Saturday, April 30, 2016

Smart Phone Observations

After having a smart phone a few months, I notice a few things...

After resisting the smart phone cattle stampede, we decided to get one for the two of us (a good way to save money right there) because it would be useful when traveling, and we travel a lot.  After a couple of months, I have a few observations which may seem pretty obvious if you've had one for years.

1.  It is hard not to "be that guy" and respond to the beeps and boops of your smart phone like a Pavlovian Dog.   The phone is easy to set up to read both of our e-mails.  So it will beep if a new e-mail appears in either inbox, or beep and vibrate if someone texts.   It is hard not to be curious as to what someone sent, even if you are doing other things.   And if you receive a text from someone and respond, you may find yourself in texting hell, where each person feels they have to respond to the last text, lest they be rude.  It is a nightmare.   The simple solution to this of course, is to turn your phone off unless you are using it.

2.  No one calls, and if they did, you could not answer anyway.  Phone calls are dead, let's face it.   I have my landline set to go to seven rings before it goes to voice-mail.   No one every leaves a voice-mail as no one will wait for seven rings.   Smart phones bounce to voice-mail after two or three rings (tops) as it is assumed you are constantly holding the thing in your hand or have a bluetooth headset on at all times.   If you have the thing in a bag or purse, by the time you dig it out and enter your passcode, you've missed the call.  So, after two months with the smart phone, we've had maybe two calls, which is fine because if you push this thing against your greasy face, it gets gross in a real hurry.

3.  There are some handy features:   You can check your bank balance (and deposit checks!), check e-mails, and use the hotspot to link your laptop and do real work.  And yes, you can even load YouTube videos or listen to music with Pandora or other apps.   These are the things that make a smart phone compelling.  You also have access to the largest database in the world, which eliminates any excuse for being ignorant about anything.  With voice recognition, you can simply ask the smart phone, "Who was Virginia Woolfe?" or whatever, and she will tell you  the answer and provide a list of links.   The GPS feature is useful as well, if you are traveling in a car without GPS (or as was recently the case, a car that only had GPS tracking with the OnStar feature - requiring you to call someone to request guidance.  Not one of GM's better ideas!).

4.  You develop battery anxiety.   My old Kindle will hold a charge for a month.   My slightly retarded phone ($15 from AT&T) will easily hold a charge for a week.   Most smart phones seem to run out of gas after about a day, particularly if you are using WiFi, Bluetooth, or running as a hotspot.  Since the Samsung uses a standard mini-USB plug (I am looking at you, Apple!) it is not hard to have a number of chargers around the house and in the cars to casually plug into.   But this short battery life is somewhat annoying and sadly will never go away.   As battery technology improves, energy usage will increase with new features, functionality, and smaller form-factors will reduce battery capacity accordingly.  The simple solution to this of course, is to turn your phone off unless you are using it.  The battery lasts a long time - if you turn off the phone.

5.  The Obsolescence Cycle is Short:   Computers used to be obsolete within a year or two.  Your XT was replaced by an AT.  Your 386 with a 486.  Dual floppies gave way to 5, 10, and even 20 MB of hard drive, then a GB and today, a TB or more.   MGA to CGA, to VGA to flat panel display.   There was always something newer and better - until about 10 years ago when PC architecture plateaued.  So long as you have a fast Internet connection, a decent amount of memory and hard drive space, and a good display, even an older computer can continue to soldier one for years and years (unless you are gaming or something).

Smart phones are developing so fast that they are quickly obsolete.  A relative sent me an old Apple iPhone 4S.   It is basically a iPod with a phone attached - illustrating the roots of the iPhone business.   It won't even run Pandora without an upgrade to iOS 8.0, which in turn may "brick" the phone if it has been Jailbreaked.   Bear in mind that this phone is only five years old and is basically useless for anything other than basic texting, talking and storing music (as a glorified iPod).   On the other hand, the computer I am typing this on is a decade old and still is going strong.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is two years newer, but much more functional, for now.  Since it doesn't have near-field communications features, it can't run any kind of smart-pay.  So even its days will be numbered.


Smart phones are the new cable TV - something that you don't really need in life, but that you've convinced yourself is as indispensable as oxygen.  As a result, the companies have you over a barrel, once you decide you "have to have" it.

But the fast development in the field illustrates why the industry loves smart phones and people are saying PCs are dead.   PCs are still alive, but at this point, the market is mostly for replacement and less for upgrade.   There are fewer compelling features in new PCs to justify junking your old one.   And besides, smart phone people don't use PCs as much - they text everything.

Smart phones, on the other hand, have a short, short design life and are obsolete within a year - at least for now.  There are signs the designs are maturing and the field is shaking out.  The replacement cycle may be slowing down at this point, which is not good news for Apple or even Samsung.   And lowering sales at Apple are reflecting the maturity of the marketplace.

6.  The Galaxy has a better Interface.  Now I am comparing a 2011 Apple with a 2013 Samsung, so the Samsung has a leg up, obviously.  But of the two, I find the Galaxy to be easier to use in a number of ways.  The menu and return keys are a nice augmentation to the home key.  The Apple just has a home key, which may act as a return key depending on application. 

Also the Apple's structure seems clunkier.  Even their trash can icon is hard to understand as being a trash can.  Looks more like a parallelogram.   All of their icons are delicate line drawings which may be artistic, but are harder to understand.  Actually all Apple software is this way - iTunes being the worse example.    But both interfaces are very similar, to be sure.   Apple forces you to interface with iTunes to do a lot of upgrades, and for some reason, it wanted me to sign into my iTunes account to download free apps from the "app store" while Google Apps just download without having to ask me to log in.
(The Apple was set up to log into my Brother-in-law's account and figuring out how to erase his name as the default user took some dicking around.  Apple tech is not intuitive, no matter what they try to tell you.  It seems a little more.... fascist.  We know what is best for you!  Shut up and eat your iKibble!).

(And yes, there is a way with newer iPhones to disable the feature requiring you to log into iTunes to download free apps.  However, this is something that requires effort and work on your part, not an "intuitive" mode of operation.  Apple gets away with fascism because they are single-source).

And it is funny, recently Apple sued Samsung over four of their Patents, claiming that things like synchronizing contact lists or using auto-complete for texting were proprietary technologies.  On appeal, however, the court found that all of the Apple Patents were either invalid or not infringed.  If Apple is going to compete with the android platform, it is going to have to do so by offering a more compelling product, and not by trying to eliminate the competition.

And it goes without saying that as an Engineer, I prefer the open architecture and removable battery (and SDRAM and SIM card) to the "sealed box" of Apple (again, fascism - the corporation knows what is best for you!).   But so long as people crave status, they will keep buying Apples and cases with the hold in the back so everyone can see your Apple logo (just as BMW nose bras have a hole so everyone can see your BMW roundel!).
7.  People whine about fees, but fail to explore alternatives.   Folks complain that their cell provider charged them $35 to transfer service to a new phone.   But with GoPhone, they burned a new SIM card and installed it on my phone, for free.   Of course, I don't have unlimited data, but since I am not addicted to the phone (as many people are - gaming, texting, playing videos, etc.) I don't need that much data.   Smart phones are the new cable TV - something that you don't really need in life, but that you've convinced yourself is as indispensable as oxygen.  As a result, the companies have you over a barrel, once you decide you "have to have" it.

And you know how I feel about cable TV.