Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best and worst of mobile technology in 2013

As 2013 is coming to an end, I’d like to talk about what I thought was the best and worst things about mobile technology that happened this past year.
 Best:  Windows Phone

2013 has been a breakout year for the newly established 3rd biggest mobile Operating System (OS).  Everyone thought Windows Phone had a fighting chance when Microsoft first announced they were revamping its mobile OS in 2010 and then they released Windows Phone 7 (WP7) and honestly, WP7 sucked.  Microsoft changed everything about their mobile OS and nothing from Windows Mobile 6.5 would move forward and work on the new OS.  By 2010, Android and iOS had well established app stores, millions of users and virtually a monopoly on the mobile market space.

Fast forward 3 years….

Windows Phone is now on version 8 and about to release 8.1 in the very near future.  With the help of Nokia’s Lumia devices, WP8 is at the forefront of cell phone camera quality and frankly, they make pretty sweet devices.  Most Lumia phones are on par with iPhones when considering fit and finish and some would say better than iPhone simply because you can get bigger screens, different colors, get wireless charging which is something that the iPhone is still missing.  Now that the Windows Phone app store has 200,000+ apps and almost all popular apps are now on WP8, the excuse of "lack of apps" is no longer valid.  Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Pandora, iHeart, Twitter and many more of the tops apps are readily available on Windows Phone.
With killer phones, popular apps and great cameras, Windows phone has come a long way in 3 years and 2013 was their official coming out party.  Forget what happened 3 years ago, that was Microsoft’s crawl phase and they are in a full on sprint now.
Honorable mention:
Pseudo computers such as Chromebooks and Windows RT
Most consumers don’t quite understand them but Chromebooks and Windows RT devices are viable solutions to what 90% of people do on their computers everyday.  Sure you can go out and buy that super thin $1200 Windows 8 Ultrabook or MacBook Air but honestly, most people are wasting their money.  Those $1000+ computers are great but if the bulk of your daily computer usage is Facebook games, browsing a RSS reader and liking pics on Facebook, a RT device or a Chromebook fulfills those duties better than you think.  Most concerns center around “not being able to install apps” but honestly, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Google does a good job of providing web apps (the same sort of thing people used on the iPhone after if was first released) and providing an API for developers to create their own web apps.  Chromebooks have an Office like suite called Google Docs, Google Drive for cloud storage, and many photo editing apps and don’t forget you can go directly to any website as well.
The Windows 8 app store is growing and provides many apps that can do almost anything you used to on your old computer.  Office, Photoshop, Twitter, Facebook, games, and almost anything else can be found in the app store.
2013 might not have been a breakout year for Chromebooks and Windows RT but this is the start of something big.  Everything you thought you needed from a $1000 computer but for $300 or less.  I’m not saying you need to buy one now, but you should do some real comparisons when buying your next computer.  If your computer usage is like I mentioned above or your preteen is begging you for their own computer, a Chromebook or Windows RT computer might be a cheaper alternative.
T-Mobile and the Uncarrier
Long story short, it’s about time the US got on board what most of the rest of the world is doing with cell phones and contracts.  Walk in the store, pick the phone you want and pay for it monthly while paying less for your monthly bill.  If you want to switch phones, just take your phone back (in working condition) and get another.  If more carriers got on board with this, consumers would benefit immensely.  Sadly, this is America and I don’t think this will take off simply because consumers will benefit and who wants that right?
Worst:   Wearable Tech
2013 was supposed to be the year these things became beneficial to our lives and were on everyone’s wrist.  This hasn’t happened at all.  There are two types of wearable tech and one is becoming popular albeit still not very useful and the other is still going no where right now.
Fitness bands such as the Fitbit, Jawbone Up, and Nike+ Fuelband fall into the popular but still not useful category.  The three I mentioned are the most popular and it’s not odd at all to see someone with one of these bands on their wrist while out and about.  But since all three use their own proprietary methods to calculate activity, they are only really useful for those who can get others to use the same platform.  If you’re a Nike+ user and you talk to someone using a Fitbit about getting 4,000 points, that means nothing to them.  Likewise telling a Nike+ user that you have 3 dots means nothing to them.  Also, you can fool these devices into thinking you’re active which is another drawback.  If you’re at the end of your day and skipped the gym but want to get those last few points, you can either do a few jumping jacks and push ups or you can sit on the couch and just toss the band in the air a few times.  Less effort, same result which is reaching whatever goal you set for yourself.  You can keep yourself honest but when trying to compare to your friends, you can simply put one of these devices on a watch winder all day and then tell stories about your epic day.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear watch and Pebble Watch fall into the going nowhere segment.  These watches are big and bulky and get in the way more than they benefit our lives.  Both are supposed interact with your phone to give you notifications on your wrist and some interactivity with some basic functions of your phone.  The Galaxy Gear only works with the Note 3 and soon Galaxy S4 and the Pebble has an iPhone and Android app that works with both phones.  Both are quite limited outside of basic functions like time, calendars, alarms, etc.  They can do some other things but why not just pick up your phone like you normally do?  There are times when looking at your wrist is better than pulling your phone out of your pocket but those times are few and far between.

I purposely excluded Google Glass since it has gained zero traction and probably never will since it costs over $1000 just to get a beta version.
Honorable mention:  Mobile data speeds
I remember the days when I was happy to get 1Mbps down on my cell phone.  Then came along LTE about 4 years ago and everything changed.  When Verizon first announced LTE, it was great and amazing.  Then AT&T jumped on board, then Sprint and finally T-Mobile.  When LTE was first announced, everyone was excited because they advertised 30Mbps or better and Verizon was actually able to provide those speeds.  They were able to provide those speeds because only customers with new phones had LTE radios in their phone so there weren’t many users on the network.
Now in 2013, every new phone has LTE capabilities so that means lots of users at any given time.  Verizon’s network is bogged down and those 30Mbps advertised speeds are now down to 5Mbps or less and AT&T is in the same boat.  Sprint’s LTE network still is very limited and falling back on to their 500kbps EVDO network is maddening.  T-Mobile finally has their LTE network across the county and only around 35 million users so their network is relatively uncluttered.  The drawback for T-Mobile is that you can’t get service everywhere and if you do get service, when you walk into a building, you’re probably going to lose your LTE data.  
T-Mobile operates on AWS bands (1700mhz range) and those frequencies don’t penetrate buildings well.  So once you walk in the door, you usually drop signal unless you are by a window.  To solve this problem, T-Mobile is trying to buy spectrum in the 700mhz range which penetrates buildings a lot better.  Verizon is on the other side of this problem.  They operate in the 700mhz range but their network is over saturated with users.  So now, Verizon is looking to move into the AWS range to balance the load on their network.  Users won’t notice the difference indoors where they are already getting limited data rates but will see a dramatic increase in data rates outdoors.
Mobile data has been a good and bad thing over the last few years but in 2013 when everyone has an LTE capable phone and everyone is sucking down mobile data every chance they get, data speeds have suffered.  Its time for carriers to do some things to get users back the data speeds they’ve been advertising.
So there you have it.  I hope Windows Phone still keeps getting stronger because competition only makes everyone better.  I also hope that consumers realize they don’t need a $1000 computer to surf Facebook all day.  I hope the excuse “I can’t install my applications” goes out the window and users realize they don’t use any of those apps they had installed on their 4 year old computer anyway.  
I hope wearable tech become a real thing and becomes standardized so people using any device can compare stats that are relevant.  I hope that both the fitness tech and companion tech become one device.  I want the Nike+ Fuelband capabilities in a watch that also interacts with my phone.  I also want cell phone carriers to switch to the idea of providing data first and voice and text secondary.  Give me 10GB of LTE data for $100 and if I want voice and text, let me add them for $10 a piece.

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