MoDaCo founder Paul O'Brien on the HTC Butterfly S, ZX Spectrum 48K and Glass envy

Every week, a new and interesting human being tackles our decidedly geeky take on the Proustian Q&A. This is the Engadget Questionnaire.

After a brief hiatus, our regular smattering of queries is back as MoDaCo founder Paul O'Brien chats carrier lockdowns and brand name clarity. Meet us on the other side of the break for the full gamut of responses.

MoDaCo founder Paul O'Brien on console update woes and Glass envyWhat gadget do you depend on most?
While I'm tempted to say my phone (an HTC Butterfly S right now), in reality, it's my iMac. Much as I love my phone and sort of like my tablets, I just can't be really productive unless I'm in front of a "real keyboard." My QWERTY time is split between the iMac, a MacBook Pro and a Chromebook 550 (what an underrated piece of kit!), but most of the time is with the big screen.

Which do you look back upon most fondly?
Definitely the original Windows Smartphone -- the Orange SPV, aka the HTC Canary. While today's devices might appear to have more in common with Pocket PCs, it's the keypad-toting Windows devices that really kick-started the smartphone revolution. Sure, lots of things about the device sucked -- in fact it was the frustrating certificate lockdown that Orange enforced on the SPV that originally made me start MoDaCo -- but in those days, products like that really blew your mind. I just don't think you get that same feeling now when something new comes out.

Which company does the most to push the industry?
The fascinating thing about the mobile industry is how everyone pushes each other to create better and better products (which can often be interpreted as plagiarism). There's no denying the massive impact Apple [has] had on the industry though, forcing everyone else to rethink how they prioritize different aspects of the product. I'd say Google [is] right up there too.

What is your operating system of choice?
On mobile? Android. For desktops? OS X. For laptops? Chrome OS if your usage model fits it, else OS X too.

What are your favorite gadget names?
The classic Motorola RAZR has to be one of the best naming successes of all time; I like the way that Motorola created the RAZR MAXX name too -- it's easy to understand what the branding signifies. The flip side is that they have diluted the RAZR brand unnecessarily with a bunch of mediocre products. I'm generally a fan of a product name that tells you something about a key aspect of the product and the MAXX is a great example of that. I'm really into health-tracking devices at the moment (I think that there is a revolution coming soon as to how that mass of data gets used) and the Fitbit is a great gadget name. Is a Nespresso machine a gadget? That's a cool name.

What are your least favorite?
I'm not a big fan at all of successive generations of product sharing the same name. iPads, MacBooks and now the Nexus 7 too. It just makes searching for information about them, accessories for them, etc. a pain in the posterior. Some of my Twitter followers have argued that it works for cars and, well, yes -- it does -- but that's a bit different. While we're talking cars, it annoys me that numeric car designations for some manufacturers (BMW, Mercedes, etc.) used to mean something and actually inform you about the vehicle's engine capacity, but they are now just seemingly arbitrary numbers.

Which app do you depend on most?
Chrome, whatever device I'm on. I spend most of my time in a browser nowadays and it's incredible how successful Chrome has become in a market that was not long ago dominated by some seriously big players. Aside from that, I've used Tasker for Android to automate a huge number of things on my device - it's awesome.

What traits do you most deplore in a smartphone?
If a device's battery can't make it through a day of my regular usage, then it's dead to me. Another frustration is when you pick up a device and there [are] software changes for the sake of it - while not everyone likes HTC's Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz, they are genuine attempts to improve the user experience. Quite a few manufacturers seem to change things for the sake of it and it's infuriating.

Which do you most admire?
As a father to a daughter, one of the most important things in my device now is a decent camera. I have a lot of respect for HTC and Nokia for their respective efforts to redefine mobile cameras and while the UltraPixel camera on the One can take some astonishingly good pictures at times, Nokia's (proper) PureView cameras really are on another level.

"...My parents bought my brother and [me] a ZX Spectrum 48K. It was amazing and I was immediately hooked on programming it!"

What is your idea of the perfect device?
An HTC One with better battery life (and maybe a higher real pixel count in the UltraPixel camera).

What is your earliest gadget memory?
One Christmas, my parents bought my brother and [me] a ZX Spectrum 48K. It was amazing and I was immediately hooked on programming it! My dad recounts a story about how he had to take it back to the shop three times just to get a program working to write "Merry Christmas Paul and Lee" over and over on the screen -- I feel a little bit bad about that every time I hear it!

What technological advancement do you most admire?
Digital phones with SMS capability hit the market when I was about 18. Text messaging really changed our lives back then and there were some incredibly innovative services built around the technology. Ubiquitous GPS-enabled devices comes a close second, although I wonder if we're really making the most of location as a context on our devices as yet.

Which do you most despise?
Satellite TV provider encryption lock-in. It is incredibly frustrating that the encryption used on satellite broadcasts here on Sky TV in the UK isn't licensed to anyone else and we're forced to use the providers' boxes. I want a TiVo on Sky. I want a Sky-integrated Google TV. But it's just not possible.

What fault are you most tolerant of in a gadget?
I am very tolerant of subpar voice quality. Like many, I rarely use my phone to actually talk to people (to a fault).

Which are you most intolerant of?
Turning on my Xbox 360 and having to wait an age to play while it "downloads updates..."

When has your smartphone been of the most help?
Definitely when abroad and using the device for navigation. Although Google Maps is excellent, there's still space in the market for onboard navigation solutions like CoPilot (my preferred choice) so you can use them without a data connection.

"I am very tolerant of subpar voice quality. Like many, I rarely use my phone to actually talk to people (to a fault)."

What device do you covet most?
Right now, Google Glass. It does have massive social implications and it will be very interesting to see what happens when it goes mass market, but I can't wait to get my hands on it.

If you could change one thing about your phone what would it be?
Better battery life!

What does being connected mean to you?
Being connected means having anything I want to know at my fingertips wherever I am.

When are you least likely to reply to an email?
In the cinema!

When did you last disconnect?
I've just come back from two weeks in Dordogne, France, where I disconnected from all work commitments. It was liberating!

0 Comments

MoDaCo founder Paul O'Brien on console update woes and Glass envy