Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Blame it on the Pizza Box (and my brother)

Over the past month or two I have shared a number of posts regarding my desire to explore upgrading my text/voice-only Samsung Mythic/SGH-a897 mobile phone.

It has been a solid performer and I love the haptic virtual keyboard.

Both Lavie and Alvis have iPhone 4 models. Mom and Dad both have iPhones. My brother has recently upgraded to a wicked iPhone 5.

I’ve been quite happy with just unlimited texting/mobile calls and supporting the family in the iOS phone arena.

Or so I thought.  The more I supported them, the more the disparity between my phone and theirs became clear.  At night I would ask Lavie to borrow hers when I didn’t want to pull out my laptop to check a TV schedule or look up an arcane fact on a whim.  Alvis would roll her eyes when I asked her to look up something when we were running errands.

The they say..was on the wall. Future Mobile Phone Upgrade?

So, timing being what it is, I’ve pretty passionately followed all the buzz and technical details on the Windows 8 Phone. Windows 8 Phone: Linkage Round-up.

I liked a lot of what I saw. The hardware seemed solid. The OS seemed fresh and different. And Windows Phone 8 seemed to resolve a lot of the issues that hampered Windows Phone 7/7.5.

So with an offer of an early Christmas Day present from my brother and the image of a takeout pizza box lid in my mind, we went last Saturday to a local corporate mobile carrier and I walked out the door with an…Apple - iPhone 5 (black - 64GB), and a handful of accessories.


Whatever observations and parallels may have already been drawn along these lines by others in the past, I am struck by a feeling that I am reliving a lot of the Monolith interaction/awe first experienced in 2001 A Space Odyssey when I behold this object. I’m not sure if it is here to monitor and guide me or if I will be changed (positively or negatively) by it. It is an amazing tool to be sure.

It is seriously serious and I’m seriously and passionately in love with it. Samsung may have that sexy Galaxy S III ad and does a great job mocking a particular group of smartphone users, but when I reach for the black iPhone 5, I can’t help but think (guiltily and wrongly) of this Fiat 500 Abarth commercial.

Please bear with me as I explain just a bit.

  • My brother’s early gift was a significant factor, but maybe not the way gentle readers may think. He is a super-cool dude and I am forever indebted to him for this early and generous delivery. However, while it did influence when I made the iPhone jump (now rather than early next year), and what iPhone I jumped to (iPhone 5 at a 64 GB level), I have no doubt that I would have still gone with the iPhone…with it only being an iPhone 4/S at maybe a 16 GB level. That would have been well within my personal budget point with shelves being cleared for the iPhone 5 products and you can get them for $100 or so with a 2-year contract, or much less.
  • The more reviews I read, and the more ads I saw, and the more videos I watched on line, two “features” really stood out regarding the Windows Phones. I came to seriously find the “live” tile feature/notifications way too “noisy” and the phone and its app base seemed to be centered around online social media/interactions. The tiles constantly called out for attention and response. And all the core apps featured called for sharing information with others and getting information from others. Identifying these trends (fairly or not) was a clarion call that the Windows 8 Phone and I were likely not to be BFF’s. Being borderline OCD, I have enough trouble with my in-box at work not stressing me out and I’m continually challenged to not let my inbox drive my agenda/tasking. And while I get the whole social-media thing, I’m not a Twitter user, not a Facebook user, I do blog and love sharing info…but am at the core an introvert and prefer to interact with a small core of folks and emails and texting does me just fine…thank you very much. Having a phone that seemed centered around the on-line social experience and chattering at me all day long just didn’t seem like a good idea.
  • The more I researched and compared the apps available in the Apple App Store against those in the Windows Phone Apps+Games Store, the more the (current) disparity seemed clear. I could find some free apps for the Windows Phone I might use, I could find way-too-many apps in the Apple App Store I would actually need and…wait for it…purchase
  • Hardware wasn’t as much a deciding factor as I thought it would be. Almost all current smartphones (Android/Apple/Microsoft) all have an acceptable level of power for their OS platforms. And since I was going from a voice/texting platform, almost anything I picked would seem like a sports-car in comparison. Sure I read the tech specs and crunched the numbers, but any of the platforms I considered would have done a super job for my needs.
  • I could with some minor work, port our still growing iTunes library of music/video to the Windows Phone but with no work it could be added to the iPhone.
  • My whole family is happy dual-natured and I can support them fine: Desktop/Laptops are Windows OS. Mobile devices are iPhones/iPads and I can support them fine.
  • As I recounted in the last post, the cellular store sales folks practically ignored the latest Windows 8 Phones on their display shelf. They weren’t busy when I visited them and there was no concern they didn’t operate properly, or even at all. That sent a signal to me loud and clear…intended or not about that product line.
  • And then there was the pizza box. That was the clincher for me. See, I had dropped by a major pizza delivery chain on the way home from work a few weeks ago to grab dinner for us. I called ahead on the road and placed my order. I picked up the pies and while we were digging them out of the boxes, I noted that on the (very graphically overloaded) box lid, that they offered smartphone apps for both the Android and iPhone for placing your pizza order. But not for Windows Phone. And I really couldn’t imagine them placing one there for it. Ever. Once that became burned into my awareness, I suddenly found that MOST places and businesses and services I use and go do had Android and iPhone apps but none for Windows Phones. Not my bank, not my insurance company, not my grocery store, not my electric company, not my cable company, to name just a few. That is serious.  To be fair, I’m sure that with time, maybe these places I spend my money at will eventually pay someone to develop a Windows Phone app. But they don’t have them yet…and I need them now.  Maybe Microsoft’s Windows Phone will mature and go on to live in an app-rich eco-system. But right now it isn’t and I don’t need a chatty junior-high school BFF. I need a mature and trusted platform…especially if I’m going to be shelling out $-$$ for apps.

The iPhone 5 is slim (almost 1/2 the thickness of my former Samsung Mystic phone), super fast (is there a quad-core in that thing?), video display is the Retina type and super crisp and rich, all apps I’m using so far open super-fast; no crashes or hangs. Reception is way better than my Mystic ever was. I paired my quite old Jawbone Bluetooth to it. It’s taken me the better part of a week (and some loving and patient coaching through iOS idiosyncrasies from Lavie and Alvis) to get used to the navigational tricks but I never feel frustrated or lost. Siri is like having Zooey Deshanel in my pocket all the time. And yes, it is joined to our home Wi-Fi to save on data-plan usage.

For posterity (or the curious) listed below are the free/$-$$ Apple Apps I have loaded up on it right now to get started. I also have collection of playlist music loaded from our iTunes library along with three full-length digital movies. I’ve not even scratched the surface of the 64 GB of storage it holds.

Note: all links point to the application’s page in the iTunes App Store unless otherwise specified.

The Core Apps

These are the ones I expect to use the majority of the time for information intake.

  • Chrome - (free) - While the Safari browser on the iPhone is fine, I prefer the Chrome browser.
  • Gmail - (free) - I use this for one of my primary personal accounts…though sadly it doesn’t yet support multiple Gmail accounts at this time. I use the Apple Mail app for the rest of my email accounts.
  • Kindle - (free) - for all my Kindle books on the Amazon cloud.
  • Byline - ($$) - An RSS feed reader. I’ve uploaded my Omea Feed Reader OMPL file to Google Reader and linked Byline to that. I like that I can sync all my RSS feeds via home Wi-Fi and cache them to the iPhone to read at my pleasure on the go without hitting my data-plan balance if I don’t want to. It is very fast and hasn’t choked on any of the feeds I follow yet.
  • YouTube - (free) - Guilty entertainment pleasure.
  • ESPN ScoreCenter - (free) - I don’t have it set to push notifications/alerts but wanted an easy location to check my favorite teams. This does the job much easier than checking Google and is very customizable.

Daily Utilities

These are apps that I may not use quite so frequently, but think I am going to need from a practical standpoint.

  • MiniKeePass - (free) - able to read my KeePass database on the go.
  • Wave Timer - (free) - timing made simple for hard-boiled eggs and other cooking fun.
  • Decibel 10th - (free) - for when I’m checking up on the sound-desk operations.
  • MyRadar Weather Radar - (free) - Adequate for now but I’m looking into other more HD quality radar apps ($-$$) with closer to “live” imaging. I’m a storm/radar junkie. Recommendations?
  • The Weather Channel® Max - ($) - no ads like the free version has. One of many weather apps available but this one seems to have a good balance for my personal needs.
  • Find My iPhone - (free) - enough said.
  • Converter Plus - (free) - got it for metric and IT unit conversion support.
  • iHandy Carpenter - ($) - got the full set of apps so I can make sure those server/switch racks are pretty level (or not).
  • Easy Note + To Do - (free) - may not be the final choice. Wanted a simple (but visually neat) note/task list…not looking for a full PIMM app. Tried Franklin-Covey back in the day and we just didn’t get along in the long-term.

A Bit More Specialized

  • Adobe Photoshop Express - (free) - for some quick touch ups and effects.
  • Adobe Reader for iPhone - (free) - I carry a lot of PDF whitepapers, manuals, and digital media magazines. Should supplement the Kindle app nicely.
  • Learn German: Babbel - (free) - I’m got a German family background and always have felt guilty I know more Spanish than German. Who knows…?
  • Commander Compass Lite - (free) - more “manly” compass than the stock Apple one. May yet spring for the ($) version.


  • NPR - (free) - for when the radio isn’t handy.
  • PBS - (free) - to check our local PBS programming schedules.
  • PRI - (free) - more news.
  • Science Friday - (free) - Science news fix
  • TED - (free) - motivations and outside-the-box visioning.

For the IT Guy

These are currently mostly helpful to me and the personal Wi-Fi/networks I have and support. They also provide useful lookup information for IT research and troubleshooting. Pretty cool stuff and capabilities, even around a mostly (still) wired world. 

  • Mobile Speed Test - (free) - for checking data-transmission speeds.
  • Fing - Network Scanner - (free) - who knew a super-cool network scanner I loved in a desktop version is available in a mobile version? Easy to keep an eye on my home network connections.
  • Deep Whois - ($) - super cool appearance and handy for IP/Hostname lookups.
  • Nice Trace - traceroute - ($) - This is a really handy and easy-to-use traceroute tool. Must have.
  • Network Ping Lite - (free) - Neat subnet pinger/sweeper with a few other tools tossed in.
  • Mocha iSys - (free) - While it isn’t a Process Explorer or Process Monitor app, it does provide a wealth of key technical info on the iPhone unit.
  • Mocha VNC for iPhone - ($$) - VNC remote viewer app to connect to a VNC-based server system. I use this around the house (and at the church-house) to remote-connect to our desktop systems. This paid version has enough bells and whistles to justify the expense over the free Mocha VNC Lite version which I tried for a few days. That was stable and easy so I jumped to the paid version. It worked flawlessly with my TightVNC server/apps.  Cool Trick: connect my home laptop via Cat-6 to our 1 GB router port (Wi-Fi ok as well), connect laptop HDMI video output to our home TV with the HDMI cable. Jump on couch and watch streaming movies via Hulu outputed to big-screen and use Mocha VNC on iPhone as fancy remote to control streaming content selections on laptop. I remember as a kid when the BetaMax “remote” was a corded remote strung across the living room floor. How far have we come?!  Alternative I considered was VNC Viewer for iPhone but there wasn’t a free version and I didn’t want to drop the ($$$) for a VNC Viewer I couldn’t trial first to be sure it worked flawlessly with TightVNC.
  • I still need to pick out a subnet/mask calculator. I’ve got several desktop apps I use, but would find a iPhone app version handy to have. I found a few so far but didn’t feel the love just yet for any I have uncovered so far.
  • Any additional IT/network support/reference App recommendations?

Additional Reference Links

Expect considerably more iPhone OS postings and diminished Win 8 Phone posting here at GSD. If that bums you out, blame the pizza company and my brother.

If you have any advice and/or favorite apps you have found beneficial please consider sharing your experience in the comments. They would be well appreciated.


--Claus V.

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