Technology rocks, just don’t let it roll over you

20140617_111045_754_xA recent family vacation helped prove once again that modern technology rocks, but if you’re not careful, it can roll over you.

Aside from my Google Glass developing the dreaded foil bubble design flaw  during the trip, things went nearly without a hitch. Unfortunately, the one hitch I had could have been a major problem. To be fair, modern technology helped it from becoming one. OK, now I’m starting to write in circles, so let’s just get to it using the old format of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jessi, the kids and I headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week with four mobile phones and Google Glass in hand, plus a Kindle Touch, a Kindle Fire and a GoPro camera. We took no laptops or iPads, opting for the smaller screens and less chance for potential distractions. I knew cellular service on the island we were headed to would be spotty at best, but we did have WiFi in the house we rented.

20140619_080739_725_xThe Good

Google Glass — until it broke — worked great as a camera, video camera and travel aid.

The mobile phones (an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S and Motorola Droid Maxx) all performed admirably. They served as phones, messaging and email units, travel aids (via a Delta Airlines app and Google Maps) and cooking timers, as well as cameras, gaming devices, news readers and social media conduits. The ability to take pictures, including panoramas and photospheres (Google Camera on the Maxx) is becoming increasingly easy and impressive. The fact that the list above is as long as it is while talking about a single device you can hold in the palm of your hand or put in your pocket is still astounding to me.

The Delta app has proven more useful over time and if you fly with Delta, you should use their app. You can learn about your current flight’s status, check seating locations, carry a digital version of your boarding pass and even track your checked bags to make sure they’re headed to the same vacation spot you are.

The Kindle Touch served as Jessi’s book reader for the trip, from the plane to the beach — always ready due to it stellar battery life and always readable thanks to its e-ink technology and anti-glare screen. Its small size made it portable and easy no matter where she went.

The Kindle Fire served as my book reader, as well as video player so I could catch up on a TV show I’ve started streaming through Amazon Prime, as well as a magazine reader and a gaming device. (On a side note, did you know Prime members can download TV episodes to store on your device to watch when WiFi isn’t available? I didn’t — but I’m glad I learned about it before my 5 hours of flight time one way!) One of the fondest memories I think all four of us will have is the laughs we shared while playing The Game of Life on my Kindle Fire around the kitchen table for several nights.

20140620_100914_201The GoPro camera was a loaner from my brother-in-law and I’m glad we had it to capture some underwater pictures and videos to add to our collection of memories. Because he also has the WiFi attachment for his 2nd version GoPro, it meant we could watch the videos each night by streaming them to an app on my phone. Besides again causing me to stare in wonder at how technology has changed and improved, it also meant we could critique our video shoots before we headed out snorkeling again so we knew how to adjust our shooting techniques.

The Bad

There are not a lot of items to list in the bad category. Certainly, traveling with devices means having to take care of them, and we made sure everyone had solid cases protecting their mobile phones. Battery drain is always a concern, except on the Droid Maxx, but since we turned off the cellular and data services during the day, the phones all performed well as cameras without giving us much worry about battery life.

When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you must be careful not to suddenly trigger a cell tower on the British Virgin Islands. The signal is better, but also a lot more expensive!

Of course, having technology with you means having the world with you, which in some ways is an unfortunate interference when you’re on vacation. But that’s not really the fault of the technology, but rather of our inability as human beings to let go of the daily rat race and just enjoy wandering the maze slowly while seeking the cheese.

The Ugly

For some reason, when you return to the U.S. mainland from the U.S. Virgin Islands, you need to go through U.S. Customs. This happens at the airport in St. Thomas, which means it’s more laid back than say the Customs unit in Atlanta. But it also means you are in a building where your cellular signal is weak at best.

While still at our rental house, I used the Delta app to check in all four passengers and load boarding passes onto my phone via the WiFi connection — or so I thought. Technically, you’re just loading the passes into the app, not downloading them to your phone. What this means is that you need a WiFi or cellular connection while opening the app to use it if you want to see your boarding passes. Unfortunately, this was not going to happen for me in the U.S. Customs area of the airport in St. Thomas!

The customs officer was extremely friendly and forgiving of the technology snafu. He let Jessi and the kids wait to the side with all of our luggage while I went back outside to try to find a signal and open our boarding passes. He even gave me permission to bypass the long line and come right back to him once I had our boarding passes.

IMG_20140624_070017477_HDROutside, the signal was still weak and the app refused to sign me in and grant me access to our boarding passes. So, after a couple of attempts, I went to find paper boarding passes. Ironically, it was technology that again made things easy even though it was technology that made things more difficult to begin with. Delta has self-serve kiosks at the St. Thomas airport. I just had to log into one of them and since I had already checked us in, it simply asked if I wanted to reprint our boarding passes. I did and within minutes we were through Customs and headed to the security checkpoints, paper boarding passes flapping in our hands. (Just one more reason you never wait until the last minute to try to catch your flight!)

I’ve used the electronic boarding passes before without any issues, but it has always been in areas with strong cellular service. This was the first time I had tried going sans paper, and on the way down, the system worked flawlessly. I’m nearly certain it will again when I travel next week, so I’ll try going all-digital again, especially since I know the Delta kiosks have my back in case of failure. (Also note the update I posted below!)

Sharing the memories

As I wrote earlier, I think technology rocks. Sure, there are flaws and there are times when it can be maddening, but most of the time it’s beneficial and it still makes me shake my head in wonder at how far things have come.

Just last night I used technology again to help share our memories. Using Google Plus, I created an event and then invited Jessi and the kids. We now can each upload our photos from the trip to this event, granting access to all four of us to see the trip from different perspectives. It also eliminates the need for, “Hey, remember that picture you took of X? Can you email it to me?” I could, but that’s sooo 2012.

IMG_20140618_145738124_HDR

 

UPDATE: Here’s an idea to address the issue of having a boarding pass on your phone but no cell phone signal to open the app and view the pass. When you first load the boarding pass after checking in (which means you had a signal at that point), take a screen shot on your phone. That way, you’ll have a usable facsimile of your boarding pass available in your phone’s camera roll whether you have a network signal or not!

Advertisements

A device is worth more than the sum of its apps

hatersI generally don’t give haters my attention, because you can’t help someone who refuses to learn and relies on knee-jerk emotional reactions to things instead of becoming educated and reaching an informed conclusion. But sometimes I’m reminded of a phrase I heard once and latched onto:

“I blog because not only do I have an opinion, I cannot keep it to myself.”

The haters and beraters attacking Google Glass and its users seem to be growing in number and intensity, at least according to the sensationalistic press that can’t wait to breathlessly tear down that which they don’t understand.

But the same media that is looking to report on the problems associated with Glass also tend stick with the notion that Google’s wearable computer is defined by its apps, which isn’t something they do with other tech devices.

Headline after headline will tout that “Google Glass allows wearers to X…” or “Google Glass does Y.” The thing is, often the most sensationalistic headlines are grossly inaccurate because the feature they are reporting on isn’t inherent to Glass but rather is provided by an app created by a third-party developer.

I don’t recall seeing any headlines about iPhones doing something or the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch doing something else based solely on a third-party app that was written by someone not associated with or approved by the manufacturer. galaxy-gear--samsung-smartwatch-review-camera-picture-540x334In fact, they even tend to ignore facts about the devices themselves, such as the Gear having a camera. (That means people can clandestinely shoot pictures while appearing to check the time on their wrist. How many bars and restaurants have you heard about banning Gear?)

Google Glass is a platform with amazing potential. It is exciting to watch the Google Glass community discussions on Google Plus as people chat about what they envision wearable technology like Glass being able to help us do in the future, and sometimes in the very near future. Entrepreneurial app developers are finding new ways to entertain, aid and support Glass owners. Sometimes they hit the mark, sometimes they come up with something silly, and sometimes they create an app that is just pointless. It’s the same thing that happens with Android developers and iOS developers, although that tends to happen less with iOS due to Apple’s near-maniacal control over their universe.

So the next time you see a story lambasting Google and its Glass users for doing something outrageous or creepy, consider whether it’s the device, the user or the app that should be the focus of the article. Two of the apps that have received a lot of over-the-top news coverage include the ones that let users record their sexual encounters and another that provides information to the wearer based on facial recognition. (Having just typed those two descriptions in the same sentence makes me wonder if a new app – Google Beer Goggles – might help avoid some awkward morning-after guessing games with the person you met at the bar last night and suddenly found yourself waking up next to this morning. But I digress.)

Is the sex video app pointless and stupid? Sure. Is it Google Glass’ fault? No, because it’s a third-party app that has to be side-loaded to Glass, something many users don’t even have the knowledge or guts to do with their very expensive new tech device. So, the headlines really should have been, “Black market app for Google Glass lets you record sexual encounters.” Or, regarding the facial recognition app, we should have seen “Google Glass hackers create app to capitalize on facial recognition.”

After all, I don’t recall seeing news alerts about “Motorola phones have a porn problem.” But that’s because the media correctly reported, “Does Twitter’s Vine have a porn problem?”

illegals appAnd I don’t remember seeing headlines that read, “Want to practice your illegal alien smuggling skills? Get an iPhone.” That’s because the media correctly reported it as, “Want to practice your illegal alien smuggling skills? There’s an app for that.” 

Google Glass is a piece of hardware with built-in software and the ability to add new functionality through applications. The services those applications provide can change the use, but they do not change the nature of Glass being nothing more than a machine.

How we as humans adapt and use that machine is important, but it often can be the fault of the user practicing poor judgment or tapping into a third-party app if something goes awry. A device is worth more than the sum of its apps and should not be judged by them, no matter how stellar or stupid they might be.

Google Glass to the Maxx

I’ve been an iPhone fan for several years now, having switched after my old R2D2-themed Android phone started misbehaving regularly. I’ve appreciated the simplicity of Apple’s operating systems and how their hardware and software “just works.” (That’s why I have, and will probably always have, Macs as my personal computers.)

MaxxBut then I got Glass. And now I have an Android phone — the Droid Maxx to be precise.

The MyGlass app is available for Android and iPhone, and recent updates to MyGlass made the Google Glass experience on an iPhone almost as good as with an Android phone. Almost good enough that it’s not worth switching from an iPhone to a Droid if it’s going to cost you a lot of money.

But as fate would have it, my daughter’s mobile phone is dying and we needed to figure out what to do for her next one. So I researched options and discovered a way to shift phones around on our account by adding a couple of new ones to the stable. Thanks to a couple of our family’s older phones being out of contract and eligible for an upgrade, plus Verizon Wireless’ current trade-in offer, three out of four of us are ending up with new phones and it will cost me very little cash to make it happen.

Since the opportunity presented itself, I decided I would research Android phones to see what’s been going on since that long time ago in a cellular galaxy far, far away when I carried R2D2 in my pocket. Things have changed dramatically and the operating system on my new phone is powerful, clean and fast. (The Maxx uses KitKat 4.4 if anyone is wondering.)

I still believe iOS is best for uninitiated techies or people who just want stuff to be simple and work with minimal fuss. But for those who like to customize their system and make it organized the way they want it, then Android is still the way to go. After showing my wife everything my new phone could do and how I had it set up, she said, “there’s just too much going on there” and reached for her iPhone like she would reach for the hand of a trusted friend. (For the record, she’s getting a nearly new iPhone 5S out of my phone-swapping scheme.)

myglassUnless and until Google makes the MyGlass app for the iPhone identical to the app on Android, though, I’m going to stick with taking Google Glass to the Maxx. Besides the Google universe being seamlessly integrated into the Droids instead of just laid on top like on the iPhones, there are three key things I’ve discovered so far that make the whole experience more powerful for Glass users:

  1. I can now send and receive text messages via Glass. I’ve used Hangouts and really liked the functionality, but in my job I receive a lot of text messages and being able to deal with them via Glass with verbal commands and replies is an awesome feature.
  2. Tethering is seamless on the Maxx, whereas I had to use the Personal Hotspot feature on my iPhone. It worked, but it seemed to drain the battery on my phone and Glass faster than the new setup does. Plus, it’s one more layer of connectivity to be wonky from time to time.
  3. Navigation just happens, fast and easy. With the iPhone, I had to be sure the MyGlass app was open before asking Glass for directions. And I mean open. It was never enough to have the app running on the iPhone. I often had to be sure the app was front and center and the phone wasn’t sleeping or the connection couldn’t be established to make the initial directions appear. After that, the app would occasionally forget that it was needed for turn-by-turn directions and Glass navigation became all about navigating the iPhone and not the road ahead.

There may be more features I discover as I spend more time with this new configuration, and I’ll update the blog with them if I find some. I’ve only had the phone a few days and I’m still adapting. One of the key things Motorola (“A Google Company” until last week) touts about the Maxx is its superb battery life. I must say that in the first full day of heavy use it performed wonderfully. I’ll have to see if that continues, but so far, so good.

Making the jump from operating system to operating system on a phone is a bit like traveling to the same planet in an alternate universe: everything is there, and you can see many similarities, but something is definitely awry.

It’s helpful that I’ve owned Android phones before and that I have a Kindle Fire HD, which has a bastardized Android operating system with similar operational features to my new phone. At some point, I’ll probably write a post on KitKat 4.4 vs. iOS 7, but that topic may have already over-saturated the blogging world and most people are diehard one way or the other, regardless of what I write.

My point is that making the leap from iPhone to Android may not be for everyone, even if they do use Glass. And, eventually, I think the MyGlass app for iPhone will improve.

But for now, I saw an opportunity and I seized it. And what’s that old latin saying? “Carpe Droidem,” or something.

Mobile phones are doomed

OK, I admit it. That headline is all about link bait, but what tech journal or blog isn’t based on that most of the time these days? I jest, because I hate that kind of writing.

As a Google Glass Explorer, however, I have to endure my share of “they are doomed” types of blog posts, news articles and comments on social media networks.

The fact that the devices are only available to very early adopters (“Explorers”) should key everyone in that these aren’t yet ready for mainstream use. There is no surprise there, since a lot of new technology goes through the prototype, developer, alpha and beta stages before people can get their hands on it.

One of the biggest problems for Google Glass is that society has become so accustomed to instant gratification that allowing a concept to develop naturally is seen as a failure.

m_40052_1Too often, I see people wanting to compare Google Glass to modern-day mobile phones. But that is a ridiculous notion. When mobile phones first came out, they were bulky, expensive to buy and use, and seen initially as status symbols for elitists. I remember folks not understanding the need to have a phone with you all the time. I was a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and the paper I worked at had one mobile phone. It was a bag phone that you slung over your shoulder on the way out the door after checking it out from the editor’s desk. These days, reporters are filing stories with audio, pictures and video straight from their mobile phones.

Later, when they became mainstream, mobile phones changed again, turning into computing devices that could allow us to get email on the go — a feature about which I heard people say, “Why would we want that?!” and “Those keyboards are so tiny, no one will ever use them for serious business work.” I do the majority of my work on my mobile phone and tablets these days, so put another chalk mark in the “Wrong!” column for those folks.

My headline on this post, while sensationalistic, does have a point. I believe mobile phones are doomed — in the long run. The landline phone is becoming a dinosaur as more and more people abandon them in their homes and stick with just their mobile phones. Eventually, as wearable computing devices like Glass and smart watches evolve, I suspect they will replace mobile phones. Imagine what will happen to the mobile phone industry when developers find a way to supply cell tower, WiFi and Internet connections directly to a watch or glasses instead of via a mobile phone connection. I can envision an era when people might say, “When I was young, we had to carry phones around in our hands. Kids today don’t know how good they have it.”

I have no idea how long it will take, but it will happen. The naysayers who think Google Glass is useless because it doesn’t have enough apps seem to forget that iPhones and Android phones didn’t have hundreds of thousands of apps available their first year. Those developed over time as smart, creative people found new ways to use mobile phones with an app that many others could not have initially imagined but that they now take for granted.

180px-IPhone_2G_PSD_Mock

iPhone 1

In 2007, Apple Computer launched the iPhone, the company’s first ever smartphone. When the device launched, the device did not provide any support for third-party software: Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs believed that web applications served over the internet could provide adequate functionality required for most users. (Wikipedia)

Haters are going to hate. The uniformed and uninitiated will fear that which they do not understand. But none of that should stop explorers (of all kinds, not just Google Glass Explorers) from boldly advancing. If we never had anyone say “There should be an app for that,” we would not find our mobile phones as powerful or useful as they are today.

I hope those people always keep dreaming.

And to the folks who insist on declaring something useless or doomed because it has not had time to develop properly, please accept that there are some extraordinary things going on with or without your support. But your noise is distracting the people who are going to make a difference in this world and they would really appreciate a little quiet from your corner of the Internet.

Oh yeah, and the Internet was never going to amount to anything either, remember?

800px-First_Web_Server

This NeXT workstation (a NeXTcube) was used by Tim Berners-Lee as the first Web server on the World Wide Web. It is shown here as displayed in 2005 at Microcosm, the public science museum at CERN (where Berners-Lee was working in 1991 when he invented the Web). (Wikipedia)