5 Up, 5 Down: 2012 - A Year in Review

 012061213-school-card-with-new-year-2012

As we inch closer to a new year, I enjoy taking the time to reflect and look back on 2012; not because it’s cliche,  but because it helps me better prepare myself for what’s ahead in the year to come, and helps me better analyze just how many minutes of my life I wasted in 2012 listening to idiots scream “The End is Near!”, and “Call Me Maybe.”

Regardless, I present to you my first ever “5 Up, 5 Down” list: A list in which I quickly summarize the events that took place over the last 365 days and dish out words of praise to 5 things I felt impressed me (or at the very least, were interesting), as well as touch upon 5 things I felt contributed to my disappointment in mankind.

Starting on a positive note, in no particular order. let’s go over the “5 Up”. Enjoy:

 

windows-8

Microsoft:

Say what you want about Windows 8, but I love it. It’s refreshing. It’s different. It’s a gamble. And I applaud Microsoft for taking a chance and FINALLY doing something new. I believe Microsoft has taken the best parts of competing operating systems and has refined them to give users a truly innovative product. Yes, I know people hate change. I see it once every 3-4 months when YouTube or Facebook redesign their layouts. I don’t give a shit. Change is often good, and for Microsoft it is necessary. The software giant is slowly losing it’s market share on the enterprise business, an install base they HEAVILY depend on for revenue. Microsoft was clearly late to the game in the mobile space. And the Zune was a colossal failure.   It was time to show people, other than large businesses, why Windows is “cool again”. I like the fact Microsoft ditched the skeuomorphic design craze, and conjured up a very unique experience with its live tiles, and touch screen interface. It’s still too early tell if Windows 8 will take off, but I definitely see this as a step in the right direction for Microsoft, and I wish them the best of luck in 2013.

 

Tim-Cook

Tim Cook:

Notice I didn’t say “Apple”.  Nope, instead, I’m giving the nod to Tim Cook. 2012 was Cook’s first, full-calendar year as Apple’s new CEO since he took over as interim CEO for Steve Jobs in January 2011. After Jobs passed away last August, Apple officially became Tim’s company. Many expected Apple’s stock to plunder under new leadership, however, with Tim Cook at the helm, Apple’s stock has never been higher: peaking at $705.07 a share in September 2012. Despite the recent fall, Tim Cook still raised the price of Apple's stock 40% in the past 12 months to $538.79 a share, as of December 2012.

However, what intrigues me is Tim Cook’s leadership and the changes he is making at Apple. During The Great Apple Maps Fiasco of 2012, there was no “You’re doing it wrong...” excuse circulating from Tim Cook’s secret lair in Cupertino. Instead, he decided to ditch the “Book of Jobs”, and gracefully issued an apology to early adopters of iOS 6, claiming Apple was doing “everything they can” to make the Apple map experience better. He later did something I could never imagine Steve Jobs doing in a million years: He encouraged iOS users to use other mapping alternatives while Apple attempts to fix its shit.

On top of that, it appears Tim Cook is slowly making changes to Apple’s employee handbook. Historically speaking, while the rest of Silicon Valley was providing free dry cleaning and day care to their staff, Apple employees often got the short end of the stick. According to various reports, it appears Cook has a more “giving heart” than his predecessor, granting Apple employees better perks and discounts than ever before.

Tim Cook is obviously a smart man, and make no mistake: kissing the ass of both your customers and your staff is a sure fire way to make a good impression during your first year as CEO at the world’s most profitable tech company. And it’s hard to say if this is a sign of things to come, or if it’s simply a ruse to retain your loyal install base and some top-notch employees. Regardless, things could have been much worse for Apple in 2012, and I give props to Tim Cook for guiding the company through a smooth transition in leadership. The man clearly has big shoes to fill.

 

gopro

GoPro:

In a time where small & dedicated, portable video cameras are all but dead (i.e. see Cisco’s flip-cam), it’s truly remarkable to witness the rise and popularity of the GoPro. The company has been around for over decade now, and the camera certainly isn’t new. However, 2012 saw the release of the GoPro Hero 3, and with it the sought-after ability to shoot 4K video (even if it is at a meager 15fps). Regardless, the GoPro 3 shoots stunning video in 2.7k  at 30 FPS and even adds a new ProTune feature that increases shadow exposure, enabling users to have a higher dynamic range to play with in post. In addition to being the camera of choice for extreme sport enthusiasts around the world, the GoPro is also used professionally in the television and film industry: anything from the Deadliest Catch,  to thousands of commercials, to feature length films. For an HD camera that fits in the palm of your hand at a very affordable price, the GoPro does it all.

To top it off, they have quite possibly the worlds most clever marketing campaign: You. GoPro prides itself on making TV commercials from user submitted videos that cleverly demonstrate the strengths of the camera. And there are some stunning visuals captured with the GoPro camera, which are all nicely gathered for your viewing pleasure on GoPro’s YouTube channel, slowly approaching 500,000 subscribers. The GoPro truly is the world’s most versatile camera. psy

PSY:

I tried to avoid this one, but there is little I can do to ignore the fact that a Korean pop-star, who was once told he’d never make it in this industry, created the first video ever to reach 1 BILLION views on YouTube. Ironically, he accomplished the feat on December 21st, 2012, the day in which the world was supposed to end and only 5 months after his video “Gangnam Style” was  first published.  It’s difficult to determine where PSY’s popularity stems from. “Gangnam Style” definitely strikes a chord with many pop enthusiasts with its catchy beat and familiar sound,  but it also speaks to pop detractors with its outrageously satirical display of k-pop culture, all while poking fun at a “Beverly Hills-type" lifestyle. I suppose PSY is popular for the same reason LMFAO is: They have no problem making fun of themselves or their industry. I like to think PSY rose to the top of the YouTube charts just to overthrow Justin Bieber’s romantic bowling tribute video “Baby”, which stood strong for nearly 2 years....for reasons only God can explain.

 

google-fiber

Google:

I am keeping this one short. Google had several highlights and blunders you could focus on all throughout 2012. However, the reason why I am giving Google the “Up” nod is because of Google Fiber; their ultra-high speed internet service that launched earlier this year in Kansas City. I support anything that gives the proverbial “finger” to the telecom and cable duopoly that plagues this country. For $70 a month, users (in Kansas City) can get “gigabit internet service” which is about 100 times faster than your standard cable modem. Toss in an extra 50 bucks, and you also get cable TV. And if you don’t want fiber? Pay a one-time $300 construction fee, and you have FREE INTERNET FOR LIFE. That’s 5Mbs down, 1Mbs up, no data caps, FOR FREE. (Yes, there is small print that says it’s only guaranteed for at LEAST 7 years, but still, that’s impressive). Google says they plan on expanding Google Fiber to other areas across the country. Let’s just hope they eventually break out into larger, more metropolitan  markets, in lieu of settling for only smaller towns and communities. Fingers crossed.

My “5 Down”
*Please note, the items listed below are things that I found disappointing. You may or may not agree. However, this is my blog, and not yours. Enjoy.
 

congress

The United States Congress:

This may possibly be the worst, most inept Congress in United States history. It may have started with their pathetic attempt to regulate the Internet using SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), but it quickly snowballed into a large mass of deranged, incompetent lunatics hell bent on fighting with each other, rather than reaching across party aisles to compromise and get shit done. What they do succeed in scares the shit of me: A continuously-growing Federal Government, bloated with power and control that not only threatens personal liberty, but was never in the Constitution to begin with. (Not that anyone follows that document, nowadays). This however is nothing new. If it’s not SOPA, it’s CISPA. If it’s not CISPA, it’s the NDAA. If it’s not the NDAA, it’s the common renewal of the Patriot Act. I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you lean towards, nor what political party you identify yourself with, the United States Congress is a completely absurd, dysfunctional branch of our government filled with corrupt leaders and aging dinosaurs. Whether their decision making is based heavily on that amount of money they receive from crony lobbyists, or their poor understanding of the female reproductive system, Congress has proven they are incapable of legislating anything worth a damn, and most, if not all of them, should be kicked out of Capitol Hill, with the hope we can at elect some new leaders who at the very least, know how to work a computer.

 

Republican-gop-logo

The Republican Party:

I registered as a Republican back in 2008 to vote in California’s Republican primary. It was the first time I ever officially identified myself with a political party. I tend to be a social liberal who has strong, fiscally conservative beliefs: Something that I feel I share with many Americans across the country. However, since the 2012 Presidential Election, I can’t help but laugh at the disarray and panic that is currently sweeping across the Republican platform and its pundits.

“America has lost its way!” “Things were so much better....in the 50’s!” “What happen to moral decency in this country?!”

This is the type of bullshit that will ensure we’ll never again elect a Republican President. As long as these silly, aging social values (gay marriage, abortion, criminalizing drugs like marijuana) remain at the forefront of the Republican platform....over issues like government spending and nation building....the Republican party will continue to fall. I honestly see no reason to vote for either party at this point, but I can at least understand why the majority of this country voted for Obama: he clearly represents his constituents and speaks FOR them. Who the hell votes for Republicans now? Wall Street? The Religious Right? Lockheed Martin? As Professor Clyde Wilson put it best, “The Republican Party does not represent its voters (and never has). It represents only itself.” The party that bailed out the banks. The party that wants to goto war with Iran. The party that supports bills like the NDAA and the Patriot Act. This isn’t the voting populace who supports these decisions. It's the platform. (And yes, to be fair, many Democrats supported these policies as well). However, I can continue to see Democratic success in politics. Unless the Republican Party starts to reform from within, and begins to focus on the issues that truly represent the concerns of the American public, they are all but doomed.

The U.S. Patent Office:

I do not wish to dwell too long on America's broken patent system, but anytime a company like Intellectual Ventures can thrive and profit off of a system that does anything but promote innovation, you know we have a serious problem plaguing the tech industry. IV’s sole purpose, it seems, is to stock up on patents that it has no plans in ever developing into real-world products. They rather spend the majority of their time in litigation, shutting down new start-ups,  while they extort existing businesses for money in a grand mafioso kind of way.

And did you know there are several hundred patents for toast? Reheating bread? Let alone patents for “faster-than-light data transmission”: a technology that currently does not exist. I can only hope we continue to look closer at patent reform in 2013, and hopefully add a few more staff members to the U.S. Patent Office, so companies like Intellectual Ventures can profit less from extorting others.

Cell Phone Carriers:

Pretty much speaks for itself. I continue to experience poor customer service and coverage using AT&T, and Verizon isn’t much better. Because of the ridiculous demands and policies carriers enforce for the use of their LTE networks, earlier this year Google failed to bring LTE capabilities to it’s flagship Android phone, the Nexus 4. Carriers also continue to overcharge for texting and data plans, and continue to use the “it will cripple our network infrastructure excuse” to prevent smartphone owners from using what otherwise should be free features already built into their phones: tethering and WiFi hotspots. Having to pay an extra $20-$30 bucks a month to tether my device is insulting. Nevertheless, it appears no business hates its customers more than cell phone providers, and I dream of the day Google tries to become a cell carrier. Here’s hoping.

 

012824118-blond-air-hostess-stewardess-i

U.S. Airline Carriers & U.S. Airports:

Tomorrow, it will be 2013, and below is a list of things that I still can’t comprehend:

  • I still have to remove my shoes while going through airport security checkpoints.
  • Most airports still charge for WiFi access while waiting in the terminal, and it’s often slow and unreliable.
  • There are never enough electrical outlets in airport terminals for people to charge or use their mobile devices.
  • Most US airline fleets seem old and outdated. And whereas we now have inflight WiFi, we still don’t have one power outlet per seat on many U.S. carriers.
  • I’m still paying between $25 and $50 to check a bag.
  • During the inflight safety announcements, the guy next to me can read the SkyMall catalog but I can’t read my Kindle.

 

I realize many of the problems above are first-world problems. Regardless, Happy New Year, folks. Here’s hoping you have a great 2013.

T.

29 Days With Android - Day 29: It's Really Day 32

 

29 (32) days ago, I set out to determine if Google's Android was a better mobile operating than Apple’s iOS.  I did this for me and for me alone. I have no quarrel with Apple, and I have no beef with Google. This decision basically boils down to what mobile OS better suits my needs;  with one small caveat:  cellular freedom.

I do my best not to preach, nor bore my friends & family with the mounds of useless information, but very few things bother more than the lack of cellular freedom customers have in this country (USA). I hate it. If I purchase a smartphone at its full retail price, I should be able to activate that device on any carrier I wish. However, here in the United States I do not have that luxury. Due to a lack of standards, phone contracts, two competing cellular technologies (CDAM & GSM), and greed, it is very difficult for U.S. customers to purchase a truly unlocked and unbranded smartphone that will work on 1 of our 4 major mobile carriers.

Yes, there are options; and hacks, and jailbreaks, etc. But none of these are easy solutions. This is exactly why I returned my HTC One X. I grew tired of the AT&T branding; the 2-year contracts; the outrageous unsubsidized prices; the lack of support; and the unwillingness to release a new version of Android once it becomes available. Nevermind the fact my One X broke twice while I was giving it a test drive. When Google releases Jelly Bean 4.1, move your ass, and push out the update to your loyal customers. (HTC & AT&T – I am talking to you).

 

So a simple question remains: Where do I go next? The answers: The Nexus 4; The iPhone 5; or the Lumia 920?  I still feel the need to experience Android the way it was meant to be; I need a TRUE GOOGLE experience. No bloatware. No contracts. No branding. No bullshit. Stock Android with timely updates and a decent ecosystem. And at $300 U.S. dollars for an unlocked phone, I can forgive Google and LG for omitting LTE. I will miss LTE. It was blazing fast. However, HSPA+ is still better than EDGE, and with a true world phone that I can take anywhere, I felt compelled to give it a shot. There are several pre-paid local GSM carriers here in Austin, and I plan to try them all. I plan to try AT&T. I plan to experiment and have fun.

I absolutely loved the Google integration in Android. I think it’s what ultimately won me over. The apps are plentiful, the OS is sturdy, the phone is a beast. I still may end up on iOS, but I find myself moving further & further away from Apple. It’s nothing personal, I simply find myself gravitating towards an operating system that again, better suits my needs. I love Google, so Android seems like the obvious choice.

 

Windows Phone 8 still has a very limited app marketplace and the lack of a true notification center bothers me. iOS & The iPhone 5 would be the easy choice, but I am sick of renewing my contract with AT&T, and an unlocked iPhone 5 is about the same price as a ‘94 Toyota Camry. (Laugh if you want, but the Camry is a reliable automobile).  I'm still tempted to pick one up once prices fall back to normal, but since the  iPhone 5 is STILL sold out everywhere, even if I wanted one I’d still be up shit creek.

So, this leads me to the Nexus 4. The phone looks amazing. And like my women, I still want to hold one before I try it out, but the initial previews have me drooling over a powerful smartphone with wireless charging, a sleek design and amazing specs. The lack of LTE is disappointing, however I still feel compelled to give the Nexus 4 a chance. I definitely see the drawbacks of not having a device with the latest cellular technology, especially since it’s a common complaint iPhone detractors have been spouting off for years. However, sacrificing LTE for a smartphone that has no carrier bullshit welded to it OS is a worthy trade.

 

Will I stick it out? Who knows? Maybe Apple will wow me once more, and maybe I’ll come back like the prodigal son. But I hear Android calling, and it’s time to see what Jelly Bean 4.2 is all about. November 13th can’t get here soon enough.

Cheers.

T.

 

*As a simple side note, I had 29 days to use the HTC One X before my AT&T return period expired. Hence, the title of the blog series.