Why unlocked smartphones and no-contract plans are a much better deal

Hello, unlocked Nexus 5 + no-contract plan! And as for Verizon, well....

Hello, unlocked Nexus 5 + no-contract plan! And as for Verizon, well….

I am so, so sick of the way U.S. wireless carriers totally rip off smartphone users by locking them into expensive 2-year contracts — with the lure of getting a high-end smartphone for only a couple hundred bucks up front. For most customers, the math just doesn’t work.

So I’m casting off the financial and technological shackles, to be a mobile consumer on my own terms. I will never again buy a subsidized phone or sign another long-term carrier contract.

This month I bought an unlocked Nexus 5 smartphone direct from Google, and I’m now switching to my first no-contract plan. Yes, I paid more up front for the phone, Plus I’ll have to pay a hefty “screw you” early termination fee to ditch my Verizon contract. It’s still so worth it.

Why? Here’s the short version: Considering all costs to make this switch, and the savings I’ll get, I’ll see about a 4-month payback plus savings of nearly $70/month thereafter! Plus I’ll have tons more flexibility in devices, carriers and plans from here out.

Hell yeah! Here’s the math behind this choice… Continue reading

5 affordable ways nonprofits can use mobile technology: presentation

One reason mobile technology fascinates me is its ubiquity across all levels of society. That makes it potentially a very powerful tool to engage and empower people who don’t necessarily sit at the top of the U.S. privilege food chain.

On Thursday, July 26, I’ll be delivering the following presentation at the Social Media for Nonprofits – Silicon Valley conference: 5 affordable ways nonprofits can use mobile technology. (Follow the conference hashtag: #sm4np)

This presentation is meant to be just a quick overview, to let nonprofits know what’s possible today, and where they should focus their attention.

Why the focus on “affordable?” Well, mobile technology isn’t free…

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Why Facebook’s mobile apps suck: A developer’s view

I’ll admit it: Contrary to my own expectations I’ve grown to  use Facebook much more than I thought I would have — mainly because it’s the most common point of connection across my many social and interest circles. And I use it more despite Facebook’s persistently horrid user interface.

But Facebook is especially horrendous on mobile. For instance, the Facebook Android app won’t let me share items from other people’s streams, the way the Facebook standard website does.  Also, on the Facebook Android app I can’t tag someone in a status update (like saying “Joe Schmoe loves this kind of sushi.”) — I can only indicate whether I’m “with” someone, which often isn’t the case.

Argh. Gah….

Anyway, today while I’m researching and writing about Facebook’s various mobile problems, I found Kevin C. Tofel’s May 15 GigaOm post: Does your Facebook mobile app suck? here’s why

He summarized findings published in the Mobtest blog. These only looked at problems with Facebook’s iOS app, but they’re interesting even though I’m an Android user. In a nutshell, Facebook’s app relies heavily on web technology (HTML) to deliver content.  There are good reasons for this, but on iOS devices it causes problems.

Here’s how Mobtest summed it up:

Why would Facebook use HTML technology inside a native iOS app?

HTML is easier for displaying fluid content. Objective-C really sucks when it comes to fluid display. An image with text around it, buttons with varying text labels are really hard to create yourself in Objective-C as you have to calculate dimensions and positions of all elements yourself. In particular for a timeline HTML will be much easier.

Creates code that can be shared across different platforms. iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone are all different technologies and a developer’s nightmare. Sharing some content/functionality in the form of HTML makes sense.

HTML is much more in line with Facebook’s continuous deployment process. FB developers are responsible for their own QA, and part of that is to push code out to a limited set of servers, see results and then push it out to more and do this each day if not more often. With Apple taking as least a week of review, rolling back a code change is a nightmare.

They can get away with it. Yes Facebook is not a bank, there are no other iOS FB apps out there and we will still use the service as it has a virtual monopoly on social networking with 900 million users now. We just have to suck it up.

Feature phones is where growth is. A very high percentage of iPhone and Android users already have the Facebook app installed. The next frontier is feature phones, in particular in non-western parts of the world. These new users will first encounter Facebook on their mobile, and it will not be a shining iPhone.

OK, that doesn’t explain the boneheaded lack of key features in Facebook’s Android app that I noted, but it could help explain some of the poor performance I’ve experienced — slow load times, lagging updates and push notifications, and lots and lots of crashes.

Tofel, an iPhone user, closed his GigaOm post with this observation:

…For the time being, I’m going to switch to m.facebook.com in my smartphone browser. I did some testing this afternoon and the experience is far faster, up to date and generally offers the same features as the native mobile app.

 

Five ways to think mobile first (notes for OpenGov Hackathon and BCNI Philly)

On Saturday April 28 I’ll be in Philadelphia to help with the BarCamp News Innovation unconference and Open Government News Hackathon. These events are sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University, and are part of Philly Tech Week.

Temple is my old stomping ground; I graduated from journalism school there in 1990. And I’m rather stunned at all the huge new buildings that have sprung up around the campus. Good to see the school grow!

The reason Temple brought me in to help with these events is because I’m passionate about mobile and about the Philly area. I grew up in South Jersey and still have lots of family and friends in the region. So for me, helping more people in the Greater Philadelphia Area access more useful local information, news, and services via their cell phones is not just important — it’s personal!

…This is especially pressing given the continuing rocky status of Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. My grandfather Len McAdams worked on the editorial team of “The Inky” for decades. He’d be furious to hear that earlier this month PMN was sold for the fifth time in six years — at a fire sale price of $55 million. Sheesh.

Here are a few points I’d like participants in tomorrow’s barcamp and hackathon to consider…

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Boulder better prepared for zombies than Oakland

I’m planning a move from Oakland, CA back to Boulder, CO. Clearly, one factor in this project is: how to prepare for the zombie apocalypse, wherever I am.

I checked out Map of the Dead – a great map mashup that helps you find the closest zombie survival supplies. Just enter your address to find the locations of the closest gun store, liquor store, grocery or convenience store, hardware store, outdoor store, gas station, doctor, pharmacy, military, police, radio tower, harbor, or airport.

They also list the locations of places you’d probably want to avoid during a zombie outbreak: Hospitals and shopping malls (zombies LOVE those places), cemeteries (obviously) and campgrounds (not really defensible).

I checked out the Temescal neighborhood in north Oakland, where I currently live. Here’s what I’ve got to work with, considering running distance — and it’s not looking good. I’m pretty close to several major hospitals, which tend to be ground zero in an outbreak. And not too much in the way of nearby supply locations. And, believe it or not, no nearby gun shops.

My north Oakland neighborhood: Not looking good in case of zombies. (Click to enlarge)

In contrast, downtown Boulder, Colorado seems a smarter bet for waiting out the zombocalypse. Within a few blocks there are several outdoor shops (which is probably also the best place to get survivalist food, water filters, etc.), grocery and liquor stores (if I’m facing zombies, I will need a large supply of good tequila), AND a gun store!

Downtown Boulder, Colorado. Better bet for surviving the zombocalypse. (Click to enlarge)

Also, the closest hospital is over a mile away from downtown Boulder — not even shown on this map. That’s a bonus.

The mobile version of this website isn’t bad, but could stand some further optimization. In fact, this is one of those cases when an app really would be a better option. You’d want to cache this information offline, for when the internet and cell networks go down following mass chaos. And maybe build in an option to use the phone’s antenna as a walkie-talkie, or to listen to radio broadcasts. And, of course, get the latest CDC updates on the status of vaccine development and deployment.

Plus an app could store a library of tutorial videos showing key zombie survival skills, like this:

I can haz Android root! And it was easy!

This morning I finally rooted my Droid Incredible! One-handed, even! (Dislocated finger hidden by massive splint.)

This morning, before I even had my tea, I finally jumped off a cliff I’d been avoiding: I rooted my Android phone (Droid Incredible).

I’ve had this phone for a year. Generally I like it, but the things I don’t like about it mostly seemed to be fixable if I rooted my phone.

Rooting means undoing the controls that the carrier and manufacturer place on how my phone operates…

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Why won’t Google let me reorder locations on my custom map?

UPDATE 9/15: There is a workaround. Basically, as long as you leave the top item on the list in place, you can reorder other items and the map will save and retain that order. So just consider the top item on your list a placeholder, and list the “real” items in the order you want below that. Kinda clunky, but I’ve tested it and it does work.

Recently Google maps changed something, I don’t know what, and it’s broken a feature I use a lot. Very annoying.

I keep a custom google map where I mark the locations I need to be for upcoming appointments and events. I list them in date order. This has worked great for me, with all the running around I do, for the last year — especially via mobile.

BUT… Sometime in the last couple of weeks, Google maps stopped respecting the order I specify for places on my map. It’ll let me reorder locations in my map, and save them — but that order only last the session. When I reload the map, all my newer locations are back down on the bottom of the list!

There’s a Google Maps Forum thread on this, but so far no help.

Does anyone know how to fix this problem or get around it?

It’s even more annoying because Google Maps’ “starred places” function doesn’t let me add notes, or specify a custom order. So that’s not really a solution for me.

Google+, Facebook & mobile

I just spent most of the day testing the new Google+ social network service, and its Android app and mobile web app — and writing a review for CNN.com about the mobile experience. Generally, I liked what I saw, despite some glitches. This offering is still really, really beta — but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

My review: Google+ a clean, intuitive mobile experience so far

Clearly Google+ is going head-to-head against Facebook, and I think it has a decent chance of winning in the long run, especially if it includes good mobile integration of core Google services like calendar, Gmail, and docs.

But what about Facebook?…

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ONAcamp Denver, June 23: Resources for my mobile journalism session

I’m back in Colorado for a few days, and in a few minutes I’m heading over to ONAcamp Denver — a daylong event with training and workshops in digital journalism. My session runs 9-10am MT. Here’s the info, if you’re going:

Adirondacks (Tivoli 440/540): Mobile Reporting
As more and more users turn to mobile devices for news and information, journalists should be including the platform in their news gathering and delivery. But how? This session will take a big-picture look at trends in the mobile industry, the differences between mobile and the web, the significance of having a mobile presence and the best tools to use in the mobile space.

Here are some things I’ll be mentioning…
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