Pass the Message, QR Codes

•May 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I recently had an interesting experience with a dim witted fool who claims to be some kind of “new media” wizard.  Unfortunately, when new media is used without a basic understanding of business, marketing or even a rational thought process, it becomes an annoyance for all of us.  Gone are the days when all we had to do is worry about junk mail from the postman or even spam in our inbox.  Today, dim witted fools are propagating their messages in secret form through the use of QR codes.

If you haven’t seen them, QR codes are the interesting, 2-dimensional bar codes that are starting to appear all over the place.  That look a little bit like this:

The interesting thing about these is the fact that they can contain all sorts of information from URLs to Calendar appointments and text to SMS messages (the one above allows you to send an SMS message to the gentleman I mentioned above with a personal message — try it out).  All you need to garner that information is a QR code reader … of which there are many free or cheap ones available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.  I personally use Red Laser on my iPhone, which does a lot of other things (like price checks using normal UPC codes) but is also an excellent QR code scanner.   There are also many free/cheap tools for creating QR Codes. I use BIZ Barcode in my iPhone (although, I have to admit to having a few issues with this one crashing, but it is also a decoder/scanner as well I just like Red Laser better for scanning), or there are several web sites to do the same, such as:

http://qrcode.kaywa.com/
http://zxing.appspot.com/generator/
http://www.qrstuff.com/ (which lets you change the color from boring old black)

That’s the good news–these are really kind of cool in a “secret code”, “treasure hunt” kind of way, especially if there is some cool additional information, tools or trinkets to be found. Unfortunately if jerks like the one mentioned above have their way, it will kill these cool little things faster than Facebook killed MySpace.  The reason is simple … he wants everything to have a QR code and for these codes to have useless, boring marketing behind them.  No cool offer.  No trendy video.  Nothing but boring, old junk mail masquerading in a deceptively cool package.

Maybe if enough people use the code above … he’ll get the message.  Ok, probably not, but it will be fun anyway.

Enjoy!

iPhone 4 Delivery – Unbox Video – Initial Review

•June 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Ok, yeah, I’m completely playing into the hype here, but I received my iPhone 4 today at 9:15 am Central and I’m kind of excited.  The ‘unboxing’ video is here (it’s my first attempt to do something like that, so . . be nicer than I usually am).

But here’s the real meat.  I pre-ordered from Apple.  The phone came a day earlier than originally expected and the setup, including the transfer of my existing phone number, was smooth and flawless.  Other than the 1/2 hour it took to load all my content onto it (I have a few movies on my iPhone for emergency entertainment purposes), the entire process was quick.  Much more in-line with what I would expect, and we have all come to expect, from Apple.

I also have to say that I’m really glad I decided to pre-order the phone given the flakiness of AT&T.  I guess they didn’t see my last post.  At least Apple is doing some nice things to combat the negative impact of those bumbling idiots over at AT&T.

As to the iPhone 4 itself?  It is going to take a little getting used too.  Obviously, the big change in the case is the fact that the back is completely flat while the old ones had a nice gentle curve to them.  To be honest, the old ones seemed to ‘feel’ better in the hand; like they ‘fit’.  I’m afraid that I’m going to be dropping this one a lot more, especially in the next couple days.  Of course, that’s another downside to the new case, all the hoarded covers/cases/skins I have for all the iPhones in the house are now worthless to me. meh.

Ok, previously I had said that the new screen technology couldn’t possibly do anything to make movies of pictures better on such a tiny screen.  I was wrong; dead wrong.  The difference is palpable.  I brought up Avatar in HD and . . . WOW.  I also notice that email is a lot easier to read.  The text is crystal clear even when it is very tiny.  The down side is that I’m guessing I better start saving for the upgraded iPad next year; argh.  If they put this screen on the iPad and add front-facing video to interact with all the iPhone 4’s out there, I could see the use for video chat and will probably have to pony up for a new one.  On the other hand, I guess one of my children will be very happy with my left-overs (I know I have one that is as excited about my iPhone 4, but only because she is getting my old 3Gs).

I’m a little disappointed that I read the tech specs incorrectly as, while the iPhone 4 does support 802.11 n, it only supports the 2.4GHz band.  I run my n only at 5GHz because I was having problems with latency on my Apple TV and still have 802.11 b/g needs in the house.  I guess I’ll get over it and it’s not like they didn’t publish it, I just didn’t read it right.

Lastly, as I really need to actually get some real work done today, let’s talk about the camera; both front and back.  Obviously, the added flash and the digital zoom that came with IOS4 is just playing catchup.  But, the use of the front-facing camera is quite easy.  All you have to do is press a hot-button on the screen and instead of getting video from the rear, you get it from the front.  Now I’ll be able to take self-candid shots without trying to accomplish the physical gyrations that teenagers seem to have mastered.  Since I don’t know too many people with the iPhone 4, video chat will have to wait–although I haven’t even played with it.  If it ties into iChat on the MacBook or if YIM or AIM build it into their IM clients for the iPhone, there might be some use (of course YIM sucks for iPhone and they haven’t even made an iPad version yet, not to mention that their Mac client is crappy too . . . so I won’t hold my breath; AIM will probably do it if it is possible).

Hope you all enjoy your new toy!!

iPad/iPhone 4 = AT&T Sucks – and not in the nice way.

•June 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

You may notice that I don’t blog often.  I’m not a habitual blogger.  I need to be kind of irritated to a fair degree before I mouth off.  The recent AT&T antics have sufficiently chaffed my rear.

Let’s start with the bait-n-switch on the unlimited data plan that they announced well ahead of the iPad release; heck, even part of Job’s announcement was the incredible data plans they negotiated for the iPad.  Someone at Apple apparently failed negotiation 101 (if that wasn’t already evident from the stranglehold AT&T has had on the iPhone).  If you take into account the fact that the 3G model didn’t ship until a month after the initial iPad release–that data plan wasn’t even available for 2 months.  Despite the fact that you can maintain the “unlimited” plan if you already had it started, the whole point of the non-contract based services was that you had flexibility.  For example, I work from home and generally use WiFi access almost exclusively; but, when I travel, I want to add the 3G service to circumvent crappy hotel WiFi.  Depending on my work needs, I might have needed that unlimited access.  Personally, I think AT&T should be strung up on this alone, but . . . it gets better!

The unlimited data plan for iPhones has also become a historical note.  Ok, sure, if you are an existing account, you can keep your unlimited plan AS LONG AS YOU DON’T MAKE ANY CHANGES.  Once you make any plan changes, your unlimited data goes bye-bye.  What constitutes a “plan change”?  Well, adding tethering is one.

That brings me to tethering.  A year after it was announced, AT&T has finally set a price of $20/month.  Now, IF this was a $20/month fee added on top of my unlimited data plan, I wouldn’t even argue the point, but if you add tethering, you sacrifice your unlimited data plan.  Ok, fine, you want me to pay extra for the tethering I guess I can’t really begrudge you that.  So, how much extra data do you get for that $20/month fee? NOTHING.  Yup, zilch. Nadda. Zero bytes!  What, exactly, is that $20 for other than to line their pockets?

Now, to be fair, I can understand that if they let us keep unlimited data AND tethering that the $20/month fee would probably make a lot of people think about dropping their broadband connection because it would be a lot cheaper and promises to get a lot faster in the near future.  However, I know more than one person who has jail-broken their phone, has an unlimited data plan and runs their iPhone, iPad AND home computer off of it all the time.  This new pricing doesn’t actually even address the problem they say they are trying to solve.  They say it is to penalize the users who use a disproportionate amount of data; however, the users who are using massive amounts are likely doing so because they’ve had free tethering for over a year.  Once again, the people who play by the rules get screwed.  All they are doing is making people like me think that jail-breaking the phone is a really good idea.

Now, iPhone 4.  Well, as I write this, I’m sure many of you are in the same boat I am; pre-orderless.  Why do I bring this up?  Most accounts point the blame on AT&T’s systems.  You’d think they’d have this figured out after the first 3 epic fails; I guess not.  Personally, I’ve given up.  Frankly, I’m to the point that I don’t even know if I’ll bother with the iPhone 4 any more.  Most of the features I *really* want are in the software upgrade, not the hardware.  A unified inbox with threaded messages, folders and digital zoom are all in the software.  Video calls would be cool–but I hardly use the cam on my MacBook.  And, frankly, while I’ll admit that I haven’t seen it in person, I just don’t think you can do a whole lot more to make the iPhone any better at video; it’s too small to begin with.  Maybe that’s because my iPad is so much nicer for actually watching video in anything but the most dire circumstances.  Will I use the video camera more that its HD?  Probably not and the camera is more than sufficient as it is to take pictures of most things.

The gist here is that AT&T sucks.  If I actually lived someplace where I didn’t get generally stellar signal and data rates I can’t imagine that I’d put up with it anymore.  Really, this is a classic example of what happens when there is no competition; AT&T has no real impetus to do anything for their users as they are all chained to the network as long as they want their iPhones.  I don’t know how much longer this is going to work.  Opening the iPhone to T-Mobile (or any other carrier) would benefit every customer.  AT&T wouldn’t be able to arbitrarily change their rates with impunity and they’d probably figure out how to address those bandwidth issues in short-order.  Frankly, opening it up to another carrier would most likely also give Apple sales a whole new life.

In the end, something has to change.  Maybe it’s that Apple negotiator who needs to find a new line of work?

iPad Killer; or Killer iPad

•April 22, 2010 • 9 Comments

Ok, here’s one of my complaints about blogs on the Internet. Perfect example from the Huffington Post. First, it’s almost the exact same as this February Post, which is even worse as it intimates that Google is working on an iPad “killer” before the iPad has even been released. People complain about Apple Fanboys, but why is the competition so ready to acquiesce that Apple is the standard by which they must compete even when they haven’t shipped a product yet? None-the-less, now that Apple *has* shipped a product, pretty much everyone has made them the measuring stick to gauge their own success. The second problem I have with these posts is that it suggests that a product, that is still in the works and isn’t even real yet, will be the David that slays the Apple Goliath. Let’s see how that worked in the past, shall we?

Here’s an example article from February of 2007, several months before the iPhone was actually released. I don’t know about you–but I don’t recognize a single one of these “iPhone Killers”. I at least recognize the Palm Pre’, which in this article shortly before its release (and the release of the iPHone 3Gs) in 2009 was also dubbed the “iPhone Killer”. Or, how about this article from January of this year–suggesting that, now, the Google’s Nexus One is the next iPhone Killer contender. Yet, none of these previous attempts–or probably future attempts seem to be able to match the reported 8.75 MILLION iPhones sold just last quarter by Apple.

NEWS FLASH: there is no such thing as an “iPhone Killer”, nor, will there ever be an “iPad Killer”; the iPad will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits. AND, do you want to know why?? I’ll tell you.

Pick up a copy of the book “Blue Ocean Strategy“. Then, read it; cover to cover. If you do, it will become obvious as to why no company will ever be able to compete with Apple in these categories–because Apple isn’t competing with them. Apple is creating entirely new categories of products that have never been imagined before. These products buck convention; you can’t have a smart phone that doesn’t allow unlimted multitasking? That’s what YOU think–Apple sells millions and millions of them. What? Unless you have a full OS and keyboard and video camera, you can’t compete with netbooks. Really? I guess we’ll see.

The point is–you are all competing with Apple in markets that Apple created; Apple is not competing with you. That is why Apple products instantly become the touchstone for success–because they defined the market and you are only playing catch-up–trying to emulate and copy what they did in order to make a buck. If you REALLY want to compete with Apple–quit trying. Don’t copy what they do, but show some gumption and identify untapped market needs and solve them. Then you too can be a market leader instead of simply trying to compete with Apple on their own turf.


iPad / iPhone Multitasking Hack

•April 20, 2010 • 4 Comments

I’ll bet this isn’t what you’re looking for, but . . .
NEWS FLASH: The iPhone OS that runs iPod Touch, iPhone and the newly released iPad already does multitasking. Anyone who continues to suggest it doesn’t–is an idiot.

Why? Well, I can listen to music, surf the Internet AND take an incoming phone call, get IM message updates, etc. This means that ALL of these components are running simultaneously; i.e. the OS is multitasking the applications. THUS, the iPhone OS is not only capable of multitasking, it does it.

If you want to persist in saying it doesn’t prove me wrong. And I’m not looking for “well I can’t run Pandora in the background”. That’s really irrelevant. Prove to me that the iPhone OS doesn’t do multitasking and THEN, we’ll talk about what it doesn’t *allow*.

Speaking of Pandora–Pandora and Skype seem to be the most talked about applications that require multitasking support. Really? You want to stream Pandora on your iPhone? Maybe you should have just sprung for a bigger iPhone and put some music onto it instead of filling it with porn. It’s a friggin’ iPod. Plus, really, what kind of battery life do you get streaming Pandora on your phone? I know I can listen to the music on my iPhone for many, many hours without barely touching the battery, but I’ll bet streaming Pandora probably kills the battery in a few hours at best.

Skype? So, you want to spend the minimum $60/month for an AT&T cell phone so you can make free phone calls? Um, Ok. I suppose you have international friends that you need to stay in touch with via voice and don’t want to pay international phone rates. Once again, why use a phone as a phone when you have unlimited data bandwidth to chew up? And people wonder why AT&T service is so horrible in places like New York and LA–it has nothing to do with phone calls–it’s people streaming Pandora and using Skype. Not that I’m defending AT&T–it just points out that people don’t really think about what they are doing and the impact it might have on others.

The real proof that multitasking is a red herring for people who just want to find some major flaw in one of the most successful consumer electronics devices and mobile phones is highlighted in the recent iPhone OS 4.0 announcement. Apple announced that they were opening up the API’s to allow 3rd-party apps to multitask just like their own. In this case, things like Pandora can tie into the same services that the native iPod component uses; problem solved? Of course not–now everyone wants to complain that Apple is ‘controlling’ their ability and limiting it to only certain services. DUH! The reason this devices has been so popular is that, by and large, it simply works. It is one of the most stable devices out there and its performance is consistent. This didn’t happen accidentally–it’s entirely because Apple has limited how 3rd-party developers can interact with the OS.

This is the same reason people keep calling the iPhone OS a proprietary and closed system–because Apple won’t allow unrestricted access for people to do anything they want and put any code on the device. That’s funny–because there are literally thousands and thousands of third-party apps available–and this “limitation” doesn’t seem to stop a lot of people from making money selling them or a lot of users customizing their phones for their needs. Yes, I’ll agree that some of Apple’s decisions about which apps are allowed on the app store are completely out of line and total BS; BUT, the limitations they put on what those apps can do is perfectly reasonable. Some people just don’t like being told no; guess their parents must have been those dumb yuppies who thought ‘time outs’ were enough to raise socially responsible people. Nope–it just raises arrogant, self-centered idiots who think their ‘rights’ are more important than everyone else’s; but I digress. Yes, this would allow some innovations to happen more quickly–but at the risk of instability. The new “folder” feature in iPhone 0S 4.0 is a perfect example. This is a feature many “jail-broken” iPhones have had for a while; and, it did cause many people problems when it first came out. Now, all of us will be able to enjoy it, but only after it is much more stable, reliable and certainly less likely to break our device. This is what consumers need; they aren’t all as technically adept as many of us and don’t want to be.

In the end–if all you people who continue to persist that the iPhone does not multitask and is a “closed system” got your way–it would be exactly 1 day before every iPhone on the planet was consumed by viruses, locking up, shutting down and flat out not working. Not only is that bad for Apple–it’s bad for the general public who don’t care about what you think you should or shouldn’t be able to do–they just want a friggin’ phone that works. In my opinion, EVERY OS would be designed this way. No application would be able to get, or need, Ring 0. If that were the case–we’d have a lot less computer problems in the world and things would work a whole lot better.

Disagree? Figures.


Confessions of an Apple Fanboy Wannabe

•April 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As I anxiously await the arrival of my iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, I have taken to scouring the Internet everyday for any sign of a potential delivery date. I realize the futility in this as, if/when Apple gives a real date, I’m sure it will not take much effort to find. However, in my wanderings I have run across many articles, blogs and posts that really make me wonder about the writers and their perspective.

For example, take this article from PC World. It seems that they want to dismiss the 300,000 iPads sold the first weekend of release because they were only purchased by “current Apple product owners”. I have a couple of problems with this. First off– I don’t care who bought them as 300,000 units at a minimum cost of ~$500 is $150M in sales over a weekend; that’s not something that should be dismissed so lightly. Second — if you just count people who own any Apple product, there have been in excess of 220M iPods sold since introduction; even if you account for people who have owned more than one and take out international sales, that’s still a much larger number than merely 300,000.

But this bothers me for another reason. Am I simply a Fanboy? Is this why I ordered an iPad the day pre-orders were taken? Maybe I am, but it’s not just some mindless love affair with Steve Jobs, it’s because of one (maybe two) simple reasons. First–they are beautiful devices with amazing engineering and attention to detail. Second–they tend to work–or at least be fixed quickly when they don’t. In a nut shell, Apple products have form AND function; something that isn’t always the case with many other products.

Good Products Are Hard to Find
I have a Sony VAIO laptop many years ago that I kept using much longer than the technology should have. The reason–VAIO is as much a work of art as it is a computer. The external peripherals were all designed with built in storage for cables and connectors, and the unit itself just felt “right” when carrying it around. They put effort into building something that was user friendly, easy on the eye and, for the most part, worked. I hated to see that go.

Likewise, I had several digital music players before I bought my first iPod. None of them had both the functionality I wanted as well as the form-factor I needed. The Archos Jukebox was nice–but it was like carrying around a lead brick–and you couldn’t skip “backwards” if you were doing random shuffle–it would actually random shuffle backwards. Well, sort of, the “random” was not exactly what you’d call random as–from a cold boot–it would always play the same songs in the same order–just not in any order that you could predict manually. It wasn’t until I bought my first iPod that digital music became a reality in my life. I’ve never touched another music player–or another CD–since.

I also have owned several smart phones, including the Nokia 9000 which I didn’t exactly own, but used as part of one of my jobs. I had several others as well, but most of them failed miserably at doing even the basic things. Getting email was a pain, there was little “Internet” capability and worst of all–what things the did do often kept them from doing the things they should do–like answer an incoming call. In addition, I also found that I often carried a phone for work, a personal phone and then my iPod as well; inevitably, when I took my iPod I’d never use it and when I didn’t, I’d always wish I had. So, when the iPhone came out–I was excited. I did NOT, however, run out and buy the first generation one the first day. I waited until the 3G model and then replaced it the next year with the 3Gs because I LOVE THIS PHONE. It has literally changed the way I live my life. I have a family plan with 5 iPhones on it for the rest of my family. It is central to our communication system as a family. Never before have we been able to look up the phone number and address of the new dentists office and ‘text’ it to one of our children so they know how to get there and have the contact number–all from the emergency room that we are unexpectedly visiting with one of the other children. Plus, while we wait, we can listen to music, play games or surf the Internet. Oh–and when someone calls–it actually answers the phone.

Naturally, when I had finally had it with my Windows-based desktop machine–I began to wonder if maybe a Mac wasn’t the way to go. To put this into a little perspective–I’ve been a Novell certified engineer, Microsoft certified engineer and a Sun Solaris certified engineer; I’ve been around the block a few times. There are many, many reasons that I decided to buy a MacBook to replace my old desktop–which are really geeky and even less interesting than this ramble–but certainly, my positive experiences with the iPod and iPhone were big factors. AND, I have never been happier with a personal computer than I have over the past 1.5 years with my little MacBook. Sure, it does still have some problems occasionally–but there are some things that simply can’t be taken for granted. For instance, I’ve probably burned over 100 CD’s and DVD’s since I got my MacBook–and exactly 1 failed. On a Windows-based machine–the failure rate is much higher. I’d go through dozens of back bad burns.

After that, it was a slippery slope. The AppleTV came next, followed by the MacMini to run my entertainment system (to feed the AppleTV’s) and finally a new MacBook for the wife and the order for the iPad for me.

Am I a Fanboy?
Am I a Fan of Apple products–absolutely. The thing is that it isn’t born out of some mystical reverence for Steve Jobs or some belief that Apple knows what I want/need more than I do. I couldn’t give a hoot for Steve Jobs. After all, he doesn’t really care about me either–just my wallet. What I am fond of though is that Apple has consistently delivered products that do what I want, what I expect, does them well and does them with a little style and panache. It’s called trust. I trust them to deliver on their promises–because they haven’t failed yet.

I didn’t order an iPad simply because Apple wanted me too. I actually have a valid use case or two. I intentionally didn’t buy a Barnes & Noble Nook when I bought my wife one this past Christmas–because I knew that Apple would be coming out with something like the iPad this year and that a digital book reader was one of the functions. Also, while my main machine *is* a laptop and is portable, It’s not often as portable as I’d like. I’m in the process of ripping my extensive DVD collection to digital media (to feed to my AppleTV) which means that my MacBook is often sitting in my office plugged into a 1GB LAN connection and can’t really be moved. The wireless (yes, an Apple Airport Extreme) simply isn’t as reliable for ripping the media to my NAS on the network–plus, the laptop gets pretty warm when it’s spinning disk all the time. In this case, the iPad would be really nice as a satellite system for doing email, IM and web-browsing while in the living room. Lastly, I really LOVE the calendar application on the iPad. Just like being a satellite system at home, being able to take a smaller, lighter and more maneuverable device to meetings at work to take minor notes and have my calendar at a glance is definitely something I’m looking forward to.

So am I a mythical Fanboy? Probably not, and I’ve never met one really. Despite all the hype and the hyperbole about people buying expensive products just because Steve Jobs says so–I don’t think they really exist. They only exist in the minds of people who can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want what Bill Gates told you did. As for me, I guess I’m just a wanna be fanboy because I know that as soon as Apple doesn’t uphold their end–I’ll be looking else where, like Ubuntu maybe. Of course, at the moment . . . I’m still waiting for Apple to deliver; my iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, that is.


 
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