Phone Wars Part 1: Before You Go Shopping

Smartphones have come a long way since June 29th, 2007. That’s when the original iPhone was introduced in this country, marking the start of the smartphone boom. Sure, Blackberry was around a few years earlier but taking a page out of the Digital playbook, they failed to capitalize on their early head start. They’ve since faded into a distant third and now fourth place in market share, recently passed by Windows Phone. In total, 58% of American adults own smartphones and that number will only go up. The choices have become endless. Multiple brands available in a myriad of colors, form factors, and wireless plans makes choosing one a tough decision. Good thing you stopped by. We’re here to help. We’ll start with the basics in part one and what you should do before you even step foot in a store. Then we’ll cover each of three options available today over the next few weeks.  Sorry Blackberry, RIP.

Ground Rules

Being an informed shopper is most of the battle. Knowing what’s important to you going in will pare down options and then you focus on two or three choices.

1) Your Type - Every phone has strengths and weaknesses so knowing how you intend to use it is the most important question to answer.  What do you want to do with your phone?  Will you listen to music and take a lot of photos with it?  Are you a gamer?  Will you be checking/updating social media frequently from your phone?  Or are you more interested in the basics - calls, texts, maybe a little email?  How and where you use your phone will affect how important battery life is to you. If you’re a power user, are you OK with frequent charging?  If not, how long will a single charge need to last with moderate to heavy usage?

2) Your Wireless Plan - Your carrier will impact your options as several phones are exclusive to one or a couple carriers.  If you're flexible and can easily switch, you'll have more choices.  Do you use a company phone that needs to be on Verizon?  That’s our company plan so when I upgrade, I know if the phone isn’t on Verizon, it’s not an option. Maybe you need to stay with a certain provider simply because you get better coverage in your areas. Or you have an unlimited data plan that’s been grandfathered along for a while and you can’t beat the price if you switch.


3) Size Matters – Are you looking for the lightest possible option or do you like a little more heft to your gadgets?  Form factors run the gamut from super thin and light (but usually plasticy) to blocky and metal (but more durable).  Do you want to slip the phone in a pants pocket regularly and still be comfortable?  When on the phone will you be holding it up to you ear most of the time or do you frequently use speaker phone?

4) So Do Appearances – Today's mobile screens are great and getting better.  Resolutions, colors, they’re like mini HD TV’s.  Generally the better the screen, the bigger it is.  Not to say smaller phones aren’t good but the bigger screens out now are noticeably better.  Thinking about what you’ll do with your phone helps here.  Are you a gamer and/or watch a lot of videos?  You probably want bigger.  Mostly do the basics, calls, texts, check email?  Then screen size and display quality will be less important.

5) Ecosystems – Ah, this is the real front line of the smartphone war.  We’ll get into this more in future posts but the hardware is a means to an end.  Similar to companies who sell you a printer but make their money on the toner you buy for years, phones are simply the hooks.  All the content you buy, the music, games, apps, movies, whatever you download onto your phone and other devices, that’s an ecosystem.  Have multiple Apple products and purchased a lot from iTunes?  You've invested in the Apple ecosystem.  Each of the major players runs their own and wants you in it.  Ideally, exclusively.  If you use multiple devices in addition to your phone, i.e., tablets, internet TV, game consoles, the good old PC, etc., then you get the best value sticking with one.

That covers the basics.  Decide what you want/need to do, figure out how much flexibility you have with your choice of carrier and plan, and choosing a new phone starts feeling less like a part time job…we’ll get into the iPhone in the next entry.

Cloud 101 - is it really new?

It's commonplace today.  There's cloud storage for our phones and you use apps in the cloud and stream movies from the cloud, it seems like everything has gone to the clouds.  That's actually true, but maybe it was always there.  Now some tech aficionados will want to debate more modern or technical definitions of "the cloud" but for the rest of us, thinking of it as the Internet is a good place to start.  It's definitely more than that, but the Internet is the foundation.

Where did the term come from?  While it's not entirely clear, there are computer network diagrams dating back to the mid 1990's that use a cloud symbol to represent the Internet.  Other servers are connected to the cloud, but external to it.  Since then, the cloud symbol became increasingly common in these diagrams.  As the Internet exploded, "the cloud" on the diagrams became a hot topic in meetings.

Now that's only one piece of the puzzle.  FYI - I'll try to limit it to a few pieces, just so we keep this to a manageable read, especially for the first one.  Anyway, the Internet has been big since the late 1990's so why does it seem the cloud has only caught on over the last couple years?  Short answer, virtualization technology, mobile devices, and bandwidth.  Especially the last two.  Virtualization has been around forever.  It's where we started with mainframes and vax computers.  Over the years it's evolved to delivering a rich, full featured PC desktop experience so well that you don't know whether you're running locally or remotely.  Gratuitious plug:  VADAR has been a market leader in this regard, supporting virtual platforms since 2000.

One of the big changes over the last 5 years has been the shift to mobile devices - smartphones and tablets.  These fundamentally changed how we work and play, further overlapping the two, which may not be a good thing but that's a post for another day...the traditional PC business is on a steep decline with mobile devices taking over.  And what do we do with these devices?  We consume content.  Whether it's music, movies, games, work apps, social media, texts, email, whatever, we consume.  Where does the content come from?  You got it, the cloud.  Which brings us to the other big change.

How do you get to the cloud and more importantly, get stuff from the cloud?  That's easy, it's over the Internet.  It's on, I connect, it's fast, it's reliable, there's not much to it.  For a lot of people, that's all they know and all they want to know.  Which is great.  That's what good technology should do.  The part a lot of us don't see is how much bandwidth has increased.  Think of bandwidth as the size of the road between you and the internet.  The wider the road, the more traffic that can flow through.  And the faster it can go.  Speeds are literally doubling for the same price or less than what they were 3 years ago.  You may have seen the recent news about Verizon supposedly limiting Netflix bandwidth b/c Netflix uses an insane amount during peak periods.  The result is likely a "toll" Netflix will pay, and probably without much argument, to Verizon.  As those who control the information superhighway open up more bandwidth and make it cheaper, businesses respond with more and better options to deliver their products and services to we the consumer who appear to have an insatiable appetite.

So to answer our original question, the cloud isn't really new.  It's natural evolution in our hyper-connected world.

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