Category Archives: mobile

The Future of the Smartphone, a Pocket Appliance



Apple MicrowaveThere’s an article that has been making the rounds the past couple of days or so stating that the smartphone will be a dead product category within five years. The premise of the article seems to be based on a consumer “study” that consists of interviewing a bunch of consumers and what is on their personal technological wish lists.

The smartphone as we know it isn’t going away any time soon. As an ultimate and matured convergence device, the vital functions smartphones are now being used for cannot and will not be replaced by some vague “machine learning” unspecified magic technology that will somehow suddenly appear and take over. At risk of being a stick in the mud, the real world doesn’t work that way. Forms can change, but basic needs that those forms fulfill remain stable.

For one small personal example, I frequently have to send business documents to my company. Back in the old days, this involved putting paperwork into pre-addressed, pre-paid postage company envelopes and dropping them into a mailbox, ultimately hoping they did not get lost in the mail. Later on, it evolved into companies that would overnight the paperwork back to the office. The next step in the evolution involved scanners hooked to computers with data connections. The final step in this evolution involves smartphones. I simply use a special dedicated smartphone app that takes a picture of each document, automatically corrects for the inevitable skewed image distortions, and turns the document photo into a black and white image that you would swear was scanned in a traditional scanner hooked to a computer. It packages these documents together, asks for a bit of additional identifying numbers, and then instantly sends the documents off to the company. I get an instant email receipt notification on the same smartphone letting me know the documents were successfully delivered to my company. This sort of functionality cannot and will not be replaced by some sort of pie-in-the-sky neural interface or voice-activated clothing. Let’s get real.

I recently purchased a new kitchen range that cost about the same amount as a high-end smartphone. Kitchen ranges have been around forever. They have had multiple doses of technology applied to their functions in an attempt to reinvent and reinvigorate the product category. Even with this injection of microprocessor technology, kitchen ranges are still appliances. Millions of people have to buy them, and they come in a wide variety of forms, from the low end to the high end, as fashionable and as expensive as you want. But they are still appliances. When was the last time you got excited by your microwave oven? Thought so.

Smartphones are rapidly in the process of turning into pocket appliances. They are extremely useful, and almost everyone you see has one and is constantly interacting with it. Nonetheless, it is turning into just an appliance.

Home appliances have varying lifespans that can kick out to 20 or 30 years depending on the quality of the item. As a pocket appliance, smartphones are under a lot more physical stress and need to be replaced much more frequently than refrigerators, cook stoves and washing machines.

It turns out that always having a high-quality internet-connected camera/computer in one’s pocket is incredibly useful. “Machine learning” isn’t going to replace that camera, nor will it replace the constant necessity to look up people, places and things and interact directly with them in real time during the day.

Five years from now, smartphones will still be around in very much the same forms they are today. It is likely we will be on average be keeping them longer. No longer a novelty, they are just a necessary appliance that will require periodic replacement.

Time to get those clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer.


The Mobile App Gap



The history of mobile applications dates back to simple games such as Snake, Pong, Tetris, and Tic-Tac-Toe included with candy bar phones.

As phones became “smarter,” Windows Mobile phones of the mid-2000’s and others included the ability to install third-party software, both paid and free.

Next came the era of the high noise level platform app stores that we know and love/hate today. There are tons of both free and paid apps. Some apps are useful to accomplish very specific, pointed tasks with high efficiency. Others apps are arguably less than useless. The good and the bad, the useful and the useless are packaged together in a cacophony of brightly-colored graphics and flowery sales language, all on equal footing and demanding attention. App discovery is often painful, unpleasant and risks device app bloat.

Mobile device ownership and management requires a learning curve. In phase one, the mobile device novice is at high risk of downloading seemingly every app encountered, while actually making use of very little of that which has been installed.

Phase two of the learning curve is typically marked by out of storage memory errors.

Phase three requires the user to decide which useless apps should be deleted so that the mobile device can continue to be updated and/or functional. When deleting apps, there is a tendency for the user to hang on to installed apps if there’s even the most remote of chances that the user might conceivably use the app.

The key test to determine whether a particular app should simply be deleted is to ask yourself whether or not you would reinstall it after a factory reset.

It should be noted that apps that the user has paid for will tend to have a higher psychological value placed on them, regardless of whether they are actually useful or not.

In this noisy mobile app jungle, where crap is right alongside cream, people are trying to squeeze the most out of their mobile devices, to extract the maximum productivity.

Mobile devices make great content consumption devices. Proof is all around us. At any given moment when people are around, how many of those people are absorbed with their mobile devices?

As mobile devices become ever more powerful, the next step in the evolution of the mobile device usage learning curve is revolving around increasing demand to accomplish real-world productivity tasks. While some productivity tasks can be accomplished, others are difficult or impossible – not because of computing power limitations – after all, today’s mobile devices often have quite powerful processors – no, because of software limitations.

Mobile device operating systems have grown larger and more sophisticated along with the more powerful processors. However, there is a problem plaguing both iOS and Android in the form of an app gap. Apps are wannabe pretenders when it comes to genuine software sophistication. No mobile device apps can compare on equal footing with desktop computer software. Both major platforms – iOS and Android – suffer from this problem.

There is nothing stopping software vendors from developing highly sophisticated mobile software, other than the fact that it’s typically just not worth it. For whatever reason, mobile device owners have a pervasive “it has to be free or very low cost” mentality. We are willing to spend upwards of a thousand dollars or even more for a high end mobile device, but balk at the idea of having to pay more than a few dollars for single apps.

If you have ever tried to push a mobile device to better take advantage of its powerful processing capabilities, you quickly run into a problem. Go beyond a certain level of task sophistication, and the apps typically fall flat very quickly. The ultimate test for mobile apps is to take a mobile device and plug it in to a 1080p or higher monitor. Attach a keyboard and if it’s an Android device, attach a mouse or trackpad. Try to use the mobile device and the installed apps like you would a full computer. For example, try to push the experience to its limits by editing a long, complex video and see how well it goes. The mobile software will play back high resolution videos without any trouble at all, but try to do something really productive and things quickly fall apart. The problem isn’t the processor, but the software.

The mobile app gap situation doesn’t look as if it will improve anytime soon. In the meantime, as mobile device owners and users there are a lot of questions we should be asking ourselves.

How much are you willing to pay for mobile device apps? What has been your experience? Have you ever paid for an app and then realized later that it was a waste of money? What is the most you have ever paid for a mobile app and why?

Why are people willing to pay sometimes hundreds of dollars for sophisticated commercial desktop class software without batting an eye, yet close their wallets when it comes to paid apps for mobile devices? Do people perceive mobile devices to have as big of a potential payoff as a desktop or laptop? If mobile computing devices don’t have the same payoff potential as a desktop or laptop, then why not? What is the difference between the two systems? What can be done to increase the potential payoff value of mobile computing devices?


Google Launches Mobile Carrier Project Fi for Nexus 6



Google has joined the ranks of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile with their new mobile carrier service, Project Fi. Project Fi, which is exclusive to owners of Google’s Nexus 6 smartphone, offers a completely new take on wireless plans.

project fiMost carriers charge a flat rate for a specific amount of data, even when you don’t use it all, but Project Fi only charges you for the data you actually use and reimburses you for what you don’t. For example, if you spend $20 on a 2GB monthly plan but only use 1GB, Google will refund you $10. If you only use 0.5GB, you’ll get $15 and so on.

Project Fi is available in over 120 countries (with no roaming charges– yay!) and offers unlimited talk and text, personal hotspot usage, Google Voice integration, and unlimited international texting for a flat rate of $20 per month; you can add a data plan for $10/GB per month as well.

In addition, Project Fi lets you connect to both Sprint and T-Mobile’s 3G and 4G LTE networks, so if your T-Mobile signal starts to lag and Sprint has a faster signal available, Project Fi will automatically switch over to Sprint so you’ll always have the fastest possible connection. And if no cell networks are available, Project Fi lets you connect to more than 1 million free open-access WiFi hotspots, automatically encrypting your data so you can have fast, secure online access wherever you are.

Project Fi is currently in its early-access stage and only available for the Nexus 6, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see support for other smartphones coming soon, and perhaps a partnership with AT&T or Verizon, too.

Until then, you can get all the details and request an invitation here.


New InoReader brings full functionality RSS to mobile



rss logoWhen Google discontinued Reader it left fans of RSS in a rough spot. Fortunately there were many options to choose from, and new ones sprung up to take advantage of the situation. One service that you may have switched to is InoReader, a popular choice among the big names in the field. The service is more or less continuously updating its offerings, both web-based and mobile.

This time around it’s the mobile version that is getting a makeover. “Today we’re launching the new Inoreader web version for mobile phones – a much richer and better looking successor of our old mobile web version. Now you have the full Inoreader platform with all the content and functionality straight in your pocket”.

The company boasts a more friendly design, better access to menus (they claim to have made this more logical), better, and more mobile-friendly, article viewing and a new dashboard. “If you’re used to starting your Inoreader experience from your dashboard, you can now do that on mobile, too. You can even change your dashboard on the go – just tap the plus button to add gadgets or the gear icons of each section to update it”.

The new version is available now and compatible with all mobile devices. InoReader is free, though there is a premium model for those who require more features.

2015.03.18 Blogpost Mobile Website


Mad Catz M.O.J.O. Makes Mobile Gaming More Affordable



Mad Catz logoMad Catz Interactive has announced a new lower-price point for its M.O.J.O. Micro-Console for Android. It will now retail across North America for an MSRP of just $149.99. Similar price adjustments will take place across all leading territories. The new price makes mobile gaming massively affordable.

The M.O.J.O. is the most versatile micro-console for Android. It’s an all-in-one gaming and media center that fits with today’s mobile-connected lifestyle. The M.O.J.O. offers a deep catalog of content, high performance gaming, streaming, movies and more. It was built on the open standard Android operating system, which means it gives gamers instant access to content via Google Play. Users get full access to hundreds of OUYA games, OnLive cloud gaming service and the Limelight PC Streaming App.

The M.O.J.O. is powerful enough to handle the most demanding Android games and streaming content. It enables users to bring all of their favorite Android content into the living room in full HD quality, with the ability to output content in 4K native resolution and to take advantage of the latest generation of UHD TV’s.

Mad Catz M.O.J.O. Micro-Console is packaged complete with Mad Catz’ Bluetooth 4.0 enabled C.T.L.R. Mobile Gamepad, HDMI cable, and Male-to-Male USB 2.0 cable. M.O.J.O. delivers high definition Android gaming right out of the box. It is fully compatible with Mad Catz’ GameSmart suite of mobile accessories. This lets users expand their experience with Bluetooth enabled keyboards, mice, and headsets.


Twitter Wants to Know What Apps You Installed



Twitter logoTwitter is about to start checking your phone to find out what other apps you have installed on it. The purpose, according to Twitter, is to “deliver tailored content that you might be interested in.” It would be reasonable to assume that the information gathered from your “app graph” will be used by Twitter to select which ads you will be shown.

To be clear, Twitter is only collecting the list of applications that you have installed on your mobile device. It is not collecting any data that is within whatever applications you have installed on your mobile device.

Twitter will then use that list of apps to “help build a more tailored experience for you on Twitter”. It lists some of the ways it might use your app graph:

– Improved “who to follow” suggestions that share similar interests
– Adding Tweets, accounts, or other content to your timeline that Twitter thinks you will find interesting
– Showing you more relevant promoted content

Fortunately, Twitter is not going to just go ahead and collect the list of apps without telling you first. Their information about the “app graph” states:

We will notify you about this feature being turned on for your account by showing a prompt letting you know that to help tailor your experience, Twitter uses the apps on your device. Until you see this prompt, this setting is turned off and we are not collecting a list of your apps.

Be aware that the prompt indicates that Twitter can now start collecting the list of apps that you have on your mobile device. You are automatically opted-in.

Want to opt-out of this? You can! Twitter has added step-by-step directions that will walk you through how to opt-out on your Android or iOS mobile devices. In short, go into your privacy settings and un-check the box called “Tailor Twitter based on my apps”.


Check out the Radmo car phone mount



Using your phone in the car is a dodgy proposal, you don’t want to talk or text, but many of us use it for our GPS device. This generally requires some sort of mounting system, keeping the screen always in front of you and preventing the need to pick it up or look down. The item most of us think of is the traditional windshield mount, but some states restrict these items.

A new type of mount called Radmo aims to change the way we display the smartphone in the car. The holder does require a CD player in the stereo, but that shouldn’t be a hurdle for most customers.

The makers promise “Radmo literally takes seconds to assemble with no need for any tools. It’s 100% adjustable for any phone size up to mini-tablets”.

The project is on Indiegogo, and has already far surpassed its intended goal, with still more than a month left. Quantities are limited, so you may wish to grab it now. The price is right at only $20.


The (Non?) Case For Wearables



It is often difficult to determine in advance which new products or services will catch on, versus which ones are just temporary flashes in the pan.

Some of the fog can be dispelled by determining if the new product or service actually serves a practical long term purpose in the real world.

The desktop computer caught on because it rolled a large number of existing useful functions such as document creation, accounting functions, etc. into a single, networkable device.

As laptop versions of computers became more powerful, laptop sales outpaced desktop sales. Laptops were more portable and just as capable for most uses.

Mobile devices have caught on because they take the most useful bits and bobs of computer networking functionality and put them into an easily pocketable form factor. The very best mobile apps actually perform specific tasks more quickly and conveniently than could be done using a full-blown computer. For example, a well-designed mobile banking app significantly decreases the time it takes to perform everyday banking tasks as contrasted to the time it would take the same person to log on to the bank’s website to accomplish the same tasks.

Do wearable computing devices make any existing networked computing tasks easier and/or more convenient? Using the mobile banking example, a mobile banking app on a wearable wrist computer would have to make it significantly faster to perform basic banking tasks than could be accomplished with the attached smartphone. Interacting with a one inch screen offers extremely limited functional opportunity or efficiency. Talking in to a wrist computer to accomplish banking tasks is not practical in the real world.

There are a number of uses for devices that contain differing types of sensors and recording capabilities. Many of these types of devices inevitably end up unused and forgotten once the novelty wears off, which could indicate the potential for fading fad popularity.

Wrist notifications are cited as a potential use. These notifications could be advantageous for certain people in certain types of circumstances. However, they could also prove to be dangerously distracting, say for example while driving. Interacting with mobile devices while driving is a very real traffic fatality problem, and a wrist notification for many people could prove to be an irresistible temptation.

The people who are constantly texting (the mobile equivalent of Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger from yesteryear) will not be typing on a one-inch screen – it is just too small. The alternative to use voice-to-text is not practical. If you think people yelling into cell phones in public is a problem, just imagine those same people yelling text messages into their wrist computing device!

Will it be possible for developers to take significant bits and bobs of existing networked computing functions and concentrate them into a wrist form that is faster and more efficient to interact with than the smart phone they are tethered to? If not, the future for wearable computing devices is in serious doubt.


Game Over Foursquare



Foursquare logoIt’s game over, Foursquare. After several years of intermittent playing, I’ve decided to pack it all in and delete my account from the site. I’m no longer happy to take a service without questioning the value and cost to me and Foursquare doesn’t break even anymore.

Foursquare may have been at the forefront of gamification and I like games, honing skill and strategy to succeed, but the problem with Foursquare was that the limit of expertise was how much time you can spend in a local hostelry. Yes, there were occasional benefits of being a mayor, but most places that rewarded frequent visitors ran a loyalty programme anyway. Of course, the really good shops and restaurants knew you because they paid attention.

The reviews helped maintain interest for awhile but the puerile (“the waitress is hot”) and trivial (“the drinks were nice”) usually outweighed any valuable critical assessment of places to visit. In the end, I didn’t bother putting the app back on my smartphone after changing devices and that was the end of it all.

I’m not going to leave my personal data lying around for the next security breach, so it’s time to delete the account. To its credit, Foursquare make it easy to go.

Delete Foursquare Account

Facebook…you’re next.


Travels in a Foreign Land



Three LogoI’ve been doing a little travelling in Europe over the past few months and with modern life being what it is, mobile connectivity is a must. In my case, it’s provided by UK’s Three and this year’s situation is much improved over previous years. Three has introduced “Feel At Home” which lets customers use their mobile phone for both voice and data in 16 countries round the world at no extra cost. The countries include USA, Australia, France, Italy and Ireland and the limitations are reasonable, such as no tethering and a 25 GB data cap. When you are in one of the 16 countries, it is brilliant – you can play Ingress, call home and check your email without worries of bill shock on your return. Good job, Three.

Outside of the 16 countries, it’s not so rosy. Three have a tariff called “Euro Internet Pass” which is GB£5 for a day of unlimited data. Sounds ok, but “a day” ends at midnight UK time no matter what time you purchase the Pass or the time zone that you are in. But my biggest complaint is how frustratingly difficult it is to buy the Euro Pass. To start with, I can’t simply go into My3 account and buy the Pass; I have to go via a special link to a particular web page. Second, the phone has to have a 3G connection, not wi-fi. Yes, you read that right – you have to be data roaming on 3G to buy the Euro Internet Pass even if you have a perfectly good wi-fi connection. Three helpfully suggests disabling push notifications to avoid per MB roaming charges immediately prior to purchasing a Pass. You can read that gem on their website here – point 2. It’s ridiculous – at times I got so cross with the whole process while trying to buy the pass that I simply gave up and used free wi-fi where I could. The Spanish cortados make the trip to the coffee bar worthwhile, though….