Archive for Editorial

>The Future of Phone Plans, Ideally

>Gotta give it up to Apple, they know how to dominate news cycles. One of the smaller announcements they made at WWDC this week was iMessage, their iOS-only instant messaging program that is tied in with the existing messaging app. At first, attention was drawn to how it would compete with Blackberry’s existing BlackBerry Messenger app, something that has kept many a CrackBerry addict from leaving the platform. At this point, iMessage does make a lot more sense for people compared to BBM, simply because the iPhone is a crazy popular phone, the iPod Touch is an immensely popular mp3 player, and the iPad is still the tablet to beat (and no one has come close yet). BBM is on the BlackBerry PlayBook, but quite frankly, no one really bought it. BBM is one of the last things to hook current users in, it was a space where RIM really had no competition, but that now has been challenged.

Now, the launch of iMessage has brought up a very different question: Do we really need SMS at all? Its a well known fact that text messaging has been the longest, most widespread, and far most egregious instance of wireless providers overcharging for a service. Each text message sent is really only a few bites of information being sent around, and yet people pay 20 cents per without a plan. Even at $20 for unlimited, you’d have to send millions for the price to be justified. But before the dawn and success of the smartphone, it was the best way to fire off a small tidbit of conversation. Now that simply isn’t true. RIM, Apple, soon Windows Phone, and even some rumors of Android, all have or will have alternative quick messaging options built into their phones.

I am most certainly not the first person to notice how this may shake up the industry. Nilay Patel (formerly of Engadget) wrote up a great editorial on This Is My Next calling for the death of the phone number. He points out that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all getting into the position of eliminating the carriers’ plans. None have gotten to that point yet, but its definitely a possibility in the near future. I don’t think the phone number should die. Its incredibly useful and really isn’t that different from a username, and we still need them for business if nothing else. But I do propose a drastic change.

For years, the carriers have refused to admit that they are just dumb pipes, managing networks that allow the transfer of data in many different forms to various devices. The separation of voice from texting to internet data usage is ludicrous at this point because the internet can do all of these things very easily, ultimately using their existing network. All one carrier has to do is accept that role, realize that all that consumers want is for them to fulfill that role, and come up with the following plan:

Throw away your preconceived notions of plans. There will be no more set allotment of minutes and texts and internet usage. All you do is pay for a bucket of usage (metaphorically speaking, of course). The carrier merely sets a rate for how big your bucket is. What you do with that bucket is entirely up to you. Voice calls and video conferencing would be done just like existing VoIP services like Skype, and texts wouldn’t really be texts, but data sent through apps on your device. The phone number can hang around still for these purposes, although most people could easily get by using Facebook Chat these days. In areas where 3G is scarce or nonexistent, traditional calls and texts could be done, but there’s no reason to charge more for doing so. Your web browsing, app downloading, and content streaming would all come through the same usage allowance as your calls. I know many people pay for way more minutes than they actually use simply because there’s no cheaper option available. The buckets would eliminate this problem.

Beyond monthly costs, there’s one other big advantage to this system: device freedom. Right now, carriers want you to have a separate plan for a 3G connected tablet, or get a tethering plan, which costs a lot extra for using your existing data connection that you already pay for. But with the bucket system, you just pop your SIM card into a tablet or another phone, even a computer, and just keep on going. ASUS is attacking this problem head on with two different devices. The Padfone turns your phone into a tablet and there’s really no reason for the carrier to know about it. The Eee Pad MeMo 3D is a 3G-enabled Android tablet that comes with the MeMic Bluetooth handset that is the perfect size to hold up to your face to talk, or use as a remote control. A carrier using the bucket system wouldn’t care at all what device you were using since its now all the same stuff to everyone involved.

The only sacrifice that would be made for consumers would be the loss of unlimited data plans. But let’s face it, they are on their way out anyway. AT&T ditched them a while ago, and Verizon is maybe only weeks away from following suit. T-Mobile’s plans now have roofs that don’t cost extra to pass, but you’ll have your service throttled significantly down in speed. Sprint aims to be the final carrier to offer the truly unlimited data plan. But the bucket system wouldn’t need unlimited most likely anyway, under one condition: What you do when connected to Wifi does not touch your limit. This only makes sense because the wireless provider isn’t the pipe, the ISP is. AT&T’s limited data plans do this now, but talking on the phone should follow this same rule. T-Mobile is the only carrier that chooses to allow WiFi calling, but all WiFi enabled phones on all carriers are capable of it. Since the bucket system does away with minutes, they’d have no reason to continue this practice. The transition might be hard to explain to the average consumer at first, but there could easily be simple tools to convert minutes used and texts sent from their previous plans into gigabyte form.

The problem is getting the carriers on board. As far as I’m concerned, only one carrier would actually go for it at this point: Sprint. AT&T and Verizon would certainly not jump in on this until someone else did first. T-Mobile was a progressive company, but due to the potential AT&T buyout, they’d never make such a drastic change. That leaves Sprint, and they now hold the title for most progressive, as proven by their crazy move to integrate their services with Google Voice. They have a network capable of handling it and the need to attract more customers. And I know I’m not the only person attracted to this idea. Carriers could still offer contracts for those who want cheaper devices, something that would keep them very happy. This would also push a lot of people into a smartphone, meaning more sales revenue for manufacturers. I think that, if done properly, everyone involved would benefit greatly from this kind of arrangement. Now to see if it ever actually happens.


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>Rant Bait: Sharing Passwords Apparently Makes You a Felon

>Earlier this week, Tennessee signed a new bill into law that will take effect July 1st. While this site normally wouldn’t cover legal news, this one is not only important, but it is beyond ridiculous and is a great example of the idiocy of our government when it comes to technology. This new law expands on old law that made it illegal to steal cable and dine and dash. Starting July 1st, it will be illegal to share your passwords to “entertainment subscription service” sites with anyone. No more sharing Netflix with anyone.

The bill was made specifically to stop pirates who sell user names and passwords in bulk, but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gerald McCormick even mentioned that it could be used to stop sharing with families and friends. Sharing less than $500 would be a misdemeanor, leading up to 1 year in jail or a $2500 fine, more if you go over $500. Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, signed the bill into law after admitting that he wasn’t familiar with the details of it!

The problem is the wording of the law. What exactly is a “entertainment subscription service”? Here’s a few off the top of my head: Netflix, Rdio, Hulu Plus, Xbox Live, Amazon Instant Video, Audible, magazine subscriptions, newspaper subscriptions, online gaming such as World of Warcraft and Steam, even a gym membership. The list can go on because the law is written with insanely vague terms. Why is the law written so badly? The Record Industry Association of America has a huge presence in Tennessee, the country music capitol. A ton of tax money from the RIAA goes to them. For now, let’s assume that tax money is the only cash Ten. lawmakers get.

This law is so obviously completely written by the scumbags at the RIAA. I’m not advocating the wholesale auctioning of usernames and passwords. I’ve recently gone to paying for all my music and movies myself. But you cannot seriously tell me that I can’t share my Netflix account with my fiancee. We live in the same house. I have Netflix logged in on my TV. Am I supposed to tell her to buy her own subscription to use if I’m not there? I know my niece uses my brother’s Netflix account to get her daily fix of SpongeBob. With the amount she’s been watching, I can assure you that she’ll definitely spend her 3rd and 4th birthday behind bars because she’s not paying the bill.

Both the RIAA and the MPAA (the Motion Picture Association of America) have been run by people who didn’t think that this whole Internet thing would catch on. And then 15 years later they started doing something about it. Yes, they haven’t been making as much money as they used to. That’s because of their history of using DRM to make sure that if I buy a movie on DVD, I can’t rip it to my computer to watch it there or put it on my iPod. Heaven forbid I use the movie I just purchased in the manner of my choosing. Unfortunately, these backwards old men have a ridiculous amount of money. And it’s crap laws like this that show that they put a lot of that money into lobbying.

Molly Wood at CNET says it best. What these people fail to understand is that most people are willing to pay money for these services. The fact is, these idiot industries don’t make the content available. Then they wonder why nobody is buying their stuff. The economy is really bad now. Telling a family that they have to get their own individual “entertainment subscription services” for each member is beyond ridiculous. I encourage you all to write your congressmen and women. Tell them that what Tennessee is doing shameful and if they hope to get reelected that they laugh RIAA and MPAA lobbyists out of their office. I’m posting Rep. McCormick’s contact form below as well. Be intelligent. Don’t just tell him what a jackass he is. Tell him why. And tell him why people who aren’t in the pocket of the recording studios are against such nonsense. Tell it to Bill Haslam, who’s address is below (I’d love to give you his email, but his site’s Contact Us page is down). These people aren’t looking out for us. They are looking out for their own pocket, and it is not acceptable, and we should not just stand idly by.

Rep. Gerald McCormick:

Gov. Bill Haslam: 1701 West End Avenue
Suite 300
Nashville, TN 37203

(615) 254-4799

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Editorial: The Only Tablet Game Worth Playing is the Waiting Game

On Friday, the iPad 2 will launch. As soon as I get my hands on one, I’ll do a quick personal review, but the professional ones are in and they are overall quite positive. I’ve been thinking about the iPad, my Nook Color, and the tablet space in general a lot lately and the conclusion I’ve drawn is this: Now is the absolute worse time to buy a tablet.

The iPad 2 will do doubt sell like crazy like the original iPad did, since it largely just added a few things that the original should have had anyway. I’ve had a few people ask me my thoughts on it and my answer remains the same from the first one: As far as the tablet market goes, it is easily the most polished and finished product, but it still lacks a lot of basic functionality that would truly make it a hard to beat product. When asked about the host of Android tablet, both past, present, and upcoming, I say this: They pack some functionality that the iPad lacks (Flash support) and gives you a lot more choice in hardware, but the user experience is nowhere near that of their Apple competitor. The final thought on tablets is this:

There are two important things to consider. The first is that the tablet space is a new thing on the consumer market. While tablet PCs have existed for many years, they all ran some version of Windows that was even less optimized for a touch interface than Windows 7 is, which is to say not very optimized at all. Tablets aren’t really necessary. They don’t hit the full capacity of a laptop to do work and browse the full web, and they don’t really offer the portability that you get with a smartphone. Like the smartphone market, you are going to see some very rapid expansion, if not at a faster pace than smartphones. While that iPad 2 looks nice now, you may find yourself getting some serious tablet-envy in a few months when a few more Android tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and the HP Touchpad drop.

We’ve seen other Android tablets before fall short before, but Honeycomb will be some big competition once it reaches maturity and fixes a few weird UI issues. BlackBerry’s offering will be great for people who want a smaller screen (7 inches instead of the 9-10 inch range), and there is a big possibility that it might run Android apps. The HP Touchpad will pack WebOS, which has a much better chance of succeeding under HP’s direction than it did Palm’s. Another huge plus the Touchpad will have is something HP recently announced, that ALL computers it ships in the future will run both Windows AND a WebOS variant. This may allow for a very awesome ecosystem of having all the same functionality and information across all of your gadgets.

The other big problem I see with the tablet market as a whole right now is one that Apple got right again: Contracts. Carriers want you to get a contract with their service, ensuring that you have that tablet with them for 2 years. While smartphones get better over time too, they aren’t evolving as fast as what the tablet market will most likely do. And if the tablet space is just a fad without much staying power, you’ll be locked in regardless. If you’re going to buy a tablet and want 3G/4G connectivity, fine. But it is definitely not a good idea to get a contract along with it when you can get the same plan without.

The tablet landscape is a very new one, one that has yet to truly find its legs. While the iPad 2 might be the best there is yet, that doesn’t mean it’s a good buy quite yet. Hopefully the iPad 3 will pack a lot more PC-like functionality, and hopefully the rest of the manufacturers will realize that they’re getting their butts kicked and show us how a tablet is supposed to be done. Regardless of how it all ends, paying $500+ for something that will be much more obsolete than your laptop will in a year or two’s time might not be the best unless you have the money to burn on a new one.

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