Phones and Tech For All?

Last year, I purchased a mobile phone made by Samsung called the Samsung Wave. It’s a smartphone but not one of the usual suspects. The Wave is not an Andriod phone; instead, Samsung have developed their own platform, called ‘Bada’. Bada was new at the time, and I was under no illusion that Bada would offer the same number and variety of apps found in alternative marketplaces. I liked the look and feel of the phone, the spec was good, and the AMOLED screen was fantastic.

However, I could not have predicted what has happened since. Whilst I expected to see a slow growth of apps (on Samsung Apps), I could never see Samsung eating into much custom from Andriod or iPhone users. That being said, that does not mean there was not room in the marketplace for another contender. But, if Samsung wanted to get a piece of the action, they needed to enable good quality apps to get to market quickly in order to gain traction.

It is certainly true that more and more apps hit Bada. I do not see, though, that they have got close to their potential. However, this is not down to a lack of developers – it is down to two other problems.

The first is that Bada (and Bada apps) has little semblance or identity. This, as I see it, is a huge problem, as it means that many people and smartphone users will have never heard of Bada. It also means that people do no know what to expect – whereas smartphone users have come to know what to expect from Andriod, Apple etc. It is also a problem for the developers, as it makes it harder to invest in and commit to development projects. On the one hand, there are some great games available for Bada – many of which, in my opinion, are far better than those available on Andriod in terms of graphics, playability and game depth.

On the other hand, some of the apps are pathetically poor; some simply do not work and the GPS related apps seem flaky, temperamental and unstable. Many of the apps are pointless and some crash regularly.

The second problem relates to updates to the Bada operating system/firmware.

The Samsung Wave shipped with Bada version 1.0, which was then upgraded to 1.2 some months later.  However, if you have a Samsung Wave on contract with, say, O2, then you cannot the upgrade to 1.2. This is because the phone has a custom branded firmware (i.e., branded to/by O2 for example), rather than a generic vanilla version.

The only way to get the upgrade in this situation is to unlock/unbrand your phone. I would never advise this on a contract phone – if nothing else, it invalidates your warranty.

If you are wondering why not having Bada 1.2 is a problem, I shall explain. First of all, Bada 1.2 is actually not the current version (at the time of this blog post, 2.0 is the current version). There are two reason why it is a major issue. First, new applications are being developed for Bada 1.2 or 2.0. You cannot download or use Bada 1.2/2.0 apps with Bada 1.0 on your handset. Second, old apps for Bada 1.0 are being upgraded to run on Bada 1.2 (or above). This means that people who paid money in good faith for a smartphone are now being deprived not only of apps but of phone functionality which they expected to get in the product they purchased.

I find it amazing that Samsung has dropped the ball on this. If they want Bada to gain traction and grow, they MUST ensure that updates are available to all customers. Now, whether the problem here lies more with the carriers is a question I cannot answer. However, reading between the lines, there is the slight odour of a rat. Bada 1.2 was made available in generic vanilla but it’s not advisable to install this on a branded contract Wave (you have to manually update the phone’s firmware). From a commercial perspective, there are a number of reasons why holding back on branded updates might be of benefit. For example, being able to get a branded update may mean many customers opt to keep their existing handset rather than getting a new one. It also gives the carrier some hold over the customer base, albeit in a negative way.

It’s also not good for developers – potential customers and users of their software are being denied to them because of Samsung and/or the carriers.

In my opinion, it is simple: when a stable update is available, all customers with compatible phones should have free access to that update, irrespective of being on contract or not.

If you have a Wave and have experienced this problem, contact your carrier and Samsung. A friend and fellow Wave owner has just got a free upgrade, despite having months left on his contract. He was not happy; he explained his experiences and the problems. He also told them that he felt that the original sale aspect of the contract was invalid, as he could no longer download apps he wanted, which was one of the features the phone was advertised as offering. He felt that this was unreasonable and not in the spirit of the sale/contract (i.e., any sale contract should have a ‘meeting of minds’ and he would never had agreed to buy a phone if he had known in advance he would not be able to use one of its major features in a matter of months). My opinion aside, it seems the company agreed and supplied a free handset upgrade.

Moving along, I have been looking at various phones recently. I am very impressed with some of the handsets available. I do feel the handset market moves too quickly, though. I love to see new, cutting-edge technology but if you have a phone on contract, it’s impossible to keep up with the latest devices. The only other option is to spend hundreds or thousands buying them sim free. I worry that young people tempted by such tech may get themselves into debt/too much debt.

Tech of all kinds has transformed our lives and the attitudes of the next generation. In the UK, children are raised with the expectation of instant gratification. There is a desire to want and own things but there is also a frustration and depression in many people who cannot afford such things – either because they don’t earn enough or have exceptional circumstances.

The proof of this is in what has happened in micro-economics over the past 15 years: the boom in borrowing and lending; having multiple credit cards and transferring the balance; loans and most worrying – ‘pay day loans’ – which are more to do with people’s earnings simply not being enough to cover their expenses than with having a one-off problem one month.

This is more than just ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. This is a sea change and so long as our celebrities, millionaire MPs and Prime Minister enjoy such tech, luxuries and multiple holidays, it’s very unlikely that attitudes will change.

Moreover, the tech, gadgetry and luxuries are not going to go away. It is not something we can ignore or repel. I also feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with wanting or desiring such items. We must embrace this but also show some maturity and exercise responsibility. However, this does not mean that one should be denied such items just because you happen to be poor, young, disabled or unable to work.

It is part of a bigger problem and if we are to embrace tech and future products in general, they must be available across the board. That means, we must reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. We must empower people to be able to earn more. Sadly, our current Government seem to be doing the opposite, which will be of huge cost to taxpayers in a few years time.

Although people might not agree, it seems clear to me that our current economic systems do not work. I am just, for this post, concentrating on one area that we must tackle and manage.

In years gone by, the notion was leave school, go to college/uni or get a job and then hopefully progress and maybe look forward to retiring early with some money to enjoy.

That has changed.

Now, people want to enjoy themselves whilst they are young, fit and healthy. People no longer wish to wait until they are older and less able. That, to me, make perfect sense.

One of the biggest changes we have to make financially and economically is that we have to understand and accept that young people not only want to spend money when they are young but they also NEED far more money than they used to. I am not just talking about the cost of college or university. The sheer cost of living is so much higher and young people not only want but demand their right to be able to buy what they want. For many, the thought of a low-paid, dead-end job and only being able to afford to get by and pay bills is just not enough – and rightly so. We should set our expectations and aspirations far higher.

Of course, this is not that black and white and I am generalizing to make a point (I am not suggesting ALL young people are like this or that they are all irresponsible).

What I am saying is that, the world is changing and so are people. There is so much more out there that people can do and buy – and people do want to buy ‘stuff’. It might be mobile phones, laptops, tablets, plasma/led TVs, PCs, XBoxs, PS3s, games, apps, gadgets etc. The consumer marketplace is huge and full of variety and choice. I do not feel it helps to expect people who have little money on an ongoing basis to simply accept they cannot get such items. In a world surrounded by so much consumerism, this is not workable and the logic does not hold water.

We need to enable a system where money is available to young people and others so that they can purchase such items and make repayments at affordable levels – even if that means repaying much smaller amounts for longer periods at higher interest rates. This should also be available to those on very low incomes and long-term disabled and ill people.  Many people in these groups cannot get credit simply because they are disabled or have a low income.

I realize there are credit unions, which are helpful, but we need a more rounded and complete solution. The current mindset is outmoded. My friend is 28 and works in computer software. Four years ago, he was unemployed (had been for 2 years) and had no prospects. The Jobcentre failed to give him the help and training he wanted. He could not afford to pay for training by himself and banks were not interested.

He got lucky.

He won some money and used that to pay for education, training and professional qualifications. He got a job and some experience. He now earns around £50 per hour. Yes, per hour. There is no doubt in his mind that had he not won that money, he would still be looking for a minimum wage job.

As much as many people would like to think overwise, the truth is that money DOES make a difference. If one has a comfortable income, there is less stress in daily life, as there is not the worry about being able to pay the bills. We must invest in people if we want a more stable economic future; we must narrow the chasm between the richest and poorest; we must help enable the potential earning power of the next generation.

There is nothing wrong in young people wanting items such as phones, iPods, TVs, and other tech; it’s part of their lives as they are raised – it’s around them 24/7 growing up in the UK – consumerism, new tech, new TVs, the latest games and fashions. Times have moved on – it is a different world from the 80s and 90s.

The problems and frustrations come from our outdated system – not enabling them to flourish and grow and become the next generation of adults. If we empower young people to increase their abilities and earning potential, we help them in more ways than perhaps we can appreciate. It is not possible to compare them and their lives as young people to those of older generations in their youth. The world is simply a different place – as are their daily lives. We have to try to see life through their eyes – think about what they have seen growing up and how the world has changed in their lifetime alone.

If we can empower young people to earn more – which means investing money – we also stand a chance of crossing the road to a more sustainable economy. A generation or more of people on benefits, unemployed graduates with debt and people stuck on low incomes will not provide this.

I feel I have to also add that it seems some parents do not take enough interest in their children’s interests, education and future. Many do not support and communicate enough with schools and teachers. I think education is very important and I really feel for some young people I’ve met who find reading, writing and communicating difficult – or even a hassle.

Before I move on, I’d just like to make a simple, logical point. If we bridge the gap between the rich and poor and reduce it, not only are more people earning more but more people are paying tax and more tax. This is good for the health of the national economy, as, in basic terms, more money is needed in the pot. This also reduces the cost and strain on or welfare and support services.

One of the reasons I feel passionate about this is that I have recognized from what I have seen (and from what I have heard my own children say), that adults/people do not understand the modern world of a teenager or young person in their 20s. Having considered this more, I can now see how different the world has become and have realized that my view is coloured from my own childhood and upbringing – not just of where I grew up but WHEN. I have realized that this view is not just coloured but, in fact, is now inaccurate and out-of-date.

Tech, gadgets etc are becoming less of a luxury and more the norm. Mobile phones, microwaves, flat-screen TVs were once all, at various times, not affordable to all; they were the toys of the rich and famous. But now, they are the norm: look how many people own mobile phones and there are not many places where you can buy a new CRT television.

When it comes to a lot of tech, these items do appeal, arguably, to the young more than the old. So, if companies, people and society expect an item to appeal to ‘youngsters’, ‘kids’, or young people, one can only expect such people to desire the items. To expect them, therefore, to simply not be able to have them is just a contradiction.

When it comes to phones, there are even phones that look like portable video games consoles (see Sony Xperia Play http://bit.ly/ewBpVW) – with even more appeal to the younger generation.

The latest generation of smartphones are becoming a more developed product – though the rate of change in the industry is arguably too fast.

Some of these products are very good. I really like the phones from HTC, Samsung and Sony.

HTC used to make handsets for a number of products. These included the ‘SPV’, which was one of the first true next generation smartphones available at that time (around 2002-2004). It ran Windows Mobile and, although it had issues, it was an impressive device. The biggest problems it had were the operating system and user interface, the latter not being that user-friendly.

Two of the latest models – the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S II – offer amazing performance, high-quality big screens, great features, great cameras and video capture, and a wealth of games and apps thanks to the Andriod marketplace.

These are both dual-core (1.2Ghz) devices and so offer very good performance. I’ve been lucky enough to test both and can say neither should disappoint.

As yet, though, no company has come up with the ‘perfect package’. I am looking forward to the tech of 2012 and hoping to see less compromise and more completeness from designers and manufacturers.

Samsung let down the original Galaxy S by not including a flash and by the handset having poorer-than-expected build quality. The Galaxy S II still does not have the look and feel of a premium smartphone, though this is no deal breaker.

The HTC Sensation is fantastic. I think the HTC is the Bentley to Samsung’s Ferrari. HTC Sense – the Android user interface overlay from HTC – is a pleasure to use, with smooth animations and nice touches. The HTC feels like a more premium phone, with more elegance and subtlety.

However, it has to be said that in most performance tests, the Galaxy S II wins over the HTC.

I prefer the video on the Galaxy S II, it seemed less jerky to me in HD and looks amazing on the Super AMOLED+ display. The HTC display is also fantastic – it’s a qHD display, which means higher resolution.

The HTC has a more natural display when it comes to colour and the higher resolution means that text and photo details are a little better. They both have good points; it’s just down to preference.  Despite its failings, the HTC phone and screen have grown on me a lot.

There are two areas I have a major problem with the HTC, though. One is that the volume level of the speaker for the ringer or media player is too quiet. This can be improved slightly but it involves rooting the phone and is not really a solution. It also sounds tinny and distorts badly at high volume. The second is that, in weak signal areas, the HTC loses its signal too easily. These problems also feature in other HTC phones, such as the Desire/Desire S. It is for these reasons that I would personally choose the Galaxy S II out of the two.

These are fantastic phones; they are examples of great tech and devices that should be available to one and all – whether 60 or 19, fit or disabled, rich or poor.

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Male. Married. 3 Children. No Pets. Concerned about the changes the new Conservative Government are introducing. Very concerned about changes that adversely affect the vulnerable and disabled people. Commenting on current affairs, music and life in general.

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