Saturday, April 23, 2011

An explanation of Apple's iOS tracking fiasco

On Wednesday of last week, reports were being released by various journalists that iOS was tracking devices. The report issued first by two security researchers named Peter Warden and Alasdair Allan. They discovered that Apple devices running Apple's current mobile operating system, iOS 4 such as the iPad and iPhone, were being tracked through the wireless provider's cell towers through a process called triangulation. This process gives moderately accurate location data based on where the device is within three cell towers. This isn't perfect technology, but it works well enough. Simply stated, the possibility now exists that anyone can track you or your device.

These researchers found that the device running iOS 4 was being tracked and the data was being saved in a database file, in an unencrypted, or unsecured form, which means that anyone who had access to your computer or device could access and read the data.

This database file had the location data in the form of longitude-latitude and anyone with the right mind or the right software, could use that data to get a relative location of where the device has been. The concern was at first, rather low. However, later on, an application for Apple's Mac OS X computers could allow someone to make a map of the location data through this application. Of course, this scared the living daylights out of people, arguably unnecessarily, which I will talk about next.

Is it worth it to be concerned?

This is the big question journalists and big media types have been asking. Unfortunately, the answer is not clear yet, as Apple has not commented (at least not at the point of this post) on this issue. If Apple does come out of hiding and comments on the matter, then we can be a little more certain about whether or not this is worth being concerned about. From my point of view, I would only be concerned if hackers start using this "feature." Hackers are smart and they know how to get around obstacles. I am slightly concerned because of the fact that there are no obstacles for hackers currently. I'm not as concerned about the government having this data because they might have a proper reason for having location data about one's device. Of course, it might not always be necessary or a good idea for the government to have location data, because it is easy for anyone to abuse the use of this data, it would still be not as dangerous as hackers having this data. Since the government has a little sense of morality, they could have the location data for the right reasons. Hackers are a whole another story. They have no moral compass. They do as they please, how they please, when they please. They do not care the tiniest bit who was affected or how they were affected.

With that in mind, it is still important to understand that Apple has not commented yet on this issue. All we can do is hope. It is also important to note that Android also has this capability, and that third-party applications can get a hold of location data, but it's much more obvious, and Android itself does not record and store this data.

Before you freak out any further, keep in mind that the iPod Touch is not being tracked because it does not have 3G cellular connectivity and it does not have a GPS receiver in it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The iPad is dominating the tablet industry, but why?

The tablet industry has become a crowded market with the release of Android tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Motorola Xoom (pronounced "zoom"), and Asus's Eee Pad Transformer. No doubt that these tablets have some very unique qualities to them that make them great products, but there are some things they've taken a page from Apple's iPad. That's understandable since consumers have had this high expectation that whatever functionality exists on the iPad, exists, or at least should exist, on the other tablets. There is some logic behind why the iPad is dominating the market, and then there is simple luck that Apple just happened to have.
There are some factors that make it quite clear why Apple is winning in the tablet space right now. They really made the iPad into a very profitable and successful product in the iOS family of products. The quality and size of the display, the multi-touch technology, the operating system (iOS specifically designed for iPad), tablet-designed software development kit (iPad SDK), and the price are all key parts of why the iPad is selling in numbers dramatically higher than their Android tablet competitors. If Apple took even one of those elements out of their product in the first generation, then the iPad predictably wouldn't have been such a success as it was and still is today.
Of course, luck was also involved in the iPad's success. Apple got in at the right time, and the right place. That feels like luck to me because nobody can really predict what is going to happen in the tech industry a year from now or even a month from now. The industry is too unpredictable. If you were to tell me in 2008 or even 2009 that Apple was going to release a tablet called the "iPad", I would've though you were insane!
Now let's compare Apple's iPad to the competitors. Unfortunately, Android, despite having a "tablet-optimized" version, still hasn't mastered multi-touch. Apple is still the palpable master of multi-touch software and hardware. Yes, Google's Honeycomb version of Android, which is known as the "tablet-optimized" version, handles display sizes really well and the multi-touch isn't bad necessarily. It's simply imperfect, compared to the iPad which seems pretty darn close to perfect. I also consider the sheer fact that there are too many screen sizes for Android tablets, that "tablet-optimized" applications will not run perfectly of most of the devices because the variety of display sizes divides the tablet industry up into many fractions. If we had a set standard for tablet display sizes, then maybe this "fragmentation" issue with Android wouldn't be as big of a deal.
Let's imagine for a second that a consumer just bought an Android Honeycomb tablet. They will be bitterly disappointed to discover that the selection of "tablet-optimized" applications is terribly small. In essence, the quantity of apps that could use utilize the large screen size of the device, is quite low. That consumer would feel discouraged and would have feelings of regret. That consumer next time, might've considered an iPad, since the number of tablet applications for the iPad, is much higher.
Price was another area in which Apple was and still is quite innovative in. For a Wi-Fi only (no contract with a wireless provider) 16GB iPad would cost you $500. Most people can't complain since I don't know anybody who would use up all 16GB. And for most people, they're surrounded by Wi-Fi hotspots most of the time, so they don't need 3G (or wireless provider) connectivity. Much to the industry's surprise, there's only one tablet that has been priced similarly to the iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, which has a 7-inch display, but does not run Android Honeycomb, is $500. Everybody else has to play catch up to Apple and Samsung, the two price leaders in the tablet world.
If the prices for these tablets would drop, and manufacturers improve on some of their lacking areas, then I think Android tablets could eventually meet parody with Apple's iPad. But for the time being, we'll just have to be patient and make due with the iPad.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is technology really a distraction?

With the release of tablets and modern gaming technology, people have started to conclude that modern technology is a “distraction.” That logic has to be questioned. I believe that technology itself is not a distraction, but rather how the technology is used, that may be the distraction. People still tend to ignore that technology alone is not good or bad, and they blame technology in general for “ruining their productivity” or “forcing people to lose focus.” I hear complaints about technology and computing a lot. Believe it or not, it’s not just parents who complain about technology. Now in the technology world, people are arguing amongst each other that PCs are legitimate and the newer methods, such as tablets or smartphones, are distracting from important tasks. Just as people worried that computers were going to distract from reading and writing, now people are worried that tablets and smartphones will displace the old methods and become a distraction to real computing.

I’m trying to beat the stereotype because this attitude could potentially ruin innovation in a currently innovative industry such as digital technology. Remember what I said in the last paragraph. Technology itself isn’t a distraction, but the utilization of the technology that could be a distraction. Take the new Android tablets, or the iPad for instance. These tablets themselves were not designed to limit productivity, but rather make certain tasks easier, or in some cases, more enjoyable to do. Although tablets seem to be a great toy for people of all ages, and yes, tablets are mostly useful for games, there are still a few productive uses for tablets and smartphones, whereas a traditional desktop or laptop PC wouldn’t be a perfect solution for the task. Sure, tablets have very few productive uses, but those few still count in my mind. So to say that a tablet is only good for gaming is disingenuous. Digital technology has the ability to offer multiple use scenarios for products and serves many of those purposes quite well.

This is not the first time in history, when people have had concern about newer technologies. Remember when PC gaming began? When gaming finally took off and started consuming some of the gaming market a few years ago, people started to stereotype PCs because PC gaming was the new “trend.” They thought if you gave a child or a teenager a brand new PC a few years ago, the PC was going to be used mostly for amusement. And of course, everyone tried to assure you that the PC was almost strictly for “homework” and “schoolwork.” Unfortunately, that stereotype might’ve been true for most children or teenagers at that period in time, but it still would’ve been used for some work.

If you were to apply that stereotype to tablets and smartphones today, then the same outcome would occur. It all comes back to this statement. It simply depends on the person. If the person is serious about productivity, then technology, especially tablets and smartphones, could make a big difference. But if the person was simply looking for an excuse to buy a tablet, then that tablet would be a distraction to them. I think that technology is unfairly judged. If all someone hears about is gaming, then they’re going to assume that technology was pretty much exclusively used as a “productivity killer.” So in order to eliminate these unfair accusations and assumptions about certain digital technologies, people need to own responsibility for their productivity. They’re blaming technology unfairly because they don’t have self-control to stay focused on the important task. Thus, technology itself is not a distraction. Thank you very much!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My vision for the future of internet connectivity

If you look at the United States in terms of internet bandwidth, and the price per megabit, we're very far behind. The bandwidth we receive is a criminally low amount compared to the prices we pay. In the past couple of years, studies have repeatedly shown that the United States is far behind in terms of internet connectivity. This is disappointing considering how much opportunities the U.S has if we would only had what I call "quality connectivity." Which by my standards, is essentially a reasonable amount of bandwidth for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, that's just not the case right now.
It's going to be a very long period of time before internet connectivity here in the States comes to my definition of "quality connectivity." Especially since we're dealing with a recession right now that sees very little improvement. For some reason that I can't explain, the ISPs (Internet service providers) have it in their heads that we don't notice how poor of speeds we receive for the price we pay. Unfortunately, this is slightly true considering the fact that most people are not technically sophisticated and choose to be careless about it.
The same is true with the mobile operators (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in the U.S). There seems to be a duopoly here that AT&T and Verizon which means they have leverage over their customers' speeds and connection consistency. The price for mobile voice, SMS, and data is ridiculous! On AT&T and Verizon, the cheapest data plan averages around $60 and is capped or limited in someway. Whether they charge you for extra data or they "throttle" you, it's still limited and the amount of bandwidth you receive is poor. This is extremely disappointing!
The FCC has been trying to do this all along with Net Neutrality. Unfortunately, Google and Verizon have been pressuring the FCC to not force rules on wireless carriers. This means that internet connectivity will not improve since competition would not be pressured by the FCC. Some of the rules FCC are imposing on the ISPs are good, but there are plenty of exceptions to those rules. Also not to mention that all those rules defined by Net Neutrality have no affect on the wireless carriers. I hope this will change before the bill is passed. At this point in time, the Obama Administration is planning on vetoing the bill until "appropriate" changes are made. This may be the one thing I agree with the Obama Administration.
All I'm asking for from the wireless carriers and ISPs is speedy, but reasonably priced internet. If they decide not to, then we need to urge the FCC to step in the right way.

Monday, April 11, 2011

State of the mobile tech industry

Apple has revolutionized the way we think of mobile devices. Both with their iPhone which they first launched in 2007 and their iPad in 2010. No doubt each technology has uniquely influenced the tech industry. Since then, there has been a blossom of competitors to Apple's mobile ecosystem. Starting with Android which started in 2008 and since that point, has nearly doubled in market share and has been an evolution of what we saw with Apple's iPhone. So today, I thought I'd give my mobile technology industry analysis.
If you're not familiar with why Apple has gained in such rapid numbers, this is a good time to reflect on the pros and cons of Apple's mobile offerings. The new trend the media has applied is to classify Android, Google's mobile platform as "open" and Apple's iPhone (iOS operating system) as "closed." I hate to say this, but I kind of agree with Steve Jobs. That stereotype is quite "disingenuous" as Steve Jobs has famously said. Apple isn't necessarily more closed than Android or all the other competitors, Apple simply has less choice is all. With Apple, they choose the hardware, not you. With Apple, they choose the software, not you. Before iPhone came to Verizon, AT&T was the only option in the United States. Now you finally have choice of carrier, but you're still quite limited in choice. However, if you're not really that picky in hardware or software, then iPhone and iOS (The operating system) is not a bad choice. iOS has a constant reliability rating. Unlike Android, where everything is nearly unpredictable. One day, your device would function as normal, but the next day, or the next hour, it may just decide to crash on you, randomly restart, or even freeze. Whereas iOS and iPhone and iPad seem to be quite a bit more reliable. With iOS, you have a centralized place for content. Applications, music, TV shows, and movies all can be acquired from within the iTunes Store.
Android, as I've compared to iPhone earlier, is quite more diverse in both hardware and software. Android is a mobile operating system designed by Google with the Open Handset Alliance. Unlike Apple, which keeps tight lock over its platform, Google's Android can be run from practically any device. This allows you to choose the carrier first, then the device. In 2008, when Android first launched, there were barely any apps (or applications), now that is not the case. There are more than 200,000 applications from games to productivity to medical to business to utilities and so much more! The variety of applications you can get on Android is amazing now! Many of them free or relatively affordable. Unfortunately, Google doesn't have a centralized place for content at this point in time. They do have an application "Market" but it's really poorly organized. Amazon has introduced cloud storage along with an Android application marketplace, but it has a long way to go before anybody is willing to use it primarily over Google's Marketplace. Nonetheless, it's a great effort by Amazon. -- Android has great integration with Google's services. Makes sense right? When you login with your Google account on your Android device for the first time, your contacts are automatically downloaded onto the device and any changes of the contacts on the device are synced with your account online. If you have a GMail account, then you can choose to receive email on your device through the GMail application. Unfortunately, if you do not use GMail or use a corporate email system, the separate email application for Android is mediocre. Luckily, you can fix that through external solutions that you can download through the market. (I recommend K-9 Mail as a solution to this problem.)

It may be too early to judge, but I personally predict that Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 operating system is going practically nowhere right now. The software update fiasco has really injured the platform's reputation. Despite the recent update that has implemented copy and paste (not consistently), Windows Phone 7 still is far behind Android and iOS in functionality and capability. And as far as I can tell, the Windows Phone 7 application store is quite limited in quantity, quality, and variety of applications. If this is any indication, Windows Phone 7 may be stuck back in 2007 for a long time. Frankly, I tend to agree with Mr. Leo Laporte of the TWiT network, "If Windows Phone came out before the iPhone, I would've thought this was amazing!"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dear wireless carriers, I'd appreciate it if you'd stop putting junk on your smartphones?

One of my biggest problems with wireless carriers in the U.S today is that they put OEM or pre-installed carrier software on smartphones. "Sprint Football and Sprint TV" just to name a few. I don't want it nor do I use them at all! They take up unnecessary space on my smartphone.

The unfortunate thing is that nobody has the will or power to stop this crud from being installed on smartphones. For example, your Android device may already have some carrier junk loaded up on it and the smartphone manufacturer or platform maker (i.e. Google) has no power to stop the wireless carriers from doing so. If all the smartphone platform makers and device manufacturers would just step up to the plate and tell the carriers that we don't want this on our phones, then this wouldn't be an issue in the first place! That's simply a fantasy though, because most corporations are in it exclusively for the profit. They simply don't care if you're not happy with their device or their platform, they'll continue to make money while not listening to consumers' complaints. Even supposing they did care, they simply don't have the power to overcome the strict policies of the wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint!
Even if some of the wireless carriers' pre-installed applications and software was of any interest to me, or to other consumers, the applications are unreliable and poorly developed!
I represent myself and consumers from personal experience. I've attempted at using Sprint Football and Sprint TV. First off, the app can't run over Wi-Fi. A 3G data connection is required, and second, the content in the apps mentioned above is so mediocre, that I don't even use it at all. Not to mention that those apps seem to crash on most Android devices I've seen and played with. Besides the fact, I would still prefer to get content from my PC, or from the Internet. Sources like ESPN for sports and Hulu and Netflix for shows and movies means that I'll never discover a need for the wireless carriers' apps.

Bottom line, wireless carriers should simply stop shipping their smartphones with these pre-installed applications.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I'm living Facebook free! And here's why you should too! Plus alternatives to using Facebook!

Facebook is one of those things that you "just have to have." It's a popular trend and if a friend asks you "Are you on Facebook" and you reply "No, I do not." Then you're friend is going to start to question your logic as to why you do not own a Facebook account. Since "Everybody is on Facebook, you have to have one." None of that is technically true. You do not have to have a Facebook account. It's not a law by any stretch of the imagination.
I'm one of those people who've been violently with Facebook over recent corporate and technical decisions. They've put security in the backseat for so long and now it's finally gotten to my head, so I'm simply deleting my Facebook account (Permanently: Here's how to do so)
For one thing, security is terrible. Sure Facebook (finally!) added SSL (Secure) to their whole site (Except for Facebook apps that don't support SSL). But that's not enough. Especially since most popular Facebook apps, such as FarmVille, don't support SSL and when you enter that app you exit out of SSL and leave you vulnerable to the outside world.
Even if you stay completely within Facebook SSL, you still have to worry about both, you, and your friends' accounts being hacked. If your friend's account gets taken over by hackers, then you are surrendering your privacy to the hacker. Even if you are practicing good security measures, the hacker can post pictures on your wall, can post comments and "posts" on your wall, and can see everything you allow your friends to see. This is a major concern of mine since the new trend in hacking is Facebook accounts. So I'm done being subjected to hackers!
The security risk of owning a Facebook account with personal information is so high in this high tech era, that I've decided to leave Facebook for good!
Hopefully already I've persuaded you to delete your account, but if you're worried that there isn't any good alternatives for Facebook, think again!
Alternatives for Facebook's services
  • Google Groups - If you want to share personal news, interesting content, then you can post it on Google Groups. And yes, you can make it a private group.
  • Flickr - Flickr is the most popular photo sharing site. It's owned by Yahoo, so if you have a Yahoo account, then you have a Flickr account. It has all of what you expect. Sharing photos with the whole internet, or with just a private group of people.
  • Picasa - Picasa is similar in the ways I just described, except it's owned by Google, and has tight integration with Android devices. And with other smartphones as well. Picasa also has a desktop application for Windows that has some basic photo editing capabilities and sharing capabilities.
  • YouTube - This one is obvious, but Google's YouTube website offers a great place for you to share videos with friends. Like all the other services I just mentioned, you can make your videos private to only you, and a group of people.
  • UStream - This allows you to stream live video from a webcam, or any video camera attached to your computer, to stream it to the web. Of course, you can make the stream private to a group of people, but by default it'll be public.
  • A blog - I know this doesn't sound quite as exciting, but a blog or a website that allows you to integrate all your content (Video, photos, and written content) onto one page so you can give anybody and everybody one website address to remember and they can see everything you have to share with your friends and family, and everybody else who wants to know more about you. Yes, you can make a blog or website private to a certain group of people. But I hope you choose to make it public, because it indicates how much confidence you have in public respect. People on the web tend to respect people who are more open than private.
Sure, maybe it's not an easy or quick decision, but it'll be one you won't regret. Because with Facebook, you don't own your content, Facebook does! But with a website or a blog, you own the content, not Facebook!