Office2013 first impressions, iPad Mini vs. Google Nexus 7, more…

Hi all,

 

Well, as time permits, we’ve been trying out a few new things over here at RiteTech, including Office2013, an iPad Mini (at least, in the Apple store down the street from our office), and so forth.

Prior Blog readers will see my initial impressions (some may say, hesitations) about Windows8 in a prior post.  Those have not changed at all.  I still stand by my assertion that Windows7 is the better way to go, for a majority of corporate and business environments.  And sadly, that’s mainly due to the appearance issues related to Microsoft’s insistence on removing the traditional “Start Button” or “Start Menu”, and related “Classic Mode” for the operation of the Windows desktop.  I won’t rehash my extended rant on that topic, any further.

More concerning, however, is that the same “Let’s make the User Interface WORSE than it was before” philosophy, seems to carry over into Outlook 2013.  This was the first of the Office2013 applications that I spent some time with, being my favorite, and most frequently used application, apart from Lync.

Outlook 2013 lasted about an hour on my PC until I had to uninstall it, in favor of Outlook 2010, in horror and disgust.  As I posted on FaceBook a few days back, my reaction was much like the scene in Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston screamed, “You MANIACS!  You Blew it Up!”.  The main reason that I had to yank Outlook 2013 off of my PC – and quickly – was its absolutely ugly and difficult to read graphical interface.  Gone are all of the nice colors that graced Outlook 2010.  There appears to be only three “themes” of color available – ugly gray, black, and white.  Some Ribbon Menu items now show in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, which is (unfortunately) a similar trait to other Office2013 applications as well.  This is quite puzzling to me, because many ergonomic and other typographic research has shown time and time again, that having mixed case helps people read language much faster, and with less eye strain, than ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.  THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE DOES BETTER, THAN SAY, LATIN, WHICH HAD ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, AND OFTEN, NO PUNCTUATION AND/OR MINIMAL SPACING.

Running Outlook 2013 was just, well, SAD to me.  It felt like de-evloving, going backwards, etc..  Add the ugliness to the fact that it also ran SLOWER than Outlook 2010 (notably so), and also that a critical Outlook 2010 plug-in did not work in Outlook 2013 (which I was expecting would be the case), and Outlook 2013 had to come off, quickly.

Now, that said, there are a couple of rays of sunshine peeking from behind the Office 2013 “Cloudscape”.  First, Lync 2013 is a fairly good release, at least it seems to be – although it does look slightly uglier, and runs slightly slower, than Lync 2010.  However, it’s usable, and I have no SERIOUS problems with it – as I do with Outlook 2013.  The difference is that I can see some potential benefits to the new version of Lync.  More on that in a future post.  Other applications that I’m spending more time on include Word 2013 and Excel 2013.  These also look promising – so far – in particular the enhanced support for Cloud services, better sharing of documents, and a better awareness of the user’s identity and security permissions.  All good things – but they are tinged with some sadness, in that performance definitely seems a bit sluggish compared to Office 2010, and there again is the “only 3 themes of color and ALL CAPS MENUS” thing.  However, these are not nearly as poorly implemented in the other Office applications, as they were in Outlook 2013.

I will have more to add in the coming days.  In the meantime, if I had to summarize this year – 2012 – in terms of IT technology developments, the summary would definitely be “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” – in a number of product releases and categories.  To recap, here’s what we’ve seen:

– iPhone 5 release:    Somewhat lackluster, issues with the Maps application, still don’t understand why they put the Audio jack on the bottom of the phone, etc.  I decided to get a 4S instead.

– iPad Mini Release:  Again, somewhat lackluster.  Why no Retina display?  Yes, it is a nice size compared to a full iPad – but compare the screen’s resolution, cost, etc. to a Google Nexus 7 – and wow, the Nexus 7 blows away the iPad Mini.  The Nexus 7 is a smaller unit, less expensive, and  has a much better display.  It’s only downside is that it can’t run iPad app’s – but hardware-wise, it’s definitely superior – at least, in my opinion.

– Windows8 – I won’t beat that horse any more dead than it already is.

– Server 2012 – This still looks to be a winner, but I do definitely have mixed feelings about its User Interface as well.  Granted, not as severe as Windows8, but it definitely is requiring an adjustment.

– Azure (Microsoft’s Back-End Server Cloud Services, VM’s, Hosted databases, etc.) – Lots of good things here.  Very positive release.

Stay tuned for more in the near future…

 

 

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Seeing More e-mail’s with graphics (✈✈✈) in the subject line

Hi all,

One of the newer trends we’ve observed in e-mail marketing, concerns the use of graphical characters in the Subject lines.

For example:   ✈ (an airplane) – which came to us from an e-mail blast from PriceLine.com

We’re seeing more of these as time goes on.  Although still not horribly common, they are fairly easy to implement, but do represent a double-edge sword of “pro’s and con’s”.  On the “Pro” side, the limited use of graphics characters (like having a single ✈) may help entice recipients to read or open the message.  On the “Con” side, there is not a guarantee that all devices will display those characters correctly.  And, the excessive of use of them (e.g. too many in a single subject line) could potentially trigger “SPAM” or “Junk Mail” filters.

We generally suggest that these enhancements be used sparingly, and in a small test group first – to see how well they work in encouraging Open rates for an e-mail campaign.  Analyzing the results of a small, meaningful test group should then help determine their effectiveness in future campaigns, or for larger numbers of recipients.

— DB

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: New iPad Mini, Windows8 Impressions, and more…

It’s been the end of an interesting week, and the start of an interesting weekend coming up for many reasons, the upcoming “Hurricane Sandy” being one of them – but more notably – we’ve witnessed the official unveiling of the iPad mini, the official launch of Windows8 (starting tomorrow, Friday 10/26), and a progression of other new Microsoft products in the past few weeks, as well as coming up in the next several months.

I categorize the iPad mini under “The Good” for many reasons.  In a prior post, I mentioned my desire and appreciation for having a smaller tablet – currently the Google Nexus 7 – as my “take around with me everywhere” tablet.  My other tablet PC – an original iPad which I won – pretty much just sits around now, since it is so big and bulky, compared to my iPhone and the Google Nexus.  While I haven’t seen the iPad mini yet in person, I suspect it’s going to be a big hit.  I know that I will be drooling over it, and will likely sell my original iPad – and who knows, possibly even the Nexus, too – in favor of it, once it’s released.

Part of the reason that I think that the iPad mini will be a hit, is because it seems to hit “all the right notes” when it comes to its design philosophy, as well as to its ultimate “reason for being”.  It remains true to reasonable principles about how the User Interface (or UI) functions – it’s the same, familiar, elegant iOS interface that everyone knows and is comfortable with.  Even though the screen is smaller (which I consider a plus – for mobile devices like a phone or tablet, I prefer smaller devices and displays to large ones) – it is still scaled properly, so as not to cause potential problems with existing applications.  (Contrast that with the iPhone 5, which I critiqued in another blog entry – which introduced a slightly taller display, as well as oddly decided to put the audio jack on the bottom of the device, rather than the top).  While I’m not looking forward to the new iPad’s “lightning” connector for many reasons – that is a single, small annoyance which I am willing to abide by, given all of the other positives that the device and its smaller/lighter size will offer.  Summary – I think it’s going to be a huge hit, and I will cheer when it’s out in stores, and selling like hotcakes.  It strikes me as being a welcome refinement and addition to the overall line of other iPad devices.

Now, let’s pivot to the upcoming Windows8 release.  Here is a much more “complicated”, conflicted, and potentially awkward subject, and sadly, for many reasons that – in my humble opinion – were very much unnecessary.  I think that most of us all realize that tablets are rapidly displacing PCs and other “full computers”, for many reasons.  However, we also all realize that there seem to be certain tasks, roles, and mindsets that are better suited for a “tablet” than a more traditional, PC experience.  Tablets, on the whole, do a great job at what I refer to as “consuming” content – meaning reading e-mails, browsing web pages, accessing data, etc., performing certain online transactions, etc. – however, they are not the best devices to use when necessarily CREATING content – such as writing longer or more formal documents, or other heavy-duty work where a “real, full PC” is needed.  If we accept the premise that most people have by now gotten very used to, and comfortable with, a “traditional” PC interface (meaning, Windows and/or MacOS) when using PCs for work, then we also accept the premise that people have learned how to work with the newer interfaces on “touch” devices, like tablets and phones, and that those seem the best suited for those.

Unfortunately, Windows8 attempts to meld the two worlds together in what I consider to be an awkward, inelegant, and “stubborn” fashion, for those who are using a non-Touch device.  And the main reason is the insistence on the removal of the “Start Button” and “Start Menu” that has been tried and true, tested and always there, ever since 1995.  Put in other words, in an effort to try to “jump ahead” to a future world where – I suppose it is hoped – that somehow everyone will learn to adapt to a new “Windows8 way of doing things” – Microsoft ends up taking away many of the very things that make Windows7 (as well as other prior versions of Windows) as enjoyable, productive, familiar, and professional as it could have been.  What’s quite sad to me, is that all that would have been needed to help “bridge” the gap, would have been some sort a setting in the Control Panel to allow a “Classic Mode”, for those who may prefer a more traditional Windows interface, Start Button and all – which, I suspect, is going to be an overwhelming majority of Windows or PC users.

I’m trying to envision the business case for companies migrating to Windows8, as opposed to staying with (or upgrading to) Windows7.  Yes, there are a very small number of under-the-hood technical improvements – but, these are all overshadowed, and indeed marred, by the “shock and awe” (and I don’t mean that in a good way) of unnecessarily forcing a Tablet UI upon a PC-centric world.  I just frankly can’t see the business case to jump to Windows8 in the short term, as opposed to just doing what most businesses have already been doing – adopting Windows7 and certain tablets (of many kinds) slowly, organically, and methodically.  If Windows8 was adopted on a grand scale – I can, however, potentially see Corporate Help Desks and other IT Staffs being overwhelmed with lots of training, support, and other requests as a result of having to support such a radical and unnecessary design change in the User Interface.  What I think Microsoft fails to realize – or perhaps is underestimating – is that most people, and most IT departments, use and/or enjoy Windows because it helps them get their work obligations done efficiently.  They don’t want to voluntarily use something that makes it harder, more awkward, or more frustrating to perform those obligations – particularly if there will be a major amount of retraining or other support headaches associated with it.  As mentioned before, some learning curve is understandable when using a touch device – but this is something that is accepted or agreed to willingly – not being “forced upon” the user, as is the case with Windows8 when running on a PC.  I fear that Windows8 is going to become the “next Vista” – and ironically, is going to simply drive more people to abandon the Windows platform altogether – or at best, just stick with Windows7 – which is a very good and well-tuned release of Windows.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a huge Microsoft and Apple fan, when those companies create great offerings.  I also dish out the critiques to both, when I feel they are deserved, as you’ve seen in my prior postings here, on FaceBook, Twitter (particularly during outages), and otherwise.  And, Microsoft has indeed had several “hits” in the past 1-2 years, particularly in the past few months, and in the next few ahead.  These include Microsoft Lync (which is fantastic!), Server 2012 (in particular its HyperV Virtualization Technologies), Office 365, Azure, and the upcoming release of Office 2013.  However, I think Windows8 is going to be a struggle, and a very hard sell for most business and corporate environments.  And, especially on the consumer side, it will probably make people think twice to wonder if they’d rather not just “make the switch” to an Apple Macintosh with a reasonable UI, rather than deal with the headaches of using what feels like a Tablet-Optimized UI (Windows8) on a device that is very much NOT a tablet.  Apple wisely decided not to radically alter its Mac UI when adding some touch and tablet-like features to it (although, they did make a couple of minor stumbles – such as reversing the direction of the mouse scroll wheel – however, they wisely decided to put a Control Panel option to turn that off – which many people chose to do).

Sadly, we’re not seeing any such “Control Panel” option to turn off Windows8’s lack-of-a-Start-Menu and lack-of-a-familliar-Win9X interface.  Yes, I know that the whole “desktop metaphor” may be considered old-fashion, tired, and quaint by the hipsters who seem to be the prevailing voices in the Windows8 UI department – but being in IT, as well as broader life, for a while now – I have to say that, “sometimes the old ways, are the best ways”.  Some things just work so well, that they should be left alone even though they may be older concepts – or at least, they should still left around as an option.  Paper money, paper currency (cash), metal keys and locks, paper notepads or other records, etc. all fit in that category.  They just work VERY well, despite the original idea being very old concepts by now.  The other big lesson, however, is that changing something radically – such as the world’s most widely distributed and dominant PC Operating System UI – just for the sake of changing it, without listening to end-user and corporate input and concerns – and without it really showing the huge “value” or benefit in doing so – is a path that’s going to be fraught with many perils and risks.  Sorry, Microsoft, but we don’t want our PCs to run, look, and operate like tablets.  We just want them to run well when we need to get our jobs done, and keep our bosses and clients happy.  We’ll deal with a different UI for tablets – but nobody said there had to be “One UI to rule them all” between both device categories.  Apple seems to have understood the distinction – and they are certainly a company which also has its own struggles at times for being insular, closed-minded, arrogant, protectionist, conservative – fill in the blanks…

And maybe that’s why the taking away of our beloved Start Menu and classic Desktop BUGS us so much.  We’ve had to work with Windows for years now, through good times and bad, tough times and easier times, etc. – but we’re used to it being a certain way – and that helps give us assurance, confidence, and even (at times) some joy or enjoyment in using it, even if we have to do so because it’s for our work, not something we’re doing for leisure.  Radically changing it up would be kind of like if Microsoft was the dominant automobile maker, and decided to start tossing out the concept of the brake pedal being on the left hand side, and the accelerator pedal on the right – just because someone invented someone new vehicle type – the hovercar – which now requires an entirely different set of controls to operate.  We would accept that a hovercar would need different controls, and probably some additional training, to operate properly.  But, please leave our “traditional cars” alone in the process.  There’s no need to mess up our brake and accelerator pedals on traditional cars, just because something else new and different was invented.

It shall certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out…

 

Web Design Pet Peeve: The renewed importance of a “clickable” phone #

Hi all,

I ran across an old, and somewhat surprising “pet peeve” the other day while attempting to pull up information about one of our favorite local vendors (in this case, a car wash).  Given that “the Web”, at least in somewhat common commercial use, has been around for 16+ years [depending on who you ask] – it kind of shocks me that this pearl of knowledge may have been lost amongst the ages (or perhaps, it’s just being ignored by hipster web designers of late), so I feel I must ask the following:

Why are web developers and/or web designers still creating web sites, and web pages, that do not have clickable phone numbers – and who insist on embedding that kind of critical information into a graphic?

While I understand that there are some very creative and pretty designs that can work important contact information – such as a phone number or e-mail address – into a graphic or Flash file, even years ago before Section 508 guidelines even existed, it always struck me as an idea of “just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD…”.

To re-cap, there are MANY reasons why critical information, like a phone number, should ideally not be embedded in a graphic (or Flash) file.  For one, you can’t click on the phone number from a Smart Phone and call it.  Worse yet, you can’t even “copy and paste” it – because it is a graphic, rather than text.  Granted, there may be very specific instances where a designer has no choice to embed a phone number, URL, or other information into a graphical or text file – such as for Banner advertising etc. on another party’s web site – but that would seem to be the only exception that I could envision.

Section 508 fans, of course, will also be out of luck for extracting that type of critical information from such a web site, too – because typically audio screen readers or speech synthesis devices (such as those for the blind or visually-impaired), will not work on non-text content.  And given that a phone number (or phone call) would probably be pretty high up on the list of priorities for a visually-impaired person to try to get more information from a web site – well…  you see my point.
On the flip side of the Web “design versus practicality” debate,  I also still find it curious that many web sites still insist on publishing e-mail addresses on their pages.  Of course, doing so makes those addresses become a huge magnet for SPAM and other e-mail related abuse – however, I can understand that simpler web sites (as well as simpler web developers) may use such an approach to avoid the programming of a “Contact Form” with a CAPTCHA – which is what would seem to be a more modern best practice.  Incoming e-mail can get disrupted or clogged for many reasons – and it would seem that the “Contact Form” would be the way to go, particularly for any organizations of size.  However, I can better understand that there may be situations where the web site requestor (or perhaps, the company or agency who defined its requirements) may insist on having specific e-mail addresses published on the web site.  Perhaps they don’t want to deal with how to route or program a Contact Us page, as well – since it does potentially require having a person(s) monitor those messages, and then route them to whomever they should be handled by.

While having published e-mail addresses doesn’t help cut down on the amount of SPAM, it’s at least understandable as a design tradeoff.  And I suppose that anti-SPAM technologies have gotten a lot better over the years – although, with modern “studies” stating that around 70-90% of all e-mail messages tend to be SPAM in a hypothetical filterless-environment – it makes one wonder, any little things that a web site designer can do to help keep that down, is certainly appreciated.  😉

Tablet Wars: Google Nexus vs. iPad?

We just finished up an in-person marketing event on behalf of Constant Contact on Tuesday 10/2, with the McLean Chamber of Commerce.  One of the items at our table which got an interesting amount of attention, was my Google Nexus 7 tablet.  So much so, that I figured I’d write a quick blog piece about it.

Those following this blog may remember that I got the Nexus tablet several weeks ago, back when it was still very difficult to find in retail stores, from Walmart, of all places.  As I had mentioned in the prior blog entry, I had been blessed with the good fortune of having won an original iPad in a raffle about 2 years ago.  I had considered getting one of the newer ones (e.g. iPad2 or iPad3, or whatever they’re calling the latest one) – however, I really wanted something that was even smaller than the iPad.

I’ve been pretty happy with the Google Nexus 7, predominantly for its size.  I still like Apple’s iOS much better than Android overall, for many reasons.  However, I am very glad and very appreciative that Android exists – also, for many reasons – including some of those mentioned in prior blog entries.  However, when going out or needing to whip out a small computing device that isn’t a full laptop – the Nexus does the job very well.

However, when I’m doing “casual computing” at home – including playing around with music (e.g. Garage Band and videos), I definitely prefer either (a) A full computer, or (b) an iPad – so I use my larger, full iPad at home for those instances.  And, the main reason for that, is simply the software.  There is no Garage Band, iMovie, etc. available for the Nexus.

Another minor Nexus tablet disappointment – although more Microsoft’s issue, than Google – is that the Microsoft Lync IM/communicator client for Android does not work on the Google Nexus tablet.  This is apparently due to some sort of coding of the application within Google Play’s store.  Apparently the Lync software insists that it needs to run on a telephone-capable device (such as an Android phone), and since the Google Tablet isn’t considered a phone, it refuses to install from the Play store.  This is annoying because we use Lync heavily at RiteTech, and generally for Instant Messaging within the organization – not for phone calls via Lync.   Hopefully this is something that Microsoft will address soon.

The latest “rumor” that I’ve heard is that Apple’s newest smaller iPad may be announced around October 31.  I’m not sure if that’s really true (who is??), however it will definitely be worth a closer look when it comes out.  Maybe I’ll end up selling my Nexus tablet in favor of that device, depending on when it comes out, and how well Apple does with its design.  😉

Dave’s Cell Phone update: Slowly Finding my “Happy Place” and “Happy [phone holster] Case”..

So, I finally did it – made a decision to upgrade my iPhone, as chronicled in my prior Blog posting.

The winning decision was a white iPhone 4S 64GB (I would have preferred a 32GB, but they were getting impossible to find – as mentioned in my prior blog post).  As alluded to in that post, finding any of the iPhone 4S’s that were greater than 16GB has proven to be extremely difficult.

The summary is, I’ve been loving the iPhone 4S so far, now about 3 days later.  I’m in the process of trying to pick a good case for it.  My personal favorites are the Sena LeatherSkin and WalletSlim cases.  I have had 2 of these faithfully serving my iPhone 3GS’s for 2-3 years, and am currently just trying to decide which color and style I want for the new one:

http://www.senacases.com/apple/iphone-4s-cases/leatherskin/

For the curious, the specific iPhone I selected was an older 4S (it had like iOS 5.0x installed on it – and its battery had been completely discharged) – so, this made the upgrade process take even longer than normal.  [FYI – it takes about 30-40 minutes for an iPhone to charge from absolute zero to actually getting to a point where it will turn on.  I was glad that I had brought my Google Nexus Tablet to keep busy while I was waiting at Best Buy for that charging to occur. 😉

Apart from that, once I got the phone back home, I was essentially “forced” to upgrade the phone to iOS6, which I hadn’t wanted to do (again, for reasons mentioned in my prior Blog post), because my prior iPhone backup was in a “newer” format than the current iPhone’s software (5.0x) could recognize.  This is again a practice of Apple’s that chafes me – e.g. forcing people to upgrade to the newest iOS and/or not making it easier for older firmware or software revisions to be obtained.  Best practice, and just good common sense, dictates that it’s wise for technology vendors to make older versions of firmware, Operating System software, etc. available for their consumers – “just in case” – particularly when there’s no strong economic or business case to yank them away prematurely.  What value is there in making it difficult to upgrade (or obtain) the latest NON-iOS6 software update from iTunes?  It’s not like the latest iOS 5 software wasn’t stable or reliable.  If it was, say, the iOS’s version of “WindowsME”* – then I’d understand – but that wasn’t the case here.

That aside, I’ve been loving the faster speed, the awesome display and camera, and the fact that the phone has the traditional iPhone connector, as well as the audio jack up on the top of the unit, where it’s “supposed” to be.  😉

— DB

iPhone 5: Maybe it “isn’t the Droid I was looking for…” (?!)

Well, now that we’re a week into the whole hype about the iPhone 5, I’m still not much further along in my cell phone upgrade decision than I was last week.  😉

To summarize:  I currently use an iPhone 3GS.  It is, not surprisingly, a bit on the slowish side, particularly when taking pictures – and I’d like to upgrade.  I’m not currently on contract anymore, so my choices are pretty open.

At first, I thought the hardest “choice” I’d have to make was simply, “what carrier”?  AT&T’s reception had been notoriously bad in my home office since June compared to others – such as Sprint (which, in fairness, was only slightly-better than AT&T in my building) – so switching off of them had seemed to be a foregone conclusion.  However, AT&T’s reception and service seems to have gotten possibly, incrementally better.

And this begins to set the stage for my constructive criticisms of the latest iPhone launch – as well as the hype-machine behind them:

First, I have to admit that I’m not immediately, super-enthusiastically “wowed” by the new iPhone, except in a couple of categories.  It very much feels like a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of a release, for reasons I’ll get into further below.

The pluses that I see are the LTE capabilities, the display, the camera, and the speed.  All of those are, without question, superior to the iPhone 4S, and probably to many other phones as well.

The minuses, however, are not insignificant, and have caused me to have to ponder my next steps with a far greater amount of hesitation than normal.  Dislikes include the new “lightning” connector (it’s almost “too small”, in my opinion – not to mention, incompatible with pretty much everything else) – as well as the fact that the headphones jack is on the bottom.  It’s just in the entirely “wrong” place, IMHO.

The entire controversy about the Maps application is disconcerting, but doesn’t directly impact me.  I’m not a huge fan of using phones for vehicle-oriented GPS, to begin with – for many reasons – including safety, and reliability.  A phone’s GPS is fine when walking around, but in a car, it’s just too many things packed into a single device to work efficiently, compared to a Garmin or in-car navigation system.  Not to mention, you run into tons of issues with battery life, screen brightness/contrast, and/or just being over-distracted in case a call comes in, or some other event occurs on the phone.  IMHO a car navigation system – whether it’s portable, or built in – should have a single function, just like any one of the other car’s critical instruments.  Especially with the roads already choked with hyper-distracted ADD-prone drivers as it is, with regards to vehicle GPS – you want to be able to quickly glance at it – just like glancing at the speedometer, the fuel gauge, or any other critical instrument – without it doing or displaying something you’re not expecting that’s not related to the task at hand – which is, navigation.  But, vehicle safety and distracted driving is an extended rant, for another time…

However, this brings us back to the topic of the iPhone release.  Clearly, the Apple Maps application doesn’t sound like it was ready for prime-time.  Put in other words, had this non-Google Maps application been the “first” release of the iPhone, I’m sure it would have attracted a lot more negative criticism than it has.  It’s true that the Apple apologists have been out in force, explaining that they’re working “really hard” to fix the problems in the app. – but this iPhone release essentially violates what tends to be one of the cardinal, common-sense rules of new software or new technology – which is, “Never make a feature or function worse than it was in the prior release”.  Second only to the other #2 cardinal rule, which is, “Try not to take away, or start charging extra for, features or functionality that used to be provided in the prior release”.

Then, there’s the aspect about the iPhone 5 being slightly taller, or larger, than the 4.  I actually don’t consider this a “plus”, either.  The taller size means more surface area to potentially get scratched, bumped, etc. – and just a “larger” device that needs to be carried or made-room-for.  Larger isn’t always better.  For instance, I currently have a Samsung Galaxy Android phone as a secondary phone which is currently being loaned to me by a phone company that will remain nameless, which has a gorgeous display and a very nice interface (very similar to iPhone’s), but it’s simply “too big”.  I barely carry it and barely use it – even though it’s “free”, at least for the time being.

Simply put, the iPhone 4S was the “right size”.  Not too big, not too small. Take the Maps fiasco aside – which really doesn’t concern me too much, although I find it amusing – and we’re left with a small number of features I’d really enjoy having on the iPhone 5, but also several potential nuisances that I’d have to deal with, forevermore, including the Lightning connector, the audio plug being on the bottom, and the “taller than it needs to be” thing.  The audio plug part really bugs me, because I was looking forward to retiring my slowly-dying iPod with whatever the next iPhone was going to be.  (Note:  My primary iPod is an old 60GB from several years ago, whose display long ago started getting lines on it, and now it barely can play an entire song all the way through without skipping).

Another area which is difficult to understand, is why the Sprint and Verizon iPhones still cannot simultaneously send and receive data while talking on the phone.  AT&T doesn’t have this restriction.  So, here again is my “carrier dilemma”.  I’m used to being able to transmit/receive data and be on the phone simultaneously.  This may sound like a nitpicky kind of a feature, but anyone who’s had to be on a conference or tech support call (or similar) for over an hour or more, and then get deluged by a million missed notifications or emails that queued up during the call – not to mention, being not able to access Internet during the “live call” – will know how much of an impact that capability (or lack thereof) would be.  So, if I switch to Sprint (or Verizon), there’s something that I lose.  While I understand that the reasons behind this are a combination of technical capability and Apple’s decision not to add an additional radio into the iPhone5, it still presents a crummy compromise or a “satisficing”, from a technical perspective.  In other words, why hasn’t this limitation been fixed, already?

In that respect, this latest “Antenna Compromise” feels very much like the whole “Maps compromise” thing.  Clearly, decisions were made at the corporate level at Apple to dump Google maps, it would appear, perhaps prematurely – more for competitive or strategic reasons – rather than for technical or customer-satisfaction ones.  It just feels very much like the same arrogant stubbornness that Apple uses to justify not allowing Flash on its platform.  While I certainly like many things about Apple products – and I’m also not a huge fan of Flash in general – it chafes me when popular standards like Flash seem to be excluded, or singled out, for reasons that don’t seem to be sufficiently justified.  Yes, it’s true that Apple “owns” the iOS platform and everything that goes with it – including the App Store, etc. – but then again, that’s also part of the problem too, isn’t it?  This is part of the reason, in fact, why the Android platform is overtaking iOS – iOS and Apple are seen as being too closed, too proprietary, and/or too parochial.  It may indeed be true that the closed approach does mean that their products tend to run more smoothly and are better or more consistently supported – that’s not in dispute at all.  I’ve often been frequently impressed by their technical support – particularly in their retail stores.  However, the whole iOS versus Android “holy war”, to me reminds me of a modern replay of the VHS versus Beta struggle of the 80’s, in many respects.  While I’m not suggesting that Apple or iOS is going to go the way of Beta – at least anytime soon – I find it interesting that many of the drivers are the same.  You have one, possibly technically superior vendor who wants to keep everything “to themselves” – versus another, who is more willing to license out their technology to others – particularly, to equipment manufacturers – who will continue to refine the overall platform, offer more interesting products and options, etc…

What this all means is that what originally was going to be a “slam-dunk” upgrade from someone like me – who’s technically inclined, not currently in contract, and you would expect to be a prime prospect for an upgrade – now is hesitating and considering other options.  While I doubt I’d go the Android route for my primary phone – stranger things have happened – particularly, if I find a Droid phone that I really like, that’s the right “size and shape” for me.

Last but not least, the final thing that I find interesting about the current iPhone 5 release, is how quickly and quietly Apple has decided to sunset the other iPhone 4S models with the higher storage sizes – e.g. the 32GB and 64GB models.  These are all now disappearing from retailers faster than the iPhone 5’s themselves are.

So, if I want to get a new iPhone 4S 32GB or 64GB – which may end up, ultimately, being the route that I take – I suppose I better hurry up and make up my mind, already.  😉

— DB

Dave’s Tablet PC “Skepticism,Confessions, & First Nexus 7 Impressions”

Okay, I have a confession to make about tablets.  Actually, several:

First, I was originally very skeptical of the entire concept of tablet computers.  I will confess that I still remained skeptical, even after I had the good fortune of winning an older iPad about a year and a half ago.  It was right around the time that the iPad2  had just been released, and while I was still glad to have won the iPad, I was still very skeptical as to its value.  To me, why would I bother with something “less” than a full laptop computer?  I promptly gave my iPad to my wife, who immediately embraced it, and loved it – albeit, admittedly, mainly for playing games on it – but she still loved it.

Not too long after this, something else fairly improbable happened.  I won another iPad (yes, once again an original iPad).  This time, I did not give it to my wife – or to anyone else.  I briefly considered selling it, but then decided to give it a try – figuring, in the worst case, I could always sell it “used”, and still come out “ahead”.  After all, it was free, right?

Well, there were a couple of things that quickly changed my thinking about tablets in general.  The first was, around this time, we got a cellular MiFi hotspot.  This allowed the iPads (which were WiFi-only) to have portable, cellular Internet service.  The other one was remote control software (I won’t specify the exact name for security reasons).  The combination of these two items was a real game-changer.  What this now meant is that for a quick trip which normally may have involved taking a full laptop – e.g. “Just in case” some sort of IT system “blew up” that might require signing in remotely – these kinds of tasks could now be handled by the iPad.  While it’s true that the iPad, nor any other tablet device, are probably never going to fully displace a full laptop (in my opinion) for every single task – particularly for creating new content, like documents, web design, etc. – it certainly can help for tasks that are more of “consumption” of content – such as browsing web pages, reading and/or short responses to e-mails, etc..

In other words, “Boy was I wrong” about tablets.  ;-).  So, I’ll now admit that I’ve finally purchased my first tablet (as opposed to winning older iPads over a year ago), and it’s a Google Nexus 7.  Believe it or not, they have a few of them at Walmart, which, not normally being a place I go to very frequently (Target is more my style), kind of surprised me.  But, this meant that I could actually purchase one in advance, and have it waiting for me in the pick-up desk.

I like the Nexus 7 a lot more than the iPad in terms of its size and shape – smaller and lighter really work for me.  But I have to confess, I still like Apple’s iOS overall, a lot better than Android OS – in terms of its design and usability.  What I don’t like about iOS is how it’s such a “closed system”… although, I have to say, the quality of the iOS applications tends to be better (in many cases) than the Android ones.  However, there’s many more to choose from with Android.  And, with recent rumors that Apple may be releasing a “smaller iPad” soon – that could potentially  be the “ideal tablet device” (possibly) that I’ve been looking for…

The one big disappointment I’ve had about the Nexus 7, is that for some reason, Microsoft Lync IM software does not run on it.  While that’s not Google’s fault directly (it’s supposedly because of how the Lync client was written), it’s still annoying that the program doesn’t run on it, while it does run on Android phones.  A lesser disappointment is that the Home screen on the Google Nexus does not “auto-rotate” when tilting the device – although there is a third party application which allows this- but I find it odd that such an add-on is necessary.  (it’s similarly odd that the behavior has to be turned on, explicitly, in the Settings menu for other applications).  <shrug>.

Summed up – iOS definitely wins praise from me for elegance of design and just looking and working “great”.  However, its closed-off, isolationist, “walled garden” approach is a bit of a downer.  iOS versus Android very much reminds me of the VHS versus Beta wars of the 1980′s for VCR’s – actually, reminding me more so of that battle, than the more stereotypical “PC versus Mac”argument  – for many reasons, which I’ll probably write a separate article about in the future.  However, if you’ve read some of my other recent posts, you’ll note I’ve been going through a similar struggle with my whole “iPhone versus Android phone” dilemma lately.  That issue should become more clear after next Wednesday, when Apple is expected to announce information about the iPhone5.

In the meantime … happy tablet computing for all.  It’s amazing to see how far things have come with tablets and cell phones since the days of the PalmPilot PDA (my first tablet-like device) and the Apple Newton (I never had one, but knew 1-2 colleagues who did, back in the day).

– DB

iPhone wars: Sprint vs. AT&T; Carrier & Cell Phone Pro’s & Con’s

We recently made some changes to some of our cellular service here at RiteTech in tandem with a recent move, and I wanted to share some of our observations and “house secrets” in terms of how we help evaluate (or recommend) cellular companies or carriers.

First, some background.  Over the years, we’ve probably had pretty much every major US cellular carrier at one time or another, with the exception of Verizon.  That includes T-Mobile, AT&T, Nextel (before the merger), Cellular One (also Pre-Merger), etc, and now Sprint (post-merger) and AT&T.  We’ve also used CBeyond, who uses the Sprint network, but provides their own technical support and billing.

That said, it is certainly true that there’s no perfect carrier, and that’s an “eternal truth”.  Each one will have different pro’s and con’s.

We were on AT&T for ages – and on iPhone 3GS’s in particular – for a number of reasons, although our relationship with AT&T was never a perfect one, nor is it today.  In fact, when I first bought my current iPhone 3GS about 3 years ago, I actually returned it within 30 days, because AT&T was having so many problems in the Washington, DC area, that I frequently missed e-mails, etc..  I never encountered that problem in other areas that I traveled with AT&T (e.g. Charlotte, NC, Florida, etc.), however with DC as the primary location, that became a big issue.  In any case, the Windows Phone that I switched to after the “30 day iPhone” incident was, unfortunately, practically unusable from a design standpoint.  This was one of the older versions of Windows phone – and before Android was really as refined, or with as many choices as now.  Not to be meanspirited to Microsoft, but that release of Windows phone was really, really, bad.  I ended up returning that phone within 3 days, and went back to the iPhone 3GS, although this time I had been shown by an AT&T rep about the various “workarounds” for the DC area’s chronically overloaded data network – such as, disabling 3G mode if needed.

Fast-forward to about 2-3 months ago.  Our old house and office never had great AT&T reception to begin with – calls would frequently go straight to voicemail, and texts would get delayed, etc..  However, this got even more problematic after our move this summer.  So, with both iPhones now off of contract, we decided to switch one of them to Sprint to try it out – leaving the other one still on AT&T, for the time being.

The Sprint phone, although not perfect, definitely has better reception in our new place than AT&T does – which is a big deal, of course.  In particular, we “stress-tested” calling the phone multiple times, and every time, the call went through with Sprint – whereas with AT&T, about 30-50% of the time, the calls went straight to voicemail, or texts got delayed – despite seeing 1-3 bars on the AT&T iPhone.  Not exactly the track record you want to have at one of the places where you spend the most time.  We also tried Verizon (on a prepaid phone) just to see if their signal was any better than AT&T – and it really wasn’t – we just must live in a really solid, very well shielded or insulated building.

One of the differences, however, is that AT&T does allow iPhones to be on the phone simultaneously for a voice call(s), while also simultaneously transmitting data – such as e-mail, Internet traffic or browsing, etc..  For instance, you cannot send or receive email (or pull up web pages, etc.) *AND* talk on the Sprint iPhone phone simultaneously.  I believe the Verizon iPhone may have a similar limitation.  This is part of the reason I’ve held off on switching my AT&T iPhone – because I do use the phone heavily, and am frequently on it.  In addition, Sprint doesn’t have a concept of “rollover minutes” – whereas AT&T does.

A pleasant Sprint discovery, however, is that you can TEXT and TALK simultaneously on the Sprint iPhone.  So, it’s not impossible to send an urgent message to a Sprint iPhone user who may happen to be on a long conference call or technical support discussion – you just need to ensure that you send it as a text message, not an email or otherwise.  In addition, every interaction we’ve had with Sprint has been very friendly, competent, and professional – I cannot, unfortunately, honestly say the same of AT&T – who sometimes “offshores” their customer care and technical support during peak call volumes.  They seem to suffer the same challenges of many larger organizations, too, which is just that they’re so large, it’s difficult to get consistent, competent, personalized service.  With Sprint (as well as CBeyond), the level of care has been much better and more personal – and part of that is probably because they’re both smaller companies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of offering better customer service quality.

Over the next month or two, I hope to finalize my decision of whatever my “next gen” cell phone is going to be.  I’m still using my extremely antiquated iPhone 3GS on AT&T as my “primary” phone, despite the reception issues at our home, however I’ve been trying out a couple of Android phones informally/temporarily on a separate carrier and phone number in the meantime – one’s an hTC Evo, and the other is a Samsung Galaxy.  My hope is to have a final decision by around the time that the new iPhone is rumored to be announced, etc..  I did take a brief look at Windows Phone, but wasn’t too terribly enthused – at least, not yet – but I’ll probably take a closer look at it again before I make my “final” decision…

Lastly, I wanted to share what was, I think, the most clever way I’ve heard of to help determine the best “carrier” who has reception at your home (or any other location, for that matter).  A former colleague of mine had a similar situation (moved into a new home), so he did something very pratical – he had a housewarming party, and while that was going on, asked to see a few of his guests’ cell phones to see how their reception worked in the new home.  He used that information to help him determine which carrier he should look at.  Bravo!  Very smart…

In a future post, I’ll further describe how the cell phone decision ends up going…

— DB

Responsive Web Design – Day 2: Oh Snap!

On day two of my responsive web design Odyssey, I was able to make some progress!  I had previously downloaded the Skeleton CSS framework because it was small and compatible with IE7.  I started by stripping out all the styles and began with just the media query size differentiators.  I kept the standard body styles, such as 0 margins, borders and padding.

Skeleton, like most response frameworks, works with a grid system with a set number of columns.  This is still to advanced for me, so I focused on just getting the header to display the way I wanted it to, which I was not able to accomplish using Skeleton as is.

The RiteTech web site header is a solid black strip flush against the top of the browser.  To the left is our logo and to the right is our phone number.  Since there is a bit of black space on 960 screens, I figured the format would also work well for screens 768 and higher (iPad held portrait) and up.

The code for this was pretty straight-forward:
<div>
        <div>
            <div><img src=”/img/logo.gif” /></div>
            <div>
                <p>Tel. (703) 561-0607 * FAX (703) 561-0608</p>
                <p>New Sales/Consulting:  Dial x. 101</p>
            </div>
        </div>
    </div>

.container { position: relative; width: 960px; margin: 0 auto; padding: 0;}
.header {background: #000; height:83px;}
.header .logo {background: #000; float:left; height:83px;}
.header .tagline {background: #000; float:right; text-align:center; padding-right:10px; padding-top:10px;}
.taglineMain {font-size:1.3em; color:#FC0;}
.taglineSub {font-size:1.2em; color:#fff;}

The container is 960 pixels wide with no margins or padding.  The header background is black and 83px (the height of my logo) high.  I probably have some redundant styles in there, but this is a work in progress.  The tagline floats to the right, and I added some padding to the top and right so it isn’t flush against the browser.

To reduce the size for 768 and higher browsers, all I had to do was change the width of the container:

  @media only screen and (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 959px) {
        .container {width: 768px;}        
    }

The final size I played with was 480 and up, which would require the logo and tagline to be stacked.  I also decided to add a border between the two blocks so properly delineate the logo.

This is where I had to start playing with the styles a bit more:

@media only screen and (max-width: 767px) {
        .container {width: 460px;}
        .header {display:inline;}
        .header .logo {float:none;}
        .header .tagline {float:none; height:auto; border-top: 1px solid #C57227; padding-right:0px; padding-top:0px;}   
    }

The container size has been reduced, naturally.  I also removed the float for the logo and tagline blocks.  While that made them stack, the text beneath was running up into my tagline block.  To get rid of that, I had to make the header display as inline.  Still trying to gain a better understanding of that, but it did work.

I also made some other display changes to the tagline, like adding an orange top border and removing the padding from the top and right, since they are no longer needed.

As I continue with this project, I will be posting full page files and more code examples of my website.

I’m very excited!

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