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Android: Living on a Cloud

CloudThis is the last post about the Motorola Droid before I post my final review. I want to spend some time in the post to discuss the Android OS and it’s relationship to the cloud.

Based on some of the comments I received, I think it would be helpful to explain some of the philosophy behind the OS that makes it a little different than other Smartphones. I think it is helpful to understand this to make sense of the capabilities and limitations of this phone.

To understand Android, you need to understand the philosophy behind Android. They wanted to create on open platform for smartphones to access the web. They developed the OS around the Internet, not a desktop OS.

Windows Mobile was designed as an extension of the Windows Operating system. Certainly the ability of accessing Exchange on a mobile network is important, but the ActiveSync software was also designed to synchronize files between your Windows PC and your phone. Same with the iPhone. It is an extension of Mac OS. You use iTunes to synchronize your music, your apps and other things on your Mac PC like pictures and contacts. In marketing you would call this a brand extension.

Android started from scratch. Android ignores your PC. It’s all about your data in the big puffy white cloud. Don’t get me wrong, this is another brand extension; it is just extending from the Internet. Also there are certainly programs that will allow you sync to your PC (Mac/Win/Linux) but they are third-party apps mostly, and not central to Android.

I think a great example of this is the very helpful application Google Calendar Sync. It was created by Google to synchronize your Outlook Calendar with Google Calendar. I have used this the last year to keep my Google calendar (that I access from my G1) synced with my Exchange calendar. It works wonderfully, but here is the thing. It doesn’t sync your calendar on your PC to the Phone, it syncs it to your Google Calendar out on the cloud which then syncs to your phone. It’s a difference of focus.

One of the exciting things about the Motorola Droid is its out-of-box ability to access my Exchange mail, calendar and contacts. It is one of the core new features that attracts me. I need no PC to get my information, the Droid can go right to the source.

Here is the weakness of this approach. You can only access the information that Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync provides you. In the post Day 1: Verizon’s Droid and Account Maintenance the issue of syncing your Outlook Notes came up. In the comments Dave Lister helped us all out by sharing a link to the Overview of Exchange ActiveSync on Microsoft’s TechNet. The key note is this:

Exchange ActiveSync can synchronize e-mail messages, calendar items, contacts, and tasks. You cannot use Exchange ActiveSync to synchronize notes in Microsoft Outlook.

I am pretty sure there will be third-party applications to fill this hole. A quick google search yielded mark/space’s Missing Sync for Android. It is not out yet, and lists Notes sync as coming later in the year. I assume this will “tether” your phone to a PC, but if you need those features, the option will be there.

This is where I will apply what I have asserted as Android’s philosophy and make the prediction that there will be no PC-based solution from Android. If ActiveSync adds the ability to sync notes, I would assume that it would find it’s way into the OS, but I noticed that they do not include Tasks, so who knows.

My point is that you need to know what you are buying with the Android. You are getting an extension to the Internet, not an extension to your PC. I like this philosophy, it is a powerful paradigm shift in my opinion, but it is not without its shortcomings.

This philosophy really pays off when your moving phones. I was stunned how easy it was to set up a new phone. The new phone automatically had my e-mail and contacts when I logged in with my Gmail account.

I would love to hear some folks chime in on this. I look forward to the discussion. Next Motorola Droid post will close the series and give you my final review. Thanks to everyone who contributed comments; your comments were very valuable to me, and hopefully to other readers.

{ 23 comments… add one }

  • shkermaker November 5, 2009, 8:44 am

    Android has totally changes the way I work. I switched fully to mac is and Linux at the start of the year and my Google account and my G1 then my hero have made the switch so much easier.

    I can access, amend, share, collaborate all of my info FOR FREE! No me.com subscription fees etc and excellent backup/offline facilities.

    +1 from me!

  • Robert November 5, 2009, 9:37 am

    I too enjoy the Android os. It has enebled me in so many ways to stay ontop of my day to day activities. I had my ipaq for ever it seems then various “smart” phones, almost went the iPhone route but did not want to be tied to it, the G1 has enhansed my business and personal life. Now i will have a hard time living with out my phone.

  • Scott November 5, 2009, 10:00 am

    Quick question: If my work only supports Blackberry enterprise is there a work around to get calendar, email and calendar invites pushed to the droid? I appreciate any assistance that helps me leave the Blackberry platform.

  • fuchikoma-x November 5, 2009, 10:17 am

    i have an iPHONE but i have to hack it just to ride on 3G data via my mobile units using PDAnet. why is it we have to pay twice for a data line. i’m curious to hear if open source truly means that: i can just pull down an application via the OS store to use the grid to tether for FREE! not this $15 additional fee they have planned in Jan 2010.

  • fuchikoma-x November 5, 2009, 10:23 am

    i know that running torrents is not a viable option but they should allow people to use at least a portion of the allocated 5GB soft cap for tether purposes. of course they can use Q.O.S. on the switch to monitor port rules and count bytes etc… but people for the most part do not do research on the telcos and get shafted on bloated pricing and unnecessary additional services. the ability and tech is present, i love what android is doing but i cannot understand why abusing customer ignorance (see: exploit) is industry norm.

  • Bryan Sherman November 5, 2009, 10:53 am

    @Scott
    That’s a really good question. And by really good I mean, I don’t know. I have hardly no experience with the Blackberry. My first inclination would be no, since it accesses mail through Exchange ActiveSync. But if the Blackberry enterprise works with ActiveSync it may mean there is a way. I’ll bug my wife since her firm is heavy blackberry users, but maybe someone else will chime in here.

  • MartinN November 5, 2009, 11:02 am

    I may be a dinosaur and a dying breed, but this post really makes me NOT wanting the Droid (or any other Android phone). Why would I trust Google with all my private information? I don’t want my WiFi picture frame connecting to my TwitterTube cloud account to display my pictures, simply because all my pictures are on my home server. Also, I don’t want my books on loan from Amazon, where they even can retract them at will.

    Am I the only one who don’t want to send all my files and private information to some shoddy companies on the Internet? I will take a good look at the Nokia N900 now.

  • Glenn November 5, 2009, 12:12 pm

    @MartinN – No, you’re not the only one. In my mind, the challenge is in how to use (and benefit from) technology while maintaining your privacy. I doubt that Google, Amazon and companies like them are really the people you should be concerned about, however.

    @Scott – There are two primary ways to get data to your device from Exchange: ActiveSync and OMA/OWA. Even if ActiveSync isn’t an option, you can still get nearly the same results using OWA. If your company provides web access to your email (Outlook Web Access), you can usually set up an IMAP account on your mobile and point it to this address, bypassing the Blackberry stuff. I’m making a lot of assumptions here, but it is possible.

    @Bryan – Thanks for talking about this. You are quite right. There’s still a lot of confusion around why this difference is significant. It separates the service that the technology provides from the platform (hardware/software) on which it runs. Although we’re getting there, things are still very “siloed”, in that even cloud solutions tend to be very vendor-centric. When I can take a picture on my digital camera, seamlessly store the photo in my Amazon AWS storage account, view it on Flickr and attach it to a Gmail message from my phone without having to make copies of it, THEN we’ve arrived!

    Oh, yeah – and can I have all that for free, please?

  • Shkermaker November 5, 2009, 12:45 pm

    @Scott and Glenn

    Not sure what 2.0 brings but I use my University OWA and can collect my mail, contacts and calendar (but not notes) from my exchange account using my Hero. There’s no need to set up an IMAP account as the mail remains on the exchange and is accessible wherever. There is even an option for push email (not true push i appreciate – but as and when it is recieved) to select.

  • Bryan Sherman November 5, 2009, 5:02 pm

    @Shkermaker
    That is because the Sense UI on the Hero has Exchange access built in. I am playing with that on the Eris (essentially a slimmer, black version of the Hero).

    I must say, I like HTC’s implementation of Exchange support slightly better than Eclairs. For example, in Eclair your Exchange calendar appears in a separate application, on the HTC they appear on you regular calendar highlighted a different color.

  • shkermaker November 5, 2009, 7:50 pm

    @Bryan

    I keep forgetting that HTC’s Sense UI is different from stock Android….

    I must admit – its not all plain sailing with Sense – the lack of week view in the calendar drives me nuts…the agenda view is even worse – it doesnt even open on the current day! You either have to look at it day by day or keep coming out of month view. Only way i can see to fix this is to root the handset and loose my warranty….but a week-to-view isnt that important!

  • Monty November 5, 2009, 8:26 pm

    Is there some way to encript your cloud data? I have medical data that needs to be kept private. I cant use the cloud and comply with HIPAA regs.

  • Scott November 5, 2009, 10:29 pm

    @Brian, Glenn and Shkermaker…thank you for the info and insight. I am able to use Outlook Web Access so it could be possible. I will wait a bit and read some reviews on both Verizon phones and I may jump from BB to Android 2.0 or even Eris. Does anyone know of another site where I could bring this issue of connecting an Android device to a BB Enterprise server? I appreciate the time you have taken. Peace

  • Bryan Sherman November 5, 2009, 11:10 pm

    @Monty
    Keep in mind that the Exchange information would exist on your Exchange server and the phone. It would not be “in the cloud”. Contacts and gmail would be in the cloud.

  • Scott November 6, 2009, 1:24 am

    I love the idea of cloud computing, but also am cautious of keeping important information only existing on the cloud.

    As Google has recently shown, it is not beyond having issues with their servers. As more and more folks use the service, I can see it getting worse. Look at the sidekick debacle. Backup, Backup, Backup… and then backup again for good measure!

    I am also very concerned about my private information showing up on the internet for all to see. Amazon, Google and others have no legal obligation to keep your private data private. This is especially true if you are not paying for it. Take a close look at the terms of the agreement and you will see that you have very little recourse at all should your private data become public. As Monty pointed out, this is especially dangerous as far as HIPAA data is concerned. If you must keep it on the web, at least make sure it is strongly encrypted first!

    The Cloud may turn out to be a beautiful thing.. it might also rain on our parade….

  • Brian Hall November 6, 2009, 5:15 pm

    Thanks for the shout out to Missing Sync in the article.

    We got a few Droids today, and we’re hard at work updating to handle OS 2.0. Look for more news from us next week on this. In the meantime, folks can sign up to get an email when we post the public preview at http://www.markspace.com/products/android/missing-sync-android.html

  • Dave November 6, 2009, 8:51 pm

    I got a Droid this morning, have Outlook mail synced up on it via a webmail session but am puzzled why my calendar entries aren’t also showing up. Under the Data & synchronization part of my my ‘Corporate’ account, it shows that Sync Corporate Calendar is selected. Does that mean I only get calendar updates if I have the higher priced data plan (the $45/mo vs. the $30/mo)?

  • Glenn November 6, 2009, 10:48 pm

    @Monty – not sure what your application is here, but there is almost certainly a way to encrypt it before storage in the cloud. Feel free to email me (plunkg at yahoo dot com) if you want to explore some ideas.

  • Blaine November 10, 2009, 11:16 am

    I stopped by a Verizon store last night (Kenwood Mall, Cincy) and verified that their unlimited data plan has no data cap. Has anyone else heard this information? From my understanding, and I have heard this now from TWO verizon representatives, is that the unlimited data plan is truly unlimited. The 5GB cap only comes into play if you upgrade to the tethering plan, which is currently not available for the Droid.

    My only comment on cloud computing is that it is incredibly convenient but I am always really paranoid about what would happen if my google account got disabled. Have you ever tried to contact Google Customer Support? I dont think there is a 1-800 number, its all web-based. If my entire information universe lives with Google and they disable my account (by accident or by me inadvertently breaking TOS), I am pretty screwed.

    Thanks for the awesome review.
    Go Bearcats :)
    Blaine

  • Bryan Sherman November 10, 2009, 1:20 pm

    @Blaine
    What I have heard is 5 GB cap, if you add tethering in January it goes to 10 GB. I’ll see what I can learn.

  • Richard November 11, 2009, 4:33 am

    I am also reluctant to trust my data to the cloud. I have definite knowledge of how the data is or is not secured. Blaine made a good point about the possibility of getting locked out of your data. Another variation would be an identity theft where your Google account was compromised and hijacked. Not only would you loose access to your data but SOMEONE ELSE would have complete access. That could range from very annoying to downright scary depending on what level of detail you keep in contacts, etc. I started out with a Palm IIIx many years ago and have used the Vx, T5, Treo 600, Treo 755p and TX. I decided NOT to go with the Pre largely because of this issue. The Droid looks great but I am still reluctant to trust personal data to the cloud.

  • Richard November 11, 2009, 4:35 am

    Typo: … I have *NO* definite knowledge of how the data is or is not secured …

  • Blaine November 11, 2009, 7:18 pm

    @Bryan: Thanks for the information. I’m wondering if Verizon is just lying to me about the cap or they really just dont know any better. I need to get it on record next time.

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