Posts Tagged ‘cell phones’

We hear about a lot of different types of computer-related security issues these days – hacking attempts, virus infections, phishing scams and the like. At the recent American Library Association annual conference, I noticed a couple of behaviors that reminded me that not all security breaches are high-tech escapades.

On a couple of different occasions during the conference, I was typing notes into my laptop during a session when the person next to me leaned over, stared at my screen for a few seconds to see what I was typing, and then went back to his/her own notes. I was a little shocked, but probably not as offended as I should have been. I realize that these people were probably just trying to catch a few words that they might have missed during the presentation. I didn’t have any sensitive data on the screen so it shouldn’t have been a big deal . . . but it still feels wrong. Maybe it’s because I was taught that it’s impolite to come up behind someone and read over their shoulder without being invited to do so. Or perhaps it’s because a complete stranger very pointedly read my screen. Whatever.

My next example falls along those lines as well. Think about all of those nice, glossy iPhone screens we’ve all gotten so used to seeing. One thing about them – they’re big – at least compared to a regular cell phone screen, and their size makes them pretty easy to see. A couple of times during the conference I noticed people leaning forward in their seats and staring fixedly at an iPhone in the row in front of them. Now maybe they were just trying to figure out what that cool app was so that they could download it later. Or maybe they just had to know what that person was tweeting or texting. But again, it just feels like a no-no.

It kind of reminds me of those social engineering horror stories in which someone was duped into typing in a password while another person just stood behind them and watched their keystrokes. The big difference though is that there is no duping here. In some cases perhaps people are just being rude while others are being careless. In a lot of meetings it just doesn’t really matter because everyone is busy trying to get the same notes, and their isn’t a security issue at all. But increasingly I see people absolutely buried in their laptops and cell phones, logging into e-mail, Twitter accounts, and all manner of other services without being aware of their surroundings. Let’s just hope none of them are sysadmins with the keys to the kingdom, eh?

 

So it’s my third week into the iPhone saga, and I’m still wrangling with mixed feelings about it.

 

First the good.

 

The interface is nice.

 

There are a lot of apps. Everyone knows this. Cool apps, useful apps, fun apps, dumb apps. There are a lot of all of them. I’ve installed a number of free and paid apps, and they’re fun to play and experiment with. Take Shazam for example. I really appreciate the fact that people would make such a ridiculously useful application available FOR FREE. SplashID is a particularly good paid app. My old standby, iSilo, is here, but I don’t find the implementation to be quite as useful as it was on the Palm Treo.

 

Now let’s talk bad. I’ve talked about a lot of these before. I was kind of dreading some of these before making the jump to iPhone, so I knew they were there. They weren’t all surprises. I’m going to spend a little time writing about specific things I have encountered as a user.

 

I have to start with battery life. Have. To. I use my phone a lot, and I use it even more at conferences. During times when I can’t get a WiFi connection, I can still check e-mail on my phone. And I do. Regularly. I check my voice mail. I read books. I look up things on the web. I use text messaging a lot. The iPhone’s battery life leave a lot to be desired.

 

I’m currently three days into my first conference with the iPhone, and I find that I’m seriously modifying my behavior to work around the limitations of the device. I’m trying not to make as many calls. I’m definitely looking up far fewer things online. E-mail use is about the same as on my old device, but text messaging is down quite a bit. Seems that such a cool device would compel you to use it MORE, NOT LESS, but the reality is that I have to use it less than my old phone just to make it through the day. On my old phone, if the battery ran low, I just . . . you know . . . swapped it out with another one.

 

How ’bout that GPS? While I’ve been working my way through Chicago for this conference, I’ve turned the GPS on a few times, to check for restaurants, distance to conference hotels, etc. If you’re going to have a GPS, it needs to be least be, oh . . . how ’bout . . . accurate? In my experience, the GPS on the iPhone 3GS is anything but accurate. As I was riding to a conference hotel on the shuttle today, I check my location to see how close I was. My location on the map jumped by several blocks not once, not twice, but repeatedly throughout the trip. Oh, and that GPS really eats the battery.

 

Now let’s talk about syncing the device. I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t know it was going to be THIS bad. I have a very basic need: I need to be able to sync calendar and contact data across the phone and multiple computers. I did a lot of advance reading, and it sounded like MobileMe was the way to go. I fought with MobileMe for days. I repeatedly wound up with duplicate contacts. As I moved through my circle of computers, by the time I made my way back to the starting point, I was repeatedly cleaning up duplicates. I tried merge, delete, replace . . . nothing seemed to do the trick. MobileMe failing me, I next turned to Google. I tried the calendar sync with some success. I tried the contacts sync and eventually wound up with 4 total contacts for each entry I had started with. Too much cleanup, so I’m back to just calendar sync. Beyond the duplicate data, these sync attempts also randomly deleted data. Sometimes part of a company name would be missing from the contacts list. Sometimes characters were be missing from calendar entries. This experience fails on so many levels that my frustration level has been through the roof. Staying up all night to achieve the most basic of functions isn’t really much fun.

 

Even the data that I can move between computers is at best clunky. I can (somewhat) sync calendars, contacts, and notes by connecting a cable and clicking a button. SplashID data sync requires a convoluted process whereby I have to set up an ad-hoc connection from the host PC and connect to that. iSilo? I have to turn on an internal FTP server to push data across since the hard drive in my iPhone doesn’t really want to act like a hard drive.

 

It’s frustrating that such an elegant and useful device has these shortcomings. I like the iPhone, but I don’t really feel that I’ve made a major leap forward. I feel that it has been primarily a trade-off of one set of shortcomings for another.

Yes, at long last, I’m finally going to bite. I put in my order for an iPhone 3GS, so I should have a new gadget sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’ve arrived at this decision with somewhat mixed emotions. I’ve written before about some of my concerns concerning the iPhone. Apple has addressed some of these, but I still have some concerns:

1) No user-replaceable battery
2) No native sync with Microsoft Outlook Notes
3) No direct sync with multiple computers without paying for Apple’s MobileMe service
4) No currently available version of ListPro for iPhone (one of my most heavily-used applications)

Each of these is a very real and very serious concern for me, but it’s time for a change. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using a Palm Treo 680. I’ve owned a few Palm devices over the years, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of functionality with them. In the rapidly changing network-oriented world though, the 680 is showing its age. The web browser has limitations. The device itself is subject to increasing crashes and random reboots. I’ve started experiencing some data loss. And finally, there just aren’t a lot of cool new applications hitting the Palm OS market.

I’ve watched the news of the new Palm Pre and WebOS very carefully, and it looks promising. However, the device is currently only available on Sprint, and there are no Sprint retailers in my area. There are rumors that AT&T and Verizon will carry it next year, but nothing has been confirmed. I’ve played with a couple of iPhones, and there are a lot of nice features to the device, so I finally decided to give it a try.

However, the number of workarounds I’ll have to employ to achieve my current level of Treo functionality is a little daunting, so I’m starting to compile a sort of checklist to work through once the thing finally arrives.

1) First there is the infamous MobileMe. Why should I have to pay $99 per year just to be able to sync my data with my various computers? Answer: I SHOULDN’T. I’ve been able to do this with every single Palm I’ve ever owned. Every one. all of my data. I frequently find myself in areas where there is no network connection for my computer, so an over-the-air sync just isn’t an option. Besides that, I still don’t want my data to live in the cloud. Apparently though, that’s the Apple way, so I’ll have to sign up for a MobileMe account.

2) Then there is the Chapura sync. For some inexplicable reason, Apple has decided that the iPhone’s notes application shouldn’t sync with Microsoft Outlook’s note, so I’m stuck with another yearly subscription: $9.

3) ListPro. I’ll admit to being pretty stumped with this one. ListPro is a great product, and I’ve used it on my Treo and desktop computer for years. Unfortunately, Ilium Software still hasn’t managed to bring an iPhone version to market even though one is perpetually in the works. I’ve seen a couple of alternatives, but they don’t seem to be as full-featured. I would really hate to think that I have to go back to carrying two devices just so I can have the full PDA functionality that I need.

4) Documents To Go. I use Documents to Go occasionally – not extensively – but often enough that I don’t want to give it up. Strangely enough, the iPhone version just showed up in the App Store a couple of days ago. Strange. Stranger still that you can only edit Word documents. Excel editing will be introduced in some future version. And unfortunately, reviews for the first version are pretty bad.

5) iSilo. iSilo is pretty far down on my list, but it’s actually one of my most-used applications on the Treo. At least that’s ready to go, right? But it’s not without its headaches as well. If you need to transfer several files to the iPhone all at once, you’ll have to activate the program’s internal server! Twelve pages of instructions on how to do this! And this ain’t iSilo’s fault. Come on Apple, can’t you make things just a little easier?

6) SplashId is another heavily-used app in my arsenal. I’m very attached to the Palm version and the associated desktop application. From the documentation I’ve seen online, this looks like it will be the easiest to get up and running, but time will tell.

Switching to a new device always takes some time, and there are always some bumps in the road. Even thought I’m ready to enjoy some new technology, I’m not not looking forward to dealing with quite so many bumps.

Seems like every couple of days we’re hearing more about data in the cloud. I’ve thought about this one in considering the iPhone, and I’m still thinking about it as I read more about the Palm Pre. One of my biggest gripes about the iPhone has to do with synching data across multiple computers. I do this all the time with my old Palm Treo. I drop it in a cradle attached to my desktop computer, I drop it into a cradle attached to my home desktop, and I connect it to a cable attached to my laptop. The frequency varies, but the long and short of it is that if I’m in a network dead zone and I need to get something from a computer onto my handheld (or vice versa), I can connect a cable, push a button, and I’m done. Not so with the iPhone. If I need to sync data across multiple computers with the iPhone, I have to subscribe to Apple’s $99 per year MobileMe service. Even after subscribing to that service I wouldn’t be able to sync the way I want to: I can’t simply connect the two devices with a cable and push a button. MobileMe depends upon having a network connection so that my data can copy itself to Apple’s server in the cloud. Eventually the updates trickle across the network to the other computers. As I read more about the Palm Pre and Palm’s new WebOS, it seems that this device will follow the same path, and that disappoints me.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I simply may not want some of my data to live in the cloud. Yet I still need to synchronize with multiple computers. What’s a person to do then? But ignoring the fact that I don’t want all of my data to live in the cloud, there are other considerations. I live in an area with MANY network dead zones, so it simply isn’t always even possible to sync data. Let’s think about travelers. Do you really want to pay for an hour’s worth of network time in every airport you pass through just to keep all your data synchronized? Probably not.

I’m trying to keep an open mind about cloud data and apps. Some people love it, and it works well for them. That’s great for those people, but it shouldn’t come at a cost in functionality. If data synchronization with the cloud is just another option, then that’s a good way to go. Nothing wrong with giving people options. But why take away functionality that already works? Don’t do it, Palm!

Much has been made of President Barack Obama’s attachment to his BlackBerry. At the end of a long period of struggle and compromise, he is able to keep a portable device that will let him stay connected with friends and colleagues as well as news of interest (rumor has it -White Sox scores). This means that Obama has become the first president to use e-mail while in office. There are many restrictions imposed on the President and his use of the device, but at least he is able to maintain some measure of connectivity.

 

MSNBC recently carried a story that said, “Barack Obama is the first wired president, ready to exchange e-mail with close friends and advisers. When do the rest of us get to read them?”

 

Give the man a break already! He has been in office for just a few days and people are already trying to poke around in his presidential records? Beyond the natural nosiness of people, what reason is there for starting this discussion so early in his presidency? Read the Presidential Records Act and move on.

 

Reference: Yost, Pete. “Wired President: Obama creates an e-mail trail.” MSNBC. January 23, 2009. Available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28816112/.

So . . . About a week ago Palm unveiled the Pre at CES. Their newest phone garnered a lot of press and blog space, and for the Palm faithful who desperately hoped that the company would knock one out of the park, it was a moment of dreams finally fulfilled. Well . . . almost. So far there is no firm delivery date. The price hasn’t even been set yet, so customers can’t even pre-order the device. Ha! Get it? Pre? They can’t PRE-order the Pre. Anywho . . .

What started off as a major event that turned a lot of heads has rapidly descended to a dull murmur, and that’s really too bad for Palm. I have only seen photos and videos of the device, but it looks good. Most reviewers have been genuinely enthusiastic, and some have raved about this new phone. With all that good press, it’s a shame that Palm doesn’t have a product ready to ship. I’m ready to give it a try. Of course we would all prefer a product that is as bug-free as possible, so I can certainly understand waiting until it’s actually ready, but I’m sure Palm would like to capitalize on all the positive buzz their unveiling generated.

Over the last month many articles have lauded Palm as the company that essentially built the handheld market. Their PDAs were mainstays for many years. Unfortunately, as other companies entered the market and pushed it forward with new innovations, Palm struggled to hold its place. The company lost ground as its own product lines stagnated – a fact highlighted by the emergence of RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, and a plethora of Windows Mobile devices.

There is always room for competition in the marketplace. The iPhone, Blackberry, and Android products seems to be spurring each other along nicely. However, in the past Palm has contributed well-designed hardware and software, so another solid OS would be a good addition to the mix. Let’s hope Palm can get something to market before they are completely irrelevant.

I came across an interesting article on CNET: On Inauguration Day, will my cell phone work?

The gist of the article is that with the huge number of people expected in D.C. for the inauguration, the local cell networks will be saturated with users. The wireless congestion is expected to be so great that users may experience dropped calls, delayed text messages, and possibly a system so overwhelmed that they may not be able to make or receive calls. Add to this the number of smartphone users who may be trying to use data services for e-mail or web browsing and the problems multiply.

It’s an interesting problem to consider, but I think the thing that most interests me is the recommendation from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. The association is advising attendees, "Text, don’t talk." Text messages are easier on the network than voice calls and data-intensive applications, so the recommendation makes sense from a technological standpoint.

From a people perspective though, it just fuels a trend that is of increasing concern to me: the depersonalization of communication. Remember in the old days when we used to get letters? Remember how nice it was to hear some news from an old friend? E-mail, instant messaging, texting, and other forms of near-instant communication are convenient, but something is missing. When you read "This is amazing!" in a text message, it just doesn’t convey the emotion you would hear in someone’s voice. But the preference increasingly seems to be for electronic communication. I see it more and more in the workplace. People prefer to send an e-mail message rather than just talking to the person in the next cubicle. A generation of youth is growing up preferring to send text messages rather than actually speaking to their friends.

It reminds me of an old FAQ we received when a new voice mail system was implemented at our university. One of the points dealt with why some people are resistant to voice mail, and it highlighted the fact that some people used voice mail as a way to hide from direct communication with people trying to contact them. Increasingly I think people are using electronic communication in much the same way.

Perhaps it’s a pointless bias simply due to my generation, but I can’t help wondering why people don’t want to talk to each other anymore.