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Becoming A MacBook User

After 25 years of system crashes, dozens of laptops failing under warranty, months of lost productivity in patches, system reboots, and restores I have finally had enough.    You might call it being stubborn.   I call it 25 years of retained knowledge that I refused to let go.   All the Windows shortcuts.  The black magic required to find system files and bend them to my needs.   Navigating system security.   Knowing nearly any app that existed so I could find the right tool for the job.

Then came Windows 8.   Half of that knowledge was now useless.    Even the decades-old F8 key press on system boot to get to safe mode to recover a broken PC was gone.   I learned that last week when my HP laptop went AWOL for the FIFTH TIME since December.    A $2500 high-end enterprise class HP laptop turn out to have been my second all-time productivity killer right behind my $3800 Asus top-of-the-line gaming laptop I bought a few years ago.    Lesson learned: It doesn’t matter how much you spend on a Windows Laptop it will break and the more costly it is the longer it takes to get parts to fix it.

The Camel Surrenders

This weekend was the last straw.    I literally spent nearly every hour of the past 4 days trying to get my primary development system, that HP laptop, back online.    What did I do to break it?   Installed a CRITICAL HP security update from their laptop-specific HP Support Assistant software.    When it rebooted the only thing I got was the Windows 8.1 version of the “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD)… the inevitable frowny-face which means 2 more auto-reboots to end up at the “Restore Your System” state.    Sadly system restore, system fresh, and even the Factory Restore Disk applications did not work.    That last one, Factory Reset was the best.  The ONE application that is the “nuke it all, restore the system to Day 1 status” did not work.   It could not run because there was a problem with the primary Windows installation.  AWESOME.   Why do you think I wanted to do a Factory Restore?  Because I was bored?  Because I had so much fun installing 5 days of downloaded apps to get my system setup the first time around?    Because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Windows 8 Frowny Face
Windows 8. Yup, 🙁 just about sums it up.

Well, that last statement may be true given my opening remarks in this article… but I digress…

I had now added SIX MORE FULL DAYS of lost productivity to my lifelong count of 1,356.9 days lost trying to restart a broken windows PC.

Midway through day FOUR of lost productivity I had enough.    I called the local Apple Store to see if they had the newest MacBook Pro available.   Sadly they were out of stock, but my favorite online shopping site, Amazon and their Smile charity program, had the laptop I wanted and at a LOWER PRICE even after the $5 overnight Prime shipping!

New Toys

Today the MacBook Pro arrived.

My old HP laptop, that sat their in defiance all weekend with that damned frowny-face on EVERY ONE of the 18 RESTARTS, I wish I was exaggerating, booted up like nothing was ever wrong literally 90 SECONDS after I opened that MacBook Pro box.    I swear I heard a wav file playing from it’s speakers in  whispered-voice that sounded an awful lot like “Oh shit, he wasn’t kidding when he said 25 years of Windows was enough!”.

MacBook Arrives And HP Plays Nice
As soon as I booted up the MacBook and took the HP out to take some size-comparison pics the HP decide to play nice. Too little, too late HP-Z. It was real… and by that I mean a real PITA.

The Apple Package

My brand new MacBook Pro 15″ laptop.    I had forgotten the great job Apple does packing their products.   I remember being impressed the first time I opened my first-generation iPhone some years ago.  I did notice other companies started to copy the “Apple style” for gadgets-in-a-box and I thought the most recent laptops and phones I got from other brands were “just like what Apple was doing”.   Turns out Apple has pushed the envelope even further as they continue to refine the product packaging.    Yes, it is a small thing, but it show how Apple seems to iterate over every element of the customer experience until it is perfect; until tomorrow when they come up with something better.

Apple Packaging
Apple packaging is clean & simple. Others try to mimic but Apple just has that little-something extra.

A Laptop For Laps

Immediately I noticed how THIN this new Apple laptop was.   It has just about the same technical specifications as the HP ZBook 17″ I’ve been lugging around.     Nearly identical processors,  identical RAM, the same video ports, and a 512GB SSD drive (far faster) on the MacBook versus a 768GB SATA on the HP.   The MacBook screen is a touch smaller at 15.4″ to the HP 17″.    But DAMN is this Apple machine so, so, so much smaller and lighter and easier to tote around than that HP.    Even bringing the HP into the living room to hack around was a chore and after 15 minutes on my lap I could feel my legs going numb from the weight and the heat that thing throws off.

Lightweight MacBook Pro versus Heavyweight HP
This MacBook Pro is going to be SOOOOO much nicer to haul around. A true portable PC. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it. Come to think of it I just decided I want to travel more…

This Apple is going to be FAR easier to travel with this fall.     I’m going to truly enjoy how much less size and weight I carry around both around town and to the various conferences I hope to get to around the country this year.

External Displays

I must say that the Windows display system is far more flexible than the OS/X system.   However the OS/X display system in this MacBook actually WORKS right out of the box.     Within minutes I had 2 external HP ZR2440W monitors, which are really nice monitors by the way, connected with the proper resolution and display placement.   What did I have to do to get my 3-up display system working on the new MacBook?  Plug them in.    That’s it.    Nothing more.

On that high-end HP laptop that claims “out of the box support for 5 monitors”?   Turns out that is a lie.   It can handle 3 monitors.   Even with the “simple” 2 external monitors + the laptop display, same setup as my new MacBook, it was far from “plug-and-play”.    I had to download and install a new BIOS on the brand new HP laptop.   Then I had to install a new Video BIOS.   Then I had to install new drivers.  Upgrade Windows.   The entire process required 3 reboots and even then it did not work properly.  Any time the system went into sleep mode one of the  monitors, a random one each time, would not come back.    I got a patch from HP 2 months later for that, which required another download and reboot process.

3 Displays No Problem
3 Displays. No driver installs. No BIOS updates. No reboots. Winner? Apple by a mile.

The Out Of The Box Display Support winner is the MacBook Pro 15″ by a mile.

The next display test?   Connecting THREE external IPS displays to the MacBook.   Rumor has it this is “no problem” according to the Apple Store.   When my mini-displayport to display port cable comes in later this week I’ll let you know, but we’re off to a good start.

External USB Ports

The MacBook Pro is a bit shy on USB ports.   It has a couple, but that’s one less than I need and one less than my HP laptop.     Actually 5 less if you count the HP docking station but I’m sure I can buy a $300 Apple accessory that adds more ports if needed.     Instead I tried to do something that NEVER WORKED properly on the HP laptop; use the 4 USB ports that come with EACH ZR2440W monitor.

With my older HP laptop I went through over a DOZEN USB driver updates, monitor driver updates, and even had a full monitor replaced before I could get even HALF the USB ports working that are built into the displays.    Supposedly you can connect a USB cable from the laptop to the monitor and immediately have all 4 ports recognized by the USB bus.    The high-end HP enterprise-class laptop connected to a high-end HP enterprise monitor was a bust.     When the ports did work only half would work properly and any device attached would drop off the USB bus at random intervals.    I could never use my keyboard or mouse with that setup.   I had to buy that HP docking station to give my system 4 additional STABLE USB ports.  The ports in the monitors were useless.

With the MacBook Pro I decided to give it another shot.  I connected a port on the laptop to one of the monitor ports.   I connected my keyboard, Logitech unify dongle, and Wacom table dongle to the monitor.     Everything worked beautifully, perfectly, and with ZERO configuration on my part.     I’ve now written this entire article without a single dropout from the keyboard or mouse.

External USB device support winner?  Apple.  By a mile.

Getting My Stuff

Over the past few days I’ve had my development environment scattered between the Mac Mini, a broken HP laptop, and some USB drives.   Now I need to get tens-of-gigabytes of files, install packages, and data over to my new laptop.

Getting ANYTHING on Windows 8.1 to talk to anything else is a disaster.    It has been since all the way back to Windows 7 when NT server-class security technology crept into the desktop OS.    Getting any Windows PC to share anything is an exercise in patience.    That is why the entire hokey “Homegroup” sharing thing came about.   It work, but it is SLOWWWW.   Somehow Windows managed to find a way to throttle their own Windows-To-Windows network transfers with some fancy restart-where-you-left-off transfer protocol.  The entire thing is FUBAR.

On the MacBook Pro I found that getting anything from my Mac Mini was blissfully easy.    HOLY SHIT why can’t Microsoft make it this easy.     On the MacBook I went to Finder and immediately found my MacBook mini (where I had turned on File Sharing from System Preferences early in the week by checking a box… no driver or security configurations needed).    Click on that MacBook Mini listing and it asks for my username and password on that system.    I turn it on and guess what?   All my shit is there.    Quick, easy, and accessible.

Installing Sonos From Remote Mac
Honestly, I never expected it to work. I guess that is the norm for a shell-shocked Windows user, but installing things from my older Mac Mini downloads folder was quick and painless.

So what did I try next? Something super crazy that just NEVER WORKS RIGHT on Windows systems.   I decided to run the Oracle VirtualBox and Karabiner installs from off that Mac Mini without copying the files over to my MacBook Pro first.    It ran fast as heck and perfectly, just as if I had run it from the local disk.     HOLY CRAP.   I though for sure it would barf all over itself and require a system reboot and restore like so many remote Windows installs I tried over the past 25 years.

Bluetooth Sharing

This is something I tried to do for months with the HP laptop, and several other PCs before that.   Send a file using bluetooth from my Android phone to the laptop.    On the HP I could get the devices paired and the send/accept file started but it NEVER finished the transfer.  It always aborted no matter the file size.

On OS/X Mavericks?   Pair the devices.  Go to sharing in System Preferences and check “Bluetooth sharing”.    Go to the phone and share via bluetooth.    The “accept file” dialog shows up on OS/X and guess what?  The file actually APPEARED in the downloads folder just like it should.    No extra drivers to install.  No security warnings.  It just plain worked.   Nice!

Summary

Yes, this is all little stuff, but in my first HOUR of working with the MacBook Pro I am already impressed.   Yes I’ve used OS/X before but never have I had much interest in getting things DONE quickly and exactly the way I wanted.   My prior forays into OS/X have been purely as a secondary system to my Windows development boxes where OS/X only existed to supported some IOS development as needed.    But this time around I’m going “all in” and thus far I am impressed enough by the “simple little stuff” and how much better it is than the Windows experience that I had to share.

Yes, all things will likely go to hell soon enough.    I have a unique ability to break ALL THINGS that use spinning electrons to do their magic. But so far I’m liking this new toy.  If it holds together for more than a week without my breaking it I will be truly impressed.    We shall see how good this Apple deal really is.

If it doesn’t work out you may find me tending bar somewhere around town in the next few weeks.

If it does work out, on the other hand, Apple may have just converted another Windows user and I could be one of the biggest “Apple Fan Boys” yet.

 

 

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Sonos Service’s Little Secret

Sonos Banner Slacker Out

I learned something new about my Sonos music players this morning that I REALLY don’t like.

EVERYTHING you do with Sonos is handled through a centralized Sonos server.   

Want to play your Slacker music?  Sonos servers manage that for you.    Pandora?   Amazon Music?   ANY music that you thought was on YOUR account at the music service provider?  Sonos gets in the middle.

My assumption, which is clearly incorrect, was that once you set up your Sonos controller app on your tablet and paired it to a Sonos speaker and added your favorite music service, Sonos got out of the way.  I figured they maintained an account profile on a Sonos server that keeps what music services and stations you like, but after the “initial handshake” to share those details with your mobile app the Sonos servers handed everything off.    Sure, if you add a new station or add a new service the app talk to the Sonos server, but when playing music… that must be between the app itself and the music service only, right?

Wrong.

That is so wrong.

Sonos Servers In The Middle

EVERYTHING you do with Sonos goes through their server.   Skip a song?  Your Sonos controller sends that command to a centralized Sonos server which in turn relays the command to Slacker and then returns the Slacker response to your app and all the Sonos components in your house.

Not a big deal, right?

Well, it sort of is a big deal.

Slacker Offline at Sonos
Slacker Offline at Sonos

The BIGGEST issue is that any time Sonos servers crash you cannot play your music.    How often does THAT happen?   Servers NEVER crash these days, right?  WRONG.    Today Sonos servers are broken.  They cannot talk to the Slacker servers.   That means NOT A SINGLE SONOS PLAYER IN THE WORLD can play Slacker music.   Slacker from ANY OTHER DEVICE?  No problem.    Your $300 Sonos Play 3? Nope?  The $500 Play 5?  Nope.    The $2000 worth of paired speakers from Sonos… NO SLACKER.   Sorry.   Someone at Sonos messed up, or one of their vendors, or someone that manages the Sonos account at Slacker… regardless of whom is to blame… if you own Sonos equipment you cannot access your Slacker stations.

That sucks.  Especially since Slacker is my go-to premium music service and all this Sonos equipment + Slacker premium music channels with thousands of rated and custom-curated stations is now useless to me.

 

Sonos Problems Are Your Problems

Even more important are the revelations of what this means:

– If Sonos goes out of business your Sonos hardware is useless.

– If Sonos screws up and writes bad server software your Sonos controller and hardware apps will break.

– If the people managing the Sonos servers, whether in the cloud of self-hosted, mess up and the servers crash your Sonos system is unusable.

– If the vendor that provides the network connections cuts a line and the network goes down at Sonos your equipment is a very expensive paper weight.

In other words, if ANYTHING goes wrong over in “Sonos Server World” your costly music hardware suddenly looks like a bad investment.

 

Music Privacy?

We don’t even need to discuss privacy issues, do we?    Not that I listen to anything that would raise and eyebrow of even the most prudish conservative listeners out there… OK, well maybe that is not QUITE true with thins like Eminem on my playlists, BUT I certainly am not listening to things like “live sex talk” on Sonos…. BUT…. if I were to do so guess who would be able to keep a record of all that?  Sonos.   Yup, that’s right.    Sonos is listening… and it only takes on hack from the our government friends over at the NSA for them to be seeing EVERYTHING YOU LISTEN TO thanks to the centralized Sonos servers.

Welcome To The NSA
Welcome To The NSA

I don’t ever recall being notified that Sonos has access to my bans or favorites, what stations I listen to, when I listen to them… but they do it.    Did I accept that intrusion in some privacy policy somewhere?  One of those “click if you agree” boxes I NEVER READ (trust me, if you did you’d NEVER accept ANY OF THEM and you’d have ZERO access to technology… go read the Android release, or FaceBook, or Twitter, or Google… to paraphrase all of them “we can do whatever the hell we damn like, if you don’t like it… leave”)…

Yup, it sucks.   I can’t use Slacker today because someone over at Sonos or at one of their vendors screwed up.

Yes, Sonos is very likely tracking all of my likes and dislikes without my knowledge or consent.

But I still like the system and my techno-geek DNA will not let me STOP using the service because of it.

Now I just have to sit-and-wait until someone over as Sonos fixes this mess.

In the meantime, at least I can feel good about at least telling SOMEONE that Sonos is “listening” to you… so now you are at least a little more informed than I was up until a few hours ago.

 

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Pro Monitors versus Home Monitors

Monitor Shopping Banner

For years I’ve been buying mid-cost monitors for my business and for my personal use.   They are not the cheapest monitors, but they are definitely in the “cost conscious” category when it comes to monitors.   My typical “pain point” is the $250 mark.    Since I like to buy my monitors “paired” so I can use a dual monitor setup I don’t like to get to far over that range.  If possible I like to be under $200 for something with good resolution.   I don’t worry too much about color both because I’m not a graphic designer and because I am color blind (yes, I can see color, but not ALL colors).   So I look for something high resolution and fairly big.     I try to get something with good customer reviews but tend to shy away from the “editor’s choice” or “top rated” monitors mostly because they ignore my $250 rule.  A few things have changed over the past year that has also changed my thinking about monitors.

First, as a work-at-home dad I am now spending all my computer time on the SAME set of monitors.  I am no longer going from a set of monitors at home to a set of monitors at work.   That for the hours I am on a computer they are always spent viewing the same screen.    That also means buying 2 monitors instead of 4.    In theory I should be comfortable with spending $500/monitor, but after more than a decade of training myself to never look above $250 it is a hard habit to break.

Second, after closing my last business and deciding to spend more time with family in between hacking WordPress plugins for a living, I hoarded a bunch of computer equipment I was interested in after the business closed.  That included a bunch of monitors (all my friends and family got upgrades, side bonus of closing a 12-person office).   I ended up with a 3-way monitor setup  as my daily setup.   To be honest I originally started with 4 monitors but my video card in the HP Envy 17 could not handle it and the desktop computer put out way too much heat.    I also couldn’t see that much real-estate with two 27-inch, a 25-inch, and a 24-inch monitor.    It also just looked ugly as the resolution was the same but pixels sizes varied widely.     But I did learn one thing, for a coder the 3-way monitor is absolutely the most efficient setup you can have.     While EVERYONE, other than the casual home user, benefits greatly from a dual-monitor setup, coders have a unique environment in which three monitors is the magic number.     There are a lot of blog articles that tend to agree with this assessment.  If you code for a living, try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Third, as I get older I find that along with everything else, my eyes can’t keep up.   I need to take breaks from being in front of the computer screen more often and my eyes are “tired” after much shorter sessions of staring down the code as I try to bend it to do my bidding.

Time For An Investment

After a month of “thinking about it”, doing research on all kinds of monitors, thinking about it some more, deciding I wanted three 24 or 25″ monitors (27″ is just far too spread out to keep everything “in my field of vision”), and then waiting/wanting/hoping the monitor I had selected would come down in price… I finally did it.  I bit the bullet and bought a higher end monitor that was a good bit outside of my $250 price point.   After selecting what I felt would be the right monitor for me, I went price shopping.    I found the best price after shipping to be at ProVantage (which, was true 2 days ago… as I edited this article to put the links in place the price has jumped by to $457.26 from $342.29…33% price increase in 24 hours!) .   Any time I need to get business class computer equipment that is restricted from consumer channels (like Amazon or Best Buy) I end up at ProVantage more often than not.  I’ve used them many times before and trust them, though they often lose out on the Amazon Prime products thanks to the shipping differential.  In this case Amazon Prime does not carry the monitor I selected, though they have other vendors with free shipping that DO carry the monitor (and are now LESS costly than ProVantage).

So I spent $350 for a monitor and decided to give it a try.     If the monitor really was the much better than ALL of the 6 other monitors I have in my household, 3 different ones on my desk alone, I would go “all in” and purchase the other 2 to round out the “pairing” or “tripling” as the case may be.

Was It Worth It?

Well, lets just say that less than 3 hours after getting my new monitor setup I ordered the other 2 monitors.   So yes, definitely worth it.  But why?

Some of the deciding factors are definitely due to the feature set of the monitor.   These features can be found on consumer grade and home monitors.    However finding the combination of ALL these things is rare, as I discovered in the month of research before making a decision.     However the PRIMARY deciding factor was the overall clarity of the monitor.     Both surfing the web and  reviewing code text was instantly clearer and more legible on the new monitor.    All 3 monitors on my desk are HP models.   They are 25″, 24″ (the new one), and 27″.   None are “low end” but tow are considered high-end and some of the best monitors for consumer use over the past 2 years.

ProVantage $350 Monitors
ProVantage $350 Monitors

What factors made me decide to swap all 3 monitors to the new one?

  • Text is easier to read.
  • Contrast is better, the difference between the light and dark tones is less “muddied”.
  • The new screen is 1900×1200 (16:10) versus 1920×1080 (16:9)… that extra 120 pixels is 3+ full lines of extra code in the same space and I really prefer the taller v. wider format.
  • The screen has 4 built-in USB ports which means I can eliminate by USB hub = 1 less device + 1 less power cord.
  • The stand rotates, tilts (a lot), and has a a great vertical adjustment.   I didn’t realize how much I missed the ability to make the monitor “tall” and get it properly in my line of site without using boxes or stands.
  • The monitor has DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort options.  The DisplayPort means one less adapter to deal with.
  • The bezel is a matte finish v. high gloss.   This makes a BIG difference, surprisingly more than I thought.
  • The monitor has a very light anti-glare coating versus the “oooohhhh SHINY like Apple” screen which looks great when it is off or in a dark room but otherwise makes a great mirror.
  • Did I mention text is easier to read?   A LOT easier.

Granted some of these features can be found on other monitors, but ALL the features in one place?  Not so much.    In addition there are some other features I like that didn’t push me to the decision but I still like the thought such as the down-facing connections so I can get the monitor tight to the wall if I decide to mount it like the old monitor (going with a 3-way stand for now).   The neck of the monitor has a pop-out plate for routing cables THROUGH the neck, keeping them neatly corralled near the base of the monitor.    The control buttons are right on the front of the bezel, while behind-the-bezel buttons look cleaner it is a major PITA for the one time you need to adjust something and cannot find the buttons… really for a work computer I don’t care and don’t even see those 4 small buttons on the front while I’m working.     The stand attaches and DETACHES with the best neck-to-monitor system I’ve seen yet.  It snaps in place and a push of a button releases it for when you want/need to attach your wall mount or tri-stand when they arrive 6 hours after the monitor did… which you had to open right to play with and thus attach the neck even though you knew more parts were coming.

So What Did I Get?

My final choice was the 24″ HP ZR2440w.    Below are a couple of pics that show the difference between this monitor and the HP2509M when viewing text.   Besides the moire patterns inherent in non-synced digital imaging of displays, you can also see a distinct difference in contrast and clarity.  Using a digital camera highlights the difference more than is perceptible to the naked eye, but as my code-geek buddy Rob said as soon as he saw the ZR2440 today… “Holy Crap!  I can even see that text from here without my glasses on.”    That is saying something as the monitor is a 24″ versus the 25″ and 27″ it sits beside.

HP ZR2404w versus HP 2509m
HP ZR244ow versus HP 2509m. The text clarity of the professional ZR2440w compared to the consumer 2509m is astounding.

The other picture is of the monitor itself with camera flash on versus the HP2711x monitor.    Both the HP2509M and HP2711x are designed as “look pretty on the shelf in the retail showroom” and “look nice when watching Blu-Ray DVDs in a dark room”.   They do look great if you play games & use the monitors for home theater in controlled lighting conditions.  But during a normal work day with daylight coming in a window and nothing-but code and base graphics on the screen the  ZR2440w blows them away.   No contest.    You can see how big a difference the little bit of anti-glare makes versus the consumer monitors.   Every light source reflects, whether you notice it or not, on the “oooohhhh sooooo shiny and Apple-like” monitors.  That is NOT a good thing for coding as all those light sources are competing for attention when you are looking at the screen.

HP ZR2440w for Code
HP ZR2440w for Code. The camera flash is on to show the glare from other light sources. Glare is minimal.
The HP 2711x glare is very noticeable versus the 2440w.  Good for movies in a dark room, not so much for coding.
The HP 2711x glare is very noticeable versus the 2440w. Good for movies in a dark room, not so much for coding.

I had considered a few others but the reviews, features, and pricing all came together for me with this monitor.    I wanted 24″ or 25″ for the triple setup.   I wanted VESA mounts so I take up less desk space with stands.  I have a wall arm that takes ZERO desk space and LOVE IT, so the triple stand with a single footprint may work but I feel I’ll be doing 3 swing arms soon.   I also wanted native DisplayPort and HDMI connections for my HP Envy 17.   That is because the laptop can drive 2 DisplayPort monitors AND an HDMI monitor at full resolution and full refresh rate.  If you use adapters on the DisplayPort connections and drive 3 monitors weird things can happen to the refresh rate or resolution.

So 24/25″, Vesa mount, and DisplayPort + HDMI connectors limited the marked to surprisingly few monitor choices.    A Dell monitor was in the mix and some lesser-known off-shore brands that had good reviews.  Maybe the off-shore would have worked but I’ve learned to go with quality brands you know.

In the end the HP ZR2440w turns out to have been a great choice.     Sadly so, possibly.    Now that I’ve spoiled myself with this level of display I doubt I’ll ever go back to anything less.  In fact I’m wondering how much nicer the $1200 displays I was briefly contemplating really look with all that color perfection.     Good thing I’m color blind and can talk myself out of those options!

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HTC Incredible 4G LTE Drivers

No matter what I tried I could not get my new HTC Incredible 4G LTE to show up on my Windows 7 (64-bit) system.   I found a TON of posts and sites, mostly spam sites, giving me advice or trying to get me to install something I didn’t need.    At the end of the day the solution that worked is ridiculously simple.

How I Got Win 7 To See My Incredible

Two easy steps:

1) Make sure I was not running in debug mode (not a default, but I develop mobile apps so I had this on).

2) Select “Media Sync” as the mount mode.

Turning On Media Sync

If your phone is acting normally it will sense the connection to a PC when you connect the USB cable.  If not, make sure you are using a qualified micro-USB cable that provides both data and power connections.  The cable that came with your phone definitely has this as will 99% of after-market cables.    I had “mucked with” my phone so much that that connection did not always come up.

You can change the connection type manually by going to your phone settings, and going to “Connect to PC” and changing default type to “Media sync”.  Disconnect and re-connect the phone.     When I did this my phone magically was recognized by Windows 7 and the phone driver was automatically installed.

My HTC Incredible 4G LTE is shown as an “Android Phone” device name “ADR6410LVW”.

HTC Incredible 4G LTE Driver Details
My HTC Incredible 4G LTE driver details.

Failed Attempts

Oddly enough with ANY other mode the phone was seen as connected but windows update would always say “could not locate driver” and leave it as an unrecognized device.   I also had downloaded the HTC Sync Manager and installed it.  That created a folder in my Program Files (x86) directory with Windows 7 64-bit drivers as a folder but NONE of those drivers, even after installing them manually worked properly.

Some of the things I tried:

Verizon Backup Assistant

Huge bloated software that tries to be a PC backup for your media, but is a poor excuse for a backup app.  If you want backup go use Crash Plan.   In addition the Verizon Backup Assistant, or BA Plus as they call it, requires Apple QuickTime.  Talk about bloat.  Then when it runs it is very unstable and hangs frequently.   Worst of all it never “saw” the HTC Incredible so the threads that said this would install the proper drivers did not help one bit.

HTC Sync Manager

Much cleaner & lighter than the Verizon app, and a native Windows 64-bit application.   It looked like a nice UI and did create a drivers folder with HTC Incredible 4g drivers for Windows 7.  In fact I may very well need those when I do my Android apps and need to connect with the ADB (Android Device Bridge) but they DID NOT help my PC “see” the Incredible and I could not mount it as a hard drive in either “Disk Drive” or “HTC Sync” mode.

Summary

At the end of the day simply changing the connection type to “Media Sync” got all the pieces I needed.   Hopefully that will work for you as well.  If not, here is the driver kit that was installed “automagically” for me in my Windows System 32 folders:

DRIVERS\UMDF\WpdMtpDr.dll  6.1.7600.16385 (win7_rtm.090713-1255)
DRIVERS\ winusb.sys 6.1.7601.17514 (win7sp1_rtm.101119-1850)
DRIVERS\WUDFRd.sys 6.2.9200.16384 (win8_rtm.120725-1247)
WpdMtp.dll 6.1.7600.16385 (win7_rtm.090713-1255)
WpdMtpUS.dll 6.1.7600.16385 (win7_rtm.090713-1255)

Hope this saves you a few steps.

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Apple’s On Top & How They’ll Self-Marginalize

AppleApple Exceeds Exxon’s Market Cap

An article was shared on a discussion list I am a part of about Apple having the same market cap as Exxon.   I wasn’t forwarded the original reference, but I think this story can be attributed to Radio-Info.com.  The excerpt:

Apple was actually bigger during part of the trading day, while Exxon pulled slightly ahead by the closing bell. Do you realize what that means? Exxon has long reigned as the world’s largest company ranked by market cap (price per share times the number of shares). By the time 4pm rolled around, Apple was valued at $346.7 billion, about $1.5 billion less than Exxon. Apple (“AAPL”) gained $20.80 on the day to close at $374.01 a share. Remember that Steve Jobs isn’t just into making hardware – he wants to control a lot of the IP-delivered traffic going to those devices. Just try getting something new onto your iPad without going through iTunes or the App Store. Pretty soon, a lot of radio will be going through Apple devices

As one person commented, “they have done a master job at creating brand awareness through advertising”.  Agreed.   But I also think there is more to it than that.

The “Apple Look”

Bringing touch screen computing to the masses via the iPhone was a big risk & a huge payoff.  They executed that perfectly.   It was the first small form factor touch screen with a user interface that could be understood by non-geeks.  Combine that with the sleek Apple “look”, which was used as a marketing tool itself, and a superb run of advertising campaigns (as Randy pointed out) and Apple exploded back onto the market overnight.

IMO, a key element here was the pervasive “Apple look”.  From the hardware itself, to the graphics on the devices, to the product packaging, even to their stores.   The attention to detail on the brand appearance was far beyond anything before it.  It was something most mainstream consumers had never seen before, that sort of attention to detail was reserve for exclusive luxury brands most consumers never see.  Apple raised the ante on what it takes to present a quality consumer experience, recognized that fact, and leveraged it in their branding & awareness campaigns.

Genius.

Will History Repeat?

Now to see if Apple can stay ahead of the competition.   Their stranglehold on the proprietary elements of their platform & the tyranny of requirements to play in their sandbox suffocated them once before. They are showing signs of repeating history.  Many of the tech guys I know prefer open Android platforms for development.  The other 10% drank the Apple Kool-Aid and barely acknowledge the existence of any other brand.  The only reason most of these tech people do IOS (Apple) development first is market share, but that part of the story is changing rapidly.

My Prediction

My guess is that Apple will retain their stranglehold on their channels and will continue to irk the hardware and software developers that make the IOS platform so successful.   The Android marketplace will continue to refine their products, market share will grow, and eventually Android will become the “go to first” platform for developers.   Soon after it will be the go-to platform for consumers as well.

Maybe Apple’s cash position will provide the resources to save themselves. I’m betting they go from defining the market to becoming a reactionary company that starts bleeding a lot of that cash.   They’ll bleed cash pushing more & more advertising.  They’ll start pushing product development outside the box in high risk moves that won’t pay off.  They’ll start cutting prices and working the “loss-leader” angle.

Eventually Apple might relax their policies.  It will be too late and they’ll have tainted a large part of the developer channel.  Many development firms won’t come back to the IOS platform purely on principle.    Within a few short years Apple’s market dominance will once again be marginalized just as it had been in the early PC market.  They’ll again be representing 10% of various market segments.

I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, but Apple sure is showing their typical colors here.  Just look at the Apple v. Adobe fiasco.   When people see my Toshiba Thrive the FIRST QUESTION they ask is “does it run Flash”.   “Of course, it’s a Droid!”.

Sound Off…

What is your opinion?  Where do you think Apple is headed in the next 3-5 years?

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Droid Incredible Crashes Wifi Networks

Well, I’ve been holding onto this dirty little secret for over a week now.  I was hoping Verizon and/or HTC would address this issue BEFORE the story got out into the hands of the general media.

Why have I waited to release this story? Personally I think the Incredible is a great competitor to the iPhone.  In fact I terminated my contract with AT&T just last week.   Boy did that feel good after 3 years of no cell service ANYWHERE in the country and especially here in Charleston.  I truly want the Droid Incredible by HTC to be a success.  I want the dominance of AT&T and Apple to be tested by the likes of products such as the Incredible.  Good healthy competition is good for all of us.  Better phones, better service, better prices.

BUT… the problem has gone on for too long with only a warmed-over “must be your network” response from the people at HTC.   And that response came after more than a week of telling them “I think you have a problem” and “is anyone home?” messages.

I told Verizon about the problem as well.  To their credit they did ship a replacement phone overnight.  It didn’t help, but at least they tried.   Guess it was what I expected after I explained the problem to the local “tech” at the Verizon store down the street and got nothing but a blank stare in return.   I knew then & there that the guys at the local store knew as much about wireless networking as they did quantum mechanics.    When I brought the problem up with Verizon Corporate they simply bounced my mail back with a URL on “how to connect to WiFi” (thanks, NOT useful) and a tacked-on “not our problem – call HTC”  note at the end.

So now it is time to let the story out…

What Is Going On?

Well, I first noticed a problem the day I brought my new HTC Droid Incredible home.  My network was pathetically slow.  It would crash at odd hours, and I’d get NO Internet connection at all.   Odd, I thought, must be the new Comcast service.    I called Comcast, and after missing their first appointment and showing up 30 hours late they finally got a knowledgeable technician to the house.   Everything checked out fine.   No problems at the home, on the line, or down the street at the head-end router.

Yet, every so-often the network would just crash.   Then a week after working with Comcast, tracking network connections and sniffing packets on my network I figured it out quite by accident.   I was online on my PC running a diagnostic when I wanted to check email.  Not wanting to interrupt the CPU intensive task I reached for my HTC Droid Incredible and started reading my email.  One of the attachments was rather large so I flicked on the Wifi switch.   That is when the world came crashing down.  My wife ran into the room saying “Did you DO something?  The network just crashed!”   Sure enough, I was looking at my PC and seeing a “service disconnected” right in the middle of my testing.   Turn off the WiFi on the HTC Incredible, reconnect and everything starts running along just fine.  Flick.  On goes the Wifi on the HTC.  Off goes the network.   Hmmmm….what an ODD coincidence.

After several hours of testing, checking configurations, and re-testing I realized… this HTC Droid Incredible has a serious design flaw.

Proving The Fail

A few days after realizing that MY HTC Droid Incredible indeed crashed MY network, I visited the local Verizon store.  They expedited a replacement phone which arrived a few days later.   I immediately went into test mode.   Shut down the original phone, power up the new phone, activate, and connect to my network.   Same results… the network slowed to a crawl and crashed almost immediately.

Next test – a different network.  I brought the original HTC to my office after sending back the replacement phone (it had the same result, so it didn’t fix my problem).  Power on the wifi and connect to the office wireless.   Instant failure.  Every wireless device was unable to connect to the outside world.

The HTC Droid Incredible has effectively taken down 2 different networks at 2 different locations.  The only thing they have in common is that they are open networks with a 40/64-bit (10 character) all-numeric WEP key enabled.     Whether or not that is the trigger or whether it is more generic still needs to be tested.   One thing is certain, this phone is adept at crashing the only 2 networks I use on a regular basis.   Luckily I can stay online with 3G and not get on wifi, but this is still a problem.  Not everywhere I go will have 3G access especially in the bowels of various commercial buildings where I visit clients.

Current Status

Fast forward to today.  I have received a communication from HTC (finally) and they basically asked a few questions and hinted that it must be my network.  Reconfigure & reset the HTC.   Yup, been there done that.   At this point I KNOW the HTC crashes at least two networks with absolute certainty.   Later this week I plan to roam various public WiFi hotspots and the homes of various wired (wireless) friends and see what happens.   My guess – the problem will be 100% reproducable with little effort.

Sorry Verizon & HTC, this story is just too big to keep to myself.  The word is out, both to let people know there is a potential problem & to see if I’m alone in this situation.

So how about it Droid Incredible owners… anyone else run into a problem like this?

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iPhone versus Droid Incredible

Yup, here it is, another Droid versus iPhone comparison. If you read my last post on this topic you’ll know that I already played with the Motorola Droid about six months ago. The fact is AT&T coverage in Charleston sucks. It is by far the worst network in the area. While all my friends & coworkers are able to make & receive calls I am stuck in a zero-bar-zone-of-hell. It’s not just me and my phone either. Anyone else that visits with their iPhone in tow has similar connectivity problems. In fact someone just told me last week that they saw a comedian on stage held up his iPhone and said “they should just call it the ‘I'” to which he received a hearty round of applause and cheers. Guess it’s not just a problem in Charleston.

Anyway, I digress. The point is I need to use my ‘I’ as a business tool. It does me no good to have cool apps sitting on my desk next to my full fledged computer with 24″ widescreen HD monitor. What I need is a PHONE, not a 320×240 computer with cool touch screen apps. Since I get ZERO bars at our new office location it is time to revisit the iPhone versus ‘something’ debate once more.

Lucky for me, less than a month after relocating our office to yet another AT&T dead zone, the HTC Droid Incredible hit the market. Even luckier was the fact that I found LetsTalk.com had the phone in stock while every other store including ALL the area Verizon stores as well as Best Buy were on backorder for 3 weeks. Even better, LetsTalk.com had the phone for $50 less than Best Buy and $100 less than Verizon. Plus it came with a FREE 2GB microSD card. Can’t beat that!

First Impressions

Packaging

The first thing I noticed was the packaging. Small, neat, and very cleanly designed. Very much on par with the quality packaging Apple provides. The manuals are well written, not some obvious Chinese-English-Chinese Censors-English translation. Everything was well packed and in it’s hermetically sealed plastic bag. No cheap used bread bag twisty-ties either, the USB based power adapter had a nice neat black rubber band. Yeah, I know, piddly little details nobody really cares about, but it is obvious from the start that HTC put some thought into the packaging.

The same attention to detail was obvious when cracking open the case to install the battery. The entire inside of the case is a bright red with very clean lines and an easy-in/easy-out battery setup. The micro-sd slot is easily accessible on the side of the unit so no pulling out batteries to upgrade the SD card like some other phones. Again, details people don’t really care about, but still made for a good first impression.

Power On

After a brief charging session, to ensure I had plenty of juice to play with my new toy, it was time to power up. The very first thing I notices was the quality tactile experience with the buttons and the rubberized backing on the phone. While I wasn’t sure I’d like that rubberized feel, it actually makes it much easier to work with this phone. Unlike the iPhone which I always felt I needed to be extra careful with so it didn’t shoot out of my hands and across the room, smashing the $500 screen – the Droid Incredible feels firmly planted thanks to that backing. And the backing doesn’t feel cheap, in fact much to my surprise it feels surprisingly high quality.

Power button in… phone on. That fast. Yeah, this phone is WAAAAAYYYY faster than my iPhone. The iPhone takes about 1-2 seconds to just show the Apple logo, then another 15-20 seconds, on a good day… sometimes much more on a bad one, to fully boot. This Droid Incredible instantly shows signs of life & is ready for action within a few seconds.

The Screen

And when it comes to life you know it. That screen is bright, at least as bright as the iPhone. While I read some early reviews complaining about screen brightness, I didn’t notice. Maybe because it was evening, but side-by-side with my iPhone the Droid Incredible screen stands out. Not only is it bright, but the screen is exceptionally clear. The higher resolution stands out as do the bright vibrant colors.

Not only is the screen bright, has great resolution, and good color representation, it also has a very responsive touch screen. This screen is the first touch screen on a phone that is on par, or possibly even MORE responsive than the iPhone. HTC has really nailed this. While the on screen keyboard appears smaller for some reason, it is easier to type on. I find I type much faster on the HTC on screen keyboard than either the Motorola Droid slide out keyboard or the iPhone on screen keyboard.

The Apps

Wow this Incredible has a lot of cool features right out of the box. One of my favorites is the “HTC Scenes”. These are pre-set layouts for 3 or 4 of the 6 home screens that come on the phone. Each has different layouts of what apps or widgets appear where. It is not just a background changer, but an interface changer. While you can setup the interface to use any combination of full screen widgets, apps, and other utilities on your own – for people like me that don’t want to spend hours playing with those things… at least not yet… the half dozen options for “Scenes” that HTC gives you is perfect. A big full screen calendar on one page, a full screen message center on another, and a myriad of icon apps on a third… perfect for what I need right now.

That’s another thing I really like about this interface. You can take various widgets and plop them on a home page in full screen mode. When you flick between the screens, one of them will have that widget up and running in full screen mode – ready to go. You can’t do it with every program (at least not that I’ve found yet), but the built in widgets like the full screen calendar and message center are a great start. This saves at least one “click” compared to the iPhone when accessing oft-used applications.

Can I Use It As… gasp… A Phone?

The quick answer, HELL YEAH. I was actually able to make calls from my house and not drop the line after 2 minutes or less. That feat was absolutely impossible on my AT&T based iPhone. Next challenge… this morning at our new office. If nothing else, AT&T was consistent. As in AT&T NEVER had coverage here. This morning, 2 text messages and 2 calls on the Droid Incredible. No drops, no missed calls. Perfect. A phone that works as a phone! As I sit here looking at my iPhone with “no service” in the top left corner I can’t help but think “when is my docking station for the Incredible going to arrive… it will look so cool sitting there with it’s 3 bars”.

iPhone versus Droid Incredible

Droid Incredible iPhone (1st Gen)
Pros
  • Excellent touch screen response
  • Intuitive controls
  • Multiple screens for apps (6)
  • Great camera with usable flash
  • Video recorder
  • Call Clarity
  • Network Coverage
    better, but still does not have a
    signal at the home office 100% of the
    time, but always have a signal at the
    corporate office
  • App Store
    almost identical to the iPhone store
  • Available Apps
    seems to have most of what I want
    even some the iPhone doesn’t like
    Google Listen
  • Only $150 from LetsTalk.com
  • Excellent touch screen response
  • Intuitive controls
  • Multiple screens for apps (5+)
  • Plug it into the dock & it’s ready to talk to the PC
  • Tons of 3rd party device support
    it talks to my blu-ray surround sound system
    for example.
  • App Quality
    not all the apps are great, but none
    crash my phone
  • Available Apps
    There isn’t an app I can’t find, or at least
    a close enough clone. Except Google Listen.
  • MP3 Sound Quality
  • MP3 Equalizer
Cons
  • Can’t power on by touching the front of the device
    Pressing the “home” actually a scroll ball,
    or other button on the front should wake up
    the phone IMO, instead I have to find the
    power button on the top edge.
  • Network Coverage
    it sucks, plain & simple. less bars in more places.
  • Call Carity
    I thought it was OK, until I used the Droid
  • No Videos
    yeah, I can fix this by upgrading to the 3GS for another
    $300 and 2-year contract, $600+ if I want to stay
    month-to-month, ouch! Expensive!

Comparison : Head-To-Head

Feature Motorola Droid iPhone 1st Gen
Application Quality green_check_32x32
Application Selection tie tie
Apple has more, but both have
what I need.
Home Interface green_check_32x32
Photo Quality green_check_32x32
MP3 Sound Quality green_check_32x32
Network Coverage green_check_32x32
Screen Resolution green_check_32x32
Text/Media Messaging green_check_32x32
Touchscreen tie tie
Video Recording green_check_32x32
Visual Voicemail tie tie

Summary

I’ve only had my hands on the Droid Incredible for 24 hours now, but I am almost certain that my AT&T service is not going to make it until June. The fact is I NEED a phone and WANT cool mobile apps. The Droid Incredible is the first device to deliver both. Whether I was in the market for my first touch screen phone or looking for some way to get off the AT&T network without sacraficing all those cool features I’ve come to love on the iPhone… I think this is it.

My prediction: Verizon and the Droid Incredible are going to be eating one big chunk of AT&T and Apple’s pie this year. Good thing AT&T sat on their laurels when it came to customer service & network coverage… and Apple opted for a slice of the greed pie that AT&T served them the past 3 years. What’s better than some good solid market competition to give us, the customer, better choices.

HTC Droids offered by Lets Talk

I purchased my latest cell phone (a Droid Incredible by HTC ) from Lets Talk. Everyone else was sold out, yet they claimed they had plenty in stock. While I was a bit skeptical at first, my phone arrived in perfect condition in just 3 days for $50-$100 LESS than any other retailer I could find. Sweet!

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