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Tag Archives: at&t

5 Reasons to Be Skeptical of Facebook Home

FB Android

Facebook Home (for Android)

Facebook has its own phone now. It’s a midrange HTC phone called the HTC First, which can be bought for $99 on a 2-year AT&T contract in the U.S. (EE and Orange are supported in Europe). It runs a lightly customized version of Android (not even a fork) called Facebook Home. For a few other compatible non-First phones, Facebook Home can be downloaded as an app from the Google Play Store. Facebook Home provides deeper social notifications, such as full-screen (ad-choked) notifications on your lock screen and home screen, and these notifications come from people rather than from apps, apparently.

As with most things Facebook-related, I regard this as a ton of hype from a company that is essentially a one hit wonder. Here’s why I remain skeptical of Facebook Home.

1. “People First” is a Losing Strategy

Facebook Home is, to use the company’s own language, all about people and not apps. If that sounds familiar, it should. Microsoft has been using the same language to talk about WIndows Phone for some time now. What’s worse, this tagline doesn’t even make sense: are the apps you use on Android or iOS somehow not about “people”? The portrait of the stock iOS/Android user that one gets from FB and MS is of someone who indulges lots of discrete, antisocial apps like PDF readers, music players, podcasting clients, and note-takers, and that somehow this must be stopped by putting “people” back at the forefront.

But this portrait is bullshit. It ignores every trend that’s happened on iOS and Android over the past five years. Just look at iOS alone. For an OS that’s not about “people,” it was the perfect proving ground for Instagram (an app so popular that FB had to desperately buy it for ~$1B), Flipboard, Albumatic, and Vine. Cross-platform (read: iOS + Android above others) apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and other SMS-replacements have also sprung up without any need to embrace the FB/MS “people first” ethos. As Michael Gartenberg has noted, resorting to this type of language indicates that one is actually very much involved in a heated battle over apps. It’s always about apps, in other words, and the only people who talk about “people” instead are the ones who are losing the app race. If people were all that mattered, a simple dumbphone with a contacts list would be enough.

2. Facebook Still Doesn’t Get Mobile

FB has the same problem as MS, namely that it wasn’t born mobile (to use Qualcomm’s icky catchphrase) and is having to adjust accordingly. The “app” concept – that high-quality, mostly self-contained programs that do a narrow range of things well – was so revolutionary because it finally addressed the silent majority of users who never multitask and just want their software to do well-defined tasks in relative isolation from each other, while preserving OS stability and device battery life. This is why iOS is so successful and appealing to multiple demographics. From the demos at today’s presentation, Facebook Home has all of the charm of a PC-era trojan that hijacks your device. Facebook is already a huge battery drainer on Android, and now that it has deeper access to your device, as well as the ability to run ads in your cover feed, it’s going to do everything it can to erase the optimized experience that iOS and top-tier Android have been working toward for years. Of course, many people won’t care.

3. It’s Confusing

Most people don’t know what a launcher is. This won’t be a problem for users who buy the HTC First, but for people who download the Home app (odd how a service “not about apps” is itself an app only salable via Google’s Play Store), it’ll be interesting to see how well an app that takes over your entire Android experience fares. Custom launchers (Nova, Apex, Go) are usually the province of power users who know Android in and out, but for the casual FB user, it’ll likely be hard to get back to the stock Android launcher once they go through with the Home setup. This specter of a potentially broken, overly complicated software experience relates back to point #2.

4. Who Will Buy The Hardware?

The HTC First is $99 with a 2-year contract with AT&T. For the same price, you could get a Galaxy S3 on any of the four major American carriers, or an iPhone 4S with Facebook integration into iOS, ad-free. Which would you choose? Granted, I have a low opinion of the savvy of many Facebook users and as such may underestimate how many of them may want to walk into AT&T and buy “the Facebook phone.”

5. Facebook is an iPhone-centric Company

Zuckerberg himself uses an iPhone, and the rest of the company seems to have given much more mindshare to the simple iOS experience, without going out its way to exploit the peculiarities of Android (widgets, larger screen sizes, etc.)

-The ScreenGrab Team

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How to Save Battery on Android

Batteries suck. Before Farhad Manjoo made it cool to point out the conundrum of faster network speeds bumping up against the limits of Li-Po/Li-Ion batteries, I posted my own skepticism about how LTE and other “advancements” in mobile technology were necessarily hemmed in by the relatively poor state of batteries. Even a device as carefully crafted as the Nexus 4 can struggle when confronted with a power-user’s layering of music playback, social networking, news readers/RSS clients, and document/photo processing. And even the iPhone 5, despite Apple’s own claims, is no hero in this regard.

On Android, these battery issues are compounded by the OS’s relatively loose restrictions on what apps can do. Whereas iOS tightly controls what any app can do while active or suspended (in the background), Android apps are often free to continually wake-up the phone even during sleep and in turn tax its already inadequate battery. With that in mind, let’s look at five relatively simple steps for getting better battery life:

1. If You Don’t Use it, Uninstall it!

How many apps do you actually use? The number is probably smaller than the number of apps you currently have installed. If there’s some game that curiously needs access to your call logs,  an ad-filled video app, or reader that you haven’t touched in ages, then please, please uninstall it! God only knows what it’s doing in the background while you (and your phone) are sleeping.

2. Use a Battery Manager

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Battery Widget Reborn

These tools are a dime a dozen, and some of them are sketchy. I recommend Battery Widget Reborn, which is a paid app that pins a battery percentage level to your status bar and lets you set automatic “night mode” or Airplane Mode times (it can’t put the phone into Airplane Mode on Jelly Bean or later, so it does a less-comprehensive “night mode” instead, which is similar except you can still receive calls/SMS). It also estimates battery life time remaining and gives helpful statistics about average battery life, as well as deltas for how long it takes for 1% of the battery to dissipate. Also includes a flashlight, in case you ever need that (and don’t have a flashlight app/real flashlight already).

3. Avoid Vibration

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Disable Vibrate When Ringing and everything below it.

There are no Good Vibrations in the battery-life world. Vibration is a gimmick that is both annoying and relatively hard on your battery. But avoiding it isn’t as simple as just changing your ringtone – you’ll also need to disable all haptic feedback and other input-related vibration, which luckily is easy to do on Android 4.0+. Simply open up Settings -> Sounds and disable Vibrate When Ringing, Dial Pad Touch Tones, Touch Sounds, Screen Lock Sound, and Vibrate on Touch, too. Individual apps may also have their own settings for vibration notifications, too, so you’ll need to enable them as well.

4. Don’t be Afraid of 2G

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Click More…

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Click Mobile Networks

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Select Use Only 2G Networks

 

3G (to say nothing of LTE) is a battery hog. It requires a high level of power and is always seeking new signals to optimize its strength. If you don’t need blazing fast speeds for apps like Google Now/Maps or for your Web browsing, then don’t be afraid to enable a 2G-only connection under Settings -> More -> Mobile Networks -> Use Only 2G Networks. This can improve that aforementioned 1% battery delta by an astonishing 2-3 minutes. On AT&T, this means using EDGE, which is hardly “fast” if you’re a speed demon, but does just fine with email or light Web browsing.

5. Pay for Your Apps

This may seem like an odd suggestion, but free apps are sneaky. They trade their low, low price for all sorts of ad-running, tracking, and other inconspicuous means. Facebook is absolutely criminal in this regard: it’s one of the most battery-intensive Android apps out there (Google+ is, too, but is a bit harder to detach from the stock Android experience due to its outstanding Instant Upload and Hangouts features). Twitter is, too, which is why I recommend using a Twitter client if possible, since they refresh less often and don’t require nearly as much sync maintenance. And if possible, you should pay for your apps: paid apps are often higher-quality and more transparent in what types of permissions they require and which tasks they perform.

-The ScreenGrab Team

Windows Phone and “Communication”

I went to an AT&T store today to get my Nexus 4 fully activated. The experience ended up being much more positive than my admittedly low expectations had prepped me for. Along the way, the tech savvy clerk and I discussed his experiences with some of the devices in the store, specifically the HTC One X and the Nokia Lumia 920.

I won’t bore you with reviews of these phones, both of which are fantastic pieces of hardware that are flagship devices for their respective platforms. But in justifying his abandonment of the 920 in favor of the One X, he said that Windows Phone was good for “communicating” but not “much else,” with much of said “much else” being apps.

It reminded me of a recent TechCrunch piece about Nokia’s decline, in which the author argued that the Finnish giant lost its way when it became obsessed with improving the phone functionality of its services and not foreseeing that data would become more important than voice. Ironic then, that is partnership with Microsoft would end up bringing it back to the same behavior that necessitated such a partnership in the first place.

Microsoft and Nokia either fail to see that there is more value in data than voice/traditional comms or they simply can’t compete when it comes to data. I expect that the latter is true, primarily due to their tardiness in entering mobile with Windows Phone 7/8 (three years after the first iPhone, two years after the Android G1), but at the same time I think that they’ve failed to compete in part because they failed to see the value of data.

Windows Phone is in a way the software equivalent of Nokia’s current hardware: beautiful, totally different from anything in the mainstream, and barely used. As a “phone” – something that can make high-quality calls, sort thru contacts, and perform basic tasks, it’s fine, but when you try to do something as simple as peruse Twitter, it stumbles early and often.

If it’s not enough to simply “communicate” anymore, however, then the carriers themselves ought to be just a bit wary of the smartphone market’s vitality. While hoary institutions like SMS and cellular data are not shuffling of this mortal coil any time soon, the notion that the “phone” is the default communication device could be in trouble.

iMessage and Snapchat, whose combined scale is still small, are nevertheless two excellent examples of lightweight apps that would be right at home on a wearable device like Google Glass or the increasingly mythical iWatch “smartwatch.” And while such services would allow for “communication,” they would be data hogs first and foremost, with features like cellular calls and SMS likely taking a back seat to the various in-app walled gardens, or to some aggregation service like Google Now.

One could argue that we are already there with smartphones. I know people who have moved the iPhone Phone app to the dreaded junk folder along with defaults like Videos and Reminders. But the elite status of the iPhone is still seen in the huge prestige gap between it and the iPod, the latter of which has no competitors and is more about fun than a full mobile experience.

Oddly, the lackluster status of Windows Phone as a glorified feature phone could open the doors for Microsoft and Nokia to simply leapfrog the smartphone paradigm and release a must have wearable computer. This is what Apple did with the iPod: lagging badly in the CD burning race (the first iMacs shipped without one), it decided to just change the game rather than play catchup. The same can be said of what it did to netbooks with the iPad.

In any case this seems to confirm my ongoing pessimism about Windows Phone, its opportunities in China notwithstanding. “Communicating” isn’t enough, which of course is obvious in the smartphone era – but though the phone is still king for now, this decline in the value of traditional “communication” means that it is already losing ground to the very things (data, apps, services) that is so perfectly enables (via cellular networks).

Paradoxically, by not seeing that, Microsoft et all may be best positioned to exploit the shift – they could just throw in the towel when it comes to smartphones, and try their luck at something else. But I expect at some level that they do not so much “not see” that a smartphone’s value has more to do with data than call quality and specs, but that they instead have just not competed, in large part because they just don’t get what users want.

– The ScreenGrabTeam