What I’m thankful for

The world of technology has given me a lot to be thankful for this year. Here’s a sample.

  • Cable competition. I have never hated a company like I hated my cable company (before I bought a dish). So I’m overjoyed that cable companies are finally getting the message. After years of a customer relations policy that basically amounted to “eff you,” customers are switching to Fios, satellite or cutting the cord. Finally, cable is starting to catch the drift and adding features like remote DVR control and the ability to watch content online. 
  • Android. It’s far from perfect, but holy schmoley has Google given Apple a run for its money. What a fun story. Also, my Droid is still my favorite toy ever, even after Froyo nearly destroyed it.
  • Mark Hurd. Tech writers rarely get to write about sex scandals. Thank you, Mark Hurd. Thank you!
  • The iPad. I still don’t get why anyone would want one, but it’s been a great source of debate. 50 million next year, Gartner? Seriously? Well, Flipboard is extremely cool. And all the magazine apps are beautiful. Having a multi-function e-reader and the full Web on the go is pretty sweet. …okay, maybe I do kinda want one.
  • Angry Birds. What did you say? Oh, sorry, I’ve been trying to get 3 stars on level 11 for the last 17 hours, and I think I almost have it.

And some turkeys:

  • 3Par. Most boring bidding war ever. I was close to buying an HP laptop last week, but ultimately decided to hold off. I think their involvement in the bidding process subconsciously factored into the decision.
  • Rapleaf and Facebook. If you’re going to track / sell information about me, that makes me nervous enough, okay? You don’t also have to lie about it.
  • 4G. It’s a big lie and confuses consumers. Let’s stop this nonsense and get a government-regulated third-party to test network speeds and give consumers real, meaningful data about their choice in wireless carriers.
  • Antennagate. I get that Apple’s secretiveness is part of its success, but a lack of transparency made antennagate into one of the most overblown stories ever.
  • Stock investors. Seriously? Microsoft needs to be down 15% this year? Netflix is really worth $200? Cisco had to get crushed the other day? Like Stacy, I don’t get the stock market.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! -David

Cheap cheap smartphones

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Image: stevendepolo

One penny. That’s what it’ll cost you this weekend for some of the newest and hottest smartphones around.

Amazon is running a $0.01 promotion for two Windows 7 phones, the HTC Surround and LG Quantum, saith Engadget. That’s the same price it’s charging for the BlackBerry Torch. Prefer Android? A penny will buy you the Motorola Droid 2 (which I paid $200 for three months ago) or the HTC Incredible, among others. 

Dave took a close look two months ago at how $199 became the magic price for smartphones. Looks like that price is plunging fast. Yes, we all know the real cost of a smartphone is on the back-end when you shell out $100+ each month for a voice/data plan, but this is still a pretty sweet deal. -Stacy

These are the Droids you’re looking for

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Image: Motorola

Motorola has rediscovered its mojo. It is safe to declare that the company’s best days did not lie with the Razr and that there is a fairly bright future ahead. The company reported its first quarter of annual sales growth in nearly four years Thursday. And a big part of that is due to the popular Droid phones it sells through Verizon (which includes the super cool limited edition R2-D2 model pictured above.)

The stock moved slightly higher following the earnings report. But as I wrote in today’s Buzz on CNNMoney, analysts think Motorola could continue to climb. Simply put, its turnaround is nothing short of miraculous and the company deserves credit for both getting on board Google’s Android train and designing phones that even an Apple/iPhone sycophant would have to admit are pretty nifty.

Yes, Motorola is likely to have to some tough competition in Verizon stores once a CDMA-version of iPhone is FINALLY available (probably sometime early next year.) But unlike other smartphones that have failed to capture the imagination of consumers and hearts of tech reviewers (I’m talking about you Palm Pre and RIM Torch!)  Droid customers seem to be almost as rabidly in love with their phones as iPhone owners are. Reviews have also been fairly glowing. That’s no small feat.

Motorola has been written off many times before. But it looks like it’s back and here to stay. If Apple is the Death Star of the smartphone world, Motorola just may be the plucky rebel alliance that shouldn’t be underestimated. - Paul

What’s code for ‘kiss my @$$, Steve Jobs?’

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Image: Screenshot from Twitter

Google VP and head of Android Andy Rubin responded to Steve Jobs’ anti-Android rant with the dorkiest tweet of all time. Objecting to the Apple CEO’s claim that Google’s mobile operating system wasn’t more open than Apple’s, Rubin shared the code that allows anyone to download and manipulate Android for free. 

Now, let’s all take a minute to agree that there are many, many definitions of “open,” and it’s a loaded term that really shouldn’t be used without context.

Some would argue that Microsoft’s Windows is “closed,” because it doesn’t give out its source code to be manipulated, as does Google’s Android.

But Windows has always been far more open than Apple’s Mac OS in the sense that Microsoft will sell its software to be used on any machine (even a Mac). Similarly, Google licenses its hardware out to any manufacturer.

Jobs said that “open” is associated with products that have the same experience across the board, like Windows and Apple’s iOS (interesting that he’s now on Microsoft’s side!) Google, he said, is fractured and offers too many versions, making it difficult for developers to write apps to the platform. (Of course, TweetDeck, which is the one developer Jobs singled out, actually responded on Twitter that writing to Android wasn’t difficult after all.)

The point is that “open” isn’t a term that we should take lightly. It’s a PR buzz word, always being used to make a company look better. 

If you haven’t heard the rant, it’s in the YouTube clip below. - David

Steve Jobs’ surprise earnings-call appearance yesterday (sales of $20 billion — top that, Microsoft) got the techverse twittering. He mainly seemed interested in blasting competitors. Here’s a visual take on his aria, created by Hardy Leung with Tagxedo:

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… and a succinct response, from Android chief Andy Rubin:

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Screenshot: CNNMoney

For a running commentary on the dust-up, check out Tweetbeat’s event stream-Stacy


Android Vista?

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It doesn’t have a 90%+ market share, so it hasn’t gotten nearly the publicity that Microsoft’s Windows Vista debacle received, but Google’s latest Android update is causing some very Vista-like problems.

Users have reported that Froyo, the popular name for Android OS 2.2, has caused, as Android Central put it, “random bugs, general weirdness, and plain old unsatisfactory performance.” 

I can speak from experience. I have a Motorola Droid, and after upgrading to Froyo, my phone’s battery life has gotten noticeably worse, and the phone randomly slows down to a crawl. Sometimes I can’t access my home screen without swiping my finger to the left or right and then waiting about 10 seconds for all of my apps and widgets to load up.

After a factory reset, which Verizon Wireless recommended, things didn’t get any better.

It turns out, Verizon was only half right. Posted on Android Central yesterday was a long-awaited solution to Froyo bugs … I hope. After upgrading from Eclair, or Android OS 2.1, a factory reset needs to be done, but the disgruntled user also needs uncheck an “Automatic restore” box to stop Google from automatically restoring all of the apps and other data that was causing the problems in the first place.

Oy.

So far, my Droid is working better. But as a Google fanboy, I’m now thinking something I thought I’d never think: “When’s the iPhone coming to Verizon, again?” - Dave

I’ve got a bad feeling about this phone

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Seriously, this is it?

The much-anticipated Droid R2-D2 phone on Verizon Wireless is essentially a Droid 2 smartphone that costs $50 extra.

Now, to be fair, it comes with “a graphic design to look like the iconic Astromech Droid from the Star Wars™ Saga, and will be packaged in a custom box resembling carbonite,” according to Verizon’s press release. Also in the box is a Star Wars themed media dock and wired stereo headset, which runs for about $30. 

So really, it’s only $20 more if you were going to get the media dock. Master Luke will be very pleased. 

According to Verizon, that $20 will get you R2-D2 notification sounds and ringtones, four live wallpapers, the R2-D2 Clock Widget, “The Best of R2-D2” video with the original Cantina music, and a Binoculars App. Though Verizon calls those apps “exclusive,” anyone with an Android device knows someone will make it available for all other Android phones faster than you can say Lord Dooku.

So unless you’re an incredible Star Wars geek, this isn’t the Droid you’re looking for. R-2 says that the chances of the Droid R2-D2’s survival are 725 to 1. Actually R-2 has been known to make mistakes… from time to time… Oh dear…. -Dave

How do you say iPhone killer in Finnish?

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What the Helsinki is going on with Nokia’s stock over the past week? Well, it seems that analysts are actually growing increasingly optimistic that the smartphone maker may have a hit or two on its hands with the soon-to-be-released N8 and E7 phones.

Can either of these models really challenge Apple’s iPhone and the army of Google Android phones on the  market?

It does seem like the last time Nokia was cool was when clamshell phones were all the rage. That’s eons ago in the fickle world of consumer gadgets, where to quote Heidi Klum from Project Runway, “one day, you’re in and the next day, you’re out.” It sounds better with a German accent. Trust me.

Nokia has been written off before, only to make a stunning turnaround. But the odds might not be in the company’s favor this time around. Palm, which may not have survived for much longer if not for HP’s bailout acquisition, is Exhibit A. for how tough it is to keep up with Apple. Research in Motion is exhibit B. Nokia may be winning some early raves on Wall Street but I’m not sure how long that will last. - Paul