Mailbag: June 6, 2010
This week in the mailbag:
Have a question? I can't guarantee an answer, but I'll try. Drop me a note! (And let me know if you'd prefer not to have your name published.)
The iPad and Faux Indignation
As you probably understand, I tend to make strongly-worded statements when I'm trying to make a point. Most people see this for what it is: I'm passionate about technology and I have strong opinions. Some people--in this case, Apple fanatics--choose to read into what I write and attempt to drum up outrage over some perceived--no, not "perceived;" imagined--slight. These people are humorous and sad at the same time. And when it comes to the iPad, I've really scratched some kind of an itch for these people. I'm not sure whether I should be proud of the man crush they have or just feel bad for them.
It started a few months ago, when I infamously noted that anyone who believes the iPad is a "game changer" is a tool. Now, it's pretty obvious what I mean by this. I'm not referring to "normal people" here. I'm referring to the types of people who would actually utter a term like "game changer." Tech pundits. Bloggers. Whatever. You know, public people who stand up on virtual soap boxes and bore the world with their opinions. (Yes, you tiresome troll. People like me. Let's just nip that one in the bud.)
By which I mean, no normal person would ever walk into an Apple Store, pick up an iPad, and declare, "Wow. This is a game changer!" They might think the device is "cool," or "incredible." (Or, "whatever.") That's how normal people talk. "Game changer" is what you write, or say, when you're on a pulpit.
And the tool thing? I meant a tool of Apple. You know, like the high profile tech reporters for major US newspapers that do nothing more than promote Apple's products for them. That kind of tool. The type who can't bear to criticize Apple the same way I regularly criticize Microsoft.
So if you're going to get your panties in a bunch over this comment, you are a tech pundit/blogger/reporter who has bought Apple's marketing BS hook, line and sinker and you're upset I've called you on it. Or you are simply pretending to be upset, because I'm clearly not talking about you. So when people write me email and complain this comment somehow insulted them, they're the latter. It's called fake indignation. It's nothing more than that. Obviously.
Flash forward a few months. One of the issues surrounding the iPad that I've been concerned about is how or if we can measure the success of this device against other products. After a few months of actually using one, I came up with Understanding iPad, my attempt to cut through this murkiness and determine what exactly this product is so that, when the end of the year rolls around, we can (or cannot) compare it to PCs, Netbooks, mobile phones, smart phones, iPhones, iPods, or whatever.
Interestingly, I determined that it shouldn't be compared to any of those things. It's a new kind of device, which is what Apple originally claimed. However, it does compare poorly to all of those things, from a unit sales perspective. So by making this determination, I was taking away a future opportunity to demonstrate that the iPad, for all its successes, still represents a minority platform compared to the mainstream devices of today.
But that wasn't what set a handful of people off. Taking up the "consumption device" theme that many people use when describing the iPad, I compared it to what I call "contribution" devices (PCs), which is a bit different than the normal term ("creation") used to describe these devices. But that was purposeful. Creation suggests that an individual might actually create something from scratch; a new word processing document, a new painting or image, or whatever. Generally speaking, iPad users aren't creating anything new. But they're not even contributing (editing, send feedback, whatever) to pre-existing content. They are (again, generally speaking) simply consuming. With a PC, you can create, contribute, or consume. I was simply trying to expand the scenarios to make them broader than just creating and consuming, because there's more going on than that.
One particularly clueless emailer was supposedly outraged that I had accused him of not being a contributor, as if I had meant that iPad users didn't contribute to society or something. I hope it's obvious to everyone that this, too, is just faux indignation so there's no reason to continue that discussion. Again, some people are just sad.
But my comments about iPad users "sending a message" require slightly more discussion. I wrote that the iPad is "aimed at those consumers who wish to send a message to others, much like Prius drivers or Whole Foods shoppers." Straightforward, right? Obvious?
Nope. This, too, was supposedly regarded as a dig of some kind. Folks, wake up. Everything you do sends some kind of a message to others, and when you drive a Prius, shop at Whole Foods, or use an iPad, you are most definitely sending a message. You have money. You feel it's OK, or even laudable, to spend that money on high-end items that many others simply cannot afford. And in the case of the iPad, you have no problem whatsoever spending an average of $660 on a device that you do not need, a device that does nothing unique compared to any of the devices you already own.
You don't think that's sending a message? Really?
This, for the most part, is faux indignation as well. But in this case, I do understand that being held under this kind of harsh glare is uncomfortable for some people. After all, Priuses help save the planet, right? These people are at least trying to do the right thing. For them.
Fair enough. And to play the other side of the card, I will point out that I'm aware that everything I do sends a message as well. People who relate to my worldview tend to feel good about what I do, while those who do not--Apple fanatics, and now Prius fans apparently--do not. And vice versa. Let's just agree to disagree on this one. You either realize you're sending messages every day by where you live, what you drive, what you do, what you buy, and more, or you don't. But you're sending a message either way. Just try to make it a positive one when you finally become aware you're doing it. Like so much in life, it's an ongoing battle, and as I've found myself, you don't always do the right thing. Just keep trying. Or, based on a small number of emails I got, start trying.
Oh, regarding the Prius thing. You know what you could do that would actually be better for the planet? Just don't buy a new car. I've been driving the same car for 10 years, and I've driven it less than 38,000 miles. I realize that not everyone can drive so little. But that's the point: Don't assume that what you're doing is the only way, or the best way. But do assume that buying a new, expensive product that you don't need, one that has to be shipped a great distance to find you, is almost never the best way. That's as true for cars as it is for iPads.
(Flipside: I travel by plane a lot. So I'm killing the environment. And I bet that erases any savings I've incurred with the car. Keep trying...)
Broadband2Go Price Drop
I've discussed the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go solution in the SuperSite Mailbag a couple of times already (January 17, 2010 and March 14, 2010), but this week, Jamie P. tells me that it's gotten even more affordable:
You wrote recently about Broadband2Go. I noticed today that Virgin Mobile's site indicates the price of the device is now $79.
I purchased a netbook recently and had been monitoring the price at Virgin Mobile's site and other retailers, hoping the price would drop or there would be a sale. $99 wasn't outrageous, but it wasn't quite the sweet spot for me considering my usage would be intermittent. A Google search today turned the device up at Walmart for $78.54. I jumped over to VM's site and saw they now indicate the price as $79. No mention of this being a sale price.
I've now used this device in Boston, New York City (twice), Seattle (twice), Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, and this coming week I'll give it a go in New Orleans as well. So far so good, and the pay-as-you-go pricing is reasonable. Definitely recommended for those who need to know they can get online when Wi-Fi isn't available but can't afford the (often needless) expense of a monthly 3G broadband bill. Pay-as-you-go is the right option for me, and it may be for you as well.
You can find out more at the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go web site.
Another Take on KIN Monthly Pricing
And speaking of 3G, Michael L. presents an interesting take on the KIN's monthly data plan pricing which, at $30, is just as expensive as that for a full-featured smart phone, like the iPhone or Android. Many have questioned this cost, given that the KIN can't be expanded with apps or other functionality.
I bought the Kin One for my 7th grade son and he loves it. He didn?t seem to care when I told him there were no games on it. He?s a big music listener and we are a Zune Pass family so he totally dug that feature. I am very jealous of that feature myself, and can?t wait for Windows Phone 7 to come out.
I know the press has been giving the KIN bad reviews, but I don?t think they get it. It is geared toward teens and young adults that use Facebook, Twitter, etc. I have played with the KIN One since getting it for my son and I think for that age group it is great. Is a business user going to get one? No.
I also don?t get the big deal about the $30 per month Internet access. I can browse the full Internet on the KIN just like I can on my Droid. My wife has a Storm and daughter has a Droid. We pay $30 per month for data on their phones too. I think with the Zune Pass my son is going to use the data plan way more than my daughter or wife will on their supposed ?full featured? smartphones.
Few understand how cool this is for music fans, but the KIN's Zune Pass functionality marks the first time, on any mobile device, that people can stream the several million songs on Microsoft's Zune Marketplace, over the air, using a 3G network. (On the Zune HD or older, you must be connected to Wi-Fi, or sync the content from the PC. (Either of which is still pretty excellent.) This is absolutely a killer feature, and unique to the KIN for now. (Windows Phone 7 will also offer this functionality when it ships later this year.)
That said, I'm not sure that Zune Pass and a web browser justify the expense. The KIN isn't a true smart phone. (This is an evolving target, but for purposes of this discussion I'm referring to those devices that feature a full app experience, with an online marketplace full of downloadable apps that can be installed on the phone, over the air, while on the go.) So you can't extend the functionality of the phone to take advantage of new online services as they arrive, or existing services that might be of interest, including those to music lovers. (Like Pandora.) With an iPhone or Android device, you can't use Zune Pass. But you can download any one of thousands of useful applications, using that data plan, and then access whatever online services they use as well. The KIN is a locked box.
I don't mean to suggest that the KIN is worthless, however. I'm evaluating one now and will review it soon. And I think there are certain situations in which a parent, especially, will appreciate that their kids can't just download whatever apps they want to their phone, among other advantages to this business model. But the KIN isn't for everyone. And the data pricing is still too expensive, in my opinion. That's Verizon Wireless's fault, not Microsoft's. But it's still an issue.
On a related note, I've seen reports online that Best Buy is selling the KIN One and KIN Two are vastly reduced prices, compared to the Verizon Wireless store. That is, The KIN One is free at Best Buy (with a two-year VW contract), while the KIN Two is $50. These represent savings of $50 on either device, but I wouldn't get too excited about that. The real cost of these phones, over two years, approaches $2000. Saving $50 up front isn't going to make that much of a difference, in my opinion.
Zune and MP3 Audiobooks
A few months ago, Edward D. wrote and asked about how he could effectively use home-made (i.e. "ripped from CD") audio books with the Zune. The issue is simply stated: If you buy an audiobook on CD and rip it to your PC in MP3 format (or whatever), it's just seen as a normal audio file (or a series of normal audio files), and not as an audiobook. So it doesn't save your place, or let you save bookmarks. I didn't really have a good answer for him, though I have a vague recollection of doing something like this with AAC files in iTunes and renaming them so that they appeared to be "real" audiobook files.
Well, he's written back, and he found an interesting solution.
I found a solution that involves an MP3 joiner, the Overdrive software, and a program called Zune Overdrive Wax Creator. Through the instructions from the ZuneMaster web site I was able to create bookmarks for my MP3 audio books and transfer them to the audiobook folder on the Zune. The nice thing about the Wax Creator is that it automatically adds the book to the Zune after you select the file, so it is ultimately a two step process.
As this site notes...
With a little bit of work, one can turn MP3 files into an Overdrive Media Console compatible Audiobook with a bookmarking feature.
I still haven't tried Overdrive, but probably should. This is the other audiobook format, along with Audible, that you can "sideload" onto Zune devices.
RSS Wallpaper Slideshows in Windows 7
Last week, in my Windows 7 Tip of the Week, Personalize Your Desktop with Wallpaper and Aero Themes, I described two of the fun ways in which you can personalize the Windows 7 desktop. Iain writes in with a nice addition to this information:
I was reminded that you can subscribe to an RSS feed of images and have that feed supply you with fresh desktop images each day, hour or how ever often the feed is updated and checked. There is a guide on makeuseof.com and it simply requires you to change the RSS feed URL in the theme file.
The sample file uses Bing as the source of images but you can set any RSS feed as your source, Flickr being a very popular one. Simply enter your URL and you are good to go. The theme image URL appears in the Windows Common Feed List which you see in IE when looking at the RSS feeds list. From there you can right-click and edit the properties for the feed.
The feed properties support login credentials for services that require it. All in all quite a neat feature to provide a constant supply of fresh wallpapers. One thing you?ll probably want to do is set either the maximum number of items to keep or nominate the number of most recent items to keep. Failing to do this will constantly add new pictures as per the schedule and slowly fill up your hard drive.
I also have another theme that looks at the photos on my Windows Home Server and plays a constantly updating slideshow as I add more photos that I have taken. No fancy theme editing required for that ? simply browse to the required folder in the wallpaper section of the Personalization screen.
Good stuff, thanks.
Hotmail, ActiveSync, and Your Email Client
In the wake of my review of the next Hotmail, I've gotten a number of emails about this product, its suport of the Exchange ActiveSync protocol, and what this means for accessing Hotmail from various email clients. There are a number of misunderstandings here.
First, Hotmail is not switching to Exchange. It is still its own unqiue thing.
What's happening is that Hotmail is adopting the Exchange ActiveSync protocol so that it can sync email, contacts, and calendar data, over the air, to mobile devices like smart phones.
If you want to access the new Hotmail from Outlook, you will need to continue to use the Connector software. You cannot configure a desktop email client, like Outlook, to access Hotmail using Exchange-type server data.
If you want to access the new Hotmail from a third party email program, or a Mac-based email program, only POP access is available, as before.
I realize this isn't ideal. But the primary goal here was to make the mobile device access more elegant and powerful.
More next week...