Lifedrivedoc.com began as a place to talk about the Lifedrive. It soon became apparent that it was much more than that. Since moving on from my Lifedrive, I am engaged in more avenues of technology. That technology has intersected with my professional life - Medicine as well as my social life.

As noted above, the blog is about a lot of things in relation to technology. If you are looking for Lifedrive related material, I am currently dividing the blog so that those searches will be easy for you to find. Most of them will be pre 2007, that should help. Additionally, if you are looking for the links that used to be on the left border. They will be back up in a different format soon. I do enjoy reading about new things to do with the Lifedrive, so you can feel free to let me know about those. I will also post those on the site.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why I'm leaning a little.....

As many of you who have read my previous few postings on this blog can see, I am slowly leaning away from my Lifedrive towards something else.  I have waited almost two years to see what is out there that can replace my OS. 

I do not want to leave the Palm platform, since I have become accustomed to it.  But with the advent of WebOS, a nascient OS that may not serve my long term needs for data management, I am looking at other alternatives. 

What has become important is something that never existed 2 years ago - an App store!  Yes, we had Handango and a few other sites for Palm, but to be honest, apart from the excellent catalog layout - which is sadly lacking with Apples App Store - the content is not altogether brilliant.  There are pockets of excellent programs, particularly in the medical field, but many others are too rudimentary to cost what they do.  For example the average cost of an App is about $10.00, while on the Apple store, it is less than half 
of that.  Palm and Handango and other sites were able to dictate the prices due to the small niche held by Palm at the time - a very long time for that matter.  Some of the prices were extraordinary.  For example, SplashiD for Palm has been listed at well over $20 ever since its inception.  It costs $24 as of this writing.  I actually spent a lot of money purchasing it as one of my main pieces of software on my Palm.  However, when the product was ported over to the Apple App store, it cost just $9.95.  However, they sell a separate desktop edition for $19.99.  Many people just use the handheld version, an obvious mistake since it can be lost in synching.   But why the price discrepancy?

Let's look again at the Medical part of the Palm section on Ha
ndango.  The first 20 applications on the site are selling at an average price of  $40.80 per application !!! Granted some of these are quite good applications, but most are reference materials.  Are these applications really worth the price that they have been declared for the past 8 years?  

To be honest, if many of these applications were about 25% to 50% of the cost noted, I would have probably had a lot more apps on my Lifedrive, instead of relying so heavily on my Database programs.  And how much were the developers making wit
h this approach?  I can't imagine that many of them sold thousands of copies of their products without special discounts etc?

Which leads to the question.  Why didn't anyone ever consider an idea like an App store before Apple?  Why did Palm not consider doing this?  Controlling this?  It would appear that like Microsoft, Palm preferred to have the solution come from many different directions.  What accrued in the end was a plethora of software, but alot of incompatabilities as well. 

But all of that pales in comparison to the next scenario.  Now folks, this is something that I either never knew about or just failed to understand.  It is also why I believe some of the software was priced out of the stratosphere to begin with.

It turns out that many of the developers on Handango and other sites where Apps are sold have been paying a rather hefty fee for hosting their files there.  How much?  Well, let's look at the following chart, taken from The Boy Genius Report in February, 2008 

So that's 50% of the gross revenue for most apps going to Handango !!!!  With that finding, I am now seeing why the applications are so costly.    So one would think that with some outrage at this pricing, things would change for companies that are coming on board with their own App store right?  Wrong!  Fast forward to todays Boy Genius Report that Microsoft, which owns a large chunk of the mobile market has decided to do something so heinous that I almost crawled out of my skin when I read it.  

Microsoft has decided that in order to place an App in their new App store, a developer will be allowed 5 free apps before being charged $99 for each app.  Sounds okay at first, until you realize that each update of an application counts as an application !!!!  So, if you decide to come out with something in beta - as many on the Apple App store do (just don't tell them all it's a beta product),  or you or your customers find a bug in the software, then you may end up paying Microsoft $99 for the pleasure of updating your application.  So, you may say, why not just go somewhere else and have your files hosted?  Mmmgh, have you seen Apple's traction data?  Compare it to the data for "jailbroken" app stores.   Infact compare it to the traction data for any Mobile store ever made.

The result of this kind of pricing "scheme" is to eventually fleece the very consumer that is trying to purchase a product.  It hurts everyone.  It may be the reason why we are seeing so much innovation in iPhone applications in such a short amount of time.  I would say that Apple's iPhone now only 2 years old, and its App store which is less than 1 year old is acting like a 5-6 year old store (ie. Palm, Handango, Palminfocenter), the former kings.  I would venture to say that Apple's drive to collect 30% of gross revenues appears to be extremely fair, given all other scenarios.  Additionally, developers faced stiff competition in the App space, where reviews were so visible for software and the power of the iPhone numbers and central location made it possible for many developers to lower the price of their software and concentrate on volume, rather than attempting to find niche players.

However, there is always going to be holdout!  If you have an iPhone, pop over to the app store and look at a program called Stat E&M Coder.  The lite version is free, but the developer must have had a flashback to Handango/LSD/mushrooms???  He decided to charge $79.99 for the full version of the program !!!!  You've got that correct, if you think that this is an E/M coder for the iPhone.  It is just that.  Granted it codes for different specialties and it does it well, but with just 2 reviews as of this writing, I'm begining to think that others believe that this is too pricey as well.   Will the old Palm developers who used to charge $79.99 and $40.00 - $50.00 succeed with this type of pricing on the iPhone?  My gut instincts say no.  The drive is for volume and developers will make very little money selling high priced applications, regardless of how complex it is.    So will they just avoid the platform?  I say no!  The platform is too big after only 2 years and it's only getting bigger and bigger.   

And I have not even mentioned the dawning of the iPhone 3.0 SDK.  What a thing of beauty that is.  The ability to let the phone talk to other devices is just going to be phenomenal.  Will Palms' nascient WebOS be able to deliver all of this and more later this year?  I am begining to have my doubts.  Of course I hope that they do, but come June my mind will be made up permanently about what the move for me will be.  Right now, it's tipping a little towards Apple, for the same reason that it was on the side of Palm for so many years ------SOFTWARE!



Thursday, March 12, 2009

...On Switching....

It has come to my attention that with Palms' decision to ditch OS5 and the entire Palm Operating system, now would be a good time to reconsider whether staying on the Palm bandwagon is a win/win situation or not.

It's been a long time in coming, but Palm had to release itself from the legacy software that it has supported for so long.  I believe that most people thought that it would be Microsoft that would take over the company or at the very least save it from the inevit
able abyss by absorbing it or eliminating it. 

But some time in January 2007, the entire handheld market changed.  The iPhone changed everything.  Suddenly companies began scrambling to get a piece of the pie.  Many, including Palm disparaged the iPhone, with quotations from its CEO echoing the thoughts of many, but which have since come to haunt them:  

"We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone," Ed Colligan apparently laughed
 about with John Markoff last Thursday morning. "PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in." 

Indeed, the first iteration of the iPhone, although beautiful and shiny, was essentially an expensive calendar with a phone attached.  Many, including Palm, criticised the fact that the device had no functional operating system or SDK.  Palm's and indeed Windows' SDK's were well known at the time, but their functions were under utilized, despite the wide open mi
lieu given to them by the companies involved.  Most of the problems became very much noted.  First, the operating systems appeared to change significantly with updates.  Second, the memory challenge appeared to be a major issue for both platforms.  The nicest programs would crash due to memory leaks.  The more advanced the product -ie. The Lifedrive - the worse the problem.  

But many of us stood by and moaned a little, but in our hearts we knew that the device would find its footing.  Whether it was Windows or Palm, we knew that the software would be fixed.  The memory leaks would be repaired.  Innovation would continue.  BUT IT DID NOT!

What Microsoft and Palm decided to do in the interim, before the iPhone, was to put out a series of updated hardware pieces and price them out of the stratosphere.  The products were more shiney, but not necessarily more useful.  I could find not one individual who could tell me what the advantage was to buying a new Treo compared to the model that it replaced.  Memory?  "No, not really."  Operating System?  "Er, No, not really, maybe Microsoft is a little better right now."

It wasn't until that Sunny day in Cupertino, California that things changed!  My jaw dropped!  My eyes widened!  Butterflies flew through my entire body!  Steve Jobs Got It!  He 
Got It Right!  It was obvious that he had looked at Palms' Lifedrive and all of the HP se
ries and the Treos.  He got rid of the "wand" and made use of the most versatile and (hopefully) never lost stylus --- The finger.   He got rid of hard drives and concentrated on solid state devices. 

Despite the derision from other companies, the product was an enormous success.  And did Jobs and his cohorts listen to the consumer?  For once, yes.  Out came the SDK and with it a place, sponsored by the company itself, to showcase the software from the SDK - The App Store.  No longer did one have to search 3rd party sites, wondering whether the software would work or crash the device.  It was tested by the company itself and approved or axed, per their whim.  But what you knew was that whatever you bought or download
ed, it would not wipe out your device completely.  I cannot tell you how many times my Lifedrive went Kaboom.  That reticent click that made you know that the end was near.  And to top it all off, the freaking never ending 4-5 minute (if you're lucky) orange dimming light, letting you know that "I'm erasing all your data right now, but I'll be back up and running in a few minutes....oh, hope you backed it all up!"

Yes, in September of last year, when I picked up my own 16 gigabyte 3G iPhone, I was not completely impressed with the lineup of software available.  By November, I had a lot of anticipation, but hope that things would get better.  By December, the App store had grown and the first edition of HandBase was out, leaving me to wonder whether my Lifedrive would be put to sleep permanently.  By February of this year, the ability to store, view and edit spreadsheets was in full bloom.   Cloud computing negated the need for the computer at all.  I had a back up copy of my most important files in the clouds.  SSH, VPN and other secure shells were readily available and functional.  No crashing after surfing the web.  Direct integration with phone numbers in a web page and the continued improvement in the App store made me wonder how long it would be before I would make the permanent switch to Apple.  An email received from Dataviz a few weeks ago from Barcelona, made me realise that the entire Documents suite was about to be ported to the iPhone permanently.  Add to that Citrix continuing to emphasize that they are near a full release of Citrix for the iPhone, where apps designed for a large window, would be able - at least theoretically - to run on the iPhone in a sandbox owned by Citrix.  Not to mention the whole Sandbox memory issue, which makes it possible for programs to do things without ruining or changing the OS.  All of this and you have to wonder!  Why have I been waiting for two years?

Apple is a company that is moving all of the time.  They are constantly changing things, creating, innovating, but LISTENING TO THE CONSUMER!  The consumers include the Music and Film guys, the students, the health care workers - everyone.  Look at the blogs and you'll see the responses.    Of course uncertainty exists.  Steve Jobs'  health is a paramount issue.  Without him, will the company continue to innovate?  What of legacy programs?  We haven't seen any of these things thus far.

But here is the problem that I am now having!  I have known for at least two years now that Palm had to break away from the legacy software.  For crying out loud, if you're using a program written in 1998 or 2001, you should have upgraded already.  This has held them back for a long time now.  But worse, they just stopped innovating.  OS5.0 and then.......promises, BUT NOTHING!  New hardware, but the same old operating system.  How could they expect to run a disk based product such as the Lifedrive on an operating system that was over 4 years old?  With different memory considerations for its solid state partners?  

Finally, Mr. Colligan came out with what we all knew.  No further support for Palm OS.  Could that have been done when Palm owned PalmSoft instead of wasting millions of dollars on the split between the software and hardware divisions, then rejoin, then split again?  Or the Linux fiasco, in which a software company buys PalmSoft and develops a Linux platform, only to have Palm state that they want to create a.....Linux Platform of their own?  Or have your leading founder running around talking about simulating thought processes, NUMENTA, to work in an operating system, only to see nothing for years develop?  Yes, it was a good thing that Mr. Colligan cut the umbilical cord that bound him to the past, but there are now new problems already brewing.

Do you remember the derision that Palm had for Apple creating a device without a SDK?  Relying on "The Web" to run things.  Well guess what my fellow Palm friends?  The "OS" for the new Palm Pre is about to do exactly the same thing - run Web Apps.  There has been no discussion on the boards that I have followed for programmers detailing Native Applications for the device.  I'm sure it's coming, but it just seems somewhat hypocritical to say ""PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in," only to do the very same thing that you abhorred about them in the first place.

I know that this is a make or break device for Palm.  But I also know that I need credible CRM, Relational Database and other Enterprise software,  as well as specialized software for the workplace on a portable device.   Back in June of last year, I was fully on board the Palm train, because it was tried and tested and had years of being "out there" to fall back on.  Now, the roles are reversed.  Palm is reborn and reclassified as a newcomer, while the iPhone is seen as a more "mature" platform.  That begs the questions:  "Should we stay with Palm?  Will developers flock to Palm?  Will Palm still be here?  And more importantly, will Palm be able to help me with my work and productivity?"


Picture from www.mobilecomputermag.co.uk.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Amazon Kindle for iPhone. WOW!

Okay, so the Kindle may not be for you and the iPhone may be only a thought in your mind as you decide whether to wait for the Palm Pre or succumb to the iPhone.   Although I believe the Kindle and its wonderful books are going to be ported over to the Pre and other devices, the first look at the Kindle for iPhone is, to sum it up in one word:  REMARKABLE.

The application loads in its usual fashion to the iPhone.  However, you have to go to the web and to the Amazon page to get your books.  You can do this from the iPhone or you can do this from the computer.  You must go to Kindlebooks though in order to get the Kindle version.   This is a slight flaw in the iPhone program, since really you should be able to buy the books directly from the program itself.

I did go through the purchasing part on my computer and was surprised to find that my purchase showed up on my iPhone almost immediately.   The pages are well preserved and you can choose your font.  I found it to be a little more responsive than Stanza, the de facto comparison, but a little less than Classics - the snazzy graphics intensive program that has limited open source books available.  

What is nice about this is the fact that Amazon has an amazing library of books, both popular and obscure.  I believe the quoted count for the Kindle was 204,000 (*1).  To be able to access these without having to hook up to iTunes and sync over the air is just wonderful.

The software is 2.9 mb and is a version 1.0 product.  

*1  (From Amazon.com as of 3/4/2009). 



I should note that one can get similar functionality from Stanza, which offers a large selection of books.  However, I do not believe that they offer either the pricing advantage or the sheer volume of books that Amazon does.  However, Stanza is a great product that is a must have if you have an iPhone.   The major differences appear to be in Stanza being a little more graphics intensive, which tends to run down the batteries a little faster.  But both are very good.