Category Archives: Technology

Apple Passwords Sharing Across Keychain

Apple has this system of storing passwords and secure credentials called “Keychain”. It saves your passwords so you don’t have to keep entering them, and it is supposed to store it securely on your system so someone else who gets on your mac can’t access it without knowing your system password.

With iOS 7, Apple brought keychain to iOS for their iPhone, iPad and iPod devices.

From the way I understood it, this meant you no longer had to track passwords as any you entered in Safari on your computer would track to your phone. Neat.

Recently, I discovered it goes a bit deeper than that. I started at a new workplace. This meant getting my devices on new wifi networks. After I hooked up my iPhone to the employer’s wifi with their password, I turned on my iPad.

I was pleasantly surprised as my iPad was already logged onto the network! This was especially nice as my employer hates giving out passwords, and insists on entering them through IT. Ugh.

How this next part really blew me away. This week I brought in my macbook because I had to handle something privately, and wanted to do it on my own laptop during lunch. As I turned it on, I saw the wifi active! The macbook even had the stored password from the iPhone!

That is one of those small really nice things that make you appreciate an ecosystem, but doesn’t sound like much when you are trying to decide between iOS, Android and Windows.

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Facebook Paper Strategy

Facebook launched a new app today called “Paper”. Naming convention problems aside, it is a great little app.

Visually it is much nicer to swipe through than the traditional app. Pictures are huge, scaling off the screen. The motion gestures are natural, using swipes to bring articles to the front and throwing them away.

I really like it I’ve already replaced the traditional Facebook app on my homescreen with it. Plus, it seems to keep most of the main app’s features like messages and notifications. It does seem to borrow a lot from Flipboard, and people seem to be making a lot of that. But I don’t think that is the intent.

I think the real play here is chasing the ever elusive goal for Facebook – monetization. Of the many “feeds” you can scroll through in the app – only one is your Facebook news feed, containing  pics and status updates from your friends.

The remaining 10 or so feeds are “curated news feeds”. Picked by Facebook editors, they are news stories they think are interesting. How long until Facebook simply charges content creators to have prominent placement in those feeds?

Facebook has already gotten some scrutiny for allegedly burying normal status updates and instead pushing paid ads and content to users news feeds. The exact algorithm is hidden as a company secret, so who knows for sure. But ever declining numbers of interactions and likes have people raising eyebrows. 

Do I think you should check it out? Definitely. It is a better way to scroll through Facebook. Do I wonder what the long term effects of it on actually use of Facebook will be? Definitely.

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Will 4K TVs Take Off

CES took place this week. This year most of the attention seemed to focus on 4K televisions. 4K televisions offer twice the resolution of what we consider HD sets today.  They provide around 4,000 lines of resolution – compared to the 1080 high end televisions have today.

The question is will these 4K sets take off, or will they fizzle like fads of recent years such as 3D televisions.

I want to draw four similar tech innovations to discuss what will happen to 4K tech.

HDTV

A few years back, HD TV was the big thing. Americans had used the normal analog regular TV resolution for decades. A doubling of resolution was a welcome change. People really took to these new screens.

However, it could be argued that many people took to HD TV because the physical size of the screens changed too. We went from huge, heavy tube TVs to flat thin light LCDs. The format of the screen changed too, so people didn’t have to suffer with ugly letter boxing for a real theater experience.

4k TVs will have the same thing LCD tech, and isn’t moving away from the 16:9 format. I don’t think 4K will benefit from the frenzy that HDTV saw.

But what about the resolution doubling! Just like HD! I have had a certain experience, and I bet you will have had the same realization. I’ve gone to a (typically older, non-techie) relatives house who has an HD TV. Only, despite getting HD service from their cable provider, they still tune it to the Analogy regular standard def channels. And when you show them they “can’t see” the difference.

Again, my thesis is that it was not simply the resolution that spurred widespread adoption, but the physical change to the sets. 4K won’t benefit from this.

Blu-Ray

Blu Ray was the Home Video equivalent of the SD to HD tv upgrade. DVDs are 480 lines (the same as SD TV, who knew!?). Blu-Ray is 1080- HD quality.

However, Blu-Ray sales have not met the crest of DVD sales during their high point. I could make the same argument I make above – same format (similar physical sized discs, only resolution changes).

You could point out that perhaps people have just moved to different Home Video formats. Downloads perhaps. But this further plays into my thesis – change the physical measurements (in this case remove it!) or people don’t care. Resolution alone doesn’t move people.

3D TV

Yet another example of the physical size staying the same, and formats or features being added. And yet again, it failed to catch on.

3D TVs were the “next big thing” after HD TV. You could argue TV makers are tired of consumers only buying a new TV every 7 years, and look at the cell phone markets, so they want to add features that encourage you to buy more often. (see also: smart TVs)

However, people did not buy in. I’d argue it was largely because the glasses were clunky, sometimes need batteries, were expensive. And, if you had friends over, say for a Super Bowl party, they needed glasses too or the screen was unwatchably blurry. So, invest heavily or no one gets to enjoy it.

Retina Screens

This will be the exception to the rule. High resolution screens in phones caught on recently. They largely stayed in the same format (typically similar sized screens, and same ratios). However, they caught on like crazy.

Why? Was the improvement really noticeable – even among the crowd who doesn’t see the HDTV upgrade?

I think the argument is that the price stayed the same – there wasn’t a premium in phones to get the better screen, they simply replaced the older models. Further, people upgrade phones far more often, so they just got these by default. Both of these benefit from the fact that the cell phone market enjoys high turnover of new product purchases. Typically people have 2 year contracts vs the 7 year typical tv life.

So, can 4K TV enjoy the same benefit? Could manufacturers simply replace all HD offerings with 4K? I think people simply don’t buy TVs that often. And frankly, they don’t WANT to upgrade their TVs like they do their cell phones. Not when TVs cost 1000s vs the 200 of a new phone.

Plus, just because you buy the set, doesn’t mean the content will meet it. Cable companies have enough trouble with bandwidth for internet. It will likely be a while before they figure out how to pump 500 channels of 4k content to everyone in your neighborhood. At least not without giving you a really fuzzy bit rate.

And Home Video is no different. Movies at 4K are too large for today’s Blu-Ray formats. Do you want to buy a new Disc player too? Sounds like the problems of 3D tv all over….

Add in that the sets aren’t lighter or a different format and I think this is just another fad. I think you will find a few early adopters and videophiles who will upgrade, but I think most people will wait for 8K. No one wants to upgrade to 4k if they hear another upgrade is just a couple more years down the road.

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Chromebook Hype

Recently there has been a lot of attention to Chromebooks. Chromebooks, if you’ll recall are laptops that Google endorses as alternatives to traditional Windows or Apple laptops.

They have some pretty neat features. They don’t have a lot of internal storage, but tend to come with pretty generous google Drive space, so it encourages users to store everything in the cloud, which means automatic backup. The Operating System, instead of Windows is basically just Chrome, the web browser. This makes the systems incredibly efficient with limited hardware, and they tend to be updated quietly and less susceptible to hacks and other attacks.

Most importantly though, they are cheap. Because they run on lower spec hardware, and because there is no licensing fee for the OS these notebooks can be found for bargain basement prices.

Many have speculated these Chromebooks are a big threat to Windows PCs. Microsoft systems are attacked on the high end by Apple and now on their home turf- the low end by these Google powered devices.

If you want to point to evidence that Microsoft is concerned, there tend to be two targets. First, Microsoft is running ads against the devices. Why target them if they weren’t a threat?

Second, look at sales. Specifically, people have been pointing to Amazon’s best-selling laptops list.

While I actually do like Chromebooks, having owned one myself for a year- I have a problem with the evidence people are pointing to as justifying the “Chromebooks are taking over” argument.

The problem I have is that looking at that list of Amazon best selling laptops – the top selling ones are all the cheapest laptops. Of course you will sell a lot of bargain basement machines. But are people actually using them for anything productive?

Or, do they open them up, turn them on and then throw them in the back of the closet when they get frustrated at the bad experience?

Take note of this quote from the article I pointed to above.

Part of the attraction of Chromebooks is their low prices: The systems forgo high-resolution displays, rely on inexpensive graphics chipsets, include paltry amounts of RAM — often just 2GB — and get by with little local storage. And their operating system, Chrome OS, doesn’t cost computer makers a dime.

The 11.6-in. Acer C720 Chromebook, first on Amazon’s top-10 list Thursday, costs $199, while the Samsung Chromebook, at No. 2, runs $243. Amazon prices Acer’s 720P Chromebook, No. 7 on the chart, at $300.

The prices were significantly lower than those for the Windows notebooks on the retailer’s bestseller list. The average price of the seven Windows-powered laptops on Amazon’s top 10 was $359, while the median was $349. Meanwhile, the average price of the three Chromebooks was $247 and the median was $243, representing savings of 31% and 29%, respectively.

Its the junky craptops that are the top of the list. The third place Chromebook, the one more closely priced to competitor Windows laptops is in 7th. So, at the same price points consumers pick Windows devices. People don’t prefer Chromebooks, they just HAVE to buy them when they are looking for the absolute cheapest computer.

I think this Chromebook surge is just Netbooks 2.0. Remember Netbooks? They were sub-$300 laptops that ran outdated versions of Windows XP on really bad, underpowered hardware. They sold in massive numbers. Then people actually used them and realized you get what you pay for. 

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I think people will soon realize the same thing with Chromebooks. Anyone pushing another argument either has an agenda or has very short memory.

A quick note: I just saw that John Gruber of Daring Fireball noticed all the Chromebook hype as well. And he seems to come to a similar conclusion about actually using these devices. He notes that while sales are up, web traffic of Chromebooks is abysmally small. Lots of purchases, no one using it. Does that make a successful product?

Twitter and TV

There is a lot of buzz about Twitter and Television. It is the rare collision of new and old media, where SF and the startup world is wondering how Twitter will finally monetize and if it will be successful. While SoCal and Hollywood is hoping for a tech company that actually brings audiences back to the original small screen instead of stealing their eyeballs away.

To date, there are several examples of how Twitter has crossed paths with TV that I want to focus on.

  • Sharknado

This campy, low budget SyFy show had very low numbers. But those who did watch (and maybe those who didn’t?) talked up a storm (sorry.)  on Twitter.  This is an example of how Twitter is making a lot of noise, but not boosting ratings. However, it does seem to have inspired the network to make a remake.

I think the execs are hoping that the buzz from the original can give the sequel momentum. People don’t want to be left out the second time this comes around. It is also going to encourage shows to be weird or eccentric in order to get buzz on Twitter.

  • The Sound of Music

This past weekend, NBC aired a live stage play style broadcast of “The Sound of Music”. It was exciting because it was live. It was an event – which is the last kind of TV that people still tune into instead of record and watch later on a DVR. This is why Sports are so valuable to cable operators – people don’t watch games the next night.

The interesting part about twitter is that while many were talking about how much they enjoyed the show – many were hate watching and discussion how bad they thought a certain singer was or complaining about various production choices.

This connects to Sharknado – again, The “good” shows all can garner buzz. But if you can’t be good, you can be awful or weird and maybe hope for people to talk about you. Any discussion is good discussion.

  • Scandal

Scandal is a show on ABC that has done really well. One of the few bright spots in Network TV that isn’t reality based. It is a drama, a genre which seems to have packed up its bags and headed off to cable in recent years.

So is the show great compelling story? Or, is it because people are social creatures, and have always like gossiping and talking about scandals (sorry. again). The cast of this show is famous for how much they engage on Twitter with fans. And even those fans that aren’t trying to engage with Kerry Washington are interacting with each other, engaging the community to discuss just how shocking the story plots are. And who-did-what-with-you-know-who.

This is an example of how providing a forum for your fans to discuss your show encourages them to come back, and more importantly keep up with it in real time. You don’t want to see a random spoiler on your timeline, and no one cares about your Scandal tweet 3 days later.

  • SeeIt

Twitter has been teaming up with cable operators to include links in tweets mentioning shows. These links would send a signal to your cable box to turn on the show that was mentioned. So, if your friend said “Oh, New Girl is hilarious” you might see a link to watch it now, click it and your TV magically tunes to the right channel.

While this is good interaction, I think it slightly misses the mark. Twitter should not look to traditional advertising methods that have been failing in print and video media so far. They will only annoy their users.

Instead, Twitter needs to add value. Twitter needs to realize it is content, not just a place to advertise for content. They have several advantages that the TV industry seeks – interactive and engaged audiences, live viewers, and people who will tell others about your show brining higher ratings.

Don’t push viewers away from your product to a television. That will serve to lower engagement, which is what Twitter has to offer.

I have a few suggestions that I think might serve Twitter better than using an outdated “just intersperse ads in the feed” model.

  • Create a story

Take note of how users love how engaged the stars of Scandal are. There is a great opportunity for alternative story lines or plot points to be explored on Twitter.

While Homeland’s Carrie is watching a motel for a suspect, have Saul’s character tweeting about how he is meeting with the Joint Chiefs to get support for a secret strike abroad. Then when they meet he can throw out a line about how he got the approval to move forward. The twitter audience feels like they saw something secret, while the traditional viewer hasn’t lost anything.

This encourages live viewing and engagement, while also rewards your biggest fans of the show. Alternatively, if you are worried about distracting your live audience, show it on a rerun later in the week. You would boost second viewings, get a second bite of the ad apple, and strengthen Twitter’s position in non-live TV, which is not their normal strong suit.

  • DVR

Once a show has aired, Twitter’s usefulness for most users is gone. No one with any real number of following in their timeline is going to scroll back three days to try to figure out who said what about the show.

Twitter should implement a feature that allows a certain hashtag combo to bring up any tweets in their timeline from the live running of that show. So, if I missed Modern Family, I could do a search for #^ModernFamily, and my twitter app would start running tweets from anyone I follow that happened at 830 on Wednesday night. I would get a nice realtime flow so that I would feel like I could catch up. It isn’t a real engagement, but it would allow any of the actors/sponsors accounts that I followed to still reach me.

Again, this strengthens Twitter’s weakest spot, which is non-live events.  And all the targeted tweets bought by advertisers still could have a potential reach.  So, the @ModernFamily account could still get their targeted tweets to me, including any they have with product tie ins.

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Consumer Mentality and Carrier Subsidies

Article from Slate discussing Wireless Carrier subsidies. Subsidies are the hidden fees that the AT&T, Verizon and Sprints of the world add to your bill so that you get that brand new smartphone for $200.  In exchange, of course you promise two years of service with them. But that is not all.

I thought most people realized this, but buried into your monthly payments is the rest of the cost of your phone. Ever notice that the full retail price of those phones at Apple starts at $650. How do you think you are getting it so cheap? It’s not the promise to stay with one carrier. It is that they get two years of overblown payments.

The sneaky trick here is that you won’t see a bill entry for “subsidy payment” on your monthly statement. It is just built into the service. So, if you are like my luddite father and don’t choose to get a new phone every two years when your contract is due, you keep paying this as a penalty.

But what the writer of the article seems to say is that the benefactor and the party pushing for this method of payments are the handset makers.

The carriers are exploiting our shortsightedness (and the fact that banks don’t offer a mobile phone loan product) to get us to pay much more for “phone plus service” than we would otherwise pay.

Where Biggs is right is that a move to a nonsubsidized model would be bad for thephone-makers, since the way the carriers run this bait-and-switch requires them to throw some extra scratch in the direction of Apple, Samsung, Motorola, or whomever. But consumers would be better off. There’s a reason we don’t buy cars that are tied to a particular oil company and feature a two-year contract to exclusively fuel your vehicle with overpriced gasoline from one particular vendor. The only reason the subsidy model has lasted as long as it has is that spectrum scarcity makes the market for network access rather uncompetitive, and lets exploitative business models live fairly long lives.

However, this is where I find a problem. “Consumers would be better off.” Is this true? Would we buy phones more often or, as I would suspect less, if we had to pay $650 for them? Considering how people scoff at computers over $100 now, I can’t see how weaning customers used to a $199 phone on to $600+ phones would be successful.

Instead, people would buy phones less often, which would mean handset makers would likely put out fewer new phones and innovate less often, because it wouldn’t be worth it for them to spend millions in R&D for a few customers instead of the millions who upgrade bi-annually now.

If this was the preferred method, you would see people fleeing the post-paid carriers for the pre-paid market where you buy phones at full price because you aren’t on contract with a cell phone provider. But that simply isn’t happening. Verizon and AT&T continue to grow and dominate.

Instead I think the more interesting angle to take here is the consumer mentality. I think there are two methods here to allow consumers to spend less for a phone upfront.

The current method of packing the fees in the monthly service charges and making it invisible. This is what most carriers do now.

Alternatively, you could go the T-Mobile route. T-Mobile doesn’t put the subsides in their service fees, which allows them to offer lower prices for service. Instead, they break up the full price of the phone over two years and let the customer pay it off slowly. There are two negative impacts I think this causes.

First, the customer sees their bill increase by about $25 per month. Instead of hiding it like the traditional carriers, they put it right in front of the customer’s face. I think the average consumer prefers not seeing it. They want the same bill every month, think about how people complain when their cable bill is never the same month to month. Second, they certainly don’t want to be reminded they are still paying off that same old phone 18 months in.

Second, this is a credit lending scenario. I recently experienced this payment plan at T-Mobile when I bought a $0 down iPad from them. It requires a credit check. Yes, the serious one with your SSN and a check of your credit worthiness. There are lots of people who won’t pass this, won’t like the credit score hit that having a credit check run does to your number, and finally, the typical $200 for a phone and hidden payments that AT&T and Verizon do has never required a credit check when I’ve upgraded.

With all this said, while you can tell what I think the preferred method is, apparently an AT&T executive came out today and said that the subsidy model doesn’t work.

Do you have a preferred method of getting a new phone? Do you have an argument for why one plan is better than another?

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Google Play Music for iOS

Google finally released their Google Music app. I’ve already discussed the service, but I did want to focus in just a second on the iOS app and why I’m switching from Spotify.

Spotify’s App Problem

Both apps let you stream their catalog of music for a monthly fee, and have a similar set of features, like playlists and radio. However, my only complaint about the Spotify app is that on iOS it creates long term caches of the songs you stream. See, for Spotify (and google really), they have to pay for the bandwidth to push music to each device streaming music. This gets expensive. On the desktop app, they actually use some clever p2p technology so that if you are nearby someone who also shares your affinity for Taylor Swift, they could in theory be streaming songs from your computer. You likely don’t notice this because you don’t get charged for amounts of downloads at home. (This is why there is a setting for how much you want to store on your own computer in Spotify)

On a mobile device, you would be pissed if you burned through your cap of 2GB a month because the guy next to you is streaming music from your iPhone. So, everytime you stream a song, a copy is left on your device. This way Spotify doesnt pay to send it to you the 120th time you stream Eminem this month. It has the added benefit of lowering your downloading as well, so you don’t burn through your data downloading the data each listen.

This would be fine if the user had some level of control or ability to get rid of the cache. However, Spotify doesn’t let you do this. There is no “clear cache” button. The only way I’ve found to get rid of the cache is to uninstall the Spotify app completely and re-download it. I’ve had the Spotify app grow to over 1.5 GB at some points. That is ridiculous.

You would hope that the programmers have put in some code that purges the music if the device needs space for other things, but considering I only discovered Spotify’s memory binging because I was getting told I didn’t have space to install an app on my iPhone, I suspect this not to be true.

Granted, Spotify is not alone in this sin – I’m looking at you, Facebook and Twitter apps. It is still unexcusable. I’m hoping Google is different.

Streaming Owned Music

Further, on a less technical note, Google’s music service let’s you upload music to the cloud for storage. So, if I bought an album that is not available on the various streaming services (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Black Keys, Adele and others have held their music back from steaming services to encourage sales, at least initially if not forever) I can upload it to Google Music, and still stream it to my device. It works more like a hard drive that is always available. That is pretty great. This is actually similar to Apple’s iTunes Music Match, except Google does this for free for up to 20,000 songs.

iOS Apps Are Better Quality

On one last note. I found a certain quote in The Verge’s article about the new app particularly humorous.

Given its similarities to the Android version, why did the music app take so long to come to iOS? Speculation around the Android launch centered around Apple’s App Store policies, which take a 30 percent cut of in-app sales. But Google says that the company didn’t even try to negotiate with Apple over its commission — and as a result, you can’t buy music through the app as you can on Android, nor can you subscribe to All Access through your smartphone. The actual reason for the delay: “It just took us a little longer than we thought to bring it up to the level of polish expected from Play Music and iOS apps,” Bilinski [Brandon Bilinski, product manager for Google Play Music] says. That meant fixing problems with streaming and integrating the app with Chromecast, among other things. The result is an app that can stream music at up to 320 kbps, and can connect to speakers and other devices over AirPlay and Bluetooth. It’s also available in 20 countries at launch.

Among the various arguments Apple fans point to as a differentiator and why their experience is better is that iOS apps are better to use. They crash less, are visually more appealing, work better, etc. But it hard to quantify that. It’s hard to measure it. But I loved that a Google engineer said they had to take more time with the iOS app because it needed more polish since it is an iOS app. Because most Android apps are crappy and roughshod, they could put out the Android version over 18 months ago.

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iPad Air and T-Mobile

This will certainly not be the be-all-end-all iPad Air review. There are other very good places you go for that. However, I do want to weigh in with my thoughts from use over the last few days.

I have had a couple iPads, but none of them have been of the retina screened variety. I started with an iPad 2, and traded that in for an iPad mini more recently. While I have really enjoyed the retina screen on my iPhone since they debuted on the iPhone 4, I haven’t had the pleasure on the iPad.

Having the clarity is a really nice perk. The place I notice it most is on video. The only way I can get through my gym treadmill sessions is by watching HBO or Netflix. The quality boost is really appreciated.

That brings up to the screen size. Whatever benefit I had from switching to the smaller form factor with the mini, was negated by the smaller screen. Sure, carrying it around all day, and holding it up while reclined on the couch or in bed was nice. But I read a lot of magazines, websites, and books on my iPad. With the mini, the text was often small enough, especially in Newsstand Apps or on websites, that I would have to double tap to zoom in. This was tiring to zoom in, read a bit, zoom out to navigate, switch pages, repeat.

With the traditionally sized larger iPad, this is not an issue. Especially with the retina screen. Perhaps the retina mini will solve this too, but I still think the font will be too tiny generally.

So the screen size situation is preferred on the Air. The other half of that equation was the heft of the devices. The mini, as I stated above was so much nicer to tote around. Lighter, easy to hold in one hand, etc. However, the Air has solved this problem. The iPad sheds half a pound in the transition from the 4 to the appropriately named Air. In fact, it is only .4 pounds heavier than the mini. It is really quite astonishing how light it is. It reminds me of moving from the iPhone 4/4s to the 5 and how people kept commenting “this is as light as a carrier dummy plastic fake phone”.

Part of the reason the iPad Air weighs so much less is that the form factor has shrunk. In order to get that smaller size, Apple has shed some of the battery. The battery is actually smaller than the one in the iPad 3 and 4. Normally, this would mean shorter device life between charges, but the Battery life has actually stayed the same or increased, thanks to Apple engineering some power efficiencies (supposedly in a more efficiently lit screen).

The neat benefit of this smaller battery, beyond the lighter weight, is that the device charges quicker! The iPad Air seems to fully charge from zero in about 2 hours less time than the iPad 4. Awesome.

One of the few problems I did have with the device, is not something with the iPad itself – but with Apple’s Smart Covers. Previously, the Smart Covers had 4 “panels” that you folded together to use it as a stand. With the mini, Apple switched to 3 panels, presumably because of the smaller size. The problem I had with the mini Smart Cover is that the way it folded together, the panels stopped overlapping. You can see the comparison in this picture from Ars Technica.

Note how the cover on the left, the new version, doesn’t overlap, but the older style on the right has two panels overlap. While in this upright orientation, it doesn’t matter – when you lay the iPad in the horizontal position, I’ve found that sometimes a press on the screen is too hard and causes the Smart cover to collapse. This never happened with my iPad 2 on the older style Smart Cover. It happened often enough on the Mini to be annoying, and while I have only encountered it once on the Air, I’m concerned it will keep happenings as the cover ages and weakens.

I am very happy with my iPad Air purchase. If you are deciding between the Mini and the Air, it really comes down to two factors. Size and Cost. The internals are the same, and the retina screen appears on both sizes of iPad now. If you watch video or read long form, you might like the Air more. If you carry it all the time, or want it to fit in a purse, the Mini might be better. Also, the mini does save you $100 at each price point.

T-Mobile, Free Data and Financing of iPads

As a bonus discussion, I wanted to discuss T-Mobile and their announcements around the iPad Air launch and my experience. This was the first time T-mobile was carrying the iPad. As they tend to do when they get new devices, they try to shake up the industry a bit by playing their “uncarrier” role and doing something neat with pricing and plans.

Their big announcement was two fold. First, they offered the iPad on a financing deal. With good credit, you could put $0 down and pay around $26 per month for 24 months until you paid off the iPad. The final tally of all the payments equals $630, which is actually the retail price of the 16 GB iPad with LTE. Essentially, its an interest free loan. As any economist will tell you, that is a good deal. With time-factor of money and inflation, this might even work in your favor.

The second announcement was that T-Mobile was offering 200MB of free data for any LTE tablets. Basically you sign up for a T-Mobile SIM card, with no monthly cost, as an on-demand data plan. So, you get 200MB free, when you run out, your data cuts off. If you decide you want more data, you just purchase a set amount – say $15 for 1GB. Not a bad plan if you just want the option of having data away from WiFi, but don’t want to commit to a data plan. This is a great deal if you just have an LTE enabled tablet and you don’t use it often or are already on a plan with a competitor.

Now, it came out recently, that T-Mobile has decided if you finance your device on a payment plan, you don’t get the free data without buying a traditional data plan. However, as I suspected, T-Mobile didn’t exactly properly explain to their stores about this. With a bit of finagling and some helpful store staff, I was able to walk out of my local T-Mobile with an iPad Air, putting zero down, and no data plan, but 200MB free per month.

I am extremely happy. In fact, as I suspect is the business motivation behind T-Mobile’s free data plan, I might even switch my cell phone plan to T-Mobile. The LTE coverage here in LA is pretty great, and their plans are really affordable. The main knock against T-Mobile has always been “spotty coverage”. But so far, this iPad is proving that might be outdated assumptions.

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Los Angeles Fiber-For-All Is Likely A Pipe Dream

A lot of tech news agencies ran with a story a few days ago that Los Angeles was looking to roll out Gigabit internet through Fiber city wide. They would even offer it for free at lower speeds. This makes for great headlines.

However, it seems like most didn’t read any further past that. The city council hasn’t actually started any plans. At this point all they are doing is asking for proposals. Keep in mind what they stated as their goals/demands:

  • 3-5 billion paid by the vendor
  • free access for 2-5 megabits
  • wifi hotspots
  • an open network, which would allow competitors to come in and sell service on

Basically, come lay down fiber optic cable across the 500 square miles of Los Angeles, then allow other companies to come sell internet on top of it.

Right.

I’ll be very curious to see what kind of bids they get. Considering Verizon and AT&T have been offering FiOS installations and service in LA, but still have not covered the city, and in fact have split the city so they wouldn’t have to compete with each other on price after the investment of laying the cable. In fact, Verizon has announced they have slowed down installations because they are too costly.

As the city representative noted:

Once the RFP goes out, the city will take bids for three months. Contract negotiations with the winning bidder could “easily” take six to nine months because there will be numerous services, each with their own service-level agreements, according to Reneker.

Keep your eyes on what developments to come, but don’t sell your cable modem yet.

Update 11/23/13: More analysis has come out comparing this proposal as akin to LA doing a request for a Unicorn rollout.

iOS7 and the Cartooning of Apps

By the time you read this, iOS 7 should have launched and is available to install on your iPhone and iPad. For many this will be a wild visual change. The interface is much more… colorful.

The influence on third party app developers is already starting to appear. Foursquare launched a redesign of their app that only appears when you upgrade to 7. See the before and after of the icons:

Before

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After

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Notice how iOS 7 has influenced the visual representation of the icon. Flatter, softer, more cartoony? Fine, this is a silly social media check-in app. They would follow the loopy trend designs.

What about something like ESPN, for guys who watch sports. Certainly they won’t go down that path…

Before

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After

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A little more subtle. But still softer and flatter.

I wonder if this is something that will age well. In five years will we look back on this with a shake of the head the same way we look at old 70s groovy styling? Does it come off too silly, perhaps too feminine? Many thought the old Droid ads were heavily masculine, is Apple going too far the other way? 

Will everyone run with this trend? Will we see it bleed over into Android apps, or will iOS apps look markedly different. Does this new style of imagery affect how we think, interact and feel about applications? Would we take a word processing application that has a cartoon icon less seriously? Notice – Apple has not updated their iWork line of icons yet.

I’ll be curious to see how this develops over the year and into iOS 8. Arguably, this is the easiest part of iOS to change. Adjust the color pallet, draw some new graphics. It is not an overhaul of the code. But, I don’t think the influence of the graphical choices should be undersold. Design is king, and it does influence how we use and feel about the phones we carry all day.