My Thoughts on Microsoft's //build/ Conference 2014

It's been two months since Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft and it looks like he's done everything that Ballmer was afraid to.

Cutting the licensing fees for Windows and Windows Phone, releasing a mobile version of Office, and finally getting Cortana, the Google Now/Siri competitor out into the wild.

Speaking of Cortana, Microsoft's Siri/Google Now competitor is insane. It completely blows the latter two out of the water.

One thing that will be great for the Redmond giant is their propensity for really excellent cross-platform sync. Having Cortana everywhere is going to be HUGE for Microsoft, allowing them to become truly competitive once again. After all, competition spurs innovation.

This just might be the only Windows Phone feature I'm pretty jealous about. They certainly tool their time, but it looks like it's paid off.

Cortana; so simple, yet so intuitive.

Facebook Buys Oculus Rift for $2 Billion

Facebook bought the Oculus Rift VR company for a cool $2 billion today. With that came a few immediate and visceral reactions, the most prominent being, "Facebook ruins everything!" which isn't entirely untrue.

However, the purchase could be beneficial, and just might spur the right amount of competition we so badly need.

Think of it this way; Facebook has never been particularly shy about wanting to be the dominant player in the IM market. Their recent purchase of WhatsApp only served to further that notion. With Oculus, Facebook can do three things. The first is step away from their Zynga days of casual, social gaming, and make their first steps into real, console level gaming. No longer will you just have trophies and achievements to unlock and compete against - gaming will happen with real-time news feed updates. And this will only be possible if Facebook forces the player to login in through Facebook in order to connect and communicate with other gamers.

The second is taking the IM idea one step further. Facebook Messenger is already cross-platform, so having it extend into the world of VR gaming seems like a natural extension. Imagine Chat Heads inside games. You won't have to pause, find the message, respond, and then unpause. Chat Heads would work in game as they do on our mobile devices. Forcing players to use Facebook Messenger would be similar to Google forcing it's Google+ service into every Google application.

The third and final, and what I think is the most interesting idea, is that Facebook could take the Oculus Rift VR technology and turn it into a Google Glass competitor. Right now, in the new wearable market, Google has the strongest, and only, foothold on glass-type wearables. The Oculus could provide Facebook with enough traction to push out the perfect Facebook hardware. Facebook has never had a successful smartphone, but they just might work out in the wearables. Imagine Facebook Home, but through glass. It would essentially be the spiritual successor to the augmented reality app, Layar, and once again, would have deep Facebook Messenger integration built right into it.

There is a flip-side to this, and that's Facebook is dipping it's resources into too many different fields without really perfecting any of them. Their design aesthetic is constantly changing, and many of the products are revealed, quickly adopted, and just as quickly abandoned. That, and games could be so inundated with ads, that the platform is dropped entirely as players leave in droves. 

Facebook could be going the way of Apple in the 90s, before Jobs took the helm again, and MySpace in the mid 00s. Unless Facebook is able to make this $2 Billion purchase work out for them, we might not have a viable future of VR.

While I don't trust Facebook with any of my personal information, the social giant is trying to expand in a way not to dissimilar to Google, and the acquisition of Oculus Rift is a step into huge new territory for them.

100 Days Until I End A 6 Year Relationship (With My Phone Carrier)

Today, after I got home from my shift at work, I noticed a small package from TELUS, my current phone service provider. Normally, it’s just my monthly phone bill in the mail, or what they call TELUS Perks; small gifts such as movie passes or a charitable donation in your name. Today, however, it was something different.

Seeing this made me really excited.

 

I’ve been with TELUS for nearly 6 years now. It’s my longest relationship with anything ever. My first phone was a Motorola RAZR V3C, and my second, and current phone, is my HTC Desire. Yes, the original Desire, the one that shipped with Android 2.1 Eclair and never officially received any Android 2.3 update. But that’s besides the point. Well, not really, because since I was with TELUS, and my particular plan was that I’d have a credit spending limit of $200 (meaning I wouldn’t have to pay my phone bills until I hit that dollar amount), I couldn’t upgrade without jumping through a number of insane hoops. First, I’d have to pay off the remaining balance of my device, which is $10/month for however many months I had left. Then, I’d have to pay my $200 to get off that credit spending limit program I was on, and then to top it all off, a $275 cancellation fee. So it could eventually come close to $700 before I could even do anything else.

In case you can’t read the text in that image, the booklet basically says that I am currently eligible for a phone upgrade and they’ll make it easy for me to do so by:

  1. Waiving my device balance (the $10/month and the $200 credit limit program would be gone)
  2. Offering special discounts on select phones so I can save more
  3. Giving me access to the hottest phone at the best in-market prices

Naturally, this got me pretty excited, seeing as despite the fact that my 3-year old phone with 512 MB RAM/ROM is running Android 4.2.2 fairly well, I desperately need a new phone as a daily driver. I flipped the page over and saw the phone that they were offering me:

Seeing the three phones that they were offering me immediately bummed me out.

The Samsung Galaxy Ace Q, The BlackBerry Curve 9320, or the Nokia Lumia 620, all phone, maybe with the exception of the Lumia 620 (which is a Windows Phone 8 device, thus, has no app ecosystem), that are lower spec’d than my current device. Why on earth would I want to pay $25 to buy a phone that is arguable far worse than what I am currently working with?

But, to make sure that I wasn’t being stupid and missing anything in this sparsely detailed booklet, I called TELUS customer support, and they clarified that yes, those were the only three phones I could “upgrade” to at the $25 price point. If I wanted, say the Nexus 4, I’d pay $30, or if I wanted the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, I’d pay approximately $180, the current subsidized cost of those devices. The real kicker was that I’d be locked into another 2 year contract, with a ridiculous monthly rate plan of a base $55/month with unlimited calling and texting and 250 MB of data. For another $8 per service, I could tack on Caller ID, Voice Mail, Call Waiting and Conference Calling. The only one I’d require are the first two, a $16 additional charge.

Then, because 250 MB of data is nothing, for another $30/month, I could tack on another, wait for it, another whole 750 MB of data. $30 for 750 MB?! TELUS, you have to be kidding me. Again, this is if I went with the cheapest phone out of the best that they can offer me.

That brings the total charges per month on a new two year contract to around $100/month, more than my current $80/month with unlimited texting, 300 minutes of calling, Call Waiting, Conference Calling, Voice Mail, Caller ID, and 1 GB of data. So with spending more, I’d be getting less than I currently have with my now grandfathered rate plan.

I decided to shop around a bit more, and looked at Rogers, the next best bet. The plans are relatively the same, but for another $150/month, you can bump you 250 MB of data to 20 GB. 20 GB for $150? The numbers seemed skewed to me, and they are. For home internet plans, you can roughly get 1 GB of data for $1, if you’re at the 80 GB data cap with Rogers or Bell.

It gets even better.

I then wanted to know why they charge so much per text message, $0.20/text. The customer services client told me it’s because of the infrastructure charges and the cost to actually send such a large file over the airwaves. That, is not true. The most a text message will ever come to in size is 160 kb. Even for your 5-6 pagers, they get split up, which is why the person who receives them receives 5-6 texts from you, even if it doesn’t look like that on your end. So that cost per text argument is frankly total bull.

To end the phone call with the customer services client, a woefully ignorant lady who kept having to refer to her manager on duty for basic questions such as, “how much longer do I have until my contract is over?” To answer that question, it is 100 days, as of writing this.

So, this was in essence, a horribly long-winded way of basically saying that the big three Canadian telecommunications companies are no longer economically viable for someone like me, a recent university graduate in their early 20s. It’s no wonder why so many people my age really want Verizon, the largest American telecommunications and phone service provider, to come and enter the Canadian market. It’s no wonder why almost everyone that I talk to is so bitter with Rogers, Bell, and TELUS, as well as their respective subsidiary companies, Koodo, Virgin, and Fido. It’s no wonder why so many more people, including me, want to jump ship to companies like WIND Mobile as soon as they are able to, and it’s no wonder why you will not be getting my money ever again.

We, as the consumer, want, and demand better choice that’s actually affordable. Paying over $100 a month for a phone service is ridiculous, and needs to stop. The big three have had their chance, in fact, many, chances, to change their practices and give the consumers what we’ve all been clamouring for since we all clued into what was going on.

The good news is that I only have 100 days left in my six year long, monetarily abusive relationship, with TELUS. 100 very long days until I can finally begin voting with my wallet.

Until then, I only have one last thing to say, and that is a big screw you to TELUS.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star regarding this issue. You can read it here.

Letters to Editor: More Options for Canadians

Re: Canada doesn’t need fourth wireless carrier, says Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, Business, July 24

Canada doesn’t need fourth wireless carrier, says Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, Business, July 24

Bell recently published a two-page ad bemoaning the entry of Verizon into Canada’s mobile market, stating that it would hurt the consumer in the end. Frankly, I no longer feel any sympathy for the Big Three, as they have had, and lost, multiple chances at creating a fair and open market for the consumer, as well as newer and smaller companies. Both Bell and Rogers claim to have our best interests at heart, but really, they are scared stiff that they will have to compete in an open market against Verizon, the one company that could actually help create the market Canadians have been longing for this entire time.

The ideal, truly competitive market would be one where we would have five major carriers, Rogers, Bell, Telus, Wind and Verizon, and their subsidiaries, Fido, Virgin, Koodo and Mobilicity, as well as the provincial options such as Videotron. This would ensure that Canadians have the best possible options to choose from because, after all, competition spurs innovation.

Note: This originally appeared in the Toronto Star's Letters to the Editor Section on July 29th, 2013. You can find a link to that post here.

A Culture Of Indiscriminate Over-Sharing

Recently, after having a conversation with my close friend, Dave, and after watching Sherry Turkle and her TED Talk, Connected But More Alone?, I have realized that we live in a culture of indiscriminate over-sharing.

Let me explain.

What I mean by a culture of indiscriminate over-sharing is that not everything you post from status updates to photos is relevant or necessary. Do your friends really care about seeing the 200 photos of you and architecture from Europe, or the 300 photos you’ve taken of your food with a million filters applied? The answer is simple: no, no they do not. Not everyone needs to know, nor cares, whether or not you can sleep, if you’re at the bar with your girlies, or if you hate the new layout of the social networking site that you’ll continue to use.

After coming to that realization, I began thinking; how did that process even begin, and it’s incredibly simple — it started with ourselves. Humans, by nature, are attention seeking, and we’re always looking for ways to one-up our peers. We see our friends and their amazing escapes around town, and sometimes the world, and we feel compelled to show that our lives are just as exciting. Susan Cain, in her TED Talk, The Power Of Introverts, says:

“It turns out that we can’t even be in a group of people without instinctively mirroring, mimicking their opinions. Even about seemingly personal and visceral things like who you’re attracted to, you will start aping the beliefs of the people around you without even realizing that that’s what you’re doing.”

Cain makes the argument that it’s a vicious cycle that we unknowingly perpetuate, and how it’s a cycle in which we need to break.

This isn’t just specific to Facebook; a recent study showed how nearly 40% of tweets were pointless babble from saying how much fun people had last night at that party in which they got SOOOOO wasted, or how they’re at 10,000 tweets! But, if you look, how many of those tweets were of any real importance that made people want to read more, think, and get engaged? Barely any, so much so, that almost 75% of all tweets go unread. Google+ is a unique networking site, because almost as an unwritten rule, you do not have people clogging up their “newsfeed” with one million photos of food, status updates, and pointless check-ins.

I’ve been a long time advocate of not being on Facebook. When the site originally launched, and had the VIP status of being associated only with top tier colleges and universities, it made sense. This was before advertising and the site in general opened up to the general pubic world-wide; it was the discussion between you and your classmates that kept you logging in every time, and not the steady decline to your five buddies clogging up your news feed by checking into the bar down the street. I mean, do we care if you’re at one bar and not the other? Once again, the answer is no.

While sites like Facebook might still hold some relevance, I see it going the way of Myspace very soon as users flock to other networks like Twitter and Google+. As Derrick Wlodarz puts it,

“If Facebook’s loss of 2 million users over the past six months is telling about anything, it’s that the social media craze of yesteryear has peaked — or is even on the slight decline already.”

From what I’ve been able to tell, the main reason as to why people aren’t satisfied with Facebook is due to their horrible privacy settings, and because Facebook continues to abuse it. Yet, what the same user base fails to realize that (pardon my slight anti-Facebook bias) besides Facebook being evil incarnate, they watch the trends of their users and adjust the site accordingly. So, for example, if they see users interacting with each other more than others, those users will see more of each other in their news than anyone else (Eli Pariser, in his TED Talk, calls them Online Filter Bubbles, and tells us to be wary of them). The same goes for with the way they upload information about themselves from personal phone numbers, to their sexual orientation, to photos of them doing kegstands. Facebook sees this indiscriminate over-sharing and once again, adjusts their site accordingly, because it thinks that the users simply do not care. It’s as much the fault of the user base as it is the fault of Facebook (and it’s evil, oh so evil, shenanigans).

Yes, I understand Facebook is seen as a convenient way to stay in touch with people long distance, but there are other ways as well, such as Skype, e-mail, and you know, by using the device you can’t go 5 minutes without; your phone! But, as we continue to make a shift from a world in which we once used online accounts and connections to stay in touch with relevant and important topics of the day and discuss them, to a more me-centric world, I fear that we will lose our ability to be truly social.

As my incredibly good friend Dave said to me,

“This is why we lack privacy these days. Smartphones will do our networking for us, and [not] as much effort will be required on our part to stalk and interact with people. Remember that shitty knock-off Android phone I had? I’m only making the connection now, but it had features I never got around to telling anyone. One was the option to send canned messages, like, “I love you.”…That is both hilarious, and seriously f-cked…it’s an unsettling thought to have in anyone’s head that your significant other’s texts are pre-written, so to speak.”

Dave was completely right, and his sentiments only further echoed what Sherry Turkle said in her TED Talk:

“And what I’ve found is that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are…People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you’re texting. Why does this matter? It matters to me because I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.”

This raises another interesting point; filters. This goes back to Eli Pariser’s talk; I think we like being online because it allows us to create this persona of ourselves in which we can interact with one another without actually having to interact. Another friend of mine once said that she tried online dating, and found that it the people she met in the flesh were different from their online selves, and she faced that same problem too; that she couldn’t live up to this character she had created for herself. This is a huge problem that stems from being online, and being able to edit, retouch ourselves not too much, nor too little, but rather, just right into the people we wish we could be, rather than who we are.

Personally, as much as I live on the internet and use it for almost everything I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if social networking was but simply a passing fad. What I’m more interested in is the world post-social networking.

My father has always told me that within my life time, the world’s most precious commodity will no longer be oil, or anything of material presence, but will shift to our own sense of privacy. Generally, I’d debate him on that, but in this case, I couldn’t agree more.