Faking Cultural Literacy

What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it. We come perilously close to performing a pastiche of knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness.

-Faking Cultural Literacy on the NYTimes

Corrections in the Tech Industry

Two pieces of bad news for various tech companies recently. First, Samsung’s quarterly reports show lower quarterly income for the first time in two years.

This should be very concerning if you are invested in the Android ecosystem. Samsung rode the wave of being the “iPhone for people who didn’t want an iPhone”. But, they have never been great at innovation. Their “added” features aren’t valued by consumers.

So, they have to stand out through hardware. But at some point, other manufacturers can catch up with big screens and other specs. Then the only point of differentiation to an end user is the price. And Chinese manufacturers are already out-speccing Samsung and beating them on price.

For the end consumer, this appears to be a good thing. You will get hardware at cheaper. However, for manufacturers this means a race to the bottom. Consumers don’t appreciate small details and will just look for the cheapest phone. So, you use cheaper plastic. You start adding junk ware programs that are sponsored and the makers pay you to include.

All of this happened to the PC market years ago. No manufacturer could differentiate on features after a certain point. Plus, all the Operating Systems were the same, some flavor of Windows, just like all these phones run Android. So the only thing to do is go cheap.

How many of you enjoy using a 299 laptop? Exactly. But very few people justified buying a super expensive Vaio or Lenovo. Which is why both of those parent companies spun off those branches of their companies.

We are going to see more and more cheap devices and some fall out in the Android Phone industry as a result. Certainly, this means more wide adoption of Android devices, but how many of those users will buy apps, which support a flourishing app ecosystem? Its hard to make money giving away your product.

Second, Apple is selling fewer iPads that expected. This is a problem in that for growth, the company needs something to be the next iPhone. There are arguments about whether this is true – in that you can just keep updating iPhones, but for “investment” types growth is sexy.

I have an iPad, but I have also told almost all my friends they do not need one. The limitations are just too great to use it as a laptop replacement. The one-app-at-a-time problem is real. Think about your desktop right now. I bet you have more than one window open. You have your web browser, a mail client, a music player, probably a document/spreadsheet of some sort, and maybe a twitter client open.

Sure, you can have those running on an tablet, but switching between them is tedious compared to a laptop. And having both open to compare or copy/paste between is impossible.

I think many consumers hoped these tablets would be a cheap way to replace their laptop. Upon discovering the limitations, they quickly ran back to the computers, relegating tablets to third device status – behind their computer for productivity and their phone for always accessible updates.

My Android Experiment

Among my circle, I have a bit of an Apple fanboy reputation. Personally, I don’t  think its warranted, but I can understand the perception.

After buying the old school iPod in college, I slowly transitioned over. Purchasing the very first iPhone, and owning nothing but them since – through the 3G, 4 and now 5. Along the way, I picked up an iPad, and even traded in my trusty Lenovo laptop for a mac.

I am fully enmeshed in the Apple universe. But, I’d argue that is because of proven capability and reliability time and again. Each purchase justified itself and led to the next.

That is not to say I don’t understand the appeal of competing systems. I tried a Windows Phone for a bit. And there are plenty of people who do find the Android ecosystem superior.

Lately, I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my iPhone. Not an error necessarily, but an annoyance nonetheless. I cheaped out on my last iPhone – getting the 16GB version instead of the costlier 32 or 64 versions. Combine this with Apple’s insistence on not including an SD card slot, and I’m running into a problem.

I am constantly running out of space. And  not for reasons typically given. I don’t store a ton of music – instead streaming Spotify and Beats. And I don’t make the mistake of keeping all my photos on my device. I use Dropbox and Photostream to backup my pics. I have taken all the easy steps to relieve my situation.

Instead, I have an app addiction. I like keeping a lot of apps on my devices. It feels silly to me to have to re-download something when I want to use it, if I even remember it exists. Plus, there are data cap concerns. Most of the time this is fine. I download an app, and still have room.

But iOS apps have a weird problem. They store cached files, so you don’t have to download the same picture in Instagram 8 times, it stores it on the device. This means that even though the Instagram app is only 20MB, over time it balloons to over 250 MB for me. And all the major apps do this – Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and so on. Add these up, and it becomes a problem.

Android has a function built into the OS where a user can delete any application’s cache. However, iOS doesn’t trust the user to do this. In order to delete the entire app must be deleted and re-installed. Many times losing log in information, and just being a general drag.

See the difference in Instagram’s official instructions for “Instagram takes up too much space on my device”:

Apple iOS

The more you use an app, the more space the app takes up on your phone. If you use Instagram more than other apps, it’ll likely take up more space on your phone than apps you don’t use as often.

If you want to manually decrease the amount of space Instagram takes up, you can delete and reinstall the app. Your photos and profile data will be saved.

Android

The Android app may take up more internal memory than other apps on your phone because we cache photos. This makes the Instagram experience faster for you and conserves bandwidth, which means you don’t have to re-download photos over your carrier’s network.

  1. Leave the Instagram app

  2. Open the Settings on your phone > Applications > Manage applications > Instagram

  3. If you choose Clear data, your download cache will be cleared. Clear cache will reset the memory for the app.

So, I was getting frustrated. I felt like my experience was being ruined by having to constantly worry about space. Apple has an upcoming WWDC event where they are expected to show off iOS 8, and potentially some new hardware. I was able to procure an Android device for cheap without signing a contract, and thought this would provide a good opportunity. I could test out Android, see what new announcements come from WWDC and decide whether to jump ship or stick with Apple before the next iPhone comes out and I’m on another two year contract.

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AT&T buys DirecTV

Today AT&T officially announced they are buying DirecTV. I don’t understand this deal. AT&T has a small but well reviewed television service called U-Verse. It has less mindshare with consumers than Verizon’s Fios, but its a similar product.

An argument could be made that with Comcast buying TWC, AT&T needs to have a larger customer base to compete with content providers. This is a leverage move.

However, long term, it is pretty accepted that more and more consumers will get their content over-the-top via internet delivery instead of traditional cable and satellite services. So, this is a continuously falling customer base and income stream.

What is the play here?

Apps 3.0

Foursquare split their app into two parts this weekend. They introduced Swarm – to focus on check-ins and meetups. This leaves Foursquare as a legacy app meant to compete with Yelp as a review and recommendation app. Personally, I think this is a mistake. People don’t want to have to think about which app to open to perform a certain task. Plus, you have to communicate to all your original users to go get a second app.

Almost certainly, this will mean App B has a small proportion of users than App A. But, they are not the only ones to do this. See: Facebook’s splitting of functions into their own apps; Camera, Messenger, Pages,  Paper, Poke, and arguably Instagram. However, Faceook has shuttered Camera and Poke, indicating this trend isn’t working for them.

This trend was picked up by TechCrunch, and they do a good job describing this third wave of app development, along with the first two.

The shift we’re seeing will be the third strata of user interaction since the iPhone popularized the mobile app in a major way. The initial offerings for the iPhone and then Android devices adhered fairly closely to the ‘information appliance’ model. Using software, you transformed your phone into a mostly mono-purpose device just like it said on the tin. Now it’s a phone. Now it’s a calculator. Now it’s a messaging tool.

The second phase is the ‘home screen’ era, where every app fought hard to be your home base. The prevailing wisdom was that you had to cram everything your service offered into mobile, using a form of design-driven gavage to stuff your app until it was positively groaning with tabs and gutters and drawers.

Now, we’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicitly have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing’, they’re purpose built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use and predictive computation. These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention.

Frankly, it seems like this third wave is just a return to the first – focus single task apps, simply with better tools. I still think big, multipurpose apps are the better play. User engagement and stickiness is what most businesses in this area focus on, especially in selling to advertisers. Its hard to push that angle when users only come to your app for a single task and leave.

Why I Subscribe to Both Cable and Satellite

I now subscribe to both DirecTV and Time Warner Cable for television services. How did this happen? And why? Am I an idiot? Perhaps. But its the way the world of media service providers work today.

Last year I switched from Time Warner Cable to DirecTV. TWC was charging an obscene amount for television and internet services. I got a very cheap DirecTV package with the same channels as TWC. The frustrating part is that internet service over satellite is expensive and pretty awful.

So, I had to crawl back to TWC for internet service. They offer independent internet service, albeit at a price higher than if I bundle it with TV. However, with cheap TV service from DirecTV, I still came out ahead.

Recently, my promotional price for internet with TWC ended. I called them up to try to negotiate a better rate. The funny part is that the customer service rep told me he could offer me a higher speed, at a cheaper rate, but only if I signed up for TV as part of a bundle. So, for the same promotional rate, I would have faster internet, plus basic cable (that I will never use as my DirecTV is still hooked up to my TV).

Why is this? Because TWC wants to be sold to Comcast. And, in order to seem appealing at a high price, TWC needs to look like it will offer a lot of paying customers. Customers who subscribe to both Cable and Internet are more attractive than just internet customers. Cable companies do not want to become dumb pipes that just serve you data. They make much more money selling you packages of TV, leasing you cable boxes and DVRs and selling you PPV and VOD movies.

So, I now subscribe to two TV services. What  a country!

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