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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 15 September 2017, 4:25 pm

The iPhone

It's been ten years since the iPhone burst onto the scene and I'm going to put a stake in the ground and say it's been five years since Apple last innovated wildly with the product.

Back then it introduced the iPhone 5 and with it a bold new look (all chunky and square) which remain my favourite of the iPhone fleet.

But since then we've seen innovations such as better cameras, better screens and (my all-time least favourite "innovation") a slightly taller phone.

The iPhone 8 ("the forgotten iPhone" as I'm sure it will be remembered in years to come) continues this trend with a faster chip a better screen and a better camera and a slightly larger sibling, but frankly it's all a bit ho-hum.

But wait! Tim pulled the old "one more thing" out of the hat and it was … another iPhone.

Yes, the iPhone X (pronounced 'GIF').

Sure, the screen is gorgeous and wraps around. Sure, the home button is gone. Sure, the phone is wildly expensive but I think the two best ways to sum up the launch came from the live video stream on the Apple website itself. The first is that the stream wasn't available to Chrome users because somehow Apple's video streaming capability requires Safari (!) and the second was the pause after the introduction of the new phone's feature set. Apple's Phil Schiller introduced the "animoji" or emojis that will be animated based on what the camera sees your face doing. Smile, and the emoji smiles with you. Cry about the lost opportunity represented by the amount of time and energy that has gone into creating this feature and the whole world cries with you.

There was a pause and then some polite applause, and that's about it.

That tells me something. The people at this event are hard core and love Apple to bits. They are the fanbois of old, who stuck by Apple when nobody used Apple products outside the movies or the design studio. When the whole world was talking Windows vs Linux, they stuck by their ludicrously over-priced kit and warmed themselves with the internal fires of their fervent belief system. And now Apple rules the world so they clearly were right all along.

Polite applause does not signal the future of the smart phone. Polite applause signals a mature product set in a mature marketplace that needs to be totally disrupted. Apple used to be good at that sort of thing. I wonder if it will be again.

And then there's the price, and oddly, I'm not opposed to the $1800 tag on this product. Hear me out.

My initial thought was OMG U CANNOT BE SRIOUS because that's how I think thanks to a decade on Twitter. But a wise man on Twitter (and I can't find the tweet now I am sorry to say) pointed out that given how much you use your smartphone and how important that use is to you, the price is a steal. I tend to agree - I'm happy to pay more for a product that works really well versus a product that works OK. I just wish they'd fix iTunes so it actually let me manage my music. Instead, we get the ability to pay for things with our faces, and we'll never be able to look at the poop emoji in quite the same way again.

Techblog - Apple launches three phones and a new watch

The Register - Five ways Apple can fix the iPhone, but won't

TechCrunch - The iPhone X is Apple's best phone ever

The Register - Apple's facial recognition: Well, it is more secure for the, er, sleeping user

The Register - Apple's adoption of Qi signals the end of the wireless charging wars

YouTube - Steve Jobs: "One more thing" compilation (compare and contrast)



Speaking of telcos

Speaking of telcos, they still top the "most hated, despised customer service ha what's that, why don't you pick up the phone, my god you're awful Muriel" companies in the land.

That's according to the Commerce Commission's survey of the number of complaints they receive: actual user comments may vary.

There are two reasons for this. The first is, naturally enough, that customers get grumpy when they can't get hold of customer service and that terms and conditions written by lawyers tend to make us muggles really unhappy when we're told no.

The second reason is that customers now use their mobile and fixed line broadband services for almost everything and that means the touch points between the telco and the customer have blown up to extraordinary levels.

Consider the world ten years ago. By then many people had a cellphone but not really a smart phone. We had DSL connections or, if you were really lucky, a cable TV network that gave us pretty good speeds. Most of the discussions centred around getting access, increasing the reach of the network, ensuring the migration to IPv6 and similar tech-centric issues.

Fast forward to 2017 and the game has changed hugely. Now the telco market is the domain of mainstream customer, not the user, and that's a different ballgame for all concerned. My daughter has just forced me to write out a log of all my online usage for a week as part of a school project. It would appear I'm online for more than 65 hours a week in any combination of mobile or fixed line broadband, work or entertainment, and all of that needs an internet connection. I told her it was like asking me if I'm reliant on electricity during my day - I am totally reliant and yet rarely think about how I'm using it. I just do things.

The same is true for the internet. Research, chat, phone calls, video calls, watching TV, doing my banking, ordering food, email, photography, music, writing, reading - all of it is online and all of it means any slight blip in terms of service and I'm doubly affected.

So it really doesn't surprise me that the telcos get an earful from customers. As they say, it's how they handle that earful that matters. Complaining about the complaining isn't going to do you any good - fixing the systemic issues might. And answer your damn phone once in a while.

And then there's Vodafone's email service.

ISPs have traditionally offered email as a free component of their internet service. Buy the service from us and we'll get you an email address. Yay, said the customers in 1998, this is much better than that Compuserv account thing that was just a string of numbers. Now I can have my name. Woohoo, etc.

What the customers then didn't realise is that this effectively locked them in to that ISP's service for anything but the most catastrophic outage outrage that was possible. Nobody would dare switch providers because the pain of telling everyone about your new email address would be so severe you'd never hear from anyone again. Never mind all those newsletters you signed up to, and your bank and electricity and water and all the other providers you deal with electronically. No sir, no way.

But now the telcos are realising that the cost of managing these services is hellishly expensive and that cost is going up every day. Given they don't charge for the service directly, they're a bit stuck between the wonderful "minimise churn" model they've created and the cost of offering the service.

Spark hit the wall with Yahoo! which, despite being a large and impressive company, couldn't run a bath when it came to email and dropped the ball repeatedly. Yet Spark won't move away from its offering because it is so powerful.

Vodafone, however, has had a gutsful and with a dozen different systems inherited from various buy-outs over the years, it's called time on its email service.

Cue: wailing and gnashing of teeth.

For individual users, I can understand the desire to have one single provider and the certainty that comes with that. For business users there's no excuse. It's like having a Hotmail account. It marks you out as an amateur not a serious professional, and these days I just don't see many businesses operating without their own domain name.

It's simple. Buy a domain name (cost: around $20) and then get someone to host it for you. Google will do it for $50 a year but there are literally dozens if not hundreds of providers. Then, job done. Tell everyone you've got this new email address and walk away from all the others. You can switch ISPs as you see fit (saving yourself a bundle in the process) and your email will be handled by a company that specialises in it.

Plus it clears the decks for the telcos to back away from all their "value-add" services and just get on with building faster, more efficient networks.

It's a win:win.

NZ Herald - Commerce Commission reveals the companies Kiwis complain about the most

RNZ - Customers complain most about telcos

Stuff - Vodafone tops New Zealand's most complained about traders

Computerworld - Vodafone gives up on email

Stuff - Vodafone customers should plan ahead for email closure

RNZ - Vodafone to shut down thousands of email accounts


The future of technology

I attended a great session on the future of technology held by law firm Minter Ellison Rud Watts McKenzie Brackman, this week, and we heard about the usual "the future is coming" things. Jobs will be scarce, devices will be plentiful, cars will be electric and disruption is coming on a grand scale.

Two things stood out for me though. The first is the encroaching storm of security risk that is the Internet of Things, also known as the Internet of Things that Have No Security Ha Ha I'm Spamming You Via Your Own Fridge and the problems inherent in a world where security not only isn't baked in to networked products, it's barely given a passing thought.

That's quite entertaining in an abstract kind of way. I have no plans for a home full of networked coffee makers and lightbulbs thank you very much. Instead, I'll make do with my laptop. And my desktop PC. Oh and the kids have got iPads. And the TV of course, and the sound system that goes with it. And the kids' fitness sensors and oh god we're all going to die.

As I've said elsewhere, privacy and our personal information is likely to be a major issue for us all in the years ahead, doubly so when you consider the mess that is emerging from the Equifax credit checking debacle. Not only did this company gather personal information on a huge percentage of Americans and then secure that information behind a flimsy firewall (in its Argentina office, access to an internal tool was gained using the user name and password "ADMIN" I kid you not) but when news of the leak started to emerge several key execs decided the best thing to do would be dump stock and to build a "check if you've been compromised" tool that gave out random answers.

All this will end poorly.

The second area of interest was discussion of jurisdictional control over our own information and laws. Imagine if you will a customer and a provider, both based in New Zealand, using an international website and a service based in another country. What can the customer do if the product isn't up to scratch or the service goes undelivered? Is it a New Zealand issue or does it fall under the purview of the other country? As former Telco Commissioner Ross Patterson pointed out, if that other country happens to be Switzerland you run smack into a legal system designed to protect Swiss companies from being sued by those who don't live there, so then you're stuffed.

A number of companies are beginning to structure themselves so as to exist in this "intra-jurisdictional" way and that bodes poorly for both customers and nation-states alike. New Zealand has privacy laws that currently don't include provision for informing victims of data theft, so will a New Zealand company that gets hacked fall foul of US or UK laws if it doesn't reveal that information to customers who are covered by such provisions?

Sadly, the answer seems to be "too hard to resolve" at this point and so we have countries developing their own laws and own codes of conduct (and we went down a fascinating hypothetical rabbithole about autonomous vehicles programmed in Germany, making life or death decisions in New Zealand and whether the programmers would be culpable under manslaughter rules) that may or may not be at odds with other jurisdictions.

All this will need to be resolved. Until then, just remember: chaos isn't a pit, it's a ladder.

Techblog - Fallout from Equifax debacle continues apace

BBC - Equifax had 'admin' as login and password in Argentina

LifeHacker - How to Find Out If You Were Affected by the Equifax Hack






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