Friday, October 02, 2015

The Smartphones of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon and Why I Chose What I Chose

Being a fan of the Windows Phone, I'm sometimes regarded with surprise that somebody as educated and technologically astute as I am would choose this route.   After all, Android and Apple have all of the apps, all the mainstream support, all the market share, etc.  Not only that, there are many tech journalists and others who continually disparage us poor Windows Phone folk.  That got me thinking...

People sometimes become very passionate about the what they use to the point where they demonize anything else.  It's so easy to decide that MY platform is good and all other platforms are bad.  Maybe it's because your choice of smartphone can affect so much of what you do.  People use their smartphones for communication, social networking, news readers, games, reading books, flashlights, cameras, video cameras, remote controls, watching movies, navigation, etc.  Perhaps people worry that their smartphone choice may not have been the best or they get jealous of others' choices.  Whatever the reason, there are many who will tell you that Apple is wonderful or terrible, that Android is wonderful or terrible, that Amazon or Windows Phone is wonderful or terrible.  What I find refreshing are the people who say "My smartphone works for me.  I hope yours works for you."

When looking at the different platforms, you can see that they all offer similar services - specifically, all the uses for a smartphone mentioned above and more.  However, each company has different goals in mind.  These goals relate more to how they make money than on any sort of altruistic aims.  Here's how I see them.


Apple has amazing hardware and their devices are praised because they "just work."  They have a very tightly controlled ecosystem with the goal of only letting in the best - which usually means Apple stuff.

Apple's business model is to sell you hardware.  That's how they make their money.  At Apple, design is king and you can see it in their products.  That's also why their products tend to cost more and their customers upgrade more often.  Their whole push is to get you to buy more hardware.

Is this bad?  Not necessarily.  If you can afford the hardware, Apple works very hard to give you a consistent, user friendly experience.  After all, they want you to be happy in their ecosystem.


Google knows everything about you (which can be good or bad) and uses that data to cater to you.  They also have an open ecosystem with very few restrictions.

Google's primary business model is advertising.  They strive to have the best advertising accuracy of anybody.  They do this by having more information about people than anybody else.  How do they do this?  Free email, calendaring, social networking, documents, web browser, file storage, video storage, etc.  All of these services gather information in order to make Google advertising better.  That's why all of their services are free.  The consumer is not the customer, they are the product.  Google sell advertising to businesses - businesses are the customer.

Is this bad?  Not necessarily.  I used to worry that Google was selling my information to companies but really they're not (as far as I know).  As I see it, Google's competitive advantage is knowing more about you than anybody else and being able to use that knowledge to more effectively advertise to you.  They want businesses to buy advertising from them, not information.  To gather this information they offer tons of free services that are designed to help Google learn more about you.  They want as many people as possible using their services so they constantly improve them.  Google/Android smartphones tend to cost less that Apple smartphones because Google doesn't make any money from them (in fact, it's other manufacturers - like Samsung - that make money from Android smartphones), they're just another way to get you to use Google services and get to you click on Google Ads.

The one exception seems to be Windows Phone.  Google has refused to write any apps for Windows Phone.  Microsoft has integrated email and calendar but if you're an avid Google fan, you probably already know that Windows Phone will be a painful experience for you.


Microsoft is Office and business type services.  It is also Skype, OneNote, and other services that are useful for both fun and work.

Today's Microsoft is trying to sell services.  They also sell a ton of things to businesses but that's not what I'm talking about here.  Microsoft's focus is to get you to subscribe to their services.  That's where their money comes from.  Things like Office 365 and Skype calling.  To do that, they sell smartphones that run their services.  However, in the last couple of years, they've realized that most people aren't using their smartphones, so now they offer their services on Apple and Android too.  More and more Microsoft is worrying less about what smartphone you use and more about whether you're using Microsoft services on the smartphone you've chosen.

How good is this?  Well, if you like Microsoft services, it's great because no matter which mainstream smartphone you choose, it will have the Microsoft services available.  Does it mean Microsoft is giving up on smartphones?  I don't think so.  If you use a Microsoft smartphone, you're way more likely to use Microsoft services and that's really good for Microsoft.  So, I don't think they're giving up but they're also not putting all of their eggs in one basket.


Amazon wants to sell you stuff.  That's it.  All of their services are just the encourage you to buy their products.

Is that bad?  Not if you like shopping at Amazon.  Unfortunately, for Amazon, their smartphone didn't take off and it looks like they may be giving up there.  But they still offer photo storage, music, movies, shopping, etc. for both Apple and Android phones and, to a lesser extent, Windows Phones.  If you're an avid Amazon shopper, these things are great perks to have.


I've been using Windows Phone since 2012.  I actually blogged about it here and here.  It's actually the only type of smartphone I've ever owned.  I've been tempted many times to move to something else but I can't ever bring myself to do it.  Why?

I like it.  I like the interface.  I like how it works.  I like how its services work across desktop, tablet, and phone.  I like that the phones are not expensive.  I like that it works.  And my wife likes it. 

Are there things that I don't like?  Yes.  I don't like that support from 3rd parties is lacking.  I don't have a banking app (it was actually discontinued), I don't have an official app for my Sonos speakers (although the app I paid for is very good), I have no access to my Amazon music (which is OK because I just use Xbox/Groove Music), and Windows Phone is almost always left out when new products come out - smart watches, home automation, digital picture frames, etc.  New items always support Apple, almost always support Google/Android, but rarely support Windows Phone.  That's probably my biggest concern.

So, even with all of the drawbacks, I stick with Windows Phone.  It works for me and, so far, I've been able to find ways around its limitations.  I've seriously looked at the alternatives and just don't want to deal with Apple hardware prices and Android fragmentation (although it is getting better).  In the end, I'm happy with my Windows Phone and hopeful that eventually, it will overcome its limitations.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Government Shutdown - Did The TEA Party Go Too Far?

I know this is a bit after the fact but a few people have asked my opinion on the government shutdown.  My opinion is this, it shouldn't have happened.  Our country was built on compromise and mutual respect and I vehemently disagree with those who think it's OK to hold the whole government hostage because they don't like what others did.  If they had the votes to change it, that would be different, but they didn't and they weren't willing to accept that democracy means you don't always get your way.

Before we go any further and before I get ripped apart for being a liberal or a RINO or something else, let me explain the basis for my feelings:
  • I don't agree with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and I think it will do more harm than good.
  • I don't believe that "the ends justifies the means" - just because you feel you're right doesn't mean any action you take to support that is right/justified.
  • I do believe in the concept of karma - the actions you take will eventually come back to you (good or bad)
  • I don't feel that government itself is bad but I do believe it can be managed better than it is.
So, based on that, here's how I feel the government shutdown drama happened.
  • A minority of the Republican Party Representatives (mostly Tea Party Republicans) decided they wanted to kill Obamacare by defunding it.  This is in spite of the fact that the House has passed numerous repeals of Obamacare - none of which went anywhere.
  • This minority convinced (bullied? strong-armed?) the Speaker of the House to make it part of the budget bill.  All this was done knowing that the Senate would never pass it and/or the President would never sign it. 
  • Sure enough, the Senate rejected it.
  • Further, the Senate and the President called the bluff of the Tea Party and made clear that no budget would pass that tried to change/delay Obamacare.
  • The House tried passing different variations of their limits to Obamacare but it was all rejected.
  • The American people blamed the Republican Party for the issue.
  • The Senate minority leader stripped the Obamacare limitations from the budget and the House leadership caved and sent it to be voted on.
  • The revised budget passed.
Here's what I came away with:
  • The Tea Party wants to control government.
  • Ironically, they like to refer to President Obama as a dictator and yet are trying to strong arm their policies through when they don't have support for them.
  • The Tea Party does not seem to care about the government, the economy or anything else apart from their ideals.
  • What the Tea Party did contradicts my personal morals - they held the government hostage in order to get what they wanted.  Do I agree that Obamacare is bad?  Yes.  Do I agree with how they went about trying to destroy it? No.
If you decide the ends justifies the means, you becoming as bad or even worse than those you fight against.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sound of Music!

So I took my two older children (11 and 10) to see a local high school version of The Sound of Music.  It was enjoyable but also surprising in a few ways.  I think it was well above the level that my old high school could have done (go Ki-Be!).  The singing was well done and the acting was very good.  The only issue was that some of the microphones kept cutting in and out (sure, not quite broadway but did I mention it was a high school musical?) and that it ran quite a bit longer than I expected - it was 3 hours total.  However, it was good enough that after two hours, during intermission, I asked my kids if they wanted to go home (we are one hour past their regular bed time at this point) and both of them said they wanted to see the rest.  So we stayed.

The story followed the movie with a few changes that didn't really change the story line.  It was fun to watch and well done.  In fact, there was one scene that really affected me.  During the music festival scene (right before the family escapes from the Nazis), they dropped a bunch of Nazi banners from the ceiling and had a bunch of Nazis take up positions all around the auditorium.  It was downright creepy!  I think I got a very small inkling of what it might be like to live under an oppressive regime and it was not good!  However, they kind of made up for it by having Rolf do the right thing in the end and let the family get away (I told you it wasn't exactly like the movie).

Overall I had a good time with my kids and enjoyed the musical.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Indecision is Your Enemy

Have you ever had that feeling where you just couldn't decide?  Do I want A or B?  Which is better?  What if I think one is better and it turns out the other one was better?  What if they're both bad?  95% of the time, the decisions I make are obvious (at least to me) but when the decision isn't obvious, it can be extremely difficult to make any decision at all. 

Indecision is your enemy.  It can stop you in your tracks.  It may cause you to put all kinds of effort into comparing your options.  What are the pros and cons?  What do other people say about it?  What if they're wrong?  You can analyze it to the millionth degree.  And you still end up stuck.

I recently went through a bout of indecision and learned some things.  Perhaps they won't help you but they helped me.

So what should you do if you can't decide?

First you have to realize that there is another choice: do nothing.  That is what gets decided when you can't make another decision.  Is that the best decision?  Sure maybe it sounds like you're being indecisive again but let me give an example.  One of your children breaks a rule.  There needs to be an appropriate response - it may not always be a punishment, depending on the circumstances - but it needs to be something.  Out of all your options, however, doing nothing is almost never appropriate.  Realize that by not choosing, you're actually choosing.  It should help motivate you to make a choice and be done with it.  Will it always be the best choice?  No.  Is it possible you'll regret it later? Yes.  However, it is far more probable that you will regret doing nothing than you will regret making the wrong (or less right) choice.

In the end, you must simply give yourself a deadline.  By this deadline, you will either choose one of your options or none of your options, but you will make a choice and go on with life.

That's my advice.  Don't let indecision eat you up.  You will be much happier.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Thoughts on Windows 8

I have to say I've been pretty excited by Windows 8.  I've been using it for about 6 months now and, although it's quite different, it's got a lot going for it.  I like it so much that I upgraded our two computers (one desktop and one laptop) to Windows 8 the weekend it was officially released.  After all of this, I thought I would blog about what I think of it.  First of all, although I think it's great, I don't think it's perfect.  There are some things that are annoying.  But first, I want to talk about the things that I like.

The New Start Screen

I hear a lot of people complaining that Microsoft ruined Windows 8 by taking out the start menu.  I really don't get that.  They simply expanded it to include the whole screen.  Then they added live tiles that give you updates without even requiring that you open the application.  It's pretty cool stuff.

It's also easy to customize.  I've set up an account for my kids and only put tiles up for programs they use.  Their start screen is a lot more sparse than mine but they know how to find their stuff and they don't get into my stuff.  That is truly awesome.

Also, for the applications you don't put on your start screen, just start typing and the start screen turns into a search screen.  You can search your applications, your settings, your documents, or even within some applications.  It's all right there!



The New Controls

The new controls take a bit more getting used to.  Some are quite easy (the windows key toggles between the start screen and the desktop) and others are a bit more complicated (you click and drag down to close a non-desktop app).  Over all, though, they are pretty easy to get used to once you spend a bit of time with them.  However, it would be helpful if Microsoft published a list of keyboard shortcuts and mouse commands.  Here are the ones I use the most:
  • Windows key: toggle between start screen and desktop
  • Windows key + c: brings up the Charms bar (which has search, settings, etc. on it)
  • Windows key + l: locks the screen

The New Internet Explorer

Microsoft created a bit of a headache here for me.  Internet Explorer has two flavors - the desktop and the tablet versions.  Unfortunately, which one you get depends on what application calls it or where you select it from.  By default if you select it from the start screen, you get the tablet version.  If you select it from the desktop, you get the desktop version.  This can be frustrating sometimes.

As a desktop user, I don't see the point of the tablet version.  So I went into internet options -> programs and selected to always use the desktop version.  That cleared up that issue.

Other than that, the new IE is fast and easy to use.  It's a good update.

Tablet Applications

The other new thing is that Windows 8 supports/encourages what I call tablet apps.  I believe the official term is Windows 8 applications (it used to be Metro apps) but really they are apps designed for tablets.  The rules for these apps are different than for desktop applications.  You use the Charms bar (Windows key+c) for settings/preferences/search and the interaction is more based on touch than on a mouse.  Once again, it's not difficult to learn but it does take some getting used to.

On the bright side, there are some really fun apps that my kids really like.  Things like Cut the Rope, Physamajig, Pirates Love Daisies, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, etc.  These were all free in the consumer preview but are not free now.  However, they're pretty inexpensive and have trial versions so you can test them out.

Parental Controls

When you set up a kids account, it asks you if you want to get reports.  I said yes and now I get weekly reports of my kids' activity on the computer.  What programs were used and how long they were used for.  What web sites were accessed and how often.  Lots of stuff that lets me keep an eye on my kids' usage.  It also lets you blacklist web sites and/or applications so your kids can't mess around with things they're not supposed to.  I think it's great!


After using Windows 8 for a while, I really do recommend it.  It's faster and offers some great advantages.  On the other hand, it's different and it will take some adjustment so don't jump in with your eyes closed.  At the end of the day, it's a tool and it works well for me.