Sunday, 21 September 2014

Reflections on why I'm seeing so much anti-Apple material on Google+

Recently, the amount of anti-Apple posts in my Google+ stream seems to have reached epic proportions. One community that is supposed to be about funny posts in general has become ridiculous. One or two posts were fine;  it then started getting boring and now a deluge of anti-Apple posts that drown out the humorous posts in a sea of repetition.

Clearly, the timing of IFA and the release of new iPhones has an impact. But it made me curious about what motivates people to behave like this. And why so much anti Apple? I’m using Android, iOS & WP and in communities for all of these and I don’t see anything like the same level of attack aimed at Android or WP. 

There are several reasons that sprang to mind about why someone might want to ridicule the buying decisions that someone else makes:

1) Apple has been the main smartphone player for sometime. It's always easier to have a go at the main figure. Though Samsung now sells more handsets than Apple so clearly there is something more going on than people having a go at the company selling the most handsets. 

2) The world of Android and Apple are different, though interrelated. Android has a faster rate of change, many manufacturers and Google’s increasing hold of user content. Apple provides a degree of stability for its customers, a focus on user experience and product quality. However, by itself this would not be sufficient to get supporters of one having a go at the supporters of the other.

3) The behaviour of some suppliers has an effect on some people’s behaviour. Samsung for example, through the use of negative marketing, has set an example for what some see as reasonable behaviour. Obviously it has a number of benefits for Samsung (though it also has a secondary effect on the organisation using negative marketing approaches). When Samsung was fined for paying people to post positive comments about their products and negative comments about competitors (including HTC) it drew a new line on what could be considered marketing tactics. And, again fuelled animosity. 

4) The relationship between Apple & Samsung (and Google) is interesting. From when Samsung was a supplier to Apple; the court case on ‘the Samsung manual on how to copy an iPhone’ ; the numerous court battles as Samsung copied Apple for a period and then got into the stride of its own identity and innovation cycles (court cases that have potential benefits for both sides). Ideas are relatively easy to copy- from any direction- and as a consumer I like having the benefit of features in whatever I buy at the best price and quality I can get. However, I do understand the desire to protect patents, limit copying etc  and Apple are very diligent in protecting these (as are others, but those tend to get less publicity). And in some markets copying is seen as less of an issue than in others.

5) Corporate culture makes a huge difference, though no company is ‘ perfect’ - it’s made up of people, departments etc each with their own objectives. The Chairman of Samsung helped dramatically improve the success of Samsung (and play a part in Korea’s success). However, he was found guilty of financial irregularities and sentenced to prison. He was pardoned by the Korean President (to help with the Winter Olympics bid) and returned to Samsung. This sort of behaviour at the top level of any organisation, especially when condoned, can have a major impact on corporate culture and what is seen as acceptable.

6) Samsung is one of several Android suppliers, the one that has the most to gain by targeting Apple (sensible marketing strategy). However, when people who like Apple respond to negative comments by attacking Android in general, it draws in other people.With the increasing competition, especially at the cheaper end (at the moment), from Chinese manufacturers, Samsung has a vested interest in aiming upstream, where Apple has sat.

7) Google+ inevitably has more android users than Apple users, though clearly Apple bashing isn’t something that most people go in for. Google+ is a key competitive & strategic tool for Google.  For example, not releasing a Google+ app on WP introduces a barrier for people wanting to use WP. (I’ve recently realised that for WP there are other conversations going on outside of Google+ that are interesting for people using WP devices. However, Microsoft could do with providing a free version of Yammer outside of the corporate world. And Apple will loose out by not having an equivalent. Though ideally, I’d prefer to use a social media tool that’s not from an OS provider).

8) There are some people who like to vent steam; try and provoke a reaction; behave in quite a different manner online compared to how they might behave if you met them face to face. There is also an element of team support- like at a football (soccer) match where people get into the swing of chanting for their team, irrespective of who is playing well (whilst some people look on more interested in who is playing the better game). And there’s a lot of emotional & personal investment in a phone (more so for some people), and some people feel the need to justify their own decisions by having a go at the decisions that others make (a bit bizarre if you stand back- for example I don’t see buyers of BMW attacking buyers of Mercedes or vice versa- though it’s in less of their interests to encourage attacks on the other party). 

Which ever way you look at it having more competition is better for the consumer. If Apple or Android suddenly disappeared the customers of the ones left would look forward to less innovation and improvements, not more.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

My 'new' iPhone (sort of)- do I really need a NEW iPhone?

I recently decided to get a case for my iPhone 5s (wanting something a bit more rugged and that I'm happy using in the rain). So I ordered a Lifeproof Nuud case (makes the phone shock proof from up to 2m, waterproof to 2m, isn't that big, doesn't put something over the screen, is easy to get headphones on/off and still allows touchID to work (and runs the iOS apps that I still can't get on android or WP).

Wow- this feels like a totally new device. It still fits comfortably in my hand and now I have no qualms about dropping it or using it in the rain. Yes the bare iPhone is slim and slips into any pocket. But I like this rugged new iPhone: touchID works perfectly, and everything else (like swiping up the settings for quick access to wifi, bluetooth,  torch...). The only downside is trying to take the case off (external speaker sounds a bit more echo'y than before).

I did consider the iPhone 6+ but will wait to try it myself. Though perhaps I don't now need a new phablet.  I have my Nokia 1520- which has a stunning screen, great battery life, character and is an enjoyable experience every time I use it- more than any other phablet I've used (including the Note 3, gFlex, HTC One Max, Xperia Z Ultra...). I'll try out the Samsung Note 4 as well and there is the upcoming gFlex 2. (The first gFlex was the most practical phablet I've used, certainly for one handed usage- and apart from being more comfortable and practical than my Note 3, also gave me about 40% extra battery life).

If I didn't already have a phablet the other device I'd consider would be the LG G3 - preferably with WP which is definitely growing on me (going back to my android devices is leaving me flat in comparison. And iOS, well that's not an OS that really tries to get between the user and the app).

So, it looks like I've saved myself a lot of money- perhaps it's time to buy a dishwasher.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Gravity, a disappearing sun, big G (not google)...

There was a recent post about an article in Gizmodo outlining what might happen if the Sun suddenly disappeared. 

Fortunately, it's not going to happen (or least very unlikely!). The article's last comment is rather funny 'it would be interesting to live through' - I doubt if living through would be an option. An interesting thought experiment though, especially around the nature of gravity. 

I always pictured the gravity of the sun as being a bit like having a heavy ball on a sheet of rubber ('fabric of space time":). The weight causes things to sink in towards the sun, unless of course there are things preventing that (eg due to other objects in space having enough of an impact to prevent that, having their own dimples in this rubber sheet, & the speed of an object moving around the sun's dimple being sufficient to avoid it falling inexorably to the bottom of the dimple caused by the sun's weight. 

Whilst it's a simple analogy it does have the advantage of being easy to picture. And if the sun is removed, the question then is how quickly the sheet looses its dimple rather than a question about how fast light travels (though looking at it one way you could see how they could relate). 

A potential issue with my initial thought around having a rubber sheet is that take off a heavy ball and the sheet will have some vibrations (which isn't unrealistic) and could fling other objects affected by the sun's dimple in all sorts of directions eg one way and then the other! Perhaps into the dimple of something else, though of course that dimple could also be impacted by the vibrations (best not to think about what holds the object to the rubber sheet:).

I was listening to a podcast about big G, the universal constant used for calculating the gravitational force between two objects (not to be confused by little g, the local gravitational constant, like at different places on the earth's surface). Big G is sometimes called the Mount Everest of physics because it's proving so difficult to measure accurately (only about 0.05% level of certainty- massive in physics terms). It got me thinking about the analogy of a rubber sheet. You can see how g, local gravity is affected by the mass of the object causing the dimple (as well as by the object falling into the dimple, which creates its own dimple though here the analogy is tricky to maintain). However, picturing the curvature of the dimple you can see how that's going to increase the closer the object gets to the middle of the dimple (as well as getting steeper depending on the mass of the two objects). The bit that gets more interesting though is the stretchiness of the fabric- how far that stretchiness is fixed, how far it varies depending on the mass of what's causing the dimples and how far does it varies at different points on the rubber sheet.

The wonders of analogies- and their limitations!

Back to mobile devices:) 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

My favourite mapping apps for 1) Windows Phone 2) iOS and 3) Android

There are lots of great mapping and navigation apps around. I use a lot of public transport (living and working in London). I also like hiking and do a bit of driving. Here are my favourite apps at the moment:

1. For Windows Phone

1a)  For public transport (in and around London):

  • 'Nokia Here Transit'- I like the layout and I've used it happily around London for mixed mode travel (train, tube, walking, bus, tram...).
  • 'London Travel': very handy for disruptions, live departure boards... and handy live tiles
  • 'Bing get me there London': nicely laid out public transport travel features

1b) For walking:

  • 'Outdoor Navigation':
    • supporting Bing, Google maps & Openmaps eg, Opencycle. Also many other maps
    • setting waypoints along your journey
    • voice navigation for walking 
    • shows your geotagged photos on the map 
    • wikipedia map layer (which I really like)
    • you can draw a route and measure it
  • 'Nokia Here Maps'  & 'Bing Maps': downloadable- using the same base info, though showing slightly different aspects)
  • 'GeoGPS': similar to Outdoor Navigation, definitely worth a look

1c) For driving:

  • 'Nokia Here'- great driving instructions (better than Google's instructions when I've compared them in {I'm in the UK})

1d) Other:

  • 'Here Explore Beta' It's great for showing different things things on the map  and subcategories of things to look at (eg under Eating & drinks-Coffee/Tea; Natural or geographical- forest, heath; shopping- electronics...) 
  • 'Google Maps'- using Google maps (Not from Google- possibly produced by some people at Stanford I think)

2. For iOS

2a) For public transport (in and around London):

  • 'City mapper': great UI & functionality
  • 'Bus checker': great for live bus times for your location, and routes
  • 'UK Train times': great for overground trains- providing platform details

2b) For walking

  • 'Apple maps': great for navigation in cities (I prefer this over Google map directions)
  • 'ViewRanger': great for hiking

2c) For driving

  • 'Apple maps'

3. For Android

3a) For public transport (in and around London):

  • 'City mapper': great UI & functionality
  • 'Bus checker': great for live bus times for your location, and routes
  • 'National Rail enquiries': great for overground trains- providing platform details

3b) For walking

  • 'Google maps': for directions in cities
  • 'ViewRanger': great for hiking

3c) For driving

  • 'Google maps'

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Is the s-pen enough to sway me to get a Note 4? (having had a Note 1,2 and 3)

I had the note 1,2 and 3 and didn't use the in built stylus much- usually it was faster to use my finger. I have a note 8 and use a stylus on that a lot- that's due to the larger screen size and the fact that I'll usually sit down and use the Note 8 for a longer period. 

I do use a stylus from time to time for writing on devices like the Note 3, gFlex, Nokia 1520..., using slide keyboards (like Swiftkey). After trying a lot of different styluses I settled on the Bamboo Duo stylus - which feels great to use and to hold; doesn't impact battery life; can write on paper  and has a jacket clip which I find useful. I preferred writing on my Note 3 with the Bamboo stylus compared to using the Samsung stylus. The other stylus that I enjoyed using for notes etc was the Evernote Jotscript (though I prefer the Bamboo Duo). The Jotscript works very well on the iPad and on the LG Flex (the curved screen making it a pleasure to hold and write on, with any stylus).

It comes down to what's important to you & how you use the device. However, the Note 4 stylus isn't enough of a benefit to make that the deciding factor for my usages. Especially when I have other styluses that I prefer to use on a device the size of the Note 4.

(Bamboo Duo stylus on Amazon)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Are eBooks better for the environment than physical books?

I recently read a post showing a cartoon about eBooks and physical books.  One comment was that eBooks are better for the environment than physical books. That was my first instinct too. However, as I thought about it, and dug a bit deeper, it’s a bit more complicated than I first thought.

The last figures I saw, were that manufacturing a kindle, and assuming 4 years of use, consumes about 168kg of CO2. That's equivalent to producing roughly 23 books.  So if you read more than 6 books a year an eBook reader should be more environmentally friendly- as long as you hold onto your eBook reader for 4 years without buying a new one.That’s based on manufacture; there’s the distribution consideration as well- given that most books are published in China and exported.

However, it’s still not as simple as that. The lithium battery in an eBook reader, such as a kindle, is a pollutant and the environmental costs of dealing with that are high (even with recycling). Also, physical books tend to last longer than 4 years.  They’re often reused, passed on, even recycled (hard to recycle an eBook). 

Then's there's the trees. Having trees growing tends to be better for the environment than not having the trees at all. However, if trees aren't being grown for paper production are the trees left to happily get on with producing O2/managing CO2? Increasing not: the land is turned over for building on or for food manufacture.

There’s also a social perspective. Currently, more people earn their livelihood through the end to end physical book process compared to eBooks (especially if people use existing multifunctional devices rather than getting specialist eBook readers, or frequent replacement of gadgets, something I’m guilty of). In theory, removing the costs of paying others, should mean that eBooks are cheaper for consumers than physical books;  leaving us to spend more money on other consumables (and a nice increase in revenue and profits for Amazon, given that most eBooks are Kindle).

However, price and convenience drives buying decisions towards eBooks.  So, for those who want to consider the environment and want price and convenience the optimal choice is probably to use a multifunctional device, rather than buying an additional eBook reader (e.g. using a tablet- assuming you have one or you want to do more than read eBooks)- and use eBook reader apps (Kindle, Kobo, Nook…). And also not replacing the device too often (4 years sounds a bit of a stretch target! Especially for tablets- though I'm finding that iPads tend to have a longer replacement cycle than some of the android tablets- if only because upgrades come around faster).

And as a further point- are physical books more effective for information distribution or enjoyment compared to eBooks?  A recent study found:

... readers using a Kindle were "significantly" worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

Personally, I use a mix of  eBooks and physical books; ebook readers and tablets; Kindle, Kobo and Nook eBooks apps. I prefer reading a physical book. But it's not always as convenient as an eBook reader. I prefer reading on eBook readers (usually) compared to tablets/phones, but again eBook readers aren't always as convenient as a phone/phablet.

The original post has made me think a bit more about the impact of my decisions as well as the assumptions I make!

 (Click here for the original post)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Backing up and restoring devices using the cloud

There's been a fair bit of publicity recently about not having 2 factor authentication when restoring a device from the cloud (specifically,  iCloud) (though at time of writing it's still unclear whether the attack was through 'guessing' the password).

Personally, I wouldn't use any cloud based DEVICE back up (Apple, HTC...). It seems to be asking for trouble (I do back up documents, photos etc which do have two factor authentication available for most cloud services). For device backup I stick with local backups for some devices. For Apple that means using iTunes backup NOT iCloud backup. (Though for some devices I just do a full factory restore from time to time and load the apps I need.  It's good spring cleaning and the documents and data I need I can get to from apps that access cloud storage (can also go into iCloud to delete backups)

There was publicity around the impact of iCloud not supporting 2 factor authentication around May last year when Apple introduced 2fa for other things (I think it was just after the google drive script flaw and a few months after the touchWiz remote takeover hack). Cloud restore of a backup should have some authentication. Obviously,  there's having a decent password (and having strong security q&a eg NOT using your real date of birth,  not providing your real mothers birth name...).  Though none of the devices I have that offer cloud back up and restore directly (including my Android devices) actually claim to support 2fa.
Cloud security is an issue and attacks will continue to increase. The increased convenience of cloud and internet connectivity comes with a few downsides/risks. 'Box' (cloud storage on android, iOS and WP) has a good reputation in the security area and being non platform specific they have a strong vested interest in covering security on different platforms.

I'd definitely recommend that people use 2 factor authentication. Whilst it doesn't cover every aspect it does cover a number of other scenarios. I know lots of people who use Evernote & OneNote for doing lots of notes. Many people use 2fa with OneNote because it's linked to their hotmail account and OneDrive account- and they use 2FA for that. However, most people I know haven't enabled 2fa on Evernote.

For important passcodes etc there's a lot to be said for physically writing them down or using a non connected device like an old Psion organiser! (And for the paranoid using a cypher). 

For anyone interested on security Steve Gibson's Security Now podcast is a great listen: (and if you're already a listener you probably won't click on the link!)