Wireless in Peril?

17 11 2008

People ask me, semi-regularly, if I’m worried about current economic conditions hurting my paycheck.  Honestly, I’m not too concerned about it.

 

With cell phones becoming a primary (if not sole) means of communication for so many people I don’t really see sales plummeting.  I would certainly expect to see sales of high-end phones (and their higher-priced data plans) slump a little and would expect to see the same of accessory sales, but I don’t think there will be any sort of cataclysmic shitstorm of store closures and firings/layoffs.

 

Also, I think that market saturation did the most damage to cell sales.  Since the number of first-time cell owners plummeted about 3-4 years ago so did sales.  Now the big thing is trying to woo people over from their current provider.  The 2 main ways to accomplish this have been a) offering a better deal and b) capitalizing on a bad experience with the previous/current provider.  Either of these situations (especially the former) can generate a sale and woo someone to come over to your side in a down-turned economy.  Granted, on a cosmic scale, someone else lost that revenue so the overall cell market may consider it a wash, but for me it’s a gain.

 

A decade ago, before mobile phones really became super-mainstream, the economy would scare me.  As it is now, I’m no more concerned about sales and quotas than I was this time 4 years ago.  The only thing that would worry me is a sudden improvement in customer service from the other carriers – I may be shooting myself in the foot here, but the vast majority of my customers who came over from one of the other Big 4 carriers came because they felt like they were being mistreated.

 

I know it sounds cheesy, but for anyone is wireless, I think the best way to ride out the tough(er) times is to provide superior customer support and to fit plans and features to their needs as opposed to pushing them to get the most expensive ones available.  It’ll mean that whatever business they can send to you, they will.

 





Q-Chat – The Future of Direct Connect and What Should Come Next

7 07 2008

Sprint finally has some (5) Q-Chat phones available.  3 are rugged, 1 is fairly entry-level and 3 are fairly high-end (the yet-to-be-released Moto model has a 2+ megapixel camera).  Q-Chat was the original name of the all-CDMA push-to-talk (PTT) service that will replace their iDEN Direct Connect.  The new service allows CDMA devices to connect via walkie-talkie to iDEN (Nextel) devices over the Sprint network.  This is super important because the iDEN network is already prettydarned crowded and they’re going to need to vacate a portion of it covering millions of subscribers.  If Sprint would just release a BlackBerry with Q-Chat (which is actually taking over its iDEN predecessor’s Direct Connect moniker) they could finally make an honest push to phase out iDEN and somewhat focus themselves.

 

The question:  Is it (way) too little (way) too late?





The FCC Takes an Official Stab at ETFs

12 06 2008

A while ago, I wrote a post (over at CapitolValely.net) about Representative Edward Markey’s (D – MA) proposal to introduce a Mobile Phone bill of rights.  One of the topics it would have addressed is the Early Termination Fee (ETF) that carriers make you pay to leave them before your contract is complete.

 

The FCC is looking at putting forward an official guideline for ETFs.  Here is the AP article about it.

 

The FCC wants ETFs to be based on phone value and to depreciate over the length of the contract.  AT&T and Verizon already do this, and Sprint has said they will (although it hasn’t happened yet).  According to Markey’s draft, the ETF would have to be cut by at least 50% once the contract is half-way over.  The FCC hasn’t given any hard numbers like that yet.

 

The FCC also wants to mandate a maximum contract length as well as extending the time during which you can cancel service without paying the fee – for most states/carriers it’s 30 days.  FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to extend the period until the customer has had time to receive and review the first bill, which may currently not be until after it’s too late to back out.

 

Sometimes, the FCC is overreacting to nipples and swearing and seems like a bunch of old prudes with way too much time on their hands.  Other times, it’s very clear (to me) why the Commission exists and I totally want to give Kevin Martin a big, cheesy high five.





Dear Gawker – I’m Not Your Biggest Fan (I Know, You’re Crushed)

9 06 2008

Gawker ran a story that I caught via Valleywag and the headline was enough to annoy the heck out of me –

Prepare To Never Again Have A Private Moment At A Bar

The story is about Loopt becoming available on the new iPhone.  The headline shows a huge lack of understanding of the product it’s bashing.  The article sounds less like a product review and more like someone upset about their lack of Dodgeball friends.

My favorite quote?  The attempt at a witty close (something I’m super duper guilty of, but hey, I amuse myself where this toolbox doesn’t amuse me in the least) –

And eventually, if you’re caught going out for a drink without inviting all your friends, some lonely acquaintance of yours is going to bug you about why they weren’t part of the group. Thanks a lot Apple.

The entire article, right to the end, skips over something huge – You choose who sees your updates.  And, oh yeah, that just because you buy a 3G iPhone doesn’t mean you’ll sign up for Loopt.  They’ve been around for a while on Boost, Nextel, Sprint and more recently Verizon handsets.  Do they have nearly 200 million subscribers?  I don’t think so.

 

Sorry for being almost as annoying and ranty as Mr. Gawker Man, but the people who get so annoyed by things like this are almost never the people using them.  And if they are, it seems a little odd.  I mean, I wouldn’t pay for something (unless it were a necessity) if I thought it was a dumb as Gawky Gawkerson seems to think Loopt is.  Though, from the article I can see the author as being the kind of douche who would sign up for the service and then lament its lamity just to prove that he was right.

 

A word of advice to any would-be consumers of…anything – If you think it’ll suck, don’t buy it!





Kyte.TV Update

17 03 2008

FYI – The reason that I can’t send a pic right from my phone to my Kyte Channel would appear to be Sprint’s issue, not Kyte’s.

When you send picture mail with Sprint you send a LINK to the image or video instead of the file itself – hence the no Kyte-ing.  The link sending thing makes sense – don’t bother actually loading/sending the pic until someone actually wants to look at it.

Never bugged me until right now.

Oh well.  Kyte, you are both cool and off the hook.





BlackBerry App Permissions

29 01 2008

This is a topic that came up in the Beyond411 Application Review.

When you load an application on a BlackBerry it generally requires certain things from said BlackBerry – access to the Internet, access to phone information (address book, etc.) and sometimes access to your GPS location (if you’re using a turn-by-turn navigation application, fr’instance).

The majority of application will ask you questions when you first run them (The Application has requested access to you GPS Location) followed by the option to allow or deny that access.

In the event that something still doesn’t work or you accidentally answered “No” to something you can manually set those permissions.  This is in the event that your BlackBerry is not under the control of a BlackBerry Enterprise Server ( BES) .  The BES issue is something that I’m going to leave alone because the focus of these reviews is to make the BlackBerry approachable to non-business users.  These people wouldn’t (usually) be on a BES administered device to begin with.

Anyway, getting back to the point, these permissions can be set manually so that you can tell your BB “Hey, if <insert app name here> wants the Internet, let <insert same app name here>  have the Internet, ok?” 

This will, in theory, give the app whatever it needs to function properly.

How do I change these settings?  Glad ya asked!

On a BlackBerry with a Pearl (the little ball)

ex: 8800/20/30, Curve 8300/10/20,  Pearl 8100/20/30

Go to Options (this is the little wrench).  On some GSM BB’s (at&t, T-Mobile) you need to enter Settings (little gears) to find options.

Select Advanced Options

Then Applications

Then highlight whichever app we need to monkey around with and press the Menu key (left of the Pearl, has a bunch of dots on it).

Select Edit Permissions

Press the Menu key (yes, again)

Select Reset Firewall Prompts

Now you’re going to be looking at Connection, Interactions and User Data.

All three of these need to be set to “Allow.”

Once they are, press the Menu key one last time and select “Save.”

Once you’re done “Please Wait”ing (try it and you’ll understand) turn off the BB, wait about 30 seconds and power it back on.

You’re set!!

If your BB still has the wheel

ex 7100i, 7130e, 8703e, 8700c/r

Go to Options

Advanced Options

Click on the app

Select Edit Permissions

Set Connection, Interactions and User Data to “Allow,” click the wheel and “Save” and then power cycle (turn the BB off and then back on) once the waiting is done.

I hope this helps, and it will be added to the App Review page as well.





Beyond411

29 01 2008

Just like “Lost Souls” (JC Sackett knows what I’m talking about), this application suffers from great concept, poor execution.

Beyond 411 is a BlackBerry application that starts off as a free way to search for phone numbers, but goes Beyond 411 to offer a slough of other options.

Sounds great (“concept”). Have you used Beyond411?  Once you leave the familiar realm of looking up a business (and this is after you get past a semi-unfriendly interface) you get slapped in the face by how well it does(n’t) get the job done.

When you first run the application it seems promising; you’re prompted to enter a “home,” “work” and an “other” address.  These addresses are used when you look up a business – basically, it will look for matches near to the selected address.

You can also select what Internet connection the application will use to search for these results, but there’s really no good reason to take it off of “default.”

Click “Save” and you’re ready to (try to) use Beyond411.

The home screen is a little daunting and lacking in direction.

In the upper-right corner it will say “home.” By clicking on this you can select one of the default addresses that you’ve already entered or select GPS to try and use your current location as the area around which to look for businesses (this is only an option on certain BB models and will not work on, for example, the Pearl 8100).

After selecting your location you start typing (presumably the name of a business you want to find) and Beyond411 will start guessing the business that you’re looking for – very cool.

When you’ve finished typing a click of the Pearl will display a menu, with “Yellow Pages (selected location)” highlighted.  Click again and you begin your search for the nearest Sushi restaurant, or whatever painfully addicting product you need to find.

When your results are displayed you can click on the name of the business and you are treated to a new menu:

Directions to (1st listing)– Click here to get directions from your location (whatever location was selected when you started your search) to the selected listing.  This will give you a MapQuest-esque list o’ turns from point A to point B.

Call– If your listing has a phone number attached to it, clicking here will call it for you (tres self-explanatory).

Map– Gives you a map based on the address for the listing.

Add to address book– Add the listing’s address to your BlackBerry address book.

Set Current Location – This will change your “other” address to the address for this listing.

Email Business Info– The info for the listing in emailed to whatever address you enter.  This one is pretty darned cool.

Tell a friend about Beyond411 – Select a contact from your address book and send them an OTA (Over the Air) download link for Beyond411.

 And this, for me, is where the coolness ends.

After you enter your search criteria and click the Pearl, another option given to you is White Pages – if you’ve entered a person’s name as opposed to a business the application will launch Google and run a search for residential listings based on that name and your selected location.  It’s a little more time-consuming (you need to wait for it to launch your browser and load Google) but it’s certainly easier than trying to enter effective search criteria for your own Google search.

Web Search– In theory, this would launch a regular old Google search for whatever.  This consistently times out and gave http errors.  I checked my coverage (fantastical) as well as my Application Permissions* and try as I might, it wouldn’t work.

Loading up my Internet browser, navigating to Google and entering in the same search terms worked like a champ.

Edit Settings– This is where you can edit your default addresses or change the Internet connection that Beyond411 uses to connect to the Internet.

The next set of options are based upon your location, as opposed to any specific business or person you may be searching for.

Weather– In theory?  Gives a forecast based on the selected location.

Shopping – In theory? Places to shop.

Movies– Find showtimes and theatres.

Sports – In theory?  Sports scores and game times?  Maybe?  If it had worked I would totally be telling you.

If you do not have anything in the search field you will be given one more selection:

Local Info – This pulls up a new screen with all of the above options along with an option for driving directions (here you can get directions or a static map).   These directions did work…on about the 5th try.  More weirdness to the directions is that they pull up via Yahoo! as opposed to Google.  I only mention that as “weirdness” because everything else seems to be based on Google search results – it seems weird (to me, at least) that it would switch to a different database to pull driving directions.

Also, “Sports” is divided into categories for each sport (NHL, MLB, etc.).

There is also a Reverse Phone Lookup.  Cool!  Except that it doesn’t work.  I was thinking that my test phone numbers were all unlisted, so I tested it:  I ran a white pages search for a name (I was feeling generic and used “Smith”).

I then took the phone number from one of those listings and input that as my search criteria for the “Reverse Phone Lookup.”  Where’s the beef?  Here it is; there was no indication that it was even trying to find any info based on the number I entered.  Granted, the little arrows in the upper-right of the screen started flashing, but that isn’t much help.  Those arrows indicate network activity, so it implies that it’s trying, but on a BB those arrows go off all the time.  So it could be trying the reverse lookup…or I could just be getting an email.  Then, after it (presumably) failed it just sat there on the same screen.  There was never any kind of notification that the search failed.  I hate that.  A lot.

Lastly, there is Mobilize Web Page.  Pretty cool idea – enter a website and the application will try and optimize it for a mobile device.  Who cares?  The BlackBerry can already do that for you.  Point of fact, almost all cell phones automatically (try) to convert web pages to a mobile-friendly version.  The only phones that don’t are generally Windows Mobile devices.  If you have one of those you probably are not going to be downloading an application for a BlackBerry.  Just an assumption.

As before we are leaving (relative) objectivity and jumping into my opinion of Beyond411.

I’m impressed by the 1st part of the application – the ability to find, call, and even navigate to businesses. 

The White Pages search is very Ok.  A little clunky but generally easier and faster than trying it on your own.

Everything else (beyond the business listings) seemed to be a cluster-f***.  I’m just not impressed by the execution.  At all.  I would much rather have 3 options that work flawlessly than have 30 that kinda-sorta work.  That’s just me.  I’m a stickler for quality and presentation.

There’s also the issue of errors: the errors were plentiful and varied, but there was no offer of any kind to view details or potential troubleshooting steps to take.  It frustrated the heck out of me.  I even went so far as to delete and re-install the application (twice) to no avail.  My BB’s firmware (this is the phone’s operating system, like Windows is for your PC)  is totally up-to-date.  And we aren’t talking about having the latest firmware for a phone that was discontinued 3 years ago.  My BB is the 2nd-newest model available from Sprint.

My overall view on Beyond411 is that it is about halfway done.  If it had a big fat “Beta” after the name I would be much more forgiving.  Which is to say, I would Bbe forgiving.  When I download an application onto my phone I want it to work.  Not just work, but work properly.  A cell phone, especially a BlackBerry, represents a significant chunk of change to me.  Anything that I do to it is not something I take on lightly.  The BlackBerry is not a toy to me.

Like I said from the start; The underlying idea is amazing.  It really is.  The execution is what’s not floating my boat.  This essentially Beta (test/pre-release) software doesn’t meet my admittedly high standards for a final version and doesn’t leave me feeling especially confident in subsequent releases of the app.  If a new version is released I will try to test it out with as little bias as possible.  I will not, however, be going into a new release with the same excitement and optimism as I did with this initial installation.

Guys, please turn me around.  I would like nothing more than to be entirely blown away by the next release.

For information on the guys behind Beyond411:

http://thebogles.com/blog/ – Not much info about the company or the guys behind it (kind of disappointing).

To download Beyond411 navigate your BlackBerry’s internet browser to:

http://thebogles.com/b411.jad

Please, The Bogles, make me eat my words with the next release.

*Application Permissions –

BlackBerry Apps often make requests for information from or access to the BlackBerry.  For an application like Beyond411 it needs access to your GPS (if you want to use your GPS location as the center for your searches) phone information (to make calls, add to addressbook, etc) and access to the Internet (do I need to explain why?).  Most applications will ask you questions upon initial setup that will take care of this, but I went so far as to manually tell my BB to let Beyond411 do whatever the heck it wanted.  And it still wasn’t enough to get the rock-solid results I demand.