Monday, December 9, 2013

Warranties and life in the 21st Century

Used to be, you'd buy stuff, and it would work for many years, you could repair it, and it would then work many more years. As things have become more electronic, the cost to replace has fallen below the cost of repairing - sometimes by a huge margin. Warranties that used to involve sending the broken item in and having it repaired are now far more likely to involve going to said repair place, and swapping out your device for a different one of the same type, which inherits the warranty of the original. For items that are still mostly mechanical, there is benefit in repairing much of the mechanics, but for things that are digital, most warranties now cover replacement, not repair.
Consider Apple's devices. Phones from the Froot Stand can be repaired for minimal items (home button, camera, speakers) on some models, but iPads, iPods, and Apple TVs, they are never opened in a local store. Screen repairs on the iPhone 5 are done in store, but most models require a full swap. That is the difference between AppleCare and warranties from carriers and superstores, where some geeky kid in a blue polo is going to crack open your iDevice and try to fix it. Turns out, this means that Apple can never work on your device again, or swap it for a working model, for any amount of money. If it fixes the issue, great, but if in mucking about in the innards of your device our geek (or your resident teen) happens to compromise another module, or if the replacement part fails, you're out the total cost of a new item, not just the repair/replacement cost. Plus whatever you paid for the warranty and the repair.
At the Store and within certain other places where you can purchase their products, Apple offers something for these devices called AppleCare+. The Plus means that not only does it include extended warranty and phone assistance coverage (more about this phone coverage later), but there are also two instances of physical or liquid damage that can be made during the warranty period for a small deductible. (I know, $70 for replacing an iPhone is not cheap, but it's a far cry from $240, right? And a huge savings over the non-contract price!)
Let's compare this to a carrier policy. Most of these are $10 or less per device, billed to your monthly bill. On a typical 24-month contract, that's $240 for the actual coverage. (AppleCare+ is $99 for iPhones and iPads, $59 for iPods touch. Quick approximation: less than $1/week for the same two years.) Now, consider that most local carrier stores are not equipped with spare parts, and have no one qualified too offer true warranty service on Apple products. What are they going to tell you when your camera module dies 8 months into your warranty? "Take it to Apple." Who will cover it happily. But at 18 months, still under your carrier plan, Apple will charge for that service, while your carrier will require you to send the device to them for several days while their regional repair center fixes the issue. If that item is covered. You may just get back a refurbished phone of the same model.
Now, a bit about phone support. Little known fact: Apple's phone support includes software support for all Apple iOS apps. That copy of iPhoto you downloaded free with your new 5c? Call and ask how to publish an album. Or get advice on adding a transition to a keynote slide on your iPad. Friendly help from someone in your country, wherever you call from. Try getting Google to help you do the same in QuickOffice. Oh, wait, you can't add transitions within QuickOffice's PowerPoint editor - my bad. But there's no online or phone assistance from anything at Google or any other office suite company that I know of.
So, my car is now done with its warranty checkup/oil change/car wash. Time to post this and get on with my life. I love a good warranty, where the cards are on the table, and there are little extras tossed in, like free fresh brewed coffee, a quiet business waiting area with no TV, and a comfy office chair and desk.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Glenwood Ave,Raleigh,United States

Monday, October 21, 2013

PCs are losing to tablets, but it's not about price - not fully, anyway

The San Jose Mercury News' Pat May just published an article regarding how PC shipments are falling, and concludes, as many have, that it's because everyone wants something cheaper. I think he and the rest of his ilk are missing the boat. It's not just about the money, it's about the experience. If you compare the experience of using a $500 PC to an iPad, you quickly realize it's far easier to process email, find web pages, chat with your friends on Skype, play a quick game, or even cobble together an outline for a report on an iPad than it is anywhere else. The operating system seems to think ahead of where you're going, and plows the path of least resistance. You get there with a minimum of frustration, loss of train of thought, and waiting while the computer thinks about what you've asked it to do.
Even with a faster, more powerful unit, most people's non-work computer use can be done with an iPad, at least partly. I talk to people in all walks of life, and hear the same stories all the time: "I just need to do email and surf. Maybe check Facebook or write a grocery list. Nothing fancy. Work gives me a laptop that I lug out when I need to do a big project." And after a few years with iPads, when they decide they need a personal machine for large projects, they usually are open to moving to a desktop machine for the family, rather than laptops all 'round. And by then, they are conditioned to think "complex and arcane" when it comes to Windows, because in order to do anything with their work PC, they have to call and wait for IT. So that iMac, which runs about the same price as a mid-level laptop, starts to look great as the family "truck." This is in reference to
Steve Jobs' famous quote:
When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that's what you needed on the farms. Cars became more popular as cities rose, and things like power steering and automatic transmission became popular.
"PCs are going to be like trucks. They are still going to be around. However, only one out of x people will need them.

It's always good to have a buddy with a truck for odd jobs, but I never want to deal with the hassle and upkeep expense required to own one.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Memory Ln,Durham,United States

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The mobilization of the cyber criminal underground

I'm continuing to be amazed at the varied places I'm finding wifi. I'm at my second car inspection place in my new hometown, and both of them have not only had wifi, but really fast, really open wifi. If you've read this blog at all, you know that mobile computing (without laptops) is a particular interest of mine. I'm using my iPad right now, as are 3-4 others in this place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The TV in the corner is blaring away, but everyone is busily keeping up their online lives.

This pervasive use of Internet resources is not without danger, however. If you're using your tablet or phone to do everything, you may not stop and think before you log in to your bank, PayPal, or credit card app. That's where the opportunity for online criminals to hijack your identity credentials comes up. (There's no other thing to call them. They are committing crimes, not just hacking or whatever mild epithet you want to attach to their activity.) I found the info in this graphic alarming, but also infuriating. It's a simple thing to be aware of what you're doing and who's around, but even with the best precautions, the remains some danger. That's why the anger. I want to be comfortable in that corner cafe drinking a cappuccino, not watching over my shoulder in case some goon is trying to steal my money or impersonate me at a store and charge things to my account.

The Cybercriminal Underground

Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

So, bottom line, be careful out there! It can be a jungle or the Wild West, or whatever metaphor you choose to use, so there's reason for all pioneers to be on their guard.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:N Duke St,Durham,United States

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Let's end plug-in issues using computer power

I get so tired of seeing Flash warning error messages when using my Mac. I removed Flash a few years ago and started following the John Gruber rule - if it needs Flash, run it in Chrome. That way, Safari can work without having to keeping that memory hog from eating up resources in the background.

So, to try and spread this mantra around, I have added the note below and send it to the tech support address or form. It's not a demand, or a promise that "I'll never visit your stupid site again!" It's just a suggestion. Anyone who's running a tech support queue can identify with the problem, and the solution is almost trivial - just show the mobile version of the video if the plug-in is out of date. The user will never know! Simple!

Feel free to copy/paste this for your own "End the Flash Update" campaign.

One sees it everywhere on the web: "Please update your Flash player." Why does this ever display, especially on sites like yours that obviously stays up-to-date technically?

I've solved this issue personally (since I swore off Flash a few years ago) by asking my browser to reload the page, but changing the user agent to lie to the server and say I'm on an iPad. Problem solved! The non-flash you hide from desktop users loads and plays just fine.

So, my question: Why confuse those least technical of folks, the ones who will not have updated plug-ins? Think of your mom or your grandmother - do they have any idea how to fix a Flash problem? Of course not! They just let it fester until you're there at Christmas, and you spend all afternoon cleaning up the mess of stuff that slipped through because of old, compromised plugins.

Why not try this: If the user's browser requests a Flash video but their plug-in version is too old, rather than display that message, silently load the non-flash version. This lets them stay on your site, loading page views, rather than going over to Adobe's maze of a site, getting lost, cursing at the computer, decided never to ever use this stupid thing again, I can't believe I ever let that son of mine talk me into this - you get the idea.

It's not like you'd have to convert anything - the mobile-friendly, non-Flash version is sitting there, possibly in the same directory as the Flash version. I bet this would actually lower your tech support queues.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Memory Ln,Durham,United States

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, New Thoughts

So many people post new year resolutions, thoughts on making a new start, etc., around this time of year. Or they look back wistfully over the past year and reminisce about things that could have, should have been. Me, I'm just keeping on keeping on. I'm still riding my bike every pretty day I can, still walking the dog as often as he needs, still loving my wife, still going to work even on days I'd rather stay at home. Sometimes, life is more about being consistent and continuing on a well-worn path than changing things and breaking off in new directions. It's also about more than regrets and sighing over things that never happened, or living in some past glory. Sure, we need to stop and "take stock of the situation" every now and again, and the new year is as good a time as any, but I don't feel everyone's biological clock is up to that at this time of year.
In my business (retail tech sales and support), things are quite hopped up this time of year. I work right up to the holidays, and then have to go back in without more than a day or so off, because folks need help with the new gee-haw that they were given. My time to sit back and chew my cud is in the spring or fall, during the seasons of change. Being outside, enjoying God's beautiful creation is more reflective for me than sitting by a fire, dozing or reading.
This time of year, I'm wanting to get into more depth with the things I use, the tech that I work on. I want to spend time going deeper, rather than relaxing by the frosty window, wishing it would stop raining or blowing or whatever.

Sometimes, it's tough to know when to stop and look back, and when to keep plowing ahead. If you're one of those who stop and ponder, don't let the cold freeze you out of getting started back. Keep plugging away at what you know you're good at, and improving what you know needs it. As fun as a spy thriller is to chew through, toss in some non-fiction or a book from your professional area, just to keep the saw sharp. You may find the going easier when you get back from your vacation.

from dusty archives - Largo Lodge

[ed. This piece was written some time ago, but I found it recently while moving hard drives on a computer. I thought some folks may find it ...