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Who Needs A Mobile Telephone Anyway?

Last week, I needed to buy a new mobile phone. For a while, I’ve persisted with a slightly futile attempt to separate work and family communications by using two phones. And the aging HTC I relied on for personal calls finally gave up the ghost after several years of good service.

The fact that most apps were no longer working didn’t really bother me. Aside from Twitter and Facebook, I occasionally remembered to check in to places with Swarm, used Google Maps, and occasionally got frustrated with the fact Instagram had stopped working ages ago.

But I still liked the idea of having one phone for my personal uploads, and one I could use either for my own media projects or client work – as well as having a separate number for work which could be turned off at a certain point each evening.

The Weird World of Modern Mobiles:

So although I was under a bit of pressure to have a replacement up and running, I did my research. I looked at a range of reviews, and checked what was available in a reasonable price range. I couldn’t justify a new iPhone or an exploding Samsung, even if I wanted one. Ditto the cost and wait for a new Google Pixel phone.

The camera was hugely important to me. I’m no great photographer, but I want to make sure that if I snap something on my phone it’s good enough to keep or share. The Huawei P9 was intriguing, but I couldn’t quite stretch to the outlay – particularly as I already had a SIM only GiffGaff plan I intended to keep.

A decent amount of memory, a recent edition of Android, space for an expandable memory card – all of these were good things to have.

So then having assembled a shortlist of handsets with no contracts in the sub £200-£250 range, I went and tried some out, eventually settling on the Motorola Moto G4.

(I know Amazon have the exclusive on the Motorola Moto G4 Plus with dual sims, but I felt having two sims on one phone wouldn’t prevent the type of cross-posting disaster having different devices might avoid.)

Motorola Moto G4 Box

So far it’s been great. It works well, takes decent pictures despite my artistic limitations, and the battery life has been really good.

But it was only after a few days, I realised something strange.

At no point had I ever questioned what it was like to make phone calls on it.

When I tried it out in the shop, I happily checked surfing the web and texting – but never thought to put it to my ear.

And the week since buying it, I haven’t made or received a single phonecall on it.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been used regularly. I’ve sent messages, used Whatsapp, tweeted from it, uploaded to Facebook, started actually sharing on Instagram again, enjoyed the fact that Swarm works again, and finally got around to signing up for Untappd to log my beer choices so I can finally remember which ones I like.

But it wasn’t until the second day of ownership that I realised how large the handset actually is, and that I might have to try and use it without resting it on a desk or sitting down with two hands free. Or what it might look like when I actually have it pressed to my ear.

It’s hard to believe it’s 13 years since the original Taco Phone (The Nokia N-Gage). And I’ve probably held out longer than a lot of people. But aside from the type of emergency calls I hope I never have to receive, the telephone part of my mobile device is the least used, and least important part of the whole thing…

 

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The new Kindle Paperwhite looks good…

I’ve had a Kindle for several years, but for the first time, I’m tempted to upgrade to the New Kindle Paperwhite. And it’s largely for the new Bookerly font being used.

I have an Old Kindle, which does the job (And is now £69.99 without Special Offers on the lock screen). And it still does the job more than adequately.

But it is a little tiring to read, and a lot of that is down to the font.

Plus the new Paperwhite has a higher-resolution 300 ppi display, and has a built-in front light which means I don’t have to find a decent light source every time I want to read a few pages.

And the best thing is that it’s still a dedicated E-reader. No apps, emails, notifications etc to distract me from what I’m actually reading… It’s rare that I even use any of the features – although being able to search through books to find a particular passage did come in handy for my last blog post.

I’ve even come round to the idea of paying the one-off £60 extra for 3G connectivity – I don’t often need it, but considering my current Kindle shows no signs of becoming irrelevant after a few years, it’s not such a big cost to be spread over the course of a few years…

Now to decide whether the Bookerly font and other improvements are worth the difference between the previous 6th Generation Kindle Paperwhite at £99, or the New Kindle Paperwhite at £119.99. The longevity of the Kindle suggests it is…

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A new era of bad neighbour disputes

The rise of modern, cheap technology has brought new issues for politicians, lawyers and those disrupting the future. But it also bleeds into everyday life as these tools and toys become commonplace.

We’ve already become used to seeing news about drones flying where they shouldn’t, or invading the privacy of those around us, or being used to replicate cool Star Wars speeder racing. Let alone the uproar over selfie sticks, Google Glass, wearables and constantly checking your phone in company. I had a rather pleasant experience of the future of motorcycling when KTM invited me to check out some of their new electric off-road bikes.

Bridge

Photo by Joseph Barrientos (CC Licence)

It means that we’re going to have all sorts of new disputes on a non-technical, urban neighbour level. And many aren’t obvious.

For instance – the fact that robot lawnmowers annoy astronomers won’t be a huge problem – but what happens when we have everyone using as much radio frequency as possible to control every autonomous home gadget? How do you settle the problem of interference with 20 neighbours? When I raced radio control cars, we’d carry a bag of RC Crystals which meant we could change frequency in the event of conflicts, but it still took a bit of juggling at times, and the occasionally car launching itself into the distance until the problems were resolved.

Or off-road motorcycles. The normal problem is noise, but the electric bikes are so quiet you can barely hear them – removing a big problem for locating purpose built tracks. At the same time, it might mean you end up with enduro riders ‘sneaking’ up on your while you’re walking – and wildlife might take time to get used to the quieter risks as well.

2015-KTM-Freeride-E-XC-Dan-Thornton-1

Me riding a KTM Freeride E-XC

It’s going to be fun seeing how all these problems manifest and hopefully get solved for non-technical people trying to live their lives. Most people are still trying to avoid having to figure out how routers, wifi and smart phones work in favour of just having a working television, computer and Xbox whilst fixing their meals and doing the laundry.

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Worn out on wearables already?

The idea of wearables is great, but the reality is somewhat different. If you’re not already interested in becoming healthy and more active, do you really care about how many steps or miles you’ve taken today?

According to a U.S survey of 3,400 consumers, 85% aren’t ‘in the market for a fitness band’, as reported by Fortune.

Wearable Technology

And then there is Google Glass. Today the BBC led the news that the current version of Glass will be ditched for the time being, along with the Explorer programme for software developers.

All of that comes after famous VC Fred Wilson predicted for 2015:

Another market where the reality will not live up to the hype is wearables. The Apple Watch will not be the homerun product that iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been. Not everyone will want to wear a computer on their wrist. Eventually, this market will be realized as the personal mesh/personal cloud, but the focus on wearables will be a bit of a headfake and take up a lot of time, energy, and money in 2015 with not a lot of results.

 

The problem isn’t that the technology is still fairly early. Or the fact it makes you potentially look like a wally and can get you attacked, or at least banned from some pubs and cafes.

The problem is the need.

Most of the use cases for wearables are currently niche areas, which can be fulfilled at a lower cost by mobile phones or a pencil and paper.

And taking a photo, or accessing an augmented reality application (Assuming there’s one that provides enough use to be worthwhile) is also socially acceptable on your phone. Who looks twice at someone with their face glued to their phone?

If you’re an athlete, or have a medical condition, then wearables make sense. In some cases, they could be a lifesaver. But for the rest of us, it’s still easier to just walk for 15 minutes, and cut down on cakes rather than spend £100 on a device to tell us.

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Magic in everyday technology…

If you’re not familiar with Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Three Laws‘, they’re well worth knowing…

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

It’s number 3 that I was reminded about today. Of all the modern gadgets and technology I use, probably the most magical thing to me is still buying a Kindle book from Amazon.

As someone who has spent countless hours in bookstores, libraries and comic book shops it’s still very strange that I can go to Amazon.co.uk via a link from a recommendation, select 1-Click purchase, and the next time I happen to carry my Kindle anywhere near my router, that book will almost instantly appear on it, ready to read.

It’s a good reminder anytime I get jaded or cynical. And gives me a magic level to aspire to with my work…

 

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Technology and Christmas…

Besides wishing everyone a Happy Holidays, I’ve been thinking about how technology has changed Christmas since I was a lad…

 

  • The pile of presents looks much less impressive with technology constantly getting smaller.
  • It’s very hard to wrap an app or digital download.
  • There’s no excuse that ‘there’s none left in the shops’ thanks to online stock checkers.
  • Christmas TV isn’t exciting at all when you can watch anything at any time.
  • Work may have stopped but emails don’t. Especially Christmas messages from every service you’ve ever used.
  • The need to Instagram every present being unwrapped, and pets in novelty reindeer antlers.
  • Spoiling the surprise with the habit of checking in to every shop on Foursquare.
  • Covering your tablet/phone in ingredients rather than digging out an old cookbook.
  • No need for novelty Christmas CDs thanks to Spotify. As if you haven’t heard them enough.
  • But at least you can follow Santa via NORAD’s online tracker.
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First problems since joining GiffGaff

At the start of November, I signed up to UK virtual mobile operator GiffGaff, as I’d just got a new unlocked HTC and wanted to finally see what the community-supported network was all about.

Everything has been fine until today, when I can see and connect to the O2 network it runs on, and receive text messages, but not send anything or access any data. I’d have normally assumed it was lack of credit, aside from the fact the package I chose specifically came with free texts and free data.

So it’s my first experience of their community support model – I’ll be interested to see how it goes. The first lesson is always patience!

Update: Turns out the community is very helpful, even though the sheer volume in the ‘Help’ forum means topics rapidly drop down the order. Also turns out the GiffGaff issue may have been… <ahem> User error on my part…

Ooops.