Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Skype for iPhone Enables 3G Calls (& a fee)

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

The free Skype for iPhone (app store) was updated this week to version 2.0.0. Listed as new features are improved start-up time, faster access to the dial pad, enhanced call quality indicator and near CD quality for Skype-to-Skype calls. Oh yeah, and Skype over 3G. This feature has been on everyone’s wish-list since AT&T announced last October that it had “taken the steps necessary so that Apple can enable VoIP applications on iPhone to run on AT&T’s wireless network”. I thought it would be great, but it seems there is a new catch…. starting later this year, it will cost you a “small monthly fee”.

Skype is the popular VoIP software that has always allowed free video, IM, and Skype-to-Skype calls. Calling a standard landline, or mobile numbers, required you to purchase Skype Credits. It appears that is changing. Posts at 9to5 MacMacRumors and Mashable related to this update state that Skype-to-Skype calls over 3G are free through August 2010, but the Skype page in iTunes says “Skype-to-Skype calls on 3G are free until the end of 2010, after which there will be a small monthly fee (operator charges for data will still apply)”. I am not sure which is accurate, but a fee is coming.

I am not going to try and suggest that they can’t, or shouldn’t, charge for using their service, since of course they can. In fact, it would be easy to justify charging for Skype. It is very popular in the tech industry, and podcast world, and it is a great product. My question is, why only for 3G calls?. Is it simply a business decision on their end, or are the wireless providers involved?

Why should it matter to Skype where my bandwidth is coming from? It should not. If I am on DSL or Cable I can make Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls for free, but on the unlimited 3G data plan – I am forced into buying – I have to pay more? If Skype charged a monthly fee for their service, regardless of the connection method, that would actually make more sense. Charging only for 3G access seems like an AT&T charge. I might as well just use my cell minutes. OK, long distance may still come out cheaper on Skype, but the bigger issue is that this will change the image of Skype. Gone is the simple statement “Skype-to-Skype calls are free”. Adding the small italic text “*except over 3G where a small monthly fee is required” kind of kills the flow.

Before someone mentions that Skype is a business, and is free to charge for new features, I know that. Businesses are supposed to try and make profit, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. I don’t see opening a bandwidth option as a new feature. I see it as lifting a carrier mandated restriction, or removing a crippling feature. The other argument I have seen in various forums is that Skype needs to charge to finance their app development. A monthly charge was simply a bad business decision. There were options available to Skype to monetize app development that are more customer friendly than a recurring charge. What they have really done is create incentive to wait and use Skype on a different connection. That is not smart.

How could Skype better monetize the iPhone market? Simple. They could have implemented in-app purchases of Skype Credit. They could have even charged a small fee for the app itself. For me, I will simply wait until I am in front of my computer before I use Skype. The app is off my iPhone.

Apple and “Adult” Apps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Well, there appears to be a another shift in Apple’s App Store policy. First, they wouldn’t let anything in the store that was provocative. Then they opened the floodgates and thousands of explicit apps started showing up. Then, just a couple of days ago, they banned explicit apps. Today, we hear from CultOfMac.com that there is a new “explicit” category for App Developers when submitting their apps. Does that mean that adult apps are on their way back again?

In a previous rant, I lamented the poorly implemented Parental Controls and App Rating system on the iPhone. To recap, setting Parental Controls Age Restrictions on the iPhone would hide screenshots of apps that have a more “mature” rating, but continued to show the apps with their provocative names and icons (NOT kid-friendly). It also removed unrated apps from the iPhone, including some very kid friendly apps (such as Horse Lover).

My goal was to have Apple completely hide apps with an age rating higher than the setting in Parental Controls. Hopefully, the events of the last couple of days are an attempt by Apple to do just that.

Read more about this ongoing story:

MacRumors.com: Apple Adds ‘Explicit’ Category for New App Store Submissions

CultOfMac.com: Is Apple Preparing To Add An ‘Explicit’ Section To The App Store?

iPhone age restrictions do not hide 17+ apps, just their screenshots

Monday, January 18th, 2010

“Tasty Pasties 18+ Amateurs” and “Boob Party” are currently on the Top 25 Free Apps in the Apple App Store. I know this because my 8 year old showed me. But let me back up a little.

I have purchased each generation of iPhone as they came out. When I bought my 3GS, I had two leftover iPhones and two clever young ladies who are equally enamored with technology. I set each of my daughters up with the deactivated iPhones working essentially as big iPod Touches. And they were happy. Ecstatic. I am the coolest Dad ever.

I took the expected precautionary approaches. In Settings: General: Restrictions: I turned off the following:

  • Safari
  • Mail
  • YouTube
  • Location
  • In-App Purchases
  • and at first, Installing Apps (App Store)

Since I would be the one managing any media on the device, I didn’t set any age restrictions on music, movies or apps. Eventually, I turned on the App Store so they could browse and choose an app as a reward for a good grade, helping around the house, etc. Standard parental incentive program.

This wasn’t really a risk at the time, Apple was not allowing apps that weren’t family appropriate. Since then, Apple has opened the flood gates of soft porn (but not Google Voice). Again, I know this because my 8 year old showed me. The app screenshots were the iPhone equivalent of a “Girls Gone Wild” TV commercial. All the naughty bits were covered with black dots, very small black dots. This set me into panic mode. I quickly exited the App Store and began trying to keep this kind of material out of reach.

I’m not a Puritan. I understand the market for these products. I also understand that I am responsible for what my girls have access to. As a responsible parent, I went back into Restrictions and limited apps to 12+. Sweet! That was easy. Thanks Apple!

Relieved at such a simple fix, I went back into the App Store and guiltily typed in “boobs” to see if I had successfully addressed the issue. Nope. There were plenty of apps willing to fill my request. A little disappointed, and still feeling uncomfortable about doing this on my daughter’s iPhone, I went searching for the screenshots. They were gone. I can find the apps, see their icons and read their full description, but the tiny black dots and the ladies underneath were gone. Not what I wanted or expected. I wanted the apps to be completely invisible. No app, no name, no busty icons.

This restriction also caused two more problems. First, it turns out that enabling Restrictions will include the catchall “Unrated”.  Any app that is unrated gets the same treatment as a 17+ app. Second, some apps are given 17+ ratings, not because of age-inappropriate material, but because of the ability of the app developer to push unfiltered content to the app (see example below).

An example: Horse Lover. A natural for my girls. They love horses. Eat, breath, play horses. This app is currently “Unrated”, probably because it fetches a daily photo from somewhere “out there”. That means that you can’t use it if you have ANY age restrictions on the iPhone.

My girls came to me immediately after enabling Restrictions for apps asking why I deleted some of their programs. They wanted all of their apps back. If I turned off restrictions, they would be exposed to the new wave of grownup apps in the store. So, there was only one choice left… the App Store is now turned off. I am no longer the coolest Dad ever. I guess the title wasn’t going to last forever, but it was fun while it lasted.

AT&T, The Bars Are a Lie

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I was at Disneyland in Anaheim, Ca yesterday because my son’s high school marching band was going to be in the parade. Since I help the band by taking photos & video, and I host their website, my plan was to stream the band live for those parents that could not attend. I had been wanting to try one of the new iPhone streaming apps anyway, and this was my chance. I did a quick test of the two major iPhone streaming applications, UStream Broadcaster and Qik. I settled on UStream as my app for the day.

There I am, ready to go with full bars, and 3G, when it happens. UStream can’t log in. Hmmm. I try just browsing and still nothing. I try various other data tests, and still nothing. I decide to reboot the phone and try again.

It boots…

It searches…

It has bars…

and, it has 3G.

I launch UStream and… nothing. The phone has no data ability at all. At this point, and for my final test, I bring up the handy AT&T Mark The Spot app to report the data failure. It won’t send the report at that moment because, well, I have no data (and it can’t get GPS coordinates). The cake was a lie (Portal reference), and so are the symbols telling users that they have full bars, and 3G. As for the video, I ended up recording it, via iPhone, and posting it to the site the next day.

Once I was back home, I brought up the Mark The Spot app and reported the failure. It allows you to specify the location of a problem by placing a pin on the map. I doubt it will have any affect, but it did make me feel better.

If you are wondering why I choose UStream, the audio was better. I will post some comparison clips, and a mini-review, when I get some time.

The User Should Control the Focus

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Launching Word… hmm, that’s gonna take a minute. Well, I’ll just pop back into Safari and check Gmail. Username, check. Password, ch… what the?… Why is my password showing up in Word? Oh, I guess my computer finally finished loading the app. It must not have realized (or cared?) that I was still in Safari, even though I was loading pages and typing. But, shouldn’t it continue to do the last thing I asked it to do? I mean, I shifted focus away from Word and towards Safari. Why should the computer forcibly change my focus. I’m the user, the commander, the “One Who Controls the Mouse”.

(more…)