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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 22:23

We’ve just published episode 10 of Season 7… (SEVEN!) of the 361 Degrees Podcast.

If you haven’t checked in recently, I (perhaps rather obviously) recommend you have a listen. We’re finishing this series by exploring the question of whether we will shortly see the death of tablets.

Not the full, actual death… but given the market has seen fewer iPads being produced over the last year or so, what could that possibly mean? And how should that be rationalised, given the recent Ofcom stats indicate a doubling in the use of tablets in the UK!

Here’s the summary:

It’s our final week of season 7 and the team turn their attention to tablets. Rafe’s gathered some research (so we know the numbers are right) showing the iPad has lost its market-dominating position with overall sales of tablets slowing too. Samsung is catching Apple fast with its broad range of tablets and price-points but the smaller, lower-cost devices are the real winners cumulatively beating both the big firms.

In other news Ewan’s finally a productive member of society again (well, he’s started his new job) and Rafe’s finding dual-sim phones useful in rural areas with poor network coverage.

THE CHAT
Ewan says he’s impressed with the capabilities of some of the new lower-priced tablets, especially Amazon’s Kindle range.

Rafe says tablets probably aren’t ‘dead’ but life-cycles are clearly different to smartphones which are replaced much more frequently..

Ben says there’s probably not just one type of tablet market and he can believe they can become home-users’ main device.

Here’s the Soundcloud embed so you can play right-away:

Or, here are the subscription details.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Opinion, 361degrees, Podcast"
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Date: Tuesday, 12 Aug 2014 11:42

Screenshot 2014-08-12 12.42.29It’s that time again dear reader: Three UK’s CRM system has, as I predicted, chucked me back into the call queue for their sales team.

The last time the calls began was back in May. I ignored them for a few days and eventually answered on May 14th (I wrote a post then to chronicle the experience).

So almost three months to the day, I got another call from the now eerily familiar 0800 358 number range. The number that rang this afternoon was 0800 358 4481.

I answered and I shit ye not, I thought it was one of those phone jacker calls on account of the language the chap was using (e.g. phrases like ‘informations’ and so on.”

He was polite. He was particularly insistent. He offered me a free phone (“absolutely free”) from £16 per month. I countered by saying I didn’t like 24 month contracts. He then explained that Ofcom-something-or-other blah-blah all other operators do 24-month contracts. Something like that.

I declined.

He then suggested a SIM-only approach. Good thinking, I thought. However this time I was way ahead of him.

“I’ve actually just got one from Three,” I cut in.

Silence.

He began explaining how SIM-only contracts worked. I cut in again and tried to explain that I had physically attended a Three store on Sunday (hello Aronn who served me!) and picked up an £15/month unlimited data SIM. I also extended one of the other lines.

So I was fine, thank you.

“So you don’t want a phone?” asked the dejected chap. I felt for him.

“No, thank you.”

“What about for a family member?” he asked, once more. Five stars for persistence.

“No, thank you, I’m fine.”

And then I threw in a spanner. (This is for the Three executives who I know are reading. And also for the team over at Vodafone, O2 and EE to do some good old cackles over their afternoon espressos.)

“I do actually need one of the SIMs I bought to be activated….” I said, leaving a pause for effect.

“… But,” I continued, “I doubt you’ll be able to help me with that, right? I’ll need to phone someone else, right?”

The chap responded as I expected: “Yes, you will need to phone customer services.”

Expectations met: Total fucking shit.

I thoroughly admire the operation at Three, I really do. I am massively in favour of the new approach they’ve been leading recently (inclusive 0800 calls, USA roaming included, no price plan hikes during your contract and so on.) Their data network is excellent.

But their CRM is a pile of bollocks.

What, seriously is the point, in PAYING for someone to PHONE me — a “valued” customer (as the chap from the Indian call centre pointed out) to interrupt my day, to try and flog me something, when a) I’ve already been pre-flogged (at the weekend) and b) when the bod you’ve asked to call me isn’t given the capabilities to actually help me.

Shitty shitty shitty double shit. He couldn’t even transfer me? Let’s be clear: He obviously has the system credentials to be able to create new customer orders — so it can’t be asking too much to give the chap access to actually help me with other queries? I wouldn’t have minded if he said, “No look sorry I don’t have access, but let me transfer you right now…”

Heh. It’s amazingly bad. I love it, it’s so bad.

I will phone the Three customer services when I can summon the courage as I need to get this nano SIM card activated.

I am amazed that they keep on with their CRM calls.

By my reckoning, I should be getting hammered with sales calls from their 0800 358 number range in about 90 days. If you don’t answer the system just keeps on calling… so I should expect that to begin once more probably November 10th/11th. Something to look forward to, eh? ;-)

Here, for the avoidance of doubt, is the growing chronicle of my Three CRM experiences. It seems they’ve moved from an annual call to a quarterly call.

- August 11, 2014, This post
- May 13, 2014: It’s that time again: Three’s CRM is calling me twice a day now
- May 10-20, 2013: [I’d just joined RBS so I don’t think I even had the time of day to look at my mobile]
- May 21, 2012: “Three tried to flog me some stuff today
- May 10, 2011: “Three UK: Fascinating example of a missed sales opportunity

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "News, 3, call centre, indian, Three"
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Date: Friday, 08 Aug 2014 10:23

The message for Android is increasingly bleak in the context of security. I really do wonder whether the average normob (“normal mobile user”) is beginning to form the view that ‘Android is insecure’.

I don’t know if the message has penetrated widely enough and often enough in mainstream media yet. But I’m sure some damage is being done.

The pivotable moment will be when an institution or company (e.g. bank or supermarket) with millions of customers reports a meaningful exception (e.g. “1 million of our customers that use our [platform name] app have lost £5 due to hacking”).

One-in-ten banking apps are wide open to a malicious drive-by hacking exploit that exposes user credentials when visiting bug-laden websites. The vulnerability – discovered by the IBM Security X-Force Research team – lies in Android applications built on the Apache Cordova previously PhoneGap platform. According to AppBrain, this affects 5.8% of all Android apps and roughly one-in-ten mobile banking apps.

via Finextra: IBM uncovers Android banking vulnerability; consumers turned off by security fears.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Applications, android, Apps, hacking, ib..."
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Aug 2014 21:13

bromium

Have a read of this scenario from the labs at enterprise security specialist, Bromium:

You walk into a coffee shop and take a seat. While waiting for your coffee, you take out your smartphone and start playing a game you downloaded the other day. Later, you go to work and check your email in the elevator. Without you knowing, an attacker has just gained a foothold in your corporate network and is steadily infecting all your colleagues’ smartphones too.

Wait, what?

More via Remote code execution on Android devices | Bromium Labs.

If you’re at all interested in this area, I encourage you to have a read of the in-depth post linked above. It’s an article written by Tom Sutcliffe and Thomas Coudray who actually succeeded in executing some remote code on Android devices through the control of a ‘rogue’ WiFi hotspot.

After reading I did find myself hoping that the Cloak VPN chaps finally launch their Android service. I use public WiFi quite a lot and take a lot of confidence from the fact I’m protected on my iOS/Mac devices by Cloak.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, Services, bromium, bromium labs..."
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Aug 2014 07:55

Stefan over at Tab Dump posts a stimulating viewpoint today suggesting to that Samsung, “pulls a Qualcomm,” — that is, dump it’s handset business and focus on supplying key components to every other manufacturer.

He has a point, I think. Have a read:

People associate Qualcomm with the Snapdragon platform that powers just about every interesting Android phone currently on the market. Whether we’re talking the $129 Motorola Moto E, the $350 LG Nexus 5, or the $700 Samsung Galaxy S5, they all have a piece of silicon under the hood that was engineered by a bunch of nerds in San Diego.

More via Samsung should pull a Qualcomm — Tab Dump.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, qualcomm, samsung"
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Date: Thursday, 31 Jul 2014 17:07

LG_G3_2

I think I should check out the new Nokia Lumia 930. It’s been a while since I gave Windows Phone some decent usage attention. I need to use the 930 for at least a month.

So I’ve got to buy another phone. Yet again.

I therefore don’t need the LG G3. Not at the moment, anyway. I won’t be able to use it as my primary phone.

I still need access to the LG G3. I need to have a top of the range Android device available to me mid-September for the end of September and the G3, with it’s funky smart watch, is useful. I have to demonstrate it a few times.

However I don’t need the G3 during August.

I am therefore going to try crowd renting the G3.

I reckon 10% of the cost is a fair amount for a month’s usage. So £40 plus insured delivery of approx £7. Call it £50.

Does anyone want to use the LG G3?

Am I nuts? Maybe. If you’re a Nigerian scammer or operating one of those “Windows Support helpline” scam call centres, I don’t think I’d like you to have the phone.

But there’s surely a few folk out there who’d like to test out the G3 for a bit of time and who a) can expense £50 and b) are honest enough to send me the phone back after 30 days.

I’ll wipe the device and send it next-day in a nice little padded envelope. I’ll even provide a padded return envelope too. I suppose I could also wear the return delivery charges as well.

What say you?

If you’re interested get me on @ew4n on Twitter or ewan@mobileindustryreview.com.

It’ll be an interesting test anyway, right?

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, News, android, LG G3, phone, Re..."
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Date: Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 16:36

The team over at Travolution have just published this guest post. Have you got some rather nifty technology relevant to the luxury travel sector? Read my post then drop me a note!

This September I need your help. I will be presenting to 60 of the most influential luxury travel buyers and suppliers from around the globe at the inaugural Connections Luxury event.

My role will be to explain the latest advances in technology (with a focus on mobile). I’ll also be demonstrating many of them first hand (think: Google Glass, wearables and so on). I would welcome your ideas for technology and services that I can include on the day…

via Guest Post: Wanted – the latest advances in technology – Travolution.co.uk.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Opinion, connections luxury, travolution"
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Date: Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 10:11

Starhome Mach is the global leader in mobile roaming services (or, to use the proper definition, inter-carrier network and clearing services).

A huge number of operators use them to manage their roaming services. Therefore, via their Unity real-time analytics system, they are well positioned to offer aggregate anonymised data on how hundreds of millions of actual people use their mobiles abroad.

The sad reality is that you and I need a bit of a reset. We reckon that the issue of ‘roaming’ is sorted, more or less, right? It’s not crazy, generally. Especially in Europe. It’s certainly manageable for the average customer now.

And anyone featured in the media today with one of those “I ran up a £500 bill abroad” sob stories has only themselves to blame. The operators have come a long way in terms of educating customers and making things a lot more bearable especially for the occasional roamer.

Unfortunately, globally, most folk don’t bother roaming.

They STILL switch their phones off.

Here are the headlines from Starhome Mach’s latest announcement:

  • 68% of global roamers are still silent [i.e. don’t roam when abroad]
  • 58% of EU roamers are still silent, despite regulations designed to lower
  • The number of roamers using data increased 10% over the past 12 months, while the number of roamers using voice decreased
  • Only 56% use voice when roaming

Fascinating, eh?

It’s not all bad news. Roaming usage is increasing slowly.

What do you do about the ‘silent’ roamers? Well, there’s a solution. You can actually ‘awaken’ them (I love the term). Here’s the overview from Starhome Mach:

Operators who use Starhome Mach’s real-time Silent Roamers solution are able to identify and awaken their roamers thanks to its unique integration between clearing and network services. They target roamers with micro-segmented campaigns based on profiles and usage patterns and then track results and the impact on their business. Dynamic pricing support on both the retail and wholesale levels provides maximum flexibility without impacting the operator’s billing system. Operators are also using this technology to detect silent locations to pinpoint potential quality of service issues.

I’d like to see more operators implement this kind of thing — alongside a competitively priced offering to match, of course!

Silent-Roamer-Stats-Image-July-2014

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "News, mach, roaming, starhome"
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Date: Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 09:34

LG G3The latest version of Android is still driving me round the bend.

You’d have thought they’d have fixed all this nonsense after many iterations. As it stands today I’m still getting emails from Android apologists telling me that ‘these things should be resolved with the next version,’. Yeah. Not useful to me when I’ve spunked £600 on what I thought would be a phenomenal experience.

Here’s a case in point that is causing me to press exit on Android today.

This morning I sat down at my desk to do some work. I placed my LG G3 top of the range gorgeous Android phone on the desk and got on with my tasks.

About 40 minutes later I got a text message. I picked up my phone. That’s when the trouble began.

It was exceptionally hot. Uncomfortably so.

I looked at the battery indicator. I put it down on about 98%. It was now, after 40 minutes, reporting 67% charge.

In my mind I was screaming BLUE FRUCKING MURDER.

Yes, it’s a #firstworldproblem but this is totally unacceptable.

I tried to respond to the text and found the phone had got itself drunk. It was semi responsive. The FRUCKING HUGELY POWERFUL CPU was behaving as though someone had thrown a bottle of Sambucca down it’s throat.

Now and again it was responding to my commands. I’d tap three times. The screen would register the taps but the rest of the phone was 10 seconds behind. And that created even more trauma because I ended up launching apps and other services that were going on to use up even more resources by mistake because the phone was misinterpreting my wishes. Because it was slow.

It was slow, because McAfee was doing something.

There’s some bollocks generic McAfee nonsense installed on the phone. Family Protection or something like that. I can’t easily find a way to remove it so I just left it.

I had a look and saw that in the past 40 minutes, McAfee had eaten up 32% of the battery power and seemed to be consuming a heck of a lot of other processing resources.

Why?

No idea.

It’s perhaps wrong to blame McAfee. I’ve no idea what kicked that off. I’m at home today so I’m not worried about power. But I tell you, if I’d been on the train into work this morning and arrived at the client’s office with 50% battery … because of some stupid process malfunction. Ouch.

The fundamental problem as far as I’m concerned is that I’m using Android. And it doesn’t matter WHAT you say to counter this text: Android isn’t prime time.

Prime time requires stability. Stability at all flipping times. Not general ‘I’m sometimes drunk’ stability. I mean guaranteed stability.

I get this with an iPhone on iOS. IT. JUST. WORKS. NICELY.

I think once in a blue moon I’ll find my iPhone overheating unexpectedly. This is almost a daily occurrence.

It doesn’t take long before the other list of ‘fcuking annoying traits’ bubbles to the surface.

Want just one? (I’ve got a whole list.) I start the camera and … piff paff poof… I get message saying, “Camera stopped.”

Great. Thanks. Useful. Run the FLIPPING camera won’t you please? What is so difficult about running the camera? How can it POSSIBLY fail? Surely this stuff is tested repeatedly and repeatedly? Yes… but not in real world situations when you’ve got all sorts of buggy nonsense from lazy third party app developers interfering.

The OS itself on both the HTC One M8 and the LG G3 is really, really fast and responsive when you first switch the phone on. Start putting stuff on it and then seems to progressively dissolve into a semi-responsive experience.

I absolutely ABHORE interfaces that have to keep on building. You know, swipe right and then you have to WAIT while the phone renders the animation, then displays the icons and then properly formats the background. You have to wait or you’ll confuse the hell out of it.

You don’t need to do this with iPhone. Or BlackBerry. Or, to an extent, Windows Phone.

So that’s it for me and Android.

I tried, dear reader.

I’ll try again later on.

I need continuous stability first. Bring on the new iPhone.

Next, I think I owe it to Rafe Blandford to try out Windows Phone properly.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, android, ios, LG G3, windows ph..."
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Date: Monday, 28 Jul 2014 14:45

For quite a while I have been searching for the ultimate MiFi device service. While I religiously use my EE 4G MiFi here in the UK, I’ve always had problems when I go abroad, whether it’s getting charged stupid rates or spending a silly amount of money buying local sims that don’t actually work.

I think the Uros Goodspeed is what I’ve been searching for.

goodspeed-sales-box-contents

In recent months it’s become more or less plausible to go abroad without making special provision for your phone’s data roaming. For instance, if you’re a Vodafone customer, you can data roam in Europe for £2 per day using your UK allowance. This is perfectly useful.

However things get rather complicated when you’ve got more than one device. For instance, I usually carry two personal mobile phones and then I usually have another one supplied by the business (which sometimes won’t have international data enabled!) and of course, an iPad or similar. And the laptop if I need proper computing power.

I want each of them connected, naturally. At this point I usually have to wait until I get back to the hotel or airport — somewhere with a WiFi zone — so that I can use them all.

This isn’t really acceptable. It’s certainly bearable if you’re just doing a quick jaunt on a personal basis.

It’s 100% not acceptable if you’re working, especially if, like me, you’re providing consultancy services to someone who is paying you and therefore expects to be able to get a full business day’s worth of value from you.

Telling your customer that you can’t look up DropBox because you’re out-and-about in Malaga and don’t want to pay the data roaming charges isn’t a valid response.

I’ve often had to bite the bullet and get stung repeatedly when I’ve needed data in a hurry.

Enter the Uros Goodspeed service.

The service is comprised of a device and then various SIM cards for the countries you are planning on visiting.

The device is a MiFi unit with 10 spare SIM card slots. It handles up to 3.5G and comes with a 2,550 mAh battery for roughly 8 hours of usage (see more tech specs.) It will handle up to 5 connections so that’s all my critical ones covered. The device is €239 to purchase.

Once you’ve got that, then you need some SIM cards. When you order the device, you’ll be prompted to select what country SIMs you’d like included. You can add more later on. Just be sure to plan ahead.

I picked a random number of countries in the example below (specifically excluding the standard European roaming zones we’re all aware of).

Screenshot 2014-07-28 15.33.26

You can see I’ve deliberately picked Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala… the sort of countries I’d normally expect to be absolutely hosed from a data standpoint. The cost per country is a flat €5.90 per SIM and that also includes 500mb of usage.

Let’s just assume I have to fly to Ecuador twice a month (if only) for business for 2-3 days each. That would normally cost me £3 per MB for up to 5MB then £15 for every 5MB after (assuming I’m a Vodafone UK pay monthly customer). I could use the Data Traveller bundle which would charge me a semi reasonable £5 for 25mb per day. But no. That’s enough for me to check my email a few times, do a few searches and then… well, because I’m using a smartphone that lives for a data connection, all the other services that will activate normally the moment I’ve got a connection (e.g. weather update, blah blah blah) will easily take me to the 25mb limit in about 20 minutes. ;-)

Compare that with the Uros Goodspeed offer. I already get 500mb for buying the Ecuador SIM. And if I’d like a 1,000mb day-pass, that’s €9.90 (the higher rate — see the chart below), job done. All in. No more costs. And that is very, very appealing.

And since in this scenario I’m using the Goodspeed, I get all the standard MiFi benefits — namely all of my devices can connect to the Goodspeed and get a data connection. So across 2-3 days, I’d end up paying something like €17 or £13.44 in the orange countries (below) or in this Ecuador example, about €29 or £22.

Of course it’s the same deal for America, too.

I’ve been pretty pleased that 3UK has now made America “inclusive” for contract customers however, again, I’m not that interested in just one device. I need multi-device connectivity.

Here’s the rough plan details based on country:

Screenshot 2014-07-28 15.17.36

You’ll see most countries in Africa aren’t offered plus note the difference in rates according to the colour.

On the train

I was astonished recently when I found a chap sitting across from me using a Uros Goodspeed. I noted his British Airways Gold status card on his bag and thought it was worthwhile seeing if he’d engage. I asked him how he was finding the Goodspeed and he told me he swears by it, particularly as he has to often travel to a set of countries not generally included in his corporate data plan. His company pays for his Goodspeed (Uros offer centralised administration for business customers) and apparently they’ve seen a huge cut in their data bill as a result.

Would you find it useful?

I think the Uros Goodspeed service is particularly useful if you travel regularly. By all means consider the service if you’ve got a one-off trip planned — but the up-front cost for the device might make it rather uneconomical, depending on the usage you’re planning. When I was consulting with Reed Exhibitions and finding myself in different countries almost every week, the Uros would have been absolutely ideal, especially as I usually got a bit of notice so I knew where I was going (you’ll need a bit of notice to allow for the delivery of new sims).

I’ve been using the Uros here in the UK and finding it excellent. Sadly, for review purposes, I’m afraid I haven’t managed to make it anywhere interesting like Ecuador!

You can find more information and purchasing details at www.uros.com.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, News, Operators, Services, data..."
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Date: Thursday, 24 Jul 2014 08:13

Screenshot 2014-07-22 23.13.50

We’re leaning very heavily on changing our electricity supplier. Right now it’s EDF. I’m thinking of swapping to British Gas. And in doing so, I’m thinking of taking them up on their Hive offer (£60/year, payable £5/month) to enable me to control and monitor my heating on-the-go. There’s more about Hive here.

I don’t need it.

But you know, I like to test these things out.

However. The prevailing wind globally is surely Google Nest, right? I saw one for sale in B&Q the other day which got me wondering if I should be looking at that. It does look seriously … hot… (boom boom). You can even plug it into your Mercedes.. or your Jawbone or your washing machine. Interestingly, British Gas competitor nPower has aligned with Nest and is offering it for £99 and free installation (normally £279) if you use a particular energy plan.

I do like the ‘Britishness’ of the British Gas Hive offer.

Although am I going to limit the ability to do other sexy things if I don’t select Nest?

What do you reckon? Have you chosen one or the other yet?

 

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, b&q, british gas, Google, heati..."
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 19:36

LG G3Let me first say I am quite enjoying my enforced experiment with the LG G3, LG’s newest flagship model. I like what they’ve done with the device.

The operating platform is fcukng shIt.

There we go.

Let me further revise that statement.

The power management of the operating platform is fcukng shIt.

I mean, utter toss.

Utter fckng drivel.

[I don’t normally use the F word because I tend to get complaints for people who don’t receive their Mobile Industry Review newsletter because the corporate mail system has knocked it into the unobtainable spam folder. Hence the modification, which, incidentally, gets through perfectly fine.]

I am the first to demand access to all the cool toys — big screens, wickedly cool lifestyle monitoring whizzy things along with background processing and multi-app capabilities.

However, I expect that to be at the end of the list for the device manufacturers and software developers. I expect sane heads to make sure the device gets through the flipping day, FIRST. Then add the bells and whistles.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

It’s not just the operating system. You’ll note that I didn’t explicitly blame Android. I used the word ‘platform’ — interchangeable with ‘ecosystem’.

You have to laugh — as I did — I burst out laughing walking along Threadneedle Street this evening when my phone piped up with a “30% of battery left so I’m switching everything off” message.

How is that a fix?

“Here, have 70% worth of amazing experience and then, once you’ve nutted your battery, we’ll switch all that coolness off. So, you can get through the rest of the day.”

My mistake was considering Whatsapp and Google Hangouts as business critical communications platforms.

They are not.

They can’t be when they’re running on top of a device with a super HD screen, dozens of processors and bucketloads of bloaty buggy software running on top of the OS opening all sorts of connections all the flipping time.

Here’s how I used the phone today:

  • I unplugged it from the wall at 130pm.
  • I didn’t touch it until 230pm whereby I used it to check some email and engage in about 20 minutes of Whatsapp.
  • I used Whatsapp occasionally across the next hour plus a bit of email running up to 4pm. I could see the battery draining by the second.
  • I then placed a call from about 530-6pm. That took me to under 50%.
  • I placed another 10 minute call and I was hitting 40%.
  • I walked along Threadneedle Street and lost TEN FLIPPING PERCENT because I was Whatsapping and Google Hangout-ing.

Instant messaging is the absolute bane of my mobile existence. I love it but the phones just cannot, cannot CANNOT hack it. Not when they’re having to do everything else.

I haven’t looked into my LG’s inner gubbings to see what’s been sucking the battery most, but you can bet your bottom dollar the huge glorious screen is up three in the top 3. That and the cellular/data connectivity switching having to take place.

I didn’t expect the phone calls to suck the battery so much, given the screen is off for the duration.

Anyway, I then got in a cab to Waterloo and had the temerity to use Feedly to browse some news. Continually! For a good few minutes. That took me to 15% and the next LG battery warning.

I made it to the train at about 9%.

Utter toss.

So who’s to blame?

Well, Android yes. The handset manufacturer, yes. But let’s give a nod over to Ye Olde Nokia and Symbian and remember how it used to be done. Back in the good old days, developers had their faces pressed against hot coals if they were lazy enough to attempt to open up a communications socket without good, proper, demonstrably useful reason.

That’s because every time your phone has to actually DO something beyond presenting a few menu items at you, there’s an immediate power impact (especially when the phone battery didn’t have to power such hungry screens). Back in the good old days, your mobile apps had to be designed from the ground up to use data sparingly, particularly given the crazy per megabyte rates people had to suffer.

It was drummed into developers that you needed to think very, very carefully about the demands you placed on the phone’s antenna. Back in those days, the wrong code executed at the wrong time could sink your battery and run up tens or hundreds of quid’s worth of data.

There’s a temptation (or, perhaps an assumption) that having a 3G, H or 4G signal on your phone means you’re all good to go, that your phone is ‘connected’. Well, yes. Not quite. There’s a power consumption cost every time you communicate. Even on WiFi, however the technology is a little different there. With mobile data, you’re actually sitting on top of layers of technology and having to deal with the laws of physics too. Inside a building? Arse. Attached to a seriously busy cell tower? You might need more power to establish or maintain that connection. Bad weather? It all adds up.

And then when I come along with my semi-continuous Whatsapp conversations, it all goes to pot.

Because although it seems to me as though I’m having quick 10 second bursts of conversation across 10 minutes, I’m causing power misery, switching my screen on, doing the little taps to open the screen, flicking up the app and so on.

I can’t entirely blame the operating system or the manufacturer. I think, however, there’s a portion of blame that is often unallocated that should be thrown squarely at lazy mobile developers. Let me ask you this: Have you actually thought about the power implications of everything you are asking your app to do? No. Hardly anybody does. As a developer, the ‘connection’ is assumed to be binary and permanent. It’s either on or off.

And when it’s on, go for it.

If you’ve ever been around mobile app developers and looked at the kind of code they execute, most of it (could I go out on a limb and assert that all of it?) blithely assumes the user is on WiFi. The app will certainly be tested on WiFi. With only the most thorough actually testing their apps in real world poor signal areas. And even if there’s a real battery impact, I’ve almost never seen that challenged as a failure or significant problem. It’s ignored.

Which means we’ve got a whole ecosystem more or less guaranteed to annoy the hell out of me.

There is a degree of control when it comes to Apple. Many key operating system features are still entirely out of bounds. Developers can only do so much because Apple wants to control the environment as much as possible. Which means that I often do get better battery performance on iOS… (flippantly) because I can’t do as much as I can with Android. iOS is almost self limiting.

Still you only need to run something like Socialcam properly and have it recording video then uploading it ‘live’ to YouTube to feel the iPhone reach frying pan heat level and the battery hit 20% in 10 minutes.

On Android I’ve got countless processes running all over the place, whether it’s Google tracking my location or DropBox trying to upload the latest photo I’ve snapped and repeatedly hammering my antenna because I’m in a limited signal area. Don’t even mention the GPS or the whizzy “Ok Google” power demands.

Sadly, in the end, the full ownership of the blame rests with me.

My expectations are completely skewed.

I’m using all sorts of apps that I’ve chosen because of their visible utility. If there was some kind of ‘battery consumption kite mark’ for apps I might consider abiding by that and deciding on my app choices with more thought.

But it’s my problem, fundamentally, right?

I should have my screen running at 12% brightness, first of all. I don’t because it’s sometimes difficult to see. Heh.

I should carefully limit my data usage, turning off mobile data until I really need it. And I should deinstall almost everything I’m running and in particular, switch off as many background processes as possible (e.g. Google Sync, Widget updates and so on). I might actually try that.

But… what is the point? I might as well go back to using a top of the range candy bar Nokia offering days of power. And run that alongside an iPad Mini/Full size.

I should have taken my charging cable with me, today, so that I could have sucked some of my Mophie PowerStation’s 10,000mAh to keep me going.

I wonder if anyone has made a 10,000mAh battery for the LG G3?

Or, actually, given I’m using the G3 which sports a removable battery, maybe I should be carrying three of them around with me so I don’t have to limit my actual usage of the phone during the day so I have power to get me home?

I think it’s time for me to make peace with this issue and … finally, finally accept that it’s my fundamentally problem. If I want to use this wickedly good technology (and boy, am I a power user) then I need to recognise and accept I need to always carry spare batteries.

I think my frustration today came from the fact that I stood there in front of the power socket today and thought, “Nah, I won’t need to take the cable today… I’ve got a full charge and it’s not as if I’m going out the whole evening either.”

My mistake. There are some efficiencies to be gained trying to limit unnecessarily functions. I think I should either get a stupid case to destroy the nice feeling of my super-slim LG G3 or always carry a battery charger and lead.

Thoughts?

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, Opinion, android, battery, LG, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 22:13

Thank you to those who commented on my post last week (“Can you recommend a good IP/Web camera for monitoring an infirm pensioner?“). After a good amount of additional research I actually ended up going for a UCAM247 product.

This is the one I eventually purchased to try out:

Readers helpfully recommended looking at the Dropcam Pro. I did look at it very carefully and I really, really liked what I saw. REALLY. Here’s the Amazon entry:

And as you can see it’s almost double the price.

Dropcam has recently been purchased by Nest/Google which is both good news and bad (heh… who wants Google’s servers now actually physically watching you whilst you eat?) however I also think that helps validate and assure the service on-going. The biggest negative for me is the Dropcam team haven’t yet internationalised their service — for instance their online shop only serves the US. That said it’s easy to get one sent to the UK — for an extra £85 it seems. Plus their archival service demands a US credit card.

I just wanted to test out the facility with my other relative (who wants to check on their parent). And although I loved, loved, loved the usability and service concept behind Dropcam, I thought it was silly to pay double the price.

As I expected, the UCAM247′s usability was a bit … techie. You really need to dive into the various different settings and I struggled to get the monitoring working to my satisfaction, probably because I wasn’t willing to invest the additional time and effort. The camera plays a stream on-demand via the app and the web. Job done. I did manage to get it to send alerts via Gmail/SMTP but not via FTP so I could use a more user-friendly monitoring service from the likes of Cammy. Again it’s probably me not paying full attention. I followed the PDF/FAQs on the UCAM247 site but to no avail.

I also found the UCAM app to be a bit… buggy. Things would freeze regularly. I was also a little disappointed that push notifications seemed to be perhaps 3 or more minutes delayed. I ended up using a third party app called ‘AnyScene’ on iOS (recommended as an alternative by UCAM) that offers a more consistent viewing experience, albeit in the older generation iOS style. Still, this was good enough for my relative… at the moment, anyway.

I’ll keep an eye on Dropcam. I still want one.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, @home, amazon, cammy, dropcam, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 21:56

Screenshot 2014-07-22 22.49.59

I’ve got another question for you, dear reader.

Do you have problems with the WiFi in your place of residence? If so, do you use the powerline/homeplug adapters to serve you WiFi via your electricity connection? We seem to have an array of dampening fields all around our house so I’ve got three different WiFi networks going in different regions of the house.

I’ve been using Devolo products (like that one above – Amazon link) for a long time and I’m reasonably content (apart from having to have three different networks!)

However I was wondering if you’ve got any recommendations for other products to try?

The Devolo adapters are rather expensive compared to other ranges (TP, for example). I’ve been browsing the Amazon feedback sections and given the fact TP is almost two thirds cheaper I’ve been thinking about trying them out.

But is there another brand I should be looking at? Any suggestions welcome!

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Opinion, @home, adapter, devolo, electri..."
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 21:21

As I was setting up my new LG G3 piece of Android joy the other week I inevitably searched for the Amazon app. I was looking for the main Amazon app — the one I use almost daily on the iPhone to order all sorts of things (Most recent purchases: 4x 9V batteries, 1 x Dry wipe noticeboard for the office).

I couldn’t find the app on the Play Store.

I presume there is one.

I’m sure there is one.

I eventually had to do a (ironic?) Google search for “Amazon Android App” and was able — I think — to determine that, yes, there is a ‘standard’ Amazon shopping app for Android.

Here’s what I see when I search for “Amazon” in the Google Play Store:

Screenshot_2014-07-11-02-35-46

What am I missing? Why don’t I see all of Amazon’s apps right there on the ‘first page’ of Google Play results?

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Applications, amazon, android"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 21:15

Screenshot 2014-07-16 22.15.48

I’ve got a challenge that’s been presented to me by a relative (I’m keeping this one as anonymous as possible). One of my relative’s parents is becoming increasingly infirm. The parent lives in elderly accommodation and they have one of those ‘red button’ alarm services installed, activated either by pulling a cord or by using the dongle you hang around your neck.

This is all well and good… until, that is, you’re dealing with an infirm parent who can’t remember things. It’s irrelevant whether the memory loss is caused by alzheimer’s, dementia or just old age. If you fall and then don’t recall that you’re wearing a dongle with an emergency button to summon help right-away, there’s not much alternative but to wait — sometimes overnight — to be discovered.

The parent has now fallen twice in the bathroom in the middle of the night and had to wait until late mornings to be rescued. This can of course be remedied by having the warden call every morning at 8am. Which still leaves a huge amount of time for accidents to happen and an unnecessary amount of time left lying on the floor (perhaps in some pain).

Things are complicated even more when the parent insists on having no additional help — and, further, when they prefer to avoid calling out in the middle of the night, perhaps to avoid inconveniencing neighbours (or, perhaps to avoid dealing with the embarrassment of one’s situation — a natural response).

So… I suggested installing a web camera that my relative could use to remotely check on the parent. I was thinking we could install the camera in the main living room area which would help give my relative an idea if the parent is ‘ok’. We were also giving some thought to placing a camera in the bedroom, strategically located to be able to indicate whether the parent is in bed or not (whilst retaining the privacy of the parent). My relative will then be able to check-in regularly across the day and night to check that the parent is ok

My relative really likes the idea. So much that they’ve got BT to install an internet connection. They’ve checked with the parent in question who also likes and has approved the concept too.

I’m thinking of something like a Withings Smart Baby Monitor.

Here are the requirements, I’m hoping you’ll be able to suggest a model that I can buy.

  • My relative needs to be able to use a native app on their iPhone to connect to the webcam feed
  • The native app has to be well laid out
  • The webcam unit needs to have decent security protocols
  • The webcam should be able to deliver both audio and video — I also like the idea of ‘two way’ communication although I’m not sure how useful that would actually be given the delays that I’ve witnessed with the likes of the Withings Baby Monitor
  • The webcam should use Wi-Fi so it can be positioned away from the router without wiring
  • It would be ideal if we could hook up multiple cameras to the same app

I do like the idea of going even further and installing some kind of monitor that will send an alert when the parent goes *into* the bathroom and when they don’t return to the bedroom after X minutes. That would probably be even more useful than a webcam but I couldn’t find anything that does this (easily and consumer-grade-easy too!)

Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

Update: I bought a camera…

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, Opinion, advice, alarm, camera,..."
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Date: Friday, 11 Jul 2014 01:30

LG_G3_2This arrived today. If you don’t recognise it immediately, it’s the LG G3 (press release), winner at the Global Mobile Awards at Mobile World Congress (it says so on the box!).

I thought I’d opt for the LG as it’s been far too long. I don’t know the LG PR team in the UK so I haven’t kept as up to date as I should have with the LG brand. The last LG I had proper, decent hands-on with was the…. wait for it… LG Renoir back in 2008. Here’s the intro piece (“The LG Renoir is a work of art” — see what I did there?)

Since then the company’s been through a few peaks and troughs. I think it’s fair to say that they’ve found their smartphone mojo in recent models culminating in the G3 (I’ve also ordered the LG Watch… in for a penny, in for a pound).

I spent about an hour setting it all up tonight and I’m more or less rocking with it.

First impressions are positive. I will see how I get on with it tomorrow — we’ll be recording some 361 Degrees podcast episodes so I shall vent forth there about the experience too.

Meanwhile in other news, my wife’s HTC One M8 has arrived… More on that and her reactions soon.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Devices, device, LG G3, phone, smartphon..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 19:46

Screenshot 2014-07-08 20.45.52

I don’t think you’ll guess.

I’ll tell you on Thursday.

Meanwhile Hetty’s HTC One M8 arrives tomorrow, complete with the little dot-matrix screen cover.

How do you think she’ll react to it? I shall be documenting the experience for your reading pleasure.

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Opinion, android, it's a surprise!, phon..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 15:33

Screenshot 2014-07-08 10.04.14

All across the news today is this announcement from British Airways (see Telegraph):

British Airways says it will turn away passengers booked on US-bound flights if their electrical devices will not switch on

The underlining issue being that if your phone doesn’t switch on, it could theoretically contain explosives. Or something like that.

I wonder if this could FINALLY be the turning point for the industry to actual focus on battery life?

We’ve been slowly moving that way and increasingly it’s rather exciting to see the “mAh” figures gradually tipping over the 2,000 mark for most batteries. Still, when you’ve just added an even more powerful screen or a quad-core chip that will draw more of that battery, it can be a zero sum game.

Samsung is currently marketing the fact they can make your phone “shitter” so that you can stay connected longer because the battery won’t get you through the average day. The screen goes black and white, the capabilities of the phone (all the fancy face tracking stuff, etc) are switched off so that your £600 device can maintain a cellular connection (See: The Wall Huggers video).

What will it take for me to be able to use my iPhone or Galaxy S5 for more than a few hours continuously without the battery hitting 20% or worse?

As anyone who experiences this regularly, the moment you get the ‘Battery low’ (“Dismiss”) prompt at 20% on an iPhone, it’s game over. You can more or less see the battery percentage descend every 3 minutes if you’ve still got 4G rocketing away and you’re busy processing a video on the phone.

What will it take?

5,000 mAh? To get through a decent day of average use?

Could we see some innovation in power delivery and management? We’ve seen manufacturers testing the water recently with some beefier devices — Moto’s RAZR Maxx (3,300 mAh)– but not with the conviction that I’d like to see.

I’d love to see Apple, Samsung or HTC actually put a stake in the ground on the issue of battery power. Maybe even Microsoft might like to get involved?

If we continue see headlines like the one above, I think we’ll soon see some adjustments in the marketplace placing a higher focus on battery consumption.

British Airways appears to have been especially direct with it’s new ruling. It’s not quite clear what the other airlines are doing although I imagine they could soon adopt the same policy.

Here’s the Telegraph with more detail:

But on its website, BA said: “If your device doesn’t power up when you are requested to do so, you will not be allowed to fly to the US on your original service. Our customer services team will look after the rebooking of your travel arrangements.”

It added: “If you are flying to the US as a transfer customer, especially those on long journeys, please make sure that you do not deplete power in your devices while on the first part of your journey.”

So let’s be clear what’s going on here… Let’s say I’m flying to Las Vegas via JFK, right?

That’s something like 7 hours from Heathrow to New York, then I need to hang about for… an hour… two hours, whatever, then get on another 5-6 hour flight to Vegas.

Based on BA’s advice, you’d need to ensure your phone’s battery is sufficiently charged to get through security screening at JFK to board the second leg of your flight.

So you either need to allow enough time to get your phone charged properly when you’re on the ground. Or you need to fly Business so you’ve got access to a USB charge point in your seat. Or you need to carry a spare battery. Or you need to carry a Mophie Powerstation mobile battery.

Speaking of which… if you can hide explosives in a mobile phone, why couldn’t you do so in a mobile battery? You can switch on a mobile phone to prove it works. You can’t easily ‘switch on’ one of these mobile battery packs. Yeah you can make it flash a few lights, but you’d need to X-Ray it to see what’s inside.

It’s going to get interesting.

And if you’re a frequently flyer this whole battery issue is likely to get annoying really fast.

What do you reckon?

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "News, airlines, Batteries, flying, phone"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 12:01

Screenshot 2014-07-08 00.16.04

Picturelife has done it again: They’ve just released the latest version of their service on mobile and it’s even better than before. The price plans have had a total re-jig and now for $15/month, you’ll get unlimited storage for all your photos and video.

Picturelife’s back-end data storage parter is Amazon S3.

Amazon is rock solid.

Right?

Yes.

Here’s some data via Stack Overflow from Amazon themselves:

Q: How durable is Amazon S3?

Amazon S3 is designed to provide 99.999999999% durability of objects over a given year. This durability level corresponds to an average annual expected loss of 0.000000001% of objects. For example, if you store 10,000 objects with Amazon S3, you can on average expect to incur a loss of a single object once every 10,000,000 years. In addition, Amazon S3 is designed to sustain the concurrent loss of data in two facilities.

Q: How is Amazon S3 designed to achieve 99.999999999% durability?

Amazon S3 redundantly stores your objects on multiple devices across multiple facilities in an Amazon S3 Region. The service is designed to sustain concurrent device failures by quickly detecting and repairing any lost redundancy. When processing a request to store data, the service will redundantly store your object across multiple facilities before returning SUCCESS. Amazon S3 also regularly verifies the integrity of your data using checksums.

That durability is good enough for me, right?

Well.

No.

Backup the backup

And this is the crux of my problem with Picturelife.

I was happily going about my business sticking all of my photos and video on to the service and amassing a huge 300GB+ archive with them, loving every moment of the experience… until I did a 361 Degrees podcast with Ben and Rafe on the topic.

They thought I was nuts.

Their view is that I was utterly stupid to trust my most valuable data (photos and videos of the boys, family and so on) to an ‘unknown party’, even if that party — Picturelife — were using something as reliable as Amazon.

Ben and Rafe set about quoting the backup maxims. You know, things like, make sure you’ve got a local copy; make sure you’ve got two copies in two different locations on two different media sets. Yada yada.

I ignored them for a little while. I did break out into mental sweats whenever I thought about it, though.

What if some hacker managed to crack Picturelife and delete half their data structures — taking my 300GB with it?

Well, I’m pretty sure (although I haven’t confirmed) that Picturelife will have versioning turned on with their S3 storage, meaning that, theoretically, you can’t actually delete anything. You’ve always got an older copy.

Again, theoretically, that can be switched off (or, more accurately, paused) and hackers could have fun with that too.

I’m the weak point

The underpinning point: Amazon isn’t the problem, it’s other ‘actors’ that could mess with my data — not least someone cracking my super-hyper-crazy Picturelife password (thanks to Dashlane) and proceeding to delete every single file on my account using my credentials.

Again, one would hope that Picturelife support could, using versioning, be able to recover my data? Right? Probably.

But I don’t know. And Picturelife has not hitherto dealt with this level of worry.

I think it’s important they do, at some point.

One key thing they’ve offered from more or less day one is the ability to opt to use your OWN Amazon S3 ‘bucket’ to store your Picturelife account. If you do that, then they won’t actually bill you (given that you assume the bandwidth and hosting costs yourself).

A little while ago I rolled up my sleeves and setup my own bucket and transferred my 300Gb across.

Great.

Now my pictures and videos are stored in my own bucket. The service level is exactly the same. I can still use the app and web service as normal. I see no practical difference day-to-day.

However I can login with an S3 ‘file browser’ and I can verify that my files are there. This is the equivalent of a data centre manager who simply won’t swap to virtualisation, who insists on being able to touch his or her servers physically.

This week, however, I decided to change that.

Programming my own backup script

I flexed my LAMP (“Linux Apache MySQL PHP”) skillz. I flicked up a Rackspace Cloud server on CentOS, installed AMP, found the Amazon S3 class on Github and proceeded to see if I could work out a way of downloading each of my files sequentially.

You see, I’d used an S3 file browser to check my bucket and found 100,000+ files there. Picturelife takes your photo and makes two additional copies as you might expect — one as a quick ’tile’ shot and another ‘larger’ shot, as well as the original. Useful for caching purposes. You don’t really want to download an 8mb photo if you’re just swiping through it.

So I have about 33,000 photos and videos. Which equates to about 100k files. The file browser was having trouble parsing the 100k file list.

That led me to programming my own download script.

Which I duly created.

I’m rather proud of myself, dear reader. I flexed the LAMP skillz and boom, data arrived! I started programming at 11pm and by 2am I went to bed and left my scripts to work downloading the 33,000 files to an external drive connected to my MacBook. Thank you BT Infinity.

24 hours passed and I had retrieved everything.

I felt complete inside.

I felt whole.

I had a 300gb copy on my Rackspace cloud server (which I’ve since imaged/backed-up and shut down for the moment) and I’ve also got a copy on my USB drive.

The bad news is that the files I’ve downloaded have been stripped of the file creation dates. That was a bummer. That data is obviously stored elsewhere in the bucket (or on the Picturelife main servers).

Still: I do actually have the raw photos and videos. That’s the important bit, right? So if everything goes to pot, I have got a backup.

I shouldn’t have had to do this

Arguably most people don’t obsess at this level. I blame Ben and Rafe. However they’re still in the dark ages. They are still arsing around with Photostreams and iPhoto which, if you’ve got children like me (and you like taking photos and video) you will have noticed already that they are really poor.

Google’s Picasa does a nice job. It’s the same underpinning problem for me though: Control and management of data. I’m less worried about Picturelife and Amazon getting it wrong and more worried about some kind of stupid user-error on my part.

I would seriously love for Picturelife to offer an Amazon S3 bucket backup facility.

Or actually, I would really like to go back into the main Picturelife ‘account’ — instead of feeling as though I have to manage my own bucket — but with the premium option of being able to take a copy of my data and stick it somewhere else: Rackspace Cloud. Or Dropbox (even though they’re also using Amazon). Or something different.

I do not NOT NOT want to have to worry about managing my own picture and video data locally.

Local data management is an absolute joke — something that I think Ben and Rafe missed when they were lambasting me (rightly) about taking silly risks with valuable data. There’s no way at all I could rival Amazon or Picturelife’s reliability with my own infrastructure.

The issue I still face is redundant backup.

Just in case.

And here’s how easy it is, at least in my silly example, to dump my memories. I wanted to switch off my cloud server that I used for testing the backup script. I took a ‘backup’ or image of it whilst it contained the 200Gb data (i.e. just the original files, not all the ones created via Picturelife). I then wanted to create a ‘vanilla’ copy of the server config so I needed to dump the data. Here’s how I did it…

Screenshot 2014-07-08 00.34.26

Where I am today

So the solution, temporarily at least (I’m looking at you, Nate Westheimer, CEO, Picturelife) is my own silly backup script that literally scrapes each file from the my Amazon bucket. (There are various rsync style options but I was looking for something I could directly tinker with myself)

Given the recent and welcome price plan changes for Picturelife ($15/month for unlimited is brilliant, and the ability to share that with 3 other family members is even better!) I wonder if the team will soon be looking for premium add-on options? Surely a backup option can’t be too far away?

In the meantime I am going to work on my Picturelife bucket scraper tool and my plan is to run it once a month. Or programme it properly so that it runs daily and sucks down the latest additional files. BUUUT all of a sudden my photo and video management costs have gone into the hundreds of dollars per month because I ideally need a cloud server to run this.

I should underline my fanatical approach to Picturelife, particularly for Nate and his colleagues if they’re reading. I’m a huge, huge fan. So much so that I continued to pay the $15/month fee, even when I moved to my own Amazon bucket (which, incidentally started costing me about $40/month!). I like the sound of the cut of Nate’s jib, as the phrase goes. Here’s Nate writing about the recent cloud hosting cuts.

If you haven’t tried Picturelife, do so. The company appears to be doing rather well and my wife and our family and friends are absolutely delighted with the service. It’s just me being anal about the double-backup thing.

Further background reading on the issue

Author: "Ewan" Tags: "Opinion, Services, amazon, backup, googl..."
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