Mobile Phone Technology

Google Gets Into the Hotel Business

I had an idea: Now that Google is expanding into non-Internet related businesses like self-driving cars and mining asteroids, something they might want to consider are hotels.

Why? Because they already don’t care about your privacy, and this could be a big advantage for a hotelier. Hear me out.

Every room is wired with microphones and cameras – everything you do and say is recorded. This way, if you’re hungry and you say so, you get a call from room service asking what you’d like to order. Granted, maybe you want to go out to eat, but Google needs your money so you’ll just have to get through them first.

When you do brush off room service because you want to go out, you get another call from the concierge. They heard what you said, and so they called you a cab from the company the hotel has partnered with.

If you come back later that night with someone you met, maybe you’ll have sex. That’s when the bellman will show up at your door with a selection of condoms from the gift shop you may be interested in purchasing.

Don’t worry about who is going to see and hear all of this information they’re recording, though. It’s all anonymous. So if that person you took back to your room isn’t your wife or husband, no one will ever know.

Unless your wife or husband is a law enforcement official. Then it will magically be pretty unanonymous.

After all, if you’re doing something in a hotel room you don’t want other people to know about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it, right? Hey, if you don’t like it, you can always go to another hotel.

Unfortunately, in this scenario, Google Hotels controls 66.8% of the market, and it’s nearest competitor Bing is doing the exact same nefarious shit.

If all that sounds crazy, why are Google’s online policies not considered just as crazy?

All of this is just about exactly what they did when they decided all information would be shared across all of the platforms they own. On the surface, it never sounded too terrible: If you’re searching for an Adam Sandler movie, maybe later on YouTube will show you some more Adam Sandler movies since you showed an interest in it. So what?

The problem is if you don’t want that kind of help from Google, it’s damn hard to get out of it. The privacy policy may be shared, but there are a number of different avenues you have to take to opt out of them.

And in some cases you can’t. I own an Android phone – the OS created by Google. In order for it to function, I have to use a Google login. Once I do, Google records my name, address, phone number, and the serial number for my device – and adds it to my Google account record. I cannot tell Google to leave that information out, I cannot delete it once it has been added. I am locked into their idea of “convenience,” which does more for them to learn about me than it does to make their products function better.

Also, like in the metaphorical hotel, Google says their data collection is anonymous, that no one could determine who you are based on what they get. However, Google can easily give law enforcement officials your search records at the drop of a court order.

Now, I actually have no problem with law enforcement officials getting this kind of information with a valid court order. What I cannot understand is how something supposedly “anonymous” can tell the police anything about an individual user. If this data really didn’t point directly at me, police wouldn’t have any use for it. That the police keep subpoenaing this information shows Google can tell whose records are whose, and is telling its users a bald-faced lie.

The one way I’ve found around giving Google too much of what I think is too much, I use separate logins for all of their properties. I have one Google login for work, another for socializing on Google Plus, another for YouTube, and yet another for my phone. The idea is they cannot share between accounts because they don’t know each of these profiles is me. I can’t be sure this works, though. For all I know, they collate all this data into one profile for me, with the notation that I’m a smart ass. If they did, I certainly wouldn’t expect they’d tell me.

It also means, oddly, that I cannot use my G+ account on my phone for fear of Google. If they’re tapping my phone conversations, (which they are capable of doing,) it doesn’t matter to me because all they have to connect these to are the fake name I gave them when I created the phone’s Google account. If they tied it into my original Google login, the one I created back when they were still dedicated to not being evil, they would know EVERYTHING about me. And I’d have no way of stopping them.

I’ll leave you with this story, which is apocryphal but I hope true, because it’s brilliant: When Google Maps debuted Street View, a number of people complained because their homes, their cars parked outside, and the license plate numbers on those cars were all visible. These people said their privacy had been invaded. In response, Google’s resident cold, vicious demon – heretofore known as Eric Schmidt – again said that there is no more privacy; You know, that old chestnut.

In response to this, some enterprising bloggers got on Google Maps, and hunted down the view of Eric Schmidt’s house. Then they blogged about it, including the Street View picture, to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Shortly thereafter, Google started to blur the license plate numbers on vehicles it captured.

Whether this is true or not, it does illustrate that privacy isn’t just a concern for criminals or philanderers or people who do things they “maybe shouldn’t be doing in the first place.”

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Virgin Mobile iPhone vs Evo V

Pre-paid phones are a better deal than contract phones any way you look at it. $35 a month vs the $80-100 a month offered by AT&T, Verison, Sprint or T-Mobile should be a no-brainer.

Consider this: At $35 a month for service, that works out to $840 over two years. The cost for a Verizon device for the same period is $2640. So you pay more than three times as much for essentially the same service. With an $1800 savings, you could actually buy two iPhone 4S devices out of pocket, and you’d still save money over the Verizon plan. Sure, Verizon coverage is better than Virgin Mobile’s – but is it really $1800 better?

In the past, the only thing the four big contract carriers ever had going for them were better phones. That’s just not the case anymore.

This month Virgin Mobile annoucned they’d be selling the HTC Evo – the phone that was Sprint’s flagship device a year ago, back when they were dedicated to their whole WiMax solution for 4G.

The news was overshadowed a few days ago, however, by their second announcement, that they would be releasing the iPhone 4S. To be honest, I’d given up hope on a pre-paid iPhone, so this was a real shocker to me. I was already excited about the Evo – now this?

This means I have a tough choice, one probably a few other people have as well. Each device has a number of positives and negatives, no matter what any of us choose it’s going to cost a pretty penny, and we’ll be stuck with our decission for a while.

So I’m just going to go through my pros and cons here, and help everyone else out if I can.

EVO V 4G

PROS

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) – This is the newest version of Android available

1.2 Ghz processor – Faster than what’s available on most of VMA’s other smart phones.

4G speed – Well, sort of. More on this in the “cons” section…

Up-gradable internal storage to 32GB – This is good if you’re looking to just have a single device for photos, music and phone. Right now I have a phone AND an iPod, and 32GB would be just enough storage to hold everything.

CONS

WiMax 4G – This will use Sprint’s WiMax network for 4G, a solution they’re retiring in favor of their own LTE network – the standard AT&T and Verizon already use. They won’t be doing any further investment in WiMax, so if this isn’t available where you are, it never will be. Here in Phoenix, I understand there’s one intersection in town where you can get 4G speeds – hardly enough for me to jump up and down with joy at how fast the Internet will run on this thing.

$299 price tag – This isn’t a cheap phone, and without a contract there’s no help in paying for it. You’ll saddle the cost of the device on your own.

Bloatware – The phone hasn’t come out yet, so there’s no way to gauge how much of a problem this will be. But Virgin Mobile is known for installing too many apps you can’t remove, which eats up memory and slows the device down. It’s also an HTC phone, so they have their own garbage eating away at the memory. Unless both companies have come to their senses and either removed this or make it possible for owners to, this could be a big problem.

Android 5.0 Jellybean coming soon – Having a phone with Ice Cream Sandwich is nice, but it will be outdated in a few months. $299 is probably a lot of money to pay for something that is yesterday’s news. (The Evo’s already a dated handset.) That just gets worse when we look at the iPhone 4S.

IPhone 4S

Virgin Mobile will be selling the iPhone 4 ($550) and 4S ($650). I have no idea why – I will only say that the iPhone 4’s antenna problems are a definite con. I’m not going to consider it, and neither should you, honestly. If you are dead set on getting a Virgin Mobile iPhone, eat the extra $100 to keep it from cutting out.

So on to everything else…

PROS

It’s an iPhone – As much as Apple Neophytes annoy the hell out of me, Apple makes a damn good phone. It doesn’t need to be restarted with an occasional battery pull, (like an Andoid or Blackberry does,) and even if it does fail their support is phenomenal.

Updates – Apple is very good about making updates to iOS available on all devices. Manufacturers that use Android almost never update the OS. Why would they give you a new phone experience when they could just get more of your money next year to get the next Android operating system? They are, after all, evil.

App Development – Android’s no longer a slouch at developing apps, but they also don’t have any oversight. You could very easily give bad people access to your phone information just because you downloaded a Chinese version of Sudoku to your phone. On the other hand iTunes is very strict about what they’ll allow in their app store.

Despite this, they also have more apps to choose from.

CONS

IPhone 4S is on it’s way out – Even though this is the latest iPhone, in six months it will be old news. IPhone 5 is very likely to be a 4G device, and who-knows how many other improvents.

No 4G – Like I said, the Evo V doesn’t have great 4G availability, but the 4S will have none. Frankly, if my city had widespread WiMax coverage, that would be enough for me to go with the Evo instead of the iPhone.

If you thought $299 for an Evo was a lot… – The 4S will be $650, and that will all be on you to pay for. That’s a lot of money for a phone, but that’s REALLY a lot of money for something that will be outdated soon.

Conclusion

As much as I’ve hoped Virgin Mobile would eventually get an iPhone, I’m going with the HTC Evo V. Both phones are, frankly, halfway towards being outdated. As such, I’d rather pay $299 for outdated than $650 for it.

Also, with the most available storage space for the Virgin Mobile iPhone at 16GB, that will get used up fairly quickly. Since I already have an iPod Touch, I can run all the Apple apps I need to on that.

Either way, I still believe a pre-paid phone is the best solution for a smart phone, even if the devices aren’t top of the line.

What’s Wrong with Blackberry

Years ago, Cadillac was the premier car on the road. It’s the reason some people still say something unrelated, “is the Cadillac of” whatever they’re talking about.

Then the Lexus and the Infinity started stealing their thunder. Cadillac’s response was to pretend they weren’t losing their dominance as the luxury car to own, and just kept doing what they’d always done: Turned out expensive, roomy cars with poor gas mileage. And of course, they got stomped.

Cadillac only really started to turn things around when they came out with the Esplanade. Gargantuan SUVs were in, and if there’s one thing Caddy knows how to make, it is oversized cars. And by 2005, you just weren’t anyone unless the Cadillac Esplanade is what you drove to the Source Awards.

Now, in the story above:

  • Replace Lexus with iPhone
  • Replace Infinity with Android
  • Replace Cadillac with Blackberry

Blackberry was also the phone of choice for people who wanted to do more than just talk. When you saw someone with that huge keyboard, you knew they either had a lot going on or an employer willing to get them a phone. It got e-mail, which was a magical concept just 5 years ago, and you could actually type out messages without having to press the 7 four times, then the 4 two times, then the 4 again three times, then the 8 once… because QWERTY keyboards were too cool to be believed.

Then the iPhone and Android phones came out, and the market changed completely.

What was the response of Research in Motion, makers of the Blackberry? They continue to turn out various versions of the same phone. The Curve and the Bold and the Torch have different features, but are essentially the same OS with the same keyboard. (Though the Torch has a touch screen that’s larger than the standard Blackberry, in a lackluster attempt to be iPhone-ish.)

If Blackberry wants their Esplanade, what they really need is a real update to their operating system, better support for third party developers, and prices that make sense for what they sell.

As a Blackberry owner, I do like it. The keyboard is still comfortable, and makes texting one-handed simple. The voice commands work brilliantly – far better than anything else on the market. Blackberry Messenger is still a free alternative to texting – if you know someone else who has a Blackberry, of course.

If RIM can’t figure out how to compete, they need to play to these strengths better. If they can’t do that, maybe they just need to get bought by someone who can. Surely Facebook is considering their options for getting into the mobile market. Buying up the once great house of Blackberry would certainly make the creation of an Official Facebook Phone a lot easier for them to do.

Top 5 Useless New Technologies

There are a lot of gadget toys available to us these days. They’re all pretty neat, but how useful are any of them anyway? These five are, in my opinion, the most worthless of the lot.

Sorry ladies - theyre married!

1) Facetime/Video Phone Calls

I know a lot of Apple people will, again, cry foul at this. It’s a great idea, and why do I keep bashing Apple? I’m doing it because no one uses Facetime, and no one asked for it. How many people bought an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch because it afforded them the ability to place a video call? I sure don’t hear anyone telling me to get one so they can see me while they’re talking to me.

And I’m incredibly handsome!

Out of curiosity, I ran a search for, “does anyone need Facetime,” just to see if there was any consensus on this. What I found were forum posts from people asking complete strangers if they had an iPhone 4, and could they call them “just to try this Facetime thing out.” There’s even an article on how Apple now has a service so you can Facetime them, because they know full well no one uses this thing.

BTW, can this really be called “innovation” when most laptops now have built-in cameras, and there are programs like Skype that people don’t use very much either? The only industry that’s found any niche with video chat so far are sex cams. And I don’t see too many consumers or marketing people in that industry doing a lot of bragging.

2) QR Codes/MS Tags

Heres the QR code for this very post - if you really care.

Both of these things come from the same idea: A physical bar code that can be read by a phone, and call up a web site or video for the consumer. See one on your favorite soda? Scan it and see a commercial for the movie “Avatar!” That’ll be fun!

But it’s not. Setting up the app to scan these things for most users isn’t easy, and the payoff is just seeing the company’s advertising. That’s so lame it defies language.

3) Augmented Reality

Here’s one that sprang up a while back and never took off. The idea was that, though your phone’s camera, you could see your surroundings with additional information – like the location of your Twitter friends, or Google Maps information on the shops your camera was looking at.

The reason this flopped seems to be two-fold: First, an app has to be set up, which is not fun to have to do. I know the first few that came out required several apps running at once. I, like most, gave up after that.

Second, the result was never terribly Earth shattering. Sure, it’s tripy to see a row of restaurants with their review information hanging over them, but actually reading the reviews is easier on a plain old flat page of text.

4) Geosocial Networking

I’m looking at you, Foursquare and Gowalla and Facebook Places. I’ve bitched about these things long enough I don’t feel I need to do much more here. But I did finally, for the last time, end my relationship with Foursquare because of the fruitlessness of it. No one cares where you went to lunch today, no one cares that you’re the Mayor of the local pizzeria, and getting 1/2 off a taco when you buy another taco of equal or lesser value is a stupid offer. I’ll just buy two tacos, and not look like another douche playing with his phone in public, thank you.

5) 3-D

That James Cameron decided this was the “Next Big Thing” should have clued in  everyone that this was not the next big thing. I saw “Tron: Legacy” last week at IMAX, in 3D, and you know what? The IMAX screen is what was impressive – but I forgot I was looking at anything in 3-D.

In fact halfway through the movie I was trying to force myself to see the 3-D and couldn’t. My mind had adjusted to depth – just the way it does when I’m in the real world. The real world is 3-D and I don’t hear anyone saying, “Wow! Driving is such a rush! It’s like all the other cars are coming at me! Classic.”

Even Adolph Hitler knows "Avatar" sucked.

My point with all of these things is that they will not last, unless the developers of these technologies can find an easy way to make us need them. E-mail didn’t need much to become widespread because it’s simple to set up, and simple to understand. It came along when people wrote letters – on paper! – so the concept was pretty easy to get.

If all these companies celebrating their innovation were really innovating, they’d work on fulfilling a current need. Creating a solution, then telling us how we have the need for it, when we don’t, is silly and wasteful.

There is no Facebook Phone – but wouldn’t it be great if there was?

Reports of Facebook building a phone with their own proprietary OS (like Apple and Google before them) are untrue. It’s a rumor that’s been floating around a lot lately, particularly after another story was released this week that they were not only developing one, but that HTC was due to launch it.

Facebook phone

Well, so what? A lot of rumors get floated around all these Internets – we’re all used to it by now. But given Facebook’s new messaging platform, which includes SMS updates and a @facebook.com e-mail address, doesn’t a phone actually make a lot of sense for them?

The Apple phone made sense when it was launched, as it is an extension of the user’s Apple computer experience. Android was an extension of people’s Google experience.

But Facebook, which is frankly in the business of content developed by all of your friends, would make the most sense as a phone provider. A phone that’s an extension of the interaction with your own contacts? And is tied into this messaging nexus they’ve rolled out? Why not?

It would make particular sense for a company whose value is in the billions, but doesn’t have any discernible income. There have been rumors of charging people to use Facebook even longer than the phone rumor – but that would never happen, as they know people would leave the site in droves. The biggest revelation of the Internet revolution is that we want everything free, and there’s enough of us we can demand it.

A phone, on the other hand, requires payment just to get it working. The site itself could remain free, as a vestigial attachment that’s a little easier to use when you’re not on the go. All of the jazzy stuff, however, could happen on your phone – wherever you go. The “Facebook experience” would then be truly opened up to the rest of the world – and things like Facebook Places might actually make sense.

All of the Facebook apps available for all the existing phones are fine, but what if that app was the entire operation system for your phone? You’d not only have a contact list already in place, but multiple options for contacting them – phone, text, chat, e-mail, post, comment… even a “Like” if you’re particularly lazy, I guess.

Certainly Facebook has to do something if they want to keep themselves from withering away in the next 10 years. People didn’t think that could ever happen to Yahoo!, and it did. People didn’t think it could happen to Google either, but with the right eyes you can see they’re in the middle of it already.

Expanding their market to devices their users already use, with content their users already want, would be a no-brainer.

Six Gadgets I Want and Won’t Get

Like every white, American, middle-aged male, I like gadgets. It’s part of who we are – we can’t play with Legos or Star Wars figures anymore, so we buy toys people won’t laugh at us for.

The problem I have is I can’t spend the kind of money these things cost without a good, justifiable reason.

So these are 6 things I definitely want, but can’t bring myself to buy. If anyone can tell me why one of these is worth the cost of admission, I’ll reconsider it.

[Note: “It’s cool” is not a reason to buy something. I worked with someone who used to believe that – and everyone thinks he’s an asshole.]

1) iPad

iPad

The iPad is pretty, versitile, and easy to travel. But it has a lot going against it in my opinion. There’s a lot it won’t do – no camera, no Flash support, no USB ports. You can’t replace the battery, and the onscreen keyboard is useless if you actually know how to type. Also the largest available amount of hard drive space is less than my iPod.

But at least it only costs twice as much as a comparable netbook.

2) HP Touchscreen laptop

HP Touchsmart tx2

This was my logical next guess at a good touchscreen after the iPad. It does everything an iPad does, and also lets me do things on it I can easily port over to my PC. The problem here is that non-Apple touchscreens have a bad history of failing over time. The sensitivity fails after enough usage, leaving you with a laptop that cost too much in the first place.

3) Blu-Ray

DVD vs Blu-Ray

Yes, it’s clearer and brighter, but not so much it’s worth the expense. I’d be more inclined to invest in something that makes streaming content sharper. Otherwise, DVD quality is fine until Blu-Ray manages to be as cheap.

4) iPhone 4

iPhone 4

This should hopefully show I’m not an Apple hater, because I really do want one. (Though I wish they made one with a physical keyboard – touch screen keys suck!) But having just gone through months of investigation of various plans, none of the major carriers are worth what they charge. Even if the iPhone was available on Verizon, I wouldn’t pay Verizon prices just for the privilege.

In Europe cell phone models aren’t tied to carriers – when are we going to get that smart? I’m sure if I could get an iPhone with any of the carriers, they’d finally have competitive prices.

5) iPod Touch

iPod Touch

Everything you have in an iPhone except the ability to place calls. I like that! It’s like having an iPhone, but you don’t have to pay AT&T, or curse their name for awful call quality!

I won’t get one, though, because I still have my 3 year old iPod Classic, which has 80GB of storage, and I’m using almost all of it. When it dies, I know I’ll replace it with another iPod that has more storage.

6) Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder

Zoom h4n

A whah?

It’s a handheld audio recorder for recording podcasts on the go, or bootlegging concerts. I suppose you could use it to record demos of your band too, but I don’t have a band so I don’t care about that functionality.

But it’s also $300. Unless I’m actually going to sell that concert bootleg, there’s no reason for it. I can just plug a very inexpensive USB mic into a laptop and pocket the rest.

Is T-Mobile offering 4G or not?

I’ve been doing a lot of research on cell phone providers lately, and the big attraction for all of them seems to be 4G. It’s the, “no trans fats” or “it has electrolytes” of cell phones.

So what is 4G? The easy answer is that it’s the “fourth generation” mobile wireless standard. 3G being the current smart phones, 2G being that garbage you had in 1998, and 1G being those analog phones that were the size of toasters.

I know, scary.

The longer-but-still-short answer is that 4G lets your phone download information much faster than 3G phones. 3G will download on average somewhere between 600 Kilobits per second (Kbps), and 1.4 Megabits per second (Mbps.) 4G grabs information at between 3 Mbps and 6 Mbps.

Sprint has come out with their 4G plan this year in select cities. Verizon and AT&T have both announced their own plans would be available in 2011.

T-Mobile has taken a slightly different approach, and it’s confusing a lot of people. Rather than invest in 4G technology, T-Mobile is bragging that they will deliver “4G speeds” with their current network.

In short, they’re using the marketability of the 4G brand without actually having to give 4G. It’s their version of “genuine fake leather seats.” They can reproduce these speeds in their labs I’m sure. If they don’t deliver at speeds as high as +3 Mpbs, however, they can always shrug their shoulders and say, “hey, we never said you’d get 4G.”

What I can’t tell is if there is any reality to the speed of HSPA+. There are reports that it runs faster than Sprint’s WiMax 4G network. Also, if you are already on T-Mobile and have an Android phone, you won’t need to change out handsets. Maybe. I say “maybe” because T-Mobile is also leaking details of their coming HSPA+ handsets – which suggests you’d need one to use this improved network.

If nothing else, this is a smart marketing move by T-Mobile to keep their customers from leaving. They are already in deep trouble as a company, with many wondering if they will still be around by next year. Since they don’t have the money to invest in a 4G network, they’re offering upgrades to what they already have. I’m sure Verizon, AT&T and Sprint would have loved to offer “4G speeds” without the cost of actually building a 4G network.

That they haven’t suggests to me that it doesn’t really work.