Welcome to InterconnectNow - Interconnected Technologies' blog about technology and other items of interest to small businesses and individuals.

The topics here will usually deal with productivity-enhancing technologies of interest to small businesses and individuals, but are often of broader interest.  Productivity is the goal of all of this technology that we use. Enabling productivity through refining or adding technology-based capabilities is what we're obsessed with at Interconnected Technologies, and so this blog is dedicated to discussions of all things related to that.

Enjoy!

Entries in Cellular technology (23)

Saturday
Aug112012

And the winner and still champion is . . .

. . . the Droid Razr Maxx! Yesterday I bought a Samsung Galaxy S III (SGS3) phone from Verizon. Few of you will be amazed at that since many of you know that this will be about the 20th phone I’ve tried over the past 2+ years (I’ve lost count).

The SGS3 is really quite something – fast, huge beautiful screen, typical Samsung Android excellence – and against any other phone it would be a strong competitor. However, I’ve gotten spoiled by one big thing and a couple of small things about the Droid Razr Maxx:

  1. Battery life. There isn’t another smartphone that’s even close to the Maxx. I have become accustomed to getting a whole day’s use out of my phone without running for the charger during the day. The SGS3 is good, but in using it today I got the awesome and terrible low battery warning by about 3pm. Before the Maxx I really had no choice – they all run out of juice well before the end of my day.
  2. Universal search. Searching on the Maxx searches Google and also several other things on the phone such as the address book, Google Drive, Music, Facebook, etc. Very handy, and removed from the SGS3, apparently as a result of the Apple suit against Samsung.

Really, the other differences are pretty trivial. Address book sync doesn’t work as well as the Maxx with my car’s Bluetooth system; the SGS3 is slightly more difficult to hold than the Maxx. There are a few other minor areas in which the Maxx wins that I can’t even recall now. On balance, though, Motorola really got things right on the Razr Maxx, especially with the recent operating system update. The SGS3 is a great phone, and so is the Maxx.

With HTC’s recent difficulties, on any other carrier the SGS3 is the clear frontrunner. On Verizon, if you care about battery life as I do, the Maxx still comes out on top!

Saturday
Mar172012

Whither "home" and "business" phones in the age of cellular?

There is certainly a change under way in area of telephone usage. It's not new, but it is accelerating, and it affects decisions about "home phone" acquisition and usage as well as "business phone" acquisition and usage.

The game changer is, of course, cell phones. Cell phones (and in recent years smartphones, which accelerate the discussion) and their corresponding cellular plans have key characteristics:

  1. They're always with us.
  2. The price gap between limited and unlimited plans is closing.
  3. Even with limited plans, there are unlimited segments (cell-to-cell calls) and timeframes ("free nights and weekends").
  4. "Long Distance" is included at no additional charge.
  5. Younger people, more and more as the years go by, are using cell phones exclusively - not even bothering to have a "home phone".

This trend affects home phone usage patterns dramatically, but it also affects business decisions around phone technology selection and use.

Our topic, then: how a business decides what to do about phone service.

Note: I'm talking about InterConnected Technologies' target market here: small businesses with fewer than 20 computer users. The considerations, requirements and costs can be significantly different for a larger business.

 

Decision Point

Key Question

Discussion

Example

Business number vs. cell phones  

Do we need a business number for in-bound calls, or do we just use cell phones?

More and more people and small businesses are just using cell phones for communication, foregoing home and business lines altogether. There are several advantages (cost avoidance, free calls to other cell phones, "free" long distance), and several disadvantages (no “business image”, no ability to share calls).

I chose to use a hosted, virtual phone service for InterConnected Technologies to present a professional image and separate out, to some extent, business calls from personal calls.

Advanced call routing functions 

Do we need routing of calls to each employee, or can we just have one phone ring, and take a voicemail message if no one answers?

A simple traditional phone line or VOIP (like Comcast or Vonage) line that rings a single phone in a single location, and takes a message if needed, may be suitable. If a “big business image” is important, then the added features of “automated attendant” functions may be preferable: transferring to extensions, ringing individual cell phones or desk phones, and so on.

I chose a provider that allows me to have business calls go to a business number, but have those calls routed to any phone I choose. In recent years the target of those calls has become almost exclusively my cell phone, since I use the cell phone for almost all calls. That said, when and if I need to route calls to another number (temporary office, or land line in a location lackng cell service), I can.

Mobile device call initiation

Do we need to receive AND make calls from the business number on our cell phones, or just receive calls at the business number(s)?

Some hosted PBX providers have Android and iPhone/iPad apps that allow users to make calls from a mobile device as though they were calling from the business line.

My current service does not offer this. When I make calls to clients, they see my personal cell phone number on callerid, which can lead, and has led, to some confusion on their part.

Limited vs. Unlimited 

Can we make due with a limited number of call minutes, or do we need unlimited minutes?

Most hosted PBX plans have tiered offerings that increase in cost when the number of included minutes increases, and then have a substantial adder if the user wants “unlimited” minutes. Which option fits best depends on how the business line will be used, and how calls will be taken and initiated.

My choice here has been to always get an unlimited plan, even with the price premium, because I make a large number of calls, and don’t want to worry about going over my quota and paying high overage charges.

Toll free number

Do we need a toll-free number, or will a local area code suffice?

800 numbers were once the gold standard in incoming business calls: businesses cared enough to pay for a line for the free use of their clients. With cellular and VOIP providers (including Comcast and Vonage) including at least US-wide long distance in their plans at no additional cost (or at least a fixed monthly cost), this is becoming a less important service, especially for younger clients who think nothing of calling an out of state number, since there is often no additional cost for doing this vs. calling in-state.

I chose not to pursue this, primarily because I don’t have a large number of callers from out of state. As my California and Oregon client base has grown, I’ve considered this, but the trend toward cell and VOIP service usage means that my clients really don’t care enough about this to warrant the extra cost to me of an 800 number.

Specific features

Are other specific features needed?

This is a catch-all of smaller, specific features that some may need and some may not. The item above that deals with mobile apps is a larger example of this type of feature – big enough to warrant its own discussion above. There are lots of little features that are similar, but narrower of scope.

In our example, I want to be able to send and receive text messages to and from clients on my business line using my cell phone. My current service does not yet provide this; nor does it provide Android-based outbound calling discussed above. The combination of these two deficiencies has led to confusion on the part of some of my clients who have seen the callerid of my cell phone, but know my business line, and tried to text my business line, only to be frustrated by those texts never being received.

 

As always, InterConnected Technologies can adapt this type of high-level understanding to a specific solution for any business.  Call if you need more!

 

Thursday
Feb232012

Android, the Journey Continues

When last we left our hero, he was considering switching to Verizon. The reason: to see if improved signal strength would lead to increased battery life. The Verdict? Yes, it seemed to make somewhat of a difference.

The followup: still on Verizon, and having has rather an unsatisfactory experience with the HTC Rezound (the combination of slightly weak Sprint coverage here and weak Bluetooth was deadly for me), I'm VERY happy with the Droid Razr Maxx on Verizon.

This may stop my wandering Android ways, for a time. The solid function, great ergonomics and amazing battery life of the Razr Maxx (even the regular Razr wasn't bad) will keep me happy, for awhile. This is the best Android phone yet.

More when I have more time.

Saturday
Oct082011

Android, The Experience - an update

They say experience is the best teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its students!

It's 2011, and I started with Android 16 months ago. I'd been a long-time PalmOS user, medium time BlackBerry user and short time WebOS user.

Time flies! I've had quite a few different Android devices since my original trusty EVO 4G, and my enthusiasm is undaunted. These are really very powerful, capable, functional productivity tools. Lots of comparisons are made between various Android phones and the iPhone.

Notice the plural vs. the singular.

The iPhone is pretty much the iPhone. Android is not an "it" it's a "them". There are many, many different flavors of Android phone, as the manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, Sony) and the carriers (Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Cricket) add their own unique spin to each phone. And Android itself exists in several different flavors: Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb. With Ice Cream Sandwich on the horizon. 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 = 625 is a dizzying upper bound on the different theoretical pairings of the choices above. That's a lot of choices!

Just as the lack of diversity can be an issue on the iPhone ("just too limited"), so can the tremendous diversity of Android be a problem ("just too complicated"). The limitations of the iPhone can be frustrating if one is trying to do something Apple doesn't think one should do. Those same limitations, however, make the iPhone experience very predictable in a way that makes them easy to form the center of a community of users, and also makes them easy to support.

The extensive diversity of offerings labeled "Android" can reverse this situation, expanding limits but allowing an at-times to some bewildering array of choices and ways of doing things that make community difficult, and support sometimes a challenge.

Take music as an example. On the iPhone, music syncs from iTunes and can be purchased from the iTunes music store. That's it. That's the only way. It's simple, reliable, predictable. It's limited, for now: sync by cable only, sync only to iTunes and to the built-in music player, whether you like them or not.

Photos, ditto. And maps, and calendar, and contacts, and tasks and notes, and . . . you get the idea.

Further, the Android ecosystem of apps is expanding at an amazing rate. Where there was one way to do something on the iPhone and 5 ways on Android, now there are 10 on Android. And then 12, and 15. It's expanding faster than anyone can keep up with!

The challenge is to make things simple, predictable, accessible, reliable at first, and then allow for the expansion into an almost infinite apps ecosystem as the user wants to and can.

Remember, there are literally hundreds of possible combinations of Android level, Carrier and Manufacturer. Add to that hundreds of thousands of apps and you have a recipe for chaos. Or a fun playground, depending on one's perspective. Add to that all this "cloud" stuff, with all the choices available there (even on the iPhone) and one couldn't be faulted for crawling back under the blankey and calling for mommie!

Never fear, Interconnected Technologies is here.

Remember the goal: make it simple at first, and then allow for the gradual expansion out into the big scary world. That's the challenge; the point; the goal.

The topic: How to set up an Android phone to do the basics well before branching out. One might think that this would be a focus of the carriers and the manufacturers, but one need only look at what are arguably the best Androids phones currently for sale (the Samsung Galaxy S II) to see that this isn't the case. Add in the way the Photon and the Atrix get configured right out of the box and you'll see that these folks are more interested in showing off than in handing you something that works as a base.

So, let's start.

Widgets. Forget them. They are sexy, flashy, useful, productive, complicated.

Icons. Everybody understands icons. Tap an icon and something comes up. Simple.

SO, step 1: delete the widgets. I know they are shiny and flashy. You can add 'em back later when you've got your bearings.

Also delete icons that don't do what you need to do. NASCAR on Sprint comes to mind. Get rid of the icon. Unless NASCAR is your big deal.

All Android phones have a "long press and drag" concept on the home screen. Touch and hold an icon that you want to move or get rid of, and drag it, still pressing on it, either to the trash can that will appear, or to another screen if that's the goal.

So to set things up so you can quickly ACCESS most of the things you need most:

On the main home screen, put icons (not widgets) that take you to the applications you use most often. Now, I don't know what those are for you, but I'll bet this list includes most of them:

  1. Phone
  2. Email
  3. Text messaging
  4. Contacts
  5. Voicemail
  6. Calendar
  7. Internet
  8. Camera

Remember, this isn't supposed to be comprehensive, it's supposed to be a simple starting point. Cover the bases. If you have another that's vitally important to you, or don't use one of these that I think is most important, change the list, a little, to fit. Some devices have 3 or 4 or 5 of what THEY think are the most important semi-permanently pinned to the bottom of the home screens. Use those for now if they fit.

Remember, get rid of all those widgets for calendar and email and Facebook and news and weather, and . . . They're gone now, right?

Just checking.

You can add them back in later.

Now, maybe on a second home screen (depending on your device you'll have 3 or 5 or 7 home screens), just a swipe to the left or the right away, you put some secondary stuff you use often, but slightly less often. Again, not widgets, but simple icons that open applications:

  1. Pictures
  2. Music
  3. Facebook
  4. Twitter
  5. Maps
  6. Market
  7. Weather
  8. Clock
  9. Calculator
  10. News

(N.B. some Android phones come with, for example, Facebook installed. Some don't. If you need/want Facebook, go to the Market (#6, above) and search for Facebook, and install the Facebook app that's provided in the Market by Facebook. Same goes for Twitter, and so on).

Again, not everything, and not flashy, but functional. NOW you have two screens with icons that represent most of what you do with the device.

NOW, you can branch out. Yes, there's a very nice widget on every HTC phone that shows weather and time. That can take the place of a couple of the icons above, which you can delete. There's usually a  widget for music that shows which piece is playing and has pause/play forward/reverse and volume controls. THERE IS MORE STUFF ON ANY GIVEN PHONE THAN YOU WILL EVER USE, and more in the Market than humanity will ever need.

Go slow; get and keep your feet under you.

Now we shift from ACCESSING stuff on the device to DOING stuff with the device.

One of the iPhone's great strengths and greatest weaknesses is iTunes. Focusing on the strengths: it automatically allows you to sync your music, podcasts, etc. down to the iPhone, and also backs up all your iPhone's settings and pictures.

With Android, you don't have this, unless you do. Motorola has started putting software on its Android devices that mimics much of what iTunes does (as described above), which makes things easier. If you have one of these devices (Atrix, Photon, possibly others). If you don't have one of those devices, then we need to have a conversation. Remember, there are multiple ways to do almost everything on an Android phone. Which one you pick depends on what your needs are. That's where Interconnected Technologies and I come in.

The scope of this is vast, and includes syncing music, syncing pictures, sharing documents, securing information,  and a dozen other things that one might want to do with/on a mobile device. The choices are too vast and the usage too personal to document it all here.

I will continue to try to document as much "standard" stuff as time and products permit.

In the mean time, call me. . .

 

 

 

Saturday
Sep242011

Whither tablets for a smartphone/laptop user?

I'm on a different Tablet Quest from most folks (surprised?).  

I've bought and returned a Motorola, Samsung, HTC and now Lenovo tablet. I'm searching for relevance in a tablet for a person with a 4.5" smartphone and a 14" very thin and light laptop (Lenovo T420s), and so far I haven't found it.

Actually, that's probably not true - the new HTC Jetstream from AT&T is probably "it" but it just costs so much that even *I'm* put off!

Here's what I want:

General, fully functional Android tablet, blah, blah blah.  That's a given. Each one I've bought so far is that.

BUT, to make it a relevant tool, I need to have it, finally, be the thing that productively (read: thoroughly, efficiently and pleasantly) replaces paper in the last place where my smartphone and laptop can't: meetings! In meetings, whether corporate or client, whether formal or informal, whether personal, volunteer or employee, stuff needs to be taken, used, reviewed, and, ideally, marked up during the meeting. Try that on a smartphone and laptop. Can't do it (remembering my three criteria, above). I nearly always either reach for blank paper (to draw a picture or rough something out), take paper stuff with me (to markup for discussion, editing, revision, etc.), or feel that I'm missing part of the experience if I have just my phone and laptop. An Android tablet on which I could write like the HTC (that's why the Galaxy tab and Xoom went back), might just do this if it's a) big enough to show an 8.5x11 page adequately (that's why the Flier went back) and b) allows pretty much global inking (that's why the Lenovo tablet went back).

I'm just not (yet) willing to pay the exorbitant price they're asking for the Jetstream, although as I flesh out my ideas, above, I find myself wanting the Jetstream, tomorrow! I assume, though, the price with drop either 1) because nobody will buy it (like the Xoom) or 2) because a wifi-only version will come out or 3) because they'll decide they've soaked the early adopters who are even sillier than I am, and are ready to sell it to everyone else.

Time will tell! It's a fun playground!