Ringtones are a complete rip-off

Post ImageI’ve never purchased a ringtone for my cell phone, and I don’t ever intend to – they are just too damn expensive. How expensive? On Telus, ringtones cost $3.50 CDN each. With Bell, they range from $2.50 to $4.00 CDN each. And on Rogers, comparable ringtones start at $3.00 CDN each, excluding a 75 cent download fee.

So after a little math we get an average cost of $3.50 CDN for a single ringtone. What else could you buy for $3.50?

  • My favorite – two items from the McDonald’s Value Picks Menu. And for 49 cents more, you could get one of the Value Meals.
  • You could purchase three complete songs from iTunes.
  • Two 710 ml bottles of Gatorade at Wal-Mart.
  • Almost two Grande coffees at Starbucks, or two Extra Large coffees at McDonald’s.
  • You could store 20 GB of data at Amazon S3 for a month. Or 1 GB for 20 months. Or you could transfer up to 15 GB in a month.
  • Any one of the 63,275 items available on eBay in just the DVD, HD-DVD & Blu-ray category that are less than $3.50.
  • A breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s.
  • And of course, three items from pretty much any dollar store!

Can you think of a worse deal? Cupcakes are expensive. Perhaps gas – you could only get 4.3 liters in Edmonton today for $3.50 CDN. Transportation in general sucks actually. One trip on ETS costs $2.50 CDN.

The high price of ringtones is just sick. Why pay Bell $4.00 for a ringtone when you could pay them $5.99 and get an entire movie streamed to your phone? It’s absurd.

Please don’t buy ringtones – it only encourages the wireless carriers to charge such ridiculous prices.

Txt Msg Troubles on Telus

Post ImageI guess you could say I’m a bit of a text messaging addict. It’s a very useful technology, and I try to make the most of it. So when something went wrong on Saturday that prevented me from receiving messages, I almost went crazy! In the morning, Dickson had sent me a message. Throughout the day I continued to get the same message, over and over, until I stopped receiving messages altogether around 6 PM.

I called Telus today to get it fixed, and after a quick phone call, everything was back to normal (I then received 23 text messages and 3 voice mails all at once). The lady that helped me was very friendly, and certainly seemed to know what she was doing. I asked her what went wrong, and this is what she said:

Sometimes if you are sent two messages at the same time, it causes problems with the queue. I was able to send two test messages to your phone that cleared up the jam.

Now I can only assume that she was trying to answer my question in layman’s terms, but still, doesn’t that sound like an odd reason? I mean what is the point of having a queue in the first place? The queue is there so that messages can be sent reliably, even if they are sent at the same time!

I’m really kind of curious about how the system works now. I also wonder if Telus is using an in-house system or a solution provided by a third party. Either way, it seems some improvements could be made!

Also: I should note that there was absolutely no wait time to talk to someone (minus the stupid speech recognition menu which took a couple minutes). This is a BIG improvement for Telus…normally you have to wait forever!

Thoughts on pocket computing

Post ImageDickson and I had a discussion a couple weeks ago where I argued that mobile devices like Pocket PC’s, Palms, and BlackBerry’s would either disappear altogether or be forced to live with very niche market segments (ruggedized Pocket PC’s on oil fields, BlackBerry’s for rich executives, etc). Dickson didn’t completely agree with me, but I knew I wasn’t the only one. David Heinemeier recently gave up his smart phone:

I simply don’t have enough situations available where I need the power of a computer in the palm of my hand.

And so did Jason Fried:

I convinced myself I needed a smartphone when I really didn’t. What I really needed was Less Phone. A phone that made calls, picked up a strong signal, supported simple text messaging, and offered a dead simple calendar.

Smart phones are just one example of the kind of devices I think will go quietly into the night, and there are many more. Devices like the UMPC will probably exist for quite a while, if only because they are fully featured computing devices.

Let me first tell you why I think these devices will go away:

  • They are too complicated! Can anyone use a Pocket PC? I would argue you no. Can anyone use an iPod? It would be hard to argue against it.
  • Battery life sucks. (Though I agree this will get better, and that it doesn’t affect all devices, like the BlackBerry).
  • They are redundant. Why create pocket versions of all the applications we have on normal computers? Doesn’t it make more sense to simply use the normal versions? More on this in a second.
  • The screens are too small. You can read email, see the currently playing song, look up a phone number, and lots of other things. But can you do any real work on them? Can you write a document? Watch a presentation? Play a video game? There are so many things that the small screens just are not suited for. And when laptops have auxillary displays (coming with Vista) the need for a small device to quickly access calendar and contact information disappears.
  • They take up space. Why carry around a little pocket device when you already carry your cell phone, for example?

Most of my criticisms of these mobile devices are based on what I think is coming. So what do I think that is?

Computing surfaces will be everywhere, and you’ll carry your computer on a little memory stick or even just on your cell phone. Set the phone down on a table, and it turns into a full sized screen that you can use interact with your computer. Or you can use a kiosk that has been setup at the airport or hotel or wherever you are – it will read the memory stick or communicate with your phone. As soon as you sit down in your car, it can communicate with your phone so you can look up addresses or phone numbers using the in car computer. Your data is with you everywhere you go, Internet connection or not.

Obviously, the infrastructure we need for this kind of thing doesn’t exist yet, but it’s coming. Some of these technologies have already been demonstrated too, like the cell phone on the table thing. And that last point is particularly important. Conventional wisdom suggests that Google or Microsoft or someone will host all of our data online, so that we can access it anywhere. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Privacy is the biggest reason. And when the scenario I have described becomes possible, why would you store all your data online, except as a backup? You wouldn’t.

What do you think? Do you think pocket computing is going away? Do you think the vision I described above will become a reality? Just imagine what would be possible!

My new phone!

Post ImageNo longer will I be the target of “old phone” jokes! Today I finally replaced my aging Motorola Timeport with a brand new Motorola V710 (yes I happen to like Moto phones). I got the Timeport back in high school, and at the time it was a top of the line phone. It has served me well over the last 6 or so years, but lately the battery life has deteriorated, and it had started making weird buzzing noises. That and I’ve replaced the antenna twice already. Reception isn’t as good as the newer phones, and let’s face it, for someone who’s supposedly so technically inclined my Timeport was bad for the image!

My phone number is the same, in case you’re wondering. Here are some of the features of my new phone:

  • Bluetooth support!
  • Voice activated calling
  • Built-in 1.3 Megapixel digital camera with 4X digital zoom, and it captures video too
  • Speakerphone, MP3 player, picture, text and video messaging, etc.
  • Trimode, full color display and color outer display

I also picked up a Motorola HS820 Blueooth Headset today, and it works amazingly well with the phone. I can make and answer phone calls without ever touching the actual phone itself! It’s like geek heaven! I am also planning to pick up a USB Bluetooth adapter for my Tablet PC which should enable me to record audio using the headset (and talk on Skype) – will be an interesting podcasting application.

There are so many features on the new phone, it will take me a while to digest them. It comes with a number of different ring tones, unlike my old Timeport which had only one! However, as I said in my ring tones post, I just like simple ring tones, so that’s what I have it set to (actually vibrate and then ring). I’ve only had the phone for a few hours, but I already have some favorite features. One is the voice activated commands – very accurate. Another is the calendar which is avaiable with a single button press – so handy!

I feel like I have entered the modern age now. I can finally send and reply to text messages without loading up and navigating a clumsy browser interface!

Ring Tones

Post ImageRing tones seem to be everywhere these days. You can’t buy a cell phone without seeing customizable ring tones as a selling feature, and chances are you can’t watch five minutes of MuchMusic without seeing a commercial for something related to ring tones. I personally don’t understand why the idea of changing your ring tone is so enticing – then again, I usually have my phone set to vibrate. Maybe I can get custom vibrations? Like a variation in the length or something. Anyway, I digress.

David Carr wrote a piece for the New York Times yesterday in which he explained that today’s youth are accustomed to getting things for free. They download music and movies, and would rather record a TV show using a VCR than plunk down some cash for a TiVo or similar device. The only form of media youth spend money on seems to be ring tones:

Earlier this month at the Web 2.0 conference, John Battelle, an author of a book on search and one of the organizers of the conference, empaneled a group of teenage consumers that he assembled (at no charge, by placing an ad on Craigslist). They dutifully admitted that they did not pay for music or news or video, but most said they still spent $40 to $60 a month on media.

So what medium finally cracked the code on youthful intransigence?

Ring tones, available for now only from their wireless providers.

Have ring tones really cracked the code? Hardly! The only reason we don’t see teenagers (and anyone else for that matter) swapping ring tones like they swap music is because the entire process is too difficult. It’s easy to share a song, download and play it, and even transfer it to a mobile device. Most people somewhat familiar with computers can figure it out (and as Rick points out, young kids are savvy enough to use BitTorrent for their swapping). Ring tones are a different story though! It’s not clear how you create a ring tone, let alone share it with your friends so they can install it on their phones too.

As soon as someone makes it dead easy to create and share ring tones (and the tool or service reaches a critical mass of eyeballs), the market for ring tones will be history. Does anyone really think that a ring tone is worth $1.99? I certainly don’t. Especially not after Apple et al. have convinced me that a song is worth just 99 cents!

Read: New York Times

New York shuts off cell service in tunnels

Post ImageA quick scan of the headlines and you’ll see that we’re once again in that “what now” period that tends to follow a world event like the bombings in London last week. One that caught my eye today was “Cell phone service disabled in New York tunnels“:

Cell phone service was disabled inside the four tunnels leading into Manhattan after the terrorist bombings in London, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg questioned Monday whether the move “makes the most sense.”

The Department of Homeland Security said the decision in New York to cut off cellular service was made without any recommendation by the federal government’s National Communications System, which ensures communications are available during national emergencies.

I don’t agree with the decision at all. At least they re-enabled cellular service in train tunnels today. No cell phones means no ability to call 911 in case there is an emergency. I think it’s incredibly difficult to try and prevent something like the disasters in London, Madrid and New York, but it’s entirely possible to save lives by having a connection to 911.

I can’t help but think that the terrorists are succeeding when we place our fears of future acts of terror above our ability to call for help when we really need to.

Read: CNN