Ideas

A Better Software Purchasing Model

Currently, there are a few different ways to buy software, each with their own drawbacks.

 

The Box Model

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There's what I would call the "Box Model" where you buy software at a somewhat high price. In the Box Model, you get free access to updates for that version of the software. Eventually, the developer will drop support of the software meaning that you have to buy the new version of the software and repeat that process again to keep getting updates. But even if the developer drops support for the software, you still get to keep it on your device without any problem. Sometimes you can get the next version of the software at a discount if you own the old version, but that isn't really guaranteed.

This model is great if you buy the software the day it's released, but the closer you get to buying the software to the time of the software's next iteration release, the lower the value. If you buy the software the day before the next version comes out, you're probably going to be upset because you didn't get to enjoy that year of free updates like the person who bought it a year ago did.

 

The Subscription Model

The Subscription Model solves some of the problems that go along with the Box Model, but it introduces new ones. With the subscription model, you buy access to software and updates, usually on a monthly basis. The price will be lower than the Box Model at first, but you'll also lose access to the software if you stop paying the subscription.

 

My Proposal: The Access to Updates Model

So now my proposal. I think it would make sense if you could buy software along with a pass to get updates over a certain time period. So you could buy "Microsoft Word + 24 Months of Updates." At the end of the 24 months, you would no longer receive updates, but you would also be able to keep the software. You get the best of both worlds. There's no worry about buying the software at the right time, and no worry about losing access to the software. 

In this model, companies could also add value for buying longer periods of access. 1 year would be $100, 2 years would be $150, etc. And you would always be able to buy more time to access updates whenever you wanted. If you thought you would always want updates, you could just say that you want to set up auto-payments on a yearly basis (companies would probably give you a discount if you chose this option). 

An iPad for Everyone

Currently, there are three iPad models: iPad mini, iPad 2, and iPad with Retina display. Their prices start at $330, $400, and $500 respectively. While iPad mini and iPad with Retina display are relatively new products (they're both only a year old), iPad 2 has been sold for the last three years. This is something that Apple has done for a while with their iPhone line. But, with iPhone 5c, they've shown that low-end products don't necessarily have to be old products.

Meanwhile, Apple is losing some mindshare to Google's Nexus 7, a perfectly good tablet that starts at just $230. That tablet's display is - while a bit smaller - well into retina territory (an attribute that iPad mini doesn't yet possess).

Apple has shown that retina screens aren't necessary to sell tablets with the sale of the non-retina iPad mini and iPad 2. But they are great if you're willing to pay a little more. That's why I don't think that Apple should ditch the non-retina iPad. They just need to keep those models fresh like they did with iPhone 5c. Here's an iPad lineup that reflects some of these ideas:

  • $500 - iPad S - A7X - 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
  • $400 - iPad C - A7 - 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
  • $350 - iPad Mini S - A6X -  16GB, 32GB, 64GB
  • $250 - iPad Mini C - A6 - 16GB, 32GB, 64GB

The "S" iPad models would have retina displays and aluminium backs. The "C" models would have regular density displays and colored plastic backs just like iPhone 5c. "S" models could also include some new features like an improved camera and Touch ID while the "C" models would lack those features.

The price of the cellular antenna option is also too expensive; it currently costs $130. On the Nexus 7 that upgrade only costs $80. I think asking $100 for an LTE antenna is a bit more reasonable. If they could match Google's $80 that would be great, but I'm not holding my breathe. Storage upgrades would continue to cost $100 per tier.

When the iPad was first released, no one could compete with Apple on price. Companies like Motorola and Samsung struggled to get their tablets below $700.  But times have changed and the competition is making great products at low prices. Apple has dipped its toes into the low end market by keeping the iPad 2 on the shelf and introducing the iPad mini. But it needs to take a real stake in that part of the market if it wants to keep its tablet market share high.

And it definitely would. The iPad continues to have the best tablet apps. If Apple makes its iPad even more appealing to a customer's wallet, that customer would have no reason to look at the competition.


Reviews

Nexus 4 Review

Prelude to Google

In August of last year I woke up and stretched my arms. Before I knew it, water was flowing over my naked iPhone 4 (my case was across the room in my backpack). The rice bowl didn’t come soon enough and my iPhone began its long spiral towards brickage. I was waiting on the iPhone 5 to be announced so I decided I would use my upgrade to get a 3GS and I would use my dad’s upgrade to get the 5. That plan failed when my family decided we didn’t want contracts. So for the last 9 months, I’ve been using that seemingly temporary 3GS.

Which has been hell. It was this experience that made me want to get a top notch device. But I also didn’t want to spend all of my money (college students aren’t usually drowning in cash). So unless I was willing to spend $650 plus tax, the Nexus 4 was my answer. Plus, I've only heard good things about Android as of late, so I thought it was worth a shot. 

 

Design

While the Nexus feels nice in the hand, it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s clearly made with less precision than the last few generations of iPhone. A metallic band frames the glass front of the phone. That glass curves on the sides (something that is especially nice when flipping between horizontal views). The sides of the phone are covered with a soft rubbery material. The back is made of glass with a reflective dot pattern which is relatively unobnoxious. I would have preferred the rubbery material covered the entire back, though that probably would have made it thicker. Speaking of mass, the device was surprisingly thin and light; even though it’s big phone, I hardly feel it in my pocket.

 
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The headphone jack is on the top (wish it was on the bottom), the speaker is on the back (wish that was on the front) and the power button is on the side (which is nice).

There are only software buttons on the front of the device, which I actually got used to really quickly.

 

Performance

Coming from the 3GS, the camera is perfectly fine. The front facing camera also gets the job done when it comes to mobile video conferencing or sending Snaps.

Navigating around the device is really quick; its only had a handful of hiccups which were probably software related. I recently installed Minecraft which literally hasn’t once skipped a beat.

Battery life was disappointing at first, but I’ve managed to get into a habit of charging it whenever possible. This practice keeps it above 60% throughout the day.

Call quality is great when the reception is great. With the lack of LTE, that kind of reception might be harder to come by for some people.  

 

OS

The lock screen is pretty bad. At least it’s bad if you try to flip between widgets. In order to do that you have to expand them. But once you expand them, you have to contract them if you want to unlock the device. Needless to say, it would have made more sense to keep the widgets permanently contracted so that you could switch between them from the get go, and also unlock the device at any moment.

I installed Apex Launcher a few days after unboxing the device and I haven’t had a reason to go back. So much for stock Android. Basically, I got rid of the app drawer button and made it so that if you tap the home button when you’re on the home screen, you open the app drawer. I also removed the Google search bar from the top of the home screen and replaced it with a Google Now widget, which I though made infinitely more sense. I’m not sure why there are more home screens than you have icons for.

 
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But there are a lot of things that Android does well. While icons won’t display a badge to show an unread notification, there are little notification icons that appear on the left side of the status bar. Pulling down on the status bar shows you controls if you have something like a podcast playing. You can also delete emails directly from Android’s notification center. If I receive a Facebook message on my phone but instead reply to it on my computer, the notification on my phone disappears instantly. This is far better than the notification experience on iOS.

This was a pattern throughout Android. Google often takes risks in order to give the user more power, whereas Apple simplifies their apps in order to keep their users from getting confused. Google’s risk-taking was often for the best and I felt like I was able to do more things more efficiently than on iOS. But I sometimes found that Google’s strategy was done too fast and loose, leaving the user in a confused position. 

 

Stock Apps

The core apps that come installed with Jelly Bean are far from polished. They should be super over-developed if Google really wants to show Android app developers what their platform is capable of. I could go through a list of all the small things that bothered me, but I want to keep the review at least somewhat high-level.

UIs were generally unclear, too often leaving the user tapping around to figure out where a menu might lead or what an icon meant. Simple apps like People would crash, and phantom buttons would disappear when tapped. Where on iOS, buttons exist within disciplining dimensions, Android’s touch targets didn’t seem to have any kind of limits. The Calculator app for example has buttons that are laughably huge (which is disappointing when you realize that the advanced panel has to be hidden on a separate screen). The Messaging app’s bottom bar could easily be done away with because its icons could fit on the top bar. Now I’m just going through all my nit-picks.

Once again, it isn’t all bad. The Camera is an example of an app done right. By holding down on the camera view an options circle pops up. Scrolling your finger around the circle selects an option.

 
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Generally, I think Apple’s apps have been given more thought. I felt like Google didn’t give their stock apps any thought at all a few times too many.

 

Google Now

Google Now is another example of something that Google got right. For those who don’t know, Google Now is the search giant’s version of Siri. But it’s very much its own version. Google Now shows the user information automatically rather than waiting on the user to ask it questions. For some, this might feel intrusive, for me it was delightful.

 
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At one point I was talking to my family about going to see a movie. When I opened Google Now, the “movies now playing” card was front and center. Pretty freaky stuff.

You have to be connected to the internet for Now’s functionality to work (this is also the case for Apple’s intelligent assistant). Android does allow for 3rd party apps to use offline voice recognition. What would be great is if things like launching an app, audio playback, or dialing could be done using this same tech, but I guess we’ll have to wait for that. In any case, Google has clearly beat Apple at their own game. I’m really looking forward to what Google Now will be able to do for me in the future.

 

Final Thoughts

After using Android for a few weeks, I’ve decided that there are enough things about the platform that I prefer to iOS for it to be worth the stay. I like the large screen of the Nexus 4. I like that you can only show certain apps on the homescreen, hiding irregular apps in the app drawer. I like notifications and the quick-settings pull down menu. These are all great advances over the competition.

But, on the other hand, I would completely understand someone wanting to side with Apple. iOS is simply a more polished platform. From the icons to the code, it’s simply more elegant.

Importantly, though, for its cost the Nexus 4 is unbeatable. The 3-year-old iPhone 4 costs $100 more with half the storage capacity. And that’s the cheapest new iPhone you can buy off contract.

For me, it was completely worth the savings.


Ideas

A Smarter Contact File

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As new technologies are made, they seem to leave old technologies behind, stagnant and in the distance. Take for example the contact information that is used for web services like iCloud or Gmail. The contacts list and its data are manually created by users. Eventually, a long, precious, list of people is made. But every time one of those people gets a new phone number, or moves to a new apartment, or gets a new job with a new email address, you have to update that information manually. Except most people don't update that information, or there are several contact entries for the same person, or the contact information simply isn't recorded. The user scratches their head and pains to remember their address every time they need to send them an email.

But then you look at something like Facebook. With Facebook, the user doesn't have to know anything besides the name of the person they're trying to contact. And if you're wondering what someone's workplace is, look no further than their constantly up-to-date profile page.

So why isn't your collection of contacts on Gmail, iCloud, or Outlook that intelligent? Why is it that contact cards aren't updated automatically based on what you're contacts chose to share? I think they should, and here's how.

When you're creating a new contact, the first entry would be a username. Once you enter the person's username, the contact card would automatically fill with the information that that person allows to be seen by the public. A button would appear that says "request contact information." Once tapped, the person who you're trying to add would get a prompt saying that you want access to their info (just like a friend request). They approve, and you're phone downloads their (constantly up to date) contact information.

Unfortunately, this technology would inevitably be proprietary. But because most people have accounts on more than one service, that probably wouldn't be a huge impediment. 

There is clearly a hybrid of this system today; iOS allows for its users to sync their Facebook and Twitter accounts with their contact list. But you have to update the content manually and the experience is far from ideal. 

If companies like Apple and Google would take a few notes from their social networking buddies, customers would probably be a lot happier.