Tech, Uncategorized

It Just Works

English: 2008 Computex: ASUS SP-BT23 Bluetooth...

English: 2008 Computex: ASUS SP-BT23 Bluetooth Speaker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The phrase “it just works” is one of Apple’s key marketing ideas and it encompasses the concept that users should be able to pick up an iPhone, iPad and use it, without any instructions and if they want to connect it to their Macbook, their Airplay speakers or to another iDevice then that will all Just Work too.  They achieve this by having a limited range of products and by using mostly proprietary standards – like Airplay – and because of these two things the technology doesn’t have to deal with the massive variations of hardware encountered by other devices; one Apple device knows what another one is called and how it talks, so to speak, already.

The thing is this illusion, that this is as a result of their products being better designed, is a half-truth – competing technologies only tend to require a couple of clicks to work together, like getting my Sony phone to play music via my bluetooth headset adaptor or hi-fi adaptor – all I need to do is press a button on the adaptor and select the output source on the phone, or my tablet, or laptop even.  The thing is that there is an increasing expectation that you shouldn’t need to do anything yourself to make it work, even if it is just pressing a button.

To this ends we see products like a set of £1200 speakers which, instead of connecting via bluetooth, require a dongle to be plugged into the bottom of your phone or tablet like some kind of digital limpet, making your device more cumbersome but meaning that all you have to do is plug it in.  A case of making it easy taking precedence over the handling of the technology.  And then there’s another side to all this – the ecosystem.  Apple in particular make all these add-ons, or licence the technology to other companies to make docks etc, that all work seamlessly together but the same limitation to Apple hardware that makes it possible for it to all work together means it’d be awfully expensive to switch brands later.

The situation in the Android/PC camp though is improving though.  Near Field Communication (NFC) tech is allowing speakers and more that connect using bluetooth via a simple tap of the phone on the top of the peripheral, the proximity allowing the two devices to know that they’re compatible and meant to be together, like silicon blind-date, if you like.  I have a smart BluRay player that has a companion Android app that automatically found and connected to the player via the WiFi network and on a similar vein modern WiFi routers can even connect to devices automatically using Wireless Protected Setup – although the latter still needs some user input, after all it’s not practical to carry your desktop PC and tap it on the router.  Another example is the WiFi printer that only requires a single button press to connect to your PC the first time it’s installed.

The dream of smart appliances all talking to each other via wireless networks is starting to come true but for it to be truly universal manufacturers need to use open standards and as users we need to accept that sometimes we’ll need to read the manual, or on-screen instructions, and push some buttons to help them along.

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Meta, Tech

Lunch At One

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)

With today’s Lunch we’ll be nibbling a slice of birthday cake.  It was a year ago, at midnight on 1st April 2012 that I flicked the switch and released this blog to the public of the internet.  It was a nervous moment for an introvert like me – will anyone even look at it, will anyone like it, will I offend anyone?  I remember when I got my first follower a few days later and as I wrote shortly after it felt great and awesome to know that someone on the other side of the world had seen my words, liked them and wanted to read more.

It’s been an interesting year and I’ve learned much, there’s still much to do though.

Before diving into some of what I’ve learned I’d like to thank those who have liked my posts and followed my blog.  As others have said the WordPress community is a great one and I’ll look forward to seeing more of other bloggers’ work in the future too.

The Tools

I’ve begun using Evernote to organise information to put into future posts, using my Nexus 7 tablet to write up notes and posts while I’m watching tv or am otherwise away from the main computer.  I’ve bought a new Logitech wired keyboard because I can type faster on it  – sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make the difference.

I’m using the WordPress app on my Nexus to read posts on other blogs I follow as I can instantly reblog them or send them to Pocket for commenting of referencing later.

The Time

I’ve told myself to set aside a bit of time each day to do this otherwise I end up with a long list of unread posts that seems too daunting to tackle before more turn up the next day – I have the same problem at work, feeling like new tasks turning up will prevent me from finishing the ones I’ve already got, leaving me feeling anxious, stressed and overwhelmed; but that’s another story.  The fear of the so-called information overload, a decidedly 21st century ailment, has stopped me looking for suitable stories about modern life elsewhere too, ironically.

The Confidence

I’ve learnt to be honest and say how I feel, to not agonize too much about what to say and not to put off writing a post if I have all the pieces right there in my mind – one problem I have is I too often over-think a post, or to put too many things into one post that could perhaps be spread out over many.

I still get a buzz when I see the notifications telling me that people have liked my posts, I don’t feel I’ve failed if a post gets no likes at all.  Most of all I just enjoy writing these articles, gathering information, articulating thoughts and sending them out into the world.  I still though hoard more information, more bit of what could become posts than write actual posts.  Procrastination is still a problem; the feeling of sitting down and not feeling able to write anything (which is still,  for me, a lack of confidence in my own abilities) is still a problem.  But I’ve researched and found solutions to these things which I will be outlining soon.

So onto year two, with clear plans, determination to overcome what stops me writing and keeps me watching TV instead, a bag full of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs and one more day off work.

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Gadgets, Society, Tech, Work

Adventures With a Chinese Android

It all started eighteen months ago…

Cheap, small, curvaceous but not as slender as more expensive models my droid arrived late and wasn’t quite what I’d ordered…

Chinese Android

Chinese Android (image credit: Andy Vickers)

The picture showed a proper USB port, this didn’t have one but never mind.

I’d been contemplating a tablet computer for a while but wasn’t sure I’d get much use from one so I didn’t want to splash out on a Samsung or Asus I might regret getting.  I could see the advantage of a handheld, touchscreen computer for web browsing, picture and video viewing, quick email or Facebook viewing and so on especially since Apple and Google had managed to make operating systems that suited the way people would use them, i.e. with fingers, and because unlike previous tablets they ran smartphone software not desktop software they could be smaller and lighter.

My MID Epad looked like a shrunken iPad and even came in a very nice, Apple-esque box with a magnetic closure and it was packed with technology that iPad owners would snigger at; old-fashioned resistive touchscreen, an old processor, little memory, low-res screen, plastic back – PLASTIC!  Short battery life.  Not being a perfectionist and being careful financially with such experiments I accepted that what I had wasn’t cutting edge, so far from cutting edge in fact that you could butter bread with it.  Anyway, it was quick enough to play videos, the screen responded well enough to flick through ebooks.  I could even play Angry Birds.

The first problem was that these tablets come with Android but are not approved by Google so can’t access many of the apps in the Play Store, the default Google apps such as the contacts app won’t synchronise properly and often you don’t get updates.  For some these are not problems, if all you want is to browse and get email and read ebooks.  Gizmodo UK recently proclaimed that chinese tablets were all “crappy” and that Google was having to keep Android open to support this flow of effluent but it depends on how you define crappy, what you find acceptable and whether you’re looking at your £65 tablet from the point of view of a well paid tech journalist, someone who just wants to look at the odd web page or a blogger on the minimum wage.

It niggled me admittedly but again I lived with it and was able to get round the issues in a way that isn’t possible with out of the box Apple devices – I put apps on manually, sideloaded them, having downloaded them from app sites.  Most were old versions and again they wouldn’t get updates.  Playing videos from the computer required some research on how to make the software access a shared network drive, though as usual the net provided excellent step-by-step guides, though if anyone mentions the word Samba near me I may cry.  Ok, so it didn’t “just work” as certain fruity products are supposed to do but as a bit of a geek it was interesting.  The hair I pulled out has grown back.

It was a challenging device all in all – it had to be charged after a couple of hours use so I had to make an adaptor lead so I didn’t have to sit two feet away from where the power supply plugged in and so I could have a right-angle plug into the device.  Sometimes the internet browsing was painfully slow.  I loved reading books on it, even using it in a tent in the middle of the Lake District until the battery died again, though using it outside in sunlight was out of the question – one-nil to Kindle and paper.  Being non-approved some of the apps I wanted I just couldn’t have, and the dream of sharing data across computer, phone and tablet would have to wait a while.

The more I used it though the more I saw that the arguments of those people on gadget blogs who complained that tablets were too simplistic, that you “can’t code on them”, and so on were wrong.  The tablet is the perfect consumption device, I can lounge on the sofa and read the news, read a book, browse a website, check mail, listen to music or watch video streamed from my computer, I even have apps filled with tasty recipes which I haven’t yet got round to cooking.  I can share things I’m interested in there and then, add to my read it later.

Now, of course, this is well known and Kindle Fires, Nexus 7s and iPad Minis have been this years big Christmas gift – my mum got a Kindle Fire for her birthday last week because it was the perfect computer for her; so simple to use, just point and tap to read, browse the net or get more books or games.  I now have an Sony Xperia Android smartphone and a Nexus 7 tablet myself, both have newer versions of the software, I can listen to music via bluetooth from either and do even more than with my Chinese Droid, my emails, contacts, to do lists, notebooks, reading lists and bookmarks are automatically synced and available wherever I want them, all from small, thin light devices.

I remember seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek and similar, seeing those little pads of information and thinking how great it would be to have all that in your hand.  And it is.  Amazing.

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