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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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My Smart Phone Is No Longer Working For Me

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I spent two weeks without my iPhone. I was completely off the grid for the first week but then spent the second week online, on my MacBook Air and Kindle, but no iPhone. I got home on Sunday and have had my iPhone turned on the past few days. I’ve used it as a phone, but I’ve largely stayed off of the web, email, and twitter with it. Instead, I’m only done this when I’m in front of my computer. I played around a little with the new Gmail iPhone app (which I like) but I’ve been limiting my email to “intentional time” – early in the morning, late at night, and when I have catch up time in between things.

I don’t miss my iPhone at all. It sits in my pocket most of the time. Every now and then I hop on a phone call and do a conference call with MobileDay. I used it for a map. I checked my calendar a few times.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I was much more mentally engaged throughout the day in the stuff going on (I had a typically packed day). I had dinner with my brother at night. No phones were on the table, no checking in to Foursquare, no quick scanning of Twitter in the bathroom while peeing. When I got home, I hung out with Amy – no email. This morning, I just spent an hour and went through the 200 emails that had piled up since 5:30pm when I’d last checked my email. My inbox is empty.

There’s some magic peace that comes over me when I’m not constantly looking at my iPhone. I really noticed it after two weeks of not doing it. After a few days of withdrawal, the calm appears. My brain is no longer jangly, the dopamine effect of “hey – another email, another tweet” goes away, and I actually am much faster at processing whatever I’ve got on a 27″ screen than on a little tiny thing that my v47 eyes are struggling to read.

Now, I’d love for there to be a way for me to know about high priority interrupts – things that actually are urgent. But my iPhone doesn’t do this at all in any discernable way. There are too many different channels to reach me and they aren’t effectively conditioned – I either have to open them up to everyone (e.g. txtmsg via my phone number) or convince people to use a specific piece of software – many, such as Glassboard – which are very good, but do require intentional behavior on both sides.

I’m suddenly questioning the “mobile first” strategy. Fred Wilson just had two posts about this – yesterday’s (Rethinking Mobile First) and today’s (A Blog Post Written On The Mobile Web). He’s coming at this from a different perspective, but it’s an interesting meme and thought process.

I don’t actually care about the hardware much – it’s going to evolve very rapidly. As is my way, I’m completely focused on the software. And I think the software is badly lacking on many dimensions. Since so much of the software is happening on the backend / in the cloud, we have the potential for radically better user interaction. But we are far from it.

Fred talks in his second post about living in the future. My future, five years from now, has my “compute infrastructure” integrated into my glasses. I no longer have a smart phone – I simply have glasses. I have no idea if I carry a device around in my pocket or have an implant, nor do I care. Again, the hardware will happen. But I don’t want to live my life having all my emails appears in my glasses. And I especially don’t want a tiny keyboard that I can barely see anymore being my input device.

I don’t know the answer here so I’m going to run a bunch of experiments for v47 of me. I’ll spend some months, like this one, with email turned off on my phone. I’m going to dig deeper into “cross channel” software that helps me deal with the flow of information. I may hack together a few things to help me manage it. And I’m continuing to shove more and more communication online – via email or videoconferencing – and away from the phone in the first place.

What’s missing is my control center. I’ve been looking for it for a while and never found anything that’s close, so I end up with a manual control center in my browser. Maybe I’ll stumble upon it – finally – this year. Or maybe I’ll create it. Either way, my smart phone is officially not working for me anymore.

My Powerful New Relationship With My Smart Phone

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I did eventually solve my Paris smart phone problem. Here’s what I did.

  1. I paid AT&T some absurd amount of money for unlimited international everything for my iPhone.
  2. The nice senior people at Orange sent me a SIM card that is good until the end of the month for free unlimited everything for my Android.
  3. Maxroam sent me a super cool device that gives me 3G and international calling for $15 / day.

But none of it matters. Because after two weeks without a smart phone, I simply don’t give a shit anymore. In general, I hate the phone and try to stay off of it. I spend my time in email, IM, and Skype when I’m in front of my computer, which is a lot. However, when I’m wandering around between things, I’ve actually started to realize the joy of looking around and noticing all of the other humans staring at the little pieces of glass they are holding in their hands. During dinner at a restaurant, I’m enjoying the idea that I’m unreachable while I shower 100% of my attention on my beloved and anyone else I’m dining with. And, when I go to the bathroom in a restaurant, I’m actually enjoying the notion that I’m not going to return to the table distracted by the emails I’ve scanned while doing my business.

Basically, except for Google Maps, I haven’t missed the phone one bit the past two weeks. And, given that I haven’t had Google Maps, I’ve gotten to wander aimlessly around a few times, using the old fashioned approach of asking for directions. Each time, I’ve ended up where I needed to be pretty close to when I was supposed to be there. Refreshing, retro, interesting – call it whatever you want – but even for this directionally impaired American it worked out ok.

I now have 3G access again everywhere I go. But I don’t really care. I’m hardly using it (at least I haven’t the past few days). I’m going to start turning off my phone at meals completely and see how that goes for a while. Or maybe I’ll just leave it in the apartment since I’m with the only person (Amy) I want to be talking to anyway.

I learned a lot from this experience. But most importantly, I once again learned the value of thinking about the problem differently and challenging a key assumption. Do I really need my phone with me and email available all of the time? Clearly not.

I’m going for a run now in the rain in Paris. Without my phone. See y’all in a while.

My Quest For The Perfect Smartphone

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Now that my Apple and Google experiments have been huge successes, I thought I’d try an Android phone one more time.  I like my iPhone 4, but it’s pretty weak with all the Google apps.  Specifically, I badly want better contact integration, clean email sync, and Google voice.  Plus, AT&T still blows in Boulder.

Any suggestions out there for the “best Android out there today.”  I was using a Sprint EVO for a while (and liked it a lot) until it was stolen by my assistant Kelly.  So, I open to any choice – suggest away.

Two Weeks Later, I’m Loving The HTC EVO

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Google gave all 5000 Google I/O attendees an HTC EVO (I guess it’s a Sprint EVO) running Android.  For the past two years I’ve been using an iPhone and have become increasingly disgusted by AT&T’s service which is horrible (and deteriorating) in the cities I frequent – most notably Boulder, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, NY, and Boston.  So – I decided to give the EVO+Android a real shot and use it for a week as my permanent phone. 

When I wrote my post Open Android vs. Closed iPhone right after Google I/O a few folks took shots at me for pimping a free phone that I got at a conference.  Given the amount of money I regularly shell out to screw around on hardware and software (I’m one of those guys who happily buys things just to try them out) I shrugged this off but figured it was worth pre-empting since I’m sure this nonsense will come around again.  So – there’s the disclaimer – I got this phone for free (although I did sit on two panels and spent a day and a half talking to people at Google I/O.)

While there has been plenty of fan boy and anti-fan boy chatter about this phone, I can only find one thing to complain about – the battery life.  It’s still running Android 2.1 so I expect there will be plenty of battery tune up in Android 2.2, but out of the box the battery only lasts about six hours.  I’ve tuned my settings so I can get a full day out of it, but am still carrying my USB cord to grab some juice from time to time.  There a few tricks (like charge it with it turned off) that help a lot, but it feels like the iPhone 3G did when it first came out where I was always paying attention to how much charge I had left.  Fortunately this will get better with software (quickly) and – since the battery is removable, I can just carry a spare around.

Ok – that’s literally the only thing I don’t like.  The screen is phenomenal.  All of the apps I run on my iPhone are available on Android – I even found a few new ones.  The camera is killer.  The email client is much better than the iPhone.  Search for anything is lightening fast.  Voice recognition – er – recognizes my voice.  I have a phone that tethers and – if I want – I have a hotspot (bye bye MiFi.)  My applications remember their state and come up instantly because they are still running in the background.  The browser is fast.  Google Maps + Navigation is incredible, especially for someone who can’t read a map to save his life.  I can dial a phone number, look up an address, and get directions from within the calendar.  The weather app knows where I am.  Google Voice works great and is tightly integrated.

And – for the payoff – I can make a fucking telephone call on this thing.  I can’t remember the last time I looked back after a day and thought “wow – I didn’t drop a single call today.”  Now the only dropped calls I’ve had are when I’m talking to someone on an iPhone and they drop.

I’m looking forward to iPhone 4.0 coming out so I can see how it compares.  My guess is that I’ll get the Android 2.2 upgrade at about the same time so I’ll have both to play around with in June and July.  The real result will be to see which phone I’m using when I get back from Alaska in August.  In the mean time, the HTC EVO is a winner and – as a result – the smart phone thing is going to get interesting now that Apple has some real competition and can no longer just walk all over Microsoft and Palm.

Did I mention that I can’t wait to get my hands on an Android Tablet?

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