I mentioned several days ago that, with one caveat, I am a big fan of the new Android-powered Google Nexus One phone. The caveat remains -- I still don't like typing with the on-screen touch keyboard, similar to the iPhone's -- but the more I try the phone's features, the more impressed I am. And I do recognize that on-screen touchpads are the way things are going to be, so I might as well adapt.
- Feature that I'm just starting to use but see big potential for: Google Voice, which in addition to Skype-like free-calling aspects also can convert spoken voice-mail messages into text and send them as email. So far, the conversion system seems to do the job: names sometimes garbled, but words and -- importantly -- phone numbers rendered OK.
- Related feature that still has my attention: voice-recognition internet search. This morning I said into the phone "weather duluth minnesota" -- where I'll be tonight -- and four seconds after I stopped speaking, the screen showed that the temperature in Duluth was 10F, with a 15mph wind. (Hmmm, maybe I should say into the screen "tickets to someplace warm....") I didn't have to push an enter button or otherwise touch the screen in this process (after hitting the "voice search" icon). I do realize that voice-enabled Google search also works on iPhones and most BlackBerries. But I hadn't used it before, and I find (unsurprisingly) that it is well-integrated with the Google phone and (surprisingly) that it works well enough to be practical. Main reason I'm stressing this is that the quest for really reliable voice recognition software has long seemed as if it would never reach that point of real reliability. (Eg, see this report from nine+ years ago -- or an eternity ago in tech terms.) Systems that allow one user to "train" the software to recognize his or her individual voice have been improving; "speaker independent" voice recognition is obviously much harder but evidently has made big steps. I think this is one payoff of Google's control of "big data" -- having so much information on what people are likely to search for, and what terms most likely go together, and what range of sound patterns people use, that its systems can make plausible guesses -- and, again, at least for me it's surprising.
On the other hand: I just got a note from an American friend during our time in China who like us has recently moved back to the U.S. He pointed me to this thread on the Google support forum about complaints over the Nexus's 3G connectivity on the T-Mobile network.
The specific issue here concerns the 3G question itself. (Summary of the 400+ comments on the thread: some people report that in exactly the same physical location, on exactly the same T-Mobile network, often using exactly the same SIM card swapped between an older phone and a Nexus One, they get worse signal-strength and data speed with the Nexus than on the other device. Antenna issue? Firmware issue? False positive? Not yet known.) I have not had this problem, but a number of users have and are on the warpath.
The broader issue involves the can of worms that Google may have opened for itself by going into the direct-retail business, in a way it never has before. As mentioned earlier, part of the drama of the Nexus One's approach is breaking the connection between buying a phone and choosing a mobile network provider. Although there is discount pricing for T-Mobile customers, in theory anyone can buy the phone and then use it on any network. But one consequence of this approach is to bring to the mobile business an unappealing part of the personal computing experience. All along the the Apple model of personal computing has been, We make the hardware, we make the software, you've got a problem, talk to us. (Actually talking to them is a different issue, but still...) The PC model is, One company makes the hardware, another makes the software, another makes add-ons, and if the customer has a problem those companies often point the finger at one another.
Coming as a "bundle," mobile phones so far have mainly followed the Apple model for support. But the un-bundled Nexus One approach has given rise to comments like the following in the complaint thread:
"Well, this is where this is going to get interesting. Given the retail model for this phone, we're going to get a lot of the following:"TMobile: Talk to HTC [Taiwanese manufacturer], as they made the phone"HTC: Sorry, its the TMobile network"The only way this will get fixed is if there is a mass uprising...Google is probably in the best position to cause action here. After all, if they don't be proactive this model is going to fail miserably."
"This is ridiculous, I've had bad CS [customer service] before but HTC takes top notch. Let's see I call twice."1st person tells me the phone doesn't support t-mobile's 3g bands. I hang up and call back."2nd person says it's not their department, and to call technical"Technical says it's warranty's problem."Warranty doesn't know what the hell is going on and says it's the network and couldn't possibly be the phone."I called earlier in the day as noted, and was told it couldn't be the phone."Are you serious? Congrats Google, you're about to have a PR nightmare with this CS."
I see that last night T-Mobile put up a notice saying that, along with Google, it was investigating the issue. This will be interesting as Google's baptism in the nightmare of dealing with actual retail customers, in large numbers, already so well known to the airlines, the retail industry, and so on. Now on to Duluth.