Carl T. Holscher fights for the customers.

Tag: Android

Blind Choice

I’ve read a couple of stories this week about people choosing their own devices in the office. This was true at the media company where I used to work. Even within our small IT department we had 1 Palm Pre, 1 iPhone, 2 Androids and two “dumb” phones.

The rest of the company was a mix of Blackberries, Androids, iPhones and the occasional Palm or two. I think there was even a Window Phone I saw once or twice.

I take issue with the claim that people buy their own devices because they chose it and it is what they want to use. People who are not tech savvy ask their tech savvy friends, co-workers, spouses, family members. They don’t do much choose what is best for them but what is recommended to them by a person they trust who is good with computers.

For a little background I’ve worked in ground-level IT since 2004. I’ve worked as a Desktop Support Technician ((That guy who shows up at your desk when you call the Help Desk.)) and Help Desk Technician ((Those people you love to scream at when something break.))

Lately, as policies become more lax and there is a better variety of smartphones on the market ((Remember when there was no Android or iPhone?)) people have gravitated towards a variety of devices which I can sum up as this.

  1. iPhone. Because they’re on AT&T already, or Verizon and want one because everyone has them and they’re easy to use.
  2. Android. Because they’re on T-Mobile or Sprint or don’t want to spend the money on an iPhone and associated contract.

The iPhone people are usually set once we setup their corporate email for them. They have few questions overall.

The Android people… look out! They’ll be waiting for you. The biggest frustration in trying to help with Android phones is trying to find which version of Android they actually have.

What dessert powers your phone?

After that, the next step is looking at the device, who made it, and which candy coating they slapped atop Google’s stock Android interface.

I used a Motorola Droid for over a year and was very comfortable with Android. I had a Google Experience phone which was code for “Stock Android phone.” There was no glossy, clunky UI over it.

The Android phones in the wild today could be running Android 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, or 3.0 and have HTC Sense, Motorola Blur, Touchwiz, or Timescape UIs running on top of that.

Now we’re at two layers of confusion for the user.

As an exercise, try walking someone through adding a Gmail account to their shiny new Android device over the phone. They’re at the store, or at home or ((My personal favorite)) about to board an airplane and they need help.

Maybe this will help you.

Android is a wonderful OS and has a lot of power and potential and offered a low-cost alternative to Apple and a freed a lot of people from Blackberries.

However, trying to support them in a business setting can be very time-consuming and frustrating for all involved.

The phone’s owner expect the IT staff to be experts on their phone. Having to learn the basics of navigation and naming on the user’s phone slows down the support process. ((Count the number of ways to get access to “Corporate Email” there are on Android phones.))

Normal people do not make technology purchases without consulting the trusted source. Whether it be their spouse, family member, IT Guy at work or ((God help them!)) the salesperson at the store, they will ask someone for advice. In many cases, they’ll follow that advice blindly.

They don’t know what they want. They’re not sure how to figure out what they want. They’ll follow the advice of the trusted source or sales rep and hope for the best.

Berries rotting on the vine

I look up from my screens to see a sales rep standing over me. I can tell he’s frustrated. Before I can open my mouth, he slings his Android phone down on my desk. How do I know it’s an Android? It’s always an Android.

“I can’t type on this thing! I can’t see pictures in my email! I can’t get the company email setup! Can you show me how to use this thing?

He has gone out and bought an Android phone. He moved to it from the Blackberry Whatever he had before. He’s used a Blackberry for years. He misses his tiny tactile keyboard. He misses the familiar corral of icons. He misses that every single Blackberry looks like its predecessor. ((With minor changes.))

Why did he buy something he doesn’t want to use or even likes? He wants to do more with his phone. Maybe he wants to use Twitter and Facebook. Maybe he wants to stream music. Maybe he wants to graze through a vast application landscape. Maybe he simply wants a decent web browser.

Not a week passes when I don’t meet another Blackberry switcher. He’s left the comfortable, familiar tap-tap of the keyboard behind. He’s leapt headfirst into the alien world of Android phones because he wants more. ((And isn’t on AT&T or Verizon or doesn’t want an iPhone.))

He wants a web browser that can reasonably assemble a modern web page. ((He doesn’t care about flash.)) He wants to read the links he gets sent throughout the day. He wants to pull up the NY Times. He wants to check his stocks or send a quick Tweet. He wants to look at the new pictures of his niece that just popped up on Facebook. He wants all of this outside s tiny picture window. He wants the luxurious 3″ or 4″ display.

He wants more and more is not what RIM((Research in Motion)) is delivering. They got left behind. Apple’s iOS devices are eating their lunch Microsoft and Google ((and their army of partners)) stole the leftovers and their wallets. Just today, announced 2,000 layoffs.

People all across our company are dumping their Blackberries and moving to iPhones or Androids. ((I rarely see the iPhone people. Email setup is simple and consistent across providers.)) Judging from the news, this is not unique to our company.

It’s always the Android folks that stand over my desk or grab me in the hallways. It doesn’t matter which Android phone they’ve purchased on which carrier. Their tale of woe is always the same.

I miss the stock “Google Experience” my original Motorola Droid provided me. It’s a maze of skins and user interfaces out there now and trying to walk someone through a simple task like setting up email is an exercise in futility.

Every Android is unique to each provider and manufacturer has to put their mark on Android so even if you can successfully navigate one phone, a similar phone can have a completely different UI. ((It’s very frustrating from a support perspective to provide documentation or help over the phone.))

Every week I see more and more people turning from the Blackberries to Androids because they’re cheaper than iPhones and they offer a similar experience.

RIM is losing their base of business men with a choice. They will still cling to the government employees and those with more draconian IT departments but the writing is on the wall.

No one is buying Playbooks. ((We got one to test out but it’s almost useless without a Blackberry paired to it.)) No one is buying Blackberries. They all look the same.((Storm and Torch being the exceptions.)) There has been no innovation in the Blackberry patch in some time.

Instead of producing new phones and creative ideas, they’re pushing out the same phones over and over with slight differences. They are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as the ship goes down.

Software shouldn’t require instruction

Over at Practical Opacity, J. Eddie Smith writes,

If iOS proves anything it’s that software doesn’t necessarily require instruction.

I could not agree more with him about the ease of iOS devices. I work in a large media company and everyday more of our journalists and writers are moving from Blackberries to iPhones and Android devices. This is in addition to the piles of iPads being purchased and used by everyone from the top down.

There is one major difference between those who buy iPhones/iPads and those who opt for Android devices. After adding company email to the device, I never see the iOS users again.

For the Android users, I am consistently stopped in the hallway or emailed about some minor problem or question. It does not matter if the user is young or old, male or female, savvy or not. The questions always begin with, “How do I…?”

The iOS users do not need helping learning how to use the device. Even adding an exchange-hosted email address to the device is a simple PDF I wrote that is emailed to them.

The Android users inevitably need help adding their company email to the phone. They always have questions about how to do something or how to use the device.

This is frustrating because each Android device is just different enough to be utterly confusing to use. Whether it be the MotoBlur or the HTC Sense or some other abomination, it is a confusing mess.

When I had an Android phone, I used the original Motorola Droid. I chose this phone primarily because it was a “Google Experience” phone which meant it was a standard Android OS without any third-party OS tacked atop it.

If every Android phone looked the same or at least similar, they would be far easier to support and explain to their respective owners.

I would address Android tablets but I’ve yet to come across one. The IT department even ordered a Blackberry Playbook for evaluation. The company recently purchased about a dozen Google TVs for conferences rooms and other offices. However, I’ve yet to see a single Android tablet come through the front door.

This is pretty damning for Android. As a company that lives and breathes on the web and has iOS apps for its flagship publications, Android doesn’t even warrant a single mention or presence.

Xooming Thunderbolts

Motorola XOOM

The Motorola XOOM is a terrible name. When I hear it, the last thing I think of is an Android tablet. It’s just another entry in the long parade of Android tablets.

Xoom will always be a free web hosting service I used to use back in the mid-90s. My first web site was hosted at This was until NBC bought them out and turned it into and eventually killed off the hosting side of the business in 1999 and NBCi folded in mid-2001. The domain now redirects to Xoom as a web host still lives on in an Italian version at is now a money transfer site, which looks like a PayPal clone.


The HTC Thunderbolt is a 4G Android phone coming soon to Verizon. The phone has been delayed according to Best Buy and in the meantime, Apple has used the name Thunderbolt as their name for the new Intel LightPeek technology.

Unlike the XOOM that had about a decade between usages, the competing Thunderbolts seem like more of a coincidence than anything else. I find it interesting that the two Thunderbolts are being used and released so close together.

Android Apps I Use and Love

With the growing discontent with AT&T and the holidays there have been a flood of new Android users in the world. Being that I’ve had my Motorola Droid for about a year, I’ve gotten asked for recommendations about apps from a couple of friends. Instead of continuing to resend the same email, I thought I’d share my list here.

All of these applications are usable on a stock, unrooted Android install. I had long ago rooted my Droid to get faster access to OS updates and greater functionality (the original Droid can support wireless tethering!) but chose not to include those apps here. Additionally, I did my mobile gaming on the iPod and Nintendo DSi so I never installed and games so there are none listed here. It does not mean there are no good Android games. Fun Fact: I have never played Angry Birds, on any platform. I did not include any stock apps that ship with the phone. I don’t need to tell you how amazing the Google Maps voice navigation is, it replaced my need for a standalone GPS.

There are plenty of rooting tutorials online you can find, of course, it violates the warranty, do at your own risk, etc etc. If you’re interested in taking that route, I’d recommend the excellent Cyanogenmod community or Peter Alfonso’s Bugless Beast.

AppBrain Free.
The app and combined are a far better Android Market! Get this first. Do not proceed until you have done this! The syncing of apps and updates will improve your life immensely. The searching and being able to see what others use is worth the price of admission alone.

All links to applications in this article are to Appbrain. I wasn’t kidding about it being great.

Fast Web Installer for AppBrain Free.
Imagine going to and searching for an app you want. Click the install button and reach for your phone. Only to realize your phone has already installed the app. That’s how fast (and downright cool) it is.

Twitter / Seesmic Both Free.
Each app has it’s strengths and weaknesses. The Twitter app has a custom and unique interface that you’ll either love or hate but it only supports one account. The Twitter app will also sync with your phone’s contacts.

Seesmic supports multiple accounts and both the native retweet style and the older quote and retweet style. I used both and enjoyed both.

Tumblr Free.
If you’re a Tumblr user, snag this app. I helped beta test it and it’s great!

Tumblroid $1.56, free Lite version. I got the paid version and used it to send posts to my photo blog. It handles multiple accounts better than the official Tumblr app.

Facebook Free.
If you’re on Facebook, this is the app for you. Has the additional benefit of syncing friends contact information to their contact on the phone. If a friend updates a phone number or address, it will automatically update in your phone’s address book automagically.

Google Reader Free.
I do not care to read feeds on such a small screen and this app was released about a week before I left the Android platform so I didn’t spend much time with it but if you use Google Reader the app will not disappoint.

mNote Free.
If you are not using SimpleNote stop right now and get it. In a nutshell, SimpleNote is a notepad app that syncs to the cloud and across anything with a network connection. It’s Dropbox for your text. There’s a slew of apps for every platform you can think of. It’s the notepad that Notepad or Text Edit should have been.

Dropbox Free.
Imperative to a healthy file syncing/accessing lifestyle! If you are not using Dropbox I am not sure we can remain (or become?) friends. Dropbox is magic. Imagine a folder on your computer where you save files… And those files are accessible to you everywhere. On your phone, on another computer you use, even on the web. Dropbox is that folder.
You save a file to the Dropbox folder on your computer and it is not only securely stored online and accessible through their website, but it also syncs to the Dropbox folder on your other computers. Similarly, there are a bevy of applications for Android, blackberry and iPhones.
On top of all this, Dropbox will keep multiple versions of your file. Have you ever deleted a file you needed or made a change then regretted it? Dropbox will let you go back in time and reclaim that file or undo that change. All for free.

Epistle Free.
I did a fair bit of writing on my Droid and Epistle was a perfect app for it. It presents you with a blank screen to fill with words. The benefit being it syncs to Dropbox so anything you write on your phone syncs to the cloud and every other device connected to your Dropbox. The app is great for writing or editing or even capturing thoughts when you’re away from something with a proper keyboard.

Jorte Free.
Calendar/task/todo app. Combines all the calendars on the phone and displays them overlaid into one big calendar. Jorte is like Google Calendar for the phone.

Barcode Scanner Free.
Does what it says. Scan books or items in a store. Scan a special QR Code to install apps, useful for AppBrain installs. Very simple app that does what it says. If you have a Barcode, this app will scan it.

Shazam Free.
Perfect for those times you walk into a store and think, what is that song on the stereo?

Evernote Free.
Evernote is the perfect place to keep your ideas and syncs to everything. This is your Everything Bucket. Toss something in there, tag it, sort it, and keep it with you.

Battery Left Widget Free.
Great Battery life widget. This is not an app, so you need to add it as a widget for it to work. The app will take a couple days to “learn” your phone’s battery and it will tell you how accurate its reporting is. But once it syncs and becomes accurate, it’s dead accurate down to the minute. It’s perfect for those times when you have X time and Y battery life and try to determine if you can complete that call or finish that song.

CallTrack Free.
Nerd Alert! This app logs your phone activity to a Google Calendar. You can choose incoming, outgoing, missed or any combination of them. I love it because I’m bad about remembering to call people back. It’s the perfect app for remembering to call your mother. Call your mother!

Lookout Free.
Antivirus (I keep mine off), but also does a “Find My Phone” and backup service. I use it primarily for the Find My Phone service. It’s free and offers peace of mind and backs up my photos and if I ever lose my phone, it would help me locate it. And every now and again I turn the AntiVirus on when there’s a news article about apps acting suspicious.

MotoTorch LED Free. (Requires phone with a flash)
Turns your camera’s flash into a flashlight. You have a nice bright light on the back of your phone, why not use it? It will also send Morse Code flashes and act as a strobe light.

PhoneUsage Free.
Keep track of your minutes/texts/data if you have a need to. Perfect if you’re not on an unlimited data plan and for keeping those minutes, text and KBs in check.

TLDR Free.
If you use Instapaper, this will let you send anything from the browser to Instapaper. This is not a reader. You can read nothing with this app. It will add Instapaper to your “sharing” menu so you can send things to Instapaper to read later.

UpStream $.99.
Flickr upload app. Allows full control for uploads. Anything you can tweak on the web, you can tweak here.

Beautiful Widgets $2.04.
If you have an HTC phone, ignore this one.
If not, then this app will give you the beautiful HTC-inspired widgets for everything from the clock, weather, and shortcuts to toggling Bluetooth, wifi, brightness, etc. My favorite feature was it would put the real-time weather up in the notification bar so it was available at a glance.

Moxier Mail $19.99, free two week trial.
Before I was able to root my Droid and get Android 2.2 the native email app was abysmal with Exchange accounts. Moxier Mail was much better and worked with our outdated Exchange 2003 server. Moxier Mails is a suite of apps giving you access to anything on the Exchange server Outlook can access right down to your stored notes and the GAL. It is a bit pricey at $19.99 but the updates are free and there’s a free two week trial. Try it out and you won’t be disappointed if you need to deal with Exchange servers.

I am a big photography nerd so this section is all about the camera apps I found and used. Minor camera UI rant When will app developers realize they don’t need to waste 80% of the screen with a picture of a camera? I get the idea. Just let me choose which camera I want to imitate and then shoot with it. I don’t need to see the back of what the original camera looked like.

Vignette $3.93.
This astounding app has about a billion different effects and frames to choose from and mix and match. I love the tilt shift effect most out of it and will confess to not using this nearly to its potential. It has the ability to set favorites so you can always get to the effects you love most in far fewer clicks.

Retro Camera Free.
If Vintage is your thing, this is the app for you. Polaroid, Lomo , toy camera and Holga effects all present and all free. Annoyingly small view window but still a good app.

FxCamera Free.
Possibly my favorite of the camera apps. It will support Polandroid (as it calls it) along with Fisheye, Warhol, Toycam and SymemetriCam views. I love the Polandroid effect and used it to start my Arctic Shooter photo blog. I swear by this app and used it daily. As an added benefit it will allow you to create a shortcut to a certain effect on one of your home screens. This was perfect for 1-click access to my Polandroid settings.

Camera 360 Free.
Camera360 is another one of those apps with a ton of effects. I love this app for the HDR effects and the advanced tilt shift effects. The app that has a ton of effects and they’re all high quality.

PicSay Pro $4.10.
Editing photos on a mobile device is still a pain but PicSay and the Pro version will give you flexibility to remove red eye, rotate, crop and even apply effects like faux HDR and tilt-shift to your photos on the move.

Adobe Photoshop Express Free.
As much as I expected to love this app, I actually found Picsay a lot more useful. However, for simple rotate, crop and save Photoshop performs as you’d expect. The app also provides access to Adobe’s online sharing which I never used. Free.
I didn’t do a lot of music listening on my Droid since I still owned an iPod Touch and dabbled in both worlds but the app is wonderful. Providing you full access to your libraries and radio stations. It was great in a pinch or if I wanted to find new music.

Audible Free.
If you listen to audio books, you need Audible. The native app allows you to download new books and provides stats as you listening and the same badge system the iPhone app has. It’s a great app and I love it.

SpeedTest Free.
How fast is your connection? This is the Android version of

Amazon Free.
The world’s biggest mall in convenient app form. A handy front end for the site including a barcode scanner for scanning the item you want to purchase and add it to your cart or wish list. A wonderful covert shopping tool when you’re out with the object of your desire and you want to surprise them later on.

Amazon MP3 Free.
Quick and easy access to the Amazon MP3 store. Great for grabbing new tunes on the go.

Google Listen Free.
If you like Podcasts like I do, Google Listen will find and download them for you to listen to. The selection is nowhere near what Apple’s Store offers but most of the major players are there. I’d recommend using it in tandem with HuffDuffer to create a unique RSS feed of podcasts to download and enjoy. It is not a great app and the selection is limited but it is better than nothing.

DoubleTwist & DoubleTwist AirSync DoubleTwist is Free. AirSync is $4.99.
DoubleTwist is the missing media app for your Android device. It is heads and tales above what ships even with Android 2.2 and will provide a working sync from iTunes most importantly. It also allows you to control your media from the lock screen. DoubleTwist AirSync is the companion app which does exactly what it says. It will allow you to wirelessly sync media from your Mac or PC. Wireless. iTunes. Syncing. This is not even something Apple will let you do. In my limited experience with it, it was somewhat buggy but it had also just been released. I am sure, as with DoubleTwist, it will continue to improve. Even then it was well worth the download and the price.

Good Morning Free.
No one likes to get up in the morning but let Good Morning make the transition from peaceful sleep to waking a little easier. This fantastic alarm will not only play music to lull you from slumber, it will also read the time, date, current weather conditions, and a customizable message if you choose. Then start in with music to make sure you’re up.

StopWatch & Timer Free.
A surprising omission from Android is the ability to set a simple timer. This app fills the need.

DC Metro Transit – Free Free.
If you live in the Washington DC area, this app will answer your “where is my train?” question by syncing to WMATA’s signal boards in the stations. It also provides maps and route information and will even include bus information.
One of my favorite features of AppBrain is the ability to set your list of applications to public and sharing them with other Android owners. Note: since I am now using an iPhone this list will not change but I am keeping it up for posterity.

Here’s my AppBrain application list. Due to a number of reasons, I have switched providers and now own an iPhone 4 so this list will not change and it merely included for posterity. I still really enjoy Android and both platforms have their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe I’ll write a similar post of my choices for iOS apps that haven’t been listed a million times over.

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