Tag Archives: smartphone

There’s An App For That – But Why?

This isn’t about all the silly little time-wasting games for your phone (though there are plenty of those). Nor is it about all the various programs that let you perform useful tasks with your phone or tablet, such as calculators, photo and video editors, and other standalone applications. It’s about all the “apps” that do things you can easily do with your web browser (remember the web? if your phone has apps it certainly has a browser, too).  Those of you thinking “I don’t have a smartphone or tablet, so why should I care?” — keep reading. This trend of using proprietary software to access and use information and content that is (or should be) readily available on the web is starting to spill over from phones and tablets into the realm of traditional computers, too.

Apps vs Websites

There are apps for all sorts of things that don’t need to be apps – reference info, just about every newspaper and TV network, weather, movie and restaurant reviews and more. What do they offer that can’t be had on their websites? Usually nothing, or else it is something that is intentionally withheld from the website to coerce folks into using the app.  There’s another bunch of apps that do little more than stream audio or video from the web which, again, is easily accomplished with any standard web browser.

Who’s In Control?

I think part of the attraction for content providers has to do with control and metrics. A piece of proprietary software gives the provider total control. While a web browser allows the user some control over appearance (resizing windows, changing font size, filtering graphics), an app gives the user only the exact options its developer chooses, making for tighter control over the “user experience.” An app can also supply much more accurate and detailed feedback to the content provider than a website can.

Media Management

The app environment also gives the provider more control over multimedia content than might be possible within a web browser. Some providers are afraid of their content being “stolen” (is something missing?); they use apps as a way to avoid less secure but more common file formats and modes of data transport.

All About Advertising

The ability to deliver advertising, or more precisely, the inability of the user to block advertising is probably another factor. In fact, the new-to-USA Spotify music service makes you to install their program to use it, even on a computer, despite the fact that most other music streaming services work in any web browser. Of course Spotify officially supports only Windows and Mac, so they have nothing to offer me. Or do they? It seems there’s a beta version for Linux, so I thought I’d see what it’s all about. Here’s where it gets interesting: their Linux software only works with a premium (paying) account. Why? “As we haven’t found a reliable way to display ads yet, this version is only available to Spotify Premium and Unlimited subscribers.” So, because they can’t figure out how to push ads, I should pay for a subscription, while users of certain operating systems can use it for free? I think not. Groove Shark does essentially the same thing, in any browser, for free.

Forced Browser Choice

Recently I encountered a variation on the theme. Until very recently, Amazon has required that you either use an actual Kindle or their proprietary PC, phone, or tablet software “app” to read the eBooks that they sell. I own a Kindle, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to read my Kindle books on my netbook or laptop. Of course, even though the Kindle e-reader runs Linux, Amazon doesn’t have Kindle software for desktop Linux — only Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Just the other day they released a “Cloud Reader” that would let me read my Kindle books on any device with a web browser. Almost. It actually works only with Chrome and Safari. So while they no longer force their software on you, they do insist that Windows and Linux users install Google’s Chrome browser. Why do they not support the more common and popular Firefox for Linux and Firefox or IE for Windows? They promise “Support for additional browsers coming soon.” We’ll see. Interestingly, the reason they went to a web app was to sidestep the iPad Kindle app and the 30% Apple gets from each book purchased through it, so that explains why Safari is supported. Guess I won’t be using the “Kindle Cloud Reader” anytime soon.

What About You?

Are you annoyed by the trend of proprietary software replacing universal open web access? How about other “walled gardens” like Facebook? I am, and avoid them like the plague. If I have the choice between using the web or using proprietary software, I’ll use the web. If I have to download proprietary software or join a social networking site just to see, hear, or read something, then I probably won’t be seeing, hearing, or reading it. What about you?

Why I Don’t Carry A Smartphone

I recently did a guest post over on So Much More Life comparing multifunction and single purpose devices, using a smartphone as an example. It seems that while some commenters agreed with the general premise of the post, there was some question as to whether my example was the best one. Smartphone owners seem very happy with their devices and consider them among their most useful and important possessions. I’m guessing that they love their phones not so much because they also include a camera, GPS, and music player, but because they are  miniature computers with access to email, social networking, and the rest of the internet.

Perhaps my choice of a smartphone as an example in that post was a result of the fact that I don’t carry one, and don’t feel the need to be always connected everywhere I go. Allow me to elaborate.

I’m No Luddite

It isn’t that I dislike technology. Quite the contrary, in fact. When it comes to communications technology, I have been on the leading, and even bleeding edge most of my life. I have owned various smartphones, PDAs, tablets, pocket computers, pagers and more. There was a time when I carried multiple communication devices wherever I went. I felt that I needed to be reachable any time and any place. I was afraid of missing an important business or social opportunity.

What Changed?

Perhaps it is a bit of burnout. Been there, done that. Maybe it’s just that instant communication and constant availability have become ubiquitous; I sometimes lose interest in things if they become either too trendy or too pedestrian. Also, I think I started decluttering my social life long before I started on my physical clutter. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be instantly available to anyone at any time. I don’t need to instantly reply to email and blog comments.

Maybe it’s an age thing. When I was in my 20′s and 30′s I had more of a need to feel important and more of a fear of being left out. Now that I’m in my 50′s, I no longer feel that need for constant connectivity, and the occasional important message among the digital drivel can wait until I get to it.

Distracted Much?

Occasional distraction is one thing, but when it gets to the point that the virtual world becomes more important than the real world in front of you, it might be time to check your priorities. In a recent New York Times article, David Carr writes:

You are at a party and the person in front of you is not really listening to you. Yes, she is murmuring occasional assent to your remarks, or nodding at appropriate junctures, but for the most part she is looking beyond you, scanning in search of something or someone more compelling.

Here’s the funny part: If she is looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.

Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.

I’ve learned that I don’t want to be that person. Isn’t live human interaction more important than what somebody you’ve never met just tweeted? Aren’t friends more important than “friends?” Email, Facebook, and Twitter can all wait until the meal, meeting, or conversation is over, can’t they?

I’ll admit, I was pretty obsessive about such things myself at one time. And if I still had that pocket-sized internet with me at all times now, I might still be tempted. My solution? I don’t carry that distraction and temptation with me. Even my plain phone gets turned off if I’m in a meeting or having dinner out with someone. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message or try again later.

I Don’t Need It Anymore

Back when I loved to bargain hunt, I liked having the internet with me to research pricing or other information about an item I was considering buying, but since I’m trying to cut my consumerism down to just the essentials (and those I can research from the comfort of home on a full-size screen) I don’t need that anymore. A smart phone can come in handy if you frequently find yourself with unexpected chunks of waiting time to kill. You can whip it out and catch up on email or maybe do some reading. I normally don’t find myself in that situation much anymore, but if I expect to have some waiting time — doctor’s appointment or waiting at the airport, for example — I’ll take my netbook along so I have a decent sized screen and a real keyboard to work with. Or maybe just my Kindle or a book and catch up on my reading.

There’s also the thirty dollars a month I don’t spend on a data plan ($360 a year!).

I’m Still Connected

Not carrying a smartphone is a decision I’ve made that saves me money and eliminates distractions. I don’t feel disconnected, and I don’t feel in any way left out of the online world. Instead, it allows me to choose when and how to deal with my digital communications, which is usually when I can sit down comfortably and relax, giving my email, writing, or other online activities the same undivided attention that I am able to give to my offline activities.

What do you think?

Do you carry a smartphone? Why or why not? What about your own feelings on “smartphone etiquette?”