Phones

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.”

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.

Why I don’t love the Cloud

There’s a lot of talk about Cloud Computing lately. There’s been a lot for the past couple of years, but with Apple’s announcement of the iCloud, everyone’s doing the talking.

iCloud Media Cloud

This is also something Google has gotten into, with their Google Music and to an extent Google Docs. So this isn’t just a slam against Apple, they’ve just gotten all of the press lately.

Like most good ideas, iCloud is a simple one: Since there are so many devices you may have – an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad, and/or an Apple computer, iCloud would be the place where all of your files and contacts live, so all of your devices can be synced up easily. Rather than living on your base computer’s hard drive, and updating everything one by one, the Cloud will simply do it for you. What’s more, your files would be accessed wirelessly and not have to live on an old fashioned, poopy hard drive.

So where do I begin with my complaints on this? All of them stem from two things that drive me crazy with modern technology: The over-large corporation that tells its users this is a good idea, and the mass of users who go along with the hype.

First off, storing all of my files on an Apple server means I no longer have my own files. There is a flimsy contract between the provider and myself that my files will be secure and always waiting for me. What happens when they aren’t though? If I am a salesman, and I lose all my contacts through a snafu with their cloud, how will I be compensated for all the lost sales that would result?

Then there’s the purely selfish reason: I have a LOT of illegally burned content. Not necessarily stolen, but I do burn my own copies of CDs and DVDs – if you’ve been online for at least a few years, you do too. What’s to say the owner of the cloud service doesn’t bow down to the RIAA or Paramount or Universal, and let them look over my collection to see if there’s anything lawsuit-worthy?

Finally, assuming there aren’t any technical or draconian legal issues, there’s still the problem of bandwidth. Loading all of your music onto the iCloud and syncing it with your iPad on the go is great – until everyone else does it too. I actually like the idea of cloud computing to store some files. But what happens when everyone’s device relies on a mobile data plan to get its music?

What happens is everything will get slower.

It is possible to get enough servers and towers to make this work. That will be incredibly expensive, of course, and that cost will be passed onto the consumer – namely, you. And me, in fact, whether I use it or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a year or two Android or iPhone data plans drive the monthly cost up to $200 per month.

The current cost is already too high for something as simple as a phone in my opinion. All the market needs to do is tell companies they’re willing to spend twice as much on their service just to avoid manually syncing devices. Then they can charge almost as much as they want to.

All just so Apple can stop putting hard drives in iPods, and sell you more crap exclusively on iTunes? It sounds like we’re all lining up for a major screwing.

Service Code: Netflix’s other neat idea

We all know what Netflix is by now, so I won’t bother starting with that. Movies, ques, blah blah blah.

But I found something new about their site last night that is such a brilliant idea, I’m surprised other websites with a lot of Customer Service call volume haven’t adopted it: Online Service Codes.

Here’s how it works – you have  a problem with Netflix for whatever reason. You’re logged into their site, and you click the “contact us” link on their page. What you get is something that looks like this:

Netflix knows most people come to the “contact us” page because they have a problem. A lot of companies hide their customer service phone number on their site because they don’t want to hear from customers with a problem. Netflix seems to understand they need to be available to their customers if they want to keep them.

So they have a link to their customer service phone number plainly visible on the contact page. (Beneath the two other links for most common problems of course – still need to try to keep the call volume down!) But when you click on the CS number, you also get a wait time for your call, so you can try again later if it’s bad, and a service code.

This service code is what really has me jazzed. When you call in, rather than go through the standard giving of name, customer ID, address, phone number, secret question… you simply give this number while on hold, waiting for the operator. Since you can only get this code while logged in, the system generates a code that verifies you, and gets the operator into your account.

Simple! So why isn’t everyone using this? Why am I still trying to remember the Arizona state bird or my first girlfriend’s last name whenever I have password trouble with Bank of America?

Looking around, I see other write ups on Netflix’ service code dating back two years, so it isn’t exactly new technology – but it does seem to still be relegated only to Netflix. If anyone else is using it, either they aren’t big enough to notice or they aren’t bragging about it.

Still, it’s damn smart and I wish all companies with call centers were using it.

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.

It’s official: iPhone 4 to be sold by Verizon

After months of speculation and years of wishing, a provider other than AT&T will be selling the Apple iPhone 4. The phones will be available February 10th, with pre-orders starting on the 4th.

iPhone on Verizon

I think everyone kind of saw this coming, frankly. As I’ve often said, I’m not an Apple person, but I do see the appeal and they do make quality electronics – so I’ve never, ever understood what they were doing lashing their oars to AT&T – arguably the worst cell phone provider in America.

When Verizon started offering data plans for the iPad late last year, the writing was on the wall that Apple had found a new partner.

This is actually what should happen with every handset: A device – or versions of the same device – that can be used on multiple carriers. Think about that, the idea of buying the actual phone you want, then deciding on the carrier you want. This is the way it works in Europe, and they’re very happy with it.

I chalk that up as another win for Socialism, myself. Because in free market America, the carriers essentially hijack handsets, forcing you to take their contract in order to get the technology you want. Never mind the iPhone – what if Sprint has the best Android phone in your opinion, but you want Verizon’s coverage. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to switch the two up?

Of course, this didn’t happen and isn’t likely to anytime soon. This industry knows what side it’s proprietary contracts are buttered on. What I’m interested in is seeing how long it takes for AT&T to finally get chased out of the cell phone service market.

My money is on AT&T selling their provider interests to some Korean company that gives it a shiney new name and brand image. This would be great, because Korean’s don’t mess around – they’ll also fire those morons that have been running AT&T, replacing them with some very serious people in management.

People who, for example, would have never screwed up Apple so badly they’d eventually leave.

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.