intend to be at the virtual launch party.

TrustR: Amazon Ahead; FedEx Follows; Toyota Tries to Tie Tylenol

R is for Recommendation. So TrustR is a metric for Trust and Recommendation: it’s used in a study just published by Millward Brown. On a scale where the average brand scores 100, and anything over 105 is considered good, Amazon wins with 123, with FedEx just one point behind.

Then there are four firms on 120. I’m not sure that there is any statistical significance between them. The last of them, and hence the brand in 6th place, is Tylenol. Toyota is one point behind.

The Tylenol/Toyota juxtaposition is particularly interesting in the light of the recent Toyota Trust(R) turmoil. I’ve posted about it before, prompted in part by a post in which Gene of Levick made the Toyota/Tylenol comparison.

I found out about the study via Om: a blogger/person/source/brand I’m inclined to trust and recommend. I’m also inclined to trust and recommend Amazon.

The Snail in the Cloud

Little PO BoxesI’ve used this photo before, because I find the Post Office boxes rather lovely, in a vintage sort of way. Little did I suspect at the time that the photo might become relevant to cloud computing.

But (as I read at GigaOM), Amazon Web Services is now going postal, since snail mail is sometimes faster than the internet. “Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, explains… that it would take up to 13 days to sling a terabyte of data across a 10 Mbps network… So Amazon is offering customers the chance to store their data on an external device, ship it via post, and Amazon will load it.”

Kindle the Second

Amazon’s Kindle 2 will be released on Feb 24. I’d like a Kindle, but not at $350+. That’s similar to my reaction to the first Kindle, but it’s moved up from “It’s clunky, but I’d kind of like one” to “I’d really like one.”

The Boston Globe emphasized the Stephen King connection: he’s written a novella for, and featuring, the Kindle. It also covered the reservations expressed by Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. The Wall Street Journal reported other objections from the same source.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Niniane posted a valentine to the Kindle 2. And at GigaOm, Kevin surmised that Amazon’s ebook business will be dating hardware other than the Kindle, based on the announcement that the new “Whispersync” technology will sync with “a range of mobile devices in the future.”

Back here, I’m wondering how what sort of price a gently used Kindle 1 will go for as Kindle fans upgrade. I’m also wondering when the Kindle 3 will arrive, what features it will have, and what the price of gently used Kindle 2s will be at that time.

Textbooks on Kindle

One of the barriers to adoption of the Amazon Kindle is its price. One of the things that makes it seem expensive is surely the price of books. For example, I usually buy paperbacks at $10 or less, so >$300 seems huge. But the Kindle might be particularly attractive to people who spend a lot on books.

College students certainly spend a lot of books. Textbooks for a single semester often cost more than a Kindle. Hence I think that Mike Arrington and others are right on the money when they identify college students as natural Kindle users.

The trouble is, college students don’t have much choice when it comes to textbooks. The professor usually chooses the textbook for the course from what the publishing firms offer. The incentives to the prof and the firms don’t always align with the best interests of the students.

Comparing Platform as a Service Offerings From Amazon and Google

A few days ago, many of us posted about Google App Engine. Most of us made some sort of comparison between GAE and AWS (Amazon Web Services.) I remarked that I didn’t understand why GAE seemed to arouse much more concern about lockin than did AWS.

Dion Hinchcliffe compares the two “Plafform as a Service” offerings, concluding that:

The decision for many startups will be an easy one; the benefits of using these platforms for their new products are compelling across the board despite minor concerns about platform lock-in even though the models used by both companies are actually surprisingly lock-in free.

So maybe the perception that GAE poses significantly greater lockin risk than does AWS is a perception about the difference between Google and Amazon, rather than a reflection of technical differences between the two platform as a service offerings. It’s a feeling that one should be wary about being locked in by the “don’t be evil” company.