Don’t Burst Your Bubble Color

Recent news about division stemming from Apple’s iMessage app caught my attention this week. There’s a general notion that Apple discriminates against Google, or that iPhone discriminates against Android; I’ve got some thoughts on that. This is about the long-standing difference between iMessage texts, which are blue, and standard SMS/MMS texts, which are green. 

Here’s one of a few articles (this one’s from The Verge) written lately on the subject:

Google says Apple ‘should not benefit from bullying’ created by iMessage lock-in

“Blue bubble envy is real”

James Vincent – The Verge

I talked about this topic before, here and here. Now I’ve got more to say.

While it would be nice if everyone used the same standard or system of communication, such an ideal, for various reasons, simply doesn’t exist. In practical daily living, there’s really just one downside to the blue versus green texting dichotomy that affects me: group texts.

In a group chat, there is typically one chat or group of people texting unless one of the texts is SMS rather than iMessage. In that case, it causes multiple separated chats to appear in a list despite them belonging to the same group text. In effect, it ungroups the group chat. Not cool. At best, this is a minor inconvenience, and at worst, it can cause mild confusion. Such confusion hinders communication in a medium where context is typically lacking and thus limited in the first place.

That said, the blue/green texting dichotomy isn’t that big of a deal. While it creates a difference, it doesn’t necessarily cause division.

Of course, it’s generally good to remove or reduce barriers to communication. But it’s also good to remember that reality isn’t always optimized to match what’s ideal. So it’s normal for people to adapt to things — make them work — when those things don’t necessarily adapt to people. And when feasible, people strive to make reality as ideal as possible. In this case, it’d be cool if somehow Apple and Google or others managed to unify on a texting standard.

There’s another related problem, though, that is unlikely to be solved even if Apple and Google miraculously settle on an agreed texting paradigm.

While friends and family text my phone number to stay in touch, they’re not consistent. Sometimes they message me through another service like Facebook Messenger instead — that doesn’t get a bubble in iMessage at all. Besides text messaging, people chat through Signal, WhatsApp, and others. Everyone uses different platforms and services to communicate — at least we speak the same language. These separate ways to chat are not ideal, but we deal with it, and we don’t have to divide over it. That said, if such chatting can be simplified or unified, I think life might be a little more convenient.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence more than once when it comes to texting. I can’t ask everyone on Android to switch to iPhone any more than I could ask everyone on iPhone to switch to Android. If Apple does not adopt RCS into iMessage or doesn’t open iMessage up to Android, I think blue and green bubbles are here to stay. Would it help if Apple made them all the same color, say purple? I doubt it.

With different texting standards, texting just isn’t standardized. This is inconvenient, but it needs not be divisive — don’t let it burst your bubble no matter the color. Like agreeing to disagree, we can at least agree that differentiation (tech diversity) and competition are good things overall, though that isn’t the best consolation for broken group chats.

Your Phone Is Your Computer

In the last few years, smartphones have become more expensive. In fact, some phones cost more than laptops. How can a phone command such a high price tag? Among many factors, I’m looking at this one idea: your phone is your computer.

Here’s one example of the higher price of a smartphone over a laptop: my own Android phone is $250. And my Chromebook, on sale, was about $200. So my phone cost more than my laptop. How can that be?

Another example of device cost disparity is found in Apple’s 2020 iPhone lineup too. With new Apple iPhones now on sale, you might be faced with choosing one that costs more than a MacBook. This is “just a phone” we’re talking about here, right?

The new iPhone 12 Pro Max with 512GB storage costs $1,400 while the entry level MacBook Air is priced at $1,000. Why does a phone cost $400 more than a computer?

Whether you’re looking at an expensive iPhone or a flagship Android phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note20, you’re likely to spend as much, if not more, than you would on your laptop or desktop computer. That sounds a bit ludicrous, but it kind of makes sense when you think about it.

The Most Personal Computer

These days, we rely on smartphones more than our computers. And although computers are productivity machines, our phones do as much or more. Since phones are pocketable, they’re more versatile than traditional computers.

Your phone is your point-n-shoot camera; it’s always with you to capture life’s moments. Then on that same phone you edit the photos or videos from the camera, much like you can edit video on a desktop PC.

Smartphones are now our wallets too. They wirelessly pay for things at the store. And they secure your identity so you can pay online. Speaking of money, you can budget finances right on your phone using a spreadsheet or a specialized app.

Our phones, using GPS and an accelerometer, record our steps and calculate our general fitness; they’re like pedometers. Try doing that with your laptop in your backpack.

And phones are now the best music playback devices. They stream wirelessly from the internet to any bluetooth speaker or headphones, at home and on-the-go.

So a phone’s utility often outclasses a productivity laptop. Smartphones changed computing life as we know it starting back in 2007 when the first iPhone debuted. Many people today couldn’t live without a smartphone; they’re as necessary as cars.

Yet when we look at a new phone that costs $1,000 or more, we wear a grimace emoji on our face. Sticker shock shows we forget how much we rely on our phones for all their many capabilities.

I tend to be budget conscious and frugal. Yet I think that since phones are the most important computer in our daily lives, it’s reasonable to pay a high price for them. And to offset that cost, we can say a laptop is our secondary computer, like a peripheral that is ancillary to our mobile phone, and thus pay less for it.

In other words, flip the script.

Instead of a low cost phone and high cost laptop, get a high cost phone and low cost laptop.

Either way, the more I think about all that I use a phone for in daily life, and how much I rely on it, the higher prices seem justified. Our smartphones are tiny marvels of modern mobile computing.

Yet novelty, hype, and marketing work hard to sell those high priced smartphones; I work hard to resist.

What’s your take on high cost phones these days? Do you feel the prices are warranted?

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

Pay More With Surface Duo

Are two screens better than one? Microsoft thinks so. You can now pre-order Microsoft’s new device called Surface Duo. It’s a phone. And a mini split-screen tablet. And it’s quite possibly the coolest new gadget this year. Unfortunately, it will cost all your dollars.

The Duo is an Android phone with dual-screens and an overt friendliness to Microsoft apps. What makes it special is how apps utilize the screens both separately and together in various ways. I’m super intrigued by it. My wallet, though, is laughing at me. Nope, not buyin’ it.

Do More. And Pay More.

Microsoft is pushing the idea of, “Do more with Duo.” Or, “Do to the power of two.” See and do more with wide screens and multiple modes. You really must watch the demos of the device to understand its versatility. The Duo is marketed as a new productivity device. I’m guessing this includes creativity as well.

Half-joking, one reaction I have to the “do more” push is my push-back, “Do I really need to do more?” Don’t I do enough already? My Android phablet and my Chromebook let me do a lot! And I’ve been working professionally for the last 17 years using Windows PCs with Microsoft Office, among other programs. What more do I need to do?

Maybe I could be more productive and less busy – efficiency! But production must be balanced with recreation. For you know, all work and no play…not cool!

Half-joking aside, the Duo does appear to enable more, or at least better, ways to do-all-the-things in a device that fits in your pocket. Again, it’s very intriguing. I’m looking forward to upcoming reviews after people get real-world hands-on daily usage of it.

But no matter how cool or productive the Surface Duo is, that $1399 price tag is an anvil around its neck! For that amount of currency you could instead buy:

  • iPhone SE $399
  • AirPods $159
  • iPad $329
  • Smart Keyboard $159
  • Apple Pencil $99

This totals just $1145, so you’d still have $254 left over! Could you be as productive with an iPhone and iPad as you could with just a Surface Duo? How much more could you really do with the Duo?

Or how about this set-up?

  • MacBook Air $999
  • iPhone SE $399

This is equivalent to the price of the Surface Duo by itself at $1399. Is a Duo more productive than a combo of iPhone and MacBook? I doubt it.

Microsoft has a hard sell here. Despite that, the Duo seems compelling to me. It’s likely my tech-nerd bias though.

I like productivity and gadgetry. But I also like frugality. And I know firsthand how well “budget” devices work and how much you can do with them. My current set-up is a fair-enough example:

  • Moto G Power Android smartphone $249
  • HP 14” Chromebook $299 (I actually got it on sale for $179!)

I can do plenty with 2 portable devices that set me back a mere $428! But if you’d like to step up your Google device game, you could buy:

  • Google Pixel 4a $349
  • Google Pixelbook Go $649

That totals $998, still $401 less than the Surface Duo! And all the combo options I’ve listed, even the iPad, include a physical keyboard to type on for basic productivity, unlike Duo.

The point of all this is to say no matter how swank the Duo gleams, whether you’re all-in with Apple tech or Google swag, you can buy productive gear for less money than the Surface Duo.

And let’s not forget that all the devices I listed above can run Microsoft Office mobile apps or web apps. Do they work as well on said devices as on the Duo? And if not, do the Duo versions of Office apps justify the high price tag? Time will tell.

Maybe by its 3rd generation, the Duo will lower in price and increase in value with even better features. But until such a time, I think the Duo will remain a niche gadget.

Do you think you could do more with Duo?

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

Motorola Updates Upgrade Promise

A Promising Response

You and I both know that smartphones don’t last forever. But shouldn’t they last more than a year? I wrote about this recently in relation to a Computer World article that singled out Motorola for not playing nice with phone updates on its new $1,000 phone. Then another article appeared, this time on Android Central, calling out Motorola again on this issue. And you know what? The next day, Motorola responded in the positive!

Moto On The Move

Motorola has announced that their new Edge+ phone will get not one but two OS upgrades in addition to years of security updates. This is a nice change from the company that has shown it truly cares about clean Android software, as Joe Maring pointed out in his related opinion piece.

Moto has been on a roll lately, releasing bold and budget phones. With the premium Razr, the flagship Edge+, and the mid-range Moto G Power and Stylus, Motorola has shown it cares about hardware. And now with the promise of an extra OS upgrade for the Edge+, they’re reaffirming that software is just as important to them.

These are positive signs coming from one of the stalwarts in the mobile phone industry. Despite Apple and Samsung dominating much of the smartphone market, Lenovo owned Motorola isn’t anywhere near giving up the fight. If nothing else, their G line of affordable phones has offered incredible value for years, making them the go-to Android phones for buyers on a budget.

Like author Joe Maring, I too am fond of Moto’s brand. As mentioned, the company’s respect for stock Android software is a standout feature, not to mention the nice user-friendly touches they add, like opening the camera by twisting the phone as you pull it out of your pocket. About the time you lift it to eye-level, you’re ready to snap the photo.

Moto Memories

If you’ll allow me to reminisce a bit, I recall Motorola first grabbing mindshare in the late 90’s when their StarTAC flip phone made waves. I was on my college campus where a classmate showed us how cool it was! Years later when the original Razr was everywhere, I didn’t own one myself but I helped my brother buy one – because it was the Razr!

My first phone from the company was the Moto Q – I still like that thing! That was a “feature” phone sporting Windows Mobile, a physical keyboard, and buttons! Tactile feedback is very underrated. Much later, I got the first Moto X with custom wood back and orange accents.

Next, I bought an unlocked Moto G4, the Amazon variant. Guess what, although it no longer gets updates, it is still in use today by my Dad! And now, I’ve been enjoying the new Moto G Power for a month.

Besides being nostalgic, I say all that to underscore how good it is to hear that Motorola is serious about making great phones and pleasing their customers. Saying their new flagship phone only gets one OS upgrade but then improving on that later, albeit just meeting the standard, does quality service for their phone buyers, especially the loyal nerds like myself.

Meeting The Standard

Having said that, I want to call on Motorola to continue their winning streak by extending their OS upgrade promise to not just the fancy phones at the top, but to the huge installed base of fantastic mid-range phones – the G series!

As of now, Joe Maring points out,

“The new Moto G Stylus and G Power are excellent mid-range handsets, but you aren’t promised any big software updates beyond Android 11.”

One of the big selling points of Apple’s iPhones is their several years’ worth of reliable OS upgrades. The bar is set, and I believe Motorola is able to rise to the high standard. The Android market would benefit greatly from a company with a reputation of phone support for a great length of time. And that company would, in turn, reap the rewards. Nokia and Google are frontrunners in this regard, but Motorola has the mojo to standout as a leader.

What do you think? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

The Smartphone Spectrum

Market Segments

Do you think about what category your smartphone is in? Like, does it really matter to you if your phone is a “flagship?” Maybe that term doesn’t even register. You might be like, “Um, I have a Samsung.” Or, “It’s an iPhone.” Fair enough!

Well, I nerd out about this stuff sometimes, like when I switched from iPhone to Android about a month ago. After being in the market for a while and doin’ some prospectin’, I knew I wanted a “mid-range” or even a “budget” phone. Money still doesn’t grow on trees, right?

Fuzzy Lines

As I looked on the web at phones, I wondered at times, just what exactly is a mid-range phone? Where do you draw the line between budget and mid-range? Is it by price alone? That would be convenient, say $0-$300 is budget, $300-$600 is mid-range, and flagship is $600+. Or does the mid-range start at $250? I don’t know.

Maybe budget Android phones are ones with a Snapdragon 4xx series CPU, and mid-range ones are Snapdragon 6xx class, then flagships have the 8xx Snapdragons. That’s simple enough. Oh, but then what about the Exynos CPUs? And the MediaTek CPUs? Where would those fit along the spectrum of specs?

You see, it’s not easy to define neat little boundaries for phones. The lines between them are too fuzzy. You might be wondering what the point is anyways. Who cares about what classification or category your smartphone is in? It’s just a phone.

Well, nerds care. Tech folks, like me, with an affinity for gadgets geek-out about this sort of thing. But you probably care about it too, more than you might realize. At least I know I’m not the only one.

Central Article

As it turns out, an author just wrote about this very thing! The article is on Android Central. It declares that the “mid-range” moniker makes no sense anymore and the way we categorize phones is confusing if not flawed. I both agree and disagree.

The author, Andrew Martonik, elaborates well on the nuances of smartphone specs, features, and costs. You know, all the things you and I consider when we think about buying a smartphone. The author is on-point when he talks about how the variety in phones makes it too difficult to neatly distinguish them into categories. He says,

“We’re just going to have to deal with the fact that there’s actually nuance in the comparison of phones that reaches well beyond grouping them into these big categories based on a couple of specs or features”

Andrew Martonik

So how do we categorize smartphones and how is that flawed? It’s simply a 3-tier system of high, middle, and low. That translates to “flagship,” “mid-range,” and “budget.” These are the three buckets Martonik addresses,

“for some reason technology enthusiasts are eager to put phones into buckets…”

Andrew Martonik

Well, it’s not just tech nerds like me who categorize phones. It’s human nature to organize things, make sense out of madness, bring order to chaos. If there’s a pattern to something, however subtle or murky, humans tend to find it. And it’s normal to group similar things together. The trick is finding the small distinctions among the similar. If you do that well, then you’ll have clearly defined buckets, or tiers, for phones.

Of course, complexity makes this hard, like when smartphones overlap. For example, what does the new-ish term, “Value Flagship” even mean? So keeping things simple makes categorizing easier. And the 3-tier system is just right, neither too few nor too many categories.

So how should we distinguish the nuances of the mid-range smartphone segment, you know, so we can add clarity? Adding more tiers or sub-categories beyond the three we have would make the system more complex and disturb the balance.

For example, since phones broke the $1K barrier, it seems there is a new 4th tier. It was like: Budget $0-300, Mid-Range $300-600, and Flagship $600-1000. Now we add Luxury $1000-1500! We could sub-divide the high-end into say three types of flagships: Value Flagship, Premium, and Luxury. But do you think that would really help?

We should stick with the 3-tier system, however muddy, because it’s the easiest for most people to naturally understand. We just need to remember that the categories are broad or general, so by definition there is nuance to make among the blurred tiers.

If we don’t simply accept this, we might need a Venn diagram to visualize our smartphone buckets. This would be fun for nerds, but normal people are just going to end up making two decisions when they buy a phone: is it a Samsung or iPhone? And what’s the monthly bill?

As Martonik astutely observed, beyond mere specs, a phone has other merits that appeal to people’s personal preferences. Brand plays into that too, thanks to marketing. But price is the bottom line. This is what people naturally weigh.

This gets back to why it is natural to classify phones purely by price. It’s reductive, maybe over-simplifying, but simplicity is a virtue, so you can understand why we do this.

Meet In The Middle

For most everybody, I don’t think it’s time to stop saying a phone is “mid-range.” Just keep in mind that the mid-range is a range; it’s a broad and general category. And that’s okay. Some phones overlap; no big deal.

For us tech nerds who like more distinction when organizing, I get it. Our 3 pound brains want some clear lines! We want to define absolute categories. Every tech thing should fit neatly into a single place, like ones and zeros in a computer. Then our analytical minds will be satisfied. So until the smartphone buckets make more sense, we’ll keep writing articles like this.

Maybe it would help if we stopped calling our smartphones phones and instead just called them computers.

Where would you draw a line for the mid-range? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!