The Hills Are Greener: The Sexy But Un-Ergonomic Android

The Hills Are Greener: The Sexy But Un-Ergonomic Android

Oct 8, 2012

Ever since I bought the Galaxy S III, at a behemoth 4.8 inches of screen size, I find that there is one chief drawback: my iPod touch 4th generation is practically unusable. It’s tiny by comparison! Everything feels so cramped at that screen size, the one that was touted for its one-handed usage, and recently got stretched out to 16:9 while keeping the same width. This width is praised by Apple acolytes for its ergonomic advantages, especially while using an iPhone or iPod touch one-handed.

Now let me say that it is a fair point. I know the S3 is harder to type on if I’m standing on the bus or train, clutching a pole for balance with one hand and typing out a tweet with the right. But that’s a minority of the time I spend with my phone; I like having the larger screen size for when I’m using it two-handed. When I’m watching video on it, I like being able to see more of it than on the iOS screen. Games play a lot better on that screen size, and virtual controls feel better. It is definitely a trade-off: I would rather my experience be better when I have full access to it than when I only have partial access to it. Of course, the fact that I work from home and don’t have to travel often makes my situation somewhat biased, but plenty of people drive to work, or maybe even take uncrowded public transportation routes and find they don’t need the one-handedness of a phone as much.

This is thanks to the fact that our phones have become more than just phones, they’ve become multimedia devices, and the larger screen is more conducive to that. Plus, it makes the phones easier to sell, really. Who wants the tiny phone when they can have the big phone?

But I do fear that there will exist a trade-off in these phones, where someone who wants flagship power but also something ergonomical will not find a good choice on Android. Motorola’s launching the RAZR M, a 4.3" phone that has little-to-no bezel, but it does fall short of the flagship RAZR phones in resolution, at 960×540. While time is proving the mid-range devices to be better than ever, on Android there exists a non-choice: either enjoy a giant phone or get one that’s not top-of-the-line. iPhone exists in that crosshair, and I wonder if there are any potential Android users going to iPhone because of that.

Perhaps the solution would be for a manufacturer like Samsung to release the next Galaxy S in differently-sized flavors: a standard size, a smaller one-handed-friendly size, and humongous-sized. That last may be unlikely with the Galaxy Note 2 being released separately, and with rumors that the Galaxy S IV might be a 5" phone, then fans of smaller phones may be left waiting for something never coming, just out of their grasp.

Meanwhile, in the world of iPod touch owners like myself, with device sizes having drastically increased in the past two years since the 4th generation model was released, with only a moderate hardware boost and taller/wider screen in the 5th generation, I ask if it’s truly worth it. Yeah, I’ll probably still get it, even if it is puny.

The Hills Are Greener: Wifi Devices? Why Not?

The Hills Are Greener: Wifi Devices? Why Not?

Apr 16, 2012

So I’ve been considering something bold recently – ditching my cell phone. For someone who spends a lot of time writing about cell phones and the apps on them, this sounds ludicrous, but hear me out. I mostly use data services. I already use Google Voice for text services along with iMessage on iOS to some people. For phone calls, $3/month for unlimited US/Canada Skype outgoing calls and $30/year for a Skype number (discount with that unlimited calling subscription!) sounds like a good replacement for phone service. I’m no stranger to carrying multiple devices around, so why not just carry a mobile hotspot and a wifi device around, and use that instead of a phone?

Well, two reasons. One is that the pocket wifi device is all but dead. The other is that phone networks are still the heart of calling.

So, what about pocket wifi devices, especially something like the iPod touch? Apple in particular doesn’t seem to care much for the iPod touch. It’s not that it isn’t part of their strategy – it’s designed to draw people to the iPhone by giving them App Store and iTunes access from a device without needing a data plan. While it’s great for kids without phones and/or data plans, and this may be their focus, they haven’t updated the hardware since 2010, when it was underpowered compared to the iPhone, having 256 MB of RAM compared to the iPhone 4’s 512 MB.

But for people who use it as a secondary device – such as Android owners who still want a connection to iOS – the rise of tablets may be preventing this growth from taking root. After all, if a device is going to be secondary, only carried around at particular times, why not have it be a device with a huge screen? Like an iPad? The iPad has sold 39.849 million units entering this past fiscal quarter, and that doesn’t include the 3 million iPad 3rd generation units sold when that device launched, along with any other sales in the first 3 months of 2011.

This may be why the Android iPod touch device never really took off. After all, why not have a 7 or 10″ screen instead of a pocket-size one? Samsung has tried selling pocket-sized media players with the Galaxy Player series, and Archos has released Android-powered media players, but neither has really taken off, especially considering that a 7″ tablet can be had for $199.

This may be part of why Google Play is struggling, though: there is no cheap way for a power user to get in to Google Play with a capable device yet, and the cheap ways in to Android are promoting other marketplaces. Maybe that’s the key to their success where Google is floundering. Maybe a rise of a well-promoted, capable iPod touch counterpart would help a lot. Maybe even market it with texting capabilities, really appeal to that youth crowd. Of course, considering that cell phones, which cost a lot of money out-of-contract, are selling for a lot more than what wifi-only devices are doing.

It may not make sense for the bottom line to sell these devices for Google or any of the hardware manufacturers. Apple might not make much profit off of the low-end iPod touch, but they make up for it in the fact that they expand out their ecosystem. Google doesn’t manufacture hardware themselves so they can’t do it, and they appear to be more interested in the tablet market. The hardware manufacturers are all in it for profiting off of the hardware alone – why sell devices just to break even (possibly even at a loss) just to expand out the ecosystem for someone else’s OS? It makes no sense for them.

The other reason may be that the pocket wifi device is just inconvenient as a phone replacement. First, these wifi devices are few and far between, and are still inferior hardware – the Galaxy Player devices are technically inferior to the Galaxy S2, for example. They practically require headsets to use because of their hardware design. Most importantly, emergency calling services still require an actual phone connection.

Tablets with cellular network access hypothetically can be used as phones, such as this Galaxy Tab with GSM voice capability – but this capability is disabled because the carriers are likely thinking why sell one device with network access when it’s possible to sell a phone and a tablet with data plans? It’s also just inconvenient, especially for men who may find it unacceptable, both socially and practically, to be carrying a bag around with a 7-10 inch device that is their lifeline to the digital world with them constantly. Bluetooth headsets might help.

Now, since voice calling is possible over LTE, and many hotspots use 3G as a fallback, it could be possible to use that LTE hotspot, or maybe even a device connected to an LTE hotspot (possibly over Bluetooth) for voice calls, at least on a theoretical level. Heck, maybe even just build in rudimentary voice or text services into the hotspots, acting as dumbphones with wifi routers built in.

The problem is that the carriers have no interest in this. They want to sell phones where they can profit off of extended service agreements by offering subsidies, along with selling voice and messaging plans. Because if they ever get it going over one pipe, then they may just have difficulty selling those separate plans. So they have no interest in evolution.

That’s what intrigues me about trying to break free of phone plans, though. I have no interest in subsidizing the continued hold that the carriers have on the US market as far as their regressive policies go. They sell a product that they actively dissuade their users from using. If I can find a way to essentially beat them, to say “I will pay for your data plans, but not for everything else you’re trying to screw me on” then I will. It just might not be all that convenient, which is the problem. No one’s making it easier.