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Tales from the Dorkside
In Feb. 12 Issue
For My Robotic Valentine
By Jeff Smith, Columnist

I'm not ashamed to admit it, I have fallen in love. With my phone. Now now, I know what you're thinking... that I'll just get hurt again. And you may be right, but as the old saying goes, "its better to have loved [a smartphone] and lost, than to never have loved [a smartphone] at all."

For the longest time, when it came to smartphones, I was a Palm man through and through (stop that snickering in the back!). Palm was a platform that had been around for ages and had hundreds of thousands of applications for everything the average person needed. But times changed, and even Palm themselves fell out of love with the PalmOS (renamed Garnet at some point). From a programming standpoint, it just wasn't equipped to handle all of today's media and constant connectivity.

When the iPhone came out, I must confessed I was dazzled by its good looks and saucy shape, but the iPhone was much too clingy for me. A bit to puritanical too. See, I wanted a phone I could get into. I wanted a phone that I could bend to my will. I wanted a phone that would do what I wanted it to do, and the iPhone simply was not that flexible. With Steve Jobs sitting in the background deciding what you can and cannot put on it, it just irked me that it was more under his control than my own. Sure, you can jailbreak it, but even still, the iPhone is too constrained by the limitations that Apple put on their developers. For me, that just would not do.

When Palm announced the Palm Pre with the new WebOS, I got really excited again, thinking that perhaps my old love was to return with a hot new hairdo and some sleek new tricks... but it was not really my good ole Palm, now was it? Nope. It was an entirely different operating system. Sure it could run all the old Palm apps in an emulator, but it just wasn't the same. That ship had sailed, and I just had to face up to that fact. What's more, Palm still had the same tired old business model for developers. They would never catch up to the iPhone as far as number of applications available. Maybe, if you considered the legacy applications as well, but that stuff was outdated, and it looked as much.

I spent some time soul searching, trying to figure out just what it was that I was looking for in a phone. It had to be cool, of course. And more than that it had to be useful. And being a big Linux nerd, I really wanted it to be Open Source. The OpenMoko project looked like it was going to fit the bill, but then it fizzled somewhere between the prototype and the production run. Symbian went Open Source at about this time, but Symbian (the OS on the Motorola RAZR, KRZR, etc) just didn't do enough cool stuff. It wasn't 'smart' enough for me.

Enter Android, by Google.

Here was a smartphone OS that was based on Linux! Google, in a stroke of pure genius, created an open market that allowed anyone to develop for the Android platform, which meant that the number of available applications skyrocketed almost at once. Unlike the iBrick, er, iPhone, Android came in a wide variety of devices, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. I could get an Android with a flip-out keyboard or a slide-out keyboard, or with no keyboard at all. Large, medium, and small sizes were available. Here, at last, was the complete physical embodiment of choice.

I admit, I was intrigued. And when, finally, I got my hands on one, it was love at first capacitive touch. Here was a device that would do anything I wanted it to. It could, in fact, do just about anything I could reasonably expect it to do. I could write documents on this, record an impromptu acapella duet with the cat, or email my editor to tell them that I'm going to be late (again), but it wasn't going to make me a sandwich.

Now my smartphone and I are very happy together. I can control my home PC with it, I can control my work PC with it. If need be, I can hack it to run custom firmware. I can check Facebook, or email, or play games on it. I can chat on any of the major IM networks. If I had the inclination, I could record and edit a motion picture or a music video with it. Or write a novel. It doubles as a Wifi scanner to let me know when there's an open network nearby, or as a simple bubble level, to let me know if I hung my Radiohead poster straight. Its my camera, camcorder, sound recorder, calculator, news reader, and FM radio. Its GPS keeps me from getting lost and its weather app keeps me from getting stuck out in the rain. And when I find I actually am out driving in the rain, its voice-recognition system keeps my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. And yes, it also makes excellent phone calls.

It's good to be in love.

Now if they can just figure out that sandwich problem....

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The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
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