In a surprise bit of news today came word that Blackberry’s impending sale reported in September has fallen through. Instead, Blackberry plans to raise $1 billion while letting go its now-former CEO Thorsten Heins, replacing him with interim CEO John S. Chen.
The stock market apparently didn’t like this news, as Blackberry’s value declined today by 16%. Chen claims Blackberry will stay in the smartphone making game, but given the Blackberry Z10 didn’t do so well (and was much hyped as their biggest hope), I’m not sure what Blackberry can do at this point. As I’ve said before, while Blackberry was the dominant pre-iPhone smartphone name, the market’s since settled on Android or iOS as the main smartphone/tablet operating systems of choice, with Windows Phone barely making any headway.
On Halloween, Google officially released the Nexus 5, its successor to the previous Nexus 4 smartphone. Much of the information’s been leaked by now, so not much announced was actually a surprise (beyond maybe the price). A full list of the specs are available in this Engadget article.
Overall, despite costing $50 more than the base Nexus 4 model, the Nexus 5 does offer some improvements. Of particular interest:
The often-fragile (or so online reports claim) glass back of the Nexus 4 has been replaced by a plastic back, supposedly similar (according to Engadget) to the one on the Nexus 7.
The camera’s been improved with both optical image stabilizers (OIS) and with “true HDR” or “HDR+.” Both of these will supposedly reduce image blur, as well as correct for under- or overexposure. From the sounds of things, it should improve picture quality in low-light settings (such as indoors).
The glass back and the camera were in my opinion the weakest points of the Nexus 4, so I’m glad to see LG/Google correct both of these mediocre designs for the Nexus 5.
I’ll note that the Nexus 5 is slightly bigger than the Nexus 4. Not sure why the 5 needed to be even bigger than the 4, which I already find difficult-to-impossible to use single-handedly.
Still, the phone sounds like a good buy for the money. Those who’ve held off on buying a Nexus might want to consider this model.
On Saturday, I went to the Apple Store to see for myself the iPhone 5S and 5C in person. The Apple Store I went to (as the photos here show) have been decorated for the big iPhone debut:
As for the iPhones themselves, I only have brief thoughts to offer. For a more in-depth review, try Engadget’s reviews of the 5S and 5C.
Both phones felt comfortable and sturdy, even though the 5C felt (of course) like plastic. The 5S felt faster than the 5C, as expected. The speed of the 5S felt nice, and would well be worth the extra $100 (on contract) for the model for power users, or those wanting to avoid obsolescence sooner (as the 5C is pretty much the same specs as the 5). However, I expect the 5C’s cheaper price and multiple colors to make it popular among younger buyers, those looking to save a few dollars, and/or those who aren’t power users.
The revamped iOS 7 user interface looks flat as expected, but looks cleaner than the older versions. The skeuomorphism seems to have been given the heave-ho, as many have been demanding Apple do, so I suppose they’ve gotten what they asked for. (It never bothered me on OS X.) The icon changes and some of the UI revamping, including increased use of slide-down drawers, makes it feel more like my Android devices in some ways.
As for the future, I’d like to see Apple release an iPhone with a bigger-sized screen, which might help it go against the size inflation smartphones are undergoing.
For those upgrading, iPhone 4 users will be well served upgrading to the 5C or 5S, while 4S users will probably want the 5S. iPhone 5 users, in my opinion, will want to wait until the iPhone 6 (or whatever it’s named) comes out next year. Buyers of the 5S or 5C will likely want to skip the new “Connect 4″-like holed cases Apple’s offering, and buy a conventional one instead.
Last week, Apple announced its new line of iPhones. Replacing the iPhone 5 will be two models: the low-end 5C and the higher-end 5S. The 5C is mostly a slightly spec-bumped iPhone 5 made out of plastic and steel materials; it also will come in multiple colors (as shown in this post’s picture). Meanwhile, the 5S comes in gold, silver, and “space gray” colors, and is made of aluminum material. The 5S also comes with a stronger chip—a 64-bit processor.
Apple will also discontinue the three-year-old iPhone 4 model for sale in the US; the two-year-old 4S will be offered as the free-with-contract iPhone model.
The iPhone 5C comes with a cheap price of $99 on a two-year contract for the base 16GB model. While the 16GB 5S is only $100 more on contract, I expect the 5C to be quite popular anyway, despite the lower-end specs. Off-contract, the base 5C and 5S models run at $549 and $649 respectively.
As for competing in emerging markets, the 5C is too expensive for China; Apple’s response is to continue to offer the iPhone 4 model for there. Not sure how this will help Apple go up against the line of affordable, brand-new Android models also available in China.
One odd note are the new covers being offered for the 5C line by Apple. As others online have already joked, they conjure up images of “Connect 4″ more than “protective cover.”
While it’d be nice to see Apple offer an iPhone model with a bigger screen (to go against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S line or Nexus 4), I expect the 5S and 5C to be as popular as the previous models, especially with the 5C’s cheap price/colorful choices.
Also of note is that the announcement last week was just centered around the iPhone, not the iPod or iPad. I was wondering if this would be the point they’d finally announce the death of the iPod Classic, which seems long overdue. As for how to replace the Classic, my suggestion would be to offer a 128GB capacity iPod Touch model (if 160GB like the Classic isn’t doable) and emphasize being able to stream music via iCloud and the newly announced iTunes Radio feature (a Pandora/Spotify-type service).
Blackberry (formerly Rhythm In Motion), the Canadian company that was the dominant name in cell phones/smartphones for most of the 2000s, has announced it’s putting itself up for sale. The Guardian notes the company’s share has fallen from 50% in 2009 to currently under 3%. Meanwhile, the much-hyped Blackberry Z10 smartphone that was supposed to save the company has pretty much fizzled out. Maybe they should’ve taken Mashable’s advice and revised their weird Super Bowl ad campaign.
Either way, it’s a sad time for a once-dominant company whose phones were at one time called the “Crackberry” by its fanbase. I suppose Blackberry was, like everyone else, blindsided by the iPhone’s debut in 2007 (yes, my opinion on smartphones have obviously changed greatly since then). To throw out a few other possible reasons for Blackberry’s downfall:
The same problem WebOS and Windows Phone have had: the smartphone market’s become dominated by iOS and Android, with everything else shoved to the margins. Windows Phone, however, has managed to still linger better than Blackberry; being backed by a huge company like Microsoft might help, plus various models available for cheap with smartphone plans. Microsoft also didn’t wait quite as long to revamp their phones.
Attracting app developers. Some popular apps (like Instagram) weren’t available at launch for the Z10. Other apps were ports of Android versions (one of the revised Blackberry OS’ features), which might imply one should just stick with an actual Android phone.
Their core audience of business customers moving away from Blackberry to Android and iOS phones. The huge variety of Android phones (from cheap to expensive models) might’ve made such a move appealing once contracts were up for renewal.
Touchscreen keyboards and large-sized screens started to become preferred over the squat screen size and keyboard design of Blackberry’s signature phones.
I’m not sure what whoever buys Blackberry can do to right the company, unless they plan on just latching onto their patents and liquidating the rest of the business.
Several months back, I bought the Nexus 4 smartphone, which I spent much time pondering whether it’d be worth buying. My main concern was the various reports about the phone’s back glass cracking. While I posted an initial review, I thought I’d offer an update on how the phone’s going so far.
I signed up with the $30/month T-Mobile plan, advertised on their website. The plan comes with 100 minutes plus 5GB of data. Data with T-Mobile works fine for me, even at my workplace, which often has issues with dead zones. And since I’m not streaming YouTube or Netflix heavily, I’m not in danger of hitting the 5GB cap.
The minutes, however, I have hit at least once; while I don’t talk much on the phone, conversations with family may sometimes stretch on at length. Hitting the limit while I was on vacation also wasn’t the most convenient time. Thus, I’ve kept an extra $5-$10 on my T-Mobile account in case time runs over. The $30/month plan charges an extra 10 cents per minute ($6/hour) for anything over 100 minutes.
I’m thinking about signing up with the non-free version of Skype, which for $3/month offers an unlimited calling plan from Skype’s mobile app to phone lines. It’d be cheap (versus what the next suitable tier of T-Mobile service would run), give me the benefits of unlimited calling, and save on my T-Mobile phone minutes.
The Nexus 4 comes with stock Android, which I’ve greatly enjoyed. The two best aspects being that my phone’s 8GB of space isn’t eaten up by unwanted garbage apps put there by the manufacturer, and I get to receive upgrades to the newest Android versions fairly quickly.
The apps work as well as any other mid-to-high end Android phone, of course.
I’ve made use of the phone’s camera, such as on my recent trip to Seattle. While the camera works fine for taking casual snapshots, the camera isn’t one of the Nexus 4′s strong points. It’s nicer than my previous phone’s cameras, but probably not as nice as the iPhone’s camera.
Protecting the phone
This was my biggest concern, per the various online reports about the phone breaking. However, most of these reports seem to show the phone never had any sort of case on it. In my case, I bought a generic $25 case from a T-Mobile kiosk; probably thanks to the case, the Nexus 4 has held up so far, even after the inevitable dropping of my phone a few times. I also put a screen protector on the phone, ones that I ordered from an Amazon vendor. The shields have prevented scratches so far, but the ones I bought seem to give the phone screen a slightly grainy look.
Overall, I’m enjoying the Nexus 4, and glad I bought it. I’d still consider this phone as a viable choice, provided one has a case for it. I assume Google will want to release an updated version soon, as the Nexus 4 model is about a year old.
If one’s considering alternate phones, other phones I’d look at include the recently-announced Moto X, the HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S 4, and (for iOS fans) the iPhone 5. Engadget’s summer 2013 smartphone guide might be worth reading.
The Seattle Supersonics announced (after not getting their new stadium) that they’d move to Oklahoma City, to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since that time, of course, the Thunder have done fairly well in their new Sooner State home. Meanwhile, Seattle in recent years has tried to get a new basketball team, resulting in much melodrama with prime candidate Sacramento Kings, who ultimately are staying put. Of course, the Milwaukee Bucks should be prime candidates for an NBA team relocation, but so far, it doesn’t seem like Seattle will be getting an NBA team anytime soon. Ditto Seattle getting an NHL team, given the NHL/commissioner Bettman’s one-track-minded obsession with trying to make hockey popular in the Sun Belt (see: multitude of expansion teams in the South, fighting tooth and nail to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Phoenix, etc.).
NBC bought the Weather Channel for quite a bit of cash in 2008. Since then, the Weather Channel’s been integrated into NBC’s holdings. As for NBC Weather Plus, it was shut down at the end of 2008; instead of making use of the Weather Channel, however, most affiliates either use their own weather departments or the AccuWeather service for digital subchannel weather reports.
The iPhone 3G model debuted in 2008. Like its predecessors, it became a big hit, helping spur the popularity of smartphones. At the time, I was still uncertain on the need for a smartphone, noting the expense; over a year later, I’d finally buy my first one, the Palm Pre.
“The Dark Knight” hits theaters, and why I didn’t want to see it
A less-than-cheerful rant about why I didn’t want to see “The Dark Knight,” mostly fueled by my dislike of A) the modern comics’ version of the Joker (as basically a brainless slasher-movie killer stuck in a superhero universe), and B) finding “Batman Begins” boring. Of course, “The Dark Knight” went on to earn a huge truckload of money and became rabidly popular anyway, eventually leading Warner Bros. to decide to use the film’s producers to (unfortunately) give us “Man of Steel.” And no, I still haven’t seen (nor plan to see) “The Dark Knight” or its 2012 follow-up, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
I took a look at some webcomics I enjoyed reading at the time. Since then, “User Friendly” has ended its run (though still posts old strips daily), while I’ve stopped reading “Shortpacked!” and “Tiny Sepuku.”
A post I wrote about why I felt Superman was still relevant, despite the popularity of more cynical superheroes like Batman. I noted Superman’s strong sense of optimism in the face of such cynicism. Since then, DC’s response seems to have been “make Superman/the DCU more like Batman,” as we got 2011′s “New 52″ reboot (and with it every bad 90s comics trend brought back in force), plus (again) the cynical, joyless effort of “Man of Steel.” A film that critics have given tepid-to-lousy reviews for, while fandom’s split over it, either hating it or loving it—which might partly explain the 65% dropoff in the second weekend at the box office (fewer repeat viewings than expected/the mixed word of mouth). Still, since “Man of Steel” is a financial success, a sequel’s assured, plus people are talking (for better or worse) about Superman again. I guess it indicates that the general public (and even comic fans) do still care about the Man of Tomorrow, regardless of the way Time-Warner/DC Comics is currently handling him.
Five years ago, the most interesting comic from DC was “Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!,” which sold for $2.25. Since then, their kids’ line of books has gone up to $3. A 75-cent increase in five years?
Bill Amend’s comic strip “FoxTrot,” as part of keeping up with evolving technology (and the nature of the strip’s sliding timeline), usually shows the Fox family upgrading their computer every several years or so. Being a Mac fan, Amend also shows the Fox family always using a Mac, or in newer strips, an “iFruit.” An upgrade might’ve happened again today: while Roger in an October 2012 strip mentioned a laptop, as of today’s strip, it’s confirmed that the Fox family now have a MacBook (or iFruit laptop analog). However, whether this new laptop is in addition to, or a replacement for, their previous desktop isn’t indicated. (Update 7/18/14: It’s a second computer—they still have the desktop.) I’d imagine Andy and Roger have finally decided they needed to have a second computer around, like many families nowadays. In the Fox family’s case, it’d be due to how much Jason always hogs their traditional desktop.
Andy’s MacBook model isn’t indicated, but with no slot for a DVD drive visible, it looks like it might be a MacBook Air model.
This makes Apple/Apple-analogue computer #7 for the Fox family since the strip began in 1988. The previous models:
An Apple II series computer (the earliest strips from the late 80s)
A Mac SE or Plus (switched to in the early 90s)
A two-piece Mac of some sort, probably an LC, Centris, Performa, or late Mac II series model (appeared through the mid-90s)
An original-model CRT “iFruit” (a parody of the multicolored early iMacs, obtained in 1999)
In addition to the computers, the Fox family’s also gained a few other modern devices, which’d further lessen the annoyance of Jason’s death-grip on their desktop computer:
(Update 7/18/14) The entire Fox family these days each have a cell phone, and as of 2014 some they all seem to be some form of smartphone. Cell phone jokes in the strip go back to the 90s, however. Roger’s first cell phone in the 90s made for a memorable storyline… a ludicrously giant-sized model, missing the point of a cell phone. Of course, Roger’s loose grasp of technology is a long-running gag in the strip.
The kids have been seen using an iPad in recent strips. Presumably, they’re borrowing the one Andy received for Christmas in 2011.
For fun, here’s a list of ten pieces of technology that I once used, but are now obsolete for my purposes. I’ll also list why said tech is obsolete, and what’s replaced it.
1. Landline telephone Replaced by: cell phone
Landline phones are something I grew up with, of course. Cell phones as a kid were something only owned by the very wealthy; see the 1987 movie “Wall Street” for an example. After college, I had a landline house phone (corded, then eventually cordless).
My first cell phone, a Virgin Mobile model, was bought in 2003, and mostly served to supplement my landline phones. I eventually bought my first smartphone (a Palm Pre) in 2009, and have since upgraded further. Eventually, I finally cut off landline service a few years ago. Since I infrequently receive phone calls, it didn’t make sense to pay for two phone lines. My smartphone also was much more functional than my landline phone ever was, plus I always have it with me away from home (such as at work, on vacation, etc.). Switching to prepaid service also helped save even more money.
2. VCR Replaced by: DVD player, DVR
I’d had a VCR since the 90s, and taped plenty of TV shows (“Animaniacs,” “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” etc.) with it.
By the 2000s, though, DVDs started to emerge, and with me getting my first DVD player in 2001, my VCR usage started to decline. By the mid-2000s, I’d mostly stopped using videotapes save to record TV shows. The VCR was finally retired when I bought a DVD recorder (remember those?) in the mid-2000s, and transferred my remaining videotapes to DVD-Rs. In 2009, I switched to a cable company DVR, when I upgraded to a flat-screen TV.
3. CRT standard-definition TV Replaced by: LCD HDTV
In 2009, I replaced my 20″ CRT TV set with a 32″ LCD HDTV. However, it wasn’t replaced due to any reasons of obsolescence, but rather my old TV had finally started to die (despite being only five years old), and the only models left on the market by late 2009 were all flat-screen TVs.
Buying a new set did let me upgrade my cable service from analog to digital, which also let me get a DVR (see #2) and high-definition television.
The Walkman was a popular item for me in college and for years afterwards, letting me listen to radio and play some of my music (on cassette tapes). Upgrading to a Discman also let me play my CDs while out and about, albeit at the risk of the Discman skipping if it was a cheaper model without anti-skip protection.
In the mid-2000s, I had finally upgraded my computer to a model that’d let me make heavy use of MP3s for the first time, and so converted my music collection from CDs to FLAC/MP3 files. I soon bought my first MP3 player, a Sandisk Sansa model. It was eventually replaced by an iPod Nano (the “fat” third-generation model). Finally, the iPod was replaced by my smartphone.
I still have my old Walkman in storage, kept on hand on the off chance I ever needed access to my now-aged cassette tapes. Though between having replaced most of them with CDs/MP3s and being buried in a closet, the need for such hasn’t arisen…
5. Dial-up Internet access Replaced by: broadband Internet access
Everyone who got online in the 90s is familiar with the sound of a modem dialing up an ISP. Unfortunately, everyone who recalls that also remembers how glacial Internet access was at 56kbps. Or catalog ads proclaiming 56kbps modems as having “blazing speed”…yeah, right.
Fortunately, I upgraded to DSL in the mid-2000s, which greatly improved Internet usage. No more sending off for Ubuntu CDs, when instead I could download them myself!
Like much else, checks have fallen by the wayside in favor of electronic transactions, including the usage of online payments and debit cards. However, I still use checks for one item, paying my rent. Looking over my records, the last non-rent related check I’ve written was for a one-shot purpose seven months ago.
7. Paper bills and bank statements Replaced by: electronic bills/transactions, online banking
Like the check example above, I’ve switched from paper bills and paper bank statements to their online equivalents. This also makes paying bills much faster and easier, and saves on stamps. It also means not having my apartment clogged with (or a need to shred) paper copies of bills and bank statements unless such is absolutely needed; for that, I can easily print copies from their websites.
8. Film camera Replaced by: digital camera, smartphone
In the mid-2000s, I bought my first digital camera, replacing years of film camera usage. While film-based cameras were dying off by then, going digital also gave plenty of advantages: only printing out the photos I really wanted; easily storing them on my computer or online (Flickr, etc.) instead of in bulky photo albums; and being able to see right away if a photo taken was any good.
While some might claim the digital camera itself is waning in favor of smartphones, I still use a stand-alone digital camera for important occasions, such as vacations or family holidays. I’d rather not trust my most important moments solely to the cameras on my smartphones. There’s also that my smartphones, until my recent switch to the Nexus 4, tended to be anemic for photo-taking.
9. Usenet Replaced (mostly) by: Reddit
While I still like Usenet, I admit my usage of the Internet service has greatly fallen off, just as its usage has by the online public at large.
The closest substitute to Usenet nowadays might be Reddit, which replicates some of its functionality (text-based conversations).
Reddit also has some advantages over Usenet:
Moderated topics (easier to control spam/trolls)
Easier to link to pictures or video
Since it’s a website, it’s not a service an ISP can drop at a whim or require paying a third-party for access
There’s also disadvantages, of course. The lack of Usenet’s free-wheeling nature and heavier moderation means some of its rules might be more restrictive, such as what’s allowed to be posted (links to one’s own blog, etc.).
10. Paper planner Replaced by: smartphone, Google Calendar
Each year, along with paper wall calendars (which I still buy for decorative reasons, plus being able to see the month at a glance), I also used to buy a new paper planner. I’d use it to write down my schedule of future events: dental visits, vacations, weekly chores, and so on.
Starting in 2011, however, I permanently moved to using Google Calendar instead. Google Calendar’s free, plus it ties easily into my various electronic devices—desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. No scribbling out cancelled or changed events, either.
That about does it. Is there any technology you no longer use or have replaced?
Since I’ve upgraded to a new phone recently (the pleasant to use Nexus 4), I thought I’d write about what apps I use on my Android smartphone and tablet. Note that my choice of favorite apps might be different from what others use; I’m not an Instagram or Pinterest user, for starters.
Facebook: yes, I have this one on my devices.
Google+: though Google+ is pre-installed, I’d install it on my own anyway. Google’s social media service is pretty nice compared to Facebook, and doesn’t change its privacy rules every other week.
Twitter: just the stock Twitter app, especially with how Twitter lately has been bent on killing off any rival Twitter apps.
imo: a multi-protocol instant messaging app.
Android MP3: Amazon’s MP3 store may be accessed through this app, as well as its cloud music player.
Pandora: the popular streaming audio service.
Play Music: built in already, but functions well enough for my audio playing purposes. More hardcore music enthusiasts can find alternative apps through Google Play.
Shazam: the popular app that tells the name of a song playing when the device is held up to the radio/stereo/other audio source. I don’t frequently use this app, but sometimes it’s nice to have around for fun.
TuneIn Radio Pro: I paid for the non-free version of this useful streaming audio app, which streams various radio stations from around the world. I use this app to listen to NPR, as well as sometimes Canada’s CBC.
MX Player: while the default video player works well enough, MX Player offers support for more formats, and comes with a few extra features.
Netflix: the streaming video service gets some use on my tablet.
Comics: the plainly-named Comixology app is useful for reading what comics I’ve bought through the service.
GoComics: a newspaper comic strip reading app I’ve written about previously.
Perfect Viewer: an excellent comic reading app for Android devices, with support for popular non-DRM formats (CBR, CBZ, PDF, JPG) and for reading Western or Japanese comics.
Aldiko: this popular ebook reading app works quite well with non-DRMed ebooks, such as those from Project Gutenberg or bought from the few ebookstores without DRM (like Tor’s books). There’s also removing DRM from legally purchased books on one’s own, of course.
Amazon Kindle: the popular Kindle app is something I install for the few Kindle books I have.
Nook: Barnes and Noble’s ebook store app. Besides a holdover from my Nook Color days, I also purchase most of my digital comics and magazines through the Nook app.
OverDrive Media: an app that allows one to check out ebooks from public libraries. Unfortunately, the nature of how libraries are forced to offer ebooks, thanks to large publishers’ ham-fisted meddling, doesn’t make this as appealing as it should.
Flickr: a recent update to this app has now brought it up to par with the iOS version, and thus it’s a vast improvement. The only drawback is there’s no automatic backup feature for smartphone photos, similar to what’s found in the Google+ and Dropbox apps.
Astro File Manager: an app that allows for browsing through an Android device’s file directories much like on a desktop computer. Particularly useful for devices with an SD card, or when a particular file is needed to be found.
Dictionary Premium: Dictionary.com’s dictionary and thesaurus app. While there’s a free version, I opted to pay for the ad-free version.
Evernote: the online-based notekeeping service is something I use frequently and find highly useful. Since I just use it for text-based lists (and not photos/audio/etc.), I stick with the free version.
KeePassDroid: the Android version of the popular password database program KeePass.
Lookout: a popular smartphone security service.
Unit Converter: useful for converting from U.S. Imperial units (inches, miles, gallons, etc.) to metric units.
Angry Birds: yes, I have the ever-popular game, too. However, I’m not a big Android gamer.
AccuWeather: a weather app.
Dropbox: the popular online storage service. Installing the app on my devices, desktop computer, and laptop helps with some personal file-sharing aspects.
Feedly: the replacement RSS service I’ve found for the soon-to-shut-down Google Reader.
IMDB: an app for the popular online movie information database.
StopWatch & Timer+: while there’s a free version, I use this app often enough I paid for the non-free version. The app does what its name says: offer various timer pre-sets.
WeatherBug: another weather app, though with more features/detailed forecasts than AccuWeather’s app.