Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Top 5 Travel Tech Tips

So you want to travel with your tech like a pro? Here are five things you need to remember:

1. Will my phone work over there? I won't confuse you with techno-babble, but here's how it boils down. Two things might stop your phone from working at your destination: the policies of your cellphone service provider and the hardware on your phone. You'll need to check with your cellphone provider before you go that your service plan allows you to "roam". Just as importantly, make sure you know what it will cost you to use your phone to make calls or use data overseas; once you find out you'll want to use your phone VERY sparingly. When it comes to hardware, a recent smartphone like a Samsung Galaxy S3 or an iPhone should work, but there are a few things to watch out for. In the United States, some providers (ahem, Verizon) use a unique technology that most of the rest of world does not use. Google your phone's model number on your provider's website. What you want to see is if "Quad-band GSM" is listed as one of the features. If not, chances are it won't even know how to talk to cellphone towers overseas. Furthermore, both Korea and Japan use GSM technology (like the rest of the world) but a unique band that some older phones won't be able to "hear". For short trips, you may want to consider a phone rental service available at many airports. For the real travel pros on longer trips, standard operating procedure is to buy a cheap unlocked GSM phone while overseas (about $20 in Kenya or India) and then buy a local pre-paid SIM card on arrival that will give you plenty of local talk time for under $10.

2. Get the right adapters. A typical North American phone or laptop charger will usually accept a variety of voltages (110-220V AC) so you can skip the voltage transformers that many airport travel shops try to sell you. But you will need adapters to ensure the flat blades or a North American charger will fit the rounded receptacles of Europe, or the slanted receptacles of Australia. Google your destination country's receptacles and you'll see diagrams that let you know whether you'll run into square-peg-round-hole syndrome. You can buy an all-in-one adapter or a pouch with a pile of different adapters - whichever you're least likely to lose.

3. Put cords, cables, and adapters in your carry-on. If you are bringing your own phone, make sure you bring all the chargers and cables in your carry-on. If you're going from Jacksonville to Johannesburg, your phone won't make it one charge. Keeping your chargers and cables in your checked luggage is an excellent way to ensure that you arrive at your destination without any juice in your battery to make that all-important "Are you picking me up?" call. Most airports have charging stations, though US airports vary enormously in making these available to travellers. More and more airlines are offering in-seat charging in economy, sometimes through a familiar wall-style receptacle, but often with just a USB port next to your seat-back screen. So a USB charging cable is a smart option.

4. Secure your stuff. All those gadgets and gizmos are pickpocket-bait, so be aware of your surroundings when wielding your tech. En route, make sure your cables and charges have their own little bag (mesh is good), and they stay within your carry-on. That makes it harder to lose the dongles and dangly bits, and easier to put all the gizmos in your hotel room safe in one baggie. If your hotel room doesn't have a safe, you can wrap a laptop cable lock around an immovable object in your room (no, not the table leg) and then lock the end of the cable into a lockable bag or suitcase.

5. Don't forget to disconnect. Part of the charm of travel is that the tech lets us keep in touch with folks back home. But don't forget to stop and smell the roses. Be present. Just because the airport shuttle bus has WiFi doesn't mean you need to be glued to Facebook on your iPad all the way into the city. Look out the window! Put your phone on airplane mode and you can still use the camera for recording what you see, but you'll lose the umbilical cord and immerse yourself in your destination.

Your tech world traveller...

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's *REALLY* time for mobile innovation

Last week, CNET's Eric Mack wrote The iPhone 6 won't wow: 6 reasons why and I have to say I agreed on the whole.

Samsung's Galaxy SIII is eating the iPhone for lunch in terms of sales. Is the SIII a better phone? Spec for spec, yes it's got a bigger screen, much better battery life, and NFC. Apple's refusal to get into near-field communication (NFC) is beginning to make it look old. It's pretty cool to bump to share photos or exchange contacts. It's cool to use your phone to process mini-payments (public transit, vending machines). The next step is a secure NFC universal standard for ID - to secure entry to buildings why not even countries - as a passport. So why are manufacturers so slow to move on NFC? If the next iPhone had built-in NFC (like the Nexus with Google Wallet) and some good apps to support it, I honestly believe it would be enough for instance for big-city subway systems like New York to adopt NFC readers for fare collection similar to London's Oyster system. When it first came out, I thought Apple's Passbook app would be the place for boarding passes, loyalty cards, event tickets, and so forth. In reality, Passbook has become a kind of app store for all the different airline apps, which put their boarding passes in their app, pretty much rendering the Passbook app irrelevant. (For the future of boarding passes, take a look one of the CES highlights, the YotaPhone, which puts an e-paper display on the back of a touchscreen phone. Smart.)

So, apart from the resurrection of Steve Jobs, what would it take for Apple to rediscover some of its innovation mojo? Jony Ive is now their chief innovator, yes, but he needed Jobs' evil genius to push boundaries. Tim Cook is a fantastic manager - great at wringing every last dollar out of a supply chain, but don't look to him for paradigm-shifting, market-creating, category-redefining products. My advice to Apple for the next iPhone is to embrace the flexible displays that finally got primetime at CES this year and go with a change-form phone/tablet. Everyone at CES this year thought "hey this is cool - a bendable display. But what's it good for?" I've been answering that question for almost four years, first in April 2008 and again in February 2009. Your next-gen mobile device will 'unfurl' to tablet size when you want to read or watch a movie, then re-furl back into the phone when it needs to go back into your pocket. No more phablets, please Samsung - no one wants to hold up a pad of paper to their ear. Just get on with flexible displays and universal NFC standards already. Samsung, Apple, or YotaPhone? Anyone? Innovation?

Your tech world traveller...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2013 Prediction: The death of the laptop

Now that I have your attention, let me ask you a question. In your daily work, would you say 95% of your computing is some combination of email, Word processing, spreadsheets, and web-browsing? If so, why on earth are you still using a traditional PC or laptop?

If you are using a Windows machine, you probably spend several hours every month simply waiting for your computer to boot up or shut down. Or just generally waiting for it to respond.
If you travel at all with your laptop, you've come up against your laptop's battery limitations on a daily basis. I would be surprised if - under real world conditions - your laptop's battery lasts longer than 3 hours. If it's a desktop, you relocate yourself to your computer just to use it. If it's a laptop, you have to lug at least 5 pounds with you (charger, mouse, etc.) everywhere you want to do some computing.

Most of the tablets on the market today (iPad, Microsoft Surface, or dozens of Android models) easily beat a laptop in the main frustration areas of startup, battery life and weight. Tablets turn on and off with the press of a button. Most have at least triple (10 hours) the battery life of a typical laptop, at a fraction of the weight, with 95% of the functionality. Bring on a 10 hour flight in Economy class!

"Ah but I need the a mouse and keyboard, and the bigger keyboard!"
Ok, really? A mouse - better than touch? For some things, perhaps you might want to use a pen stylus. As for that keyboard - all tablets accept wireless Bluetooth keyboards of various shapes - choose one you like instead of the one that comes hinged to your screen. As for a bigger screen - most can be plugged into a monitor or projector with a VGA adapter to get a 'bigger' screen. Next?

"Ok, fine, but my tablet can't..."

...Edit Word documents?  Stay tuned - Microsoft is putting the Office suite on a variety of tablet operating systems including the Surface - the iPad gets its turn in March. There are already a host of Office substitutes including GoogleDrive (formerly known as Google Docs) that allow you to edit Word documents on a tablet, with "good enough" results in most cases. But Microsoft Office on the Apple ecosystem will be a game-changer for those needing to edit documents on the move.

...Edit photos? There are lots of apps for Android and iOS devices that do a decent job at most photo editing tasks like cropping, resizing, colour correction, and so forth. No, you couldn't layout Vogue magazine on an iPad, but you can't do that with most laptops either.

...Edit videos? Again, hefty hardware has some advantages, but iMovie on the iPad is surprisingly usable.

I have contended for some time that most laptop users cart around way more processing power than they ever use, like someone who buys a full-size SUV just to pick up groceries. Mark my words - organisations that are swift to make the shift to tablets for their staff will find them happier and more productive. Did I mention tablets are cheaper than laptops?

Your tech world traveller...