Sunday, 3 October 2010

My relationship with my iPOD Touch 3G 64GB

How it all began:
I got it as a birthday present. At first I thought, this is the best mobile thing in the market that plays music. How accurate was that?
A few months afterwards*, I found myself not only downloading music on my iPOD Touch, video clips, and short YouTube videos but best of all came in the form of my favourite anime shows. Today my iPOD has more than 10 different anime series, some of them are more than a 100 episodes. Lately, I harnessed a new iPOD addiction- downloading free apps from the apple store!
Some apps include games, puzzles, dictionaries, encyclopedias, audio books, touristic info, TV and radio broadcasting stations (including a few news channels). Yet, the most alluring ones were hypnosis apps! Indeed you can get hypnosis sessions from the comfort of your couch! Now how effective those are is yet another matter. My experience of them however, was one of sheer amusement and delight.
To conclude, today I share with this little device a part of myself. I have develpoed an irreversible relationship with it. I reach out for my iPOD whenever I need anything from How to Make Suchi to Whats Happening in Ouagadougou. And yes, my friend (who is a new iPOD Touch owner and who's status on Facebook recently changed back to "single") had a point when she expressed, "with the iPOD Touch at hand who needs a boyfriend"!


* for an IT phobic like me, that's actually quite fast!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Android, no more...

Android, that nice "mobile" / "smart phones" operating system....

There are many things I like about it, to name a few:

- Google Contacts sync: few years ago, if you reset your phone, it means you should have a backup copy of your contacts (and many other things to that matter) to restore them after the reset. For contacts, you don't have to have a backup... recently, I had to reset my phone, and shortly after logging in to my Google account, my contacts were synchronised and ready to be used on my phone. The other thing I like about Contact sync is if you update a contact on your phone, it'll update on Google Contacts, so you won't have different entries of one contact; I have to say this is great.
- The browser:  based on WebKit, (in my opinion) it is one of the best built-in browsers for mobile phones!
- The Market: loads and loads of free useful apps and nice games, almost anything you think of, there is an app for it, and most probably, it's free. Some of the free apps, ConnectBot (SSH client), AndFTP (FTP, SFTP and FTPS client), Twitter, Seesmic (Twitter client), Voxofon, Spotify, Wikidroid (Wikipedia client), Kindle (read ebooks) ... the list is endless.... I think I've read it somewhere that Android Market is most popular with its "free apps" as iPhone market is with its "paid apps".

The list of  things I like about Android goes on, but for me, Android does lack one essential component, ability to read / write Arabic (technically, as it's an open source, it's ready but lacks the required Arabic fonts due to internal memory size). Anyway I won't go into much technical details...., I couldn't read anything (emails, websites, Tweets, etc...) that contain Arabic characters! You basically see squares instead of the Arabic characters.
Due to this fact, a guy logged an issue on Android site, Arabic support was logged as an "issue" (and it's considered an "Enhancement issue" and its priority is "Medium", with all the Arabic users that use Android, really!
You can get Arabic on Android if you "root" your device, which voids your warranty! But then again, why would I want to loose my warranty while I can get Arabic natively supported on other devices? (Blackberry 9700, iPhone 3G - I assume 4G does include it as well-, etc... even my SonyEricsson T715 can read Arabic natively).
Honestly, when I bought the phone, I didn't check whether it supports Arabic or not, I didn't think that it may not ! Especially that Android is a Google product and Google has support for all languages, even translation and transliteration, this led me to my false assumption that Android must have support for Arabic; I was wrong !
This situation (lack of Arabic support on operation system) reminded me of Windows 3.1 where the original set of floppy disks that contained Windows 3.1 was English only, and if I wanted Arabic support, there was a different set of floppy disks (with two floppy disks more than the English version) that contained Arabic fonts etc...that was roughly early 90s! This is 2010 !

Given the above, (apps, features, bells and whistles, etc... available in an Android phone), when I'll buy my next mobile, unless Arabic is supported natively, I don't think I'll consider an Android phone.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Andoird 2.1 upgrade

I have T-Mobile G2 (aka HTC Hero).
I bought this phone round about October 2009; it had Android 1.5.
I kept hearing that we'll get an update to the firmware which had many benefits along with performance improvement. The first upgrade was supposed to be 1.6, but it got delayed, then delayed again, then further delays.... until Android 2.1 was out.
Personally, I was looking forward for the upgrade mainly for three reasons:
1- "Hoping" the new release will support Arabic
2- Performance
3- Battery life

On Saturday 10 July 2010, I received a pop up on my phone to upgrade the firmware; having waited for so long, I was so glad to see that prompt; it downloaded with no problem, but failed to install; basically, part of the setup was to reboot the phone (automatically), once rebooted, I got exclamation mark inside a triangle, and nothing happens.... the only way to get the phone back to remove the battery and put it back in.
I left it for a week hoping I'll get the prompt again, but nothing...
I called T-Mobile support (a week later, on 17/07/2010), they suggested leave it till the end of the month, as I should get the prompt again, and it should work....
A week later (24/07/2010), I got the prompt again, and exactly the same thing happened as the first time.
I called support again, ... they suggested many things, and I tried them all, and nothing worked. even a factory reset, didn't work.

On HTC website the T-Mobile section, was providing ROM version was, which I already had (the exact version) on my mobile.
Being so desperate to get the upgrade, I downloaded it and installed on my phone (even though during the installation it said you don't need to install this if you already have it). It installed with no errors.
I got the prompt to upgrade again, and this time, it took longer, but at the end I had Android 2.1 :)

After the upgrade, I had an issue with Facebook HTC Sense and Google Contacts sync. The issue was, some of my Google contacts not appearing on my phone, some were, but without their Facebook "thumbnail" image showing next to their name.
WARNING: I didn't mind removing all my contacts, as I just got the firmware upgraded after a factory reset on the phone. Don't attempt this on your phone!
I got it resolved by deleting Facebook for HTC Sense deleted from the phone (Menu -> Settings -> Accounts & sync -> Facebook for HTC Sense -> Remove account), and on Facebook, I went to Application Settings, and deleted the HTC Sense application, then I re-added them (on the phone and on Facebook), and left it.
That fixed it for me, but I didn't see any change till the next day.

- Performance was a lot better, response time, etc..., having experienced the slowness, it's really nice to see that improvement.. it felt like it's a new hardware.

- Unfortunately, still no Arabic support, which is odd. If you browse a web page with Arabic contents, you'll see squares.... iPhone, Blackberry and many others come with Arabic support as default. Not having this support in Android, is a really drawback for Android.
Honestly, I didn't expect Android not to support Arabic by default. If I knew that it didn't support Arabic, I would have second thoughts about buying the device.
To read more about Arabic Android issue, click here...

Many have Arabic support on Android, but they rooted their phone, something that void the warranty! Why would someone want to void their warranty for something not available in Android phone, but is available on most other platforms ?

- Battery life, I didn't any notice improvement as I still have to charge roughly every 24 hours, maybe it's down to my setup and applications that I have running.

Overall, many major improvements from Android 1.5 to 2.1, mainly (for me) the response time..., but lacking Arabic support (still), is a major drawback.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

What I didn't like about BB 9700 - SW

Continuing from my previous post, this one is about what I didn't like about the Blackberry 9700's software.

In general, it was good, but there were few things to mention:

- Internet connection is required for some applications to launch. Twitter, WeatherBug, etc...  won't launch if no connection is available (i.e., no signal or WiFi)

- facebook Blackberry client too slow, receiving notification was OK, but getting News feed update was too slow (could be related to the proxy - see below), opening pictures was slower, even if connected through WiFi.

- Proxy: I didn't like the fact that even I was using my own WiFi connection, it was going through proxy server, that I didn't set it up (it was set by default), and I wasn't able to find a quick way of changing it.

- Only one row of shortcuts: Though shortcuts are customizable, you can only have one row on your main screen (mine contained 6 shortcuts - this is the Blackberry OS 5) but the good this is in the new version Blackberry OS 6 to be released soon), you'll have more.

This was the last  post in this series, I hope you'll find it useful, my next post will be my overall user experience with the Blackberry 9700.

If have any question regarding this, please leave a comment and I'll reply ASAP.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

What I liked about BB 9700 - SW

This is the third post about my experience with the Bold 9700; if you haven't done yet, you might like to read the first and the second post.

The software

The social media software were available (for many reasons, I didn't expect them on a Blackberry) like Facebook - Twitter, etc...

- "Auto on/off" feature; with this feature I even got the battery to last longer; the phone will go into "sleep" mode with minimal battery usage, and will it turn itself on automatically, on the time I specified.

- Push, email, Twitter (mentions and DM), Facebook notifications, etc... Arrive almost instantly (though it depends on the connection I had at the time, there were times where it took about 15 minutes...).

- Interface - I changed the main screen background image and put the most used shortcuts /icons on the main screen; it was so easy to figure out, even without reading the manual.

- Sending emails/SMS: I found sending messages from Blackberry so easy, I had multiple email accounts setup, selecting a new email from the menu is easy, writing it was also easy (once I got used to the keyboard), to select who to send it to, you start typing first few letters, and it suggested names from my contacts, if I had a contact with multiple email addresses, I'll get a prompt to choose which one I want to send to. what I liked most about it, is sending an email n a "non signal" area (i.e., on my daily train journey, the signal is bad); I just write the email and send; it acts as my desktop email client, the email goes to the outbox, and once signal is back (connection is established), the email will be sent automatically; unlike many other email clients that complain about "connection not available", etc....

- Sound Profiles: I setup a "Sound Profile" that gets the device to ring only when incoming call was from a specific person, and the device was in its holster (I can setup the profile to ring/vibrate/"do nothing" differently if it was out of its holster). I could control the number of vibrations (1, 2 .... up to 10), sound level (high / low / silent), ...

With so many notification the phone can generate (from Facebook, Twitter, calendar reminder, emails reception -btw I had multiple email accounts and I can specify the notification on each one separately- SMS, Instant Messages, .... the list go on.... this level of notification customization is great.

- Windows Live Messenger: Always online, (the desktop version in your pocket, so convenient to stay in touch), yet doesn't affect the battery much; the only 2 things I couldn't do on the mobile version (but can on the desktop) are: video call and audio call. Other than that, everything is the same. ah.. one option that's not available on the desktop, I can specify an "alert" for an offline person, so that whenever they get online, I get the notification. (note this application is developed by RIM).

- PIN messages: As every Blackberry device got its own PIN number, this functionality is very similar to an Instant Message client (where you can send a text or MMS or even a voice note to any Blackberry user anywhere in the world). Honestly, with this device, the line between text messages and emails is getting blurred.

- Search: being able to search emails and text with "advanced" criteria was really nice (and unique) experience on a mobile device.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

What I didn't like about BB 9700 - HW

Continuing from previous post, here is what I didn't like about the BB 9700 hardware. Again, this is my own personal experience / view.

- Screen size, relatively and compared to most smart phones, it is small.

- Trackpad, while I was using the device, I wished I had other ways to use the device than the trackpad. 1st: unless my fingers are totally dry (I.e., just washed my hands, or had to catch the train so I ran and now on the train but sweating; in both situations my fingers aren't totally dry) using the trackpad is difficult and won't point to what I intended accurately, sometimes I had to try few attempts before I could select what I wanted. 2nd given the screen size, even though my fingers were dry, using the trackpad in applications such as twitter or facebook for BB wasn't easy, for example, in facebook, I pressed "like" many times when I didn't intend to!

- The speaker is located on the back, above the camera and the word "Bold"(in the middle). I think every speaker has to have a magnet, and most phones do. I noticed this by chance. I put the device down next to a coin and when I pulled it back up, the coin was attached to it!

I think this is related, not sure though... I answered a phone call with the device on my ear (i.e., not using earphones) after about 5 - 6 minutes, I started feeling uncomfortable in my ear; few minutes after ending the call, the feeling in my ear got back to "normal", (this might be related to me only).

Thursday, 8 July 2010

What I liked about BB 9700 - HW

What I like about the Blackberry 9700 Bold (hardware):
Please note this is my own experience, for the official specifications please visit Blackberry site.

- Battery life (I only had couple of apps installed on top of what it had pre-installed; I guess if I installed apps that run in the background, it will affect the battery life). With WiFi turned on, on average usage (Twitter, MSN Messenger, Facebook, etc... running in the background / receiving notifications) it lasted 3 days.

- Keyboard keys; though they are tiny, but once I got used to them, I typed quicker and more accurate than before.

- Shortcuts; having a keyboard with more than 30 keys "customizable", I don't think this feature is available in any other phone.

- Camera; photos quality is amazing compared to many other phones with 3.2MP cameras, I didn't verify, but most probably, the lenses used are of a higher quality than other mobiles.

- 3.5" Audio Jack, though it's becoming a standard in all new smartphones, to have it on Blackberry I consider it as a plus.

- microSD Card: it came with 2GB card, which was enough for me to have few MP3 and MP4 files.

- Holster: The device came with a holster. It has three functions: 1- it protects the device from scratches. 2- it saves battery life; apparently there are some censors installed; as soon as I put the device in its holster, it turn itself into "sleep" mode; obviously I could put the device in "sleep" mode by pressing a button, but I found this very convenient. 3- Notifications: I customised notifications (ringtones, vibrations, etc...) based whether the device is inside or outside its holster.

Monday, 14 June 2010

E-Commerce and Privacy: Fiend-ly, Friendly or Medley?

Yesterday, I had a sort of an IT dilemma and decided to ask Adam about it. This is how everything between us went.

Eva: Adam, I looked over the Internet to buy a book and when I found it at a very reasonable price, I realised that I have to create a new account before I checked it out and I had to provide very personal information including in addition to the regular name, address, payment card, etc.. they also required gender and age! I got slightly suspicious at how this website handles customers’ data and wondered why would the website require that information. I thought perhaps to avoid all this, I might just pay a little more and buy it from the online book store I usually buy from and already had an account with or go and buy it from the library. This was a dilemma for me Adam because in return for providing extra information about myself, I was going to save a bit of money. I am therefore turning to you for some advice and perhaps a discussion about this issue which I think is important for my buying behaviour in the future.

Adam: I think what you are going through here Eva can fit into the huge umbrella under which all the effects of privacy issues on e-commerce are covered.

Eva: Wow, “Effects of Privacy Issues on E-commerce” what a title! I am familiar with issues (I got lots of them) and well privacy kind of and have a lot heard of e-commerce, I suppose websites that sell stuff online are involved in it; but what on earth do you mean by “Effects of privacy issues on e-commerce”?…

Adam: Before I could answer your question directly, it will be valuable if I start with a brief introduction. As you may already know, the twentieth century has witnessed the development of many technological advances. One of these advances is the personal computer. In the last decade more societies around the world got exposed to the many services provided by personal computers among which the Internet constitutes a major domain. Electronic services available on the Internet include educational, organizational, recreational and commercial services under which the term electronic commerce or ecommerce has come to being. Since ecommerce involves a lot about consumer behaviour, a lot should be known about targeted and potential customers. This had perpetuated the awareness of privacy issues and concerns among consumers and among legislative authorities, and electronic businesses themselves.

Eva: say, ecommerce is…

Adam: Electronic commerce or ecommerce is defined in Whiteley’s book ‘e-commerce: strategy, technologies and applications’ as a deal taking place between a company and either its public administration, or its customers, or another company. This deal proceeds via what is called ‘Information Communication Technology’

Eva: So what you mean is that when I go online to buy a book for example, the company that I buy the book from is involved in ecommerce?

Adam: That’s right!

Eva: Great! but how is this related to my privacy?

Adam: It should be well known that there are many legislative, financial and consumer behaviour effects of privacy on ecommerce. To begin with the Oxford dictionary assigns three meanings for privacy: ‘the state of being private and undisturbed’, ‘freedom from intrusion or public attention’, and avoidance of publicity’. From another angle, Adam et al. in their book Electronic commerce, tackle the issue of privacy awareness by stating that the understanding of the term varies from one society to another and understood differently in various cultures. Walters and his colleagues identify three domains of privacy. The privacy of the body, of communication and of personal space. From a philosophical point of view privacy is related to human dignity, but from a an economic approach, in the third ACM conference on electronic commerce, Spiekermann et al. depict that it is more about who is going to have control over the customer’s data and to which extent.

Eva: So you mean the presence of our data in the hands of online businesses makes issues?

Adam: That’s correct!

Eva: So what are the effects of these issues on ecommerce?

Adam: First let me begin with legislative issues. Back in the late sixties, computer scientists such as J.L Hoffman (they used to work in huge labs and wear white robes back then), spoke in his survey titled ‘Computers and Privacy’ that people handling data processing must exert control on themselves to protect these data. Neglecting what he called ‘self control’ will compel the community to bring about new legislations. These legislations, he concludes way back then, that they will be so strict that they might become and obstacle in the face of the development of future computer research. What he mentioned was true to some extent as nowadays, laws and legislations extend to cover modern aspects like the issue if privacy in ecommerce. They are meant to organize and protect the rights to privacy but also have negative implications on online businesses. One of the laws that Bolin thinks it restrains online businesses is the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Act’. This act obliges commercial sites to obtain the consent of parents before gathering information about children. The ‘European Union Privacy Regulations’ give consumers the right over their private info. One of them is the right to pursue legal action if an electronic company does not respect these regulations. The ‘US Privacy Protection Initiative’ derived from the ‘Self Regulation’ scheme compelled Netscape and Microsoft to come up with their own privacy regimen, the ‘Open Program Standard OPS’ and the Internet Explorer 6 IE6. IE6 involves a ‘privacy preference project’ P3P guide. This guide gives users the choice to whether or not disclose their private information. However, as good as it may sound, Hochheiser denotes that the P3P has been criticized because it does not resolve the issue of ‘self regulation’ practised by US and the ‘privacy legislations’ practised by EU. Both Bolin and Hochheiser agree that the ‘World Wide Consortium’ W3C are trying to find ideas to fill the gap between ‘Self Regulation’ and ‘privacy legislation’. The U.S department of commerce publishes on its website ‘the safe harbour framework’. The framework became effective as of July 2000. According to the framework, American businesses must join the checklist before they are allowed to carry on their business dealings with an EU country. A business that does not join the agreement will face disruption and prosecution.

Besides the ‘self regulation’ and ‘privacy legislation’ debate, there are rules that create a conflict between what commercial online websites need to know about customers and potential customers and between the policy of privacy protection. Some of them stop ebussinesses from communicating information among each other and can be strict enough to halt the gathering of data about customers completely. However, some are less strict and allow the collection of data that is relevant for a specific and secured purpose. The data must not be used for another purpose before notifying the customer whilst the customer has the right to modify the information when appropriate.

Hence as you can see, effects of privacy issues on ecommerce are many. In sum, they involve practising self regulation, abiding by privacy policies, restricting the manipulation of personal data or being subjected to face prosecution.

Eva: WOW .. but I think ebussinesses are businesses after all their aim is to make money, so how do they deal with all the potential losses that these laws may cause and how do they keep functioning in the long run? And With the recession, many people are looking at the Internet as a means to supplement their income as well.

Adam: You are right! There are many financial effects of privacy issues on ecommerce. The cost of abiding by EU privacy regulations and legislations are in the hundreds of millions of dollars as Bolin predicts. Acquissti denotes in his paper titled ‘privacy in electronic commerce and the economics of immediate gratification’ that a research reveals that 5.5 billion dollars were lost by electronic sales due to privacy issues in 2002. The speculations are that these costs reached to 24.5 billion dollars by 2006. This is described by many as a financial burden. This burden manifests itself greatly in the cost of privacy seals such as the TRUST e, CPA, Web Trust and BBBonline. The annual fee of BBBonline for example is $75,000 per year. Applying privacy legislations, implementing privacy seals and applying security measures such as firewalls and passwords are costly as well as other security means designed to protect customer information from hackers.

Eva: What happens if a company breaches any of those laws?

Adam: The cost of that can be quite tremendous. A ‘third party’ transfer of information has once cost Yahoo 4 billion dollars after they were sued by ‘Universal Image’. A hacker named Maxim once gathered information of 300,000 customers credit card information and demanded 100,000$ just to delete this information which was collected over a period of three years.

Eva: That’s a lot of money to protect the privacy of people!Isn’t it?

Adam: Well, it is not just about money spent but also about the limitations of information about consumer behaviour. As some 80% of web surfers that do not involve in ecommerce are not doing it because of their concerns about privacy as stated by Bolin. Out of the remaining 20%, less than half do not provide honest data about themselves. Many surfers are also put off from carrying an online transaction the moment the encounter a page to be filled whereby personal information is required. I am one of them to be honest!

Some companies use recommendation applications and personalization services, to target electronic customers. These modes work by adjusting to the customer’s tastes and interests and function only by knowing a lot about his or her buying behaviour. Cranor illustrated in his publication ‘I didn’t buy it for myself’ that people don’t like when the computer predicts for them or keep cookies about their surfing trends. The author points that people fear that if sensitive information such as sexual preferences, health problems, and items they purchased are revealed, other may develop presumed ideas about them. Moreover, the writer states that people don’t like to be objects of ‘unsolicited marketing’ that is, they do not wish to become targets for advertisements. Aquisiti says that if people knew that their privacy was protected, they will shop more. He adds that according to reports, 67% of web surfers are extremely protective of their privacy and fear ‘online exposure’. These web surfers are afraid that some other person or party will steal their profile or disclose their financial data.

Eva: So, where do you see this is going? Is it with more privacy laws that gains peoples trust and convince them to shop more or is it with better designed recommendation applications that people will fall for regardless of privacy risks or what?

Adam: The research that has been undergone in this domain for years now about consumer behaviour have discovered a valuable and breakthrough piece of information about human nature and online companies are using that very well.

Research performed in 2001 by Spiekermann, Grossklags and Berendt, three German scholars from the University of Berlin, that people concerns of privacy issues are remarkably diminished when being asked to disclose them by a computer simulated Bot. The result of this experiment suggests that when people are subjected to a computer friendly atmosphere forget about their fear of disclosure. Privacy statements do not affect anymore how much information they do not mind to share. In a follow up study, people who refused to disclose information in a previous questionnaire, where happy to reveal a lot of it when they were rewarded by price cutting, entertaining, and most importantly an interactive web atmosphere.

Eva: Interactive web atmosphere you say. What do you mean by that?

Adam: A lot of online navigators are concerned about their privacy and this stands in their way from electronic shopping. However, these studies confirmed that a reward in exchange for privacy is successful in making individuals less concerned about this particular issue. Further research, especially in the area of networking media, an example of a very interactive web atmosphere, I would say, revealed that people who are concerned with their privacy are even less and less concerned when they disclose it within these networks. Online companies are ofcourse aware of that and are using it in order to gather information about consumer behaviour and promote their products. So far, laws and legislations that govern these networking mediums are in the phase of infancy. Ecommerce companies know that and are taking full advantage of the situation.

Eva: Thank you. I really didn’t know it had that much in it. I am not sure if I still want to buy my book online… but again perhaps I will ;)

Monday, 7 June 2010

Why this blog

This is the first post in the blog titled "IT Blend".
This is a joint between an IT specialist and an IT phobic, we'll combine our views together and we're expecting the outcome to be objective and interesting for all of us on the IT spectrum.
Adam & Eve