October 28, 2010

Wireless Priorities

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 5:52 pm

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while.

For many years I’ve been a member of Howard Forums, where totally dorky people go to talk about cell phones. I’ve been a member since 2003, at which time I was struggling with a T68i on AT&T, and about to switch to Verizon when cell number portability was introduced.

Even back then, one of my primary concerns was tethering. The T68i was one of the first phones that could tether, via bluetooth or infrared (remember infrared?). At the time I wasn’t as concerned with tethering my laptop as I was with tethering my PDA (remember PDAs?). Back in the day, smartphones were either clunky, poor in features, or both. If you wanted a really good PDA you had to get its internet from the outside. So it was a big deal that the T68i could tether pretty easily (easily being a very relative term). Verizon, of course, didn’t want anybody tethering, sharing, communicating or anything else, because they hadn’t figured out how to monetize it, so their phones did nothing. Except make calls, which was something AT&T’s phones couldn’t do, at least not in NYC. People make fun of AT&T in NYC now, but in truth what we have now is a huge step up from when you could press your head against a window and still not be able to get a call out.

A brief aside: on the plane to California I finished listening to one of my favorite podcasts: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (iTunes link), and his 4-part series on the Eastern Front of WWII. In it he remarks that the battle between Germany and Russia (or more specifically between Hitler and Stalin) was not a good-guy-vs.-bad-guy fight, but bad-guy-vs.-bad-guy. As I was about to contrast the policies of AT&T and Verizon above, I was initially going to say matter-of-factly that Verizon locked down their phones because they’re evil, which in that context seemed to imply that AT&T was or is not. This is not the case. They are both evil, just in different ways at different times. Being a Verizon or AT&T customer does not put you on the right or wrong side of a battle. Like the Russian and German civilians, you will be screwed no matter which side you’re on or who is dominating the other at the moment. So never take my bashing of one carrier as an endorsement of the other.

Anyway, I don’t read HoFo nearly as much as I used to, since I have been a smartphone user since 2005, and there are generally better forums for specific smartphones, rather than having to delve into the particulars of hacking your phone to work with your PDA. As an iPhone user in particular, there are much more focused places I can get my tips and user support. HoFo is a great resource for talking about phones and phone networks, but I generally only check it these days if I’m having an AT&T issue that isn’t directly related to the iPhone.

Because of this inactivity, I hadn’t updated my profile in years. HoFo has some nice profile sections that allow you to add information specific to the topics discussed, such as what phones you own or have owned, and what’s important to you.

This is what my profile looked like when I found it:
I think the most important phone feature is:
reliable reception

I think the second most important phone feature is:
fast data

I think the third most important phone feature is:
lots of software choices

Is this the answer of an iPhone user? Fast data, yes. HSDPA is far faster in theory than Verizon’s EVDO could ever be. Software choices, well yes, there’s an app for everything. But my #1 priority was reliable reception. At the time I updated this, I’m sure I was a Verizon user. That just struck me as really odd and strangely hypocritical. Not that there’s anything wrong with changing one’s priorities, but it’s interesting how a phone can suddenly make the most important priority a non-issue.

So I updated my profile, since it was embarrassing that I was an iPhone user and said that on my profile, and also since it’s obviously no longer true for me. So I thought about it for a few minutes and decided on:
I think the most important phone feature is:
easy sharing of data between cloud and desktop

I think the second most important phone feature is:
fast data

I think the third most important phone feature is:
reception (mostly for data)

You know what else is really interesting? No mention of tethering in either case. What is up with that? Is it because those other things like reception and bandwidth are requirements for tethering? I suppose tethering isn’t actually a “phone feature” as much as it is a carrier decision. Most advanced phones support tethering from the manufacturer, whether the carrier chooses to enable it or not is something else entirely. In fact if it wasn’t for tethering, I wouldn’t be writing this post, cause the Hilton wants $10/night for internet. Thanks to tethering, I blog on.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting to get this unexpected snapshot of my changing beliefs about mobile computing, and how the industry has changed consumer expectations in recent years.