Tag Archives: smartphones

Episode 135: Year in review


We offer our tech year in review for 2015.

What were our favorite pieces of new tech? What changed our lives the most? What helped us lose weight and get healthier?

And what tech disappointed us or needs additional work?

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Episode 102: Distraction-free classroom


We follow up last week’s episode about technology in the classroom by talking more about how professors feel about students bringing their own technology into the classroom. We have BYOD in the workplace. Will education embrace this as well?

We also discuss Amazon raising the price of Prime to $99 a year. Is it still a good deal?

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Episode 101: Technology in the classroom

As promised last week, we spend the entire episode talking about technology in the classroom, from both the teacher and student perspective.

There is a lot that Jeremy would like to see happen in the classroom, and the current technology can certainly improve. I ask, why don’t schools invest more in their own tools? Why rely on third parties like Blackboard to deliver solutions that don’t work for teachers or students?

A school like Lehigh, where Jeremy teaches, has the resources and talent to build a robust solution that is really catered to the school’s needs. Why not make their own software to help facilitate learning? Or partner with like-minded institutions?

We also discuss what kind of technology students should bring to college. And is it appropriate to take notes with a laptop in class? Opinions differ!

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Microsoft should split Windows into two separate OSes


This is Windows 8’s Metro mode. It literally doesn’t have windows anymore.

Microsoft is trying to walk back some of the polarizing aspects of Windows 8 with updates to the OS, but the real issue is the fundamental mistake of trying to make one OS that can run on traditional desktops and laptops, while also running on tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft needs to split Windows into two separate OSes. Windows 9 should look and feel like Windows 7 with new features and refinements. Forget Windows 8 and 8.1 entirely.

The Metro mode (the entire look on Windows smartphones) should be spun off into its own OS without the Windows name. It doesn’t have to be called Metro, but Microsoft needs to come up with a fresh name for its mobile OS.

I use Windows 8 every day at work. It’s not that bad as some would have you believe, but I like it less than Windows 7. Shouldn’t every release be more enjoyable and better? I consider Windows 7 to be the best version of Windows ever. It has a pretty clean windowing UI, it’s stable and secure and generally just works.

Windows 7 is an OS that really appeals to Microsoft’s core audience. Why mess with it?

I have my Windows 8 machine set to boot straight to desktop mode, and I have the start menu back; so it’s pretty similar to using Windows 7. But every now and then you accidentally open up an app or file in Metro mode, and it’s a really disorienting experience when one of my monitors is in metro mode and the other is in desktop mode. It really is one of the worst and most inexcusable computing experiences you can have today.

The core issue of Windows 8 is that it tries to merge two pretty good UI concepts together, and in the process makes both worse. I like Metro as a tablet and phone UI. I like the Windows 7 UI for desktop computing. It’s when you have to use Metro on a desktop or Windows 7 windowing on a tablet that it all goes to hell.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

Microsoft has a new CEO. He doesn’t have to save face like Steve Ballmer might have tried to. He can simply say that Windows 8 was a mistake , and we’re going in a different direction.

The time is now to end this failed experiment to create one OS to rule them all.  Make Windows 9 the best traditional Windows it can be. Aim it at businesses and people who want to use the same OS they use at work at home. Focus on networking and cloud support (integrate OneDrive even further into the OS as a major selling point), improving multithreaded support (make it easier for developers to harness 4-12 and more core computers) and improving the file system.

The UI concepts of Windows 7 are pretty good. You can iterate on the UI and add new features like Apple does with OS X, but there is no reason to get away from windowing for desktop computing. It’s a conceptual model that works well, particularly for power users and work that benefits from multiple-monitors and multitasking.

Microsoft should then spin off Metro into its own OS without the Windows name, while still using the Windows kernel. This is what Apple does with iOS, and it works very well. Apple executives have recently come out and said that merging iOS and OS X into one OS would be a waste of time.

The needs of a user vary drastically by context. When someone is trying to edit two spreadsheets side by side his needs are very different then when they are trying to get directions while walking around a city. There is no reason to believe that tablets will replace laptops, so why not an OS that assumes that?

I use OS X at home, and think Mavericks is what Microsoft should be aiming for, not Windows 8. Mavericks is the best desktop OS I’ve ever used, and, while I really like iOS, I wouldn’t want to use iOS on my desktop computer.

Apple has shown Microsoft the path forward. Make the best desktop OS with windows you can. Make the best mobile OS without windows you can.

It’s that simple.

Episode 95: Our 2014 tech predictions

We think we'll see more personal data tracking and wearable technology in 2014.

We think we’ll see more personal data tracking and wearable technology in 2014.

The show you may or may not have been waiting for is here.

We discuss some of the things that we believe will happen this year. We try to keep things realistic, and we also discuss devices, such as a dedicated Apple TV, that just don’t make sense.

We also follow up our last episode and discuss if we received any of our favorite things of 2013 over the holidays.

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Episode 59: 2013 tech predictions part 1

We kick off 2013 with a predictions show. What will happen this year in technology? We use our research and knowledge to try to make well reasoned guesses.

We had so much fun doing this episode that we’ll have a part two next week.

What are your 2013 technology predictions?

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46% of the world’s population has an active mobile device

Cellular technology is fast becoming ubiquitous, even in poorer, less developed parts of the word. From The Economist:

3.2 billion people, or 46% of the world’s total population of 7 billion, have at least one active mobile (cellular) device.

Japan, Britain and the Nordic countries have about 9 out of 10 citizens using mobile technology, which is pretty mind boggling. And infants, prisoners and certain other parts of the population are unlikely to start using mobile devices. You also have to keep in mind that many of the people not using mobile technology in developed countries are older, less tech savvy citizens.

This is particularly true in the United States, where the digital divide is increasingly one of age, not income. In the U.S., 66 percent of people 18-29 have smartphones, while just 11 percent of those 65 and older have them. And in poorer areas, the first real personal computer a person may own will be a smartphone, not a traditional computer:

Cell phones fill access gaps – 10% of cell-mostly internet users point towards a lack of other access options as the main reason why they primarily use their phone to go online, with 6% saying that they do not have access to a computer and 4% saying that they do not have any other source of internet access beyond their mobile connection.


Episode 49: All about the iPhone 5, iOS 6 and the new iPod Touch

We discuss the newly announced iPhone 5 and everything else from Apple’s announcement.

We’re very excited about the teaching possibilities of the new iPod Touch. This could be a great tool for journalism schools.

So, will we upgrade to the iPhone 5 or are we content with our current smartphones?

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Quick thoughts on iPhone 5

1. The most compelling reason to upgrade to the iPhone 5 is the camera. I think this is true for anyone looking to upgrade from an older smartphone. The camera technology on the top-tier smartphones has really taken off in the last few years, and the iPhone 5 should be at the top for camera quality. My iPhone 4 is the No. 1 camera in my life, despite not being as good as I’d like. While I really like the photos I get from my DSLR, the convience of having a camera with me at all times trumps the camera quality from a DSLR. The iPhone 4S was a big upgrade over the iPhone 4 in terms of camera quality, and I hope the iPhone 5 takes a bit better photos still, particularly in low light situations where smartphone cameras have traditionally struggled. There is no such thing as a camera that takes too good of photos. I don’t see a device supplanting smartphone for photo taking anytime soon, and as long as that is the case, we need much better smartphone cameras. These are devices we are using to document our lives, and these photos need to stand the test of time. If I get a new smartphone this year it will because I want to be able to better capture the important moments in my life, the spontaneous moments in life and the quirky moments I never want to forget.

2. The screen is bigger. I’ve been someone who has argued against the need for bigger and bigger smartphone screens, especially since the reason for bigger screens originally began as a way to fit larger LTE chips into phones (and the larger batteries needed to support the power draw). A lot of people have smaller hands. Older people have less dexterity and a phone that is smaller is easier to operate as a touchscreen. I’m very curios to see how the iPhone 4 screen is to use. Is it still in the usability sweet spot or has it begun to creep into the two-big range. Apple didn’t make the screen any wider, just taller, unlike other manufactures. Apple claims that just making the phone taller keeps it comfortable and easy to use because it is width that makes phones too hard to use one handed. I’ve found many of the larger screen smartphones to be uncomfrotable to reach all areas of the screen (and I’m a 6’1 adult male). Will not making the screen wider keep this phone comfortable and easy to use? A 4 inch screen isn’t that much bigger than the 3.5 inch screen in the iPhone 4S. Maybe Apple has found the upper limits of a bigger screen that remains comfortable.

3. I hope Apple keeps around 3.5-inch screens for years to come. My hunch is that 3.5-inch screens will still remain easier to use for children, people with smaller hands and people with less dexterity and motor skills. In addition, the smaller screen allows for smaller and cheaper devices. Perhaps 3.5-inch iPhones could target the lower ends of the market. Apple is keeping around the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 and 4S, but I hope they continue to develop feature iPhones that have both the new larger screen and the older 3.5-inch screen.

4. What is the Apple A6 based on? On this week’s podcast I speculated that it’s either an upclocked ARM A9 Cortex (the CPU base used in Apple’s A5) or the new ARM A15. Anand Tech is saying that it could be Apple’s own ARM core design. Apple has been making their own SoC for two years, but developing their own ARM core would be a big step forward in creating custom silicon that only Apple has access to. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. If this CPU is twice as fast as the A5 in the iPhone 4S, while allowing for better battery life, that’s all that matters. What matters is how responsive the OS is, how well apps and games run and the total user experience.

5. A metal back is most welcome, even though the iPhone 4 and 4S are stunning devices. It’s a timeless design. But metal, especially unibody metal, is much more rugged than glass, even the Gorilla variety. The iPhone 5 should prove much harder to break than the iPhone 5. And while this metal back may be easier to scratch than the outgoing glass back, I find that metal that gets scratched up acquires a bit of a patina. It shows that you’re using your device. It shows that your device has been around and is surviving. But the metal holds up and stays strong despite the imperfections.

6. LTE isn’t something that most people will care that much about, at least in the U.S. The U.S. is a very suburban country. Most smartphones users find themselves on wifi a lot because of their living, work and transportation habits. If you drive to work and live in the suburbs, you’ll most likely be on wifi at home and wifi at work. But if you take public transportation and find yourself going out of a lot (people who live in urban areas tend to stay home less because they trade larger personal living arraignments for access to third places) LTE will be a welcome change. LTE can deliver wifi-like speeds and better. LTE development is still in the nascent stages. As LTE is deployed wider and its speeds get faster, it’ll be harder to settle for 3G speeds. But I think tablets and personal computers will benefit more from LTE than smartphones.

7. Personal hotspot just got a lot more useful. The biggest advantage of LTE is that users can now have a really fast connection for when they’re using the personal hotspot feature to share their Internet with other devices. If you’re someone who relies heavily on using your smartphone data plan to send Internet to your laptop to do work on the go, getting wifi-caliber speeds will be a big help. 3G isn’t bad, and in some situations it can be pretty fast, but there are times when you need a lot of speed.

8. The smartphone market is reaching adulthood. The iPhone 5 looks to be a great computing device, but it’s not some huge revolutionary leap over older iPhones or other smartphones. It’s just a better phone. It’s faster, has a bigger screen, has a better camera, has next generation networking and other features, all while being lighter. It’s just a better device than the iPhone 4S. Looks at how much better it is than the original iPhone from five years ago. Each new years won’t bring smartphones that totally blow away the years before, but when you look back over multiple years, you’ll see how far the market has come.

9. Smartphones will continue to improve year-over-year, just as personal computers have, but the real gains in the coming years will be from software. New APIs and features in smartphones OSes will allow smartphones to do new things and enable apps to become more powerful. iOS 6 still lacks background APIs and syncing that could really benefit third party apps. Third party apps in iOS also can’t really share data with one another. These under-the-hood enhancements are needed in iOS, and will eventually come to the platform as it continues to mature. Next year’s iPhone will be faster, have new features, etc. etc. etc. but the real gains will be in iOS 7. Smartphone OSes have a lot more maturing to do than smartphone hardware.

10. I’m glad Apple didn’t change the design of the iPhone that much. I know some tech pundits get bored using similar looking and feeling phones and want to see something radical, but the iPhone 4/4S design is a classic design. It’s incredible looking. It feels great. It makes for a very beautiful and usable product. The iPhone 5 keeps much of the same design language as the previous two iPhones, but uses more aluminum to strengthen and lighten the phone. This looks like another classic design.


Are blog posts and online journal articles the new textbooks?

How much longer do textbooks have in the classroom?

There has been a big push to digitize textbooks, add in more interactivity and make them available in new ways. But is the concept of the textbook itself fading?

I’m taking two courses currently in graduate school. One has a standard textbook that is only available in paper format. The other has no textbooks and all the readings are either websites or PDFs. We’re clearly in a transitory phase, but I think the future is clear: packaged textbooks are on the way out.

Class readings, however, on a desktop or even a laptop don’t present a good user experience. We’re used to and enjoy the experience of reading books and textbooks. We’re used to the crisp typography. People can get lost in books for hours.

How many people really enjoy reading a 30-page PDF on their computer? A paper textbook wins that contest every time, even if the content is identical. You can’t just lay back and enjoy reading on a laptop like you can with a paper textbook, and most laptops are much harder on the eyes than print. We can’t underestimate how much harsher traditional computing displays are on the human eye than print is.

But we now have better options than our computing forefathers. I do my course readings on my iPad. It’s high pixel density display looks very similar to print, and is easy on the eyes. It’s a pleasure to use for long-form reading, and I can carry many textbooks worth of information in a small package.

Using an app like Instapaper, I can save the Web and journal articles to read later and throw them into a folder to keep them all together. I also have a device that allows me to look up further information while I’m reading. If I come across something in a paper textbook that I don’t understand, there isn’t much I can do. On my iPad, I can get out of my readings and search the Web for answers.

Journal articles are increasingly found online, professors and researchers are starting blogs and websites and academic-focused projects are popping up all over the Web. Where once textbooks were required for learning in most subjects, the Web and the Internet give us access to information from all over the world, across disciplines and cultures.

Professors can mix and match journal articles, blog posts, podcasts, news stories, etc. to form an up-to-date curriculum. They can easily add in new readings during the semester if something comes up. The idea of a textbook being out of date doesn’t apply in a world where professors can pick and choose from the best of the Web.

As education becomes more expensive, we can’t forget the savings to students. The textbook industry is a racket that sees students pay hundreds of dollars per semester on books and get back tens of dollars after the semester is over.

The Web is full of great free resources. It’s easier for a professor to start a Website than it is to write a textbook. It’s also a lot easier to get feedback and iterate with a website than it is with a textbook.

Tablets and smartphones are helping to make this a reality in a way that wasn’t possible five years ago. Laptops aren’t good enough. They’re not great for long-form reading. The iPad with Retina Display is, and we’ll see more high pixel density displays on the horizon that help make reading on computing devices a lot more pleasurable.

One of the things that I really like about using Web readings for teaching is these readings allow students to interact with authors. A professor who makes blog posts instead of book chapters can allow people to comment on his work. Students can poke and prod and the professor can respond. Textbooks will never offer that experience.

Now imagine a student asked to read five different blog posts from five different professors from around the world. In one week, a student has the ability to interact with five different experts. Blogs, websites and social media allow for a kind of free-flowing interactivity that can bring vigor to the learning experience.

We needed better, more portable and more readable devices to make this happen. Now that we are finally starting to see them, I believe we’ll see a lot more professors and teachers assigning students Web readings. As students take to this kind of reading, we’ll see more professors writing blog posts instead of book chapters.

Maybe the next step to taking the Web reading experience to the next level is for someone to make an app that allows students to group Web readings and journal articles together by g\class and project, while also allowing for easy social annotations. The biggest thing missing from Web readings is that Web browsers don’t allow for notes and highlighting. Let’s make this happen.