My tech life completely changed in 2012

I join colleagues Mihaita Bamburic, Alan Buckingham and Wayne Williams recounting what tech I used in 2012. But unlike them, I made dramatic platform changes, more significant than first using Windows over New Years holiday 1994, buying a reburbished PowerBook in February 1999, adopting Facebook and Twitter in 2006 or purchasing Nexus One in January 2010. Each of these marked major platform changes -- and some not always lasting. Consider this: in early 2012, I owned a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 MacBook Air, iPhone 4S and iPad 3. I end the year using Chromebook and Android smartphone and tablets.

During the year I moved from OS X and Windows running on Intel to an ARM-and-Chrome OS laptop, and after several failed attempts at adopting tablets (three generations of iPads, really), I embraced not one but two Android slates. I store all my data in the cloud -- local storage is now merely a way station between destinations rather than personal repository. This old dog is learning new tricks, and if I make such dramatic platform changes what does that mean for younger users who are more flexible and not as financially or habitually Apple/Microsoft/Intel committed? Look around, the PC era rapidly evaporates around you and its disappearance will be difficult to ignore in 2013.


The iPhone Moment

As I expressed in November, the so-called post-PC era is all about context and how the cloud delivers your stuff anytime, anywhere and on anything. Your role changes based on context rather than location, such as going from product manager to parent without leaving the counch or watching a movie on the smartphone while traveling or finishing it at home. Context and location change but not the content. The new computing era is all about you. Can't you go from room to room or driving to walking while thinking about something -- anything? Your brain, the essence of you is largely location independent. The contextual cloud computing era is more inline with who we, as humans, are.

Apple deserves credit for setting the new era in real motion on June 29, 2007. Yes, I refer to iPhone's launch. That day, standing outside Apple Store Montgomery Mall, buyer Steve captured the right sentiment: "I think this is a day that you're going to see a change in how computers, how handheld computers are done...I'm seeing it that way...I think we'll look back in 10 or 15 years, and like on that day the gadget came changed the game". I look back five years and say, yes, it changed the game.

Apple used touch and various sensors to give the original iPhone human-like qualities. The device responded to you, like nothing before it. I've long said the smartphone puts the "P" in personal computing. The device is more intimate and personal than the PC, being always with you, providing communication and context that matter most to you and responding to more senses (sight, touch and voice). The overall interaction is more human-like and opens more interaction with people. Five years later, touch-and-sensor cloud devices are even more extension of you.

Going Google

But Apple isn't inheriting the era iPhone launched. That distinction suddenly, unexpectedly, belongs to Google. This is the year Google got so many things right, and I'm confident it's no coincidence 2012 was Larry Page's first full year as returning chief executive. Google is more dynamic, more innovative, more aggressive than ever before. Apple has the reputation for being most innovative, but that's more a factor of being loudest tooting its stuff. Google quietly delivered everywhere. Show me a Google product that didn't greatly improve.

The company gets my personal "Most Innovative of 2012" award. Google cranked out lots of new products and updated existing ones on ongoing basis. Everyday is change using Google stuff, usually for the better. Last week, my browser on Chrome OS started showing new Gmail notifications. It's one of many, many meaningful enhancements that just happen, with little to nothing required of me. Updates are automatic.

Google Now is product of the year and easily eclipses the original iPhone's importance while extending the cloud-connected device platform's importance. The service is all about context and providing stuff that is meaningful to you. It's a watershed development that makes Jelly Bean Androids even more personal and aware of you.

More Like Me

I credit Google's dramatic 2012 execution with my unexpected abandonment of MacTel and WinTel for the Chrome OS and Android ARMy. What a strange juxtaposition. In April 2011, I asked: "Can you give up Google?" I tried and failed. Google+ pulled me back, starting in early summer 2011. But it was second-generation Chromebook, Nexus devices and improvements all the way round to Google software and services that pulled me in and pushed me beyond traditional PC platforms. All this year. Some highlights:

Chromebook. On Jan. 31, 2012, I bought from Apple Store the then top-of-the-line 11.6-inch MacBook Air with 1.8GHz Intel i7 processor, 4GB RAM and 256GB SSD for $1,649 before tax. Days later, I added black 32GB iPhone 4S and in March 64GB LTE iPad 3. I used Christmas bonus and gift money, as well as sales of some gear, to finance most of the purchases. I switched from a Windows 7 laptop and Verizon Galaxy Nexus. I really liked the Android, but couldn't afford to split the family between two cellular carriers. I sold the Google phone for about the cost of the early-termination fee.

But within months, I grew deeply dissatisfied using Apple products, for many reasons -- patent bullying and my disgust with pro-Apple bloggers and commenters being top among them. I considered changing platforms but to what. Windows didn't much appeal and Linux requires too much work (Hey, I'm no geek).

Then, unexpectedly, Google and Samsung released the Series 5 550 Chromebook in late May and the performance equaled and in some ways exceeded the costlier MacBook Air. I used the original Chromebook for a full two months in 2011 but overall performance disappointed. Its successor changed everything. I moved to Chrome OS and didn't look back.

Less than two weeks later, I formerly boycotted Apple, selling the fruit-logo laptop and tablet. I already had sold iPhone 4S, buying Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ soon as Google started selling the device direct (April). In July, having unloaded all my fruity gear, I declared independence from Apple.

I adopted Chrome OS but on an Intel-based system. In October, Google and Samsung released an ARM-based Chromebook, selling for $249. I made the switch to the new model, despite performance deficiencies compared to the 550.

Still, I'm about as satisfied with the ARM Chromebook as the i7 MacBook Air. Screen and physical size are similar, but the Samsung sells for $249 and I paid $1,649 for the Apple. What surprises me, and it shouldn't, is how aggressively Google promoted Chromebook over the holidays and how great was the interest.

Contextual cloud. The switch meant living in the cloud, as explained in post "Chromebook changed my life". I do most everything in the browser, including photo and video editing, that is when not also working on an Android device (skip ahead for more on that). Gmail handles messaging, not that I like the browser-based UI much.

I started the year listening to music in iTunes (with content stored on external USB drive). Now I stream from Google Music and will soon add a subscription service. (Suggestions anyone? MOG and Spotify are top consideration because of 320kbps streaming.) Personal content generally goes to Google+, Drive or YouTube. I keep nothing locally anymore. I watch less TV, streaming more content from Amazon, Google Play or Netflix. I'm in process of letting magazine subscriptions elapse. I'll either go digital version or none at all.

Magazines as we know them are headed to extinction, and digital can't save them. It's adapt or die time. Yesterday, The Next Web announced end of its Android magazine for lack of demand. I laughed reading the post, for editors' stupidity, given the site's name.

It's my experience that reading magazines on iPad is considerably more immersive than Android. Whether or not that's good depends on several perspectives -- one of which: What's -- and how ironic -- the next web? Google's platform, leveraging from search, is all mashup. Information coming in from different and disparate sources. That's also the trend driven by social media everywhere.

During the web's early days, magazine publishers sought to maintain the print experience via tech like PDF. But the approach failed. The web platform's hyperlinking fostered something more dynamic. That characteristic isn't changed on tablets any more than PCs. If anything, mashup style is more the future web, something TNW editors seem to have missed. The past lesson still applies. There are reasons mobile apps like Flipboard are so successful. Mashup, baby.

iPad, by contrast, is more Gangnam Style, appealing to a seemingly trendy set that clings to presentation over substance. Or, using the Hunger Games analogy, the Capitol (iPad) versus the Districts (Androids).

I don't see much long-term future for magazines on any tablet, not as long as they take so long to download or remain so static. On Android, where users get info from feeds, Google Now, widgets and so much else, there's not even much short-term future. Given Android's escalating install base, TNW would be better off figuring out the market rather than abandoning it.

Enough about magazine publishing. My cloud adventure deserves another post, particularly continued experience using Google Now, which I can't be positive enough about.

Google Nexus. Android is the other platform switch here. But given this post is so long, I'll be briefer.

I've owned every Nexus smartphone, but it's the Galaxy model running Android 4.1 that hooked me on the platform. I made full-time commitment to Galaxy Nexus in April, upgrading to Nexus 4 in November. The handset is a keeper.

I owned iPad 1, 2 and 3 and sold each less than two months after purchasing. Then, in late June, I got Nexus 7. I love the form factor, performance, screen -- everything. For me, it's the perfect tablet. I also have Nexus 10, which doesn't appeal nearly as much. But the point: I have two Android tablets and use them both, whereas I sold every iPad. Something more: I used my Christmas money to buy up: The 32GB Nexus 7 with HSPA+. So now I have an Android tablet with cellular radio, attached to my AT&T shared data plan, for $10 a month -- and no contractual commitment.

Rather than repeat everything, I refer you to my first-impression reviews of the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10.

So, you see, 2012 was a tech transformation year for me. If my sense of computing trends are right, you won't be far behind in 2013. The New Year is often depicted as an old man going out and baby coming in. That's apt analogy for the transition from the PC epoch to the contextual cloud computing era. Expect major platform disruption ahead, but that's topic for another post.

For now. Happy New Year!

Photo Credit: Joe Wilcox

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