What Phone Is Right For You? 2 – But First…

A brief note before we get into the details of the competing phone “ecosystems” – You don’t have to buy a phone that has downloadable apps of course, even now. Virtually every manufacturer still sells plenty low-end models that come as they are, and they are by no means lacking necessarily in features such as cameras and Web browsers – in fact they are often referred to as “feature phones”. They just don’t allow the installation of software, except perhaps some limited games and utilities using Java. Phones like this can represent great value.

But I assume you’re all here for the fun stuff.

What Phone Is Right For You? 1 – The Scene

Image via Wikipedia
It's really time for a new one

As I was saying, it’s never been as hard to choose a phone as it is now. This is far from a bad thing though; we’ve never had so many incredible choices. Phones have changed almost beyond recognition, from fairly straightforward communication devices into something we don’t even quite have a name for yet.

Certainly the term ‘smartphone’ no longer seems adequate. Though there were earlier experiments¹, the smartphone came into its own all of ten years ago now, when the mobile phone and the PDA were successfully merged by companies like Nokia and Microsoft. The magic ingredient: A proper operating system that allowed you to install software.

Since then, other functions have accrued continually. Cameras, Web browsers, e-mail, media players, Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi… Keypads became tiny to make room for Internet-friendly screens. Some – Microsoft in particular – introduced touch interfaces, but made them so crowded that they had to be navigated with a PDA-type stylus. The smartphone seemed full to the point of bursting.

Then Apple made the next great breakthrough, by introducing an interface that was not only sensitive to broad gestures, but which was utterly reconfigurable by whatever program was in use. At a stroke they solved the problem of the smartphone trying to be too many things, by reinventing it as an almost neutral object that could be reconfigured for an endless variety of tasks.

At the same time, they realised that what was essentially an Internet-connected iPod was a fantastic tool for selling things to people; music, video, the software “apps” it would run, and the services those apps could interface with. It was a goldmine. The other main players were slow to recognise this; Nokia and Microsoft so tardy that eventually they had to join forces. Only Google, the one with no previous involvement in phones, could see what was happening and knew what was to be done. They produced Android, now the leading rival to the iPhone.

But far from the only one; there are four or five competing systems, all with their strengths and weaknesses. So though we have great choices, they are real choices. Where once we might have chosen based on fairly trivial factors like appearance, buying a phone now means buying into a system – an ‘ecosystem’ as some call it – of software apps and services. It’s quite a commitment.

By weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of the various offerings however, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell which is the one that suits your needs. These we will look at in more detail tomorrow.

  1. The first real smartphone? Probably the Simon from quiet innovator IBM (pictured above). It may have been an ugly brick, but it was an ugly brick that was years ahead of its time.

Traffic Circles For The Kill

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Image by flikr via Flickr

When your mother is on the phone discussing her sister’s medical condition, “jelly-like” is not a phrase you want to overhear.

But anyway, today was my first official driving lesson. I did well – for my first lesson. Unfortunately in my head I was ready to pass. Dammit there is so much crap you have to learn to do – and you have to do your learning while travelling at speed. I lurched in the space of an hour from being fairly confident behind a wheel to feeling like a monkey astronaut. I mean it’s crazy; you’re sailing along while turning a wheel in a circular motion, moving your feet up and down, and looking into mirrors. I’m dizzy just thinking about it.

Oh, that turned out to be what was wrong with my mother’s sister – dizzy spells. It was her legs that felt like jelly. Cool; I have an actual giddy aunt.

Ruin A Country, Reap Rewards

"San Francisco Speculators", illustr...
Don't worry, it only looks like a racist caricature

Brendan Howlin has soberly explained that they looked at all the options and reached the conclusion that burning the senior bondholders would not be worth the consequent costs. This is sensible.

It is not however what they promised, and it’s not why we voted for them.

If not this way, then how are we going to punish the speculators, the people who drove house prices into the idiosphere and turned a healthy growing economy into molten radioactive waste? It seems we are not going to punish these people. We are in fact going to reward them.

So who will be to blame when they do it again?

Banks Fail Stress Test, Told To Take ‘Me Time’

Brendan and his monks' ship is carried by a gi...
The blog software automatically suggests illustrations, and sometimes I just go with the most inexplicable thing it comes up with. I mean, a boat on a fish. What the hell does that have to do with bank stress testing?

So the reason they won’t burn the foreign banks that over-served the Irish industry is the hope that they’ll lend us more in the future. Isn’t that a lot like alcoholics always making sure to pay the bar tab, even as the children go hungry? Credit is what we got too much of.

But to cheer us up, we are to get two ‘universal pillar’ banks. I do like that; we should have more financial institutions that sound like they’re out of pre-Christian mythology. A Department of the Great Sky Serpent, maybe a Unicorn Interest Rate. In fact it sounds a lot better than the names we have for them now, BoI and ABBoI. The new banks should actually be called Universal Pillar 1 and Universal Pillar 2. No wait, Alpha and Omega. “I save with Universal Pillar Omega.” Surely that will restore confidence in the Irish banking sector.

But I don’t really get the idea behind stress-testing the banks. They are already dysfunctional, loss-making, unable to keep their doors open without State and ECB constantly pumping in raw cash. In what way exactly could that get worse?