Sometimes Danger is a Good Thing

by Alan Graham

Related link: http://danger.com



In February of 2001, I wrote an article on what was wrong with the current state of computing, PDAs, and wireless. My argument was that it was a foolish direction to pursue devices that were all about storing data and less about moving it. I felt that smaller wasn't better, smarter was.



It's 2003 and I'm still waiting for my predictions and desires to come true. There has been a staggering lack of compelling development in the past three years and for awhile I never actually thought Bluetooth would show up.



I want wireless devices to focus more on tools and less on browsing. We don't need more new ways to view content that we are already ignoring, and what wireless should represent is simply the door to our world, not just the world itself. Handheld devices should serve as the portal to our own personal servers. They should direct information, not merely store it.



Consider This:

I'm sitting with you in a restaurant. We start to discuss a project and I decide to send you a 300MB project file. I pull out my handheld, you pull out yours. My handheld connects to my server, I locate the folder and our handhelds automatically negotiate the transfer of the files between my server and yours through a secure connection. The only data passing through our handheld devices is a security handshake and instructions on where and how to send the files. Minimal packets move mountains. Simple enough idea, and I've been waiting for a simple execution of it for three years.



Glimmer of Hope

Over two years ago I conceived and executed a promotional idea for the HandSpring Visor and Springboard line of products. The idea was simple, travel over 10,000 miles in about 30 days. Document the entire trip daily using only the Visor and Springboard modules. No laptop or cell phone (other than the VisorPhone). My wife and I would visit over 20 states and about 13 CompUSA locations in order to promote the idea of true mobile computing...to show that we were on the verge of a dream I had since my wireless (through Metricom) Apple Newton 2100.


After the trip, I stopped using my Visor. Handspring discontinued the Springboard and I lost interest in PDAs. The Treo was released, but it's price and reliance on the "phone" metaphor for it's design didn't interest me. I had my iPod and that took care of most of my needs. In fact I never thought I would go back to using a PDA/wireless device again, until last week when SunCom (thanks Karen Rountree) & Danger (thanks Susan George) sent me a Hiptop wireless device.



From moment one I was smitten with this device. It is pure geek sex appeal with an urban-tech look & feel. The flip screen is not only cool, but it and the iPod are the best execution of handheld ergonomics I've seen in years...and the UI is almost as good as the Newton...graceful, quick, and simple. In fact, it reminds me of a device that Apple might make.



While the HipTop has it's faults, it does a lot of things right.


Data Is Centralized

I don't backup my Danger device. It backs itself up...always. Remember in the past when the juice of your Palm died out or an unexplained crash toasted all your data until you HotSync? And of course you were always miles from your computer. Not a problem with the HipTop. In the case of data loss, the moment my HipTop device has a wireless connection to their server, my data is back. I like that my device works for me, not me for it.



Keyboards Beat Handwriting

I hate Graffiti...always have. I hate that I can't put down a steady stream of thoughts without first translating my ideas into shorthand ("which way is U and which is V"). The best thing HandSpring ever did for the Treo, was ditching Graffiti for a keyboard. My problem with most devices is that they focus on phone design over data. Danger's design is data first, phone second. I'd say that 90% of my communication is based on text, not voice...so Email and text messaging are crucial to me. I am pleased that Danger didn't sit down and say, "How can we put a data device into this phone." and instead said, "How can we put a phone into this data device."



Excellent Metaphors

The Danger Device FEELS like a computing device. Drop down menus, excellent user feedback, and yes you can run more than one application at a time. For example, while requesting a web page, you can log into AIM, then take a quick look at your email, and when the web page is loaded...it will let you know. Having an AIM chat, but need to check your mail? Go ahead, you won't lose your connection.



Terminal Monkey

I downloaded an application called Terminal Monkey to my HipTop and I nearly plotzed when I logged onto my home server through an SSH2 connection. When I saw "Welcome to Darwin," I couldn't believe it. I launched applications, moved files, modified my server, and killed a process that was hung. Sweet!



Problems? There Are Some

Certainly this is not a perfect device. The lack of a touch screen, the lack of connectivity support for a home computer (USB or Bluetooth), and the awkwardness of the device at times as a phone, are just some of the issues I'd like to see resolved. But if you ask me, this device has more critical issues right than wrong. The HipTop feels more like a fourth generation device than a first. In fact, if Danger is ever looking for an east coast evangelist...you should check out my resume!



It's been three long years of waiting for the perfect wireless device, and while perfection isn't here yet...we're another step closer. Handheld/wireless developers should take note of Danger...because they are one step closer to wireless handheld Nirvana.


8 Comments

anonymous2
2003-12-14 07:54:04
Treo 600
I have a Treo 600 and find that it does both data and phone equally well. I couldn't find any system requirements info on the Danger (sidekick), although I don't believe it supports Linux. I require that my devices work with Mac OS X and Linux, and the Treo 600 fits the bill there too.


Pros:
* Very good phone
* Good integration with Palm PDA functions, like contact lookup, call a phone number from an email or web page by highlighting it and clicking center jog button, etc.
* Automatic email retrieval with Handspring email app or Snappermail
* SSH login with Palm SSH (2) client
* Sprint network is fast enough (70Kbps+)
* IM software/services exist for the device. I use one that allows you to login to multiple IM services at once, like Gaim/Fire/Trillian on a computer. The lack of multitasking is a problem, however (see below)
* Web browser does a decent job of refomatting pages into a single column to browse through, highly compatible.
* Keyboard is very usable. The keys are small, but raised and I find I can type fairly good.
* I can sync and recharge with a short USB cable (optional), instead of having to shlep a power adpater for the phone.


Cons:
* Camera (or software) is very poor quality
* Palm OS 5 can't seem to multitask. You quit running one app to switch to another (I thought that was supposed to be changed now?)
* Sites can't seem to save cookies to the web browser, even though I have cookies enabled?
* Battery life could be better. After six hours of heavy use it gives out.


Summary: Overall an excellent device. I value email first, phone second. I have it set to fetch email every 10 minutes during waking hours. Integration, device speed, sync, all are excellent.

sarvinc
2003-12-19 21:14:29
Also a Treo 600 user
Two of the pros you mention seem like cons to me. First your Danger syncs its self; the problem is that… you don't own your own data and the carrier does. What happens if you decide to switch carriers, phones, or gods forbid your carrier doesn’t like a program that comes installed from the factory on your phone? Carriers have the ability to erase programs on the Hiptop and they’ve used it before. I’m curious, how do you like your Outlook integration? Secondly, it's nice that Danger plays nice nice with AIM, what about MSN messenger, Yahoo! and ICQ? Last I heard they were all popular chat clients. A con that I have heard from Danger owners; poor reliability and service. Don't plan on receiving any updates any time soon. Currently, with the Treo 600, you can sync with Outlook, wirelessly with a computer at home, or back up data to a SD card. Also while the Danger may look and act more like a computer for you, it's also less business like. I don't know anyone brave enough to use the Hiptop during a business meeting.
agraham999
2003-12-20 11:24:04
Also a Treo 600 user
The problem with Danger owning my contact info is a problem, and something I am hoping they will fix in the near future. I can't see them not having some type of local sync...and I have seen some beta software for syncing between the Danger device and USB.


I don't use Outlook so it doesn't matter to me. I also don't use more than AIM...and I don't care. 99% of my contacts use AIM/iChat or nothing else...so not a problem. And until the standards war is over with IM...I'm not going to worry about using multiple clients/services.


As far as it being less business like...I would say that is a good thing. I am a former tech exec and I would have no problem pulling it out in a meeting. I've showed it to a number of business people who are blown away by it's design. Also...it is the conformity issue that keeps design back...always gotta worry about what the suits think...I don't care...design is more important than impressions.


I didn't say the device is perfect...it needs some improvements, but it is definitely on the right track.


Alan

anonymous2
2004-01-16 10:54:22
Treo 600
> * SSH login with Palm SSH (2) client


From: http://www.sealiesoftware.com/pssh/


(No) Support (for) low-res 160x160 screens.


http://staff.deltatee.com/~angusa/TuSSH.html


TuSSH seems to work for SSH2 logins. I wonder if I really need to keep TGSSH around anyomre.

csoto
2004-06-02 21:27:35
You Treo guys have it all wrong
You see, "Danger" doesn't sell you a hiptop. They are sold to service providers, such as SunCom or T-Mobile. The latter has a $30/month unlimited data option in my area that is perfect for this device. $.10/minute for voice calls, but I would probably use this 30 minutes per month.
kcrothers
2004-06-28 14:29:29
Alan's into and out of Danger
I agree with Alan in saying Danger has produced and marketed a very useful device. The Treo 600 is just too expensive - the device, itself, and it's software modules.


SideKick -


'Good SSH client - could use a bit more screen space and a smoother font, but good and very reliable. Mine holds sessions while I run SQL flush tables/optimize/analyze/etc., MySQL restart, Apache restart, sed replace on 1.5 million line files, rsync's of entire e-Commerce web sites, and many more pretty critical systems administration actions - all while I'm driving 80+ mph down the interstate. 'Very impressive holding of its connection. How it stores keys and passwords is very nice, and its "Emulate Linux," line entry mode, and allowing high lines of scrollback are very nice to have.


The clock is very dependable, but needs to have a "on-demand switch to high volume" and day-of-week-specific set alarm time features.


RowBot game - very fun, and if you beat 25,862 - my high score, let me ( crothers.info / contact_us ) know.


Camera - need higher resolution. The images it produces are basically useless.


Notes - excellent layout and function, and how the updates are communicated between the SideKick and the Desktop interface on www.sidekick.dngr.com is amazing.


The Address Book sync' via www.sidekick.dngr.com is very useful. You can wipe what you have and re-import from Entourage (the usable Outlook) in seconds and the choice of pictures to associate with the names is very nice. We need to be able to edit that image library, adding our own, and even maybe have a creation tool to smart-make new ones: straight hair, medium thick hair, brunette hair, long length hair, Caucasian skin, moderately tanned skin, medium nose, full lips, red lips, big teeth, straight teeth, white teeth, big eyes, brown eyes, oval face, smiling face, no clothes, etc.


The telephone is hard to beat - all around, but it needs speaker phone ability, and a place/way to store the headset/earpiece.


E-Mail is good, but we need rules that auto-store messages of this subject or that sender into the proper folder.


The AvantGo browser is quite usable. I've made several sites accommodate it, and it's being used. We need Danger to polish and publish a tag library and improve it's ability to understand CSS. It's support for SSL is good, and the Squid proxy they have is actually pretty clean.


But, past all the feature goods/bads, if you happen to drop your SideKick... Give T-Mobile a call and they'll send you another in 2 days for $75. 'No limit on how many you break. All you have to do is unbox it and plug in your SIM card and the power. All your data and settings are there in minutes. 'Only thing I find missing is the key lock setting!!


And I've found three towers in my area that did not support GPRS. I followed T-Mobile procedure and now they do! 'Very impressive. If you select Menu, Network Status, and click Menu M, you can give them all they need.


T-Mobile and Danger make a good couple. Give them a try and you'll be impressed. 'Sorry Treo 600 owners, I think you missed this one.

GregoryPuckett
2004-07-25 18:54:27
Sidekick User
I love my sidekick. The email program in this phone is excellent. It is really nice that I have something I can use while driving to communicate to servers and email. Nothing beats this little device. A place to store a headset would be nice, the phone function is a little bulky. Any other Sidekick users IM me, GatorGuy0408.
Dstefanko
2005-01-14 12:42:05
Treo 600
In view of the recent Hacking incident at T-Mobile involving the Sidekick from Danger, I sure hope that all of you who praise the sidekick would look beyond your own noses.


The Sidekick is POS device with ZERO (0) security,
anyone can register as a danger developer and download the sidekick SDK. Anyone wishing to write MALICIOUS CODE can do so.


Companies Like RIM, SEVEN, and GOODE all have a ZERO (0) TRUST security model. and something like what happened with the Sidekick cannot happen.


Let's rename the sidekick to "GANSTAPHONE" in Honor Of Snoop Dog and all the other CELEBRITIES who got it for free.