Thursday, 30 December 2010

Apple TV - first impressions

I've had my Apple TV for 10 days now and overall I'm impressed. As a hardcore Apple fan the ability to access content from my MacBook Pro on the TV is great. Streaming music, viewing photos, YouTube on the TV, more movie choice, is all simple and a worthwhile addition to the usual TV experience.

Apple TV - Apple design at its best
The Apple TV device is beautifully designed and small enough to sit anywhere in your home TV setup. The slim, chrome remote works surprisingly well considering how few buttons it has. However the Remote app for the iPhone and iPad is an excellent enhancement, creating an even better user interface. The iPhone becomes a trackpad with a qwerty keypad for the Apple TV - brilliant!

The big omission from Apple TV in the UK is the ability to stream movies from a LoveFilm account. In the US your Netflix account is available via Apple TV, so no more streaming movies to your PC - they're on your TV. Apple needs to do a similar deal with LoveFilm in the UK. The big advantage of streaming movies via Netflix, rather than from iTunes, is that you can access as many as you want for a fixed monthly charge (LoveFilm does the same in the UK).

One point to note; the only cable in the box is a power cable. You'll need a HDMI cable to connect to your TV (as a minimum) and ideally an Optical Audio cable to connect to your surround sound system. I bought an Amazon Basics HDMI cable which works fine.

My verdict - for £99 Apple TV is good value and enhances my home TV lineup. However 2011 is the year for Apple to up the content stakes and allow access to more web content, as well as do a deal on movie streaming with LoveFilm.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

giffgaff Hot Bloggers Calendar for 2011

The guys at giffgaff have just released the 2011 Hot Bloggers calendar to raise money for charity. Each month features a top UK blogger from the worlds of food, photography, lifestyle, urban exploration, design, tech, women's lifestyle, music, fashion, history, London and nightlife. The calendar has been launched to acknowledge the contribution bloggers make to online content creation and the communities around them. giffgaff has built its business around the community concept and relies on bloggers and social media to get the message out.

You can order the calendar here at a cost of £5 with all proceeds going to the cancer charity chosen by giffgaff 's community. And while you're there have a look at the the other giffgaff merchandise for sale. Some intriguing ideas!

You can follow giffgaff on Twitter at @giffgaff

Monday, 13 December 2010

Boxee Box brings a more personalised TV experience

Last week the team at 33Digital gave me an overview of the Boxee Box. For £199.99 you get an IP TV device that delivers television over your broadband connection and wireless network. The hardware has a quirky design, being a cube with the corner chopped off! Connectivity to your TV is via the usual HDMI interface and the Box is controlled via a simple remote control, which rather neatly has a qwerty keypad on the back!

Boxee is seeking to tap into key themes in the developing television market; increasingly personalised content and community.

Boxee has started with a reasonable range of content which will grow over time. Currently there are 877 TV shows and 1215 movies available to watch in the UK with no additional charges. Not surprisingly the content available in the US is more extensive. There are also 142 apps which include Flickr, the BBC iPlayer, Wired and the Boxee Browser for web access. Anyone can write new apps and submit them to Boxee, however unlike Apple, apps are available to other Boxee users prior to approval via a unique URL.

Watch Later is a nice feature - it allows you to send online videos to your Boxee Box from any web browser, for later viewing.

The Boxee Box also allows wireless access to content stored on other PCs or storage devices on your network. So photos, music and movies can be played on the Boxee Box. When you create your Boxee account at you can add your Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz accounts so you can share your Boxee viewing experiences with your social media connected friends.

The Boxee Box is initially only available online and is sold by several UK online retailers.

I'm looking forward to comparing Boxee with Apple TV and sharing my thoughts here.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

More innovation from giffgaff

One of my favourite giffgaff features is the option for customers to choose which calls and SMS bundle (in giffgaff parlance, goodybag) they want on a month by month basis. This also allows customers to choose the experimental option from giffgaff labs.

This month I picked the (bizarrely named) Hokey Cokey goodybag. For £5 I get 300 SMS and 60 minutes of calls, however the clever bit is for every minute of calls I receive I get an extra minute added to my call bundle. giffgaff are taking advantage of the fact that they get paid by the originating operator to deliver a mobile call to their customer, so they return some of that termination charge to their customer.

giffgaff recognises that many customers have several mobile numbers and want a customer's giffgaff number to become their main mobile number. Well, it worked for me!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Community Cove and the value of communities to businesses

Recently I attended the first Community Cove event. Community Cove has been started by giffgaff and aims to examine and discuss the value of communities and how they can help businesses.

The first event looked at how to build internal and external communities for start-ups and other businesses.

Some interesting points raised at the event:

  • Technology allows customers to filter out company communication but also allows companies to reach customers on a one to one basis – iPod, RSS, Sky box are all filtering devices and that is their value.
  • Customer community is key to giffgaff. The community answers 50% of customer queries.
  • Staff, member community, external communities; the three key components of a successful community business. As well as creating its own community giffgaff has embraced Twitter and Facebook.
  • giffgaff launched their community before they launched their product. Setting up a community before launching a product helps to frame the product.
  • 10% of customer suggestions have been implemented by giffgaff.
  • Build trust with your customers via your community.
  • Customers of giffgaff have found a home with a mobile operator they identify with. They've become the community.
  • Building a community team requires individuals with four attributes – digital understanding, analytics, networks and content.
It's great to see businesses starting to embrace community as a way not just of engaging with customers but using community as a fundamental tenet of the business.

With thanks to giffgaff for organising an excellent event.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

iPhone 4 cases from Proporta

The team at Proporta recently sent me some iPhone 4 cases to review. My plan was to dish them out to the iPhone 4 users in the family and see what they made of them. Interesting to see how the different cases appealed to different people.

Soft Feel Silicone Case
Soft Feel Silicone Case
Design - This is a soft case that slots over the back and sides of your iPhone. It's an intriguing design which incorporates an anti microbacterial agent. The case is a snug fit and offers the protection you'd expect from a silicone case, although one comment I received back was it felt a bit slippery in your hand. The case is available in black/pink, black/green and black/grey. Cost is £19.95.

Verdict - My favourite because of its simplicity and ease of putting on and removing.

Impact Protective Crystal Back Shell
Impact Protective Crystal
Back Shell
Design - This is a hard case that feels tough enough to protect the back and sides of your iPhone. A nice feature is that it doesn't make the handset feel a lot bigger. The package also includes a self- adhesive transparent screen protector for additional protection. The case is available in red, blue, black and pink. Cost is £14.95.

Verdict - My daughter's favourite, especially as the review sample is pink! My son who to his chagrin doesn't yet have an iPhone 4 also picked this case as his favourite but in a different colour.

Shine Case
Shine Case
Design - The case is made from high gloss patent leather and inside the front flap the case has a mirror surrounded by a flowery design - so it's definitely one for the girls! When the iPhone is in the case all the ports are easily accessible and the iPhone can also be removed very easily.  The case is quite bulky but offers good protection, especially as the flap protects the screen. The case is available in red, blue and black. Cost is £24.95.

Verdict - My wife's favourite beacause of the striking design and the protection it provides to the screen in a handbag.

Monday, 8 November 2010

giffgaff & the iPhone 4 - my experience

Originally posted on the giffgaff blog.

Since switching my main personal number to giffgaff I've used it in Nokia handsets, most recently the E72. However last week my iPhone 4 arrived and is now running on giffgaff. Having compared the various operator options with subsidised handsets against a SIM free purchase from Apple and finding the tariff you actually need, it's clear that there's little financial difference and when the giffgaff cost savings are factored in, SIM free and giffgaff seemed the logical solution for me.

Although the iPhone 4 isn't officially supported by giffgaff, i.e. no micro SIM and no carrier profile, it's a simple business to giffgaff the iPhone 4. Rather than risk hacking up my giffgaff SIM with a knife I asked a friend with a SIM cutter to cut down my SIM. A SIM cutter makes it a very simple process and I used the micro SIM in a mini SIM sized holder in my Nokia until the iPhone arrived. Activating the iPhone 4 via iTunes follows the usual process. Once the iPhone is activated, it's a simple process to use WiFi to download Dan Lane's giffgaff profile from to create the handset giffgaff profile and set up the correct data settings.

As you'd expect, the giffgaff community contains lots of information on switching to the iPhone 4. In particular, a great resource is the giffgaffer's guide to the iPhone 4 from essexmate.

Despite the lack of official support I haven't experienced any problems with giffgaff and the iPhone. It's a case of combining my favourite handset with my favourite mobile provider! Checking through the community forums at a number of people have experienced setup issues but for me it's been very smooth.

There are a few points that refugees from the big mobile operators should be aware of.

  • giffgaff doesn't support visual voicemail but I use a third party voicemail service so not a problem for me.
  • You don't get any bundled WiFi access although again not a problem for me as I have a separate WiFi account and giffgaff offers unlimited cellular data anyway (unlike the big guys).
  • The iPhone 4 displays O2 rather than giffgaff - an observation, not a problem.
  • If you accept new carrier settings via iTunes the giffgaff settings will be replaced with O2 settings so you need to manually reinstall the giffgaff carrier profile. I believe this can happen when the iPhone's firmware is upgraded via iTunes, although I've yet to experience an upgrade (4.2 is imminent). This issue seems to be linked to using a handset locked to O2.
And that's it! A few minor points but nothing to stop you going ahead.

Current rumours that Apple plans to integrate SIM card functionality into future devices so that Apple can control the end-to-end sales process and remove the need for handsets to have an operator branded SIM inserted could have profound implications for small MVNOs like giffgaff. Presumably anyone who doesn't link up with Apple would be unable to provide service via a future device. Interesting times!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Freetalk Handsfree - top new iPhone headset

My friends at Comunicano recently sent me Freetalk's new Handsfree headset to have a look at. I've used a number of Freetalk headsets and webcams in the past and they've always been great devices; the Freetalk Handsfree is no exception. It's designed for use with mobile devices, in particular the iPhone, as well as being optimised for Skype on your PC or Mac and uses a standard 3.5mm jack.

The audio quality is excellent and because it's an in-ear headset, it's much more comfortable to wear than the headset Apple puts in the iPhone box. Operation is simple, with a button on the microphone unit for answering and ending calls. The headset comes with a useful carry case and a selection of different size and texture ear buds.

At £50.95 from the Skype store, the price seems about average for this type of headset.

The Freetalk Handsfree has become my headset of choice for chatting on my iPhone and I never use the standard one now.

A nice touch is the inclusion of a sachet of Cyber Clean in the carry case. Cyber Clean is great for picking up and removing dust and gunk from keyboards, headsets and anything else that picks up muck.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Time to lose the landline?

Yesterday I posted this on the giffgaff blog.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the possibility of going mobile only and dropping the home landline. My conclusion at the time was that despite the landline being redundant in many ways it did still fulfil some useful purpose and we couldn't manage without it. I've decided to revisit the question two years on and see whether anything has changed. The landline has become increasingly redundant as communication has become more and more a personal, not a household, experience. Mobile phones, email addresses, IM addresses are all personal identifiers and it's increasingly unusual to share these across a family. In the early days of  these technologies it was more common to a have a single mobile phone or a single email address in a family but much rarer now. Communication is about reaching an individual but a landline is tied to the household - how many multi landline households do you know? These days I rarely receive calls on our landline; I think the only people who call me on it are parents and that's probably because they can easily remember a number I've had for 25 years, unlike my mobile numbers!

According to Ofcom (Communications Market Report 2010), 15% of households are now mobile only, a 2% increase since 2008. However in the 25 to 34 age group 23% of households are mobile only. So more and more people are choosing to dispense with a landline and go mobile only.

Two years ago I came up with a number of reasons why a landline was still necessary for me. So have any of these changed?

  • ADSL broadband - We still don't have naked DSL in the UK so if you want ADSL broadband you have to pay for a landline service, even if you never use it. Cable broadband, assuming you live in a service area may be a non landline broadband option, although a broadband only service from from my local provider is more expensive than the broadband component of a bundled service, making the saving negligible. Mobile broadband, assuming good coverage in your home (which I don't have here), might be an option for some although download speeds are generally slower than decent fixed broadband. 
  • 999 or 112 emergency calls – Still falls into the “I’ll probably never need it but can I afford to take a chance” category. However, wIth all the mobile phones in our house I'm now tending towards the view that this is an irrelevance, despite the theoretical convenience of knowing that the 'phone on the wall' is always available in an emergency situation. 
  • Flaky mobile coverage – This is still a huge problem and one that the mobile operators seem to be doing little to resolve. I've seen no change in the last two years where I live. In-building coverage is still very network dependent and a problem for many people. Fortunately O2 voice coverage is okay here so giffgaff does work for me!
  • Switch to VoIP – Despite not being quite as convenient as a landline, VoIP feels more like a viable alternative to a landline than even a couple of years ago. Mobile VoIP on a WiFi ready mobile handset over your home WiFi and broadband is a great alternative to cellular mobile if coverage is flaky at home.
  • Power cuts – A few weeks ago we had a 18 hour power cut at home and by the end of it even my mobile was running on vapour! However unless you experience a lot of power cuts a mobile should suffice.
  • Local phone number – Local phone numbers are less relevant than they used to be, although it's still generally cheaper to call a landline from another landline number rather than a mobile number. However you can get a local VoIP number for less than £1 a month and if you route it to a SIP account it costs nothing to receive calls. 
Everyone in our household has their own mobile now - three members are on giffgaff. And if the landline wasn't there they'd just use their minutes bundles for all their calls. Mobile and VoIP calling has increasingly replaced landline calling for us, however pricing and regulation mean that a broadband service without a landline still doesn't seem to make sense - so I guess I'll stick with the landline for the moment. Next review in 2012!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Don't ask consumers what they want ...

Interesting conversation the other day. Don't ask consumers what they want. They'll say a cheaper, faster, better version of the existing product. Instead, show them something new and convince them that's what they want.

That's the Apple design philosophy.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Smart Device v Dumb Pipe - can the networks cope?

Last week I attended the TEN event, 'Smart Device v Dumb Pipe - Can the networks cope with the content demands of digital natives?' The event took the form of a discussion panel with some pertinent questions raised. A few of the points raised by the panellists ...
  • Video will dominate IP traffic and 3D will dominate in 5 years 
  • 40% of 3’s mobile broadband traffic is now video
  • By 2020 households will require 3GigaBIT per second bandwidth 
  • Mobile networks currently deliver speeds of 1.5 Mbs (on average) 
  • Before mobile, telecoms expenditure represented 1% of GDP; mobile took it to 2%. Will media take it to 3%? 
  • To drive revenue, content providers must create an emotional want from consumers 
  • Broadcast media must be the right quality for each device; HD for the home, lower resolution for mobile devices 
  • Should delivery be capped to stop service degradation for all?
  • Content providers must have control of content quality 
  • Adaptive bit rate technology would allow graceful service quality degradation for all but takes away control from content owners 
  • Digital privacy is an issue because users don’t understand it and content providers don’t manage it consistently or in some cases responsibly 
  • Who is responsible for security?
  • Mobile coverage is still a big issue but who should pay to make it contiguous

There is still limited consensus about what the relationship should be between content and network providers.  IP content delivery and consumption is still in its early stages and will need significant additional bandwidth across both fixed and mobile networks to deliver an acceptable quality of service, as the demand for services like video grows.  There is little indication that the networks understand what this means for them yet and that they have the network expansion plans in place.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Next Generation Billing 2010 - what's on the roadmap?

In November I'm again heading over to IIR's Next Generation Billing conference. It's always a good opportunity to catch up with key influencers in the billing market (although this year, one at least will unfortunately be missing!). 

Key discussion areas for me include the opportunity for telcos to monetise content delivered across their networks via billing and payments; and the impact of content billing on the consumer experience. These are both areas I'll be discussing at the conference. Consumer demand for IP content is set to soar, especially with more and more video being delivered to consumer devices. As the telcos upgrade their networks to cope with this demand they need to look for additional ways to monetise this content and payments presents a big opportunity.

Maybe see you in Vienna.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Apple AirPort Express - a simple answer to wireless printing

It's not often that I'm surprised by how simple a new piece of hardware is to set up. Usually I'm left thinking that for the average user it will be a source of angst! Judging by the requests for help I receive from friends and family, PC related 'stuff' is not as simple as it should be.

A while back I bought a Linksys wireless print server to allow all our laptops to wirelessly print to a single HP OfficeJet. The setup was a nightmare and even with the help of Linksys technical support I never got a wireless connection between the router and print server and had to settle for USB. The wireless connectivity between laptops and printer proved very unreliable and in the end I ditched it. The replacement setup was a direct USB connection between an ancient desktop PC and the printer, with the laptops connecting wirelessly to the printer via the desktop. Not a satisfactory solution as it meant leaving the desktop running the whole time. Whilst I was using the desktop PC regularly it wasn't a huge issue but when I switched to my MacBook Pro it became a waste of power and source of unnecessary noise to leave a redundant PC running.

Having heard good things about the AirPort Express, I eventually got round to ordering one last week. I took it out of the box, connected it via USB to the OfficeJet, plugged it into the wall and fired up AirPort Utility on my MacBook. I ran a simple configuration utility and my MacBook was connected to the printer. On each Windows laptop I downloaded Apple's Bonjour Print Services and ran the program which instantly found the printer. Within a matter of minutes I had wireless connectivity for all our laptops and could power off the old desktop. Yet again an Apple device had delivered a great user experience.

Yes Apple devices are often expensive and of course I wish they were cheaper. However they deliver a top user experience and that certainly justifies some sort of price premium!

Friday, 13 August 2010

giffgaff goes from strength to strength

A few weeks ago I switched my main personal number to giffgaff and today I ported our third family number to giffgaff. Why? For the first time I'd found a mobile operator that seemed to reflect my values and requirements. Simplicity, no ridiculously long contracts (these now seem to be the norm elsewhere), top quality customer service and great pricing. Prepay services are not normally good value for heavy users but giffgaff has addressed that problem by allowing customers to buy 'goody bags' that provide the usual value bundles of calls, texts and data but in a prepay environment. 

gifgaff doesn't sell handsets, hence no need for long contract, subsidised handset purchases. You just put a giffgaff SIM in an existing unlocked handset and off you go. Having done the maths on buying a subsidised, SIM locked, contract iPhone from one of the usual suspects against a SIM free iPhone from Apple with a giffgaff bundle there doesn't seem to be much in it. Factor in the benefits of no contract and no SIM lock if you want to use another network here or overseas and suddenly the idea of a contract handset purchase looks a lot less attractive.

If you are thinking about giffgaff their goody bags are half price until the end of August so seriously good value at the moment. And if you want to just give giffgaff a go or put a low spending member of the family on giffgaff, calls are 8p a minute and texts 4p. Bargain!

giffgaff uses the O2 network (it's actually owned by O2 but operates as a separate business) so if O2 coverage works for you, giffgaff will be fine.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Another look at Maxroam

Friend Pat Phelan recently sent me a new Maxroam SIM to take a look at. I've previously used Maxroam when I was at a conference in Budapest and having a local Hungarian number routing to my mobile proved useful.

The simple idea behind Maxroam is to save money roaming, on calls, SMS and data. The Maxroam SIM comes with its own mobile number, however you can add local landline numbers from around 60 countries so your contacts can reach you on a local number, without calling internationally.

The new feature I really like is the ability to link an existing mobile number (in my case giffgaff) to my Maxroam SIM so my calls and texts display my giffgaff number as the originating number. This means that replies go back to my usual mobile number. Simpler and less confusing for your contacts, plus they know it's you calling.

Another cool product on the Maxroam website is their iPad micro SIM with a data roaming bundle. Stick this in your 3G iPad when you're travelling and it gives you control and predictability over your data roaming costs.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

What's on my iPad?

I've been using my iPad for a couple of weeks now (here in the UK we were late getting our hands on iPads!) and it's been even better than I expected. The big screen, instant startup and form factor all combine to make this a very useable device.

The built-in apps are great but it's necessary to go shopping in the App Store to find the apps you need, for the way you use mobile technology.

My starting point was apps I've come to depend on, on other devices, that would add value to my iPad experience. I've picked five favourites to cover here and will look at others in the future.

Whilst the iPad isn't a phone out of the box, adding a mobile VoIP app is a must for cheaper and often free calling.

I've been a big fan of Truphone since its early Nokia days and the iPad app is brilliant. Whilst the app works fine with the iPad's built-in speakers and microphone, I've been using it with my Freetalk Everyman headset for improved comfort. I suspect the iPad Camera Connection kit USB adaptor would deliver even better performance via the Freetalk USB connector. I know people who use this but unfortunately I've not yet been able to track one down in the UK. Truphone uses the existing iPad contacts, making it simple to call people.

ThingsThings is another favourite of mine. I've been using Things on my MacBook Pro and iPhone for a while and decided that if my iPad was going to be at the heart of my digital life, Things was a must on it. Things is a 'getting things done' task manager which makes the whole process simple to manage. Anything I need to do gets added and it does stop me forgetting stuff! I do have a couple of issues with Things - no cloud sync yet (although I hear it's coming) and by the time you've bought the OSX, iPhone and iPad versions the cost adds up! But overall a great app.

Osfoora. I'm a big Twitter user and Osfoora is the best iPad app for Twitter I've found so far. Scrolling through your timeline, clicking on links in tweets, checking your mentions, sending direct messages - Osfoora makes the whole Twitter experience simple to use and uses the iPad's big display to great advantage.

Evernote. Like many people I've been a big Evernote fan for a while. Evernote on my iPad is a natural extension to all the other places I can access my notes in. Whilst using Evernote on my iPhone is hampered by the size of the display, the iPad's display makes Evernote much more usable. Searching notes is speedy, whether it's titles, text or even the text in photos.

Instapaper. Using Twitter and Safari I regular come across links and pages I'd like to read later and potentially offline. Instapaper makes this easy. Osfoora seamlessly integrates with Instapaper and although the Safari setup process is a little fiddly, once it's done Instapaper becomes an ideal repository for interesting stuff that you come across online.

These apps range from free (Truphone, Evernote) to relatively expensive at £11.99 (Things) with the others in between. Over the next few weeks I plan to return to some of these apps and look in more detail at how they make a difference to me. In the meantime, what's on your iPad?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Boingo Wireless - expanding in the UK

Originally published on The Really Mobile Project.

Last week I caught up with Christian Gunning from Boingo. Having seen that Boingo will be the sole public WiFi provider at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports in the UK, I was keen to understand Boingo's plans for the UK.

Boingo provides access to approximately 132,000 WiFi hotspots across 171 networks in 103 countries. Boingo offers a range of tariff options in both US$ and £, including hour and day airport passes - but the tariff that caught my eye was Boingo Mobile's £3.95 per month for unlimited smartphone access worldwide. You can't use your laptop on this tariff but for iPhone, iPad or other handset access it's looks great value. Also in the handset space, the US iPhone and iPad App Store has 1 hour access available for $1.99, for users that don't want to commit to a monthly account. This is coming to the UK App Store shortly.

The UK airport coverage brings Boingo's overall airport coverage to 58 airports across the US & UK. Since the iPhone launched, non laptop devices have gone from less than 1% to 50% of devices on the Boingo network, with the iPhone and the iPad being the top devices. Following the airport deal, the UK footprint is due for a big expansion later this year.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The challenge of removing a redundant Exchange security policy from my Nokia E72

I recently needed to access my corporate email on my Nokia E72 and added the Exchange account using the pre-installed Mail for Exchange client. As expected, the handset asked me to set an autolock code to comply with the Exchange server security policy. Very simple process end-to-end and the handset immediately synced my email and calendar.

The next day, when I no longer needed Exchange email access I deleted the mailbox (as per Nokia's instructions). However despite removing the Exchange account, I could not remove the enforced autolock which cut in after 20 minutes. The menu option to change the timeout or remove the autolock was disabled. Searching online I discovered that Nokia's advice is a hard reset to remove a security policy that is no longer required - not helpful Nokia!

Eventually I came across a suggestion that because the handset can only cope with one Exchange security policy, if I installed another Exchange account with a security policy that did not enforce a security lock, the lock would be disabled. Further research came up with the suggestion to set up an account with I duly did, synced the handset and the lock disappeared! Unbelievable hassle to remove a security policy that was redundant. Very poor user experience from Nokia.

And by the way, the website is in Chinese! Where would we be without Google Translate!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Cases for the iPad

Recently I received two cases for the iPad to review from LaCie. Although billed as 10" laptop or 3.5" hard disk cases, they're just the right size for the iPad. My interest in comparing the two cases is that the LaCie Coat (designed by Sam Hecht) is made from the usual synthetic materials, albeit in a very strikingly designed case, and the LaCie Vegetal is an environmentally friendly case made out of linen, bamboo jersey and soya based foam padding! This is the first time I've looked at a case made out of plants!

I was expecting the Vegetal to be something of a compromise, in order to meet the environmental criteria, but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of construction and the fact it can be washed. Even the packaging is made out of recycled paper. Although a simpler design than the Coat, it's functional and practical and does the job well. It also gives you a nice feeling of protecting the environment - maybe!

The Coat is a smarter design and also manufactured to a high standard. I already use a smaller Coat for my WD Passport external drive and it provides excellent protection. The interior lining protects the iPad screen and the exterior Neoprene padding, with a curious but strangely attractive bubble effect, provides a cushion against impacts. As the case is designed for a netbook it's a little deep for the iPad but not enough to be an issue.

Both cases will also hold the iPad in the official Apple iPad case if you want the benefits of the Apple case (stand, prop etc) when you're using your iPad, as well as padded protection when you're out and about. As the Apple case increases the dimensions of the iPad it actually makes it a better fit in both cases.

I also dug out my old Samsung netbook, now in service with my son, and both cases are ideal for netbook protection.

One suggestion to LaCie - they should update the product packaging to make it clear these cases fit the iPad, otherwise they're missing a trick!

Which case do I prefer? Very tricky but I think I come down in favour of the Vegetal, despite the strange name, which sounds like something you can eat!

With thanks to the the team at @Axicom for organising the review.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

24 hours with the iPad

I've now been using my iPad for 24 hours and ... wow! I'm even more impressed with it than I thought I'd be. My usage sits somewhere between my iPhone and MacBook Pro. Email, Twitter, web browsing are much better experiences on the iPad, compared to the iPhone, and simpler, compared to the MacBook. I'm typing this blog post on the iPad; and the keypad, whilst similar in design to the iPhone, is so much easier to use because of the big keys.

I've installed Truphone to give me telephony and just need the iPad Camera Connection Kit to give me a USB port to connect the Freetalk Everyman headset to, for decent quality calls. Unfortunately the camera adaptors are impossible to get in the UK currently.

Using my home WiFi Internet connectivity is amazingly fast, especially compared to the iPhone. The display is outstanding, both to look at and to use as a touchscreen.

I've also bought the Apple iPad Case which seems a bit extortionate at £30 but does work well, both for lightweight protection and to prop up the iPad for typing.

Any disappointments so far? None!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Moving to the Mac

It's now been two months since my MacBook Pro arrived. I've always been sceptical about the benefits of moving to Apple. Windows covered both my business and personal computing and I felt that Apple products carried an excessive price premium. However I started to see the attraction of Apple technology when my business BlackBerry was swapped for an iPhone - as a business handset the iPhone is brilliant, especially for syncing with the Exchange server. When I canvassed views from friends with an interest in technology I got a very strong steer towards the MacBook Pro.

I decided to take the plunge and ordered a 15" MacBook Pro and I haven't been disappointed. The MacBook Pro offers a superb combination of hardware and software. The benefits of Apple controlling both the operating system and the hardware are apparent. Before I bought my MacBook someone said that the trackpad was worth the money alone! They weren't far wrong! The MacBook Pro trackpad is brilliant and has completely changed the way I interact with my laptop. I always used to use a mouse but that's redundant now. The trackpad makes the MacBook much more intuitive and enjoyable to use compared to my old laptop. The only problem I have is when I have to use the touchpad on my business HP laptop and realise how rubbish it is!

Hard to say if Mac OSX is more intuitive than Windows 7. I much prefer using it but that is probably down to personal taste. Most of the apps I used with Windows are available for the Mac or there's something as good or better. iWork has replaced Office, Chrome is still there, Evernote has a great Mac app - to name a few. I've installed top 'getting things done' app, Things, which is probably my favourite productivity app of all time because it's so useful and has made me much better organised. I'll return to Things in a future post. Any disappointments on the software side? Skype for Mac lags the Windows client and eWallet for Mac isn't great compared to the Windows version but moving all my data to an alternative secure wallet app looks like a nightmare!

The build quality of the MacBook Pro is fantastic. It's impossible to compare the aluminium construction to any laptop I've used in the past because it's so superior. The MacBook Pro is a bit light on USB ports, having only two, but in reality that hasn't been a problem. I love the MagSafe power adaptor connector - different and nicer to use! The display is also excellent, as you'd expect.

Of course, all this comes with a price premium but if you view Apple products as premium products then somehow that premium doesn't seem so unreasonable. Macs are not for everyone but if you're looking for a new PC I would definitely recommend you consider them.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

FREETALK EveryMan HD Webcam for Skype

My friends at In Store Solutions recently sent me FREETALK's Everyman HD Webcam to take a look at. The HD webcam's unique feature is it's designed for Skype HD calls using the latest version (4.2) of Skype for Windows. It also works well with my MacBook Pro but unfortunately the Skype for Mac client is way behind the Windows version and doesn't yet support HD calling (come on Skype!). I'm a big Skype fan so anything that enhances the Skype user experience interests me.

The quality of the video is excellent and using it with the FREETALK Everyman headset gives me top quality video and voice. For optimum results both callers should be using Skype HD but even when the other party is using a lower resolution webcam the video quality is great. The design of the webcam is clever; the base twists so it can either sit on top of your display or on your desk. One point to note is that the webcam does not have a microphone so a headset or other microphone is also required.

Video quality will be affected by broadband speed which is where I'm lucky with the speed I get from Be Broadband's excellent ADSL2+ service. This is much better than ADSL Max services I've used in the past. The system requirements for the webcam suggest that your broadband should support 1Mbps upload & download to get HD video.

Product specification summary:

  • High performance optical lens
  • 24-bit true color depth
  • Auto Exposure and Auto White Balance
  • Auto Focus capability
  • Supports HD video encoding at resolutions up to 1280x720 at up to 22 frames per second
  • Skype Certified™ High Definition Webcam
  • Universal clip for attaching to a wide variety of displays and monitors

If you're in the market for a webcam the FREETALK Everyman HD is well worth considering if top quality video is important to you. My only reservation is that £70.95 seems quite expensive for a webcam unless you need the HD quality. Before purchasing do check that your setup meets the technical requirements for the webcam.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Billing must evolve into a revenue generator

There has been much debate over the past year or so about how telcos can monetise the content delivered over their networks. We're starting to see telcos taking more interest in this area but many are slow to grasp the strategic opportunity here. Payments represents an opportunity for telcos to enter the content value chain by enabling payment and settlement of content delivered across their networks. It also provides an opportunity to transform billing from purely a cost centre into a revenue generator. Monetisation of content is vital to avoid marginalisation in a content driven world. If telcos don't seize the opportunity, someone else will!

I will be continuing the discussion at the TM Forum Management World Revenue Management & Profitability Summit on 20 May in Nice.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Digital Economy Act - Message to Surrey East parliamentary candidates

Like many others, I was very disappointed to see the Digital Economy Act pushed through parliament in the dying days of the last government. The Act was passed following inadequate debate and no real understanding of the issues at stake. Unfortunately a majority of MPs did not even bother to vote on a piece of legislation that has significant implications for the future of a vital industry. Clauses in the Act reflect the lobbying by sections of the media industry and not the reality of the Internet world we now live in. With a few honourable exceptions, Parliament behaved as if it had no comprehension of the technology revolution around us.

The Digital Economy Act is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that requires urgent revision in the next parliament, whichever parties are in government. The approach to copyright protection is based on the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, a piece of legislation that predates the digital and Internet age. This copyright legislation needs urgent examination to understand how it should now support digital copyright. The implicit assumption in the Digital Economy Act that it is still fit for purpose must be debated. There are many ways to protect the intellectual property of the creative media industries and changes in the way copyright supports digital goods and services would help to drive the adoption of new business models in the online world. Content providers must step up to the challenge of providing digital content that users want, in the way they want it and at a price fair to all parties.

Making Internet Service Providers and providers of public wireless hotspots responsible for policing the content delivered over their networks puts an unreasonable onus on service providers and makes them liable for content they have no control over. It will stifle innovation in the online world, impose a heavy cost burden on service providers and cause providers of free wireless services to withdraw them, rather than risk prosecution. Technology is smarter than legislators and users will continue to be one step ahead of attempts to control them.

My challenge to the candidates in Surrey East is to provide a firm commitment that if elected you will campaign for the relevant clauses in the Digital Economy Act to be repealed and for a full debate on the future of digital copyright in the UK.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pibbix - sets a new standard for voice to text voicemail conversion

Last week the team at Pibbix kindly sent me an invitation for the beta of their new Pibbix Voicemail service. For those of you who used SpinVox or if you're in the United States, Google Voice, you'll be familiar with the concept of receiving your voicemails as text messages and/or emails. This concept provides a text transcription of the message and avoids having to dial in to listen to messages. Over the past couple of years I've become very used to receiving my voicemails as texts and can't imagine having to dial in to pick them up again.

Pibbix has taken the same concept but looked at what it needs to do to be a business grade service. One of the problems with SpinVox was the variable quality of the speech conversion. I could usually get the gist of the message but the detail often eluded me. Pibbix uses a combination of automation and human conversion to deliver top quality transcriptions. The message transcriptions I've received over the past few days have been spot on - better than I was expecting.

Price transparency is another key feature and launch pricing is simple:
  • £7.50 for 20 messages converted to text
  • £16 for 50 messages converted to text
  • £30 for 100 messages converted to text
The Pibbix Voicemail control panel is very clear and allows the user to review received messages, record a personal outgoing message, set how messages should be delivered - SMS, email, MP3 attachment. An example of the thought that has gone into the application is the ability to switch off transcription and SMS alerts for calls from withheld numbers (the message is still delivered as an MP3 attachment). The thinking here is that these calls are often unimportant and users may not want them to be counted against their bundle.

Another feature I like is the ability to link multiple mobile or landline numbers to a single Pibbix Voicemail box. All your messages are in one place and SMS alerts are delivered to your main mobile number.

The Pibbix blog has a good summary of all features and you can request an invitation to the beta here.

Overall I'm very impressed by Pibbix Voicemail. It addresses a gap in the market and will appeal to time pressured business users. I'm looking forward to seeing the next product from Pibbix!

Follow Pibbix on Twitter at @pibbix.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

giffgaff launches their goody bags (new tariffs)

Today virtual mobile operator giffgaff launched their new tariffs under the interesting brand 'goody bags'. These tariffs are excellent value, although you do need an unlocked handset for your giffgaff SIM as giffgaff doesn't sell handsets.

giffgaff describes a goody bag as a 'mix of UK minutes, texts, and mobile Internet that lasts for a month'.

And giffgaff tariffs really are unlimited as long as it's personal use and you don't connect the phone to a PC.

giffgaff is owned by O2 and therefore uses the O2 network. My personal experience in London and the South East has been that whilst O2 coverage is average, Vodafone is better, for both voice and data. Of course your experience may be different where you are.

Further information from the giffgaff website.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Powerfreakz solar charger – tap into free energy!

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.

Mobile phone battery technology has lagged behind other advances in mobile technology and I frequently find that my iPhone battery is down in the red long before the end of the day. On my Nokia E72, using a VoIP app like Skype or Truphone over 3G means the battery takes a massive hit. Unfortunately it’s often not convenient to plug the phone into the mains or a PC for a top-up charge.

So, along with my phones, a vital mobile gadget for me is a mobile charger. Basically, a Lithium Polymer battery (or similar) that can be used to charge a variety of mobile devices using the supplied charging tips. These devices can themselves be charged via a USB cable from your PC or sometimes via a mains charger.

I’ve recently received a Powerfreakz Evolution 2500 Solar Charger which along with the usual USB and mains charging also allows for charging using sunlight. The Powerfreakz 2500 comes supplied with USB charging cable, worldwide mains charger, carry case and charging connectors for a wide number of devices, including iPhone, iPod, BlackBerry, Nokia, LG, Samsung and others. All in all, a very comprehensive pack. The charger unit isn’t the smallest I’ve seen, weighing in at 114g but at 2500mAh it packs enbough capacity for several charging cycles.

The Powerfreakz website quotes the following examples:

  • Charge a mobile phone or smart phone up to 4 times
  • Extend the use of an MP3 player by up to 48 hours
  • An extra 6 hours game time on a Nintendo DS and Sony PSP
  • Up to 2800 extra pictures on a digital camera
  • Plus powering GPS units and many more portable devices

I’ve had no problems charging the device via the usual mains and USB. Charging using artificial light works well although it depends on the power of the light. I have a freestanding reading light and the device charges fine at 70cm from the bulb. The real test was always going to be charging using sunlight and I was impressed to find that the device is not reliant on bright or direct sunlight as it continued to charge when the sun was behind clouds. It will also charge happily through glass – I used it under a glass ceiling and it worked fine. Heavy cloud and rain, which we seem to have had a lot of recently, of course means that alternative power sources are required!

The Powerfreakz 2500 isn’t cheap, at £49.99 direct from Powerfreakz, but if you’ve ever run out of power at a crucial moment then you can appreciate the benefits of being able to charge your phone immediately. Whether the solar charging function is a useful extra, rather depends where you live and how often you see the sun!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Friday, 12 February 2010

First Look: FREETALK Wireless USB Headset for Skype

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.

A habit of mine when I’m on the phone is to wander around the house. For some reason I prefer to walk and talk rather than sit in a chair! However with a regular PC headset I’m tethered to the PC and can’t move which is a source of frustration. So when I saw the FREETALK Wireless Headset it seemed like the answer and the team at In Store Solutions kindly sent me one to review.
The headset is optimised for Skype supporting super wideband audio but is also good for listening to music. It comes in a neat carry case and to install just stick the USB adaptor into a spare port and the drivers immediately install. No downloads, no CDs - simple! The headset has a power button, volume controls and a link button for pairing with the USB adaptor. The power button also acts as a mute button with a brief press. A charging cable is also supplied that connects the headset to the USB adaptor. This also allows the headset to be used in corded mode - useful if you find the battery is flat. I’ve used it with Windows but Mac is also supported.
The new FREETALK Wireless Headset for Skype
The new FREETALK Wireless Headset for Skype
Call quality is fantastic - being wireless makes no difference to the quality of Skype calls. Plus, the headset is very comfortable to wear. The range is good and allows me to stay connected a couple of rooms away. The sheer convenience has certainly encouraged me to use Skype even more.
Any complaints? The USB adaptor is a bit chunky, especially on my netbook, and the battery feels like it could last a bit longer. I’d also like to see a standard headset adaptor (like the FREETALK Everyman has) included as well as USB, as this would allow the wireless headset to be used with other devices. I use the Everyman with my iPhone and it’s a great improvement over the standard headset.
Overall this is a great device that makes Skype calling even better and means I can fix myself another Nespresso in the middle of a conference call! Although not cheap at £79.99 from the Skype store, I don’t think anyone buying one will be disappointed.

Monday, 25 January 2010

iPass launches their Open Mobile Platform

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
One of the challenges when travelling abroad on business is finding the best connectivity solution to get online. Your regular WiFi service may provide roaming access to local WiFi hotspots, alternatively paying for access to a local network may be a cost effective option. If all else fails, using 3G data roaming is an option, provided you or your employer has deep pockets!
Deciding which option to try involves some understanding of technology and the associated costs, or ignoring cost considerations and hoping for the best! The costs to enterprises of data roaming on 3G networks can be huge and apart from education, it’s very hard for enterprises to ensure their users use the most cost effective option for going online when abroad.ipass
Yesterday I spoke to Matt Cooke from iPass who explained what iPass is doing to help enterprises address these issues. iPass has launched their Open Mobile Platform which allows enterprises to simplify and manage mobile connectivity across both laptops and mobiles in both their home country and when travelling. Plus crucially, iPass helps enterprises understand how users are connecting and the associated costs. The Open Mobile Platform comprises four components.
  1. Mobile Connect provides connectivity management to ensure that the most appropriate or cost effective connectivity option is seamlessly used with no user intervention. The user no longer has to decide which option to use, the software will identify what’s available & automatically connect. Users have access to their existing WiFi and 3G services plus they can also access the iPass network of WiFi hotspots.
  2. Mobile Insight provides analysis of usage to allow enterprises to identify where expenditure is going and how connectivity should be managed.
  3. Mobile Control provides policy management and allows system administrators to push the appropriate policies out to all users across all devices.
  4. Mobile Network delivers access to the iPass WiFi network, in addition to an enterprises existing networks.
From conversations I’ve had about both the administrative burden and connectivity costs of enterprise mobility, iPass should find an enthusiastic response to their proposition.

Blog Archive