Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Garmin disrupted by the iPhone

The iPhone has GPS built in with maps from google. That probably has Garmin worrying, but the truth is that the iPhone does not work all that well for street by street driving directions that it is replacing a Nuvi for most road warriors or busy moms. The Garmin device is cheaper to own (no recurring contract) than an iPhone and works really well.

Network connectivity does not yet enhance driving GPS navigators enough to make the iPhone a win there. The GPS implementation in the iPhone is slow to lock the satellite and is not well designed to use on your windshield.

Geocaching is a different story.

I have been geocaching for a few years now with my kids. For those not familiar with geocaching, it is a global treasure hunt where people hide little caches, list their GPS coordinates on geocaching.com, and then wait for people to find them. Geocaching is a lot of fun, and it can be challenging if you choose caches that include difficult terrain or a well hidden location.

To geocache, I would go to geocaching.com, find a cache that looks interesting, attach my Garmin GPS 60CSx, and download the waypoint for the cache, print out the description and hints, and then drive to the trailhead.

The 60CSx is an amazing GPS device. It is waterproof, durable, daylight readable and includes a magnetic compass so that it can tell you, even when standing still, how far away the cache is and in what direction to move.

Recently, Groundspeak, which runs Geocaching.com, came out with a Geocaching iPhone app. That app will find nearby caches based on your location, giving you the description, the hints and the ability to log field notes, all from the iPhone. You can navigate to the cache via google maps and once close by, use their simulated compass (only works when moving) to head to the hide location.

Geocaching is never quite as easy as it sounds. Even my Garmin will only isolate you to a 1000 square foot area, so you need to do some hunting. Hence, the limited accuracy of the iPhone GPS is a not a major liability. The Geocaching app on the iPhone offers an amazingly good Geocaching experience. You don’t need to plan ahead and load waypoints using a USB cable, and the built in maps support means that locally you can pretty much use Google maps on the iphone to get to the trailhead.

Of course, the iPhone is not as good a GPS device as my Garmin device, but the GPS part is good enough, and the supporting information and wireless network access to the data makes it more convenient. If a user already has an iPhone, then using it is cheaper (Geocaching app is $9.99) than buying a Garmin device. High end geocaching users probably won’t be satisfied with the iPhone geocaching experience, but it is cheaper and offers attributes the traditional solution does not. And its getting better fast. Does that sound like disruptive technology? You bet.

The iPhone is deeply disruptive to Garmin’s geocaching market. What’s worse for Garmin, they have no consumer-friendly way of adding networking to their handheld devices. They already learned that nobody will pay a subscription fee for their real-time traffic reports. They will find out that nobody will pay a subscription fee to get a data plan for their Nuvi either.

What is garmin to do? Well, to some extent, there is nothing they can do. they are going to lose the casual Geocaching market to GPS-enabled smart phones. They can try to come out with a smartphone, but this is pretty far from their knitting.

I think the only solution is to camp out at the high end and at least produce a device that is as useful as the iPhone for geocaching for those willing to pay. To do that, I would suggest they handle the data network access like the Amazon Kindle.

Rather than charge a subscription fee, let users browse for geocaches on the Garmin handheld for free. Then if the consumers wants to reveal the actual coordinates of the cache, charge a small transaction free of $1 that includes the cost of the network bandwidth. This is how Amazon handles the wireless charges for book deliver on the Kindle. Makes perfect sense.

I would be willing to pay a a small fee to get a superior GPS experience and all the ancillary geocaching information. The other obvious option is to try to create ad-supported wireless networking for the Garmin Nuvi. I doubt it would pay the freight today for access to the cell phone networks.

The iPhone (and other smartphones) won’t just disrupt the portable handheld Geocaching GPS market. They will also disrupt the point and shoot photography market for similar reasons (this is where Phanfare comes in). Canon is going to have a hard time getting consumers to pay a monthly subscription fee to get access to a data network to move their photos and video to and from the cloud, but that is exactly the convenience that smartphones are going to offer. And given that the trend is toward unlimited data plans, the bandwidth required is already sunk cost to the consumer.

Mobile photography is not very threatening to dedicated point and shoot cameras today and Canon is not much worried. Garmin is probably not seeing too many people forgo handheld GPS units for geocaching today either – but check back in two years. Things will be very different.

Link Phanfare Geekazine Interview

Andy McCaskey interviewed me at CES talking about the Phanfare app. This was an e prelease version of the app and it was not perfectly behaved during the demo.

Link PC Magazine Reviews Phanfare Photon

PC Magazine reviewed Phanfare Photon. The review is quite thorough and captures the essence of what we are trying to accomplish on the mobile platform.

Link New Phanfare mac client out

We released a new version of the Phanfare mac client that fixes the jumping bug. Apple changed their NSTreeController selection binding update behavior in the 10.5.6 update, causing selection focus to move seemingly randomly between albums. We fixed it, tested it on 10.5.6 and on 10.4. Sorry it took so long for us to fix this. We know it was super annoying to users who hit the bug.

Link USA Today article on Phanfare Photon

USA today covered our Phanfare Photon app in today’s print and online editions.

The article talks about our belief that the iPhone is disruptive technology to the digital photography market. Phanfare Photon combines our industrial-strength cloud-based photo and video sharing service with the convenience of management and viewing of your whole collection from a mobile device.

We know that the iPhone is not quite there yet for acquisition of photos (and you can’t take a video) but these problems are easily solved, as many companies know how to make small form factor cameras that are awesome.

I take most of my photos with a traditional point and shoot camera or DSLR, but having my whole collection wirelessly synced is a great convenience. I hardly ever tether my iPhone. My email, contacts and address book come over the air via ActiveSync to our Exchange server. My photos and videos come over the air via Phanfare.

Link Per-album RSS feeds now supported

Phanfare now supports per-album RSS feeds, useful if you want put a particular album on a photo frame, versus have all your personal content appear.

Kodak’s W1020 and W820 frames support Phanfare’s per-album RSS feed through Frame Channel. We have test both the frames.

Framechannel is based on RSS feeds. The process goes something like this. Buy a frame, follow the instructions for configuring with framechannel. Enter the appropriate RSS feed at Framechannel.com, either an album RSS feed or the feed for your whole Phanfare account. Watch the frame update automatically.

Link Initial impressions of the Canon 5D Mark II

I got my Canon 5D Mark II last week and have taken it through its paces. I don’t feel like I fully understand all the new features and options in the camera yet, but I do have some first impressions.

Video is by far the most exciting feature of the new camera for me. I often found myself carrying my point and shoot and DSLR so that I could capture a few short video clips.

The video mode of the 5D Mark II definitely feels like it was added late in the design process, or at least requires a DSLR addict to love it. It starts by hitting the liveview button on the back of the camera, and then you can hit the set button in the middle of the wheel to start shooting. I got used to this pretty quickly but could it be more cumbersome? I doubt it.

I had hoped that there would be some sort of depth of field control for video, but as far as I can see, there is not (I could be wrong, just got started). And the camera can not reliabliy adjust focus while shooting video. Before you start the shot, you can focus by hitting a button that brings down the mirror and uses the standard autofocus hardware on the camera. Or you can have the camera do constrast detect focusing off the live view image. That is very slow and unreliable.

The reality is that you focus before the shot begins and if there is any refocusing to be done during the shot, it is going to be manual.

Others have also commented on some of the limitations of the video handling on the Canon 5D Mark II. But it hardly matters because the video you get from the Mark II is stunning. The camera records in 1080p mode spewing more than 25 megabits/second of of data. Although I can’t figure out how to control the depth of field, it is typically quite shallow, which tends to be what you want.

I can tell already that I am going to love this camera. But I can’t recommend it for someone who is not interested in the more technical aspects of digital photography. There are just too many great options to dig into.

Link Interesting photos of the incoming Obama Team

The NY Times took portraits of the incoming Obama team. They are inspiring photos and remind me how interesting still photography can be.

Link Obama’s cell phone

Yesterday, I evaluated whether the iPhone is worthy of mission-critical use relative the Blackberry.

Apparently, the network congestion issue has been separately addressed by government and is discussed in this CNET article.

Link Is the iPhone a business-class device?

One of my readers asked the following question when thinking about a Nokia phone versus an iPhone.

The OS is ugly – I agree. The question is (and I know your love of Blackberry) one of purpose. In your opinion, is the iPhone a business class phone? Is beauty the be-all end all of mobile computing?

One way to get to this answer, is to ask a more extreme version of it:


If I were running IT for the whitehouse, would I equip the incoming staff with iPhones?

The phone that I know most about, one the definitely is a business-class phone, is the Blackberry. So let’s compare it to that.

Security
The Blackberry encrypts email, but all email goes through RIM’s servers and network, making it a potential target.

The iPhone can be made to encrypt email by using HTTPS (I think) and running in ActiveSync mode, the device communicates with your email servers directly, distributing the security issue a bit.

Battery Life
The battery on the iPhone is simply inadequate for a power user who will be away from AC for over 12 hours. It is a serious issue, and you can’t swap out the battery making it even more cumbersome to solve the problem.

I carry a power adapter when I travel, and I carry it even on trips to NYC for the day.

The network
The ATT GSM network coverage is inferior to Verizon’s CDMA coverage in the US. Whether this is a problem depends on where you typically go. For me, it is usually not a problem, although I have noted many more dropped calls (could be a HW issue) and dead spots compared to the Verizon Blackberry. I can make a call in Princeton, NJ on my Verizon Blackberry and hold that call all the way to NYC (more than 50 miles). On the iPhone, I often start the conversation with a warning that we may get disconnected.

CDMA has other benefits as well. A CDMA phone has a range of up to 40 miles in rural areas with good line of sight to the tower (properties of the spread spectrum technology used). I used a Verizon blackberry in Grand Canyon on the roof of the RV. There was no GSM coverage at all. I believe that there are no cell towers inside the park, so both had to reach outside the park.

Email Robustness
On the blackberry, people receive every message and never receive a duplicated message. On my desktop, I get an indication of which message I responded to, which is actually quite useful.

On the iPhone, in poor network conditions, I hear from recipients that they sometimes get multiple copies of an email message that I send.

I can search my Blackberry email. While this does not sound like a major deal, it is an important feature for a power user trying to remember the details of an email before a meeting.

Typing
While originally I found the iPhone keyboard to be a huge liability, at this point I can type well enough that I only reach for my Blackberry for the longest messages.

Thinking about mission critical applications, the Blackberry with a full keyboard has the benefit that I look at the screen as I type. On an iPhone, I look at the on screen keyboard. As a result, and partially because of the autocorrection built into the iPhone, I am more likely to lay a word down that is different from the word I intended. If life were hanging in the balance, this imprecision may not be acceptable.

Conclusion
In sum, If I were equipping mission critical staff with portable devices that had to work in a disaster where minutes matter to the lives of others, i would use Verizon Blackberrys. The benefits of the iPhone are mostly in providing a more entertaining and well rounded computing experience, things that while nice, are not mission critical for most people in their jobs. A Verizon Blackberry running against Microsoft Exchange using the Enterprise redirector is a workhorse that is nearly perfect for the task at hand.

That said, in my life, I prefer the iPhone, and I do run a business. All the issues above nag at me a bit, but my overall level of satisfaction is higher with the iPhone. I do travel with the backup Verizon phone, but I should say that I have traveled with 2 cell phones for many years, simply to have redundancy and because the voice experience is better on a Motorola Razr than on any smartphone. voice is more important to me when I travel.

I spend most of my time in my hometown, and there my iPhone works well enough. If there is a major invasion of a foreign country, I learn about it on CNN, not from my boss. And if a call occasionally goes to voice mail because of bad network coverage, no big deal. I also use the iPhone on wifi to browse the web and read blogs using Google Reader much more often than I used my Verizon Blackberry (which btw, does not have wifi because Verizon is the devil).

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