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October 29, 2014

CVS, Rite Aid, MCX and Apple Pay, big drama of Mobile Payments

[Update: 10/29/14 4:45PM - MCX's CurrentC just got hacked, so far, it seems emails of people who signed up is taken; apparently, to sign up requires driver's license, SSN, etc...  yikes!]
Wow, the drama and development of this mobile payment story is getting more interesting by the day.  At first, CVS and Rite Aid was the social media punching bag (take a look at their respective Facebook pages, every comment there is extremely negative threatening to take their business elsewhere).  Engadget just reported from a different perspective which is that the contract MCX members signed prevents them from using rival technologies...

For those unfamiliar with MCX, its known as "Merchant Customer Exchange", their end product is known as CurrentC, which is a payment method designed to avoid credit card (or it's fees) by asking customers to link this payment type directly to their bank account.  In the end, retailers gets to save 2 to 3% from their credit card sales which, frankly speaking, can be quite significant.  They just need to figure a way out to "spin it" so customers feel like there is a big benefit.

While this technology is not yet to be rolled out, Apple Pay's launch must have tossed a major monkey wrench catching them off guard.  Keep in mind that Google Wallet has been trying to push for mobile NFC payment for a couple of years now and they've had minimal success.  Apple Pay is suddenly making everyone jump on the band wagon; I can certainly see why the folks at MCX decide to wave it's contractual terms at its members in a holding pattern or as Tim Cook puts it, its a "skirmish".

Here is the point of view I am taking from a consumer mobile experience stand point:
No. 1 - As a consumer, I do not give a shit about the 2% or 3% credit card fee retailers gripe about
No. 2 - As a savvy consumer, I enjoy the benefits of using my credit card as a). a layer to protect me and b). get some type of incentive back to me such as mileages, points, cashback, etc..
No. 3 - Do not take away choices or options; I love having options, the more the better; consumers work hard for their money, respect them enough to give them all the methods for payment
No. 4 - Retailers doesn't get consumers or mobile technology; here is a clear example of MCX retailers under estimate the power and reach of Apple and it's fan boys (aka consumers), still thinks it can engineer something to change customers minds...

I am curious to see how this story will develope and will the power of consumers get Apple Pay or Google Wallet back in their store.

October 17, 2014

Big Phones, Silly Technology!

I haven’t been very active lately on this blog, especially by way of opinion pieces.  But after the recent iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 announcements, I felt like the smartphone space has taken a drastic turn, enough to write or complain about it. So here we go.

How’d we get here
The physical size increase of smartphones are obvious; if I were to blame or credit the one company that started it all then it would be Samsung when it launched the “Galaxy Note” smartphone.  Right around that time, a slew of smartphones hits the scene with screen sizes larger than 4” (LG Optimus, Sony Xperia Z Ultra, Google Nexus Galaxy-4-5, LG G2, Samsung S4, S5, Moto X, Droid Razr just to name a few).

This Sh!t just got real
As mentioned earlier, the real shocker for me is when the two iconic giants Apple and Google both released their flagship phones with larger than life screen size without having any other choice for smaller options.  (I know iPhone 5s and Nexus 5 might stick around for a bit, but by definition, they are no longer flagship phones, see related post from Engadget). This, for me, is marking for the end of an era… going forward, if you want flagship devices, you better carry a purse, messenger bag or at-least wear cargo pants so you can carry the phone with you.

When Technology gets Silly
The irony here is that I’ve always believed technology is suppose to enhance our life.  Thinner/lighter laptops, flat screen TVs, cars with more power and mpg, etc.  While Smartphones have drastically improved our lifestyle, but going beyond 4” seems like we’ve peaked out and the larger sizes now start to create a problem.  Aside from not fitting in our pockets comfortably thus starting new etiquette discussion such as this one, the physics of leverage can easily stir up more potential for the “bending” iPhone 6+ if you did manage to squeeze these larger phones to your back pocket.

October 6, 2014

Where is my iPhone 6?

I needed an iPhone 6, unlocked, for research purposes.  Given the only option on the Apple Store is a "Contract Free" iPhone 6 as opposed to the "Unlocked or Sim Free" version which is previously available to the 4s, 5, 5s.

Anyways, I was happy to see Apple shipping out the device pretty quickly (faster than the 7 to 10 business days estimate), it only took 4 days to be shipped out, however, its taken quite the journey since then.  I used to recall a 2 or 3 day Fedex delivery, instead, the device has been on a long trip since Oct 2 out of China, its spent a few days in Korea hanging out and finally gets over to Alaska.  Needless to say, I find it a bit crappy for it to take longer for its shipping time than manufacturing time.  My best guess is that this has to do with minimize shipping "cost" and it is probably better for their P&L to have it shipped this method via UPS.

Once I received the phone, I will post a confirmation on whether this phone is unlocked as they say: here and here.

May 16, 2014

Nexus 7 (or Tablets in general) Battery Life Extension

The following tip is mostly for Android-based Tablets w/o a built in Data Modem (ie. WiFi only models).  I noticed if I turn on Airplane Mode but keep WiFi on which essentially works as normal, my battery life on a 2nd Gen Nexus 7 extends by a day or two while on standby.

I don't really know why this is but my theory is that Androids by default is written for Smartphones with Voice/Data modem and it probably has a bunch of processes and checks in the background to ensure the smartphone is working properly (ie. checking cell signal strong, etc.).  For a Wifi-only tablet, there is no need to keep those processes running, hence by turning on the Airplane mode and leave Wifi on, it disables all cell-phone or data modem related processes on the background.

I am currently testing this on an iPad, we'll see if iOS can benefit from such tip.

May 15, 2014

Affordable, Unlocked Smartphones in Abundance

Just a couple of years ago, to buy a smartphone, you have to sign away for a 2-year contract or spend $500-700 to buy one out right.  The ownership includes a costly monthly data plan and it was definitely considered a "luxury" item.  At that time, a premium device can run on BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile, iOS or Android which is still pretty limited experience considering even two latter operating systems were still at its infancy and hardwares are still restricted (2G data, no front facing camera, lack of apps, etc.).

Yesterday, Motorola announced an update to the bargain-basement priced Moto G Google Edition phone (was $199, now $219 with 4G upgrade and MicroSDHC); as well as an even more economical model called Moto E at $129.

This is absolutely amazing news to consumers.  At the time of writing, Google Play Station has 6 unlocked, Google Play Edition devices.  Offering from LG, Samsung, HTC and Sony.  The prices are being lowered left and right.  Consumers have so many choices today without having the need to be tied to a contract.  And with T-Mobile leading the way in more affordable pre-paid or pay as you go plans.  We are really at an intersection of Technology and Affordability.  

Current Prices for Google Play Edition Phones (unlocked):
Google LG Nexus 5 - $349-$399
Sony Z Ultra - $449 (was $649)
HTC One M7 2013 - $499 (was $599)
Moto G - $179-$199 (New version coming soon at $219 with upgrades)
Samsung S4 - $649
HTC One M8 2014 - $699
Coming Soon Moto E - $129

This makes me happy because I genuinely believe Smartphones are empowering.  From information sharing, utility, traveling and productivity standpoint, it is changing the way we live our lives.  By having these affordable options available, I am glad to know the public have more options than ever before.

March 31, 2014

esurance Mobile Video Apprisal, totally Smart!

Auto insurance company esurance is leveraging mobile in a smart way: mobile video appraisal.  I haven't seen this kind of innovation since the early days of mobile application ideas like "zipcar", "redbox" and "Chase Quick Deposit".  The concept is simple; esurance lets you book a video appraisal at your convenience so you can show the appraiser your vehicle so you do not have to wait for the appraiser to be there (the traditional option is available as well).  Just the concept alone is cool, it create a sense of speed and convenience but where I think its clever is that it probably makes esurance's appraisers life much easier without having to physically travel to each client's location.  esurance app is availble for iPhones and Androids.

February 12, 2014

Nexus 5 Battery Mysteriously Draining Faster

Current Build: 4.4.2

As of last week, I start to notice the battery life on my Nexus 5 starting to drain much faster than usual.  As noted when I first received my Nexus 5, I can get more than 1 day of usage out of the phone.  Now it would drain down to 20% if I don't charge it throughout the day.

It seems like "Cell Standby" is using most of the battery drain... which is strange as it has never been the culprit in the past.  I am with AT&T, so I wonder if its something AT&T has changed recently to it's cell towers in NYC since this was not the case few months ago.  It seems like this is a common complaint.

[UPDATE]:  I turned off "LTE" (in settings>more>mobile networks>preferred network type>3G) so it is forced back to 3.5G HSPDA which offers much stronger signal, 5 bars.  This seems to have restored the battery life as I once expected.  Still not sure why the sudden problem with LTE as it has not been a problem until recently.

November 29, 2013

Review: STM Catch Case for iPhone 5/5s

The nice folks at STM asked me to take a look at some of their latest product offerings for the new iPhone 5/5s.  Amongst their collection, one product jumped out at me for a need I have been wanting to fulfill.  The Catch is a case which doubles up as a card holder which can act as a phone protector and a wallet.  To a man who is obsessive about minimizing everything in life, this case is interesting.
The case itself is a solid TPU (flexible) case which provides ample protection for your phone.  This is important since it's primary function is to protect the phone.  I opted for a black one to keep the phone look modern and minimal but they do offer 2 more colors to fit various personalities. 

Once I had the case installed, I quickly brought out my wallet to decide which two cards I plan to carry in the two available slots.  Believe it or not, that is when I ran into a bit of a dilemma.  I already use one of these slim Monaco wallets from Tumi which I've narrowed down to about 5 or 6 cards to have at all times. This case is asking me to narrow it further down to 2 of the most essential cards to take with me.  This is difficult because I think a modern man in a metro area needs at least 4 cards at all times:  ID, ATM Card, Credit Card and Subway/Metro Pass.  This ignores the possibility of a work badge/ID.  

Having said that, here is what I conclude of this case; it is a nice option to have for pre-meditated short trips; meaning, on your way to the gym on the weekends, you can toss in your credit card and metro card so you can buy some groceries or coffee on your way home. It will not replace your wallet but for small trips where you just have one pocket to hold your phone, this will do the trick!  You might want to tape a $20 bill to the back of the phone so it can protect the cards from scratching up the back of the phone with prolonged use!

Nice TPU Case that protects the phone with nice cutouts
Carries two cards, acting like a wallet
Good for when you are on a quick trip (ie. to the Gym, to the store) and didn't want to carry your entire wallet
Card slits are exposed to the back of the phone (may scratch back of your phone over time)
Since it only holds 2 cards, it may never replace your wallet

November 25, 2013

Custom Sounds, Ringtones and Notifications Sound for Android

A pretty comprehensive guide to configuration of your sounds, ringtones and notifications alerts for androids. Teaches you where to load the MP3s as well as customize it to the people calling you, etc.

Posting it if for nothing else, a bookmark to remind myself :)

November 23, 2013

Best (Name Brand) Qi Wireless Charger under $25

Calling all NEXUS 5, Nexus 4, Nexus 7 (2013) and (Samsung S4, LG G2, etc.) owners out there, if you've been wanting to try out the Qi Wireless Charging function but didn't want to settle for something really cheap, here is a deal.  AT&T has the Nokia DT-900 Qi Standard Wireless Charger for $25.  Supposed to be free shipping and you can save 10% if you buy 2 or more.  For whatever, I can't get my online order processed so I checked from their website for instore pickup and walked down the street and picked them up in person.  The charger works pretty good on my NEXUS 5, so far, it charges right after I set the phone down, not need to re-align or adjust its position.  I've heard that on the Nexus 4, you might need to adjust it a tad to find the charging coil location and the back being glass can cause the phone to slide off.

This is the best price I can find for a name brand charger as I missed the sale from Samsung for $25 a while ago.

November 18, 2013

Yota Phones featuring 2nd LCD leveraing e-Ink

It's been a while since I wrote about a hardware piece that excited me.  The last device I was excited about was the NEXUS 5 which is an amazing phone but to me, its a mild upgrade from the NEXUS 4.  However, when I heard about a Russian startup's new phone dubbed as Yota Phone which leverages a second LCD Screen using E-Ink, I was intrigued.

Furthermore, when I realized these guys are really solving a battery problem in a smart way, I got really excited.  In short, the Yota phones come with two screens, a regular color LCD and a black/white E-Ink LCD, both are 4.3" and both are touchscreen based.

With E-Ink using minimal energy and can store the previously displayed image forever, these guys figured out a way to leverage this technology to play nicely in this information age we live in (where we are over-flooded with information and not everything needs to be accessed in ULTRA High, 4K HD, Retina-High Pixel Density Display kind of way.  Sometimes, as long as the simple information such as Tweets, Facebook updates or Calendar reminders can come through clearly to us, its sufficient.  This to me, is one of those "Wow" moments where technology is just leveraged properly to solve real life problems.  Some examples I've seen including the use of the 2nd screen for mobile boarding passes, MAP needs for a weary traveler running low on power.  The application is endless and I can already imagine a Yota Tablet which doubles as a eBook, eNewspaper device with amazing Battery life to boot!

Yota phone is suppose to be available in December. This solution is so simple that it is brilliant, just like all the smart ideas I admire (ie. UBER, Square, Netflix, etc.).  Big Kudos to the Yota team.  I hope them great success!

November 11, 2013

NEXUS 5 Battery Optimization

One of the two major complaints I have about the Nexus 5 is 1). Lack of MicroSDHC slot and 2). Small Battery - 2300mAh.  Small is a relative word, the 2300mAh battery is one of the largest battery for a Nexus Device (Nexus 4 - 2100mAh, Nexus Galaxy 1750mAh) and compared to iPhone 5S' 1570mAh, it is relatively big.

That said, with all the fancy features this phone does come with (LTE, 2.3GHz Processor, 5" LCD) plus tons of software features, it can really suck down the battery life in a few hours.  The first day I took my to work, from unplugging around 7AM to about 9AM (Yes, 2 hours), I noticed the power is down to 82% without even using the phone.

You can Google "Nexus 5 Battery Optimization" for a whole lot of tricks, but I don't want to do things like "turning off 4G" or "disable GPS" which impacts the fundamentals of the phone.  I have discovered the following formula which seems to be the best power to battery ratio.

1. Manually adjust your Brightness Settings; the default Auto Brightness is much more aggressive than previous NEXUS phones, perhaps future release will fix this; I set it to roughly 20% of the slider and find it plenty bright.
2. Set Auto Dim to 30s from default 2 Minutes
3. Disabled the "Ok Google" Hot Word detection (Press Empty Space on Menu>Settings>Voice>Hotword Detection off
4. Turn off NFC and Bluetooth (when not in use, I rarely use these features)
5. Watch out for Widgets or Apps that sucks power:  I was using a widget for clock and weather, and for whatever reason, on the Nexus 5, it was using so much power, more so than LCD Screen in the battery analysis, so I uninstalled it.
6. Push Notifications: I only have it on for default or utility stuff (ie. Hangout/SMS, Google Voice, App Updates and Emails); I turned everything else off such as news and alerts.

With the settings above, I monitored my battery throughout the day; by from 7AM to 11PM, the phone has light to moderate usage throughout my work day and still end up with 62% of power left... Not bad at all.

UPDATE:  I purposely not charge the phone when I went to bed, I woke up in the morning with 52% Power left.  After 24 hours, 54% remaining.  Thats pretty darn good.