Rss

Archives for : Phones

location.location.location

Most of the time when services want to know your location, a post code and house number will suffice. For others, your longitude and latitude are necessary. From online shopping to GPS, so much depends on letting others know where you are.

Knowing where you are these days is, for the most part, very simple. Most of us carry a smartphone. GPS has been part of smartphones since the days of the Nokia N95, but it’s far more accurate these days and the software has come on leaps and bounds. While Google Latitude is no longer an option, others have stepped in. Glympse is by far my favourite for sharing my location on the fly. It tracks the phone or tablet and shares your location using a one-off web address to whoever you want to share it with, and only them. It automatically terminates the web page when you reach your destination, after a preset time, or by both (whichever comes first). When it comes to sharing your location it’s great, assuming you’re on the move.

When you’re not on the move and want to share a specific place, you’ll likely fall back to either an address, or longitude and latitude. I could say I’m at Tower Knowe Visitors Centre, Kielder, NE48 1BX and you could find me fairly easily. If I said I was parked at 55.1739, -2.4746 then you’d have a more accurate position, but postcodes only work if there’s a building nearby and long/lat can be easily mistaken or forgotten. What we need is a more elegant, simpler approach. Thankfully someone’s already solved that problem.

Imagine if everywhere on the planet, city, homes, seas or deserts could be found using just three words. Everywhere. Three words to describe every three by three metre square. Texting someone would be far simpler. Calling 999 for emergency services, or roadside assistance (AA, RAC, Green Flag etc) could be far less stressful by giving them positions.dreaming.nipping rather than spelling out Knowe and Kielder. It’s not hard to get the location from the three words either. Prefix the three words with what3words.com/ or easier still, w3w.co/ and you have your location. w3w.co/positions.dreaming.nipping will take you to the Tower Knowe car park at Kielder Forest.

With a range of map overlay options compatible with various browsers and apps for Android and iOS, it strikes me that the obvious choice for sharing your location is no longer street names or the more traditional “turn left at the Red Lion”. The app doesn’t even need an internet connection, it can provide your three word location and can even show direction and distance to a three word pin or waymarker (think geocaching). I’ve been using What3Words for a few years now, and we still add it for delivery instructions to indicate the right house, or for the front or back door. I’ve converted w3w addresses to QR codes and João Dias has added W3W’s Developer’s API to AutoTools so now a secret phrase can be sent to my phone and it will automatically reply with a link to my location. To date we’ve used W3W for everything from ‘additional instructions for the driver’ to the traditional treasure hunt for our son at Christmas and even our wedding invitations.

One thing is for certain, Ozero Kovdozero, Republic of Karelia, Russia or 63.1539N, 32.1040E aren’t remotely as easy to remember as w3w.co/location.location.location.

Encryptr

Every now and then something comes along where you can see somebody’s put some serious thought in to what they’re designing. The Raspberry Pi is probably the first thing that comes to mind, the Pebble watch is another. Lego is a brilliant example.

With apps, it’s lesser so. Not because people don’t think about what they’re doing, but because there are so many out there that are either sloppy/lazy, through no fault of their own the developers don’t have the experience, or because they’re looking at a means of making money (adverts, data theft etc.). Some apps really do shine through though, Tasker, AutoRemote, Titanium Backup, Spideroak. [See an early list]

Latest to the list must be Encryptr. Like Spideroak, at its core it is built on the ZeroKnowledge principle. This got Spideroak some criticism because with ZeroKnowledge systems, only the end user (that’s you) can read what’s stored. Not GHCQ, not David Bloody Cameron, not the FBI, not even Spideroak themselves. All associated data is encrypted and can only be decrypted with a passcode, password, phrase, or similar.

For a little while now (since Dropbox was hacked for the second time) I’ve been looking for something that uses Spideroak’s approach, end point decryption for keeping passwords secure. After a quick search I decided the best way was to use Spideroak’s Hive. Spideroak has a couple of options, data is stored per machine or shared with all machines signed in to that account. Hive is the latter, so my passwords are securely synced with every machine I choose to sign in with. It meant that if I didn’t have a phone signal I was a bit stuck, but only passwords for internet based systems were being stored. It also meant that I had to be at a PC to create the file but Spideroak are currently looking to implement this as an option in an upcoming release.

Encryptr is the solution to the problem. It doesn’t matter if your phone gets lost, stolen, soaked or damaged because no data is stored on your phone. Every password, PIN, credit card number and note that’s stored is done so securely online. With cross platform availability, the same passwords on your phone can be synced with your Windows or Linux PC or even your Mac. It even offers a secure, randomly generated password for you when you input an entry. Best of all, it’s free. There’s no advertising, no sign up, no personal details required to use it, just a user name and a passphrase/password. That’s it.

As Encryptr’s web site states, there’s a down side. If you forget your username and/or passphrase you’re locked out. No ‘forgot my password’ option as they don’t ask for your email address. Taking this into account, you have to acknowledge the advantages far outweigh any risk of forgetting your username and passphrase.

Encryptr’s developers have obviously thought about what they’re doing. While basic, the app and its ethos have a solid foundation. I’d like to be able to put entries in folders, toggle the courtesy password on/off and select its length and complexity (upper/lower case, numbers, symbols etc) and be able to copy the password in to the clipboard, but these are suggestions for a later version.

Considering the app is only at version 1.1.0, what Encryptr have achieved is impressive.

 

Pain Diary

I recently had the opportunity to answer questions about pain management and wearables.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, I suspect most people are aware of the products.

Wearables are smart devices that are worn; fitness trackers, smart watches, health trackers etc. I’m not sure if those Bluetooth pills that are swallowed and feed back to a smartphone are strictly classified as wearable, but their benefits are definitely there.  Real time data is big business, and there are companies all over the world looking to cash in.  While many of those companies are profit based, some are more altruistic.  I certainly don’t have their budget but I wonder if the limited consumer gadgets I own could be put to use?

I’ve suffered with pain in my left knee after a road accident in 2007, pain in my lower back since around ’96 and my shoulder has dislocated at least since ’91.  I’d love to be able to walk, but the consultant at the Pain Clinic has told me it will never happen.  I’m taking it with a pinch of salt.  In 1974 my parents were told I wouldn’t survive the week.  I may be completely in denial, but I’d like to think that when it comes to medicine we can’t say never.  Putting aside the progress that’s being made in exoskeletons, I think the odds are against me but if I can help the medical profession find a trend then I’m going to do all I can.

Tasker already manages my medicines for me, announcing when they should be taken and nagging me if I’ve been unable to take them at a given time.  Tasker also allows me to manually record entries to my Pain Diary.  The entries update a text file (chosen for universal compatibility) via Dropbox, and also a privately shared Google calendar (accessible only via a private link). When combined with AutoPebble, medication notices can be pushed to the watch and actions taken.  I can notify Tasker that I’ve taken my meds, or to dismiss the alert and remind me later.  It also allows me to update my Pain Diary, all without taking my phone from my pocket.

Although the Pebble smart watch is renowned for its battery life, usually lasting 6 – 8 days, I’m not relying exclusively on it.  Using Tasker’s Scene functionality I can also have buttons pop up and update the Pain Diary straight from the phone’s home screen.  Because of the way Tasker works, that screen and all associated settings can be taken to a tablet or an upgraded phone in a couple of minutes.

Because of the way it’s set up I can add or remove items in the list very quickly. I can also type in rarer entries manually.  It has only really benefited me properly a couple of times, but those times have been worth it.  When a nurse asked how often I experience chest pains I was able to provide exact times and dates in a couple of minutes.

Obviously, this doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication of what is achievable or even what’s currently in development. It has to be manually selected and doesn’t include heart rate, blood pressure, etc. but that’s not what I’ve set out to do. This started as a means for me to keep a personal record of when I’m in the most pain.  Providing the Pain Clinic with the entries is just an added bonus.

£0.00

It’s staggering to think that a mobile phone company blocked calls, texts and data because a customer’s account was overdue by £0.00, but that’s exactly what happened.

Computers are brilliant, I don’t need to go into everything they’re capable of because it’s common knowledge. They’re fantastic tools, but they’re only as good as three people:
* the person who built it
* the person who programmed it; and
* the person who uses it.

Most of the time in your personal life it will be the latter. We shake our heads aghast at the person who turns their screen round so the computer can ‘see’ the printer, in the ignorant hope that the error message well go away.  The person who wants to know why the printer doesn’t work when it’s ran out of toner or ink.  The person with a wireless mouse who presses the buttons harder when the batteries are dying.  The fact is that if you’ve used a computer, you’ve almost certainly fallen victim to this sort of thing.  I know I have.

EE Blocked 0.00

Screenshot of my account. Only altered to remove account and phone number.

In business though, it can be embarrassing to the company when something goes wrong. If, say, a company automated the system which blocks an overdue account then you’d expect a bit of logic, such as if the account is at least a full penny overdue then block it. You’d not expect a block activating due to an overdue balance of £0.00. Unfortunately EE did just that.

I’ve only just had it lifted after EE charged me for hidden charges they promised wouldn’t exist, but here we are again.  I’m confident that it’s a value like a quarter of a penny or something like that, but it doesn’t excuse the action of blocking calls and texts. It really concerns me that this sort of thing can happen.

I rely on my phone as a panic button.  If something happens, I need to know I can rely on my phone to do what it’s designed to do – get in touch with people.  After EE’s last let down I opted for a secondary panic button system. It’s been a bit of a wake up call.  We all assume we can depend on companies providing communications services, and not just because of a disability, but because of security.  Confidence that we can reach our kids, elderly family members and people we care about. In order to preserve that, companies need to know when they’ve made a mistake.  If we don’t tell companies they’ve let us down then they won’t know they need to change.  It looks like I need to call EE. Again.

Lifeproof

It surprises me that more phones haven’t been waterproofed. A few years ago, Jason Bradbury featured a Samsung Galaxy S2 being submerged in water without any adverse effects after being coated with a nano-coating by P2i. Nowadays, a few phones will claim to be splashproof, but currently only Sony make fully waterproof phones. Despite the obvious appeal of a naturally submersible phone, I really don’t want a Sony product again.

There have been a few cases on the market to protect your phone. When the Lifeproof case was on special offer, I seized the opportunity. Lifeproof has a great reputation. I’ve seen their products for iPhones in the past but this was not only a Lifeproof case for an Android device, but for the same one I use. At least for now.

When you first pick up the box you immediately feel as though Lifeproof have given thought to their product. The box is tactile, a door on the front opens to let you view the product through the transparency. What impressed me was the magnets (top and bottom) which snap the door shut.

Lifeproof cover and test unitLifeproof internal sealThe rear of the box boasts the case will protect your phone with a rating of IP68. It can be fully submerged up to 6½ feet. Unfortunately, I can’t say I hold much confidence in this claim.

Lifeproof base, showing waterLifeproof include a phone’s “test unit”, a blue plastic mock up matching the dimensions of the phone it’s designed to protect. The manual suggests testing the case using the test unit for 30 minutes, weighted down to fully submerge it in water. I
tested it for 15 minutes using their test unit and found the product leaking water.

Lifeproof base, wet lockThe case was dried off, checked for anything that could be preventing the Lifeproof case from working properly. I could see nothing that would cause the leak.
The second test lasted only 5 minutes. Unfortunately the case was unable to resist the water using the provided test unit.

Another check for any dust, dirt, cracks in the rubber, anything at all proved fruitless. I checked and double
checked the test unit. Even under a jeweller’s magnifying glass nothing showed that could account for the leaks. To say it came as a disappointment was an understatement.

The final test was done under full observation in the hope the source may be found. No such luck. There was no obvious point where air could be seen escaping. After ten minutes it was clear that nothing would give away the weak point. With some surprise I learned the third test was successful.

I’m aware the only consistent factors in these tests have been the same case, the same test unit and the same person. Being truly objective, I cannot rule out me missing something between tests, however small. To the best of my knowledge, in each test nothing had changed. The test unit was settled in place. The case was snapped shut with the same force as before. Even the order of it closing matched the previous tests.

Pros: The Lifeproof case is sturdy. It feels like a quality product. The rubber on its back makes gripping it very easy. Despite only having contact with surfaces with its four rubber feet it doesn’t easily slide (tested at various angles). The speaker and microphone aren’t obstructed due to a waterproof membrane, music can be heard as before and nobody called knew the phone was in a case. Rubber covers over the buttons stand out proud from the base making finding them easy, but prevent the phone activating without your knowledge.

Cons: Some charging cables no longer work due to the smaller aperture at the base (see yellow plug on the case). None of the OTG cable fits. Only a third of the tests with the test unit passed being submerged in water.

Outcome: The Lifeproof case tested with the Samsung I9305 feels like a quality product. Even the box has had serious thought put in to it. The case will block dust, dirt, sand etc. (involuntary test) with ease.  [You’ll understand me not testing the waterproofing with the phone.]  Using the official cables and not cheap ones from eBay, the phone performs exactly as it always has.  Bumps and drops on to hard floor tiles are taken in its stride.

I’d recommend Lifeproof cases to anyone who asks. Cheap cases may save your phone from knocks and drops, but they can’t offer anything like the protection of a Lifeproof case.

@EE – how not to do it

I’ve been with Orange since January 1996.  When you’ve been with a company that long you expect a certain amount of hiccups.  Nobody’s perfect, and where there’s humans, there’s human error.  Unfortunately, since 1996 Orange has changed hands a few times and each time the level of customer service has deteriorated.  None more so than when EE took over.

May 2013 was a frustrating time.  I’d been forced on to a 24 month contract because Orange no longer recognised their own contracts.  I started the month on Everyday 50, a 12 month contract charging 50p per day for 50 minutes of talk time.  Add to that £5 a month for 500MB of 3G data and it covered everything I needed.

The trouble came when I tried to upgrade.  Orange had become EE and with it brought new software.  Unfortunately, the programmers didn’t think to incorporate all active tariffs, (presumably only the ones available to buy at the time).  As a result, EE refused to let me upgrade and keep the talk plan.  They grossly miscalculated ‘a customer’s value’ because I was on a daily tariff, not monthly.  This was stupidity worthy of Vodafone.

It was only when I asked for a PAC (necessary to port my number elsewhere) that EE sat up and took notice.  I was offered a 24 month contract with extra talk time and data thrown in.  I took down the details and went away to consider my options.

When I called back, I’d expected notes on my account outlining the offer.  After several calls I’d found:

  • Some people couldn’t find the notes, or the person I’d spoken to (including a team manager at North Tyneside call centre who suggested if I didn’t take her basic package I should go).
  • Others could find the person, but not the notes.
  • Some found the person and the notes, but couldn’t find the gratuitous extra minutes/data.
  • Some found the person, the notes and the extra minutes and data, but couldn’t activate them.
  • One person found the person, the notes, extra minutes and data but could only activate part of it.

Ultimately, the person who offered me the package got back to me and activated it.  He really was very helpful, and checked everything over before submitting.

I have fallen victim to too many of Orange’s little mistakes over the years.  I was adamant it wasn’t to be the case this time.  I asked if there were any additional charges, hidden charges or anything else.  There would be none.  The line rental was all I’d pay unless I used more minutes or data than in the bundles.
But, thats just not true.

The trouble is, EE (a company I now lovingly refer to as Exceptional Extortionists) failed to mention that I’d be charged for delivery receipts on texts, for calls to freephone numbers (ironically, they’re not free or even included in your monthly minutes) and worst of all, a fine of £3.58 every month for not giving EE control of my bank account via Direct Debit!
None of the above were mentioned.  I even received the wrong phone.

When this was queried, an apology was made, a refund for the Direct Debit payment was applied to the account and I was told she would make sure I wouldn’t get any more, but only for the duration of the contract.  Once the contract is up, the fine will apply.  It turns out the fine has applied ever since.

When I called, I discovered the question of whether EE see you as a valued customer or the means of making money, was answered.  It turns out you can pay EE to jump their queue!  Your call isn’t important to them; your money is!
Although I was repeatedly told “the credit to the account wouldn’t be coming from his pocket”, he didn’t actually credit the account.  He promised the bar on the account would be lifted within 20 minutes, and hurriedly explained it was the end of his shift and had to go! 35 minutes later he called back to explain the buck was to be passed back to the woman who had credited the account and who’d promised I wouldn’t get charged for the remainder of the contract.  The phone call I was promised at 14:00 the following day didn’t happen.  When the buck was passed I’d expected a call back the following day, not to have to wait days for their member of staff to wander back in.

While the bar was into its fifth day I called EE – I’d waited long enough for them to call me.  [I hadn’t told EE but this phone is part of a ‘panic button’ system due to a disability so having it barred has the potential to impact on us a fair bit.]  After having to repeat everything only four times I managed to speak to someone who took on board my complaint.  He apologised, credited the account for what I was incorrectly charged and is sending a letter of apology.  I’m £12-odd in credit.  I suppose that’s what happens when you keep rounding up your bills to the nearest whole pound.

I thought that would be everything sorted, but the bar was still in force.  I called EE on the sixth day to query why it hadn’t been removed overnight.  No reason could be found.  I chalked this one down to either an interruption before it could be done, a technical failure or it was simply overlooked.  What really annoyed me is after explaining everything I’d gone through, the excessively cheery woman told me to “be careful not to go past my (allotted) minutes in future” [something I’ve never once done with this contract] and to “be sure to promote EE to all my friends” and to “tell everyone how good they are”.

So, I’m going to do exactly that.

EE are good at:

  • Making promises they can’t keep
  • Repeatedly letting customers down
  • Giving incorrect information
  • Not advising customers when promises can’t be kept
  • Poorly composing a brief for software developers (active tariffs)
  • Badly training their staff
  • Valuing everything above their customers
  • Ignoring what a customer tells them
  • Self promoting

and they excel at being unable to make calls to customers, and keeping those customers up to date with relevant information.

Why is it communications companies are unable to communicate?

Pebble throwing

I won’t go in to the details twice, but I had one requirement in a smartwatch – it had to interact with Tasker.

It turns out that Pebble themselves have decided on our behalf to stop supporting certain apps.  My needs in a smartwatch are few but supporting Tasker is essential and Google apps are next on the list.

Pebble drop Tasker

 

Pebble want to control what information you’re allowed to see on your watch, and they want to control it all through their app.  Had I wanted such strict control I’d have bought an iPhone!  My phone is Android.  Android is open source.  Not restricted.  The app doesn’t even have a tick/untick box, warning “Tasker / Google Now may result in repeated notifications”.

The thing is, Tasker brings functionality to the watch that Pebble themselves haven’t been able to do.  With its plugins and 3rd party apps integrating with Tasker it means you can do so much more than the already comprehensive app is capable of.  As Pebble want to restrict which apps they’ll allow you to use they’re putting nails in their own coffin.  If they’re not careful these sorts of decisions will do to their watch what Blackberry and Nokia did to their phones.

A year ago, Pebble were already facing criticism for blatant favouring of the iPhone over Android.  Even at the bottom of the box showed where Pebble’s alliance lay:

Pebble Box (under) highlighted

Pebble have faced criticism for not using colour screens or implementing touch screen functionality, especially in their Pebble Steel.  By denying access to certain apps and restricting functionality, even their supporters in the Android community will start to jump ship.

What annoys me is that there weren’t any “This app will no longer be supported as of 31/12/14” notifications.  Not even “This app is no longer supported”.  If a company behind smartwatches can’t send a notification to their own product then perhaps they should consider removing the prefix ‘smart’.

However, all may not be lost.  Recently Pebble announced their app can interact with Android Wear.  The Android Wear app doesn’t even need to be connected to the app or signed in to any account.  The only requirement is that it be installed.  Time will no doubt tell whether this restores what Pebble saw fit to block.  With a little good fortune I won’t be Pebble throwing any time soon.

Weaker passwords

So many web sites, so many passwords.  Unless you’re willing to risk using fewer than ten (or possibly only one) password for every site you use, you probably have the browser save the passwords and use a random password generator.

There are a number of apps which will generate passwords for you.  You can set the password strength and it will give you a unique password each time you ask for one.  If you’re hoping to get the same one twice, you’re probably going to die before it happens.  The apps give you nice, strong passwords.  Other apps will save the details for you, password keepers.

It’s not often, but from time to time I’ll come across a site which doesn’t allow the 40-50 digit passwords I tend to use.  Sometimes I’ll add a more, sometimes take a few off.  When I exit the app, the contents of the phone’s clipboard are sent to the PC.  From there I’ll often drop the password in to a .txt file and save it in Spideroak.  For those who don’t know, Spideroak is much like Dropbox but is fully secure, only decrypting the contents at the user’s device.

For the first time I’ve come across a web site which not only limits the length of the password, but doesn’t allow most of the special characters (for example !£$%^&*{[]}@’#~<>?/`¬\|etc.).  Eon Energy only allow the basic 0-9, A-Z, – and _.  For the first time since using password generators I’ve been effectively told my password is too strong, please use a weaker password, twice!

We’re living in a world where everyone is using stronger and stronger passwords.  Those with Microsoft qualifications need at least two special characters in their lengthy passwords.  Google, Twitter and Dropbox are amongst many sites using 2-step security, requiring a password and a code either generated by / sent to your phone.  These sites don’t require payments or personal information to use them, but they still offer 2-step security.

I didn’t sign up with Eon.  I was tempted to type in ‘password’, but in the end I was afraid it would be accepted.
Eon - too longEon - invalid format

In App Purchases

In app purchases

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of in app purchases (IAPs).  People have had issues with them not transferring to new phones, upgrades, replacements, and secondary (usually work) phones.  I much prefer to buy a separate unlock key/app.  This way you know it’s tied in to your Google account and not something like your IMEI (the handsets serial number) which will almost certainly change over time.

I saw something last night which both shocked and appalled me.  A game by Disney with a medium rating showed IAPs ranging from £3.08 to £61.63!  That’s around US$98!  This is something that my seven year old son would positively love to play but if I told him it would cost him over £60 to buy part of the game, and unless he paid it he wouldn’t be able to play that part or buy something he’d need, even he would say it didn’t matter.

Only recently, Amazon was sued by the USA’s regulators over child IAPs.  The European Commission and the EU regulatory body asked Google to stop calling apps containing IAPs free by the end of September.  Apple say they promise to tackle it, but offered no date by which they must do this.

After looking at Google Play and Apple itunes it’s interesting that while the Play store charges £61, Apple’s iTunes charges nearly £70! (US$111.10)

We all know that Disney has faced hard times.  Their reputation diminished hugely, which possibly influenced them to buy Pixar.  They simply haven’t kept up with modern times.  Their merchandising may have no shame, but this is disgraceful.  It’s disgusting and looks thoroughly extortionate.

At £60 to £70 this is the most expensive IAP I’ve ever seen.  Considering Disney is associated with young children I can’t see how they could possibly think their demographic could afford to pay it.

Evolution of notifications

I’ve had smartphones ever since the Nokia N-Gage was released and I’ve grown accustomed to notifications changing. It started with things like Bluetooth being turned on, new SMS text messages and missed calls, something not unexpected on a telephone.

Symbian S60 changed to v2, v3, v3/v5 and v5 before it was retired. Icons and symbols associated with telephone function have since changed to include tweets, weather forecasts, RSS feeds, choice of keyboards and various other apps.

I now get reminded to take my medication or to take out the bin, as well as more personal notifications such as the computer has finished whatever task it was set or the dishwasher has finished its cycle.

Of course nowadays our notifications are branching away from our phone screens to Google Glass, Android Wear smartwatches, or the more battery friendly Pebble.
We can acknowledge or even respond to our information with the blink of an eye or a flick of our wrist.

So much information is at our fingertips we’re now the weak link in the chain. We can’t possibly process everything that comes our way. The notifications for it all would be overwhelming. So as we bring more and more information to our attention with services like IFTTT and apps like Tasker, we set up customisable conditional events to only show something of we’re at home or something else if we’re at work but only if the outdoor temperature drops below a given temperature or above a given humidity level; send a photograph to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook if we use a certain app, or change our wallpaper every day to match NASA’s photo of the day.

We are now at a stage where we need these systems in place, picking apps allowed to show us relevant notifications like a VIP list and banning others (especially those spamming us with pop up adverts). In the last decade notifications have evolved so much I can’t help but wonder where we’ll be in ten years time, and perhaps more importantly how we’ll be notified.