Thursday, April 3, 2014

The State of My Mobile Technology

I've got a pretty stupid problem.

In August of 2013, I purchased a Nokia Lumia 1020. This phone has hands-down the most amazing camera on a cell phone available today. It has rekindled my investigative spirit, encouraging me to put a lens in front of things and look at them.

Physically, it feels good in the hand - key for my tiny mitts - and is neither too heavy nor too light. The unibody construction is inspiring, and the optional camera grip gives it the extra weight to take some great shots.

I even like Windows Phone. I like its train depot interface metaphor, I like its relative speed and the fact that it always feels like it's doing something. Android's animations always made the phone feel slow to me, but the way the transitions are presented in Windows Phone 8 make the experience seem fluid and organic, both experiences missing from the pop-through and slide-back animations common to at least versions 4.2 and earlier of Android. The organizational structure of the start screen - mine - makes total sense, and there is no wasted screen life or space on a search widget I don't ever use or a background covered by an undersized grid of icons and widgets. These are problems I know alternative Launchers can solve on Android, but I hadn't experimented with that when the *camera* came out.

WP8 has, for the most part, the app support I need. I'm a little bummed there's no Canabalt, but there are enough other distractions to keep me busy, and the sharing and photo options available are perfect for a person like me. I didn't care about missing Instagram or Hipstamatic; I cared about being able to capture beautiful or thought provoking shots and put them through twitter at my friends and family. WP8 makes this undeniably easy, and the use of Microsoft's OneDrive for the storage means I have a fairly reliable home for those shared images for years to come, making it easier to find "that one thing, with the dog" or "that really cool spiderweb."

My view of Android devices had been tarnished by bad experiences with the Hero CDMA (which I got over) and the Wildfire S (which I also got over). The Evo Shift 4G and Galaxy S II T989 were both excellent phones for me and I had no serious complaints about either, except for maybe post-jellybean battery life on the T989. Even that was addressable. I made the switch away because of the *camera* and haven't really been unhappy.

With the exception of my Asus TF700, the least-rewarding technology experience I have ever had. The storage on that device is so slow it's hardly usable for anything except video streaming, and the audio output isn't really adequate for that purpose either. However, it's reminded me of the flexibility of the OS platform; as I've tried to come up with ways to enusable the thing, I've had to hack away at build.prop, with probably a dozen custom ROM installations, a few cache-to-RAM utilities, and have given thought to buying a speedy microSD card and just dumping the whole system to that.

So what's the hangup?

With Windows Phone 8.1 coming around the corner, I'm worried. Part of what I liked about Android was my Pebble smartwatch. It worked great for me on my T989, and I haven't been able to make full use of it since I made the switch to the Lumia. Major and serious thanks to Greg Banta for his work on the Pebble app currently available in the Windows Phone Store, as he's the only one that's given a ray of hope and a picture of the situation behind the scenes, making me hope for a cure for the devices' mutual unintelligibility sooner than later, with the promised revamping of the Bluetooth stack in WP8.1 and the possibility that the notification center would be accessible to third-party devices. But, 36 hours after the Build 2014 announcements about WP8.1, I've heard nothing about the SDK and support for wearable technologies. The SDK went out in February, meaning actual developers have had months to look at it and report back, and still nothing. I'd also like to get hold of a fitbit and figure out how to exercise as a part of my daily routine, and that capacity is also missing from the current WP8 scene. Nokia has announced a Sensorcore API or SDK or something, which one can hope will make it work, but I want to continue to see ways for my phone to help me in life, and fitness is the best way to do that, especially given the way the last couple years have gone.

I am anxiously awaiting the April 14th release of the WP8.1 developer preview. I am also anxiously awaiting news from developers on what new-to-the-platform technologies will be available. Unfortunately, anxiety comes with a price - as happy as I'll be if I get what I want, I will be impatient and want it sooner and sooner as time goes. I hope that writing these thoughts out will help to some extent, but if not, I may be making a return journey to Android through the Nexus 5, as it comes closest to representing what I need in a cell phone with a passable camera. The detail isn't there, but the optical stabilization is. I just don't know what I'll do to replace Nokia Camera's unbelievable manual flexibility.

Guess it's time to start researching...